Here’s a roundup of what the Untapped Staff has been enjoying this week for great city reads!
Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada’s piece, “WISH,” is the largest land art in the United Kingdom. Photo via Arrested Motion.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
How many masterpieces have been painted using 4,000 metric tons of soil and sand and 30,000 wooden stakes? “WISH,” an installation by Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, spans 11 acres through a field in a Northern waterfront sector of Belfast. According to The Atlantic, the shy smile depicted on those 11 acres belongs to a six-year-old Belfast resident, and Rodriguez-Garada hopes that her face will inspire a ”genuine hope for a brighter future for all of us who share this land.” The installation should last until December 2013––or at least, until it’s plowed over by a forgetful farmer. (more…)
Canned Air from New York City – on sale on Etsy for $10 (by photographer Kirill Rudenko)
With all the talk of the guy selling rocks from Brooklyn, we were reminded of this Etsy listing by Prague-based photographer Kirill Rudenko selling Canned Air from various cities. These $10 cans of air have various positive effects, as the listing describes, each can “relieves stress, cures homesickness and helps fighting nostalgia.”
Every big city has its own urban soundtrack. Tokyo, the world’s most populated metropolis, has a unique rhythm that plays in a loopy, mechanical yet orderly cadence. Sounds originate from all over, day and night, coming together to create a surprisingly harmonious and often beautiful melody.
Each season offers different sounds to decipher. In this article, we’ll explore 8 sounds that are a part of Tokyo’s summer soundtrack. You can follow the enclosed links to hear an example of the sounds being described.
Takeshita Dori shop staff
Takeshita Dori is a busy pedestrian street in the teen- and tourist-friendly neighborhood of Harajuku. Here, dozens of colorful shops sell all the elements required to create daring outfits. In order to attract people into their stores, employees stand outside, imploring them to come in for a look. Though some callers keep the volume low and may only be heard once within sight, others plead loudly, sometimes using microphones in order to drown out the voices of others. A melodious cacophony ensues.
Trains and rail transportation
In a large portion of the world, modern urban living has been dominated by cars. Not in Tokyo. Here, millions of people board trains every day. The summer season is especially busy, with many Japanese people traveling around the country during the Obon vacation period. In busy stations like Shinjuku, the continual flow of trains and people creates a rhythm that is punctuated by many particular sounds:
The voices of announcers, live and prerecorded
The screeching of brakes
Horns and bells announcing the arrival of trains
The smooth gliding of the wagons on the rails
The whistles of Oshiya (pushers) and conductors
Japanese pop singers face lots of competition when trying to become famous and sell albums. One popular way to get attention is to use buses as moving billboards, with posters of their faces covering each side. Samples of music are played through speakers, letting people hear a glimpse of their songs.
These buses are often seen in the popular teen hangout spots of Ginza, Akihabara, Shibuya and Shinjuku.
Pachinko arcade machines are a popular leisure activity in Japan. People go to the parlors to unwind for a few minutes, which frequently turn into a few hours. The unbelievably loud volume of the hundreds of machines placed side by side is nearly unbearable for newcomers but seems to become background noise once you’re entranced into the game. In the summer, the constant drone spills out onto the sidewalks, through open doors and windows.
Yoyogi park Rockabilly dancers
Every Sunday afternoon, members of the Tokyo Rockabilly Club meet at the entrance of Yoyogi Park, near the Harajuku train station. They put on quite a show, loudly blasting classic American Rock and roll or Japanese covers of such songs as they show off their slick dance moves.
It wouldn’t be summer in Tokyo without the sound of the Semi (Japanese Cicada). The mating song emitted by males is one of the loudest insect-produced sounds in the world (up to 120 decibels). For those not accustomed to it, the volume can become quite overbearing as it plays almost non-stop during the daytime. Different species produce different sounds: some sing in a high-pitched manner, while others emit a softer trilling sound. The continuous repetition of the noise creates a buzzing that can come off as similar to an electronic, almost mechanical beat. Parks and tree-lined streets are the place to go to hear this sound.
When 30 million people live in one city, street crossings, like the famous Shibuya pedestrian scramble, are bound to be noisy. As hundreds, even thousands of people walk from one street corner to another, many sounds emerge:
” ¢ The audible vibrations produced by the footsteps
” ¢ The clicking of heels so beloved by trendy Japanese women
” ¢ The music coming from headphones, cars and adverting screens on buildings nearby.
” ¢ The frequently used bird sounds and children’s nursery rhymes that help blind people cross the street
” ¢ The remarkably quiet but numerous conversations happening around you.
During the summer months, there are many festivals, big and small, happening in Tokyo. On any given day, there’s bound to be something happening somewhere on the city’s streets. Just as you are turning a street corner, you could find yourself right in the middle of a random festivity. The most frequent sounds of celebration heard in Tokyo are religious parades, pop concerts, and fireworks displays.
