This November we brought “UP OUR SLEEVE: the dublab covers project” to Tokyo and Kyoto. What a surreal excursion. Japan is far out. Tokyo is a megalopolis buzzing at the seams with inertia. No space is unoccupied for long. Human traffic flash floods every intersection. Great masses swirl in their busy courses weaving like bees bathed in neon. The constant bellows and barks of Parisians or New Yorkers are absent. The people of Tokyo move quietly. It is their buildings that do the talking. Giant video screens crown towers. Their flashes and screeches rapidly boast of the latest techno-gizmo as spazz-out techno breaks scatter across the block. It’s easy to experience vertigo from the ground here. Tokyo is compact and chaotic. Stores and restaurants are hidden deep within glass and steel exteriors. Want those boots? Take the elevator to the 16th floor, turn left, right, and try them on.
This is an altogether different land. If you don’t speak Japanese, voices splash your ears in chattering waves and Kanji phrases flutter like indecipherable butterflies into your mind. Give into the tide and you’ll fall in love. Or, get out and find piece of mind.
Kyoto is like Tokyo after deep breaths and bubble baths. It is an ancient city of mountainside temples and aromatic, alleyway shrines. Kyoto greeted our crew hugged by flaming autumn trees and sparkling streams. The city drifts on pleasant vibes. The pace is slow, the people warm. Kyoto and Tokyo have the exact same letters in their names. Is this coincidence or a sign of deeper power at work? You make the call. Meanwhile enjoy this article about Japan. Following are some random observations from an awestruck outsider.
CUTIES – Japanese girls are like beautiful bubblegum strolling the streets in leg warmers. All you can do to keep from chomping them up is fill your mouth with rice balls. (The wasabi and salmon variety are quite tasty.) Ladies don’t fret. This is not a place for one-sided gender shock. Everyone in Japan dresses fresh. They have ingrained fashion sense set on the future. My “relaxed” fashion sense looked slummy beside them. If I tied my shoes tight and smoothed my shirt on my next step I was sure to encounter a hip kid sans laces, sporting a giant wrinkled poncho and alligator mask. Damn it, they can pull off formal dress with a paper bag and string.
YUM – Food is cheap. It’s not dirt-cheap but who wants to eat dirt? You can score a tasty, filling lunch for $5. Dollar sushi spots are hot. If you are a vegetarian or avoid certain edible elements beware. If you’re a ten year old be even more aware. You’ll swear an extra from “Aliens” landed on your plate. If you’re an open minded eater chomp away cheerily. Octopus balls are a crispy culinary highlight. (Warning: there are no burritos in Tokyo).
INSERT COINS – Japan has the world’s most vending machines per capita. Around every corner these mechanical do-gooders give all night access your cravings. Whether that is underwear, beer, smokes, or chowder you’re in luck. The hot milk tea and hot apple tea will fill your life with love. They are always the perfect, tasty temperature. You’ll never encounter an empty machine or the magic elves that maintain them.
TRASH BAN – You’ll have more luck spotting a clan of bikini-clad daredevil armadillos than a trashcan in Tokyo. Most public refuse receptacles were removed after the serin gas attack by brainwashed cultists. Word is they stuffed ruthless wares in rubbish bins. At least the Japanese war on terrorism is reasonable. However, at any given moment I carried a pound of trash stuffed in my pockets. How does the place remain so sparkling clean? Refer to the magic elves above.
WONKA GONE WRONG – There is a very freaky trend in Japan. Some girls seemingly want to be reborn as Jamaicans. Walk in a mall and you’ll see ladies in “island attire” with bright orange skin and bleached perms. They look like bling bling Oompa Loompas. I’m not one to judge but if I did the score would be: CREEPY.
ROMPER ROOM – Traditional Japanese homes and restaurants cover their floors in woven Tatami mats. Before entering, slip off your shoes and ease into the comfortable world of straw. It’s fun to sit down for a meal and know at any moment you could reenact the famous underwear and socks slip’n’slide scene from “Risky Business.” If they question your undie undulations just reply, “I’m a baby Sumo!” Head to the powder room and you’ll find sandals awaiting your naked foot. It’s all quite liberating.
SHOP TIL YOU POP
I once heard that 80% of the world’s vinyl eventually ends up in Japan. Their record buying culture is intense. In some shops album prices hover between $200 and $500. If you want to pay your rent and still score some cuts here are a few suggestions.
