Today’s solstice! It’s a little weird to not be home celebrating. I woke up feeling pretty good (Jake’s ears were still ringing a little) and took the subway to Shinjuku. The train line we’re on (Hibiya) isn’t the most convenient (it’s still pretty good) and we’re on the other side of the city, but the trains do cover a lot of ground pretty quickly.
We went to Fuunji Ramen, where we arrived just after opening and waited in the short line outside. We entered and ordered from the machine, and then stood against the back wall as we worked our way to the front. The whole place is just 15 seats or so at a long counter, with people in line standing behind. We were seated quickly. The tsukumen was really great, and full of umami, but it was one of the richest dishes I’ve ever eaten. What an experience. You sit and you’re surrounded by nothing but the sounds of salarymen and tourists slurping their noodles and the cooks occasionally asking people about their orders or what size they want (I went with large, of course, which was almost difficult to finish). It was hard too focus on anything and I kind of went into a trance and ate my noodles, which were chewy, and did my best with the broth. I loved the intensity in the moment, but reflecting on it afterwards soured me on the experience a little. Jake and I also both felt a little sick afterwards, although I’m not sure whether that was because of the tsukumen.
Either way, we walked a few blocks to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which I think is the equivalent to City Hall. There’s a free observation deck on the 45th floor, which offers panoramic views of the city. The floor was enclosed, which I like, and the windows were surprisingly dirty but still offered a wonderful view. There’s a estaurant blocking the “best” side that you can only enter if you eat there, but you can still see the skytree from a corner window, and you get a real sense of the scale. You can’t really understand the size and sprawl of the city until you see it from above. It’s truly endless. On a clear day, you might be able to see Mt. Fuji, but it was too bright for us to see that far.
We descended and walked back through the center of Shinjuku, past the station. We watched an ambulance drive so slowly with its siren on. The ambulances drive so passively here, it might be a problem. Jake remarked that he likes how orderly the crowds feel in Tokyo. It is true, it’s very manageable. Tokyo seems so refined and orderly, especially compared to the U.S. but also to many of the other cities we’ve visited. There’s a shallowness to the city but also a set of rules it seems to play by. All the pieces fit together neatly. They seem to have solved the puzzle.
We entered the Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens, which had been closed the last time we tried to go. The gardens are huge and pretty nice, but the effect was dampened by the visible city surrounding the park. I liked the Meiji Jingu gardens better, where you are out of sight (and more importantly, earshot) of the ugly office buildings and busy streets of the city. The gardens were still great, and we strolled from one end to the other before exiting through a different gate.
We walked to the Yamanote line and took it one stop to Shibuya, and walked to About Life Coffee Roasters. They were out of cold brew, sadly, but I had an iced drip coffee that was actually okay (with Onibus beans). We walked down through Daikanyama, which I liked again, but not as much as the previous visit. We stopped at Daikanyama T-Site again, but it was more crowded this time around, maybe because it was a Friday afternoon. The bookstore that takes up three buildings didn’t have as much appeal this time around, and the whole place felt more touristy and uppity.
We walked down towards the river and stopped at Blue Blue, one of a few stores/brands that’s owned by a local Daikanyama company. There’s a little local community, although it’s unclear how corporate the stores are. Jake got a sweater and I got a bag and some pins, after much deliberation. I liked the store both for the aesthetic and also for their use of indigo.
We walked across to Nakameguro, on the other side of the Meguro River. We walked along under the train tracks, where shops and restaurants have recently opened, in the arches under the tracks, which I absolutely love. Such an innovative use of space, I really love when cities do that. I’ve seen that in London and a few other places. We eventually located Onibus Coffee, at the end of a side street but right below the train tracks, in a beautiful spot. There’s a sitting room upstairs, but it was nicer downstairs, outside with plants. The coffee was good, and it was great with the trains running by above.
We sat for a while and then went for a beer at Nakameguro Taproom, run by Baird Brewing. The beer was fine but the taproom was extremely generic and corporate. We were planning to get dinner but I wanted to hear music and the only good venue I could find opened at 6:15, so we stopped for a couple of onigiri at a konbini and took the train to Shinjuku, where we walked through Kabukicho, the entertainment district, with lots of lights, past the Robot Restaurant, a major tourist attraction for some reason. The red light district felt seedier, but not in a dangerous or a fun way, more just touristy and scammy and scuzzy (and probably some other descriptive s words). We kept walking and found the venue, Loft (the Shinjuku Loft, which is part of a small group of venues, including Shelter). We entered (two floors down) and they told us to go back up for tickets. We went up and the guy outside told us to wait and then after a couple minutes sent us down where I paid and we got drink tickets and entered. All the coin lockers were already taken so we just threw our stuff on top of one. I wasn’t too worried.
The space felt like an old concert space from a few decades ago. There was a DJ with a little disco ball, the stage with a big screen playing Ramones music videos and seemingly random movie clips with Japanese music overlaid. The bar was in the back by the entrance, and there was a big standing floor and two tiers of steps behind it where people stood. There was a big pillar blocking part of the room from view. The crowd gradually filled in the floor as people found their desired viewing spots. I didn’t know what to expect when the music started, so we stood in front of the pillar, towards the back of the floor. I wonder if the space really is old or just made to look that way. I think probably a mix.
The Tomboys came on first, a few minutes after 7. The shows really do start early here. 7 is on the later side. The Tomboys are 4 girls who started playing in high school. They were very lively and having a lot of fun. They played only a few quick songs and then there was a sudden break, and a few minutes later The 50 Kaitenz came out. They are three guys dressed in caps and what I think are schoolboy outfits. They were very playful and very sweaty, and really rocked.
It’s funny when they sing in English. Some of the songs are one or the other and some are mixed. I didn’t understand a lot of what they were saying or when the DJ was introducing them but that almost made it more interesting.
There were mostly men in the crowd, especially on the dance floor. The front, where eventually there was some moshing, was almost exclusively drunk younger guys (maybe 20s and 30s but could be older or younger). There were a couple little kids with their parents (not in the front, thankfully) and only one or two other white people that I could see, older guys on their own.
There was a no-photo policy and people were mostly off their phones, which was awesome, even though the rule didn’t seem to be strictly enforced. I tried my best to comply, but took a couple of videos for posterity. I bought a 50 Kaitenz tote and a couple of Tomboys stickers/pins. There was all kinds of weird merch, magazines, clothes, old cameras and things. I think it was a “flea market.” People seemed into it. The main area was nonsmoking which was cool; there were a smoking room and a bar next door but the main concert area was clear. A lot of people were just kinda standing but everyone was really, really into it. There wasn’t as much dancing for the Tomboys but when the 50 Kaitenz came on, people towards the front went nuts. I really felt the energy, all the way through. The three of them were so into it, and they were really working, which made you want to move even more. The crowd was so mixed, and everyone also seemed to be dancing in almost harmony, raising their arms at the same time and singing along.
The Tomboys came back out at the end and they played Rock and Roll High School all together, which I of course loved and could actually sing along to. They were so good. I imagine that’s kind of what the 70s was were like at home in some way. Obviously much more toned down and safe and chill, but the energy, in some way, felt similar. I would have gone into the front but I don’t really need to mosh with a few dozen incredibly inebriated Japanese men. But it was so fun and they were having such a good time. It really is like a blast from the past. I feel that a lot of the music scene here (and probably not just music) involves a lot of nostalgia for past eras. I’m not sure you could find this exactly at home; especially a crowd full of younger people who are so, so into it. But maybe, hopefully. I’m certainly going to look. The energy was pretty cool, and I really, really enjoyed it. I could spend a couple of weeks in Tokyo exploring the live house scene.
The concert ended pretty early and we walked through the entertainment district again, which had only gotten busier and grosser (I’m not sure I’d want to be there really late at night, not for safety purposes but just because it felt slimy), to the train, where we braced ourselves for another long ride home.