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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Y'know...I actually had a very brief one-on-one with one of the biggest pop culture figures in Japan today. And he isn't even human. It was the little robot Pepper who apparently had a gig at the Hyatt Regency in Shinjuku. I tried talking with it but didn't really respond to me (sigh, story of my life).

Of course, the musical connection I will apply here can only be Pink Lady's(ピンク・レディー) "Pepper Keibu"(ペッパー警部).😁

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

When I first arrived in Tokyo in 1989 to start off my JET Programme career, we were all wheeled over to the Keio Plaza Hotel, and this behemoth building was being constructed right across from our hotel room.

It would turn out to become the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building or as I would simply put it, Tokyo City Hall. And frankly, first looking at this tower of glass and concrete, I had images of the SDF-1 from "Macross"(マクロス). Wouldn't it have been something if architect Kenzo Tange(丹下健三)had admitted that he had been inspired by the show? Life imitating art, indeed. And my geekiness is showing. I'm sorry.

Even close to 30 years later, some pretty fine photos can be had in this area.

Even decided to go up to the observation deck.

Makoto Fujiwara -- Macross(マクロス)

Oh, goofy me. In the years since I put up the article for the ending theme for the original "Macross"(超時空要塞マクロス)TV series, I had completely forgotten to give tribute to the opening theme for the series. Well, time to rectify this omission.

Mind you, as I did mention in "Runner"(ランナー), I still prefer the ending theme over the opening theme...not particularly because I think "Macross" is bad or anything but I have always been the sap for a sappy sunset ballad.

In any case, as was the case with "Runner", "Macross" was heroically sung by the late Makoto Fujiwara(藤原誠)and was created by Akane Asa and Kentaro Haneda(阿佐茜・羽田健太郎). I had described it as such in "Runner" but I will quote myself here as well: "The opening theme, "Macross" was this spirited steed of an anison which combined some of the old stomp-and-march vocals with a bit of a new pop orchestral sweep."

Listening to the original "Macross", I also discovered that Haneda had included that staccato trumpet phrase which signified the Valkyries getting ready for battle.

Strangely enough, though, I had never seen the anime series in its entirety. The 1984 movie treatment "Ai wo Oboeteimasuka?"(愛・おぼえていますか...Do You Remember Love?)was my first exposure to "Macross" after watching the US treatment of it via "Robotech". And yikes, was it an upgrade from the series! The animation struck me as being rougher and more glorious at the same time.

Additionally, it was my first time hearing the opening theme from the 1982 series although I hadn't known it was at the time. Haneda, as he did for the series, also took care of the soundtrack for the movie. His opening suite at the beginning of "Ai wo Oboeteimasuka?" combining the opening notes from "Macross" and what would become the overarching love theme for the movie is still awesome and manages to raise the hair at the back of my neck. It starts off ominously then hopeful before becoming cheerfully humdrum and urbane at the same time. I hadn't realized that an anime soundtrack could start off so sweeping and romantic. The overture almost seemed to say "OK, you liked the series but this is no longer....your elder brother's....Macross now. Buckle up!"

Fugu Fugue

I chose the term fugu for the fish I ate back on November 6th since in English, there seems to be a plethora of words to describe it: blowfish, puffer, globefish, swimming ball of poisonous death. Well, I did something that night that I had never done in 17 years of residency in Japan: head on out for a full-course fugu meal.

My host was a fellow who used to live in Toronto for a time before moving back to Tokyo. He is a professional acupuncturist and masseur, and he picked me up in front of Studio ALTA across from JR Shinjuku Station at 7 that night. Apparently, some of his clients have included one major kabuki actor, an actress, and Bjork!

On the way over to the fugu restaurant, his professional curiosity got the better of him after seeing my posture while walking and he started prodding my shoulders and back with the speed of multiple phaser bolts. Then, he immediately declared to me that I would have to report to his clinic the next evening for a full round of massage. Well, if he insisted...

Anyways, we got to the restaurant specializing in fugu. My friend absolutely adores fugu. For a guy who handles needles all the time, I can honestly say that I wasn't surprised to hear that he loved eating a fish that was covered in them. We started off with a very warm cup of hirezake which is in that photo at the very top. Basically, it is sake poured into the cup with a hunk of fugu fin inside. It was quite mellow...and mellowing; the fin added a certain amount of umami to the proceedings.

The courses came out over the course of a couple of hours and included sashimi, ohitashi, karaage, grilled and nabe. To be honest, plowing through all those made me forget that the source of all those courses was one of the most poisonous creatures on the planet. But the fact was that I didn't get any sort of electric buzzing at my fingertips let alone suddenly collapse in final paroxysms of pain. Basically, I had an expensive fish dinner.

It was good to be sure but ultimately fugu wasn't anything awesome for me although I am glad that I was finally able to partake in it once.

Following the dinner, my friend took me out to Hanazono Shrine nearby in Shinjuku since there was a toriichi festival being held there. The festival was being held for folks to pray for success in business but it was all about fun and revelry for the masses that showed up around the shrine. Plenty of yatai serving food as well but I was just too filled up with fugu at that point.

Nope, I realize that it's November but heading out to the crowds and celebration at the shrine, I couldn't help but remember the song "Natsu Matsuri"(夏祭り)by Jitterin' Jinn from way back.