Western television reports about Tokyo tend to focus on the ultra-modern. There will, almost without exception, be shots of Shibuya’s Hachiko crossing (above), kids dressed in epileptic-fit inducing outfits and random commuter trains zipping past a neon background. A few finishing touches are applied (the occasional fancy edit and pumping electronic backing track – preferably by Orbital) and Bob’s your uncle, Toe-key-oh!
Of course, there’s more to Tokyo than techno-wallabies, Akihabara uber-nerds, passive-aggressive identikit salarymen and whale-smoking, dolphin-slapping karaoke hostess bars. Before the Americans bombed the living daylights out of it Tokyo was an intriguing mix of ramshackle streets and wooden buildings; buildings that even then struggled to hold out against the changes that modernisation brought to the country. After the war, a few Soweto-like areas that weren’t burned to cinders became hotspots for black market trading and lady-related sauciness. Shinjuku’s ‘Golden Gai’ was one of them.
Despite the whippet-like pace of change in other entertainment districts the Golden Gai has managed to retain a sense of its old-world charm. The area is home to some 150 bars stacked on and around each other in higgledy-piggledy fashion, linked together by a grid of tiny footpaths and claustrophobic alleyways. In the 1970s it became a popular hangout for artists, writers, musicians and let’s-have-a-revolution-oh-feck-it-I’ll-kill-myself intellectual Yukio Mishima. These days you’ll find it populated by an eclectic mix of old regulars, twenty- and thirty-something white-collar workers and random tourists who read about it in a Lonely Planet travel guide.
Finding a decent bar in the Golden Gai is like a game of Russian roulette, only without the spattering of brains on the wall (Tip: do it on the beach and let the crabs clean up). A lot of places are filled with regulars who like to keep things… well…regular. For this reason you’ll find that most bars charge a fee – typically around JPY1000 – just for the exalted privilege of entering. It’s the kind of twattish bag-of-wank practice that makes bar-hopping a bit of a non-starter, but if you’re feeling flush and fancy something different then forget about the price and get stuck in. After all, you only live once… apart from my mate Cecil: he’s on his fourth life. The government know about it, but it’s all kept very hush-hush.
If you really do need to reign in the expenses then it’s Imperative (yep, with a capital “I”) that you apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:
Stick your head through a promising-looking door.
Ask the barman/barmaid how much it’ll cost you to drink there.
Scan the bar and weigh up the clientele. Do they look like the kind of people you want to drink with? (Remember: these bars are the size of a garden shed, and conversation is INEVITABLE.) Is there the possibility of something interesting happening? Kabuki theatre performed by a cete of impeccably-groomed badgers, for example?
Apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:
Cost ≤ Entertainment Value = Enter the bar (c≤ev=e)
Cost > Entertainment Value = Leg it (c>ev=l)
If you’re with your mates you’ll have to pool your calculations and put it to a vote. (Adopt first-past-the-post voting methods: don’t try to seek consensus on the issue, otherwise you’ll end up walking around for hours on end.)
Finding the Golden Gai is as easy as slipping on a wet bathroom floor and smashing your head open. Come out of Shinjuku station’s Kabukicho Exit and walk straight down (and I mean down as in the street that slopes slightly downwards) until you get to Yasukuni Dori. You’ll know you’re on Yasukuni Dori when you see this:
Head up Yasukuni Dori for about five minutes. Both sides of the street are packed with shops and restaurants. After a few minutes you’ll spot a Mr Donuts (a cafe, not an actual man that looks like a doughnut) on the left-hand side. To the right of Mr Donuts is a small footpath shrouded by trees and the homeless. This, laydees and gentlemice, is the gateway to the Golden Gai. Only the penitent man will pass, so don’t forget to kneel when you hear the buzzing of circular saws coming out of the walls. Here it is on a map:
The best time to visit the Golden Gai is Friday or Saturday nights, preferably after 10pm, and after you’ve already had a few drinkypoos. If you’re thinking about getting a late-night train back to your home/hotel, forget it: accept the fact that you’ll be out until 5am (when the first trains start running) or paying for a taxi and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.
Japanese TV programmes tend to fall into two broad categories: 1. celebrities eating food and 2. everything else. Usually you can find, at any time of day, at least one celeb-food show on the air. The perplexing thing is that most of these programmes are not cookery shows in the Jamie Olliver sense of the word (ie, they don’t teach you anything about how to cook), rather they involve people standing around in an insanely-coloured studio stuffing their faces. Invariably, the food is declared to be “oishii” (delicious), and the celebrities spend the next ten minutes prattling on about the time their mum made the same thing, or when they went to Osaka and saw locals putting mayonnaise (shock horror!) on the food in question.
Admittedly, now and then some TV shows do actually have celebrities eating in proper restaurants, but I really don’t care to watch them noisily slurp an enormous bowl of greasy ramen in a random Yokohaman restaurant. “What am I getting out of this experience?” I say to myself. Apart from the knowledge that that particular celebrity likes eating katsudon, or whatever, and what the food looks like, it offers me nothing. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a restaurant because I’ve seen so-and-so eating there on TV, in fact it works more as deterrent: the place would be so busy that I’d have to queue up for an hour just to get through the front door. If I’m going to eat out, I’ll either wander around and explore a few places by myself, or search online for a reasoned opinion that stretches to more than just “umai!”
