Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Diwali in Ginza

My mailbox is being bombed by happy diwali mails. I am feeling a bit queasy. HELP !!!!! I should join the shopaholics online.
This weekend will be tough to survive. Last weekend i went to hermes. 150 $ for a tie.The point here is that i have 150 $ !!!!!!
This is a true test of my middle class character. I am sure i will pass. 6 weeks v/s 27 years.You decide.
And to increase the difficulty level, i live next to ginza. In tokyo, in the city you do not have huge areas like bandra or andheri. The whole of ginza is like half of veera desai road. So, if I live at last stop, ginza is somewhere near rajkumar. And the next station will be at the pedestrian flyover at andheri.
The reason i am going on about this place is this. I was talking to a desi I met at an Indian restaurant a couple of days back. He is in Japan for the last 5 years. CTO somewhere. We were having a casual conversion about the diversity of investment opportunities in India and China and the ongoing recession in Japan. (Since when did I start having those dinner conversations??? HELP !!!!! where is my nintendo ? ). I happened to mention how i was surprised than even during this recession in Japan, i could see people in subway trains with luis vuitton and chanel bags. He gave me an intersting fact. He says, 30% of the revenues of all big brands like armani, luis vuitton, hermes, bvlgari are not from japan, not tokyo, but GINZA !!!!
I can't verify this fact for you. But sounds true. I don't trust the guy cos
a) He is from delhi
b) He looks like a punju.
He looked like one of the uncles you could have seen in a punjabi wedding. But good timepass for dinner.
You could check this fact out for me. not punjabi uncles. The ginza story.
Anyways, I was taking a stroll at ginza in the evening. Went to the GAP store first. This is the only brand I find which is relatively cheaper. Not today though. A plain thin black v neck sweater costs around 5600 yen and will not be enough to keep me warm even on a cold mumbai morning. Caps are anyways expensive and I wanted to buy something really nice so I walked out of there.
I was in no mood for window shopping, when I was actually planning to buy something. No point in going to armani or bvlgari. So i walked into UNI QLO, a store I had earlier gone to in Korakuen. It's the cambridge shirts of tokyo, with cheap clothes(realtively) and up to date with the times, unlike cambridge which still sells 80's designs.
The UNI QLO is a chain of stores in tokyo, and the ginza version is four stories tall. I went up to the men's section and found the same sweater i saw earlier in GAP for 3500 yen. Picked that one and a plain white shirt (Japan's national uniform for work) for 2500 yen. The people at work are almost always dresses in dark suits ( mostly black) and white shirts. Feels like attending a large funeral at all times. The shirt was a size 38, and fitted fine. It felt awkward, cos I had never tried anything that fit after I had gained all that weight. 17 kilos lighter, it fit just fine. Hope to be this size as long as I can.
Mostly happy with the bargain, I walked back home.


(Missing the sweets at home and hogging at mohammed ali road in ramzan)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cinema Ikspiari

It was the saturday before diwali, and people were getting in a festive mood at home. I was at the apartment till about 4.00 in the evening finishing of housekeeping stuff. Got really bored and picked up a copy of the metropolis. This magazine has now become kind of my tour operator. It's a weekly that can be picked up free of cost from the apartment's reception. It has all the listings of sports, cultural and other events happenning in and around Tokyo. There didn't seem anything intersting in it, so i decided I would go watch a movie.
There were quite a few playing, and I picked up "Thank you for smoking". The next pick was "Snakes on Planes", so I chose the former.

Now comes the tough part. Finding the theatre. It was playing only at 2 places, a cinema hall at maraounochi close to home and cinema iskpiari at maihama which was god knows where. I got on a train and reached yurakucho where I was supposed to find this theatre. After searching for about 20 minutes, I decided to give up as the show must have already begun. The next option was to go to maihama and search for the theatre again. And I didn't even know what time the show was and even whether there was an evening show.I was already giving up, when I remembered it was saturday and I had nothing to do. The age old question for weekends "Ghar jaake kya Karega? " popped up and I said let's go for it.