The mix of elements
Tokyo’s soundscape, much like its layout, works as an organized chaos. Sounds are constantly coming from everywhere, which can be a bit overwhelming for visitors who aren’t used to this type of noise level. However, when you take a minute to listen, every element you hear seems to come together in a strange but coherent pattern. It’s the beat of summer in Tokyo.
So I packed my bags and travelled to the city of Tokyo, one that I have come to love so fondly over the past few years. I have always taken pride in my ‘local’ knowledge, knowing the hidden alleys and corridors where, upon going, you would perhaps be the only tourist amongst the chattering, curly-haired ladies in their sixties, or if at night, the unbuttoned collars and flushed red faces of Japanese businessmen. This knowledge had been accumulated over the years through trips to this bustling city with my mother, who definitely taught me the art of walk-until-you-find-The-Amazing. (Of course, that is just an attitude we embrace trying to cover up the fact that both of us are simply too lazy to do any research and meticulous planning.)
Nonetheless, there were always stories still to be uncovered. One of these little gems is in Tsukiji fish market, the central hub for the world’s sushi sources. It’s a small sushi shop tucked in a small alley that I always mentally jot down as opposite the pottery shop, with a fairly modest customer capacity of perhaps 10, as compared to its larger raw fish compatriots in the main market. We’ve eaten at this place so often that the old man behind the wooden counter has come to know our faces and always welcomes us back. (Or perhaps, to him we are just memorable as the family whose spoken Japanese is just simply atrocious and he is just too polite to tell us to stop trying.)
The Alleyway Opposite The Pottery Shop
So this time around, I was determined to find out more about this old sushi master. With my barely-amateur Japanese and his surprisingly-reasonable English, together this interview was going to work! That, and the world’s universal language, hand gesturing. It turns out that he wakes up at 4 every morning, goes to the market to source out the freshest fish, and starts his business promptly at 7am. The customers he attends to are mostly regulars, locals around the vicinity who step in for their quick fix of sushi and exchange of updates in life. His ability to speak English comes from the 2 year period where he trained in Paris, after which he returned to Tokyo and set up this shop with his wife. I used to believe that the woman I always saw serving the tables was his wife, but it turns out that she was just a helper. His wife usually helps out on the weekends, and he takes Wednesdays off to spend time with his family.
The Art Of Fish.
It astounds me the way he is so familiar with his customers and never fails to remember who likes what. He probably labels my dad Seared Tuna, me as Scallop and my sister as The Girl Who Loves Fatty Tuna, Fish Roe & Black Pepper Seaweed, the lattermost being a til-we-meet-next-time present he always gives my sister after our meal. He is probably one of the main reasons I keep going back to Tokyo. Although eating his sushi does play a part, it’s seeing that familiar stranger yet again that is most heartwarming. After all, something my parents taught me through the years is that one of the best parts about travelling is the chance to plant little friendships all over the world. Time to brush up on my foreign languages. Til next time!
Nestled among some of the plushest neighborhoods in Tokyo (Roppongi, Ebisu, Hiroo, and Shirokanedai), the shotengai (shopping street) in Shirokane Takanwa is a time machine permanently set to pre-boom Japan. Running for approximately 400 meters from Hikawa temple to Meiji Dori, the Shinohashi Shirokane shotengai features funky plastic streetlights, loudspeakers playing jaunty Japanese tunes from the 1960s, and is flanked with an intriguing concoction of small stores and restaurants.
Shinohashi Shorikane entrance
Shotengai is a generic term for the traditional Japanese market street. Every respectable neighborhood has one, although the quality of local shops and restaurants varies widely from one area to another. What makes Shinohashi Shirokane so special is not only its nostalgic character, which clashes spectacularly with its posh surroundings, but also the quality of some of the establishments located along it.
Although Shinohashi Shirokane shotengai is located just a few minutes away from Platinum Street, it was miraculously spared from real estate sharks and well-off Tokyo-ites in search for a prestigious postcode. It’s a refreshing change from the nearby expat hangouts, and is a fascinating destination for an afternoon walk followed by dinner in one of its unique restaurants.
Tempura store in Shirokane
Yakitori stall in Shirokane
One of the gastronomic highlights along the shopping street is a cosy izakaya called Karoku (à ¥ ¯à ¥”˜”Å¡à ¤ ¹”¦), a sort of local institution since 1964. Karoru is particularly famed for its tebasaki (fried chicken wings), and is favored by gangs of local salarymen who love indulging in greasy food and copious amounts of beer after a long day at the office. The place is run by the affable Yuko-san, who dishes out well-crafted izakaya grub while being affectionately courted by her loyal and increasingly tipsy clientele.
