Tokyo – Monday June 27, 2013 – Yoyogi, Shibuya, and Communists

My girlfriend had to fly home for work that afternoon (Tokyo is a commuter flight away from home – I still find that cool.) Her flight was at 11:50am, but we had heard the Tokyo commute was notoriously crowded, so we caught the 7:20am train. For about seven stops to Shinjuku station, a major transfer point, it was squishing-room-only crowded. They had apparently dispensed with Pushmen, but one was necessary. Here’s my girlfriend finding a seat by sitting on her suitcase – the grey pinstripe and navy are other commuters:


After seeing her off, I found coffee (at Starbucks – Tokyo hasn’t taken to coffee culture like Seoul has, so decent espresso drinks are hard to find), and then started walking to the nearby Tokyo Tower. Along the way I discovered Nissin World Delicatessen, which had a mouth-watering selection of Belgian and British beer, a decent single-malt collection (and Japan doesn’t tax good whisky like Korea does), cheeses that I haven’t seen since Holland, and an unfortunate promo photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger visiting in 2004.


Having already seen the skyline from the municipal government building, I had no desire to go up the Tokyo Tower. I just wanted to admire its modernist aesthetic and bright colours.

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Although I was pleased to find that, with a simple desaturation, I was in an Ozu movie from the 1950s.



If Japan expected to pay for its 1964 Olympics through merchandising, I expected great things from the Tokyo Tower. I was a little disappointed: true, they had everything from tea towels to mineral water bottles in the iconic shape, but I wanted something that looked like it was designed at the same time as the tower. Maybe a tin robot tower, I don’t know. Anyhow, the coolest item was a neon tower, not for sale.


What was cooler was the record shop, hidden away on the fourth floor of the mall in the tower’s base. The existence of a record shop in the Tokyo Tower was not the strangest thing about it; that honour went for it being focused on Krautrock. T-shirts, bootlegs, magazines, posters…

And even this guy, a wax model, of whom I’m not sure:IMG_4789

Because naturally, when you want a CD reissue of Edgar Froese’s seminal 1974 Soundscape Aqua, you’re going to come to the Tokyo Tower:


After the tower I made my way to Yoyogi station and, nearby, one of my trip destinations:


The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) building is 12 stories high, because the party is huge, with hundreds of thousands of members and millions of readers of its press: it’s the largest non-governing communist party in the world. I decided to go and introduce myself and see if they’d give me any information, or maybe even a t-shirt. It was a little awkward,  to walk up to the lobby desk and ask to speak to someone. But the security desk man was very polite, and soon I was sitting in the immaculate, marbled lobby with a Party rep. He gave me a bunch of publications about the JCP’s history, how it managed to thrive when all the other parties withered (hint: it involves not getting too friendly with North Korea or the USSR), and we had a chat about the future of the left in east Asia. While I have my differences with the JCP – they’ve renounced revolutionary socialism and are resolutely stageist – they do excellent anti-imperialist work, they’re the only major party to call for an official Japanese apology to Korean ‘comfort women’, and they’re unfailingly polite.

I wandered to the nearby Yoyogi Park. The Japanese aesthetic is much more austere and imposing than Korea’s:


As are their crows:


They’re like pitch-black Toucans. After a nap I headed in the direction of Shibuya, passing what could only be a marriage castle along the way:



I was distracted by a sign for a reggae music store on a nearby midrise. So I took the elevator to the 7th floor and discovered a shop full of vintage ska, rocksteady and reggae from the 60s to the 90s. Japanese pop culture is not lazy: the subcultures know their references. The proprietor asked me what I was looking for; I mentioned Barrington Levy and Toots and the Maytals, and he brought out numerous discs from both. If I had $40 to spend on a vintage record, there were many to choose from:


I finally made it to the famed Shibuya crossing:

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From there I found the Aldgate, a British pub, and had a pint of Old Speckled Hen, then a pint of a Japanese cask IPA, while I listened to two aging expats debate Inspector Morse and Sri Lankan socialism, and then two other young expats talk about how they wanted to learn more about Marxism. Had I been less half in the bag by this point, I would’ve become everyone’s best friend. But I preferred to drink good beer, eat cheese on toast and read speeches from JCP leader Shii Kazuo. Upon the bartender’s recommendation, I found a nearby sushi house and ate incredible tuna and salmon for about a dollar a plate.


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