Going with the Flow in Tokyo (Gūzen, Part 2)

Recap

I started writing this post while Hideki Yamamoto was recording his show for Central Pacific Time, an online radio station that me and Lei started earlier this year. Hideki provided a vibe, as usual (I miss DJing with him and Oliver every month at Soul Time In Hawaii — in March, we decided to scale back the Soul Time parties from monthly to a few times per year) as I typed furiously at the keyboard. We didn't say much throughout that hour. He was focused on selection and mixing, I was focused on recounting our experiences in Japan in April and May. (Read part one here.) Toward the end of the recording, I apologized for being so focused. We didn't talk much during the recording. It's been a long time since I took the time to write anything, I told him, so this is a chance to let it all out. "Let it all out," Hideki replied. There's definitely a lot to talk about — like launching a new radio station. (New York Magazine mentioned us in their "What to Read, Watch, and Download Before Visiting Honolulu" online feature If you've been closely following @alohagotsoul on Instagram or you're on the mailing list, you've noticed mentions of CPT here and there, but no official announcement from the Aloha Got Soul side. I won't say more right now except for you can learn more about CPT here. I want to use this space to write the second part this post. I closed the first part admitting my regret in not finding a portable turntable during our trip to Japan. Mark Kushimi found one in Fujisawa. I saw another one, panda-shaped, in Shimokitazawa that I photographed but didn't purchase. I let out a lot in that 4,000+ word blog post. It mainly serves as an account for myself and our friends who shared in the experiences, so that we can look back on it fondly. There's so much to remember, and our memory will surely forget a lot of it on its own! It was probably the longest post I've written in the seven years of blogging here. The second longest is John Book's look into the Sunday Manoa. John remains one of only two guest contributors to the blog, the other is Cedric Bardawil, who interviewed illustrator Gaurab Thakali. During our trip, Lei and I tried to keep a journal of the things we did. Each night we'd jot down what happened that day, but we usually fell asleep before we could finish. So now a month after our trip, this is our chance to write it down. I've followed a theme of "gūzen", or happenstance and organized everything by neighborhood. Last time I covered Higashi-Nakano, Harajuku, Sangenjaya, Shibuya, and Fujisawa. Here we go with part two.

