Meiji Memorial Gallery, Aoyama Itchome

MJG Guides, Japan 2 Comments

The Meiji Gallery in Aoyama Itchome holds 80 works of art depicting scenes from the life of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), half painted in the Japanese style and half in a Western style, each about 3 meters square and really quite stunning.

I discovered this Gallery unconventionally. In fact, I’d thought a long time ago that the museum/impressive building scene in Tokyo was played out for me. I’d been through several solid guide-books and already visited every place that seemed of interest. It seems I was wrong.

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Fukutoshin Shibuya Station

MJG Guides, Japan 6 Comments

The new subway station on the F-line in Shibuya is remarkably large, spacious, and modern. It reminds me of the subway system in Washington D.C. for all its brushed concrete blocks and cavernous oval underground spaces.

Even now a week after it opened there are still lots of people with cameras snapping away at its sights- of course, including me.

This is the concrete hub squatting over the escalators down.

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Stopped by the Police

MJG Guides, Japan 9 Comments

Last night I was stopped and questioned by the police. I was riding home on a friend’s tiny BMX-like bike at around 2am, just coming to the hill on Meiji Dori before my house, when I heard something from behind me.

I turned around and saw a policeman running up behnd me. I did a double-take, for a second dis-believing that he was following ME, then realized he was, so stopped the bike.

He came over and explained he was doing a bike-theft check, and proceeded to ask me questions: was it my bike, whose bike was it, was I in a rush and going to work at my company (at 2 am!?), did I have time to answer some questions, who did I work for, did I often ride this way, and so on.

I’ve seen this kind of thing in Japan often. I think maybe 40% of the work I’ve seen police officers in Japan do is related to bicycle theft- stopping people on bikes and checking out their registration details. 50% of their work (that I’ve witnessed) involves giving directions from their ‘kobans’- police boxes, and the other 10% is comprised of standing on boxes in train stations with truncheons in hand looking menacing.

So I explained to the police officer that it was my friend’s bike, yes it was too small for me, no I didn’t know where the registration number was. He searched the whole bike several times checking for the number, then his buddy pulled up in the pato-caa (patrol car) and he came and had a good look at the bike too. They rang in whatever number they could find but I don’t think it was the right number, so they took my gaijin ID card and noted down all my details, then went off on their way.

On the whole I could have happily done without the experience, but contrary to stories I’ve heard of people being bullied by Japanese police these guys seemed very polite and professional. Sure they chased me down on suspicion of bike theft, but they do that all the time to everyone- in fact it almost made me feel like I fit in here that they didn’t pass me up and ignore me, which is more what I’d have expected.

Now they have my address, maybe I can expect a house-call from them in the coming days?

Kit Kat Triple Berry

MJG Food / Drink, Japan 8 Comments

Kit Kat in Japan exemplify the gad-fly product life-cycle model that rules the confectionery business here, in that they constantly release colorful new but very short-lived product variants.

To see a wide range of past Kit Kat flavors- check out my friend Mike’s website, including white, peach, strawberry, bitter, orange, cherry, and cherry blossom.



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Stunning Graffiti in the Ruined Keishin Hospital

MJG Grafitti, Haikyo, Hospitals, Kanagawa 16 Comments

The gutted shell of the abandoned Keishin Hospital stands blank and ghostly on the rural Kanagawa sky-line. It once housed state-of-the-art radiology and cancer departments, now the only pieces of equipment remaining are the chairs bolted to the floor in the dentist’s office. Up close its walls are a vibrant cacophony of ever-changing grafitti, its forecourt a wash of shattered glass and empty spray-paint cans, its encircling car park overgrown with a thick smog of twisted brown underbrush. All record of its previous life has been erased by decades of vandalism, theft, and neglect.


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Fukutoshin Line Opens

MJG Uncategorized 4 Comments

On Saturday June 14th the latest and possibly last subway line through Tokyo, the Fukutoshin F-line, opened up, and I was one of the first people on it.

The line runs from Saitama down through Ikebukuro and on to Shibuya, with extensions into other train lines at both ends. Trains run around every 5 minutes.

I boarded early in the morning, but the whole of Zoshigaya was already a-buzz like I’d never seen before, I suppose chiefly due to F-line tourists checking out the stops along the way. I imagine this new station will inject new capital into the area, perhaps we’ll see more renovations, more classy restaurants and bars and the like.

The line itself is quite deep, not as much as the Oedo line in Roppongi but still a good 4 escalator rides down. The platform has the new motorized railings to stop people from falling off. The walls of the line are curved like the Oedo line, unlike most other Tokyo subway lines, reminding me of London’s Tube.

I only rode one stop, but it was a leisurely and pleasant affair. Full marks, the F-line. 5/5.

Here’s the video of my journey:

Gachapon Toys

MJG Japan, Toys / Games 6 Comments

Capsule Stations or ‘Gashapon’ are a big deal in Japan, located outside any place that kids or otaku (nerds) might go. They are basically toy vending machines, like gumball machines, but for toys in plastic egg-shells. The name Gashapon is onomatopoeic, where the ‘Gasha’ is the sound of you turning the handle, and the ‘Pon!’ is the capsule toy popping out. They dispense a whole range of toys, from super-cheap garbage up to higher-end ‘adult-content’ type stuff.


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Ashes to Ashes: season 1- 5/5

MJG Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Ashes to Ashes is a sequel series to the fantastic Life on Mars, the show depicting a Manchester policeman sent back in time after being nearly killed in a hit and run accident.

That show ended on a massive high after 2 seasons, and I thought there was no way they could replicate its quality or success. But, having just finished all of Ashes to Ashes season 1, I can say they’ve out-done themselves.

There’s a brilliant arch-plot spanning the season, reminiscent of the way they did Season 1 of Dexter, if not better as I didn’t guess the mystery until almost the end. There’s the usual completely un-politically correct banter and wise-cracking of the ‘Gene Genie’ Gene Hunt, DCI. There’s Alex Drake the lead character spooling around and going a bit mental, while taking everything with a pinch of salt as she believes it to be unreal. There’s the same support cast of coppers on the team, taking the pratfalls as well as shouldering sub-plots and one-liners.

Add to that generally excellent scripting, some genuinely moving emotional moments, high production values and delicious tongue-in-cheek retro humor, and you’ve got an all-round excellent show. The best thing on British television, I’ll say, by far superior to the creatively exhausted doddering-along Dr. Who.

Here’s a clip of a BBC trailer:

To watch this you’ll have to either wait for the DVD’s or go grab it from a torrent site like The next season is not coming until October 2009- the writer’s say it’s going to be darker, better than LOST, with bigger and better mysteries being solved. Cool.