Archive for February 13th, 2010|Daily archive page

Microphone fiend

In japan, tunnnneeeee! on February 13, 2010 at 10:32 am

I’m in Kyoto, sitting down in sukiya, eating strips of beef, on top of rice, covered with three types of cheese and drinking a large bottle of Asahi, at like half twelve/one in the morning, when it becomes crystal clear to me how absurd, clean version of hip hop tunes are. I’m feeling my chopstick skills desert me as I struggle to shovel the rice and beef into my gaping maw. I hear pop out of the speakers none other than the Junior Mafia, Lil’ Kim, Biggie and the rest of their crew spitting out Playa’s Anthem, and with all the swearing replaced by inoffensive alternatives, the flow is corrupted, distorted. As I sing along in my head, adding in all the words they have excised, it breaks my hip hop loving heart to hear the tune adulterated thus. I did smile as the track came on, at the incongruity of the song, and the venue in which it was being played, and me being there to hear it played. It felt like someone/thing was telling me something.

I sat there and tapped my fingers and hummed along, and looked around at the other diners, the native Japanese who couldn’t have cared less what song was on, as they wolfed down their fast food.

Surreal Japan

In japan on February 13, 2010 at 9:08 am

Japan was like no place I’ve ever been to, not that I’ve been to many, but from the moment I touched down I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. It felt utterly strange and surreal, so much happening, around you that it was difficult to keep up at times. Below is a list of things I found surreal/strange/weird/interesting about the land of the rising sun.

Number 1:

Everything has a jingle, supermarkets, convenience stores, shops, train announcements, everything and anything has a little upbeat happy sound to let you know where you are and what you are doing. It could drive you insane if you let it, or you can find it endearing. I’m leaning towards the endearing at this point in time, but I’m easy with being moved into the insane path.

Number 2:

Every so often in Toyko, when your riding, walking around, you get a whiff of something which burns the nostrils, super strong smell of fart bomb. You look around for who cut one, or for some sort of leaking sewer. But you can’t see one. I’ve been told the smell is actually the sewers, they were finished in the 70’s and lie too close to the surface so smells escape. I shit you not.

Number 3:

I’ve never seen so many suits in my life. I mean really so many suits, everyone wears one. Literally everyone. Head into the center of Tokyo and you’ll see suits for days. And it isn’t just confined to the financial district either, everywhere you’ll see people in suits. Another thing is that if people aren’t wearing suits, they are wearing a uniform of some kind, you can’t just work somewhere and wear what you want, oh no, you’ve got to wear a uniform, convenience store worker, uniform: check. Road construction worker, uniform: check. Cleaning crew for the Bullet Trains, uniform: check. Girl handing out flyers to electrical store, uniform: check. The need to make everyone look the same, or to look like everyone seems all powerful.

Number 4:

If your Japanese you could wear anything and no one would bat an eye. The amount of different looks you see, that range from the bizarre to the outrageous are a sight to behold. It boggles the mind, truly boggles it. I’m stunned on a minute by minute basis, and that’s just walking around Shibuya, if you head up to Harajuku, or brave the mind blowing Takeshita Dori (think of if as all the weird and wonderful of Camden, squashed into one street, with a huge dose of cute thrown in) it will literally wreck your head. So many styles, so many ideas, thought up and discarded. And before you think it’s the women dressing up for the male gaze, it’s the men as well. Look at the floating hair, the pushed and back combed, bleached and greased and tinted and spiked and so many other things.

Number 5:

They have strawberry sandwiches here. STRAWBERRIES IN A SANDWICH, with the crusts cut off.

Number 6:

The infatuation with cute can be quite overwhelming sometimes, especially when it steps into the sexually provocative. If you walk down Akihabara, you’ll be accosted by girls in some sort of sexy maid outfit, with frills, and a short skirt and knee high socks, bare thighs, preened hair and long bat lashes. But no one looks in anyway discomforted by this display and your left feeling like a lech as you try not to stare.

Number 7:

Was getting my all japan rail ticket validated when an old man came upto me and started speaking English to me. He wanted to know whether my bike was heavy or not, what I was doing with it, and why I wanted to come to Japan. I don’t know whether he was genuinely interested in the answers or was practising his English, but he did seem surprised when I told him I’d wanted to come to Japan, especially Tokyo for years. On the lightness of the bike issue, he felt it was very heavy and I told him I wasn’t worried about the weight, more the robustness of it. For a second when he spoke to me, it was like I was in the north again with someone just making conversation because they could.

Number 8:

There are fuckloads of vending machines, no corner is complete without one, and they are all maintained by different companies, you can’t walk for any length of time, like half a block without passing at least three vending machines, mostly soft drinks and coffee/tea. On a similar note, it’s the same with the convenience stores, Seven Eleven, Kunbus, Lawson, AMPM, so many to choose from and all open opposite each other, its like The Wire, where no matter which corner you set up on, someone else will try and set up opposite and take your customers. I’m expecting a masterly expose by David Simon any day now.

Number 9:

The japanese smoke like chimneys, you can’t pass any building without seeing at least a half dozen huddled figures pulling hard on the cancer sticks. Outside of work, your still allowed to smoke inside, so eating and drinking is like going back to the old school, with people lighting up and puffing away to their hearts content. But whats strange is they have smoking areas outside, which they want you to smoke in, and be a happy smoker, as well as signs which say don’t walk and smoke. Go figure.

