The Grand-daddy of all Love Hotels

MJG Haikyo, Kanagawa, Sex Industry 33 Comments

The Hotel Royal haikyo is the grand-daddy of all love hotels, streaking 7 empty stories up into the big blue sky, a giant vermillion flag on the lakeshore calling out to all and sundry in a mega-watt alto- ‘Need some discreet time alone with your loved one? Come on down!’

The People in the Walls

MJG Stories, Surreal 4 Comments

The people in the walls are an infestation. They crowd around the living room in their inch-thin insulation space and watch me while I go about my life. Some of them have drilled peep-holes. I cover the holes with paintings I paint myself, and vases full of flowers which they sometimes steal and eat. I paint paintings of the people in the walls. I suppose they look a little bit like aliens. They have big and flat grey heads an inch thick. They look a lot like stick men. They are normally smiling stick-thin smiles, which creeps me out. I …

Barry Eisler (Author of John Rain)

MJG Japan, People / Culture 3 Comments

Barry Eisler is the author of the world-wide bestselling John Rain hit-man series, now 6 books in total, translated into 20 languages, winner of multiple awards and plaudits. He was in town this past week for a sneak preview of the movie made from his first book- ‘Rain Fall’- to which he’d invited his Tokyo fans via his website. I found out about the preview the day before and just managed to snag a seat in the screening room, in the process briefly meeting the man himself: Me and Barry Eisler.

The Life and Death of the Sofitel Hotel

MJG Haikyo, Hotels / Resorts, Tokyo-to 15 Comments

The Sofitel Hotel once stood on the Ueno park skyline like a bizarrely massive chest of drawers, at once a paean to modern design aesthetics and traditional Shinto values. It was demolished in December 2006 after only 12 years of offering 83 4-star rooms in central Tokyo, leaving a weirdly-shaped gap on the city-scape viewed from Shinobazu pond. Like the cherry blossoms that frame so many shots of the Sofitel, it was only a temporary beauty, one that serves to remind us of the short time we`re here, and how any one of us can be called away at any …

Harajuku Cosplayers

MJG Japan, Manga / Anime / Cosplay 29 Comments

At the meeting point of the painfully fashionable Omotesando street and the city-looping Yamanote train line, triangulated between Harajuku`s ultra-hip boutique fashion zone Takeshita street, the soaring lines of Kenzo Tange`s 1964 Olympic Gymnasium, and the giant red tori gate at the entrance to the 88 year old Meiji Jingu shrine, you`ll find the Harajuku cosplayers. `Cosplay` is a Japanese popularization of a common concept: costume play. In other cultures such dressing-up has traditionally been reserved for Halloween parties, college toga parties, and masque balls. In Japan, cosplay is perennial- on the bridge outside Meiji Jingu they can be found …

Ginza Walkers

MJG Uncategorized 19 Comments

Goose Lady lives on the streets of Ginza and eats fried breadcrumbs dropped from the sweet-cream crepes of winter shoppers. At night she huddles up to the braziers outside Luis Vuitton and drinks cold mango lassi from the yaki-imo man. She sing songs beneath her breath of the days when the Emperor walked the streets as a God, with a red sun forever blazing over his head. Now she scurries and hides when the black vans roll round, beneath a park bench, in the guttering of a tall glass phone box, in the shadow of a koban. Goose lady watches …

Ashiodozan 3. Factory and Train Station

MJG Ghost Towns, Haikyo, Mines / Factories, Tochigi 19 Comments

Despite 400 years of powering Japanese industry, of mining, processing and shipping one of the most essential early industry elements in some of the hardest and most dangerous conditions around, Ashio is remembered far more for its flaws than for its accomplishments. Ask any Japanese about Ashio, and they’ll give you a response straight from their high school history textbooks: in Ashio Japan learned the true cost of industrialization, that of crippling environmental damage, as sulfuric acid from the factory’s numerous smelter chimneys coagulated in the atmosphere and fell as acid rain, poisoning the water table and blistering the mountains …

Ashiodozan 2. Mine and Power Plant

MJG Ghost Towns, Haikyo, Mines / Factories, Tochigi 18 Comments

Mining for Copper began in Ashio over 400 years ago, on the chance discovery of a surface lode by 2 farmers tilling their rocky topsoil. Shafts were dug and miners sent in, the process was commandeered by the Shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and production went into overdrive. Soon the copper coming out of Ashio made up 40% of the nation`s supply, driving the engines of Japan`s industrialization, providing coinage, plumbing, roofing, wiring, and material for a wide range of household goods. The Mine Complex, wooden rails and roofs in broken cascades around it. The Power Hub was the first building …

Ashiodozan 1. Shrine and Apartments

MJG Churches / Shrines, Ghost Towns, Haikyo, Tochigi 20 Comments

Life in Ashio would never have been easy, and certainly not at the peak of production around 1910 when 39,000 people called it home. Crammed into a narrow river valley, blasted by freezing winter winds while living in uninsulated plywood apartments, many would have turned to the ‘kamisama’ or Gods for spiritual succor. Japanese religious beliefs are a little complex- ask most people here what their religion is and they’ll say they have none. To judge from that and popular culture, the country seems remarkably secular. There is no institute with regular services like Church, there is no one book …

Ashiodozan Ghost Town

MJG Ghost Towns, Haikyo, Tochigi 10 Comments

Ashiodozan copper-mining town in the mountains north-east of Tokyo is infamous in Japanese history as a site of extreme environmental damage- so much so the town was mostly abandoned 40 years ago, the mines and factory shut down, and new standards in environmental care called for at the highest national levels. Now it’s a ghost town. When I visited in 2009, it was a creaking conglomeration of fading facilities- a power station, numerous barricaded mines, a train station, a temple, a school, the factory, and a small town of tumble-down wooden apartments, haunted only by a few aged holdovers with …