Akasaka / Roppongi

The day we went to Fujisawa we made a detour for Akasaka. Jun Saito and Yasuyuki Ozeki invited us for an interview on their weekly radikaku show on Kyoto's alpha-station. We checked-out of our Higashi-Nakano AirBnb (do you ever really "check-out" of an AirBnb?) and stopped at Shinjuku Station to store our luggage in lockers so we could explore Akasaka and do the interview luggage-free. Shinjuku Station is massive. Last year, Lei and I realized we would lose 30 minutes of our lives at Shinjuku just trying to navigate the station. This year, Lei, Nick, Hideki Mark and I kept together and followed Hideki's lead. Hideki's originally from Kobe, so he gets a little confused in Shinjuku Station. At least he can read signs and talk to people in Japanese. We didn't get lost. We did, however, get stuck in some kind of train station purgatory. Our IC cards stopped working in between gates. We couldn't figure out why, and were stuck inside the station. Hideki figured it out for us, but I'm not sure he could explain what happened. What we do know is that, true to form, we lost about 30 minutes in Shinjuku Station. Finally, Akasaka. We stumbled upon Hie Jinja, a gorgeous shrine atop a hill, which we accessed through a forested stairset that led us through a thicket of vermilion torii gates, reminiscent of the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. Hie Jinja was perhaps my favorite temple we visited, filled with powerful mana throughout the temple grounds. We took our time, took some photos, Lei got a "goshuin" temple seal, adding to her growing collection in her goshuinchou book. Content, we found our way to the main entrance of Hie Jinja, a wide and massive set of south-facing stairs that lead us to street level. Mark's photo of us walking down it turned out beautifully. https://www.instagram.com/p/BjWVrk3A_oH/?taken-by=markkushimi At this point, Nick realized holy shit, I left my guitar in the locker at Shinjuku. He needed it for the radio interview. We arrived at the studio, Jun laughed out loud — no problem, he said, let's have Nick sing accapella instead. It turned out to be really special, a kind of "exclusive" experience where only radikaku listeners got to hear Nick sing without his guitar. Mark took a photo of a crosswalk near the station. It captures my memory of the place, the cool air on a cloudy day as we headed back to the Akasaka station for Shinjuku, stopping into BIC Camera to grab some 120 film before our journey to Fujisawa. Roppongi would be our home for one week of this trip, when we joined Mori for their first Japan market in Tokyo Midtown as part of the Hawaii Music Life Festival. Aly and Travis of Mori invited AGS to be a part of the Mori market, as well as musicians Nick Kurosawa, Ohtoro, Nick Kaleikini, and Streetlight Cadence. The event took place around the same time as Soul Time in Tokyo, which worked out perfectly since we were able to plan for both as part of one trip. Nick Kurosawa wanted the same departure and return dates as me and Lei. We booked tickets on ANA for three weeks in Tokyo — one week for Soul Time, one week for Mori, and a final week for R&R. Tokyo Midtown became our homebase for five days while we vended and performed at the Mori market. The HML Festival itself was nine days total, encompassing Mori, a concert series by the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, an outdoor stage area with various retail stands, and an outdoor café — all at Tokyo Midtown, a sophisticated mixed-use development property featuring a mix of shopping, galleries, residences and a Ritz Carlton hotel. The best thing about the Mori market was that we were in one place for five days. Ryusuke Kelly of Tokyo FM dropped by one evening after seeing (and interviewing) Donovan Frankenreiter at the Na Hoku concert series. My boss from my old job I'd left in December stopped by and we shared a drink together. The Soul Time crew rolled through, and even our new friend Mitsu from Fujisawa showed up — he was at work just couple blocks away when he saw our Instagram post. One of my favorite encounters was probably this one guy who came up and asked, "Do you remember me?" I didn't — sorry! — but then he showed me an iPhone video he took at the Surfjack. It looked familiar, then I came into the video all of the sudden. Now I remembered... one night during Soul Time in Waikiki, this guy came out of nowhere filming and said he liked my Soul Time shirt, then continued on and disappeared into the crowd. I never thought I'd ever see that guy again. But here he was two years later, wearing a Soul Time tee no less! Nick Kaleikini brought a crew of musicians with him: drummer Dae Han, bassist Wil Tafolo, and guitarist Toby Kim. Together they formed the OG Sons. Part of their setup included a drum kit and keys in the Mori market. By day three I couldn't help myself but jump on the drums in the morning, which prompted Nick Kurosawa to me on keys. He started singing, and soon Aly was singing with us too. This spontaneous energy continued throughout the festival. At one point me, Dae, Wil and Toby jammed (I had a hard time keeping up). During the OG Sons' performances, they would invited Nick Kurosawa to adlib a fresh tune on the spot (they're now recording some tracks in the studio). Kaleikini even got Streetlight to jam with the OG's. One afternoon, the OG Sons started playing along to the music from the house system: it was "Fly With Me" by Aiko. It's a simple song, the band picked it up quickly, casually. I loved it. One morning, Lei and I stumbled upon a raw salad bar called .RAW. It was a welcome relief from all the katsu, fish, meat and fried foods we'd eaten by this point of the trip. There was also Falafel Brothers, with its tiny shop and massive falafel pita sandwiches. Highly recommended! And most importantly, there was UOSHIN, a seafood-centric izakaya one block from Tokyo Midtown. Yoshi from Tokyo Cultuart recommended we meet there on the first night of the festival. We ended up going to UOSHIN two more times within those five days at Mori — once more with Yoshi and his wife, Koto, and finally with a crew of 17 people from the market. We lucked out, UOSHIN had a table big enough that night. But none of us could read the menu! So I LINE'd Yoshi pics of the menu, and he circled his recommended dishes. I showed the waiter and got our order underway. Thanks Yoshi!

