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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tales and Travails of the Agoraphobic Traveler

In my dream life I wouldn't be tethered to one place as I am now but would roam around the world, roam the world relentlessly, sailing like a stowaway on a galleon in the Age of Discovery. In my dream life I would not cower under Capital and all its cronies but would glide instead atop the currents of the global gift economy, glide them triumphantly, scooping up on the way social media merits, couch surfing kudos and any Bitcoins that I can find strewn across my path, like tokens in a classic Nintendo game! In my dream life I would sip fruit cocktails and iced coffee on beaches where oxen wade through the waves, meditate on mountain tops, and stalk narwhal with my karmic kin beneath the arctic ice. I'd study astrology with the masters in Varanasi, India, Shi'ite morality in Qom, Iran, and the Gospel of Ayahuasca in Anyjungle, Peru, shapeshifting there with the shamans, dancing with diseases, communing with the spirits of stars. I'd recount my adventures every day online, all my expeditions and explorations, my sublime revelations, to an eager and envious audience as farflung as my passions and my ports of call. From time to time a reader might click on an ad or flick me a coin, and thus kick me one step further down the rambling road. That's the gift economy in application, the hitherto unharnessed power of popularity: my exploits today would finance my epiphanies tomorrow, and my epiphanies tomorrow would excuse me for the excesses of tonight! In this way, a perfect feedback loop is formed; like a snake swallowing its tail, the cycle never ends...

Though I like to call myself a Vagabondic, truth is I am an agoraphobic. For the past three years I have been unemployed, living with my parents in regional Australia, and confined to a small and shrinking world. Before this handicap hit me I did indeed glide around the globe, I glided around the world gloatingly, domiciling in Japan for 10 years where I taught English and enjoyed all kinds of adventures, most of them legal and legit, some of them happy and some of them sad, all of them educational in one way or another. Every day in Japan was an adventure to be honest, an adventure and a cultural experience, as well as an initiation into the enigma of the East. If I had known, back then, that one day I would be compelled to crawl home to the sanctuary of Mum and Dad in smalltown Australia, that would have been like totally my worst nightmare... it would have been worse than a nightmare, in fact, because nightmares get awoken from eventually, while this affliction just keeps persisting on and on and on. It goes to show that fate, destiny, whatever you like to call it has a strange habit of reversing things, turning reality into dream, and dream into reality; now the Prodigal Son is home again, not because he wanted to return, but because he was forced to... and for a long time he was not particularly happy about that fact. He was pretty pissed off about it, to be blunt, and couldn't understand what had happened. He had assumed, during those long halcyon days in Old Harmony, that his Australian life had been put far behind him. As it turns out, however, his Australian life is suddenly back in front of him, back in all its hoary glory, like a sumo wrestler in a cage fight, 400 pounds of grimace and pain. And, alas, the sumo is too big for Mario to jump this time!

Right now, I can travel only about 25 kilometers from home before I start to succumb to anxiety and stress. That's my Safety Zone, a circle with a radius of 25km. When I approach the edge of the Safety Zone my palms and scalp get sweaty, and my muscles seize up. The world closes in around me, and I worry that I am not really real. If I am driving a car, my zone is even smaller, I am not sure why. Maybe it is because driving is inherently more stressful??? hmmm, that sounds sensible enough. Crowds and loud noises frighten me, and coffee is a definite no-no. Although I used to travel frequently on the train, these days I can manage only one stop in either direction from my local station before I am forced to bundle out the door, hyperventilating. If I try to go two stops, I might well have a panic attack.

