Archive | March, 2011

11 March 2011 – Japan’s Biggest Earthquake

14 Mar

Damaged to houses is widespread

Friday 11th March 2011 will long be remembered as one of the worst in Japan’s history. After living in Japan and travelling here back and forth many times, earthquakes are a part of daily life. Not that people are blasé about them, but you always assume that they will fade away. Last Friday I happened to be in an upstairs bedroom at our house in Ibaraki prefecture, which is in the northeastern part of the Kantō region, about 55 odd km’s from Tokyo. This quake started and the shaking just continued and grew stronger and stronger. The groan of the quake was loud. I knew this was major. Ceiling lights falling, books and anything on shelving getting tossed around, TV’s and furnture being jolted like toys, the shattering sound of glasses and bottles  from kitchen cabinets being smashed. ‘Violent and frightening’. They are the words I would use to describe the massive earthquake. I darted outside – not easy to do when it feels like you’re on a skateboard, and could hear the rooms being shaken as I exited. All rooms look like they’ve been turned upside down. Relatively speaking, this area got off lightly compared to folks elsewhere. There is damage all around, specifically to house roofing, to roadwork, and most fencing constructed of stone or granite was obviously tossed around. We waited out the dying hours of light on Friday evening sitting in a vehicle away from possible falling objects. The car would regularly be rocked by the shaking earth underneath. The area was eerily quiet as the Friday evening drew to a close and was engulfed in darkness. No electricity, no water, no phones. We had a kit ready, like many people do and the ‘wind-up’ torch/radio was a god-send. So too the candles. In this superfast, technological world we live in, those two items were appreciated. I could hear sirens through the evening but it was the continuing aftershocks all through the night which were haunting. You just never know if it’s time to run again or will it fade. I counted at least twenty, and they are still occurring frequently, even as I compose this article in the dead of this cold early, Monday morning. There was a queue for water which I attended on the Saturday morning, and one of the roads had a massive split from the quake. I took a drive yesterday and saw long lines of cars waiting for fuel and grocery stores packed with people buying supplies. The emergency services have issued a warning that a magnitude seven earthquake will strike within the next couple of days. Like many residents,

locals queue for water at the city office

sleep does not come easy, but when it does I bed down fully clothed so that if I have to move, it is fast. Split seconds count when it’s the real deal. What’s that saying about cats and nine lives ? I reckon this cat – like so many others here in Japan, used up one of em last Friday at 2:46PM. There are millions of people here who have lost everything, and my thoughts are with those people and those affected by this tragedy.




Airs Rock Video Bootleg Store: Tokyo Japan

4 Mar

Airs Rock Video store in Shinjuku in something of an institution. When I first visited the store in the late 90’s I could not believe how cool it was. Airs Rock, and many other stores like it were in the same vicinity and stocked live concert bootlegs. Back then it was VHS tapes and CD’s. All artists were available but the majority were rock. They used to have TV’s with VCR’s and head-phones set-up and I would spend hours happily watching rare live concerts from some of my favourite bands.

DVD’s ultimately replaced the VHS tape, but the theme of the shop and its competitors remained the same. Bootlegs baby ! Most major rock artists who toured Tokyo visited the store and happily obliged for photos and autographs. Many of them adorn the walls and it’s quite an impressive collection. Recently i went in search for the Shinjuku based store only to find it had moved, and to much smaller premises as well. They still have about four floors worth discovering. But it;s a sign of the times folks and with the rampant downloading of music showing o signs of being halted (and the popularity of youtube), I fear the Airs Rock Videos store’s days are numbered. They are still an amazing store and a place you should check out when you visit Tokyo. Take the West exit at Shunjuku station and turn right.  You will come to a major intersection (shinjukuogado dori) bit keep walking straight ahead. It’s on the left hand side of the road, about seven minutes walk from that busy intersection. When you start to see other CD and Record stores you know you’re in the right area. Check some additional youtube footage here.

Capsule Hotel in Tokyo: Green Plaza Hotel – Shinjuku

2 Mar

Entrance to Green Plaza Capsule

Over the years I’ve stayed in a few capsule hotels and I am endeavouring to now write about them for folks who may be thinking of staying in one when they visit Japan. The system of how they operate is usually pretty much the same across the board, with only minor differences. The check-in and other relevant information which follows, applies to most Japanese capsule hotels.

Recently I lobbed into the Green Plaza Capsule Hotel in bustling Shunjuku. I am informed that this hotel is indeed one of the original Capsule Hotels in Tokyo. Do not immediate assume ‘old and run-down’ there as that is not the case, it just means they were one of the first. First off let’s talk about finding the place. It is very centrally located and should be simple to find, but if you are not familiar with Tokyo I’ll give you some directions. Take the East Exit at Shinjuku’s JR Station. If you’ve never been here, you’ll be surrounded by zillions of people in Shinjuku Station all scrambling for their exits, but just focus on finding the East Exit. The Green Plaza Capsule Hotel is only about a five-minute walk from here. From the station, turn left as if you are heading for the West Side of Shinjuku. Look for the corner where there is a McDonald’s Restaurant. You will see Seibu Shinjuku Station at left. Walk along this road (bizarrely  known as American Blvde) and you will also pass the stylish Prince Hotel. The Green Plaza Hotel is on the right hand side of the road. There is a sign in english which states Green Plaza Hotel so look for that ! Also easy to spot by the large arch at the base of the building. This area is technically classed as Kubikicho, which is one of Tokyo’s red-light areas.

The hotel is men-only, and again, as is generally the rule – if you’ve got some tattoos, you won’t be allowed in. The foyer is usually unattended, so go down the flight of stairs and you will take an elevator to the hotel reception where you check-in. There are small boxes with windows to the right of reception where you place your shoes (as is often with these kind of shoe lockers, there is a small button which you push to release the key). There are two check-in lines, but if you are checking in for a capsule overnight, it’s the left line for you. Staff speak minimal english, so bear that in mind. It is not that much of an obstacle if you use commonsense and if all else fails, just stand back and observe what goes on – that is sometimes the best way to follow procedures ! You will require a passport or alien registration card when checking in. You also hand over your shoe locker key. You are often asked at Capsule Hotels if you have any tatts, and here I was also asked if I was aware of the length of the capsule.  If you wish, the reception area can mind wallets, mobile phones and other valuables. After you pay, you are given a plastic wrist bracelet which includes your capsule and number, a key (to your clothes locker), and also a set of japanse style pyjamas – (traditional robe) with shorts. At left is the locker area. Locate your number (on your bracelet – which is also your capsule number). You change into your bed-clothes at your clothes locker. Usually clothes lockers are not very roomy and these ones are only thin enough to hang up your jacket, jeans and maybe a briefcase – catering for the well-sozzled salary man I’d guess. If you do have a backpack or large case, there are larger coin lockers available at the foyer before you enter the left. Once changed and armed only with your plastic wrist bracelet and a curious mind, you might want to check out your capsule. There are signs around so read carefully, but from memory the capsules are located on the 2nd and 3rd floors (the 3rd floor had a smoking or ‘lung cancer room’ as I like to refer to them as). Many westerners have an image of a capsule hotel which is often wrong. Some think they are coffin-like and all stacked up on one another, or that they are like a plastic cocoon like tube which has no turning space. The ones I”ve stayed in have always been quite roomy, but in saying that, I ain’t clausterophoic, so if you are, you might want to call the Hilton. There is also a myth that some westerners have legs too long for a capsule. Well I am nearly six foot and can fit in there (albeit only just). So now it’s bath time. Head to the 6th floor. You walk left to another group of wooden boxes where you strip off and store your clothes. I should say that if you don’t like nudity, or are embarrassed etc, again, call the Hilton. But why not lose your inhibitions and go for it huh ! Walk through naked to the bathing area. As is the japanese custom, you must wash yourself before entering the bath, so find a seat (hose it down with hot water first) and get clean. There are usually razors, and shaving foam, shampoos, body soap etc etc. When you are done, go relax in the large hotbath. It always blows my mind to think that you can lazily relax in a hot bath at the top floor of a capsule hotel, soothing your aching feet whilst overlooking the hectic mass of people, cars, trains and neon of East Shinjuku ! It’s nuts.

So that’s pretty much it folks. The hotel offers other services like paid massage, a restaurant, Sauna Room, laundry etc. You can also buy snacks and beverages from the vending machines via your wrist band (which has a barcode) which you obviously pay for when you check-out.  There was only one western toilet and most were japanese style – bear that in mind, or adopt the ‘when in Rome’ attitude. The capsule itself was quite roomy, though I found this one quite stifling – it was a warm late February day and maybe the floor heaters were still set ? TV is available but you have to purchase a charge card and headset when checking in. Ear plugs are usually a good ide as well as you often get a hammered salaryman who can snore the freakin’ house down.  A sheet and blanket are always inside the capsule as well. Pull the curtain down at the end of your capsule, lights out and I’ll see you tomorrow morning. At a tad over 4000 yen, it’s not what I’d call bargain accommodation (I’m always on the look-out for the 2000 yen price!). But it is very central, well run and quite clean. Oyasuminasai folks, and don’t forget to brush your teeth (as is common in many Capsule Hotels they provide toothbrushes with a bottle of teeth cleanser which you brush and rinse with). Good luck ! I will also include some footage on youtube.


Also read a previous post on the First Inn Capsule Hotel in Kyobashi, not too far to walk from Tokyo Station