Turns out maihama was on the edge of the city. I had to go to Tokyo and take the Disney Line to maihama. After 20 minutes on the train( which is a long time to travel by Japan standards) I reached maihama station. And Lo .. . And behold. Turns out maihama station is the entry point for Tokyo DisneyLand. Even more depressing when you are trying not to remember it's the festive season back home. I plan to visit DisneyLand sometime soon, so I don't wanna write about it much. The good part was, they had an information desk and they pointed me right towards cinema iskpiari. The ticket counter girl spoke a little english, and i was given a ticket to the 7.30 show. I am sure it must have been the most expensive ticket (1800 yen) in the house, but i was no mood to ask for balcony or stall. That's definitely the most I have paid for a movie ticket and I was hoping that at the price I was paying, It had some mind blowing chota chetan 3-D effects(It didn't. There was tim burton's "Nightmare before Christmas" playing at the same place which did. Blasting Barnacles !!!). I had more than an hour to kill before the show started, so after confirming that the show was actually in english ( Not an english movie dubbed in Japanese), I set off to take a stroll outside DisneyLand.

I didn't go far. Found a Planet hollywood close by and walked in. They had a lifesize statue of arnie from terminator at the door. The funny part was that it was halloween season and they had put a witch's robe and hat on it.Was escorted to a bar stool in a couple of minutes. I am already getting sick of sitting all alone on bar stools. Sipped on a cocktail, till it was about time. Didn't pick up any souveniurs, will do that later.

Back to the movie hall then. I was a bit early, which is quite unusual to our movie outings in mumbai where we are almost always late. I noticed they had beer and popcorn and hotdogs and decided i would come back later. I was skeptical till the movie started and was finally at peace when the soundtrack was in english. There was no national anthem ( Maybe we are the only ones who do it) and no interval, so i had to rush out in the middle of the movie to grab a beer. I didn't feel like a beer, but when was I going to sit in a movie hall and sip beer again? The movie hall was typical of a mid-size multiplex and there were only about 15 people in it. Guess that's the amount of folks you'd find anywhere for a foreign language film. The movie was average, it would have to be a classic of Forrest Gump's magnitude to make me feel like it was money well spent. I think i'll stick to renting dvd's for some time now.

All in all, a good time was had and a saturday night was not completely wasted.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Odaiba and Sega Joypolis

Another weekend had come with no plans. It was friday evening and I was sitting at my desk looking really busy, searching for something to do on the weekend. I stumbled upon the statue of liberty. Yes, In Japan. Gifted by france as usual. On doing some more R & D, found out that it was located at a port called Odaiba. I asked my colleague and he seemed interested. So i chalked out a rough plan for the next day ( which I must remember is always, always someone else's job).

We left our apartment at about 11.00 ( come on, it's a saturday). Had to catch a train from shimabshi station, which is my regular railway station. It Does not come anywhere close to andheri. The funny part is it is as noisy as andheri station. Only the noise, nothing else. We had to catch the yurikamome, which is an unmanned train running on rubber tires. The train ride to Odaiba is an attraction in itself (as adverised). I did not pick up the one day pass for the train, which was a mistake, as it is much cheaper if you plan to spend the whole day in odaiba. We were at one end of the train, and it is really fascinating to know that no one is driving the train. We got down at odaiba, the station that was the nearest to the statue of liberty.

After some regular photo ops at the statue of liberty, we headed to sega joypolis. This is like a 3 storey building full of popular sega games and rides, as well as some of new and upcoming ones. Again, did the mistake of not taking a full day pass and ended up spending more money inside. The virtual plane tour was a blast. The horror shows were ok. Maybe scarier if i knew what the characters were talking about.

After sega, the next stop was Mega web. Part of Palette Town, Mega Web is a Toyota showroom, where you can view and touch Toyota's newest models and car accessories, test drive a real car ("Ride One") or ride an automatic, electric vehicle ("E-com Ride"). Historic cars are exhibited in the "Historic Garage". With no driving licence, we were compelled to ride in one of the e-cars. It was a bit weird, sitting at the wheel while the car drives itself. Reminded me of Jurassic park. After we got of the car, we went to the car museum which was an exciting walk through all old cars which you would have seen in 70-80s flicks.