For the past three years, this Safety Zone has been my prison. Now, it wouldn't be so bad if I was stuck in New York City, Paris or Prague. In such cities you could spend a whole lifetime within a 25km radius and never get bored. That's true too for Tokyo, and Seoul; hell, it is probably also the case with Tehran! These places have density, and history, and soul (and no doubt, plenty of agoraphobic artists there trying to make the most of their handicaps, trying to turn their afflictions into art!) The location of my exile, on the contrary, is a scrap of suburbia on the edge of scrappy bush, in what could possibly be the most boring barrio of the world: the Central Coast of New South Wales, north of Sydney on the eastern shore of Australia, the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. I am sorry if I have offended the locals by dissing your 'hood such, I know you guys love it a lot up here. I have to concede the weather is nice, if repetitively so. There are a lot of nice beaches in the area, which attract hordes of holidaymakers every summer. There are never any earthquakes (well, not that often anyway!), nor are there any volcanic eruptions, nor political strife of any kind. That's partly the problem, though: nothing interesting happens! For me, a bit of danger always spices things up, like mustard on a dull cut of beef, or a hip-hop sample on an atmospheric Drum&Bass tune. This place is too vanilla, too white bread, too white trash for my tastes. If you are a fisherman, or a surfer, or a birdwatcher or tattoo artist, then the Central Coast is your paradise. If you are more interested in culture, and cuisine, and couture, then it is more likely to be your hell. That is my opinion, and I stand by it. But then I am biased, because I don't really want to be here in the first place.

For a recovering agoraphobic, even a trip to the letterbox can be a struggle... but it could also be an amazing adventure! It depends on how you look at it. (Australia, 2014)

I have been in a lot of weird predicaments in my life, to be sure, but this predicament is the weirdest of them all: I am a traveler who is afraid of traveling, an agoraphobic traveler. Much as I pine to paddle across the Pacific, visit Vang Vieng, or shapeshift in the aforementioned Amazon, Fate has me dealt me another hand. In fact, She has placed me under virtual house arrest, for the foreseeable future at least! Lousy luck, you might say... lousy Lady Luck. Here at Vagabondic we like to delve deeper into the nature of things, however, and accept that every affliction has a spiritual meaning, a higher purpose if you like. Ian Thorpe's depression had a purpose, according to my edition of The Secret Language of Destiny: it manifested to manipulate him into diving deep into his repressed emotions. My Dad's Huntington's disease, meanwhile, might well be another kind of spiritual crisis, a lastditch intervention to coerce him into curtailing his need for control, before life pulls the plug and ends his present incarnation. Possibly my panic attacks and agoraphobia have a purpose too, possibly they are trying to tell me something. "But what on Earth could they be saying?" you might ask, and I have to agree, it is a tough question to answer. In order to find out, I believe we need to rise above our workaday ego concerns, and try to see things from a higher perspective. We need to see things from the perspective of our souls. I remember that my psychic mistress Janene used to say, during my apprenticeship, "If you can find happiness in a box, you can find it anywhere." Her premise was that even if you have just had your legs broken by a psychopath, your arms cut off, and the remainder of your body boxed in the basement, you could still be as blissed as a Buddha so long as you were plugged into the Source. Well, I am not quite at the Misery stage yet, but I definitely feel restricted, like a bird with clipped wings, or a dog on a lead, left to guard the yard all day long alone. But inside this restriction, perhaps, my future freedom resides, like the dots in a yin/yang taijitu, those phaseshifting telltales. Possibly, agoraphobia is commanding me to venerate quality over quantity, the local over the global, the trivial over the epochal, the micro over the macro. I have always been such a macrominded man, it is hard for me to be content just with the little things in life. I am going to have to learn to appreciate them, however, if I am to ever escape this mad torturer's dungeon. Furthermore, I suspect this ailment is challenging me into becoming more tenacious, more determined to achieve my dreams. Higher I is telling lower me: You are going to have fight for your dreams, fight for your right to orbit the planet... one hardearned mile at a time. And we are not talking frequent flyer miles here! This is the real deal, Marco Polo style.

Recently I discovered that my new Samsung smart phone (Galaxy Pocket Neo) automatically uploads every single photo that I take during my daily movements to Google+, where Google keeps hold of them, immortalized on the cloud. Using cues like the date, time and GPS location, Google curates my pictures into artfully arranged albums, and even sends me an email inviting me to inspect its handiwork. How cool is that? A little creepy, but cool nonetheless! When I view the photos at the end of each day I am always amazed by how much territory I managed to cover, and all of the beautiful scenes that I was privileged to have witnessed. For an agoraphobic, it is not a bad effort, and it shows that even in a small world there is still so much to see. Maybe one day Google could write blog entries for me based on where I go, who I interact with, and what music I listen to on my iPod. The Andy Warhol of tomorrow could make a new movie every day with footage culled from Google Glass, and a hectic and heroic social life. I don't have much of a social life at all these days, but I do have my Samsung smart phone, and I have a Safety Zone 50km from edge to edge. That's 1963 square kilometres of world for me to explore, and document here online! One small, hesitant step at a time, of course, with Valium always at hand...