Perhaps the one decent food programme I’ve seen while in Japan is, unsurprisingly, not Japanese. It’s called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and you can watch it on the Discovery Channel. Bourdain is not only a trained chef; he is also a witty, down-to-earth host who travels the world in search of new experiences. The idea is that yes, food can be nice, but it can also be bloody awful. Food is used more as a means to exploring the people, places and culture of wildly different places, rather than an end in itself. And that’s the way food programmes on TV should be.
Akebono has had many fine achievements during his forty years on earth: becoming the first foreign sumo wrestler to achieve the rank of yokozuna, winning eleven top division titles, and, err… managing to win one fight out of twelve in his career as a K-1 fighter.
Okay, so things may have gone a bit downhill after sumo, but when you’ve reached the highest echelons of one of the most famous sports in the world it’s always going to be hard to go one better. But recently the big man has roared back into the limelight thanks to a series of adverts for Fox’s latest smash hit comedy/drama thingy, Glee.
Words can’t really do the adverts justice. All you need to know is that they involve a lot of Akebono singing and dancing. The song? ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey – nothing could be more appropriate.
Check it out for yourself:
You can catch the rest of Akebono’s adverts on YouTube or one of the many Fox-related channels on Japan’s satellite TV network, Sky PerfecTV.
A young Fukuokan pet shop owner has been arrested in Nagasaki for attempting to steal a penguin from a zoo.
Employees at Nagasaki Bio Park in Saikai became suspicious of young Akira Honda’s (24) activities after he became cagey when security guards offered to store his rather large suitcase. Further inspection revealed that the suitcase did, in fact, contain a somewhat perturbed Humboldt penguin.
Police were considering moving the penguin to Britain as part of a witness protection scheme, but had to scrap the plan when it was revealed that the feathered fish-feaster was afraid of Wales.
Continuing with our birthday tradition of spending a night in a fancy Tokyo hotel (see last year’s post on The Peninsula), this weekend my better half and myself stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in Nihonbashi.
Rooms are very spacious. Starting from 50m2:
The bed is a decent size:
As is the TV (a 42 incher). You can watch both Wowow and Star Channel movies in full HD, which is ace:
If it’s your birthday the hotel provides a free bowl of strawberries, which is nice. You can see the bathroom through the vertical blinds in the background. The bathroom mirror is on rails so you can move it out of the way when you want to see Tokyo from the bath:
The bathroom itself has a solid granite sink:
All the knobs and handles are polished to within an inch of their lives:
The bath is a solid granite affair. Easily big enough for two:
I filled our bath with hydrochloric acid. It cleans the pores, deep down (to the bone):
The toilet is, as you would expect, a high-tech Toto super-loo:
The shower has a selection of free stuff by Aromatherapy Associates. My wife assures me that their stuff is the business:
Back in the bedroom, we have a yoga mat and brolly in the cupboard:
More views of the room. Wifey can be seen sat on the sofa, exasperated by my photo-taking antics:
Rooms come fully-loaded with booze:
And, erm, stationery:
Oh and you also get a pair of yukata’s and fan for poncing about the room in, feeling all imbued with the spirit of the samurai and all that guff:
We thought “Bollocks to it!” and ordered a room-service breakfast:
Green tea pancakes with maple syrup. Very nice:
And an omelette with assorted fried bits and bobs:
Finally, the view. Our room was on the 30th floor, which is the lowest. Bizarrely, the front desk is on the 38th floor, which means to get outside you have to take one lift from the 30th to the 38th floor, then get in another lift that takes you to the ground floor. Our room was facing east, towards Asakusa. There were a few cranes in the way as they’re building something next door:
Construction of Tokyo Sky Tree is well and truly in progress. The finished article will be 634 metres tall, falling some way behind the awesome Burj Khalifa:
The sumo joint:
The same view at night reveals a fancy ferris wheel:
And some very bright crane lights:
Oh and one more thing before we wrap this little photo tour up. The customer toilets on the 38th floor have a “pee on the plebs” feature which I had to take a video of (I don’t normally take videos in toilets, you understand, but this one was special):
All in all, the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is a top-class hotel with a fantastic view, and I highly recommend it.
Want to see what’s going on in Tokyo right this very minute? Here’s a selection of some of the best live webcams. All of the cameras are running in real time (none of that “updates every ten seconds” nonsense), and you can control them yourself. Just click on the images below and away you go.
OH MY GOD what a great opportunity this is! I hope Mr Derick gets back to me soon:
FROM MR AHMED DERICK.
THE HEAD OF AUDITING DEPARTMENT.
Of African Development Bank Burkina-Faso
REMITTANCE OF US$10.000,000.00.
CONFIDENTIAL IS THE CASE.
This message might meet you in utmost surprise, however, it’s just my Urgent need for foreign partner that made me to contact you for this transaction. I am a banker by profession from Burkina Faso in, and currently holding the post of director Auditing and accounting unit of the bank. I have the opportunity of transferring the left over Funds ($10. million) of one of my bank clients who died Along with his entire family on in a plane crash.