Takadanobaba

Really the only thing we wanted to do was go to a jazz club with live music. After looking for some places in Shinjuku (where the Saturday night crowds were crazy packed), Lei found Jazz Spot Intro in Takadanobaba. We snapped some photos of Notoya in the middle of a Shinjuku street, his vibrant shirt matched the city lights in the background. Then we hopped in a cab for "Baba". We were pretty sure it's a good sign if you see a double bass in the stairwell leading down to a basement jazz club. When we walked in the bar owner seated us, took our drink order, brought our drinks over, called the next song, then hopped on with the band and blazed through a heavy solo with his saxophone. It's a good sign if the bar owner can lead the club's band like that, let alone crush a solo unrehearsed. That night we stumbled upon Sanpoichi, a spot apparently known for it light chicken ramen. Baba is known as a hot spot for ramen. We had no idea. We slurped Sanpoichi down. The following week in Roppongi we ate Afuri Ramen. Both Afuri and Sanpoichi are my favorites, although Afuri has multiple locations so surely we'll be back at Afuri somewhere before we hit Baba again. We returned to Jazz Spot Intro a second time with Mark Kushimi and Dae Han. Immediately upon entering the club, the bartender asked us if we played. Dae does, I told them. They wrote his name on a list and we sat at the bar for a drink. The band finished and the bartender that evening called up the next set of musicians. Dae was up next. Leading this particular group was a saxophonist who wasn't from Japan; the guy called a tune and the band went in — except no one knew the song. The pianist and bassist couldn't keep up. Dae held tight and soon enough, the sax player motioned to the other two musicians to stop playing. He and Dae went at it together for nearly three minutes. From Mark's post on Instagram: "...The place was about the size of two Winnebagos... As we squeezed our way in, the bartender asked if we played any instruments. Dae mentioned that he played the drums, had a seat and lit a cigarette. Before he could finish smoking Dae was called up front to jam with a set of strangers..." https://www.instagram.com/p/BjB5ntxA5wR/?taken-by=markkushimi At the end of the session, Dae returned to the bar. We couldn't wait to come back again another night. We did. On the final evening of the HML Festival. All the vendors were at Midtown, packing our merch and breaking down. Dae, Wil and Toby were off somewhere in Ikebukuro. Lei was sick by this point and planned to stay in that evening. So Dae and I coordinated to meet at Takadanobaba Station by 11pm. Intro closed at midnight. We arrived around 11:00 at the station, it was rainy and it was also the first time Dae or I had ridden the train solo during this trip, so we got a little turned around at Baba. We made a quick conbini stop and headed to Intro. Once again, the bar owner was there behind the counter. Are you a musician? Yes. What do you play? Drums. OK, this is the last tune of the evening. Follow me. Dae seemed pretty confused — hop on now? The cigarette he'd lit, he hadn't had a chance to take a puff yet. Dae followed the owner, who told the drummer to take a solo and then motioned him to step out. The rest of the band kept playing. Dae the band closed the night out. We shared a drink with the owner at the end of the night, exchanging simple conversation in broken Japanese and broken English.

