Seeing a hardcore band in Japan was on my wish list of things to do during my time living back in Asia. So when Earth Crisis & Sect announced their Japanese tour it felt like a gift I couldn’t refuse. I’d never had any real desire to visit the Japanese capital, and I’d heard Osaka was a great city, so looked into that, but the enthusiasm of friends who had both lived in, and visited Tokyo kept me putting that back in as my Skyscanner destination.
Flights booked, I had a mini freak out when I tried to buy a gig ticket. The ticket company confirmed (me using google translate) that as I didn’t have a Japanese credit card I couldn’t buy one. Great. Thanks to hardcore being hardcore, a friend of a friend in Japan managed to make sure I had a reserved ticket to buy on the night 🙌 My next plan was going to ask my Biggest Bro if one of his Japanese colleagues might be able to buy a ticket for me…
I found Tokyo daunting. Despite growing up in a city (which I suppose I have now come to realise is a fallacy, I really grew up by the beach…) and living in a big city, London; well, Hong Kong is teeny tiny, and London is, well, all in English. Still, I boarded the flight really excited – a few days of eating ramen and walking about whilst learning history & watching hardcore? Sounds pretty perfect. But, I felt anxious the whole flight. For the first time, I really noticed my surroundings & thought how small the plane was. 3 – 3 seating, so not tiny, but even then, I love small planes. It just seemed a little flimsy & noisy and I couldn’t shake the unsettled feeling I had. I tried podcasts, arrowwords, music, writing, sleeping – but there it just sat. A horrible feeling of, well, fear. The only thing that broke it momentarily was the lady sitting next to me, offering me a banana, and refusing my refusal. It really made me smile. Ha, what is it about free bananas?
As soon as I got off the plane I felt better. I tried not to dwell on how weird this was and just be grateful that it shifted that instantaneously.
When I was younger (at least 20 years ago now!) I remember hearing Japan was a nightmare to get around because nothing is in English, and as it’s not a Roman alphabet it’s almost impossible to second guess or attempt self-translation. I’d screen shotted about six different ways to get from the airport to Shinjuku, as well as messaging the hotel for directions, just to be sure. But like the other two times I’ve been to Japan (Hiroshima & Kyoto) it was really easy to find my way thanks to there being English signs and maps, and very friendly, helpful people at ticket counters.
I ended up going for the mid range cost taking the Access Line + JPR (£10/U$14) which took around 90mins door to door. More info here on travel from the airport. I picked up a mixture of rice, bean and sugar snacks (rice & seaweed, inari mushroom, mochi & a hot red bean bun) from 7-11, making my own little bento dinner.
I was welcomed at the hostel by friendly staff but even with a clean dorm to myself, I found it hard to sleep. Despite trying different temperature and powers combinations the room remained either boiling hot or freezing cold, and I woke up the next morning feeling totally frazzled.
After a quick coffee & bowl of weetabix-almond powder mush I headed off to the nearby JR train station to go ten stops to Akhibara to start my Free Walking Tour (but always pay something at the end!) I was initially delighted to see that there was an English option on the ticket machine. But when you got to the final payment part, you just had to choose what amount ticket you wanted, which was fine, if you could read the train map in Japanese! Some stations do have these in English too, just not this one. I asked a lady nearby, and she pointed to the cheapest one. I didn’t think this seemed right but just went with it.
I arrived at the other side and my ticket was declined at the barrier. BUT no worries, no fine, no patronising guard! (To be fair to the U.K., I’ve met many nice train guards, and they do have a terrible job and get so much abuse in a nation when at least a couple of decades ago a substantial amount of people seemed to think they shouldn’t have to pay for rail travel. I remember the backlash when platform ticket barriers were introduced, effectively people complaining that they would now have to buy a ticket… Pretty standard practice you’d think? Haha)
But here, all I had to do was go to the gate adjustment machine and add the extra amount. How simple. HOW simple! Absolutely marvellous.
Arriving early, I had time for a toilet stop & a coffee (it’s the little things..) before joining the group. Nine of us comprised of Germans & people all living in the States but not from there, and me. There are A LOT of Americans in Tokyo it seems. And they are quite loud! I was especially impressed with a couple conversing normally in the park reaching a higher decibel level than the Japanese children literally screaming at each other next to them.
Meeting at Akhibara, I had no idea why we were there and what sort of area it was. We were stood outside AKB48 Cafe and were shown a picture of a large group of school girls. This was a picture of the Japanese Idol Band AKB48 who have between 40-140 members at one time (138 in Dec 2018..) They perform almost every day at that cafe, and are seen as the accessible celebrity! Whatever floats your boat..?
We moved a couple of streets away when Emi, our tour guide, took out this picture and asked; ‘What kind of person is this? You can tell by his clothes!’
‘A Geek! G-e-e-k! No fashion sense, only likes computer games, anime and manga! Always hangs out here. You can see them there!’ And then pointed out a long line of (almost exclusively) guys, waiting outside what I believe was a radio station, a computer games & memorabilia store and a huge arcade. Supposedly there is no gambling in the arcade, you win tokens for toys. But, we were told, these tokens were exchanged for money and the gambling industry was in fact huge. Having many computer game & anime obsessed friends her enthusiasm at their geekness sent me into a fit of giggles. Laughing as I type this. Haha.
Since World War Two this area has become the main electronic district of Tokyo. I didn’t even know Sega still existed but seeing the light up buildings made me feel nostalgic, and I kept repeating ‘SEEY-GAAA’ in my head. Passing shop after shop full of mange, anime & video game memorabilia we also stopped outside a maid cafe. Young women, looking even younger, dressed in maid/schoolgirl hybrid outfits, fussing over the clientele with super high pitched voices and lots of giggling. Sounds pretty horrific to me..
