Monday, September 18, 2006

Harajuku, Part 7: The next Orange Range - NOT!

The next Orange Range (NOT)

Continue off from the sideshow of goth and glam, and you'll see a show of another kind: Rock and Roll.

Every Sunday, about a dozen or so bands set up along the sidewalk that runs in front of Yoyogi park. Most of them are hard rock outfits, though you'll find the occasional poppy/acoustic groups as well.

Most of these groups are aspiring professionals. They've invested huge amounts of money in their equipment, and massive amounts of time into honing their craft.

Some are even lucky enough to get paying gigs in clubs around town. They have friends come along to hand out flyers to get people to come see them play. These shows they do here serve as a type of free publicity. After all, you have to get people to come see you somehow.

But what's most amazing is how the groups seem to have some kind of tacit understanding. Though the bands were all set up within only a few metres of each other, no two adjacant bands were playing at the same time. It's almost as if there's a gentleman's agreement not to try and drown each other out.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Harajuku, part 6: On the scene

On the scene

On this particular day, the place was buzzing with members of the press. These two were obviously part of of some TV show. I suppose those who can't (or won't) get in here themselves still like to take a gander at the funky carnival that goes on every week. Perhaps they even like to live vicariously through these daring souls who have the guts to shake off the shackles of this conformist society and dare to be different.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Harajuku, part 5: Gettin pretty


All this exhibitionism requires constant attention to details. It's not uncommon to see these girls pulling out their mirrors every few minutes to check their makeup. I can only imagine how much time they spend in front of the mirror at home getting ready.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Harajuku, part 4: Flair

Elaborate costume

Some of the costumes can be quite elaborate. This woman, who works a regular part-time job during the week, got together with some friends to put together their own little show. When I asked her why she does this, she just said two words: "it's fun."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Harajuku, Part 3: Kendo woman

Kendo woman

This is Christine, an Assistant Language Teacher from the U.S. living in Tochigi prefefcture. It's one of the "country" prefectures, about an hour and half train ride away from the city.

Christine comes in to Harajuku most Sundays to put on her own show in the park. She's been practicing Kendo--the Japanese form of fencing--for a couple of years now. She thought it would add a bit of a different flavour to the Harajuku scene, so she decided to come down and join the show.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Harajuku, part 2: more Harajuku girls

Group of friends

The girls come from all reaches of the city, as well as from the prefectures that encircle the city. Most of them look perfectly ordinary during the week. They wear their uniforms, be they for school or work. Their makeup doesn't stand out.

Nor can they afford to let it do so. There's an old Japanese proverb: the nail that sticks out gets pounded down. In other words, conform or be ostracized.

Granted, it's been changing a lot in recent years. Major celebreties from athletes like Ichiro with his spiky hair and goatee to Prime Minister Koizumi with his lion-like mane of salt-and-pepper hair have pushed the envelope of what is acceptable in everyday Japan.

However, by and large, these are exceptions. The rules are still very much written in stone. No earrings for men. No facial piercings for anyone. And certainly no tattoos. Dark suits. White shirts. Boring ties. 70/30 parted hairstyles. Conformity.

So when Sunday comes around, those who are young enough to get away with it--or wish they were--flock down to Harajuku to inject their lives with colour and flair. And those who can't do it themselves come instead to recapture their youth vicariously through those who still can.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Harajuku, part 1: Harajuku girls

Harajuku girls

Harajuku station sits just one stop away from Shibuya. Technically a part of Shibuya ward, Harajuku is a few inches away on the colour spectrum of this eclectic city. It's famous for a number of things, but in recent years it's become especially famous for one thing: Harajuku girls.

Gwen Stefani popularized these denizens of central Tokyo in her music videos. But what you see there is only the tip of the iceberg. Harajuku girls come in all stripes, from goth to glam. They come to see each other, but most importantly, the come to be seen.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Shiubuya, Part 5: Preaching to the choir

Preaching to the choir

As with any lively place like Shibuya, anyone who goes there expects a bit of noise and crowding. Most of it is part of the atmosphere, creating a palpable energy that makes it all part of the draw.