We hung around pallete town for a bit after that.This shopping and entertainment complex consists of Venus Fort, Sun Walk, Mega Web, a Ferris Wheel and Zepp Tokyo, a large concert venue. With the feet starting to kill us, we took th yurikamome back home.

A saturday well spent, i must say. Better than sitting at home and watching movies on cable.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


This is what wikepedia has to say about kabuki
Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theater. Kabuki theater is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by its performers.

The individual kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing, dance and skill. Kabuki is therefore sometimes translated as "the art of singing and dancing." These are, however, ateji, characters that do not reflect actual etymology, and the word kabuki is in fact believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning "to lean", or "to be out of the ordinary", hence kabuki can be interpreted to mean "avant-garde" or "bizarre" theatre

CAUTION :- Do this when you have absolutely nothing to do or if you really dig cultural stuff however bizzare it may be.

O.k. The caution is not on wikipedia. That ones's added by me. My reasons for going were simple
1> It was a sunday and i had nothing (better or worse) to do.
2> Ginza, where the theatre is very close to where I am staying.
3> The theme of the play sounded interesting ( Two samurai brothers out for revenge)
4> I was feeling like exploring Japan's cultural side. (New one for me)

Kabuki is not that bad. I was advised to go to an opera instead, but I have left that for something to do in Europe. But after watching kabuki, it made me wonder why i was never interested in KathaKali. Maybe I would have been If I was a tourist in India and had nothing better to do on a sunday. Maybe I should have watched kathakali when it was on t.v during my DD1 days in pune. But I didn't, so I am not in a position to make comparisons. So I am just gonna write about kabuki.


Discalimer : - Do not go by everything said in the above link.

I had no problems getting to the place. It was a stone's throw away from ginza station. It is small structure compared to the towers surrounding it. It seems it was rebuilt twice after a bomb and an earthquake. There are two options for watching kabuki. You either go the whole 9 yards, that is 4 and a half hours of four or five different acts or only a single act lasting about 90 minutes or so. Not being the culturally adventurous type, i decided to go for a single act on a sunday matinee show. For the single act, you have to go on the fourth floor which common sense tells you, does not house the best seats for watching a stage show. And in case if anyone's wondering what I was going to do at a cultural japanese play knowing only a few words in japanese, they have english headphones for translating the happenings on stage ( as advertised)

So there I was on a sunday morning, standing in line to get in for the act, trying to make a pass at the french girls ahead of me. At the opening of the window, the ticket guy saw I was lost in Translation and explained a few details to me in his version of english. What i got from it was I could have to stand, which i eventually did, as i refused to run up four flights of stairs for a seat on a sunday and preferred to stand for the next 90 minutes or so. I got my english translation radio from the counter on 4th floor for 1400 yen, 1000 yen of which was a deposit. I had just about enough standing place.

Come to think of it, the reason I was there was that the play was well advertised.It went something like this
Soga Brothers and their father's killers
This is one of the oldest and most calssical of all kabuki plays. In the edo period, every january , plays appeared about the vendetta, carried about the soga brothers Juro and Goro after 18 years of hardship.In soga no Taimen, the brothers confront Kudo suketsune, the man responsible for their father's death. More ceremony than play, it features each of the important kabuki character types, including the bombastic aragato style of Goro and the soft wagato style of Juro.