We then headed up to Kanda Myojin Shrine via a Confucian Temple, through some beautiful Torii’s (well, all Torii’s really are beautiful aren’t they?) and up to the pond at Ueno Park. Absolutely stunning. At some point we also walked through Ameyoko Shopping Arcade; a famous shopping street I believe.
Emi gave us more information about modern Japan, not being religious but loving to celebrate, and with the exception of Christmas, most celebrations such as births and weddings took place at the Shinto temples, with funerals in the Buddhist temples. With an aging population of 27% over 65 years oldC and a decreasing birth rate current predictions are that in 2040 the population will half.
Ueno Park Zoo is home to a young panda, born June 2018. It also houses a tonne of museums that I would have gone to, if I’d had the time, and if they weren’t all shut on Monday. (Take note!) We wandered around a little more, then after the discussion about this man and his dog turning into one about the pretty infamous loyal dog Hatchi we said our goodbyes and I went off in search of Ramen.
Here I realised my secret weapon of the trip. Google maps offline! I’d been disappointed by it so many times before I forgot it was a thing. And it worked. The whole damn time I was there! I usually pick up a couple if paper maps, and mark the places I want to go, but I didn’t find any.. .and with Tokyo being so big, I was so grateful. Thank you google gods!
I headed over to Harajuku in search of one (of two) places that served vegan ramen. Easy to find, super friendly, and most importantly, so damn tasty. Fuelled by ramen (that’s a band isn’t it?! Or a label?!) I headed to the toilet before my search for vegan doughnuts. The bathroom was playing full on dance music and I couldn’t help myself.. but dance.. and took a little video to share. Lost in my rave I forgot to lock the door and was actually grateful a lady tried to walk in whilst I was on the loo, rather than dancing – the latter I think would have been far more embarrassing!
Good Town Doughnuts is in what appeared to be a very hip, trendy part of town. I definitely didn’t fit in here, but was nice for a wander and oh wow.! The choice of donuts! I was one very happy lady. I bought two, and a cinnamon roll from the bakery next door (around ¥400/£3/U$3.70 each)
Sitting in the sunshine eating my donuts. Good, good times.
Next stop was the Meiji Jingū Shrine, through the bright, bustling, boutiquey streets of Harajuku. It was rammed. To me it seemed like Tokyo’s version of Camden – a lot of alternative & cute stores, lots of tat and ‘interesting’ people. I was squashed, surrounded by neon, noise, people & consumerism; not my usual thing, but it was just FUN! walking about and I even got sucked in and bought my nieces some Harajuku girl socks (I wanted some too but they didn’t come in my monster shoe size of 40/41 EU!) I didn’t see as many actual Harajuku girls as I’d hoped, a little too heavy on groups of boys singing ballad style pop songs instead!
Walking to the park, and the shrine entrance I was a little disappointed to see so many people, walking streamline up a long gravelly road. Feeling pretty wiped out I was hoping for a pretty park I could perch in for a while, staring at Torii’s. It was crowded with no obvious places to sit and chill.
But on I walked.. and around the shrines I went, purified myself, did the money, bow, clap, blessing (I do this in most shrines – I love it – though it probably has a proper name) and then BAM! It hit me. The Shinto shrine had not failed me. I felt overwhelmingly content. Grinning from ear to ear. Messing about with Humpty, just feeling so content & at peace.
The sun was also setting through the trees making the different route out I took, which was much quieter, absolutely magical.
I hopped on the train to Shinjuku with the intention of heading up to Ain Soph.Ripple Kabukicho for a burger and fries.
But I saw I was near ‘Golden Gai’ which my mate Lini had told me to wander around. So I thought I should! En route I found Godzilla, making humps and I very happy. I was right in the Tokyo that I imagined, and, that I thought I wouldn’t like. But I loved it! The bustle, the lights, the noise, the colour! Just buzzing, soaking up the neon.
I had no idea what to expect from Golden Gai, but definitely not small, dark alleyways! Suddenly I remembered conversations about this place with Naomi, a mate who had lived in Tokyo for years. I remember thinking it sounded very cool.
The area is full of little cubby hole bars that can only sit about eight people in each and I thought how much I would have loved this in my drinking days. So, when a guy playing guitar tried to get me to come and join him after initially saying no, I went back and had an iced tea, listened to pretty terrible Beatles and U2 covers and just laughed with the other random punters for 20 minutes. Well worth the 500¥ drink.
I walked around a little more, then headed off for burgers. Perfect pit stop, as you can see.
So, enough for one day? Not quite… I headed off to the nearby batting cages and literally got my assed kicked. Each entrance tells you the speed of the pitch, ranging between 70-100km/hour and so I headed down to 70km/hour. For ¥300 (3 x ¥100 coins, there are change machines available) you get 26 balls thrown at you. I picked up a bat and just tried my best. Many I missed, a few I actually hit hit, but generally I was pretty stoked if the ball made contact with the bat! I did this a few times, and in one stupid attempt to set up a picture on my phone, thinking I was quick enough to do so, I got a ball smashed into my ass. Haha. Before leaving I couldn’t help but have a few goes on a Time Crisis as well.
Back at the hostel I went to bed with achey legs and feet, but grinning from ear to ear. Tokyo you had well and truly won me over! I wasn’t sure how I would sleep, I was so excited about the following days plan of history and hardcore (the Christmas morning-esque excitement was mainly about the gig) but luckily exhaustion won out and I slept soundly & solidly.