Walking in Wyong: Courtesy of Samsung and Google+

At the south-west edge of my Safety Zone lies the town of Wyong, population 3600, the seat of local government and the region's most important transportation hub. I have been catching the bus there a lot lately to see a psychologist about my agoraphobia, and challenge myself on the train. To pass the time waiting for my appointment or to celebrate a successful mission on the rails, I like to walk around and take photos of things that entice me. While I used to think that Wyong was a hole, I have been impressed lately by the number of old colonial buildings in the town. My Mum, who grew up here, knows the history of all these buildings, the families who used to live inside them, knowledge that I will attempt to preserve in the (evolving) photo essay above. Click on the link above to take a stroll through the streets of Wyong, a mile in my shoes, recorded for all time! 

Walking in Weemala: Can I reach the beach?

Right at the other end of my Safety Zone, on the Pacific Ocean, slumbers the small holiday hamlet of Budgewoi. Bustling Budgewoi it ain't... the town boasts all the buzz of a game of lawn bowls, or a mufti day at a nursing home. It does have some nice bushland, however, miles of long empty beaches, and it is the outdoors stuff that has been attracting me there lately. In June I drove over there and attempted to trek the path at Weemala Wetland all the way to the sea. Although it is a short path, just a few hundred metres, I was too anxious to complete it, and I had to scurry back to the safety of the car. Six weeks later I returned and this time managed to punch through all the way to the sand, where I was rewarded with views of bitou bush and Bird Island, bobbing out of the waves. This breakthrough perked me up, and emboldened me to probe further afield, further up the coast, where I am sure plenty of natural wonders await me.

Norah Head: Local landmark with a lighthouse

South of Budgewoi, well within my Safety Zone, Norah Head heaves itself out of the scrub and rocky coast, to become a prominent local landmark. There is a lighthouse and a few beaches in the vicinity, the most famous being Soldiers Beach, one of the many places in Australia devoted to the legend of the Anzacs. Even in the middle of winter you can find decent numbers of people here, swimming and surfing, or exercising their dogs on the sand. Looking south, other headlands loom out of the salt spray, taunting me with their proximity. 

Sunny San Remo: A neglected suburb

As a young man fresh out of college I worked as a cub reporter for the Wyong Shire Advocate, which had its office in Toukley, a quiet holiday town. During my second year at the Advocate my editor assigned me the round of covering the northern part of the Wyong Shire, specifically suburbs like San Remo which felt they were being neglected by the paper. One morning a week I would drive up past Budgewoi Lake and see what was going on. Frustratingly, I never managed to find many good stories. Nothing much seemed to happen in this part of the shire. Returning for a series of visits this winter, I found San Remo to be as sleepy as it ever was. There are a lot of colourful murals, however, many of which bear Aboriginal themes, and depictions of local wildlife. They make suburbia that bit more cheerful.

The Entrance: My gateway to the wider world

The town known as The Entrance is the most multicultural part of my realm, and potentially the most exciting. In summer when Lebanese women sunbathe on North Entrance Beach with their scarves and tattooed boyfriends, the place starts to resemble a baby Beirut. In the Thai restaurants on The Entrance Road, woks sizzle with the heat of Bangkok. White guys walk the streets with their Asian girlfriends. If I could hustle myself one of those, I might almost be content to live here.

Wyrrabalong National Park: Refuge of red gums

In early July I rode bus #29 from Lake Haven shopping center over to North Entrance (or do they call it The Entrance North?), passing through Toukley and Norah Head on the way. My plan was to walk back the three-hour route through the depths of the Wyrrabalong National Park to Wallarah Bay Recreation Club east of Toukley, where my Dad and hopefully a few beers were waiting for me. When I dismounted from the bus near Wyuna Avenue, I was feeling a little shaky and slightly derealized/depersonalized, afraid of the blue sky and shining sun. I wasn't in the mood to hang around here on the edge of my Zone, so I commenced the walk home more or less immediately, by following Wilfred Barrett Drive which comprises a section of the busy Central Coast Highway. It wasn't so pleasant getting hammered by the passing traffic and tagged by burrs on the edge of the road, so I quickly ducked into a bicycle track which the council had constructed, leading into the national park. It was calmer and more comfortable in the bush, and I felt a lot safer, but the path presently looped back to the highway forcing me to share my journey once again with the speeding cars, trucks and buses. A few miles later I spotted what looked little more than an overgrown rut trailing back into the bush, and I decided to give it a go. The rut proved to be a more interesting alternative than either the highway or the cycleway, and it led me on a a wild voyage through the heart of the forest. I soon encountered a whole network of ruts, in fact, all of them named after the local flora: red gum, burrawangs and magenta lillypillies. The ground was sandy, and littered with seed pods. At one stage I mounted a small ridge, which granted me a stupendous view of the national park, and miles of red gums. No sign of civilization at all!

