fredag 27 mars 2009

School's out forever!

Not really. 
But two days ago, I took the final (and only) exam of my 13-week Japanese conversation course. I passed, and that means I pretty much don't have to worry too much about school. I still have to go, though.
This week was also the second half of my parents' visit to Tokyo (including our trip to Seoul.)
Due to my impending examination, I spent most of Monday and Tuesday studying, with the exception of a brief venture to Shinjuku and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. Aside from housing the headquarters of The Government, it has an observation deck that granted us yet another spectacular view of Tokyo. 
We had dinner at a place called The Lion Beer Hall, which is a German-inspired restaurant in Ginza. They serve sausages, fish & chips and pizza, and occasionally a group of lederhosen-wearing Japanese will fill the spacious room with Bavarian folk music. It ranks among the top five on my list of WTF? But in a good way.

On Wednesday, I took the test. I did quite well, 102 points out of 120 (which, in reality, means nothing if I can't actually speak to Japanese people on the street, but it's nice anyway.)
After it's completion, I set my brain for celebration and relaxation, and we headed for Shimo-kitazawa – everyone's favorite Tokyo hippie hideout. Even in grey and cold weather, the area is a great walk-around, with tons of small shops selling arts and crafts, used clothing and records (you know, hippie stuff.)
After some tea, cake and three magnificent records bought, we decided to move on. 

A travel guide to Tokyo had given us the idea to visit a restaurant called Jidaiya, in Akasaka. There are hundreds of restaurants in Tokyo that claim to have more or less "genuine" Japanese cuisine. Some merely serve very good sushi, like in Tsukiji. 
This particular establishment is the most honestly Japanese place I've been to, with some of the best food I've ever had. This included sashimi, tempura, miso, yakimono (a simple piece of fried fish) and plain, white rice. All of it absolutely superb, and the staff was extremely friendly.

Yesterday was my parents' last day in Tokyo, and the sun was shining. They wanted to check out my accomodations, past and present, so we visited Shimura sanchome and Kugahara. It was nice to see the neighborhood again, greener than before.
We then set course for Ebisu, and the Tokyo museum of photography. An exhibition about photography's evolution in Japan, and one by Japanese photographer Yanagi Miwa were interesting enough. Especially the former, which included large daguerreotype images of daimyo and their samurai from the mid 1800's. 
Given the quality of Thursday's dinner, it seemed impossible to find Japanese food that could match it for our final dinner in Tokyo. So, we instead opted for some righteous indian food. Curry, naan, pilau rice and mango lassie. A perfect finish.

These two weeks have been amazing. I've seen areas of Tokyo previously unknown to me, and revisited past favorites. 
Now, the countdown begins. Today I have 29 days left here, and I hope to make the best of them.

The view from Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

A man walking his monkey, Shimokitazawa.

Dinner at Jidaiya.

Back in Kugahara.

onsdag 25 mars 2009

Gangnam it!

I've been to Korea!
I meant to write more and sooner about that, but I've been a busy sumbitch, what with the end-of-term test and all.
I dealt with said examination yesterday, so now I'm officially set to giveth-not-a-fuck mode.
But first things first.

On Friday morning, me and the 'rents boarded an early flight for Seoul's Incheon airport, arriving in a slightly warmer climate than Tokyo's.
One thing that struck me immediately about Seoul was how spacious it is, considering the size of the city. Whereas Tokyo is a dense carpet of houses and skyskrapers, Seoul offers more in way of… you know, plants and stuff. It reminded me of Los Angeles, but without all the crap.
Anyway, the bus ride from the airport to the hotel was very smooth, an introduction of sorts to an exceptionally comfortable weekend in South Korea.
We stayed at the Imperial Palace hotel. They're not kidding with that name. The place reeks with british imperial splendour, with every surface in gold and dark wood, and every member of staff dressed in sterile suits calling you "sir" if you pass them by.
Our room on the 16th floor had a western view of the sprawling mass of concrete and neon that is Seoul, and carried on the style of the hotel. Fancy, but in a charming way.
After settling in, we decided to scout the nearby area for food and sights. This turned out to be quite the task. What seemed like a walk around the block was in fact a few subway stops away. Alas, we walked on, impervious to fatigue.
After a really Korean lunch of juk – vegetable gruel, similar to risotto – and kimchi (naturally) we found the Coex mall and adjacent Kimchi Museum. Now, the Kimchi Museum might very well be the single best museum on earth. 
Kimchi is pickled vegetables, usually cabbage. And there's a museum about it. Fantastic.
We actually had dinner at the hotel, which I would normally think to be a bit simplistic and uninspiring. Except, the hotel had a buffet of some of the best food I've had. It was ridiculous. Dozens of hot and cold dishes, raw vegetables, soup, desserts. Very nice indeed. 
We went there for breakfast twice, and it was much the same. Any tasty, hearty breakfast ingredient one can think of, and more.