Karoku’s famous tebasaki
Further down the street we find Suzukiya (éà‹” ´à ¦à…“ ¨à ¥ ±” ¹), a traditional motsu (offal) restaurant. Motsu used to be a humble working class fare until it became fashionable in the 1990s after a wave of media hype. Although the motsu boom was short-lived due to the BSE scare in the mid-90s, the latest financial crisis rekindled Japan’s interest in cheaper meals such as motsu. Suzukia is family-run (the owners live just above the restaurant), and it’s only open during weekdays from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. Suzukia’s specialties are not for the faint-hearted, and include cow vagina, uterus, and colon. More conventional classics such as liver, tripe, and intestines are also available.
Suzukia’s spartan interior
Those looking for a more familiar fare won’t be disappointed either. Just a few meters away from Karoku and Suzukiya, and in delightful contrast with its old-school Japanese surroundings, a small French bistro called Labyrinte serves spectacular traditional French cooking, with absolutely nothing light or nouveau about it. Well worth a visit if you’re not on a diet.
Japan is familiar with foreign franchises. McDonald’s arrived in 1971 (PDF) and began like many chains as a high-end fad (in Ginza, nonetheless) before becoming a ubiquitous part of local culture. One of the most recent chains is Krispy Kreme, which had hours-long lines at its first stores but in the past few years has expanded further, reducing the wait time.
However, the gleam of a foreign logo alone isn’t enough to be successful in Japan. Wendy’s and Burger King both came into the market in the 90s and were both forced out, Burger King in 2001 and Wendy’s in 2009. Burger King returned in 2007 with smaller operational goals.
Over that same period of time, Café du Monde, a New Orleans-based coffee franchise, has managed to find success in Japan on a smaller scale.
Café du Monde, New Orleans’ oldest coffee stand, opened in the French Market in 1862, and it remained the only location for 123 years. In 1985, a second location opened in Esplanade Mall on the outskirts of the city, and after that things changed quickly. The restaurant began offering ice café au lait in addition to the traditional hot café au lait in 1988, and other locations opened in Lakeside Mall, the Riverwalk, and across Lake Ponchatrain in Mandeville.
The menu at all the locations, however, has remained typically sparse; the only options are beignets, café au lait, and a small assortment of drinks. The selection is limited enough that the menu fits on the side of napkin dispensers.
Café du Monde did experiment with franchises in the U.S., opening a location in the Underground in Atlanta, George, but it was scaled back, and currently there are only eight locations in the Greater New Orleans Area. So it comes as a surprise that in the past 22 years, the Japanese Café du Monde franchise has expanded to 20 locations, not only in big cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, but also as far away as Hiroshima and as isolated as Kochi City. The Japan franchise has expanded the original menu, offering light fare and several different varieties of beignets:
The first hint of international expansion comes in the late-80s. When Café du Monde opened its New Orleans Centre location in 1988, co-owner Bob Maher noted in a September 28 Times-Picayune article that the beignet mixes “sell well ”” we’re even selling some of it in Japan.”
Café du Monde was franchised two years later in 1990 by Duskin, the cleaning products and food services conglomerate that also operates the Mister Donut franchise. While Mister Donut is an American brand, in the U.S. the franchise was purchased and incorporated into the Dunkin Donuts franchise.
The Japanese Café du Monde franchise has for the most part maintained the same aesthetic as the original ”” the locations all use the same green and white color scheme, and the stores are designed in the style of French Quarter architecture. The drinks, too are the same ”” the stores use Café du Monde coffee with chicory and even sell souvenir versions. While the hot dogs and other light fare are unremarkable, the beignets and café au lait are authentic.
The Japanese beignets are even cooked more consistently than their American counterparts, despite the fact that they offer some interesting varieties on the traditional powdered sugar topping: there are cinnamon beignets, ice cream beignets, and beignets with fruit dip. They even offer seasonal desserts such as frozen drinks and green tea soft serve ice cream over sweetened cornflakes.
The secret to the franchise’s success in Japan may be the moderate flavors. Unlike many American desserts, beignets are only semi-sweet. They are covered with powdered sugar, but the dough itself is bready rather than sweet like an American-style glazed donut. Traditional Japanese desserts such as dango and daifuku have a similar level of sweetness.
The Kyoto Station branch is one of the most iconic of the Japanese locations. The restaurant is on a terraced second floor area of the futuristic building, and customers can look out over the central hallway while sipping on café au lait.
Unfortunately, the Kyoto Station branch stopped serving beignets several years ago. In late-2003 they offered perfectly shaped, sushi-size beignets served in paper boxes.
The longest running store is the Ikebukuro location which has been running for 19 years. 2012 will mark its 20th anniversary, which coincides with the 150th anniversary of Café du Monde in New Orleans. While the franchise only has a small representation in Japan and clearly hasn’t made the same PR push as Krispy Kreme has, its innovations on the menu have helped it outlast many larger chains in Japan.