Drinking under the light of the silvery bloom

Well, just when I thought I had run out of things to say about glorious cherry blossoms, along comes a new flavour.  Night cherry blossoms!


A friend very kindly invited me along to his Friday night work-do which involved sitting under the cherry blossoms and drinking large amounts of alcohol.  I’ve executive-ly summarised the agenda for you in the following photograph:

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

Something a little confusing is that the Japanese word for going to view cherry blossoms during the day is hanami, which literally means “flower viewing”.  However, if you go and look at cherry blossoms at night, it’s not called “night flower viewing” – it’s called yozakura, “night cherry blossoms”.  A small distinction, but unless you know that’s specific word, you’ll forever being saying things like: “So what time shall we leave the the flower viewing that occurs at night?”.

Also, I’m hazy as to if this actually occurred, but I think I mistakenly called the event yozakana on several occasions.  Yozakana, however, is not actually a word that exists in the Japanese language.  Upon consideration, I can only imagine people were translating it as “night fish”.  Luckily, I was never asked what manner of entity a night fish might be.

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

The park in question was right next to Tokyo Tower too:

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

If you’re in Tokyo in late March / early April, definitely try to wangle yourself a yozakura invite, and preferably with a big group – the parks are overflowing with people over the cherry blossom season, and there’s power in numbers!


They could have saved a lot of money if they built the last eight metres first

Tokyo Tower is 8.6 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower. And don’t you forget it. This will normally be the first thing you hear after “This is Tokyo Tower”.

It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Tokyo, and gives some great views of the city. Well worth a trip, though it’s a little pricey as such things normally are ($10 AUD to the centre platform, $20 to the top).

Please enjoy these pictures I took of and from it.

Last chance to see – Rikugien Gardens

As the trees shed their leaves, it’s a good sign that autumn is just about done in Japan.  Last weekend was probably the last chance to brave the packed crowds of the popular viewing places as winter sets in.  There’s a great spot in Tokyo called Rikugien Gardens, which is over 300 years old, no less. During the autumn nights, they’re all artfully lit up in an absolutely stunning manner.

Of course, daytime is no slouch either:

This one is for people who like to get all poetic and use words like “juxtaposed”:

Lots more over at the autumn gallery too…

Mt Fuji – an adventure in volcanic ash

Here is the famous silhouette of Mt Fuji from two hours drive away, in Shinjuku, Tokyo:

And here it is from rather a lot closer:

Yes, it was Fuji-climbing time. Other than “because it’s there” and “because everyone cool is doing it”, there is a very good reason to climb it:

Lots of pictures and details about climbing Mt Fuji after the fold! Continue reading

Fire flowers in the summer

Along with the heat, rain and intense humidity, summer brings something spectacular in Japan – fireworks (hanabi) season. Literally translated, hanabi means “fire flowers”, a way cooler name that is quite possibly worth stealing.

There’s a lot of hanabi events in Tokyo at this time of year – just about every weekend you’ll find one. These shows are not done by halves – they are BIG. The particular one we attended was on a river with people crowding the banks on both sides, and lasted for an hour and a half.

As you arrive, you’re handed a program which precisely details the evening’s events – a pyrotechnic banquet menu of sorts. It catalogs two to ten minute courses of different types of fireworks, launched by different teams trying to make the neatest looking explosions. At 8:30pm exactly, as advertised, the fireworks finish. There was no vaguely synchronised 80’s rock soundtrack. There was no F-111 flyover. Just spectacular fireworks, the likes of which ye… err, me… had never seen.

The other nice touch is that lots of guys and girls dress traditionally to come to these events, wearing cotton kimonos (yukatas) and wooden sandals, enjoying a beer as they watch the fireworks. There are a lot of stalls and other entertainment running around the place too, giving the whole evening a really nice community feel. Tip – get there early, the good places fill up fast!

