Now that soggy-butt rainy season is in full swing, let's take a journey back to a time when anything was possible: namely the beginning of spring, when things like running out of clean sweat towels to carry around during the day were far from everyone's minds.
And I do mean the beginning of spring; this was the weekend of the equinox and kicked off a whole shitload of fun, artsy, walking-around-outdoorsy goodness. Just like last year and the year before it (and honestly, I think 2013 and 14 as well), March was super busy.
This is a super image-heavy post, and you might be thinking, "well that's nothing new", but oh, you don't yet understand how bad it's gotten now that I actually have a nice camera because I'm so far behind with updates. I mean, this was three months ago, partly because it takes ages to go through and edit the dozens of photos I take every weekend.
It's gotten really bad.
And really great.
You know what, let's just stick with "it's gotten really great".
When I use the phrase "Chuo Line culture", I'm referring to the quaint hipstery artsyness of a stretch of stops along the JR Chuo Sobu line that have become my favourite places to hang out and do stuff, from Okubo (in Shinjuku, laden with south and southeast Asian immigrants and just down the street from Koreatown) to Mitaka (home to the Ghibli Museum and Inokashira Park). The most busy and famous of these stops/neighbourhoods is Koenji, but pretty much everything else within and adjacent to this stretch of west Tokyo/Setagaya is also great.
This weekend was meant to start, though, with an exhibition not within this stretch at all called Flowers by Naked, by a very popular and prolific light and image projection outfit, but well, for a while now I've been following an Instagram user called @make_moths, who, yes, makes moths. Specifically, incredibly detailed embroidered moth brooches. Here's a recent example:
Even if you hate moths or bugs in general, you have to admit, that is some incredibly detailed handiwork. So when I happened to see that this artist was having an exhibition in Nishi Ogikubo (and I do mean "happened to see", Japan is collectively terrible at marketing and promoting non-major events) and that he had made a set of small white moth brooches for it, I just had to go and see if I could afford one. My hopes for affording one weren't high, but I decided I was probably willing to pay about $40 to have my own. I could just display it in a small shadowbox and take it out when I wanted to wear it. I decided I should have just enough time to get to the moth exhibition and then to meet friends at the Flowers one in time. Famous last words.
Hannes and I went to Pit Bar in Nishiogi for shows a lot our first several months here, but we were always the only non-Japanese people there, everyone pretty blatantly shunned us most of the time even though we would just kind of be standing there, and the bartender absolutely refused to understand Hannes ordering "gin tonic", only accepting the kana-ised "jin chonikku".
So for a while we quit Pit Bar, but since finally making scene friends nearly a year after moving here (both times we've been back to visit Seoul we seamlessly fit into the friend groups of scene people there in one night because it's easy to know where everyone will be and people are a lot friendlier, just saying), we started going again. But that was the only place in Nishiogi I knew; I was surprised when so many galleries came up when I went to take and save screenshots of the one hosting the moths on Google Maps.
Because, you know, I do all the shit I do according to screenshots of maps because I don't have Internet outside our apartment. I never have in Japan, except when I'm with NiQui and connected to her pocket wifi, the former of which is fairly often and the latter of which is almost never.
So sometimes I get lost.
Not at all often, just occasionally. But hey, look what I happened upon when I did get lost this time around! A random tiny gallery of house and kitchenwares selling incredibly expensive spoons.
It's called poubelle, which means "rubbish", and it turns out there's a website now, or at least a page. The items are hand-crafted, antique, or both, and are meticulously and sparsely placed throughout the bare and simple space to create an effect like the combining of a country warehouse or shed with an urban gallery.
Don't you love that roughly-shaped lamp? It looks molten.
I especially liked how these glass items and little vintage ball toys looked when backlit.
One incredibly well-informed lighting expert online identified this antique Pixarish relic
as a Robert Abby cricket lamp. I want it!
