New documentary examines changing face of Shimokitazawa, 2003-2014

Written by: William on February 27, 2015 at 8:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Shimokita: 2003 to 2014 is a new documentary charting the changes in the landscape of one of Tokyo’s best-loved areas.

Located just west of Shinjuku and Shibuya, Shimokitazawa (aka Shimokita) is the site of a major redevelopment plan, which is protested by residents.

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

Long a charming chaos of two overlapping train lines and multiple railway crossings, the controversial redevelopment of the station into an underground complex meant we had to say goodbye to some of the most atmosphere arcades and shops and restaurants around the Odakyu railway line. Needless to say, this land won’t be turned over to public use when there’s a buck to be made.

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

There have been other redevelopments, such as the large commercial building erected behind the station, full of the generic chains that can be found anywhere in Japan.

It is all connected to a wider, long-dormant local government redevelopment project that, its detractors say, will turn Shimokita into a calm suburban district like nearby Kyodo. Nice for land prices and real estate agents, but not for counterculture. Route 54 will be extended and Shimokita’s trademark narrow alleyways face “rezoning”.

Shimokitazawa is the center of Japan’s fringe theatre scene and is also home to many music venues. Like Ura-Harajuku or Koenji, the neighborhood is a warren of independent shops, restaurants and bars. That being said, there is plenty of chic outlets for the discerning shopper and cool hang-outs for the fussy hipster. Nonetheless, there is a tangible buzz on the streets which you cannot find in major developed centers like Shinjuku or Shibuya.

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

The 95-minute documentary follows the progress of the redevelopment plans and other contributions to the Shimokita cultural scene.

Shimokita: 2003 to 2014 is screening at Tollywood (a venue in Shimokita, natch) until March 13th.

Take a long look at Shimokita, since it won’t be the same in the near future.

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Stay at the Godzilla Room inside Hotel Gracery, opening April in Kabukicho, Shinjuku

Written by: William on February 25, 2015 at 9:02 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The new Hotel Gracery opens in Kabukicho in the heart of Shinjuku on April 24th, part of the changing landscape of a district more known for sleaze than sightseeing.

This being a Japanese hotel, they decided to create a special themed room to celebrate the opening. And they chose Godzilla!

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

Up on the thirtieth floor, the Godzilla Room will cost you just under ¥40,000 (over $300) for a weeknight, while at weekends and holidays the rate jumps to nearly ¥50,000 (over $400). It features a chamber decked out in items from the Godzilla films, including a large model of the iconic kaiju. Even the restroom is decorated in Godzillas. Best of all, though, is Godzilla’s hand bursting through the wall to grab you while you sleep. Definitely guaranteed to help you get a good night’s sleep.

If you are lucky enough to secure a reservation, you can stay at the Godzilla Room between May 6th and June 30th.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

For a different experience, you can go for one of the two ninth floor Godzilla View Rooms, offering you a vista of Japan’s most famous beast at your window. Staying at one of these will cost you a mere ¥15,000 ($125) per night — pretty much the cost of a regular central Shinjuku hotel room.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

The choice of Godzilla is not merely due to the newly revived popularity of the monster movie series, which has come thanks to a Hollywood film last year and another home-grown live-action reboot scheduled for the future.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

The hotel building also includes a Toho movie theater complex and Toho is, of course, the film studio responsible for the Godzilla franchise. On top of the cinema there is going to be a huge Godzilla head, which, Kotaku says, “will peek out of the Toho Cinema’s roof, looking over the Shinjuku streets below.”

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

If you fancy a romantic spot for the evening in Kabukicho, head to the observation deck on the roof to see Godzilla up close.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

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Red Bull Studios Tokyo opens in Aoyama, designed by Kengo Kuma

Written by: William on February 13, 2015 at 9:00 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Red Bull Studios Tokyo opens at the end of this month in Aoyama, in the heart of Tokyo.

