Logs of a Yokohama tribute trip

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (“Logs of a Yokohama shopping trip”) is an outworldly manga with scifi unlike any seen before. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world with androids that stay young while humans live off humanity’s last days.

And contrary to what one would expect from this plot, everything is peaceful, sunny, rural and a hymn to life’s little moments.

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The heroine is an android running a café on top of a cliff over the sea, somewhere in the countryside near Yokohama. Yokohama is technically, and actually, not Tokyo. Yet they are connected by plain city train and you’d be excused for mistaking them for a single urban sprawl on a map.

So, “YKK” would make for one of the stops in my “artsy Tokyo tour”, my effort of visiting the actual spots where great works of art took place!

There was only one thing standing in my way: there is no explicit spot where YKK takes place; also, in its timeline the seas have risen, changing the coastline.

But hey, Yokohama is still Yokohama, and YKK fans have even pinpointed landmarks from the manga to their real locations. How tough can it be to find a coast where the cliff with Alpha’s Café could be?

After one hour, high on google maps, wikipedia, fan sites and the sight of the shinkansen passing in front of the window of the cheap hotel room where I spent my last days in Japan, I decided where the café would be. It would be outside Zushi, a resort town south of Yokohama, near the edge of the land mass; at a spot at walking distance from the beach yet with cliffs hanging over the water.

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A couple of hours later, at Yokohama, I was changing to an actual train to Zushi. The route, the town and the whole day were surreally beautiful, organic yet somehow extremely clean-cut, all in the unforgiving vertical sunlight. But I’ll speak of them on another day. For now, there are three things to mention about my quest for YKK.

First, I think I made the right call. The countryside on the way to and around Zushi was giving me a crazy feeling of inverted déjà-vu; visions of Hitoshi Ashinano’s art kept popping up, as if summoned by the surroundings.

Second, did I gain any new insight into the manga from visiting the area? You won’t believe. The story takes place in a pristine almost empty landscape. But the actual area around Yokohama is densely built! Up until then, the evocative art made any mention of Yokohama conjure exotic images of calm in my mind. In reality, a huge contradiction lies at the heart of the story, and the mention of Yokohama is, I guess, supposed to conjure images of expansionist humankind. YKK is really about what happens when humans are gone.

Third, did I pick a good place for the café? You bet.

Walking away from Zushi’s beach along the coastline that I’d picked, the coast started rising above the sea, snaking into wide turns, and putting a woody hill between the road and the town.

The looks of the place were “right” and also high enough to survive a couple of meters of rising waters. I kept walking towards a protrusion that looked particularly promising on the map.

And, what do I know, when the chosen cliff came into view I saw that it was not empty:

Alpha’s Café has a name and it’s called “Surfers”. As long as there are no androids around, it serves fried food and beer.

Satisfied, my quest ended there. On that day I had several trains to catch, so a noontime martini waits for me on the cliffs of Zushi.

Two of the faces of twentieth century

(The first appearance of this post was on iaponia.gr)

The area around the subway station of Azabu-Juban brings together two of the faces of Tokyo past: futurism and shitamachi.

In 1971 Andrei Tarkovsky shot the science fiction classic “Solaris”. In an evocative sequence the hero is driven through the streets of a city before he leaves for his trip to space, and a discreet feel of futuristic life is achieved. The sequence is called “City of the future” and was shot in Tokyo with no special effects.

One of the filming locations was the junction at Azabu-Juban.

Of course today it’s not only the bridge but also the buildings from somewhere around the ‘70s.

At the same time, all you have to do to find one of the once omnipresent streams is to take a turn a couple of blocks further away…

…and, in doing so, pass the invisible border towards a tiny shitamachi neighborhood.

Shitamachi was the downtown aesthetic in the beginning of the 20th century, the sort of passage from Edo to Tokyo.

The archipelago of the “city of the future” still has islets of small streets with wooden buildings, flower pots on tarmac and residents that somehow look as if they always belong there.

Anyone trying to understand the picture formed by the puzzle called Tokyo will get a few additional pieces by making a stop at Azabu-Juban.

Tokyo: travel tips for cyberpunk tastes

The top tip is: just go. It won’t be the futuristic Babylon that you expected but more the projection of the 80s which dreamt of it, and it will be unparalleled (also might not stay this way forever).