Number 10:

Feels like there are more taxi’s than people here sometimes, different liveries, and different lights on top, but still more cabs in one spot than you would think you’d see in a lifetime in London on any busy night. Lined up three deep around the block around kicking out time in the center of town, and close to any corporate building. And most of them are refuseniks from a time before aerodynamics, big blocky square things that in a land so bound up with the future you feel these cabs should be sent leperlike to live out the rest of their days away from human eyes.

Number 11:

Tokyo’s a corporate kind of town, corporate headquarters are all over, Sony, Toshiba, Fujitec, Toyota, you name the Japanese company and their corporate headquarters is in town and lit up like a Christmas tree with their logo. They even have viewable spaces to see what marvels they have created for you. If you go into the Sony building, you can buy pretty much any of their products right then and there.

Number 12:

There are so many bikes here that, there are so many more areas where you can’t bring them, let alone ride them. Tokyo is filled with no bike signs. Maybe when bikes get to be so ubiquitous that you start to view them as a pest, or something that is just getting in the way and needs to be controlled. A few times I was told by security that bikes weren’t allowed and that I couldn’t even push it through, but had to go and lock it up outside before walking through. Strange.


In bike, japan on February 13, 2010 at 8:08 am

So a lot of my time in Japan has been spent in bike shops, and taking photo’s of bikes. One of the things I really wanted to do on this portion of my trip was to try and buy a couple of Keirin frames (Japanese track frames, professionally raced, probably crashed and now sold secondhand) for cheap beer, buy two, ship them back to good old blighty where demand is high, and sell one for the cost of both and end up with a frame for free. Well that never happened, the bods over here know how much a frame is worth and unless you know someone who knows someone you’ll end up like I did making the walk of shame back from some flea market in the arse end of Osaka, with nothing to show for it, but a bottle of lemonade from a vending machine, which you gratefully clutch and sip from on the three quarters of an hour hike back to civilisation.

But the shops out here are full of good bits, frames, hubs, wheels, stems, chains, bags, top tube pads, pedals, anything and everything coloured and anodized to within an inch of its life that you could possibly want to put on your very first fixed wheel dream machine. The shops range from the old school, one man and a back room full of bits such as: Punch Cycles up past where I was staying in Kuramae, whose owner would say in accented English with a smile “not for sale” everytime I would point out a frame I liked and guessed was in my size;
PUNCH CYCLE Google maps
1-5-10 Kaminari-mon, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
TEL 03-3841-5080
Open 18:00-23:00 (Tue to Fri), 13:00-21:00 (Sat,Sun)

or Dreamworks down in Shibuya round the corner and I do mean literally round the corner from Sexon Super Peace, whose owner was much more welcoming and whose frames were priced to sell.


1F Eden Bldg. 11-11 shinsencho Shibuya-ku Tokyo
Tel 03-6416-1050

To the boutique cleanliness of Sexon Super Peace, all shiny new bits, colour co-ordinated with a price to match, whose owner was friendly and pointed out that Max Leonard’s lovely book Fixed – insert URL to Amazon here – was owned by pretty much every fixed rider in Tokyo and probably Japan;

Sexon Super Peace Google maps
New store 01/11/07
22-5 Kamiizumi Cho Tokyo Shibuya Ku
Tel 03-3485-5506
OPEN 12:30 – 20:30

or Carnival, further along in shibuya, on your way to Shinjuku, above WBase a skate/BMX shop, specialising in vintage European frames and bits, a one room operation, but nicely laid out, with t-shirts that I liked but wasn’t willing to spend fifty notes on;

CARNIVAL Google maps
J-SIX BLDGS 2F. 6-23-11 Jinguu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
TEL 03-5485-8581
Open 13:00-21:00

or Blue Lug which was up past Meiji Jingu, with their more reasonably priced t-shirts, one of which I did purchase alongside a wallet and chain bracelet. Which was filed to bursting with merchandise, clothing, hubs, forks (they seemed to be importers/distributors for wound up as there were plenty hanging up there), cogs, grips, saddles, and a couple of frames;

Blue Lug Google maps
New Store 03/11/07
1-58-7 Down town Shibuya Ku
Tel: 03-6662-5042
Open from 14:00 – 22:00 (closed Wednesdays)

or Depot Cycle and Reycle which was out in Chiba/Ichikawa, run by the lovely Seiyo who was packing up to move into new premises when I rode down there, and was kind enough to invite me back when they opened the new store down the road the following Monday. Its was wet, I was soaked and coughing and spluttering, but I was offered a warm welcome, by him and his family.

TEL 047-322-2210
Open 12:00-20:00 (Sat 11:00-19:00)

or Gira Gira down in Minima Horie, Osaka run by an Australian guy called Rene, who I was going to buy a lovely un-decaled Panasonic frame from, who explained that Keirin frames are built by small groups of men, with Panasonic being the largest with like twelve, who spend their days welding and brazing, bringing that well known Japanese devotion to quality to the frames they construct. How having NJS stamped onto a product is a symbol of years of hard work and development to get it past the ruthless and all seeing eye of the holders of the NJS flame;

Or the three or four other bike shops I found, either by chance or with the help of some local forum knowledge, that were repositories for good bike stuff, that went above and beyond the usual fare to make sure that those thagt wanted to go a bit above and beyond the normal could build a bike that they would love for a long long time.

Thanks go out to Jason/Build for creating the original list of bike shops in Tokyo, which allowed me to go and visit all of the Tokyo shops.

If you want to, and aren’t all bike shopped out there are more photo’s on the Flickr