Day number two began on the subway, as we had now accepted the distance between the various sights we wanted to see. These included several fine temples, the Seoul Museum of History and Seoul Tower. All of these were nice to see, and the bus that traveled conveniently between most of them allowed us further viewing. 
Dinner was had at a place called Mad for Garlic which, as the name insinuates, is not a sushi restaurant. We had garlic bread, garlic fondue (!) and more garlic bread, followed by three different garlic-heavy pizzas. Pretty strange, but none the less good food.

My final day of Korean adventures took me to the electronics market of Yongsan where everything was suspiciously cheap and there were hardly any people. And to more temples, in the beautiful Changgyeonggung palace. I also made use of the hotel's swimming facilities, which were unsurprisingly fancy.

After three days in Seoul, I could make certain observations:
  • Koreans eat Kimchi in, on, and with everything. It's not a way to prepare food, it's a religion. I also suspect that it's a ritual form of embalming corpses, to cover them in Kimchi.
  • Korea is cheap! Compared to Tokyo it's vastly different, but even by proper standards, Seoul is a great place to shop.
  • Korea is slightly more American than Japan (I feel the need to compare the two countries) with Wal-Mart, Dunkin' Donuts and the like. But it's actually not that big a difference.

fredag 20 mars 2009


When Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and others founded Ghibli Studios in 1985, they weren't fluent in Italian. None the less, they were determined to call their new company "Jee-buri", which is how it's pronounced here. Personally, I think some Japanese companies should just stay away from certain grammatical deathtraps (or simply, certain letters…)
Anyway, why I'm even mentioning this is because yesterday we visited the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. The museum is a colourful and cartoony building situated within Inokashira park, not far from Shinjuku. It contains a playful exhibition on the history of cinema, a mock-up of an animation studio (which may or may not look anything like the real thing) and a gift shop.
Also, a huge robot from Castle In The Sky.
But perhaps most importantly, the building houses a cinema where visitors are treated to an exclusive screening of a short film by Ghibli Studios. These films are not available anywhere else, so it's a pretty big deal.
The one we saw yesterday is the 16-minute Hoshi o Katta hi ("The day I harvested a star"), directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was really great, and full of Miyazaki-like quirkyness and style. 

After this joyful excursion, including a walk around Inokashira, we headed back to Shinjuku for dinner at a place that specialized in sukiyaki. A big bowl of boiling broth is placed in the center of the table, and guests are free to dunk whatever vegetable, meat or fish they want into it. I've had it before, but not like this. An interesting experience. And good food.

Today I decided to get some god damn studying done, seeing as how I have less than a week to remind myself of everything I've learned over the past couple of months. The sun was doing it's thing, it was about 23º C, so me and three classmates went to the Imperial garden to hit the books. 
Afterwards, I met my parents at their ryokan in Asakusa. We went for a short walk around the tourist-packed but somehow genuinely japanese neighborhood, bought chopsticks, and found some nice tempura for dinner. A fine evening, to be sure.

Tomorrow, Korea! I have absolutely no expectations whatsoever. 

tisdag 17 mars 2009

Out and about.

Wow. The last three days have been busy. On Sunday, my parents landed in sunny Tokyo, so at two o'clock we met up at their hotel by Tokyo Dome. The tourist-friendly area surrounding said Dome contains many souvenir-shops, restaurants, a roller-coaster and a shopping mall, and so is worth a good walk around. We had lunch at the über-japanese establishment of Bubba Gump Shrimp, where I wolfed down my own weight in seafood (seemed like the thing to do.)
Afterwards, we headed towards Akihabara for more walking and general sightseeing. A proper, good japanese dinner finished Sunday off nicely.

Yesterday was busier still. We met up after my three hours of school and took the subway to Tsukiji, where one can famously sample the best sushi in the world (and that's a pretty realistic statement – sushi was invented and perfected in Tokyo, and in Tsukiji you can eat fish that's been dead for less than six hours.)
Great food, of course. But the sheer atmosphere of the place was just as satisfying.
Not one to waste time, I swiftly led the way towards the Rainbow Bridge, which leads to the artificial island of Odaiba. 
The plan was to walk across the bridge (a fairly ambitious scheme, in hindsight) but it was closed. So we took the monorail instead, which is obviously a lot cooler.
Odaiba itself is hard to judge after just one brief visit, but I do love the futuristic architecture of the Fuji TV-building, Tokyo Big Sight and The Museum of Maritime Science. 
And the Tokyo skyline from a kind-of-boardwalk café is not a bad view.
After all this fresh air and open space, we thought it more than appropriate to nose-dive straight into the heart of the metropolis for dinner. After a quick tour of Tokyo Tower (a 333 m imitation of the Eiffel Tower, with an extremely impressive view) we found a well-enough-looking restaurant in Ginza.
Though I'm not entirely sure why, because the entire menu was in japanese (which I understood some of, but not enough to make a confident decision about what to order.)
Anyway, it ended well with some grilled salmon, chicken and tuna, plus a sallad and some potatoes. 

