Shitaya Jinja Festival

(Not my video)

Every year on the weekend after Golden Week, the shrine I live next to, Shitaya Jinja (下谷神社), has a major festival. Unfortunately, I work weekends, so I never really get to see much of it.

In the morning of last Saturday, I left for work at around 10:30 am. Stepped out of my apartment building and was met with this:

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Literally, that’s what it looked like outside my doorstep. These are food stalls. They sell the usual overpriced festival food like Takoyaki, Yakisoba, Sasebo Burger, Anzu Ame, etc.

This guy has nice photos of the festival from 2 years ago.

Speaking of festival food, I heard that these food stalls, even though they look pretty scruffy and the quality of the food is often questionable, make a ton of money. An old client of mine, her dad was a police officer back in Osaka, and had arrested a Takoyaki vendor at a festival. The reason for the arrest was child labor. The vendor had two stalls, and he asked one of his very young sons to manage one of the stalls. During the investigation, my client’s dad asked the vendor how much they make per day. Apparently, one Takoyaki stall makes about 2 Million Yen a day. That’s about $20,000! Damn.

In case you were wondering, what exactly are these festivals for? Well, as you may have guessed, one reason is likely economic in nature. But basically, shrine festivals are the few days in a year that the god/s who live in the shrine get to go out.

Before the festival weekend, there is a ceremony that symbolizes the transfer of the deity into a portable shrine, called mikoshi (神輿) in Japanese, which you probably saw on the video above. This is then carried by people around town. It’s believed that if you don’t take the shrine god out for a walk once a year, they get pretty cranky and will cause all sorts of misfortune to the people in the neighborhood.

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A Night Out at Kabukicho – Tokyo’s Red Light District

 

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First of all, we didn’t do go to any stripclubs or any places like that, so if you’re here to look for some racy stories, then sorry, you’ll be disappointed. My friend and I had a (mostly) wholesome night in Kabukicho. Although the area is known as a red light district, it does offer a lot of non-sex related activities.

Kabukicho, a district of Shinjuku, is one of my favorite places in Tokyo. This is the only place in that Japan that feels a little dangerous, and I like having a bit of danger in my life. Puts a little excitement in my boring life. But take note that I said it “feels” dangerous because in reality, it isn’t. Unless you do something stupid or go into the more suspicious looking dens of entertainment. This is, after all, yakuza and triad territory.

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Kabukicho sign at the entrance of the district

There’s an interesting audio tour (in English) you can buy that takes you around Kabukicho. Through the tour, I learned that the area is called Kabukicho because one of the first mayors of that district actually wanted to turn it into a center for culture and the arts. Kabukicho, or in Japanese, 歌舞伎町, is basically made up of two words… Kabuki (歌舞伎), a form of Japanese theater, and Cho(町), which means district or city. To his chagrin, his plan never really worked out and today it is still a place known for strip clubs, love hotels, and the Japanese mafia. But as I mentioned, there are some areas that are pretty wholesome. There’s a bowling alley, a batting center, arcades, a movie theater, and other family-oriented recreational establishments.

A friend of mine visited Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, and I took him to Kabukicho to go drinking. We first dropped by Wataminchi (わたみん家), a well-known chain of izakaya (Japanese pubs). They had 90-minute all-you-can drink for only 800 yen, which is dirt cheap. That’s why that place was our first stop.

The next joint we visited was another izakaya called Kabaya (九州料理かば屋), which serves dishes and drinks from Kyushu. I wanted my friend to try raw horse, or basashi (馬刺し). There’s a prefecture in Kyushu called Kumamoto (which was hit by a major earthquake a few weeks ago), and they’re known for good basashi among other things. However, I wouldn’t come here to try it. It wasn’t that good, the slices were very thin, and it was quite expensive.


If you’re a guy walking around Kabukicho at night, there is no escape from the dozens of men standing around trying to get people to watch a peepshop or visit a whorehouse. I’ve been here several times and am quite used to it. Usually I just smile and say “No thanks” and that’d be the end of it. Occasionally though you’ll get people who just won’t give up.

That night we had some very interesting encounters with these guys.

The first was an old Japanese lady, who was maybe in her 70s. She looked like an ordinary sweet-looking elderly woman… only she was trying to pimp her girls to us. Wow.

Next was an African guy who followed us for an entire block trying to convince us to go check out his girls. I tried to make a joke and said “Sorry, but my friend is a good Christian”, and to this he stopped in his tracks, looked at me with a confused/offended look on his face and said “I’m a Christian too!” He then continued with, “There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun!”

Finally there was a Japanese dude who approached us and said just one word.

“SEX”

Well, that was pretty direct, I thought. It wasn’t even a question. He just looked at us, emotionless, and said “SEX”. We replied, “No thanks”, and respecting our decision, he turned around and walked away.


Before I go, here’s a random picture from Golden-gai, a section of Kabukicho with lots of tiny 5 to 6-seat bars famous for being visited by artists, especially from the movie world. They say Quentin Tarantino frequents the place when he’s in Japan.

Incidentally, there was a fire here the very next day. It wasn’t us.

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“Life is a bitch, but I love bitch and bitch love me” – words to live be.

This is the door to a bar in Golden-gai. I can’t tell if the name of the bar is Love & Peace Bar or Mother Fucker.

B by B: Fancy-Pants Cafe in Ginza

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Not my picture. From the “B by B” website: bbyb.jp

I’m not really a cafe kind of guy. First of all, I can’t drink coffee. It gives me a stomachache. And generally, I avoid spending money whenever possible (i.e. I’m cheap (or poor?)), so even if I wanted some tea, for example, I’d just have some at home.

However, today I was with my girlfriend, and since we hardly see each other these days I figured we should go to nice places and eat nice things. One of those places we went to was the chocolate shop and cafe called “B by B” in the Ginza district, on a backstreet behind the Apple Store. They sell chocolates made by Michelin-star chef Bart Desmidt and master chocolatier Jan Verleye, though honestly I had never heard of them before as I’m not really in-the-know with regard to the world of gastronomy.

I saw this cafe on TV a year ago and had been planning to take my girlfriend there, but never had the chance until today. The cafe, which was at the back of the store, was smaller than I thought it would be. There were basically only about 6-ish seats. That picture you see above, that’s almost the entire cafe.

The main thing I wanted to try at B by B was this heavenly-looking dessert called Babelutte Ice Cream (900 yen, or roughly $8.50):

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Babelutte Ice Cream (picture from bbyb.jp)

The presentation is amazing. Like you see in the picture, two scoops of ice cream are in a glass container with a flat piece of chocolate on top, and then warm chocolate is poured over it until it melts and drips onto the ice cream. Below is a video my girlfriend took of how it’s served:

Pretty fancy-schmancy, eh? With matching fancy-schmancy music to boot. Yet all this fanciness would have been for naught if it were not delicious, so it is very fortunate that the Babelutte Ice Cream was actually really really good!

I’m sorry, I’m not a food critic. “Really really good” is all I got for ya.

With that wonderful treat we also ordered some Flemish Waffles (700 yen, or about $6.50) which are basically stroopwafel, but instead of the regular syrup used in stroopwafel, it’s filled with babelutte. And if you’re wondering what babelutte is, it’s apparently a kind of caramel.

No one was at the cafe when we were there. It doesn’t seem to be very popular, unfortunately. It is a pretty expensive place though, so I suppose the store usually doesn’t get a lot of customers.

There were still a couple other items on the menu I’d like to try. I think I’ll be back.

Hanami at Chidorigafuchi – Cherry Blossom Season

Security guard directing traffic during cherry blossom season

It’s that time of the year again when the sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom and everyone gets drunk in the park. I’m not particularly into the drinking part since it’s still too cold outside, but I do like to go out and see the flowers.

Cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi

I usually go to Sumida Park (隅田公園 – Sumida Kouen) to see the sakura in Asakusa, where I used to live. Last year I went to Rikugien (六義園) for a change. It’s considered one of Tokyo’s most beautiful landscape gardens.

This season I decided to check out Chidorigafuchi (千鳥ヶ淵), recommended by some of my clients who say it’s the best place to go on hanami (花見 – cherry blossom viewing) in Tokyo. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so impressed. It was probably the weather, though. When I went last Friday, it was a very cloudy, dark and gloomy day. I had to boost the saturation on my pictures to give them more color.

Shinagawa Yajiro with the cherry blossoms
Statue of Yajiro Shinagawa. I don’t know who he is.

Chidorigafuchi is the name of a moat that is part of the Imperial Palace grounds. Sakura are planted along the walkways surrounding the moat. You can also rent a rowboat and cruise around the moat. A palace, trees and flowers, boats… it all sounds picturesque, except a highway runs beside all this, which sort of ruins the atmosphere in my opinion.

Boats at Chidorigafuchi in cherry blossom season

Funny story. A section of the route has a long stretch of road with no crosswalks except at opposite ends of the road, and there were a lot of tourists who were jaywalking to cross. An angry police officer posted within the walls of the Imperial Palace kept barking on the loudspeakers telling them not to cross the road, but he did so in Japanese, so obviously none of the tourists understood what he was trying to say. And without exaggeration, this lasted ALL AFTERNOON. You could hear the frustration from the police officer’s voice. I kind of felt sorry for him, but it was also pretty hilarious.

Hanami cherry blossoms sakura
Tayasu-mon (castle gates)

Midway my hanami walk, I found this guy selling nikuman (some kind of dumpling). I bought one (it was good!) and asked if I could take a picture. We had a little chat after that. He said that during the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), when people in Japan started seeing cameras, many people did not want to get their photos taken as they thought that it made their lives shorter. Interesting.

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Nikuman!!!

Nikuman seller

A few more pictures from my hanami walk:

Funny kid hanami sakura cherry blossoms
Kid with his funny pose
Statue somewhere in Japan
Statue of Prince Kitashirakawa
Boats at Chidorigafuchi during cherry blossom season
Boats at Chidorigafuchi
Some lady at the castle walls
Lady using steps as a seat at Tayasu-mon. Overheard some Japanese people not happy with what she was doing.
Some kind of artwork behind a museum in Tokyo
Sculpture behind the Crafts Gallery building of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Some tough guy going through the castle gates
Tough guy going through Tayasu-mon