I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Kawagoe, Part 3 (Evening)

Going further into the afternoon, the two of us continued our trek into Kawagoe by visiting the remains of a castle and then the local museum before walking back to the main drag of Koedo. By that time, the sun was setting lower into the horizon and then the evening lights flashed on. It was a pity that darkness hadn't come a little sooner since I think that would have been the peak for taking photos of a atmospheric Koedo.

Something quite jazzy and urbane could have become a nice theme song for Koedo of the evening.

The neighbourhood is also famous for the Toki no Kane(時の鐘...The Bell of Time)so we took a few photos of that place as well.

Kawagoe, Part 2 (The Cafe)

After our sumptuous eel-on-rice lunch, we took a little walk around Koedo but then decided it was time for some coffee. A short search revealed a nice little cafe called Aburi Coffee on a side street.

One thing that I've loved about Japan is that whether it's the big city or the small town, individualistic coffee shops can pop up like mushrooms. Of course, there are the big chains such as Starbucks, Tully's and Excelsior Coffee, and they're all fine, but I love the mom-and-pop shop in that small part of town. The coffee might not exactly be inexpensive but customers can settle in for some nice relaxing atmosphere and a choice of different brands of the brew. Incidentally, we went for the usual cake set so I had cheesecake.

I realize that there are plenty of cafe-friendly kayo/J-Pop that I could have chosen from, and in fact, I've come across compilations at places like Tower Records which focus on such music, but I always seem to come back to Tomita Lab's(冨田ラボ)"Nemuri no Mori"(眠りの森)featuring Hanaregumi(ハナレグミ). The song has that right blend of sunniness and relaxation, a couple of ingredients that would be good for a spate of coffee and conversation at a cafe.

Kawagoe, Part 1

One of my aims during this past trip was to visit the small city of Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture which was located just 30 minutes away from Ikebukuro, Tokyo by express train. Now about a quarter of a century ago, I actually had visited the city but only for a regional JET conference which meant that we teachers were basically restricted to a small convention centre for the three days. I didn't see anything else.

Cue ahead to the 21st century and I was doing my work translating travel articles for my other client when I was re-acquainted with Kawagoe. And this time, I was intrigued by the Koedo district within the city because of its old-fashioned style of centuries past, so I made up my mind and decided to keep one day open to visit the area. My former student was kind enough to accompany me to Kawagoe as well.

The weather wasn't exactly sunny but the rain mostly held itself off to a few drops here and there. It was quite nice walking through the various streets within the townscape of a little Edo.

Now, one of the reasons that I decided to head for Kawagoe was that there was an alley there selling dagashi (駄菓子 sweets and snacks). There were quite a few shops there and I managed to buy a couple of bags of the above which were tiny yakisoba crackers. I thought it would make a nice contrast with all of the Kit Kat I would later purchase.

Of course, no loopy goth-loli suddenly attacked me with her theories on dagashi but I did enjoy the anime she starred in early last year, and I will be looking forward to her return in January.

Now, before I left on my journey to Kawagoe, my friend and I had bought something called a Kawagoe Premium Discount Pass at Ikebukuro Station for 950 yen each which would cover not only the round trip to the city but also provide discounts and even some souvenirs at restaurants and shops in the Koedo area.

And one of those restaurants happened to be an eel place called Unakko. And I do love me my eel...more than fugu. Dang, that was some fine unaju we had there. We didn't get a discount on our lunch but we did get some free tenugui.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

East Shinjuku

Not ever being much of a drinker (although I have to thank the nation of Japan to at least introducing me to beer and sake) and, for that matter, a purveyor of some of the other sinful pleasures, I never really got to explore Shinjuku and its smaller sector of Kabukicho too deeply. Over the years, I have heard from some students that the place is rife with evil stuff and too dangerous to enter.

To be honest, I have walked through the streets of Kabukicho a number of times with friends after catching a movie at the Milano, and aggressive touts aside, I think Toronto has spookier areas at night.

Of course, there is Golden Gai, the famous alley in Shinjuku which has these old-fashioned bars crammed in cheek by jowl that provide plenty of libation. I never got that close to it but a couple of weeks ago, I passed by Omoide Yokocho(思いで横町...Alley of Memories)which has its own group of old-fashioned joints.

