Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dissapointing banks and good neighborhoods.

I know I take a lot of pictures of Shibuya, but I like this one.

Tuesday was the last day of my 4 day weekend. It was also the first day I've had off that was a normal day, as in not just a holiday. I don't have a Japanese bank yet, and I thought this would be the perfect time to open an account, since banks close at 3 PM around here for some reason. So, after some research, I decided I wanted to get an account with Citibank, because they're in the US and Japan. After arriving, I learned there was a 2100 yen charge a month, unless I had over 200,000 yen in my account. So, essentially, they'd charge me $20 a month unless I had over $1700 in my account. It didn't say that anywhere on their website, so I was pretty pissed off.

After a bit of wandering around angrily, I saw a Freshness Burger. I had just read someone else's blog about Japanese restaurants, and they made the comment that Freshness Burger was really good, but they "Wish it wasn't a chain." Upon reading it, I was a little confused as to why someone would wish that an organization that delivers high quality products would wish that they were small, despite the fact that the quality was still high and the only difference was the amount of convenience.

Anyways, I was quite curious, so I went in. Holy crap. That was a damned good burger.

Despite the giant burger out front, my actual meal was quite tiny, as is the style around here. It was so damned good, though. It was one of the best burgers I've had and the best fast food burger hands down. It wasn't cheap, though. The place had a really small town independent burger shop feel. They even had ketchup and mustard dispensers along with a large variety of hot sauces. People in Japan don't usually have ketchup with their fries and when they do, they only use a tiny bit, so getting enough ketchup is somewhat of an uphill struggle here, so I was quite happy to have as much as I wanted.

My beverage was 'lime soda', which was simply lime juice and soda water with a container of liquid sweetener. It was really good.

Anyways, I can't say enough good things about Freshness Burger, except for their price. I paid more than I wanted to for a lunch that didn't even fill me up.

I'd been hearing about Shimokitazawa, so I wanted to check it out. A couple things I learned is it apparently is the "college student" neighborhood. It also has a lot of old buildings. I was also looking for a magazine with a Theremin kit, which I never found. Even though I didn't get the one thing I came there for, I was really glad I came.

This wasn't touristy at all, the streets were filled with interesting shops and restaurants and the whole town had a very good energy.

This wasn't like anywhere else I'd been in Tokyo. If anything, it kind of reminded me of Osaka. It was very clear that I was in Japan in this town, which is something I forget sometimes in Shinjuku or Shibuya. You can see part of a sign that says "Dora" to the right. That was one of the many Dorama stores. They sold books, movies, video games, CDs, and used stuff, depending on the store.

This neighborhood was really interesting. And, for a pleasant change, it wasn't ritzy! As in, I could actually afford things in this area. I've been getting upset because I want to buy normal household goods and clothes and I keep finding Louis Vuitton and Burberry stores. This place seemed to be the place to go, with 1000 yen shirts and 1500 yen jeans (about $9 and $13).

This neighborhood seemed to just go on forever. Even some of the major areas I've been to seem to be relatively small, but the interesting part of Shimokitazawa was dense and just kept going. I followed this one street entirely too far, and I saw this store:

It was an antique store, with another antique store behind me. It seemed to be pretty popular too. This is around 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. I walked by again, and I just thought "Did I just see what I thought I saw?"

Holy crap, I did just see what I thought I saw!

This place had a damned DRAGON HEAD for sale. Thinking about it, it's not THAT odd. I mean, I am Japan, and this is an antique store. But to actually see it is a bit of a shock. I'm sure whatever it cost, it would be worth 5 times as much in America.

The other shop across the street was really cool too. I hesitate to call it an 'antique shop', because they sold lots of older and newer things.

Both of these shops had a lot of Asian style furniture and lamps.

It's a bit silly, but I was quite surprised at the goods they sold. They were very old artifacts that were very much Japanese. They also had metal signs in Japanese for products and just tons of odd nicknacks and items from a bygone era. I'm sure it's the same experience as if I was from Japan and I went into an American antique shop.