Walking down some well-documented neighborhoods -Shibuya, Akihabara, Ikebukuro,  Shinjuku and the like- is enough to dose you on vertical neon, food stalls, high fashion, sararimen, shrines, crazy trinkets, nylon umbrellas. Assuming you’ll evening stroll through one or two of those, here are a few extra, focused, things to look up or under for.

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Yokocho alleys
Alleys jammed with tiny izakayas, real sararimen nests.
Celebrated ones: Piss alley in Shinjuku, Nonbei in Shibuya, around and under the railway bridge at Shimbashi.



The artificial islands and the bay
Where you realize that everything solid in your field of vision is manmade.



Radio Center electronics mall
Radio Center is a sensation. A small passage close to Akihabara metro station (35.698316, 139.771861). And an old, half-used, three-storied narrow building next to it. Grab it while you still can.

 
Read on for artificial skies, vanishing rivers and more bittersweet fluff.

Seven things I learned about North Korea while living in the South (or some cheesy title like that)

Everything below comes from gladly living in South Korea in 2015-17; also from being frequently asked lately if I wasn’t afraid to be there. (A hypocrisy in the media’s way of presenting things was not without its role, either.)

tl;dr: A Korean acquaintance told me that if North Korea didn’t develop nuclear weapons USA would have already invaded it.

Hey, this is still a photoblog. Tea house at Gyeryongsan mountain.

 

* South Koreans never speak bad about “the North”.
(Well, at least they never do to foreigners!)

They are disapproving of the regime, of course, but they don’t view North Korea as an enemy. Mostly as the lost half of their country.
(…and with this I don’t mean “the half which has to be taken back”.)

* South Koreans don’t worry about attacks, yes, no matter what the media tell you if I may say so.

People outside asked so many times if everything was alright and if the public was panicking, and every time it felt comical to everyone inside. The reason is that both governments behave the same way (see below) and that neither side is willing to break the equilibrium of many years.
Disclaimer: That was the situation while the undersigned was there. She doesn’t know about recently, but she’s ready to take bets that they worry more about the Trump than about the Bomb.

* The South Korean government prohibits speaking good about the North.

Two years ago an American author was expelled after saying that beer is better in North Korea. http://bit.ly/2yfPtdy
Oh, by the way, three years ago the only parliamentary leftish political party was shut down for alleged ties to the North. http://lat.ms/2xqZZtT

This way for more – war games and folk attire.

Taipei: 10 travel tips for cyberpunk tastes

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1. Night markets

 

2. Night markets

 

 

 

3. Fucking night markets!

I probably need to get specific at this point.

When most people get ready to leave their job for the day, the stalls and shops of night markets start preparing for business. Around sunset and up to roughly midnight it feels like the whole city is outdoors, having dinner, socializing, playing and shopping in the streets. About a dozen big markets are scattered around Taipei plus every neighbourhood practically has its own, down to a street lined with food stalls every few residential blocks.

One could speak for hours (it has happened) about the energy and character of Taiwanese night markets. But this won’t do them justice.

Indicatively, two of the largest ones are vast Shilin and old Raohe. Locals often consider the large ones too touristy and prefer more earthy ones for their dinner, like Jingmei or Huaxi street, the “snake alley” (the latter is in the old downtown and one can still have snake and its byproducts in there; don’t miss the surrounding alleys; remember, you have cyberpunk tastes). And for your literal street wear there is Wufenpu, all dedicated to clothing.

 

2. Guanghua electronics market

 

A day+night market, complete with its alleys and eateries, selling electronics. Enough said. For good measure, right next to it you have the digital plaza, a kind of techie mall. The higher up you go on its floors the lower-level you get, from flagship stores on the ground floor to capacitors on the fifth. Interestingly, there are chances your gadgets will be recommended and your new computer modded by young women here.
(Note that an actual mainstream gamers’ mall opened next to the plaza just recently; but it’s not part of this list.)
Tip: Cash might be your friend.

 

 

 

3. Temples

You are bound to step into a documentary that you never dreamt of adding to your to-do list. Only that it will be real, everyday life.

The temple and the drone (at Confucius temple, Tainan).

It’s not only markets. Read on for decadence, glamour and crowds. Skyscrapers and noodles.