Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Sunday in Harajuku

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Girls performing in Yoyogi Park

I spent an unexpectedly sunny Sunday in stylish Harajuku, starting in the lively Yoyogi Park.

 Bubbles in the Park

A popular picnic and hangout site, especially on a Sunday afternoon, it attracts a lot of people who like share their art in a busy yet mellow public setting.


Musicians bring their stand, music, and axe, sitting on a bench, practicing their scales or etudes. 


Dancers practice their moves.

Yoyogi Park Drummers

Several pickup groups played long elaborate jam sessions on the drums. None of these guys were busking—they performing purely for the sake of being with fellow musicians and sharing their art.

Jump Roper

And in some cases, it wasn’t completely clear what form of performance they wanted to share.

Dress up day in the park

And a lot of people just wanted to dress up a little bit and people watch.



Crossing a busy road on a pedestrian bridge, I walked across to a nearby sports park, where a group of young people were practicing a synchronized dance. 

Steamed Dumpling StandI

A market was selling organic farm products, and I bought a steamed bun for lunch.  Thousands of young people were patiently lined up at the nearby stadium for an afternoon concert by Japanese megagroup Bump of Chicken. I decided to head for the shopping area to see if I could find some of the cosplayers.

Ometesando Avenue

Tree-lined Ometesando Avenue is sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs Elysee.  Lined with posh shops and well-heeled shoppers, I could see the resemblance, although the crowds were unbelievable, and I didn’t stay long. 

Photo shoot

Harajuku style refers to the various flavors of extreme clothing that can be found on parade, arguably setting global trends…for something.


Harajuku has a reputation of attracting Japan’s extravagantly costumed young people. Having my fill of maid culture the previous day, and on the lookout for something different.   I found a gothic lolita helping a gothic crossdresser with his makeup.

Tokyo’s Geek Paradise

Saturday, July 14th, 2012


Tokyo’s Akihabara district fuses geek fantasy with Japanese pop culture. It’s the ultimate toy destination for male teens of all ages, from 15 to 50. 7-story shops sell plastic figures from the latest anime, manga, and video games.  Other multi-story shops sell the latest anime, manga, and video games. 


Smaller shops sold electronic gear, mange, and all sorts of geeky gewgaws. Multi-floor hobby shops sold countless model boats, trains, and planes, with row after row of RC car accessories.  Ham radio stores were filled with the latest digital multiband receivers and pricey lowband transceivers.  Otaka on parade.


I wandered around a tightly-packed multi-story store with countless cabinets filled with sci-fi figures dating back to the 60s.  Dedicated fans could find dozens of different versions of Ultraman, from each year of their childhood.


Other floors, filled with DVDs, were marked 18 only. Japanese cartoon style is characterized by large eyes, small pert mouths, wildly flying hair, and gravity-defying boobs.


Japanese pop culture, especially when it involves 20-something male geeks, often tends toward the fetishistic.  A male fascination with the Japanese school girl archetype (think Sailor Moon) is inescapably obvious, a phenomenon that is partially encouraged by 20-something Japanese women who dress in sexy school girl style.


This only partially explains the bizarrely popular phenomenon of maid culture.


Every street corner has one or more knee-socked, frilly-skirted, high-heeled, cutesy-poo young women passing out fliers on every Akihabara street corner.


The ultimate expression of maid culture is the maid café.


The patrons in a maid café are served tea and fancy desserts by young women dressed as French maids, with a Japanese twist of cutesiness.  A sort of geek geisha, they serve as non-sexual companions to the mostly male clientele, deferring to them as a servant would to the laird of the manor, which must be a heady experience for a socially-challenged technologist.


Tokyo Electric City

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Electronic component merchant I grew with Dad’s stories about the incredible technology toy shops in Tokyo.  Every few years, he’d come back from a trip to Japan with some new Nikon gear, or a ham radio.  Since then, geek culture has become pop culture (see ‘otaku’), and Akihabara has become a huge center for PCs, mange, anime figurines, and video games. If you take the time to look for it, there’s still a lot of good old fashioned electronics to be found.

Wire shop

Sprinkled throughout the neighborhood, and especially concentrated in some narrow passageways near the train station, are incredibly specialized little shops that hearken back to the area’s heritage as Japan’s primary radio market. 

Good old 6L6! One shop sold nothing but vacuum tubes (or valves, if you will).  The proprietor looked like he’d already been doing that job for quite a while when triodes became obsolete  (note that NEC has not manufactured the above 6L6 tetrode for quite some time).

Capacitor Shop

Next to the vacuum tube merchant was some guy with a huge display of capacitors, ranging from honking big power filtering cans down to tiny little circuit board components.  Maintaining the yin and the yang of electronic oscillation, somebody nearby was hawking  inductors.  Other stores sold lightbulbs, light fixtures, and lots of stores specialized in tools.  One store sold pumps for water gardens, several stores sold bugs and surveillance equipment, and a few stores sold used equipment.

Flourescent bulbs

I finally did find a couple of ham radio stores, with bewildering varieties of UHF/VHF antennae, stacks of handheld 2m/440 rigs, gazillions of accessories, and hugely expensive lowband rigs from Yaesu. And I did wander around a camera shop, too.  Although they still call it Yodabashi Camera Store, their megastore in Akiba/Akihabara is 7 stories tall, selling just about everything that runs on electricity, and a lot of accessories that don’t.  I preferred the small shops.

British Bikes in Tokyo’s Electronic City

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Newly restored Triumph

Akihabara is where the Otaku, they highly enthusiastic Japanese geeks, go for electronic toys and lunch with a French maid. Instead of pop culture dining and manga figurines, I found Trinity School, a small workshop on a side street, where a couple of experienced mechanics have spent the last 10 years teaching a group of enthusiastic apprentices to restore classic bikes, often European ones.  I had a nice chat with the guy who runs the school, who had just taken a restored Triumph out for a road test. 


Most of the cycles were Triumphs and BSAs, but a smoky room in the back included a vintage Harley, and pre-war BMW will be an upcoming drivetrain restoration project (I expected the drive shaft, but not the H-pattern hand shift on the right side of the tank).


I watched one of the students adjust the carb on a 1952 Triumph, which was propped up on a stand so the wheel could spin, and I watched another student cut the threads on a bolt on a turret lathe.


They also have done some non-motorized bikes, like this very funky Moulton (which also goes to show why you need to cover your Brooks).  With both Sturmey-Archer and Lucas to worry about, these students are going to learn a lot about vehicle mechanics.