Shimokitazawa

The Tokyo Record Market, organized by Enan of Turntable Tokyo, was one of the highlights of our trip. Enan learned that we'd be in Tokyo during the event and invited us to join — we couldn't pass this chance up to connect with more diggers and DJs in Japan. The market was busy from the moment it opened, 12pm, until closing at 9pm. There was this super dope tuba funk trio called Pedal Vox performing in the adjacent Long Vá Quán bar/restaurant space. I could hear them from our small table outside, definitely check them out if you can! We also got to meet DJ Nori and plenty of new faces at the market. By this point of the trip, we were pretty exhausted. Actually, both times we were in Shimokitazawa, we were tired. One day, earlier on in the trip, we walked around Shimokita with Hideki and Nick. I picked up some random Middle Eastern LP in a Hard-Off just around the corner from the main station (and on our last day in Japan shipped most of my record finds... sadly, I'm still waiting for that box to arrive...). I think the track that caught my attention on that LP was "Coffee Grind Beats". Can't wait to hear it, if it arrives anytime soon. We stopped by Jet Set and Diskunion, as well as General Record Store. We were pretty beat.

MISATO

Misato was truly one of the only days we really wanted to do nothing but chill. Misato was an excellent place to do just that. Yoshi and his wife, Koto, live in Misato, a 2-hour train ride north east from Tokyo's city center. It was far enough from the city that there was no pressure to do anything (or chance to be distracted by the desire to do something) except for relax. We went thrift store shopping. We ate soba. Almost took a nap. We went to a temple. We browsed an electronics big box store. At some point we found a swing set and did that for a bit. We went to a super sento. Then we drove back into Tokyo and ate Chinese food near our AirBnb in Iidabashi (what's up, Kenji!). Lei and I both found film cameras at Hard-Off in Misato, I got a Ricoh Auto Half and Lei a Yashica Electro 35. All in all a satisfying day of doing nothing more than relaxing.
Swing time in Misato.

Setagaya

My memory of Setagaya remains fantastical, something like a Ghibli film. Lei and I linked with Hamon Radio, an independent online radio station comprised of a small group of dedicated DJs with a penchant for Balearic music. From our AirBnb in Iidabashi we made our way to Miyanosaka Station via Sangenjaya Station. Neither of us anticipated the train from Setagaya to be a tram, not a train. We hopped on the tram in the late afternoon, just before major rush hour. School had let out and the car filled quickly. The tram moved slowly along the tracks. Slowly. It was raining outside and as we traveled further from Setagaya, the houses seemed to close in on both sides of the tracks. The sun was still out somewhere, covered by a thicket of rain clouds. The day was gray and dark. We rolled slowly up to Miyanosaka Station. The grass beneath the tracks hadn't been but in a long time. We gathered our things at the station — more of a small platform, actually. I loved it. We didn't have umbrellas with us, so I ran over to Family Mart across the street. The rained came down harder as we walked to Balearic Inshokuten, past small family-owned businesses and the Setagaya Hachiman Shrine, the tram tracks to our right, the rain soaking the bottom halves of our pants. Balearic Inshokuten was like an oasis. Warm and welcoming, tropical plants and decor, smiles on the faces of everyone in the Hamon Radio crew along with NTS DJ Paola Laf. For the rest of the everyone we shared music and stories while enjoying the restaurant's poke and taco rice with bottled Heartland beer. Hiroshi Kawanabe and VIDEOTAPEMUSIC showed up for the event, and during our interview when Shungo from Hamon asked us which Japanese artist we're currently into and why, we said VTM because of his modern approach to exotica music. Few people are championing exotica music today in the way he is. Can't wait to see how his career progresses in the coming years. https://www.mixcloud.com/HamonRadio/35-leimomi-bong-roger-bong-cpt-radio-w-hamon-radio-balearic-restaurant-tokyo/ That afternoon felt like a dream, we'd been plucked from the bustling three weeks in Tokyo and floated down stream to Setagaya. The gig was pau, it was time to head home. That evening we didn't ride the tram, it would've been too slow. Instead, we caught the train from Gotokuji Station with some new friends. We made our way back up through the many levels of Iidabashi Station and then up along Kagurazaka Slope, probably stopping for a quick meal at a 24-hour chain restaurant. The details are fuzzier as each day passes. Thankfully, we took plenty of photographs to remind us of our time in Tokyo. I look through them and smile. We'll be back soon, more adventures await.
Read part one here.

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