If you clicked on that link to read a bit more about poubelle and see its location, you might have noticed that it's run by a young designer from Yamanashi. I'm guessing this is the attractive guy who was working (re: sitting there quietly) when I popped in, and who I told after half-pretending to casually browse for several minutes, "Well, the truth is, I'm looking for another gallery, called Sanshitsu. Do you know it?"
He said he hadn't heard of it, but when I showed him my screenshot, he pointed to somewhere in the middle and was like, "Oh, we're here, by this parking lot; it's far!".
So that I wouldn't get lost meandering the tiny labyrinthine streets for the remainder of eternity we agreed that the easiest thing to do was for me to walk up until I hit the river, and follow that to a school, where I'd turn twice and hit it.
Off I went, along a quaint and narrow concrete access path between the walls of peoples' back yards and the thoroughly-concreted (as in the fabric dyeing festival post, the one about Kobe, and so on) remnants of the Zenpukuji, overhung by trees and vines, many of which were flowering.
I walked past a cormorant diving for algae or small fish, adjacent to a long-lost soccer ball
and other colourful plastic garbage.
There were incredibly large carp that must have been very heavy and nearly a meter long,
including koi, which tend to pop up in urban waterways all over Japan.
Finally! I made it to the little closet of a gallery!
There were a few other artists on display, too, namely a glass jewelry one, but I was like, fuck it, at this point I need to head back as soon as I can, that whole urban wildlife trek thing wasn't on the schedule.
Oh! Real moths in vials!
He paints, too!
(those little red stickers, of course, mean that they have been sold)
It turns out that the brooches were 7500円 (about $70). And look, some smaller ones were being displayed exactly like I wanted to display one of the expensive little buggy brooches that should have rightfully been mine! Noooo!
Okay, well, back to the station!
(that's another cormorant, or maybe the same one, and a few different kinds of ducks)
(that's not the scientific name)
By the time I finally got to Nihonbashi I think I was about 30 minutes late, and Rejon was like, "Oh hi! Where have you been. -_- " Because I was the one who had wanted to go that weekend, planned the whole thing, and gotten people together, including Gillian, who had come down from Takasaki.
For the entire train ride to the other side of town I had been clutching the burner I've been using since early days that was given to me as a token of gratitude by the Mexican software engineer we'd helped break into the disgusting sharehouse we lived in for our first several weeks in Japan when management idiotically locked him out the night before his flight home.
I was like, "Okay, ten minutes late now, someone will be calling.." "Okay, fifteen, definitely at this point.." all along the Sobu line and felt pretty badly about assuming that I'd have enough time to go on a random quest nowhere near where I was supposed to be. Although, I had been telling Rejon all about it, who in turn told Gillian all about it, and she requested a mint green moth brooch if such a thing turned out to be available and wasn't exorbitantly priced.
Out of breath from powering up the escalators and stairs to meet the friends I'd kept waiting, I blurted out something like, "I'm so sorry! I had to follow a river to find the moths, there was wildlife, and I met a handsome stranger?"
I keep people waiting because I'm irresponsible and bad at time management but at least there's always some kind of entertaining story and ensuing fun shenanigans once I get there?! (Cue Hannes looking at me with his serious scolding face and saying, "It's really not funny.")
Anyway, onto the exhibition!
This book was the intro, and the flowers and petals projected onto it seemed to
fly off the book and across the room when the sequence was complete.
Really liked these giant dandelions.
It was a walk-through style thing with different themed areas, and we went on the last
weekend so unfortunately there were a fuckload of people, many of whom were pushy,
cluelessly blocking projection aspects they didn't notice, and making moronic comments.
Even though the whole thing was overcrowded and a bit hectic, NiQui and I (everyone else
rushed ahead and through) decided to take our time and not to let anything ruin it for us.
Because, I mean, look at this Björk-esque shit going on here, it was pretty cool.
The main attraction was a canopy of "cherry trees" (sakura season hadn't started yet, and this was billed as the first place to enjoy it in Tokyo) accented by these huge glass vases full of real blooming cherry tree branches and some other points of interest as well.
Several young women in elaborate kimono and, in this case, hair ornaments were there with their boyfriends, so I took several creeper pics of this chick who may or may not have the same model of Canon I do before I finally got her lol.
There were also meant to be dancers against that curtain backdrop, and we had seen a couple squeeze their way through the endless streams of people (as I said in the Yayoi Kusama post, Japan apparently has no concept of regulating the number/flow of people they allow into an exhibition space and give zero fucks about ruining the experience for you as long as they get your money, which would later prove true of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well) earlier, but we missed their actual number because the crowd was too dense.
The giant suspended orb light meant to be the moon - this simulates 夕桜花見,
or evening cherry blossom viewing - was pretty neat.
All in all it was lovely, and we continued to try not to let the crowd or
the fact that we had lost the group make us anxious or rush through it.
Another successful creeper pic, yes
The other selling point of this main attraction of the Flowers event was the bar.
I mean, the bar is always, like, the main selling point I guess, but they were serving up
cherry blossom cocktails and sweets, so we got the wine coolers and one macaron each.
We splurged, yes. This was not the last cherry blossom cocktail of the day for me.
And the macaron was nice, especially combined with the aesthetic experience and everything, but we both agreed that the food and drink were sub-par and overpriced, which is the Japanese experience in a nutshell, tbh.
But, as we both said at the time, look how cute we were while we sipped and nibbled them!
The last room or section of the exhibit was my favourite: a somewhat Victorian-style laboratory setting with scientifically-themed projections and glass containers, filament bulbs, and measuring instruments everywhere. It's basically like 神保町いちのいち, that favourite store of mine.
This was impossible to get a picture of, but the flower specimens that appeared in these pitri dishes and then flowed out of them as if carried by the wind were pretty 3D and were also labelled with their Latin names. It had just the sort of alchemical aesthetic I've been really into as of late.
One last view from above, before we finally left to find our poor friends
And the video I took, of course!
The gift shop was charming, but predictably, it was also absurdly expensive.
And it turned out that Gillian especially had started having major crowd anxiety, understandably, so we didn't find everybody until we were past the shop and at the exit.
There were beautiful cherry blossom-themed banners outside the fancy mall this was
located in, too; it's a pretty fancy, monied downtown shopping area in general.
I should have videoed these too, it's amazing how something so simple can
be so impressive and stirring to watch.
"Wow. DJ Foti has zero chill."
Haha, the creeper pics aren't finished! I see you there.
Anyway, I had also told everyone on the event page I created for this outing
(for the sake of convenience) that I wanted to go to a famous old café called
Mikado afterward, since it was just down the road.
It was lovely and inexpensive, though it was kind of weird that there was a table charge to sit down, and we opted to stand downstairs instead. It was about the time of afternoon for a pick-me-up and we needed to regroup and decide what to do next. At this point we lost NiQui and Louise, who had other evening plans, so it was just me, Rejon, Gillian, and Meika for the rest of the night.
We ate dinner at an Indian restaurant we found that ended up being a fair jog away, and to sum it up, this picture of Rejon was the only decent aspect of it. It seems kind of hard to make crappy Indian food and then charge too much for it, but I guess sometimes people manage it. The staff were weird and we finally left when the entire place filled with a huge Filipino church group that had gathered for I think a birthday and prayed before eating like only complete weirdos do in public.
We all decided that having a drink before going home sounded like a pretty solid plan, since it was still early and we all still had energy, and while looking for the bizarrely named "Y's Land Bar" that Rejon had found nearby when she Googled, we went right past it to an adorable little gallery called Art Mall. Don't be fooled by the generic name, though, because it also totally misrepresents not only the size of the place but what they're all about.
They sell handmade items by local artists, from accessories to little decorations and of
course paintings, but the operative word here is "little". The owner explained that, since apartments in Japan are so small, they want to create affordable, charming pieces that actually, realistically allow people to add art to their living spaces. Cool!
This one was bigger, but even the ceramic wall hangings
I didn't take pictures of were very tiny.
Eee! These were, oh, let's say two by three and a half inches? Adorable!