Today was busiest of all. I wanted to take the folks to a Tokyo favorite of mine – the Brown Rice café in Omote-sando – so that was our first destination. After waiting for a table a bit too long, I got my hands on a vegan burger and a red fruit slushy of some sort. All was delicious, all was well.
This location also meant a close proximity to Harajuku, leading into Shibuya, and off we went for more easy strolling in the sunshine. We did some shopping (books, frying pans that look like Winnie the Pooh, colourful socks, etc.) and took several pictures of Shibuya crossing, like real tourists. I love it!
Today is St Patrick's day, so from Shibuya we took the train to Roppongi for Guinness and green hats at a very Irish pub. Really cool, and pretty random considering that I've never celebrated St Patrick's day before (but that's all about to change, now I've seen the fun-and-fancy-free that is catholicism, I'm like totally converted!)
We had dinner at Wolfgang Puck's, which is not very japanese at all, except for a pair of starters that pretty much blew my head off. I had some fish after that, which was also ridiculously good.

Pictures will follow.

lördag 14 mars 2009


Well hell, I never meant for this to be a weekly endeavour. 

The past couple of weeks have just all looked fairly similar. I spend monday through friday taking walks to and around record stores close to the school, eating rice, studying and talking to my favorite gal until bedtime.

And since I don't have much to share on the subject of rice-cooking, or what records I want to buy (but haven't, yet) I just don't write that much.
Well, a slap on the wrist for me.

This week I went to Ginza, again. It takes a good 30-40 minutes to walk from school to the posh, New Yorkish Ginza-dori, so if I feel like visiting the Apple store or Uniclo (or just walking south because it feels like going downhill) I'll steer towards fancytown.
This particular promenade was, as usual, fairly fruitless. Except for one item – a book that Nathalie bought called Tokyo Maniacs Guide. It's a somewhat random collection of tips about record stores, cafés, thrift shops and other such gems, in areas like Shimokitazawa, Shibuya and Harajuku. It basically seems very useful to me, even though I have yet to take advantage of it.

I also went back to Daikanyama. I've been there twice before, which isn't really a big deal now that I've discovered it's proximity to Shibuya. It's just part of the area between Shibuya and Ebisu (oh, and for those of you who haven't been to Tokyo – sorry about all this geography nonsense.)
I like Daikanyama. I think. It's a pretty area, I like the many small shops and the ultra-hip, english-speaking japanese who occupy them. What I don't like is the price of almost anything you find there. A second-hand t-shirt shouldn't cost 3500 yen.
Having said that, me and my companion did stumble upon some colourful ski hats, and bought five for 500 yen. Nice!

Apart from that, I'm trying to study for the test in less than two weeks. We are still learning new and exciting ways to conjugate verbs in japanese, which seems to be all they ever do here. Like a hobby or a lifestyle.
"Say, are you at all into music or films?" 
"No, I'm far too busy conjugating verbs in my sparetime. Sorry, ask the Koreans."

Tomorrow my parents will join me here for a two-week tour of Tokyo, and a short trip to Seoul. I'm really looking forward to it, if only to do some proper sightseeing. I've lived here for a while, but being a tourist is great too.

söndag 8 mars 2009

Weak end.

Yesterday was a very long day. Most of it was fun.

I got up bright and early because it's my turn to handle the garbage disposal here in our communist collective. Japan has a very strict and somewhat confusing system of dividing trash by their ability to burn, or be recycled. I'm not sure anyone gets it right, but I'm pretty sure we don't.
At noon I met an old collegue in Harajuku. She's been visiting Tokyo over the weekend, so I had offered my services as a guide. As it turns out, I do know my way around Tokyo, but giving a general tour of the choice locations in the city in less than a day is difficult work. 
We did alot of walking, saw Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Akihabara, and they did some modest shopping. So I think it went well.
It was nice to see a familiar face, too.