ONSA RECORDS – This small, cozy spot in Shimokitazawa is an ultra-focused record boutique. It’s stocked with the hottest spectrum of slowbeat tunes. If you’re searching for Bubble Core, Warp, Fat Cat, Leaf, Tomlab, or other innovative micro-imprints this is the place. The attached teashop adds to the mellow vibe. Sip some oolong and spread almond cookie crumbs amongst next wave wax.
DISK UNION – This is a serious, pre-meditated threat to financial security. Floor upon floor upon floor of well-organized records greet vinyl lovers with a sinister grin. The extremely tasteful techno, experimental, and hip-hop floors inspire wide eyes but the used rock/jazz/world floor really floats the record collector boat.. Timeless albums by My Bloody Valentine, Can, Os Mutantes, Shuggie Otis, Serge Gainsbourg, Nico, Hugh Mundell, Stereolab, and more fill the shelves. The in-store stereo oozes vintage psych-rock sure to loosen joints and purse strings.
SPIRAL RECORDS – Nestled in Aoyama’s architecturally wowee-zowee Spiral Building you will find a specialty shop stocked with rich sounds. Equally offered are quiet electronics, unconventional hip-hop, dub, and Afro-Latin discs. This is also home to the excellent Farlove record label. If you visit, bow once, clap twice and buy their perfectly balanced Twilight World 2.0 compilation. It will serve as a superior sidekick on your Nippon trip.
We were introduced to some delightfully dizzy new music in Japan. Many discs exchanged hands with greetings and smiles. Take a look at some new Japanese music masters below. If any of these become the next Yellow Magic Orchestra you will know where you heard it first. Oh yeah, don’t forget the folks we couldn’t fit: Nobukazu Takemura, Masakatsu Takagi, Win a Sheep Free, Sangatsu, Susumu Yokota, World Standard, Tujiko Noriko, Ogurusu Norihide, Fantastic Plastic Machine, United Future Organization, Kyoto Jazz Massive, ShingO2, Towa Tei, and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
PEPE CALIFORNIA – Our pals Kozyndan turned us onto this Tokyo-based outfit. Their album the Nice Nice is a sunny jaunt found on Farlove Records. Drums (steel, trap, and electronic), percussion, violin, guitar, and bass mesh to elevate ears. Pepe California asked us to play an opening set for their gig in Yokohama, then suggested we scratch along live with one of their tunes, and finally invited us to sing a Ramones tune with them. We thought what the hell we’re in Japan. The dublab crew was in rare form indeed, whipping around the stage belting out “Blitzkrieg Pop” to a crowd of bewildered kids.
KB – Pepe California’s guitarist/bassist in solo mode. His sound swings similar to the breezy tone of the group effort but slightly more slippery. It’s subdued and dreamy. Paid Holiday is rich, hypnotic music for rowing boats or painting sunsets. The stained glass sparrow cover design by Bluemark is stunning.
AZERU – If you are a fan of the swirling chimes, lightly plucked guitars, and soft voices of Mice Parade then say hi to your new pal Azeru. The album Anchoyu glimpses relaxed moments of Japanese living. You can almost taste the bamboo waving in the wind. If you do, you might be a panda bear.
SLOWMAN – The debut album from Spiral Records buyer Sohei Tsurutani. The Floating Deck hits a perfect stride between techno thump and ambient waves. His upbeat tones sound like Herbert set adrift on memory bliss. This is a nice start for hopeful sound.
CAPPABLACK – We have been playing their music for years and were thrilled out of our britches to meet Hashim B., one half of Cappablack. This cat was raised in San Diego and has a global ear for sound. Cappablack’s output on Tokyo’s Soup-Disk label turns ears on with deeply dynamic hip hop pop offs. Soon they’ll release an album on Berlin’s ~scape.
RIOW ARAI – An ace beat machine man. We played two shows with him and at each he really freaked it. Using only two discs he cut back and forth skillfully, creating chunky new edits of his already mind tumbling beats. Check for Device People on Soup-Disk and Mind Edit, new on Leaf.
Well friend, that was a teeny-weeny taste of Japan. Open your eyes for a second in Tokyo and you can take in ten thousand times what you just read. Regardless, I hope these words inspire you to dive deeper into Japanese culture. Start wearing a kimono each and every day, utter not an English word, and play the bamboo flute in local talent shows. There you go! You got it and got it good.
illustration by: kozyndan
article originally appeared in RE:UP Magazine.