Tag Archives: tokyo

Yokoso Japan! Come ye and stay for a while … but not too long

12 Oct

kinkakuji kyotoJust come back from a glorious ten days in Japan. Ahh, Nihhon – every time I go back I wonder why I ever left. And then right at the end of the holiday, when all my endorphins have withered and died, when my belly simply cannot stomach another grilled chicken ovary on a stick and my liver is cowering at the thought of more Asahi. Then I remember why.

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the place, it’s just that the rabu rabu, when it’s good, is so bloody good, and the bad, well is so bad it just gets pushed to the darkest recesses of my mind as if it never happened. If you haven’t been yet I’d urge you to go, especially if you live in Asia. It’s so bloody close but literally unlike anything on Earth.

All the rumours are true: neon-infused Blade Runner-style city scapes; beautiful snow-capped mountains; peerless temples and hill-top shrines … child porn that would make Jimmy Savile blush. It’s all here. It’s all fighting for space and vying for your attention in the most utterly polite way possible. Like the people who inhabit this archipelago, bad manners is not an option. Learn just a smattering of traveller’s Japanese and you’ll be set – no shrugged shoulders and blank Parisian stares here – and the food has enough variety and quality to keep you happy for at least a fortnight, never eating the same dish twice.

You probably don’t want to hear about how much fun we had though, so I’ll tell you about the darkness. The politeness gets too much after a while, inevitably. Japan’s a walled garden, a playground for the foreigner, but also eventually a bit of a prison. It locks you into the same endless cycle of polite conversations with locals who really should know you better by now – complimenting you on use of chopsticks, linguistic dexterity or just being tall as if the past three years never even happened.

Its otherness, its difference, becomes intensely frustrating. “Why can’t I use my credit card anywhere? Why does it take foreign films two months longer to get here than anywhere else? Why do all the girls have a borderline personality disorder and squeak like a child’s toys when you try to get intimate? And why the hell can’t I find decent CHEESE anywhere!?” Sometimes you just want a beer in a bar without having to order food, a cigarette in the street without having to find the nearest designated smoking area, or a shit without having to operate a Buck Rogers toilet from the future.

That’s basically why I couldn’t live there any longer. That and the child maintenance payments. But post-tsunami Japan needs all the help it can get, and that’s certainly not going to come from Chinese tourists any time soon. So get your collective fingers out and book a trip tomorrow. The soaring highs and the crushing lows are waiting just around the corner…

Sonic Mania desu!

20 Aug

sonic mania shotWhat do you get if you stick several world-class electro DJs in a gigantic conference centre, fill it with 20,000 crazy Japanese yoofs and fill each one of them with far too much booze? SONIC MANIA DESU! Saikooooo!

Never having been to a Japanese festival or even club night before, I was slightly dreading this all-nighter in the Tokyo suburbs. It certainly was an evening full of surprises. Just 690 Yen and 38 minutes from Tokyo Station, Makuhari Messe is a beast of a building about the size of three Earl’s Courts. More commonly home to Japanese Jeremy Clarkson wannabes at the capital’s auto-shows, the venue did not look particularly appealing for a gig, but actually a storming sound system and up-for-it crowd made it feel more like Alexandra Palace on a good night.

I think the idea was the best of Japanese + the best of international musics, so true to form we eschewed the local stuff and focused on those old favourites Soulwax/2ManyDJs and Basement Jaxx. Despite some dodgy Japanese MC-ing, the latter were actually pretty good – the Noodle not being a fan of their own tunes. Sadly there was no time to haul ourselves to see other promising French electro music-makers like Surkin, Para One and Madeon – the Messe being a victim of its own size.

So. Highlights of the night? A man staggering through the crowd at 2ManyDJs with a half-eaten bowl of udon; a massive queue at every bar which, true to form, was almost non-existent by about midnight; being able to see over most heads to the stage; a sea of bodies asleep on the tarmac by 4am, brutalised by too much Asahi and fried octopus balls…

So was it Manic? Well, once the initial euphoria had passed and we realised the most dangerous thing we could do there was smoke a contraband cigarette and get largered, yeah, it was a bit. You know how you’ll always get a token couple of Japanese girls at any club in London, dancing badly, looking bored? Well, here there are thousands of them and they’re bloody loving every minute.

For the sheer balls-out, pissed-up, good natured crowd, shamefully nice food and wicked music, Sonic Mania, I salute thee! Kampai…