Even as a non-drinker (basically) though, there is a certain charm and attraction to East Shinjuku with all of the bright lights and big city. If my liver and other internal organs could have handled metabolic poison and nicotine, I probably would have gone into one of those joints, if only to get into the mood of some of those Mood Kayo singers.

There is one in particular that I'm thinking of now.


I was walking through West Shinjuku on the 6th when I saw one of those huge skyscrapers emblazoned with Godzilla himself/herself. It was kind of a surprise to see that...somewhat akin to seeing a kanji tattoo etched into the arm of Audrey Hepburn. But hey, The Big Green One is one of the most famous exports of Japanese pop culture into the world.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to go too deep into Kabukicho in East Shinjuku this time around but a semi-model of Godzilla has been erected over a new movie theatre. It's hard to see in the above photo but if you just look off in the distance through that side street going into Kabukicho, you may just see his head popping up.

Humbert Humbert -- Onaji Hanashi(おなじ話)

Friend and reader of "Kayo Kyoku Plus", Lorence, asked me during my trip about which bands, singers or duos in Japan that I felt needed more appreciation or attention from the masses. I'm pretty certain that there are a number of artists out there whose fans feel that they have been vastly underrated. As for myself, there aren't too many I know that I believe have been left out in the cold. Perhaps PSY-S to some extent but then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that PSY-S and their fans were quite happy with their situation without having to worry about rankings and profile. I can also mention Atsuko Hiyajo(比屋定篤子)who I just wrote about a few minutes ago.

There's that iceberg analogy that I've often referred to over the years here about chipping away at the lower hidden 9/10ths of Japanese pop singers. That's not just me but there are performers who have been unknown to the vast majority of the population.

Lorence then introduced me to this duo called Humbert Humbert(ハンバート_ハンバート). Never heard of them before but they do have a J-Wiki entry in which I found out that they play pop, rock and folk. Currently a husband-and-wife duo consisting of Ryosei Sato(佐藤良成)and Yuuho Sano(佐野遊穂), Humbert Humbert started out as a 6-member unit with members coming from Wako University and Waseda University. The call of permanent employment then whittled the band down to the duo.

The first song I've heard is "Onaji Hanashi" (Same Ol' Talk), their 4th single as a major act released in February 2005. It's a very folksy and heartwarming tune about a couple who have obviously been around each other for a good long while and are now completely at ease. Sato provided words and music with the lyrics showing a playful back-and-forth conversation between the two. The talk comes across as so familiar that I could imagine translating the lyrics would come out with plenty of contractions such as "What'cha doin'?" and "Where are ya?"

"Onaji Hanashi" didn't appear on Oricon and for that matter, none of their singles so far have shown up on the charts. I only know the one song so far but not making any dent on Oricon is a bit of a pity. It's a nice refreshing tune made for neighbourhood walks and cafe musings. Then again, I think a lot of these so-called underrated and underappreciated acts probably feel that they don't need Oricon or invitations to the Kohaku Utagassen for approval. As long as they have a dedicated fan base and they themselves are enjoying the journey (and are making enough money), that's good enough.

Atsuko Hiyajo -- Kokoro Tokashite(心溶かして)

Let me once more extend my good wishes on any American readers of "Kayo Kyoku Plus" for a Happy Thanksgiving. I personally don't really have too many turkey dinners with all of the trimmings anymore so you have my blessings...and my envy. Most likely, you may still be in the midst of dinner after which you'll be digesting contentedly in that armchair before pumpkin pie.

Well, this song will have you going right off to a good way, of course. This is Atsuko Hiyajo's(比屋定篤子)"Kokoro Tokashite" (Thaw My Heart) from her 4th album "Hiyajo"(ひやじょう) from February 2004. Nothing like a soothing bossa nova ballad to have you relaxing and blissfully breaking down all that food and drink in your gastrointestinal tract.

For that matter, on the strength of this one number, I'm now wondering about investing in an copy of "Hiyajo". I was certainly plenty happy with the discovery of her via "Maware Maware"(まわれまわれ)last year.