It is the beverage brand’s eleventh such studio in the world and is designed by Kengo Kuma. Red Bull will lend out the recording studio for free to certain music artists.

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

Red Bull is celebrating the opening with a three-day series of music events from February 27th, featuring Chip Tanaka/Hirokazu Tanaka. There will be special studio visits, workshops, concerts and more.

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

Red Bull’s association with the local music scene already has roots. It held its traveling music event, the Red Bull Music Academy, in Tokyo last year.

red bull music academy tokyo 2014 kengo kuma

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Three-hour wait for coffee at trendy new Blue Bottle Coffee Tokyo branch

Written by: William on February 9, 2015 at 8:35 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

Good things come to those who wait, they say.

But it’s bad news if you’re a hipster desperate to get your lips around a cup of black stuff from the latest trendy coffee shop in Tokyo.

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

The lines at Blue Bottle Coffee (“the Apple of the coffee shop world”) are so huge there are reports that people were waiting up to three hours just to get in on the first day on February 6th. Let’s be exact here; this isn’t a night club or a restaurant. It’s a small coffee bar in a slightly run-down part of Tokyo (Kiyosumi).

It begs the question: How far can the hipster coffee shop boom go in Tokyo?

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

From the faux warehouse feel of Cream of the Crop Coffee to the curated vintage of Fuglen, the watered-down diner serving watered-down beverages that is On the Corner in Shibuya, the chic uber-minimal Omotesando Koffee, the you-cannot-relax fussiness of Obscura in Sangenjaya and the IMA Concept Store in Roppongi, and the despised snobbery of Bear Pond Espresso in Shimokitazawa — haven’t we now had enough of these places?

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

Is there room for any more in this crowded market?! Judging by the anticipation on Blue Bottle Coffee’s first day, it would seem yes!

People starting queuing hours before the branch opened. At 10:30 in the morning the line was stretching down the road just to get into Blue Bottle Coffee, where a cup will cost you around ¥500. 200 people lined up patiently in the early February chill to get their hands on an individually brewed cup of coffee made from beans roasted for a full 48 hours, as Blue Bottle is famous for.

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

Blue Bottle was founded in California in 2002 and plans to open another Tokyo branch in March. No surprises that the second outlet will be in Aoyama.

About the opening CEO James Freeman said: “Tokyo has always been an inspiring place for me, from the architecture to culinary traditions. I’ve always hoped Blue Bottle would have a home here. Opening in Kiyosumi has been a wonderful collaboration between our new and dedicated team in Tokyo to the Bay Area transplants who have moved to Japan to help us brew delicious coffee.”

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

While the hipsters are waiting in line for their over-priced roasted beans, they could feast their eyes on the recent Japanese translation of the James Carr hipster satire comic: Hipster Hitler.

hipster hitler japanese translation

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Media Ambition Tokyo 2015 transforms city into media art showcase

Written by: William on February 6, 2015 at 9:41 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Media Ambition Tokyo returns for another year, transforming Tokyo into a media art bonanza.

In the grandiose words of the organizers, Media Ambition Tokyo “takes an experimental approach to urban implementation.”

media ambition tokyo 2015 rhizomatiks installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture lexus intersect

This is the third time Media Ambition Tokyo has been held, showcasing cutting-edge technology and art crossovers. The previous two festivals had a combined audience of 120,000 people.

The eight venues across Roppongi, Aoyama, Odaiba, Iidabashi and Shibuya include Midtown and Intersect by Lexus.

Ever worker-bee media art unit Rhizomatiks have partnered up with Lexus to create a video and sound installation inspired by the LFA supercar.

The title for the “1,220″ installation might sound cryptic at first but it’s a reference to the height of the car. Visitors will lie down in a space with the same height and experience a series of landscapes passing right above them on a huge LED screen.

When we watch a screen, we first detect what we see as nothing more than light before it gradually takes form inside our brains. Light captured by our retinas travels to the visual cortex at the back of our brains, and this is where light is first recognized as an image. We are not normally aware of this process, but our emotional reactions to the images we see are triggered by the conversion that takes place in that short span. “1,200” is an attempt to have visitors experience that journey of light attaining meaning across a distance that represents the height of the Lexus LFA.