Well, that sounded intersting. So there i was, standing in the top balcony of the hall(worst seats for a play) waiting for the action to unfold. The play began with the opening ceremony which was about endless. I really do not wish to write much about the rest of it, but let's just say it ended in 90 minutes. All the action was missing, and there was lots of drama. I was half expecting full on wham bam action on stage, but there wasn't any. There were about countless japanese ceremenious, and endless praises sung by each of the characters in each other. The aragato style mentioned above consisted of screaming loudly and the wagato style sounded like the shreiking of a four year old girl. The play could be summed up as the brothers mentioned above getting themselves invited to the villians lunch party and challenging him to fight. All this took 90 minutes. In the end, I was thankful it did'nt take more.
I left sorely dissapointed ( no french girls spotted after the end of the play). But i would not want to discourage anyone from watching kabuki while in japan. Just, don't say you were not warned.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Yomiuri Giants VS Hiroshima Carpenters

Now where else would you find baseball teams with those names !!! Went to a baseball game last weekend. It was not planned, just happened. I had just come back home after spending the afternoon window shopping in roppongi. I did end up buying stuff from the Hard Rock cafe store. It was around 5.30 and I had nothing to do. So i just picked up my backpack and left for Korakuen where i knew there was a game on at the Tokyo dome between the Giants and the Carpenters.

I reached around 15 minutes late from the scheduled start at 6.00 p.m. After much hand talk with the ticket counter girl, I got in at a ticket of 1000 yen which was a standing ticket. It worked out great as i could roam around the whole circumference of the dome and catch the action from all angles. The tokyo dome is home to the Giants team. They are much like the real madrid of football. Big club, lots of money, great history and no credible performances in recent years. The carps were the minnows comparatively. The giants are the only team in Japan, that has all of it's games televised nationally.

As i put my foot in the stadium, I instantly knew what japanese baseball was all about. I do know the technicalites a bit, and that helped. The first innning was over and the giants were leading 2-0. The crowd was on their feet, which they would be for the entire game. They kept singing and playing their trumpets all the time.
The whole atmosphere was mind boggling. Well it was not half the crowd you would get at wankhede for an India - Australia match or one fourth of the noise when sachin would come in to bat. They say aamir khan recorded the crowd sound in an India - Australia match at wankhede to use in Lagaan. But the japanese had their own way of enjoying the game.
They had something of a japanese wave going which was similiar to the mexican wave. As the match progressed, I noticed one thing. The fans would cheer only when their team was batting. When the other side came to bat, they would just sit there patiently. It seems the japanese play a very conservative style of baseball. Not once during the game did i see someone try to steal a base. I picked up two chants, maybe wrong , but they sounded somewhat like this
" Se Se Hirose"
" GO GO Tamago"
I know the secound sounds english, but i am not sure. By the end of the seventh, I sat down at a place as my feet were killing me. In front of me was a man recording all the action on his two camcorders. It was pretty strange, cos he would change cassetes in one as they got over and start recording in the other. He had both cameras placed on tripods, and hardly changed the angle !!! Thankfully the guys sitting next to him also thought it to be funny, so I did'nt feel totally lost. There were the girls selling beer and hotdogs, all in matching uniform. They looked cheerful right till the end of the ninth.
As far as the game goes, the Giants were leading till the end of the sixth. The carps came from behind and made it 2-2 at the top of the seventh. I saw my first home run, being scored and it was quite a thing. On getting back to home base, the batter was gifted a doll by a cheerleader which it seems is customary. God, there seems to be a custom involved in everything here. The carps got another one at the top of eighth, and by the end of the eighth inning, the giants could not comeback. The crowd already started to leave at the start of the ninth, but I waited till the end. The carps did win eventually.
I hung around outside the dome for some time. Was really hungry, so decided to grab a bite. Walked into Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant but didn't feel like seafood. The restaurant has all kinds of soevinuers from Forrest gump. Will get back here to get the "Run Forrest Run" license plate. It seems they have a chain of these around the world.
Stepped into a chinese restaurant and had seaweed chicken fried rice. With chopsticks. They come joint, and you have to split them into two. I did a really bad job with the first one and ended up with one and a half chopsticks instead of two. The waiter was kind enough to offer me another one to break, and this time I split them like pro. The chopsticks are disposable anyway, so I could have broken a few more. It seems they do have some problems in clearing garbage in Tokyo cos of all these chopsticks and other disposable stuff. The rice was good, and I think I can handle chopsticks now.
Left for home at around 10, and must say was a weekend well spent.