Oh but, the exhibition space on the second floor was still being prepared by this artist,
so we couldn't go up. But the incredibly narrow and tiny stairwell was worth it!
This book of illustrations was totally adorable and, truth be told, I still kind of want it.
"Yo-suke h" is a really shitty and unsearchable way to sign your work, though ><
Ha, I told you there was more than one cherry blossom cocktail that day.
Y's Land Bar was basically right across the street.
It turned out to be a whiskey bar with impressively full black glass-fronted display cabinets lining the walls behind the counters, but as you can see, none of us were terribly interested in having any.
But then, so, the bartender comes up to us after a little while and is like:
"Ahh. Excusu me. Do you know, ah, virtual reality?"
Yeah, he just came up and handed us a virtual reality visor.
There was a prominent Ardbeg display on the bar near the entryway, and
this also turned out to be an advertisement for them and their Islay distillery.
Our journey soaring over the icy North Atlantic and the rocky cliffs of that Scottish
isle was inspiring, to be sure, but really quite blurry. This technology isn't fully
immersive yet, but it was an unexpectedly good time nonetheless.
As we were walking back to the subway station I spotted these, just starting to open.
The Flowers exhibition really captured it quite well, don't you think?
The next day I met Gillian and Rejon for a walk around Koenji before they went to the Apple store and then back home. Mostly Rejon wanted to show us the cat gallery; she'd told me about it before when she gave me my Christmas present with a samurai cat postcard for my collection attached to it.
Other than that no one had anything specific in mind, except maybe getting coffee and a snack somewhere, and they were only planning on walking around for a couple of hours anyway. Oh, well, that's perfect I said, because there's a show at Studio DOM later that night that I want to go to anyway!
Koenji's full of tiny thrift shops - vintage kitsch, toys, clothes, accessories, you name it.
And slaps, it's also full of those. Oh look, more GATS ones!
I don't know who does this sort of demon guy with the long horn-tusks, but I really like it.
This is the famous (er, within certain cult circles I guess) Kitakore building, which
houses the totally outlandish Hayatochiri clothing and accessory shop. It's more of
a novelty than an actual store, with prices that are sky-high and items so ridiculous
that even I wouldn't wear them, so mostly I just wanted to take pictures of the street art.
That inspirational magic tophat is Juicy Fatz, whose slaps and tags I see
absolutely everywhere and who is, somewhat surprisingly, a woman.
Also don't know who did these murals, but they're pretty nice.
And yes, this incredibly weird peak Japan window display indicates that you have,
in fact, reached the cat gallery.
Everything is cat.
All the cat.
Look at the detail.
Tiny fruitcake loaf cats, topiary cat, amethyst-clutching cat
Cut paper cat
Retro Showa-era cat
"I am so high right now" cat
I died a little bit inside when I found this among their hundreds and hundreds of postcards:
mashed potato cat.
There are about a dozen cat-ified album covers on display and for sale for I think about $400, but this one really got me because it's not clever, just like, nonsense. "Nya" or "nyan" is the sound cats make in Japanese and it's just funny that they were basically like "Well, idk, BLAHBLAH Maiden!"
We noticed that they'd done this to the nearest manhole cover as we were leaving, too.
We stopped at the Suzukura Japanese sweets stand at the end of the main road
we had just walked and had lovely strawberry daifuku (a pounded chewy rice/mochi dumpling with sweet red bean paste) with a whole strawberry in it, and for only 200円!
That never happens!
Ahh! A huge one! I love it!
These are pretty amazing and I had never seen anything about the 99% or the Occupy movement in Japan before. Maybe the artist isn't Japanese? The world may never know.
This shop is also totally ridiculous, just in case you weren't sure
Garapata sticker spotted
After Gillian and Rejon left I went back to a café that had been full when we tried it before, since I had quite a bit of time to kill. It was a cute second-story combination café-gallery with a little bird-themed exhibition going on, and since I was splurging that weekend, I didn't mind spending like $6 on a latte.
Ahh! They do their food and drinks according to the exhibition theme, too!
I had the latte with regular milk, because they had coconut for even more money but couldn't do art with it, and the mini crème brûlèe (I committed to that 'e' in 'café', guess
I have to be consistent now).
Here's another example of what they were serving. So cute!
Aww, lovely super expensive felted bird crafts! Darling!
I did snag this postcard for my mom, though, after she had been planning on
getting a couple of zebra finches for a bit and then finally did. Perfect!
Oh god, when I searched for more images on Instagram I found that.. that.. they did
a squirrel theme before the little bird theme! Aaarrghh! He's eating a cashew, stop it!
(Sauce: @risubiyori, which means "perfect squirrel day" or "squirrel's perfect day")
(Curry sauce: @ponta_unizo)
Oh no, and before the squirrels it was ferrets! I'm going to have a meltdown.
(Source (got tired of it): @hanasakuran)
SFB, "Shachihoco Fuckin' Babys"
Killing time before the show like several other very conspicuous people dressed in black,
I also browsed the massively boho-hippie-stoner shops; I used to love places like this as a kid
in the late 90's and early 2000's.
There are so many thrift stores in this trendy area that a lot of them come up with
spectacularly kitschy displays to compete with each other for your attention.
Was this Spank! ? I don't even remember. Probably. 2007 me would have been super
excited but fairy kei has had its day, and not all of their stuff is just super expensive.
As every single person I tell about this says: "But how?!"
This particular alley was strikingly cute because of the little oasis of
greenery surrounding that back door there.
I tried to get the stylists and customers without being so incredibly obvious, too,
but it was too hard. Stylish af. Even the shitty, dime-a-dozen salons all over Tokyo
where the stylists barely even know what they're doing cost like $50 for a basic cut,
so I can only imagine how much this Austin Powersy novelty place charges.
It's not that much of a secret now, is it?
What is this artist's name!? Their graffiti is all over our neighbourhood, too.
Particularly relevant as of March and, honestly, forever.
Oh my god, Barbie stickers from 1994 and Troll dolls! Hello, kindergarten!
You might be wondering, if you actually pay attention to all this crap I type about what I'm getting up to, what happened to the aforementioned show at DOM. Well, I wondered that, too.
When I got there I realised there was already a show going on, so I asked the bartender what time it finished, and he was like, "Oh, it's about over, like, right now," and I was like, wut. Without Internet I couldn't double check anything, so I popped into the closet-sized space just in time to see the last band, apparently playing their album release show, finish their last song, and for people to start streaming out. I knew I was early. What the hell.
Then there was this whole embarrassing episode where someone found a Pasmo transit card on the ground and held it up and multiple people were calling out, asking whose it was, and I was thinking "Hm, sucks. ... ... Oh fuck, where is my Pasmo?" when I realised and finally had to claim it a couple minutes later. I had walked into the show for a grand total of like 15 seconds, managed to drop my transit card between going on and turning around to go right back out, and already had the whole venue's attention anyway because I was the only non-Japanese person there.
A good looking guy who spoke some English noticed me and he and his friends were commenting about one of the patches on my vest. A couple minutes later he approached me and started talking to me, and I was just kind of feeling like I had completely lost my mind so I didn't really have anything to say. I told him I had been super late to the show and he was like, oh, why? and I was like, I...
He gave me one of their pins and invited me to come up to the roofspace and join their celebratory barbeque, but I ended up just slipping out and going home.
He turned out to be the singer of Badu Erykah, a band Daigo knows and that he and Jharrod played with while Hannes and I were in Seoul, so I haven't had a chance to see this guy again and tell him about how I was sure I'd tumbled into the Twilight Zone, but it turned out that DOM was just somehow having back-to-back shows on the same night and the bartender didn't think to mention that or ask if I had come for the second one that was about to start, or what.
So that's two handsome strangers, two sakura cocktails, zero moth brooches, zero shows, and a partridge in a pear tree. Even though it ended on a bizarre note, it was an amazing weekend.