Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tokyo Feb 09.

This was meant as a draft but I guess I'll just put everything here till I get some time to organize and write a bit more about it. These are some of the events (using the term that my pictures were organized automatically by my iMac's iPhoto program.) that I went to on my trip to Tokyo last month.

Jizo statues. Originally, Jizo was venerated as the guardian saint of aborted, still born or miscarried babies. These statues are sometimes accompanied by little piles of stones, or wearing bibs or baby clothings left by grieving parents.

Tokyo Tower, 333m tall and icon of modern Tokyo. Elevator crush to get visitors to the mid-250m level. 3 elevators only moving thousands up and down everyday. Sigh.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Akihabara - All things weird and wonderful

Akihabara Electric Town, Japan

Akihabara, nowadays shortened to Akiba, is the gravitational center of all things you imagine the modern unconventional japan that is. Especially if you think electronics, gadgets, anime, cosplay, maid cafes, internet and all things that are weird and typically Japanese in nature.

Remember the time when Sony introduced the Walkman? Walk Man? The mind boggled at the 'japaneseness' of this word. Today we understand instantly but back when it was launched, you wondered whether to laugh or cry at the mangling of such terms.

And this is what Akiba is all about. Here in this city within Tokyo, the Akihabara Electric Town is the epitome of Japanese quirkiness.

The main focus in this place is consumer electronics. You find the latest gadgets here long before it is introduced to the rest of the world.
I remembered back in 2002 when we were still selling normal 29" and 34" large CRT TVs (I work for an electronic retail store) and had just begun selling 14" & 21" LCD TVs, our jaws dropped when we saw whopping 42" LCD TVs being sold here! Hitachi it was, I can still recall.

Today, Akiba has evolved from purely electronics to the internet and video gaming arenas and more especially into the center of the anime revolution. Anime is the Japanese form of cartoons and animation. And this place continues to evolve, with maid cafes being the current craze.

Here in Akiba are found all the unusual things that you would normally only fantasize about out. Almost everything you want can be found in about 400 to 500 stores surrounding the Akihabara train station. Building after building, each 7, 8 or 10 floors tall, all catering to a certain aspect of the electronic trade.
I went into Pockets, the store you see in the picture above top left (under the bridge). It sold nothing but used Apple products, all re-conditioned and looking new. G4 Macs were going for only US$300!

However, not everything is computer related. The building next door called Merci Love is an adult store with 8 floors of paraphernalia ranging from truly unmentionables for all your wildest fetishes to adults toys. to new as well as used uniforms and used underwear. (Whatever for, I'll leave that to your imagination)

Akihabara is that quirky side of Japan that you want to see. There is really nothing in the world that comes close to its uniqueness.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Postcards on my blog?

My sister Sue was browsing through my latest blog entries and commented that my photos were suspiciously like postcards. Postcards?? Postcards!!!??? I am sure she meant it as a compliment.

Well, I do admit that about half a dozen pictures in my blog don't belong to me but credit has been given to its rightful owners. But most definitely all the others photos are NOT postcards scanned and inserted.

All these were taken by me with my trusty little Casio 10 megapixel EX-Z200 digital camera. I used to dabble in photography with my Nikons and Canons but that was in the days of celluloid films. Today I just carry as small a camera as possible which is wonderful for traveling.

On the other hand, I do readily admit that all my pictures are doctored, or in today's terminology, photoshopped.

And why not? It's not cheating or deception. There's a whole host of programs out there you can use to enhance, embellish and correct all your mistakes prior to letting the whole world look at your pictures. I'd rather look at photos that are nice and presentable than to look at boring raw footage.

I've been using Photoshop since it was called Photoshop ver. 3 back in the 1980's. And I can tell you that all major magazines of supermodels from Sports Illustrated to Vogue have been photoshopped. In the old days it was called airbrushing.

Enhancing your photos not only gives you the satisfaction of perfecting your lousy shots but also, I am sure, reduces the pain for those you present it to for viewing.

For example, some of the pictures from my last couple of postings against the original raw digital photos....

Original ------------------------ Photoshop

Original -------------------------------Photoshop

Original ------------------------Photoshop

Some of the obvious mistakes we amateur photographers all make are capturing too much details, buildings that are tilted and not vertical and the horizon not being leveled. These are very common mistakes which with a little manipulation can make the picture so much better.