When they had seen enough for one day, we parted ways and I headed for Shibuya, to converge with Nathalie and our new japanese friend Kyouhei, who we met at the Café-thing a couple of weeks ago. 
He was one of the many friendly people we spoke to, and helped us get back home (well, tried to…)
Apparently, Kyouhei's friend's band was playing Shibuya AX, so he wondered if we wanted to tag along. Guest list and everything.
Now, I'm not very down with concert venues in Tokyo. I basically don't know any. But Shibuya AX is pretty big. Even bigger is Come Back My Daughter (epic name), the "friend's band" that we saw perform. They were nothing special, or even that good, but I was just excited to see some live music. 
After two and a half hours (!!!) they decided to go home, but we didn't. Even though my body was pretty much devastated from walking and standing for eleven hours, with barely anything to eat, I figured "Aw hell, what are saturdays for, if not staying up all night?"
So we promptly followed Kyouhei to the second gig, a club in Shimokitazawa where yet another friend was set to play around midnight. 
After some much-needed Moss Burger indulgence, we dove into the smokey basement of the Shelter. Dark, hot, inviting. And we got to be on the guest list again.
This was around twelve o'clock, and for the next five hours we were treated to a very random concoction of japanese music, from hip hop to… some sort of keytar-club-shit. I wasn't paying that close attention. 
And for once I managed to get off the Yamanote train at the right stop. We got home at about six.

Today, I've enjoyed a few hours of disturbed and uneasy sleep. And made food! Mmm… rice.

Me, Fredrik and Anna with three japanese students of english, who gave us a spontaneous tour of the Meiji shrine in Yoyogi park.

CBMD and a really good crowd.

Nathalie and Kyouhei – diggin' on some ripe tunes.

Around five AM, ready to throw in the towel.

lördag 7 mars 2009


So, another five days of school careened past me like a salaryman on his lunch-break. This has been a mellow week. 
It's been raining pretty much every day, so I've mostly stayed indoors watching Heroes or reading random articles on wikipedia.
Which is nice, actually. 
But I would rather like some sunshine and, if possible, adventure.

On monday morning I was greeted in school by a jar of peanut butter, courtesy of Akiko-san. She asked José to bring it for me, since she had bought too much peanut butter. She's great.
Yesterday I went for a long walk around Ikebukuro (I originally went there for camera equipment reconnaissance) which yielded seeings of two big graveyards. Very uplifting indeed.
And today I went back to Sweets Paradise with three friends from my class, to once again discover how much pasta and cake I can physically fit into my stomach. It was fabulous and all, but I think twice is enough.

Some musix I'm excited about right now include: M83 – Saturdays = Youth, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Crystal Castles, Deerhoof – Offend Maggie, The Album Leaf – Into The Blue Again, God Is An Astronaut, Stereolab – Peng! and The Great Redneck Hope – Behold The Fuck Thunder. 

Also, I'm watching a lot of Darkwing Duck. Why aren't you?

söndag 1 mars 2009

Rockin' the sanshin all night long

Yesterday I went to a party. Well, "party". How I came to be there I barely understand myself.

A few days ago, one of the other swedes from my school was approached by a woman on the subway named Yumi. She asked him if he wanted to go to a party at her friend's house on saturday (yesterday) and he thought it sounded like a swell idea. She said to bring some friends. 
So he told me about it, and most of our jaunty, swedish gang. He also told his neighbor Phillip, a swiss guy who's in my class.
Gets a bit confusing, I know.
Anyway, last night we were set to meet at Hatsudai station around six o'clock. When I arrived, punctual and proper, there was no one there. Eventually I found Phillip, and the japanese girl from the subway, whom none of us knew. Yumi had with her two friends named Asami and Nami (makes for a great superhero team, doesn't it?)
She informed us that our mutual friend wasn't coming due to illness (I call bullshit, but whatever) and we decided that no one else was going to show. It was him and me.
So, in the company of three japanese girls whom we'd never seen before, we headed off to meet the host of the party, Kazu.
After some last-minute shopping (when someone says they're getting snacks for a party, you don't expect them to leave the store with a bag full of raw vegetables) we found his apartment.
It's located right nearby the Park Hyatt and has a superb, futuristic view of downtown Tokyo.
At this point we'd broken some ice with the usual "I'm swedish. Yes, Ikea. No, I'm not a polar bear." Our four companions were friendly and curious, as per usual.

The "party" turned out to be just the six of us, seated around a low table in Kazu's very small and hospitable flat. We had soup, drank tea and wine, listened to japanese hip hop, and it was great. Really nice. Really friendly people.
Kazu thought it appropriate to produce his sanshin, a japanese lute much like the shamisen that Kobayashi-san plays. Obviously, I couldn't help but lay down a few tight licks. I rock anywhere, at any time.

So, a great night that came to be by unlikely circumstances. I like when that happens.

Asami, Yumi, and soup.

Phillip and Kazu.

Riffing the shit out of a lute.

A merry bunch. Kazu, Yumi, Asami, Nami, Phillip and me.