Hence, i am inviting you for a business deal where This money can be shared between us in the ratio of 50/40 while 10% Will be mapped out for expenses.. be inform that this transaction is 100% risk free, WHILE Further details of the transfer will be forwarded to you as soon as I Receive your return mail.(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meanwhile the World Bank Group has mandated the AFRICA DEVELOPMENT BANK BURKINA FASO to release this unclaimed fund immediately the next of kin is discovered with due application. This payment will be effected through Swift Telegraphic Transfer!!! Incunjunction with the support of the world bank. Your Urgent response is needed for immidiate transfer of this fund to you.
(FILL THIS FORM BELLOW PLEASE AND RESEND IT TO ME).
1. Your Full Name ……………………
3. Your Age…………………………..
4. Marital Status ……………………..
5. Your Cell Phone Number………………
Imagine if the BBC created a programme called ‘Cool Britain’, in which a group of foreigners discussed the most mundane aspects of British culture, such as rambling, Sunday Lunch, making a ‘proper’ cup of tea and Shrove Tuesday. The discussion would be occasionally interrupted by snippets of one of the foreigners ‘experiencing’ that week’s cultural item: plodding through the Yorkshire Dales in drizzle wearing an impossibly-coloured Berghaus anorak and occasionally screaming ‘Oooh, isn’t this lovely!’, for example. Presenter Richard Hammond would then throw out thought-provoking questions to the multicultural horde, questions like: “So, Ordinance Survey maps, a classic British navigation tool. Are they cool?”.
At the end of the show, and after much smug, self-congratulatory back-slapping by ‘Hammy’, June Sarpong and a random cultural ‘expert’, the day’s topic would be either voted cool, or not, and… well, that’s it.
Oh, and all the foreigners speak French.
Dying to see such inventive programming? I bet you are, and luckily for you a Japanese version, ingeniously titled ‘Cool Japan’, is aired on NHK’s BShi channel every Tuesday from 10pm. Here’s a clip:
Now, what really makes Japan cool? Kurara Chibana:
Japan, like any other country, has an abundant supply of products for the follically challenged male. Do you find yourself weeping in the shower at the sight of your beloved hair flowing down the plughole? Have you been desperately trying to glue your pubes to your head with Pritt Stick? If you answered “Yes! My God man, yes!” to either of these then you might want give the following options a whirl:
Essentially a can of hair-coloured spray that dyes your scalp and thickens your remaining strands, thereby miraculously giving the appearance of more hair. The biggest downside to this one is that a bout of exercise will leave trails of brown-coloured sweat soaking into your shirt collar. Plus you also need a fair amount of hair remaining, otherwise you run the risk of people mistaking your head for a conker.
Hair restoring lotion
This miracle of modern science usually comes in a special applicator-head bottle thingy (ie, you massage your head with end bit). Apparently, it treats the root cause of the problem (ho ho!) by encouraging hair follicles to grow. Too much application can, however, lead to a rather sore scalp and the unfortunate office nickname of “Cherry Head”.
This is my favourite, purely because the TV adverts have people with enormously long bits of fake hair stuck to their foreheads, arms, and other entirely random places. They spend much of the advert yanking at it while pulling an “Oooh look, it’s soo strong!” expression at the camera. In short, great for bungee jumping fanatics.
Live in a wind tunnel? Watch a lot of tennis? Then you, my slap-headed friend, need a glue-on wig. This is for the man who has lost enough up top to justify physically sticking a Yorkshire terrier-sized hairpiece to his dome. I, for one, would like to see what this particular option looks like after a day of 30-degree heat and 100% humidity.
The hair transplant
If it’s good enough for Mel Gibson then it’s good enough for the common man. Quite expensive, though, and a poor job can leave you with a strange pattern where the hair was implanted. In some circles this option has earned the nickname “The Chucky”, for obvious reasons.
Some men will forego the above options and sweep the last remaining tendrils of hair over the top of the head in a, err, sweeping motion. This look has been falling out of favour in recent years, probably because women are sick of spending their weekends with a wispy-haired pillock:
As for me? Well, when the time comes to shave-it or save-it I’m going to stick with creosote and Kiwi shoe polish.
Daitokai (大都会 – or ‘Big City’ in English) has to be the best cops-and-robbers programme, ever.
Starsky and Hutch may have had its fair share of action, but the producers of Daitokai went absolutely, stark-raving bonkers with cheesy – but awesome – shoot-outs, car chases and explosions. And let’s not forget the ultra-cool cast, which included Tetsuya Watari (centre) and Japan’s very own Steve McQueen, Yusaku Matsuda (bottom left), at the height of his powers. Matsuda would go on to star alongside Michael Douglas in 1989′s ‘Black Rain’, shortly before dying of cancer.
For those of you in Japan with access to Nitereplus (日テレプラス. Channel CS300 on SkyPerfecTV) you can catch the third series of Daitokai every Friday night from 9pm. As for the rest of you, well, you’ll have to make do with the following snippets: