Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Sayonara Shinjuku Music? (So Soon?)"

I went by Shinjuku again this evening and checked out a couple of street bands. Then as I was walking off in search of a third band (going down the outside escalator from the South Exit area - heading towards the East Exit area), I glided past a team of four police officers walking up the stairs going in the other direction. At first I just thought "Ah... better be careful with the camera - they probably don't want their pictures taken", but as soon as I had gone past them, it suddenly occurred to me that they might be on the march looking for street musicians....

So I did a U-turn at the bottom of the escalator and rushed back up the stairs (up and down escalators separated by wide staircase) just in time to see the four police officers walking up to the band and the band stop playing. They began talking; one of the band members pulled out a card, handed it to main police officer, who then handed it to another police officer, who called somewhere and talked into the phone as he looked at the card the musician had handed over. While the other band members started putting away their gear, the main police officer handed a clipboard to the head musician, and the musician was writing something down on it as I walked off disappointed - wondering what the police were asking the musician to write down. Suddenly the excitement of a Shinjuku night was fading away, and it was becoming an ordinary boring evening again.

I'm all for law & order, but I don't see any harm being done by these street musicians. They're not obstructing traffic, they're not over-amplified; most of them sound good, and they're not political (at least not the ones I've seen)... once winter sets in, it'll be too cold for them to be outside (not for long anyway), so why not just let them play now, while the weather is nice? In these days of doom & gloom on the news, a little live music on the streets doesn't seem like a such a bad idea to me.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Shinjuku - Music Town?"

Over the years I've seen street musicians performing in Shinjuku, but lately there seem to be a lot of bands there - every night! Last Friday, there were even two bands set up side-by-side, each taking turns playing three songs each - back and forth. I was already beginning to think of Shinjuku as a sort of "music town" before I put a DVD in the machine to watch the Nana-2 movie, and the movie features an outdoor performance in... Shinjuku!

So it must be official. Shinjuku is Tokyo's music town. Ginza for class, galleries, and classy (overpriced) nightclubs, Harajuku for middle-school fashion, Shibuya for high school wild-side bipeds, Roppongi for hard core night life on the one hand and new-found class on the other, Ueno for museums, Chigasaki for the Shonan Beach, and Shinjuku for movies and music? Why not. Japan likes to assign things to areas - it's good for tourism and makes things much more interesting than having everywhere looking the same.

Anyway - for a look at Shinjuku at night in October 2008, this video was taken by the eminent Lyle H Saxon (cough-cough) one evening a couple of weeks ago:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Stone, Bamboo, & Earth"

I stumbled upon a local festival in Tokyo at a mostly unknown (outside of the area) small temple and found myself standing on the bare earth (no concrete! no asphalt!), watching the festival people beat drums, etc. as they walked down a stone path - past a grove of bamboo - and without banks of florescent lighting destroying the atmosphere with too much harsh and ugly light. All this in Tokyo! There was some electric lighting, casting a radioactive greenish glow (hey, this is Tokyo after all, where nearly every square meter of the entire place is over-lit in one way or another), but there were actually some dark spaces among the trees (darkness at night! in the shade! imagine the novelty!) where you could feel a trace of wind from past centuries animating the event.

All-in-all, it was about as good as a festival gets here, because usually, any kind of cultural festival like that in Tokyo is overrun with tourists, both foreign and domestic. Out of respect, I didn't hang around too long, but I took a video clip of part of the event, tossed it onto the wires, and it can be seen here:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Meeting Artists in Tokyo"

This year I've been spending a little more time visiting art galleries and listening to musical performances than... before. I've tended to spend all my time taking/editing photos/videos and haven't spent much time seeing/hearing other people's creations. For whatever reason, I've begun to take more of an interest in these things, so I thought I'd mention a few that I've recently seen.

There's a good-sounding street guitarist I've seen a few times, most recently in Shinjuku, where/when I bought one of his CD's. As it says in the liner of the CD, he plays a 5, 6, or 7-string electric bass guitar, playing "the melody and backing lines at the same time" (and it really does sound like two people playing two guitars sometimes!). He goes by the name "ani-zoo" (兄蔵, which is pronounced "a-knee zoe" - I suspect the musician doesn't realize English speakers will see "zoo", think of animals, and looking at the "ani", imagine "animal zoo"...), and this YouTube video of him playing in Shinjuku is a good representation of how he looks and sounds when he performs:

His website (in Japanese)is:

And the page of his website with links to several YouTube video clips of his performances is:

Another musician I've met a few times (most recently at "Smiles" in Yoyogi-uehara), is Torazo Udagawa, saxophone player. I haven't actually seen him perform live myself, but there's a compilation of his playing in this YouTube video:

His YouTube website (with several videos of his performances) is:

For paintings, photographs, etc., there are a collection of galleries in the fascinating Okuno Building, which was built in 1932 as an apartment building. Actually, in walking around the building, it's apparent that one half was built as an independent building first, and the second half was added on afterwards. I haven't yet found the details of this in print, but heard it verbally from a tenant, and the evidence of the building itself suggests that that is indeed the case. There is one elevator (with cool manually operated doors!) for the dual structure, and one restroom per floor, but dual staircases (one per building, or per half of the building, depending on how you look at it), with windows (mostly opened when I visited) between the landings.

The address for the building is:
1-9-8 Ginza
Chuo-ku, Tokyo

This (Japanese) website has some photos of the building:

And this next website (in difficult-to-decipher English - obviously translated from Japanese, possibly with translation software) has some good photos of the Okuno Building, although the pictures of the elevator are old. The elevator has since been renovated with glass doors on all floors. A happy (but very rare in Tokyo) instance of something old being restored rather than destroyed). This website indicates that the elevator only goes to the sixth floor, but now it stops at all floors:

So - if you're in Ginza and want to check out art spaces, the Okuno Building is something you ought to see - both for the art on display (most exhibits change weekly) and the building itself.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Clearing Bicycles Away in Omiya in 1991"

Revisiting 1991 again - the young people who are now middle-aged, the little kids who are now in their twenties. The trains that have been scrapped and replaced with newer ones. The women with long, straight, black hair (you very rarely see that any more). The vast number of bicycles parked around the stations....

Basically, everything is different, which shouldn't be a surprise, but change comes little by little, day by day, so you don't even realize how much things have changed (even though you think you do), unless you have visual & audio recordings to look back at your past with. There are so many details that go missing in the memory - so seeing everything again can be a bit of a surprise.

That preamble out of the way, I should explain the situation with the bicycles. Recognizing there was a serious problem of insufficient parking space for bicycles, multi-level bicycle parking garages were built all over the city, but they were still rare in 1991. In the middle of this video ("Trip to Omiya - 1991"):

- is an example of what cities did from time to time to clear roads and try to get people to park their bicycles in a way that didn't get in the way of everything. People would rush to the station to get to work on time, and park their bicycle anywhere they could - often double and triple parking along roads, to the point that cars and delivery truck drivers would have to get out of their vehicles and move bicycles before they could continue down a street. People would park so many bicycles around the entrances to a shop that you'd sometimes have to move one of them before you could even get into the shop!

And so the men clearing away illegally parked bicycles are not being real careful with them (slam! bash! - see the video). What happened to the bicycles being taken away? Many were probably given up on, and some (the better and/or more expensive ones) reclaimed. Once taken away like that there was a fine to reclaim one, and if the bicycle was rusted and old, people would often just buy a new one.

With many more bicycle parking areas created since then, this is not as serious of a problem as it used to be, but still there are parking problems here and there. Typically, certain shops will have parking for customers, and then people visiting shops without parking will leave their bicycles in whatever parking space they can find. The space fills up, and customers of the shop providing the space can't park their bicycles there, so the shop owners get angry and remove bicycles of people obviously not shopping there, etc.

I should put in some more details, but it's late and I need to get some sleep!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Foreign Broadcasts Broadcast Locally"

One of the reasons it's fun to spend some time with short-term visitors from outside Japan, is that they come over here still broadcasting on their regular frequencies, and since I used to send/receive on those same (or nearly the same) frequencies myself, I can pick up their broadcasts and see Japan from the outsider's perspective. The narrow side streets where everything (cars, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, etc.) shares the same space; the surprise of a first experience on a sardine-run train; etc.

And so it was last night. Dinner in an Indian restaurant (not what I would have picked, but it turned out to be a great restaurant and a good choice), with tales of the old country and talk of speeding trains (they were scheduled to take the Shinkansen to Kyoto today), all seeming almost strangely familiar (after 24 years here, the west is beginning to seem exotic and things here normal), and - somewhat surprisingly - I found myself today still seeing "Exotic Japan". Having switched frequencies last night, perception of the world was still colored by the experience.

And um... that's all folks. Except to say that the fall weather is quite nice recently - the last pre-coat weather with some of the trees just beginning to change color. Days to dream of the age when offices had windows you could actually (gasp!-shock!-horror!) open (what?!) to get some fresh air, instead of being sealed in like a fish in a fishbowl.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, October 06, 2008

"Dodging Flying Fish at Tsukiji - 1991"

On my first visit to Tsukiji, I felt as though I was on a movie set - no doubt due to those old Hollywood movies that attempted to capture the hustle & bustle of a seaport, a train platform, a ballroom, etc., by having a bunch of extras wander back and forth on a large stage in southern California made up to look like a more crowded exotic city somewhere else in the world. But after walking around for a few hours, it all began to seem quite normal and ordinary. Still busy, but only a collection of a lot of individuals going about their work day.

I was driven to capture as much of Tokyo on video as I could back then (1990-92), and it was a video quest that led me to enter the Tsukiji fish market. The resulting analog tapes slept in their cases within boxes at the back of closets for many years, and have - through the magic (or curse) of time, become interesting in a historical way, which was not my intention when I took them! I was capturing "Tokyo Today", and now - suddenly it feels - it's history? Time is a fearsome thing! In any case, here is the link to the video entitled "Tsukiji Fishmarket - 1991":

The quality of the picture isn't great, due to my having dialed the size down quite low (to keep from going over my limit at YouTube). To get an idea of what the picture quality really is (of the digitized-from-analog tapes), have a look at this commercially prepared version (used in a TV ad for of the Pack-'em-in" video I took the same year as the Tsukiji video:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"From Yurakucho to Hibiya Park Beer Festival"

I went to a couple of beer festivals in Hibiya Park this year - one in the spring and one in the late summer (technically early autumn). Of the two, the spring one was larger and more interesting, but they both were nice and lucky with good weather (at least on the one day in the spring and one day in the autumn that I went).

I took a series of video clips as I walked over to Hibiya Park. I didn't get the timing of the edited clips down right, but as far as showing a few scenes here and there between (and including) Yurakucho Station and Hibiya Park, it might be of some small interest:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon