Working out in Tokyo

Exercise is important for everyone but especially so for musicians. Like any occupation, playing the harp carries with it certain health risks such as RSI and other muscoskeletal problems, irregular sleep schedules, performance anxiety and many more barrels of fun. For me, exercise is a wonderful way to stay healthy and keep these issues at bay.

If you move to a new city, let alone a new country, it will take a while to find great new places to work out. I’m actually really happy with my exercise routine at the moment; it’s probably the best I’ve had apart from when I was at uni and I had access to an olympic standard fitness centre for next to nothing *sigh.* So I thought I’d share what I’m doing at the moment, if anyone else has any suggestions feel free to comment!

Gym
From what I hear private gyms in Tokyo seem very expensive and swanky. Personally, I’m not up for paying an arm and a leg for a sparkling equipment, mood lighting and a spa. If I want to relax I’ll go to the onsen.

Luckily there is another option. All across Tokyo there are public gym facilities or ‘sports centres’ where you can work out on the cheap. These centres usually have a gym (トレーニング室),  a pool and a room for classes, though depending on where you are you might get some other facilities too. Typically it’s pay as you go with no sign up fee and you may get a discount if you’re a resident of the ward. Granted some of the machines are a little old and the building of my local centre is on the shabby side, but for 440 yen (about £3) a day it ain’t half bad. It has everything I need plus some machines I’d never seen before moving to Japan. Use the search function on Sports Camp Japan to search for your local municipal gym. You’re welcome.

Climbing

Tokyo climbing
I think I’m confused on how to get down

Climbing, or bouldering, is having a bit of a hey day in Tokyo. Apparently, there are more climbing gyms in Tokyo alone than in the whole of Australia. I’m still kind of bad but I’ve definitely caught the bug over the past 6 months. Bouldering, which I believe is climbing without ropes or harnesses, is great for upper body strength but it’s a workout for you mind too. I get a real sense of satisfaction from working out how to do a new route. My local wall has routes coloured by difficulty and it’s kind of feels like a video game except you’re getting fit while having fun. Timeout has a great list of Tokyo’s top climbing spots.

Plus there are… ‘talented male climbers’ who sometimes take their shirts off, if that’s your thing.

Yoga
This is going to sound gushing (and I’m honestly not sponsored by them) but I can’t recommend Yoga Jaya enough. The founders have adapted various yoga styles to create their own system, Baseworks, and it really works for me. Baseworks focuses on foundational strength as well as flexibility and I have noticed a big improvement in my body awareness and alignment in the year since I joined. Positions aren’t held for too long which is good because that can be dangerous for musicians and those prone to RSI. Generally, I feel really safe and that the teachers are understanding of my needs and supporting me on the way to achieving my goals. There are a mixture of Japanese, English and bilingual classes and actually I’ve found that I’ve learnt a lot of new words through practicing in Japanese.

Yoga Jaya is in Daikanyama, which is where I teach Kindermusik, so that’s perfect for me. Every Monday I start of the week with a 7am yoga class and feel refreshed and ready. I always go from Yoga Jaya to a cafe where I have a coffee and some toast and plan the week ahead before walking to work. Honestly, it’s one of my greatest pleasures and I always feel so at peace in the morning light.

Have you tried any of these options in Tokyo? Where do you like to work out? Please feel free to share in the comments 😊

 

Bar Dio – JoJo themed bar review!

Unpopular opinion: I don’t like Akihabara that much these days. When I first went aged 14 it was exciting but now I’m old and it’s too big, too loud, and too full of sweaty pervs who don’t shower enough.

Luckily there is anotdoor Bar Dioher, slightly less well known, nerd hub for me to frequent. Nakano is a couple of stops from Shinjuku and it’s a great mix of anime otaku culture in the Nakano Broadway shopping complex and traditional style izakaya in the surrounding side streets.

If you go down one of these side streets you will find some stairs and a massive coffin for a door. As a fan of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, of course you don’t ignore this ominous sign and go right in all guns blazing.

Bar Dio is a Jojo風Bar (themed) bar and the level of detail is astounding. I’ve been to some themed bars where the appeal is getting drunk on regular stuff surrounded by some figures which is fine, but Bar Dio goes all out. Every corner of the decor is JoJotastic and every item on the menu has some cleverly appropriate JoJo title. I recommend the chan chan cocktail, it’s creamy and delicious and  its matcha component makes it green for a certain character. We also enjoyed a nigerun dayou and a Rohan Kishibe during our visit, I’ll leave you to imagine what they have in them.

One of the things I liked best about Bar Dio is the clientele. When were there everyone literally talking about Jojo the entire time. It was a mixed crowd in terms of gender and age and everyone was talking about their favourite seasons and characters as well as having lively debates on theories. Once they realised we could speak Japanese and loved Jojo they were happy to include us in their conversations and I felt more out of place for having only watched the anime than for being a foreigner! Music from the anime was playing in the background most of the time and at one point the owner put on an entire episode. Actually the one he chose was pretty pivotal (part 2 episode 20) so be careful if you come here having not watched it all and want to avoid spoilers.

Bar Dio JoJo bar
シーザー!!!!!

The owner doesn’t say that much and I thought he had this sort of enigmatic quality about him. Who is this guy?? How did he come to love JoJo SO MUCH?! He seemed to be pleased to have some foreigners who could speak Japanese and asked us questions about Jojo fans in the UK as well as our favourite characters. He let us try on some of the really high quality costume stuff he had around which I don’t think he does for everyone so that was nice of him.

 

Bar Dio is good just as a bar. The atmosphere is friendly, the food is good and the drinks are excellent. But if you love Jojo this may well feel more like a pilgrimage than a night out, in the best sort of way.

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JoJo Bar Dio
It could be ambiguously interpreted which toilet to go into…

 

Being in a mixed-race relationship

Psst. Let me tell you a secret. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my boyfriend is a little bit… asian!

Well, half Japanese, half white British to be exact. Thankfully, for the majority of our relationship race has been a massive non-issue. And why would it be? We are both born and raised in south England, both from middle class backgrounds, both attended university and are now in graduate jobs. Demographically, far more is the same than different.

But even though we couldn’t give less of a shit, sometimes outside influences get it into their heads to attempt to make race an issue. Moving to Japan together has complicated this, so I thought it was about time I shared our experiences.

In the UK, the worst things people have said to me are creeps in bars. Oh creeps in bars. What perplexes me is that they think being incredibly rude is a viable strategy to get me into bed. Yes, speculating on my boyfriend’s dick makes me so wet for you. You don’t look like an insecure, ignorant arsehole at all.

Anyway, I can handle these losers but what is harder to deal with when it’s your girlfriends saying wide-eyed, “But I don’t understand how you can find Asian men attractive.” “I’m happy for you but personally I don’t find ‘them’ sexy.”
“Don’t you ever think about… you know?” “Julia has yellow fever hahaha.”

I can be a coward and a poor ally because, although I can put creeps in bars in their place instantly, I find it incredibly difficult to call out people I like and respect. In fact, this is the first time I’m openly admitting to receiving some of these comments and how much they can hurt.

What is a surprising consistent is that these comments are in the vast majority of cases directed at me, not my boyfriend. I think I understand why. They are coming from people who wouldn’t like to think of themselves as prejudiced and if they direct the comments at the white girl instead of the person of colour it’s somehow not racist anymore.

Moving to Japan has brought new dimensions to the issues, though perhaps not as much has changed as you might think. It is a sad aspect of many mixed race people’s experience that the country you are in tends to identify you with the ‘other’ part of your identity. In the UK, my boyfriend is the ‘Asian one’ (though he says that, happily, he has faced minimal discrimination at home). In Japan he’s the hafu. Before you gasp in horror, yes hafu is derived from ‘half’ but it’s not as offensive as you might think. In fact, for many mixed race Japanese hafu is their preferred term to describe themselves. I’m not the best person to go deeply into this for obvious reasons, but if you are interested I would recommend the film Hafu: the mixed race experience in Japan, in which mixed race people tell their own stories.

From what I’ve seen though, hafu are treated like minor celebrities in Japan, in both a good and bad way. Indeed many mixed race people are on TV and we had a hilarious incident in which the man who came to fix the water was convinced that my boyfriend was an actor or something.  The point is, mixed race people are often treated as something cool and exciting to look at but are not fully accepted into Japanese society. Not all hafu are extroverted kakkoi types guys, some work in boring office jobs and just want to blend in and be left alone. An example of the fetishisation of mixed race people is this gross advert by Can Make. This billboard was in Ikebukuro station for ages and, to my knowledge, no one complained or said anything. The make up range is called ‘Half Face’ and the advert claims you can get ‘trendy foreign eyes’ if you use it. Urgh.

It is undeniable that, even if he is not fully Japanese, living with my boyfriend has given me privileges that many foreigners in Japan don’t enjoy. It was far easier for us to rent a flat (though still bloody difficult), for example. He can be my guarantor on immigration forms and other official documents and generally flashing his Japanese name and passport gets us taken more seriously. Less rational assumptions abound too though. Just the other day, I was chatting with a colleague who told me how good my Japanese was (it’s not). Later in the conversation I mentioned that my boyfriend was half Japanese and she responded, ‘Oh that’s why you speak so well.’ I shouldn’t need to explain how ridiculous this is – my boyfriend didn’t start learning Japanese until he was 18 and although he’s bloody good now, the idea that we wouldn’t speak in our first languages is bizarre (though he does help me with my homework occassionally).  It’s as if she thought by hanging around him I would soak up some Japanese-ness by osmosis and start spouting fluent sentences in the lingo. But family and kinship ties are important to the Japanese it seems and so a Japanese(ish) cohabitor has brought me a measure of social acceptance in many situations.

So it’s good with the bad. Thank you to everyone who treats our racial difference as the massive non-issue it should be, and a high five to everyone in white female/asian male relationships. Let’s continue to put the creepy guys in bars in their place and try to be better at challenging our friends and families when they say stuff that isn’t ok.

Because my boyfriend and I are champions.

Sweets by Naked – exhibition review

When your friend invites you to something called ‘Sweets by Naked’ you pretty much have to go, even if just to find out what on earth it is with a name like that.

As it turns out, the name makes a disappointing amount of sense. ‘Naked’ is the name of a production company founded by film director turned artist Ryotaro Muramatsu. These so-called Naked people apparently ran Flowers by Naked in a similar vein earlier this year.

Sweets by Naked is about… sweets. In a way, there’s nothing more to say. In the basement of super swanky Omotesando Hills, you hand over a hefty 1400/3400 yen (depending on who much you want to eat) to be transported into a cotton candy world of chocolate dresses, honey lampposts and mildly disturbing talking ice cream.

Apparently inspired by the streets of Paris and New York, they still managed to get a British telephone box in there. I really enjoy this kind of Japanese aesthetic I call ‘theme park Europe,’ probably the mirror image of the idea of Japan in the mind of the Ghibli fan who’s never been here. It’s so much cuter than how Europe actually is.

I love going to this kind of thing (though it was overpriced) because you don’t see things like it in the UK very much. It’s pure aesthetics, yummy, shiny, post-modern superficiality.  If it ran back home people would complain, ‘What is the point of it?’ ‘What does it mean?’ But Sweets by Naked claims no intellectual component whatsoever and this isn’t a bad thing.

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On entering you are greeted by what appears to be an upside down Eiffel Tower with some suspended doughnuts for measure.

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These are holograms of us, we were dancing! Every two minutes it ‘rains sweets’ and everything is flooded with a hologram of maple syrup.

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In the ‘Ice Cream Florist,’ the ice cream would start talking if you watered it with those watering cans.

…and at the counter, the faces on the ice cream puts you slightly off the Ben & Jerry’s you are about to eat.

Still, you can’t really say no, when the flavour of the Ice Cream is ‘satisfy my balls,’ (second one).

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My balls were pretty satisfied.

Kyoto in the Spring

I took my parents to Kyoto because they came to Japan in the spring and where else would you rather be?

The first thing I will admit about the gateway to old Japan is that, yes, it is crowded during cherry blossom season. But if you are willing to step off the beaten track you can still find those hushed moments of zen like calm that the ancient capital promises.

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Dinner served to our room in the ryokan

I wanted my parents to stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan (hostel) and booking was a  nightmare even though I started the process early. Many ryokans aren’t on the internet yet so I searched for a place and booked through Japanese Guest Houses. To be honest their system isn’t super convenient but it may well be your best bet, especially if you don’t speak Japanese. We ended up staying in the Ischicho Shogikuen which wasn’t my first choice but was still lovely. I really recommend going for the full ryokan experience if you can – futons, tatami mats, sliding doors and Japanese cuisine served to your room. My parents had a couple of reservations about the food and my Dad sleeping on a futon with a bad back but they loved every minute.

I recommend walking between your destinations as much as you can because Kyoto is the kind of place where interesting things happen in between. There’s a small art gallery or a charming independent coffee shop on every corner.

The Famous Rock Garden at Ryoanji Temple.

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Ginkakuji (which I prefer to its more famous brother, Kinkakuji)
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Definitely walk along the Philosopher’s Path to get from Ginkakuji to Nazenji

 

It’s lovely walking around town as it starts to get dark. Oh and we did see a geisha- she was actually locked out of the building she was trying to get into, desperately ringing the bell and trying to remain graceful as the tourists crowded around her. I didn’t take a photo as it was actually quite alarming to watch the cameras swarm like flies and I felt sorry for her, so you’ll have to take my word for it that she was really, incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately I think hoardes of tourists goes with the Kyoto territory at this point but Kyoto was still able to capture my imagination.

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Lesson of the Evil: Film review

A film about a Japanese English teacher who goes crazy and kills his students? Well I’m an ex-ALT so I pretty much had to watch it.

lesson_of_the_evilSeiji Hasumi (played by Hideaki Itō) is the hot teacher stereotype. He’s handsome, great at his job, respected by the staff and adored by his students. Too bad he’s a sociopath who killed his own parents, went to work in investment banking in America and pursued a career in serial killing on the time. When his homeroom class are pulling an all nighter at the school to create a haunted house (of course) for their cultural festival, Hasumi embarks on a a thinly justified massacre of his homeroom class.

As an English speaker, it’s always interesting to watch Japanese representations of foreigners in film and I have to say, this one gave me a few laughs. The title ‘Lesson of the Evil’ (Aku no Kyōten) was a good start. Hasumi was in the habit of yelling random English phrases such as ‘Excellent’ and ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ while he murders his students in a strong Japanese accent. Hideaki Itō, bless his beautiful, beautiful face, simply does not pronounce English well enough for it to be believable that his character had an MBA from Harvard financial career in the USA. I also enjoyed that the FBI agent who tells Hasumi to get out of America in the flashback is randomly French. I had a fun 30 seconds crafting an elaborate back story as to why there was a French dude in the FBI before accepting that all white foreigners are American so it doesn’t matter.

I think the film’s strength was that it showcased a variety of interesting characters in this very dysfunctional school, if not in too much depth. My favourite was the clever but unruly Keisuke who leads a cheating ring in the school and almost unmasks Hasumin and prevents the massacre, but is prevented by his own rashness. I also enjoyed Tsurii, the creepy loner physics teacher who points Keisuke in the right direction to the truth about Hasumi. I usually like characters who are jerks but are on the right side. However, though I don’t watch slasher films for their great representation but it was still frustrating to see that literally all the characters who did anything of interest were male. Though the subplot in which Miya, a female student, was blackmailed into performing sexual favours by a PE teacher (she is then ‘rescued’ by Hasumin and groomed into becoming his lover and gives him information on her fellow students) was well handled, it’s annoying that all of the women are only ever victims. Even Reika, a female survivor does little more than play oracle to Keisuke warning him ‘I feel you’re in danger if you don’t drop your investigation of Hasumi’ and only lives thanks to following a male student’s clever plan.

Ultimately I won’t be rewatching this but it made for a decent evening’s gory entertainment. There are some great gags and Hideaki Itō is beautiful even when he’s killing people, though a slasher about massacring teenagers with exciting horror porn pacing might be too tasteless for some. 3/5

Hokkaido Part 2

In part 1 of my Hokkaido blog post I wrote about traveling to Sapporo and sung the praises of flowers and mountains. Here’s a post about our adventures in canal towns, onsens and Sapporo itself.

houheikyo-onsen
Photo credit http://www.houheikyo.co.jp. I could not take my own photos for nakedness reasons

Houheikyo Onsen
It was my friend’s first time in Japan so she wanted to have the onsen experience. We originally planned to go to the more well known Jozankei Onsen town but on the recommendation of our guest house owner we decided to opt for Houkeikyo Onsen instead. From Sapporo station, the Kappa bus will take you directly to Jozankei, which takes about an hour. After that, Houkeikyo is the last stop on the bus, just outside the town. We were really glad we chose to go to the more rural onsen! The outdoor bath in Houheikyo is in a charming traditional Japanese garden with a beautiful view of the mountains. After bathing we enjoyed Indian curry at the onsen’s restaurant. Although Indian might seem a strange choice for an otherwise very traditional, old school onsen, actually it was what we were just in the mood for after our soak.

2016-07-09-11-42-41Otaru
I’ll be honest, Otaru was the only part of our trip that was in danger of mediocrity. It’s a canal town about 40 minutes from Sapporo by train (the line goes along the coast for much of the way with some nice views) with glowing reviews in the guide books. Maybe it’s because the day we went was grey but I didn’t think it was all that, although our morning there was perfectly pleasant. I think part of the problem was the town’s main attraction is its canal. It’s a nice canal. Maybe to the Japanese or people from other parts of the world it would be more impressive but my friend and I are European. We’re used to going on holiday in France and Italy and, to be honest, the canals there are nicer and often less crowded with tourists. That being said, Italy doesn’t have the excellent sushi we enjoyed for our lunch in Otaru. The town also has a great reputation for glassware and my friend bought some lovely ornaments in a cute little glass shop.

Sapporo Town
Our flight back to Tokyo was at 7pm to fit in as much as possible, but obviously we didn’t want to stray too far so we decided to spend our final day exploring Sapporo town. There’s a lot to see.
2016-07-11-11-20-52The Clock tower is a symbol of Sapporo so you basically have to visit. It’s an attractive structure and inside there’s an interesting museum about the history of the building which gives an insight into Sapporo’s history as an international city.

2016-07-11-14-26-44Odori park is where Sapporo’s famous snow festival takes place but it’s also beautiful in the summer with lovely flowers, fountains and a great view of the Sapporo TV tower (which we didn’t have time to go up).

If someone hasn’t already written a post-apocalyptic novel of survivors retreating to the subways of Sapporo and building a new life underground they should. The subways are expansive; we realised we could have walked 90% of the 25 minute walk to our hostel entirely underground. I admit it took us a while to find it, but there is a lot of really cool quirky art hidden underground that you can see for free.

15403153_10155572164693327_277762373_nWe had passed the Former Hokkaido Government Building on our walks and enjoyed the gardens so we decided to check out the inside too. It’s free entry and as well as looking at the pretty old architecture, you can check out various exhibits about the history of Hokkaido. Most interestingly there was an exhibition on the Kuril Islands/Northern territories dispute, which I had been completely ignorant about beforehand. This was all the more interesting because it was extremely politically charged, going as far as to have a petition at the end of the exhibition demanding that the ‘northern territories should be returned to Japan.’

Hokkaido shrine has a serene atmosphere not always found at the famous Tokyo shrines. This could be because it’s situated a bit apart from the city, clothed by Maruyama park. The forested approach to the shrine with the sunlight shining through the trees was really atmospheric for us. The shrine was the final place we visited before getting on the plane, a peaceful ending to a trip we’ll remember for a long time.
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Even though it was only 5 days long my trip to Hokkaido was one of the best holidays in my life. A literal breath of fresh air from the stress and humidity of Tokyo, one of those trips that gives you a new appetite for life. Snow festival this time next year?