The winter is nearly over but if you feel like ice-skating artistically, you should check out “Skate Drawing” at Midtown, an interactive art piece where the paths traced by skaters on the ice are displayed on a video screen. Once again it is by Rhizomatiks.

media ambition tokyo 2015 rhizomatiks installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture

In Shibuya, Tokyo Anarchitecture sounds like the kind of thing to get Tumblr bloggers excited:

Tokyo Anarchitecture is a photography series which evolves around space representations and experience of the reality. Breaking up then reconstructing pictures of huge urban plants shot in various spots in the world, Olivier Ratsi plays with the perception of our daily urban environment in aim to question its references.

media ambition tokyo 2015 Olivier Ratsi installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture

The award for most-scary-sounding installation likely goes to “The Fifth Sleep”:

At the crossroads between video game and cinema, The Fifth Sleep is an immersive installation offering a unique experience : Giving a spectator the chance literally to travel into the interior of the most mysterious of organs, the brain. Using an HMD (head-mounted display), the spectator navigates in a 3D environment generated in real-time, and can interact in a story in which he gradually becomes the main character. The spectator thus participates in a team of scientists’ experimental project aiming to test the Proteus, a nanorobot camera that can be injected inside the human body… An unusual journey through landscapes never before observed, in the heart of a labyrinth where each of your choices will determine the patient’s fate.

Other participants include sculptor Kohei Nawa and teamLab.

media ambition tokyo 2015 rhizomatiks installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture

The period varies per exhibition and installation event, but most start on February 11th and run until later in the month, though some events continue into March.

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Kabuki Gate: Experience traditional Japanese theatre at Narita Airport

Written by: William on January 30, 2015 at 9:06 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Fancy a spot of Kabuki before you step onto a plane?

Yes, if you want your taste of traditional Japanese at the airport, from this spring you can.

Narita International Airport Terminal 1′s South Wing will host the Kabuki Gate, featuring costumes, props, and other Kabuki-themed items.

kabuki gate narita airport costumes terminal

kabuki gate narita airport costumes terminal

Strangely, it’s actually located in the area after you have passed through immigration for departures. So only people who are leaving Japan (i.e. tourists who already spent time there or Japanese passengers) will get their chance to experience the Kabuki Gate. The logic of this feels peculiar to us: surely you want to enchant tourists coming into Japan, so as to encourage them to go see the real thing?

There are tablets in the Kabuki Gate where you can take your picture and then match it to Kumadori Kabuki makeup. The final image of yourself as a Kabuki star can then be sent to your own phone.

kabuki gate narita airport costumes terminal

kabuki gate narita airport costumes terminal

Of course, there is also a shop selling Kabuki merchandise and the costumes will be changed seasonally. Unfortunately you can’t try on the costumes or any actual makeup. Instead, for this we recommend the Kabuki Face Pack series, which also has the added benefit of helping your skin (ironically, also sold at Narita Airport — or otherwise on Japan Trend Shop).

The Kabuki Gate opens March 27th and is free to enter.

As we head towards the 2020 Olympics, expect to see more and more of these overtly “Japanese” initiatives everywhere as the powers that be attempt to present their preferred image of the nation to everyone.

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JR Ultraman stamp rally: In search of retro monsters at Tokyo’s train stations

Written by: William on January 26, 2015 at 8:43 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

You might think in our CGI world today there would be no time for retro science fiction where guys dressed up as hairy monsters and others as suited superheroes. But you’d be wrong.

Ultraman remains popular in Japan. And we don’t just mean that the old episodes are getting DVD re-releases. It’s popular in that you get an Ultraman Monster Bar, Ultra Seven hashed beef, and even Ultra Seven designer eyewear.