But sometimes there's an element that creates a distatsteful dissonance, like eating a great piece of sushi with too much wasabi.

In recent years, there's been a resurgence of right-wing nationalism in Japan. These uyoku groups snake their way through the city in giant sound trucks, assaulting the eardrums of passers-by with their blaring martial music.

To make matters worse, they will often stop wherever there's heavy foot traffic to bombard everyone with their jingoistic tirades. Sometimes they'll even hand out flyers, but for the most part they just preach from atop their trucks, surrounded by bodygards.

But like any extremist movement, their words often fall on deaf ears. Nobody cares. They've heard it all before, and they have no interest. They just learn to block it out as part of the background noise, as they move on to the fun and excitement of this energetic city.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Shibuya, part 4: The Kanji Man

Kanji man

Shibuya also has a plethora of different kinds of vendors and artists. Or, in this case, artist-vendors. This man writes customized calligraphy based on your name and what kinds of things you want written. People gather around and stand enthralled as the characters flow from his brush like a quiet river. He seems completely oblivious to the gawking crowd around him as he writes words that are as much art to look at as to read.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Look, I'm on TV!

I'm on TV!

Just beyond the Hachiko statue is the Hachoko crossing. This is arguable one of the busiest crosswalks in Japan. It's at the crux of this city that's always humming with an electical vibe. The people crisscross here like electrons through the circuits of this massive metropolis.

The electicity is in the air too--literally. Giant TV screens surround the area, blasting forth advertising messages, music clips, and even a shot of the street below.

It serves as the perfect mirror of a city that never seems to slow down. Always moving, always buzzing, always vibrant.

That's Tokyo.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Shibuya, part 2: Hachiko


The Hachiko exit of Shibuya station is a popular meeting spot for people of all ages. Most people hooking up for a day in the city choose this cute little dog statue as a place to find each other.

There's a rather interesting history behind this statue. Hachiko was a real dog--he belonged to a Tokyo University professor named Eisaburo Ueno in the 1920's.

Hachiko was the quintessential example of the spirit that embodies man's best friend. He would see professor Ueno to the station every morning, and trot out to wait for him as he came home at night.

When the professor died, his wife moved out of Tokyo. She gave Hachiko to some relatives who lived near the station, but he wouldn't stay with them. Every time he had a chance, he would dash away to Tokyo station to wait for his master.

Years later, one of professor Ueno's former students heard about Hachiko's constant vigil. He wrote about it, and the story quickly became a national sensation. People used the story as a symbol of the kind of loyalty they were trying to promote.

Eventually, Hachiko's popularity grew to the point that a bronze statue was carved in his honour. He was even present at the unveiling in April 1934. It was melted down to aid in the war effort during World War II. But even this couldn't diminish his fame. After the war, people petitioned for--and were granted--a new statue in Hachiko's honour.

Hachiko died in 1935. But even today, over 70 years later, it's no surpise that people choose to meet by the statue of the dog who would always be waiting for his master.

(Special thanks to Wikipedia for information for this article.)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Shibuya, Part 1

Cuttin through the crowd

First off, I want to say I'm sorry for not posting anything here in such a long while. The journal side of things requires a lot more inspiration, a lot more preparation, and a lot more something else that ends in -ation. If you're looking for lots of photos by me, hop on over to Stardog Photos and take a look.

So here I'm starting a new series on Shibuya. It's probably one of the busiest areas of Tokyo. This is especially true of the area surrounding Shibuya Station. Gigantic throngs of people descend on this mecca of shopping and night life every day. The ensuing masses form gigantic crowds as they push along to wherever they happen to be going, whether it be perusing the fashionable shops and boutiques, meeting friends for a quick bite, or heading out for a wild night of drinking and dancing.