Also, the place that sold newer items had a really cheap bass and some cheap amps. I've been missing playing bass since I got here, and I want to pick up a completely crappy cheap bass, and they had one that sucked, but was way cheaper than the maximum of what I was willing to pay, and significantly cheaper than the cost of shipping my bass. If it wasn't for my poor dealings with the bank and the fact that I'm quite low on Japanese cash (although I have a decent amount of American cash and once I get a bank, I'll be able to get my financial aid), I left empty handed.

There were some construction workers doing something or other here too. The interesting thing I've noticed is the brooms they use.

It's a bit hard to see, but he has a straw broom in his hand. This is not the first time I've seen them using one of those for construction cleaning purposes. It seems a bit ridiculous to have one of those, as I think they're more expensive and I'm sure they're less durable than a good plastic broom.

So, I saw a Mr. Donut sign and I thought I'd grab a snack, as I was still hungry from my tiny burger.

I don't know what is about Mr. Donut, but I have a disproportionate fondness for this chain. I've only been there a few times and their food is good and all, but for some reason, they just warm my heart. Anyways, I got a honey churro and a strawberry milk donut. The strawberry milk donut was just as promised, but the churro was quite odd. The first bite, I thought it was awful, but the more I chewed, the better it got. I really want one right now.

Anyways, back to the town. It was quite colorful and energetic, despite the cloudy, gloomy weather. This sign reminded me of my old roommate Emily.

I would say this place is like a cleaner, nicer, and larger version of Little 5 Points or Haight area, but that would be totally understating it. It was like those areas if they were friendly, cleaner, and safer. It had a very unique and distinctly Japanese feel to it, while at the same time felt quite modern and international.

I'm not sure what this place was all about, I think a place for bands to play, but it looked quite rad.

And I simply loved this sign:

What more could you want? Well, apparently 4PM on Tuesday was not the time for booze or jazz.
I was shocked to see this shop:

And actually a little disappointed.

Another thing about this neighborhood is there were these amazing paintings all over the place.

This was underneath the train tracks.

Here's a detail of the 'roof'.

I had read that shop owners started painting their metal grates to stop graffiti. I don't know if it worked, but the results were amazing.

I'm not sure what these shops were and why they were closed, but I assume they're restaurants and bars or izakayas that don't cater to the afternoon crowd. At least I hope so, anybody that put that much effort into their gate deserves to stay in business.

It was really interesting to see them all. There were tons of wall murals and paintings too. Some were just graffiti, but some were really detailed works of art.

There were also plenty of record stores, some with their own unique artwork too.

And here's another odd site I saw. A recording studio.

I think this was like a public rental studio. As in, you paid to use it, and could do what you wanted, as opposed to being owned by a recording company and you pay them for their services.

I really like this place.

I know I'm repeating myself, but it was really lively and fun. Another thing that I liked is I didn't see a lot of foreigners. I know it's quite hypocritical when I say I like a place because of the lack of foreigners, because if I'm there, there is at least one and I'm adding to the foreign population, but it's nice to go to places that aren't filled with tourists and gawkers viewing everything as a novelity.

Speaking of viewing everything as a novelty (yeah, hypocritical, I know) I saw this gate that was the entrance to a small but quite lovely garden.

The gate seemed to be a little useless because you could just as easily walk around. Yeah, I know that the gate was there probably decades before the section of wall went missing. Either way, it looked quite lovely. The houses in this area were quite obviously older than those in my neighborhood or most of the other places I've been.

I really like Shimokitazawa. I felt really comfortable in this area, like I was not at all out of place, like I belonged. In a country where I obviously stick out where ever I go, this feeling was a lovely change. When it comes time to move, I'm going to look here for a place to live.


MOM said...

Hi Keith,

PUt this place down as one I want to see when I visit you!! ??Shin...kawa.


Keith said...

You would like to see Shimokitazawa? I really enjoy this area. It's a lot of fun on a weekend, as I found out yesterday. I'll write all about that when I get more time.

Lynne said...

Good for people to know.