The latest is an Ultraman stamp rally at JR East stations in Tokyo and surrounding areas, running now until February 27th.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

Each of the 64 stations has a different station with a character or kaiju (monster) from the Ultraman universe. Collect ten stamps to claim an original Ultraman pog. There were other merchandise prizes but they’ve already been snapped up. Collect all 64 stamps and get a special item of memorabilia from the Tokyo Station concierge.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

There is also a lottery with further prizes for small numbers of rally finishers. Well, the prizes aren’t jaw-dropping — but they are not the point. People love the challenge.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

We’ve personally seen people queuing to get their Ultra stamp at some of the major stations that the the “goals” for the rally.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

Stamp rallies are common in Japan, loved by train enthusiasts and kids alike. The JR Yamanote line has a well-known permanent stamp rally where each station has a nice stamp with its own history. Temporary stamp rallies like this one are usually part of a promotional campaign for a mall or certain area to boost visitor numbers, such as a commercial district in a port.

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Islamic State (IS) threat to kill Japanese hostages quickly inspires social media meme spoofs

Written by: William on January 21, 2015 at 11:11 am | In CULTURE | 3 Comments

Well, it didn’t take long.

The threat by IS to execute two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, in retaliation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge in Israel to help fight Islamic terrorism has already inspired an internet meme.

It comes amidst speculation that the original video posted by IS is actually a fake. In it, Goto and Yukawa are dressed in orange jumpsuits while a knife-wielding man says they will be killed unless a $200 million ransom (the amount Japan committed to fight IS) is received within 72 hours.

is terrorist capture japanese kenji goto haruna yukawa execute ransom

The hashtag #ISISクソコラグランプリ is seeing a lot of spoof images featuring the posing alleged Islamic State militant and his two captives, but with “extra” flourishes. (The meme hashtag — “shitty collage grand prix” — is a common one for sharing funny images online among Japanese netizens.)

These are a few of the many examples that have appeared so far, some of which are very inventive.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof disney

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

Here the hostages hold point cards for an electronics store.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof yodobashi camera point card

Now the three have become the big personae non gratae of 2014: scientist Haruko Obokata, politician Ryutaro Nonomura, and composer Mamoru Samuragochi.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof Haruko Obokata politician Ryutaro Nonomura composer Mamoru Samuragochi

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

Surely this isn’t allowed for an Islamic State soldier? They are holding Tenga “onacup” sex toys!

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof tenga onacup

Two of the three have become certain famous North Koreans posing for a photo.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof north korean kim

Their faces are now decorating an itasha.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof itasha

Dreaming of okonomiyaki

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof dream okonomiyaki

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

When two lives are potentially in the balance, is this incredibly coldhearted? Or is it the only possible reaction to such a mindless act as to threaten to murder two innocent people for something their government has done?

Arguably, if the IS video does turn out to be a fake, then laughing at the extremists is the best policy. But if it’s real and Yukawa and Goto are killed (or are already dead), then the joke will definitely no longer be funny.

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More cast photos released for upcoming stage version of “Naruto”

Written by: William on January 14, 2015 at 8:02 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

More photos have been released for the upcoming stage musical version of beloved anime and manga “Naruto”.

“Naruto” recently ended its long, successful manga serialization, leaving the door open for a second life on film or stage.

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

As the publicity photos suggest, though, the new theatrical version has a grittier look than the manga. It is being dubbed a “live spectacle” rather than a play or musical, so expect lots of visuals rather than a sensical story.

Starring Kodai Matsuoka as Naruto, the jury’s still out on whether the adaptation will beguile or betray fans when the curtain goes up.

Starting in March, the production will tour four venues in Japan in Tokyo, Osaka, Miyagi and Fukuoka, before going on to Macao, Malaysia and Singapore.

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

Big-budget stage adaptations of manga and anime are a growing trend in Japan.

“One Piece” is being turned into a Kabuki play this autumn, while the spring sees “Death Note, the Musical”, with music by veteran American composer Frank Wildhorn.

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