I took some shots as well, of course, which took a few contortions when dealing with the large crowd, most of whom were sitting down. I kept trying to creep my tripod up a bit higher to get better shots, and got very politely told off on a couple of occasions. I compromised on an uncomfortable crouching position, but managed to get the shots I wanted. You can see more at the fireworks gallery (try the slideshow).

Next weekend – another fireworks show. But this one’s bigger. I’m not sure how’s that’s possible, but I’ll find out…


Golden Gai

There’s an area in Shinjuku called Golden Gai, a narrow maze of criss-crossing streets dense with tiny drinking holes. It’s an alcoholic oasis from a different era of Japan, hidden in amongst the ultra-modern neon and the intense crowds of a Saturday night in Shinjuku.

The Tomorrow bar that a small group of us went to was run by a lovely lady – she was the only staff member there, and possibly owned it too. I took this photo with my back against the wall near the front door, to give you an idea of the size. You could sit maybe 6 or 7 people there total, with only a little standing room left after that. It’s much like having a drink in someone’s kitchen at their breakfast bar.

A lot of the bars have themes, to give them that unique feel. One we passed was a blues bar, another a slightly alternative hippie vibe, another had deep brown hardwood floors and a sophisticated cigar-and-cognac feel to it. Another one we almost went in to reeked of fish. I don’t know if that was their theme, though.

The size of these places give them an intimate feel, like you’re a guest rather than a customer. My understanding is that many of the bars cater to regulars and they’re not really geared to foreigners very much. So, there were a few communication troubles, at least until a Japanese friend turned up to interpret.

Now, some wisdom if you ever want to go to Golden Gai. As it turned out, there was a group reservation due soon, so we only had time for one drink. A good thing too. Many of these bars have a “seating charge” of around $5, plus the cost of the drinks, which are not too cheap either. So, the vodka and cranberry I ordered cost about $16 overall. It’s not unheard of to pay that much for a fancy cocktail in Australia too, but just a warning that it will cost a little bit more than what’s printed on the menu.

At any rate, my drink wasn’t actually a vodka and cranberry after all – I think it was vodka and some sort of red rocket fuel. So, I got my money’s worth.

The service was fantastic – we were served delicious, lightly salted edamame (soy beans in the shell), and looked after very well. The atmosphere of the place had a very secluded, sophisticated feel to it.

Golden Gai is an incredibly interesting, charismatic area, with so many unique places to explore. You might want to make sure you have a good bankroll and smattering of Japanese or a Japanese friend first, though!

I left my eardrums in Shinjuku

Shinjuku is one of the liveliest places in Tokyo, and probably the world. At night, in amongst the dazzling brilliance of the neon signs and the smoky claustrophobia of the izakayas (drinking places), it positively crackles with energy. And at its epicentre: this guy.

His objectives, as far as I could tell, were to:

  • Look crazy and androgynous. Check.
  • Have crazy hair. Check.
  • Range his voice across four octaves, one and a half of which he could actually form notes in. Check.
  • Have some sort of simulated seizure during the 180 BPM hardcore nu-rock synth-guitar synthesizer solos:


He would accompany his backing music in the traditional karaoke style, but sans words, since such words do not yet exist. At the end of each song, he would take a big belt from the Coke bottle sitting behind him, probably to make sure his emanations were suitably carbonated. Then, another song would start. At least, I wasn’t sure if it was another song, or there was just one song he really liked a lot.

During each piece, he would gracefully glide through his full gamut, ranging from catlike wailing to guttural howling. Perhaps owing in part to this, he could really draw a crowd, who all seemed to be at least as fascinated and horrified as me:

It’s important to note how much distance they’re keeping. And those girls sitting close? One of them is wearing a surgical mask. Smart.

At the end of his set, he triumphantly toured the crowd, stopping to pose for photographs with everyone and hand out pamphlets. As he got near, I was going to ask him for a photo, but he sailed right past, pretending not to notice me. Perhaps he thought I looked a bit odd.