Local Scenes: Akihabara, Shinjuku, Shimokitazawa, Koenji

There is a series of introductions/guides to local scenes that I’ve been contributing to for MTV 81 that I realise I haven’t been posting up here. The series started with Akihabara, because that was the easiest one for me to sell. For those who don’t know, it’s the otaku place, known for electronics, anime, maid cafés and child pornography. From a music point of view, it’s basically idol stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing, although Club Goodman, out the other side of the station from the worst of the weirdness, is a great indie/alternative venue.

Creepy dolls in Akihabara

Creepy dolls in Akihabara

The next one I did was Shinjuku, which is pretty much the best place for punk in Japan. It’s so overwhelming with its towers, vast department stores and bright lights that you can kind of forget that it has culture as well. I got some tips from a mate about jazz clubs, of which there are also many. Shinjuku is also home to the biggest and most shamelessly in-your-face red light district in Japan (which is going to be wiped out in time for the 2020 Olympics, along with all the cool culture that nestles in alongside it).

Shinjuku: All tastes catered to

Shinjuku: All tastes catered to

My friend and colleague James Hadfield did Shibuya, and another mate of mine, Mike Sunda, did Yokohama’s club scene, while my latest one just went up.

This most recent one was particularly close to my heart being as it dealt partly with Koenji, the most awesomest place on Earth, which has been my home for over nine years now. I also talked about Shimokitazawa, since my editor felt that doing two different articles on indie scene hangouts would break up the concept too much for readers, and he has a point.

Koenji Penguin House. Fact: I had my wedding party here. One of my favourite tiny venues.

Koenji Penguin House. Fact: I had my wedding party here. One of my favourite tiny venues.

Shimokitazawa is a really nice neighbourhood too, despite the ongoing plans of The Man to sanitise and homogenise it, and while I often slag it off as a teenage hipster theme park, I don’t really mean it. It’s probably a friendlier place for outsiders than Koenji, where you really have to know what you’re looking for, and really both towns are pretty similar.

There are differences in the sort of music they cater to, although two bit snoreballs indie bands sound the same wherever you go in Tokyo. Koenji is better for offbeat acoustic acts, off-their-head avant-garde weirdness, heavy psychedelia, fucked-up hardcore and artpunk, that sort of thing, while Shimokitazawa is actually useful as a stepping stone for bands who might go on to get reasonably popular. I think it was the writer Jun Miura who once said, when asked what advice he had for young bands trying to make it big, simply, “Get out of Koenji.”

No Nukes: Tit Cai in Shimokitazawa (left) and Salon de Vamp in Koenji (right)

No Nukes: Tit Cai in Shimokitazawa (left) and Salon de Vamp in Koenji (right)

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