So there, Sue, definitely no postcards here. But with a little photoshop magic you can make your pictures to look like postcards.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sakuratei- Finding a gem in Tokyo

Harajuku, Tokyo, February 22, 2009

Since my last posting about dining on Monjayaki back in Sep 08, the truth was that I had not had this dish despite the number of trips I've made back to Tokyo since then.

Thus, it was to the greatest of satisfaction that I found Sakuratei in the back street area of Harajuku. This delightful little restaurant, with its youthful and friendly servers, may be a little off the usual beat for tourists at the moment. But as Harajuku is still spreading from the main Omote-sando and Takeshita-dori areas into the back lanes, this restaurant will soon, no doubt, be right in the midst of the growing Harajuku cultural area.

Sakuratei is located right at the edge of the residential area. I had found the place after walking right through Takeshita-dori, that youth and fashion mecca street, and into an entirely new area which I had yet to venture, and was on the verge of turning back when I spotted this semi-hidden gem.

There are about 20 tables which can can seat 2-6 persons and their specialties are Monja-yaki and Okonomi-yaki. The decor is fun and youthful in keeping with the Harajuku culture.

They have an excellent menu which, because I was gaijin (foreigner), was given to me in the English version. Accompanying this menu were also instructions on how to cook your monja-yaki. Nothing could have been easier.

Cooked Monja-yaki (..I hope!!)

In my previous posting on recommending you to try Monja whilst in Tokyo, I would now specifically direct you to this gem of a restaurant in Harajuku. You won't be intimidated by the strangeness of this Tokyoite dish here and I can assure you that it is delicious. Goes along great with some sake or beer.

Crossing outside Harajuku Station

Monday, March 02, 2009

Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

Even if you've not heard of Studio Ghibli, you might have in fact seen some of their anime. These include the 2002 Oscar winning animation, Spirited Away, or more recently, Ponyo by the cliff over the sea.

Since the 1980s, they have been producing classics like My Neighbor Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, Laputa:Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service, Nausicaa and Graveyard of the Fireflies.

If you have not, then you might want to watch this short compilation for a quick overview of the genius of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli films.

Please Click on the picture if the top Youtube clip didn't appear.

On my recent trip to Tokyo, I just had to make a trip to the Ghibli Museum. It was almost like a pilgrimage to see the holy of holies where Miyazaki dispenses out his blessings on the world in the form of Totoro, Kiki, Ponyo and the likes.

Ghibli Museum is located in the city of Mitaka, about 15 mins out of Tokyo by rapid express train. To gain entrance to the Museum, an advance ticket purchase is required. Strangely, the tickets can only be ordered through the Lawson convenience stores using their Loppi ticket machines! For those who can't read japanese, it can be quite intimidating I tell you, but luckily, the Lawson store clerks were only too happy to help out bewildered gaijins like me!

Inside the Museum. Photography not allowed! hee hee.

Entrance to the Museum

The gardener Robot from Laputa:Castle in the sky.
It looks after the garden on the Museum rooftop.

Salariman's domain - Ikebukuro japan

Ikebukuro, Tokyo Japan

This area was largely unknown to the tourist trade, being home to smaller corporations and suburban workers or salariman (salaried employees) as is commonly called by the Japanese.

However, Ikebukuro (pronounced Ee-ke-bu-kro) actually has the 2nd busiest train station in Tokyo after Shinjuku and is the terminal for the Narita Express and subways like the Ginza and Yurakucho lines. Deviously, the train station was built by 2 major departmental stores, the Seibu and the Tobu, built directly above the tracks. These are humongous stores where you can literally get lost within. You are fed directly off the train platforms into the department stores with its enticing sales and food outlets. Talk about retaining customers!

Over the past years, Ikebukuro has come into its own and is now a tourist mecca due to lower prices here than in more popular localities like Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ginza. More so, with the construction of more mega-malls like the Sunshine City, Amlux Toyota showroom, Louis Vuitton showroom, Mitsukoshi and Parco department stores. Yet, it still retains an old charm of Japanese culture with its myriad small neighborhood shops.

Ikebukuro at night

Amlux building houses the Toyota Showroom and Museum.
A must see destination for sporting and car enthusiasts.

Family Mart is just one of the several convenience store located all over Tokyo.
Commonly known as 'conben'. Others are 7-11, am~pm and Lawsons.
Buying your necessities from these stores saves you lots of money.
You can also have meals within most stores.

Japanese goods store in Sunshine City mall

A Pachinko & Gaming parlour.

A Discount Store with its typical Japanese signages.