If these photos sometimes seem clumsy and clandestine, that's because they were taken furtively, in a rush. I apologize for any fingers in corners of the frame, blurriness and so on. When you are taking photos on the boundaries of your range, you don't have time to compose the scene artfully. It is rather a case of shoot and run. Nonetheless, I hope there is something Mirror Sydney about these suites, with all their attention to detail, the celebration of the minutiae, preservation of local history, and the elevation of the microcosm over the macrocosm. I hope that, as time goes by, I will get more adventurous, and push a little further against the bubble that encases me. One day I might even make it to Bateau Bay! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

As Crazy as it Seems (I'm Making Videos for YouTube!)

Here is the latest video I have made for Sam Evangelidis, lyricist, musicist, wordsmith, Teller of Tales, Caliph of Creativity, etc, etc:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ten Cents a Ticket in My Double Bed Blanket (a New Music Video!)

Who would have thought it: me the wannabe writer, the wordsmith, I've gone and done something completely left-field, and become a music video producer! It was never something I imagined I would be good at, or even able to attempt... but for the past couple of weeks, I have not only been making videos, but getting paid for it! Exploiting skills honed over many years of manipulating images on Gimp or Online Image Editor, and expanding my savvy to encompass Windows MovieMaker, and YouTube. I know I am not going to win any awards for these clips, or infect the world with a virus, much as my sponsor might hope so. I'm certainly not going to get rich, and neither, probably, will he. I don't really care, and I've never really gone for the viral success thing anyway. Ever since I hit "rock bottom" last month I have been looking for any excuse to escape, and clamber goat-style back up the slope which by definition must rise (since I am at rock bottom), somewhere around me, if only I can find it. One day last month, sunk deep in my funk, stranded on my desert island, I received a message from one Sam Evangelidis, an associate of Garnet Mae, asking me if I could help him out. Sam was the famous milk truck investor for Meat Pie, if my memory serves me right, and lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. He wanted me to produce some videos for his songs. He has a lot of them, and most of them are pretty good.

Slaving over a hot keyboard, working for Sam Evangelidis (Australia, 2013)
This joyride here, is the third video I have made for Sam. Called Ten Cents a Ticket in My Double Bed Blanket, this is hip hop with a suburban Sydney twist. Not quite MC Kerser, but it's mean enough. Samples and a bassline which sound like something on a Drum&Bass track. Drums and bass and a delicious diva... what could be better than that? What could be better than the fact that I am involved in it?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Photo Galleries

Sort by date, country, or theme:
A Day in My Life: Updated Almost Daily!
Aboriginal Australia: Then and Now!
Beaches and Seas: Life's a beach!
Boats and Ships
Bridges: A Day in My Life, Updated Almost Daily!
Budgewoi and Buff Point: When I was trapped in the depths of Agoraphobia, this was quite literally the other side of my world!
Cairns and Cape York, 2011: In August 2012 I made my second trip to Cairns, this time with my Dad, for an epic five-week stay!
Cairns and FNQ, Australia, 2012
Plants and Trees
Restaurants and Food: From the Street Stalls of Asia, Up to the High End of Europe and the West!
Shops, Malls and Markets

South Coast and SW NSW, Australia, 2007
South East Asia: One of my fave parts of the world, 
Ten Years in Japan
Tokyo Streetscapes: From 2000 to 2011 I lived in Tokyo, and one of my favorite pastimes was roaming the streets and alleys, taking pictures!
TransVietnam Trip, 2008
Walking in Weemala

Thursday, June 13, 2013

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Indians in Japan

When I lived in Japan I used to see Indians almost every day, just about every day. They were practically everywhere, at least in Tokyo and its surrounds, where I spent most of my time: teaching English, running supermarkets, working in IT; you'd see couples or whole families strolling under parasols through wet Myoden (妙典) on the way to the recycled clothes store at Gyotoku (行徳), or jogging on the concrete banks of the Arakawa River (荒川) in Hirai (平井), or jostling along with the rest of human tide in Shinjuku (新宿) where Indian and Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants always did a good trade, and Indian food was popular, perennially. I probably noticed them more because I happened to live in Shinozaki in the Edogawa Ward of Tokyo, which was (and still is) renowned for being one of the centers of the Indian diaspora in Japan. There was an Indian kindergarten/preschool/elementary school/high school just down the road from my old place, near Mizue Station in South Shinozaki. There were plenty of Indians on the train, the Toei Shinjuku Line train. For some reason the Indians tended to congregate in the first carriage, it had become a local tradition. According to statistics there were 22,000 Indians living in Japan in 2010, but there actually seemed to be a lot more. That might because as a foreigner I tended to notice other foreigners easily, and Indians stuck out from the crowd just as much as I did.

Baseball is the choice of sport in Japan, but the growing Indian community is bringing a bit of cricket action to the floodplains of the country!
Indian cricket game on the bank of the Edogawa River, facing Ichikawa City, surrounded by baseball fields.
Being a nomad myself, I am always interested to meet fellow nomads in strange parts of the world, and understand what motivated them to leave the safety and security of home. I also have an interest in ethnic enclaves in general, like the strange Ethiopian congregation on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or the Icelandic/Scandinavian towns on the North American plains. About five years ago (late 2007) I was invited to dinner by Umesh my old Nepali friend in Koenji in west Tokyo, and in the process, I got a glimpse of just how the subcontinental community in Japan lives. Like my own neighborhood in Shinozaki, Koenji has become a magnet in recent years to guest workers and opportunists from the subcontinent: Umesh said his ageing apartment building was owned by a Pakistani. His next-door neighbor was an Indian, and the cold concrete passageway outside the house was more than tinged with the scent of curry. What proved interesting to me, as I dined with Umesh and his wife, was the education into how modern Diasporics use new technology to connect with each other and entertain themselves in their adopted countries. In short: I never used to be much of an Indian movie fan, but if I spend more time at Umesh's house in the concrete heights of Koenji, I will become one.

Indian family or group seen near Myoden in Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture
Myoden, a quiet suburban region near Urayasu in Chiba Prefecture, boasts a large Indian community, as well as an Indian kindergarten.
Roughly two months after, in February 2008, I returned to Koenji to see Umesh -- it was a truly brutal Sunday afternoon, wind blowing a gale and cold as hell. Things looked warmer in Koenji's PAL Arcade however, with curry shops all over the place, and the atmosphere positively screaming Little India, as the Japanese "king of subculture" Jyun Miura once observed. Umesh made some steaming food and we cracked open a few bottles of beer, ice cold of course. It was cricket season down Under, and Umesh was following the action in the India vs Australia One Day game at the SCG -- not on TV or radio or online TV, but rather watching a text feed updated delivery by delivery, over by over, over the computer. It was like watching a scoreboard -- changes in the numbers denoted action, a leg-bye here, a boundary there. About as far from high fidelity as you can imagine, but at least it was live (real time), and it was in its own way, absolutely riveting (admittedly, it was an unusually exciting match.) Umesh was barracking for the Indians, and I was barracking for the Aussies, and we were drinking big bottles of Asahi beer, and downing a range of Nepali treats. There was no picture and there was no sound, but we had the power of imagination (the world's first Virtual Reality.) In my mind's eye I see it all: the Indians rallying valiantly, in the closing overs, to reach Australia's 7/317 (they were eventually dismissed for 299.)

PAL Arcade in Koenji, the heart of Tokyo's "Little India".
We had no audio, but you didn't need ears to hear the taunts which must have belched from the stands at the Sydney Cricket Ground every time an Indian tail-enders put bat on ball, and darted up to the other end of the wicket. You could feel the tension in the air, as the old cliche goes, even this far away, in wintry Japan... the atmosphere was boiling over. At home in Australia, I could well imagine my Dad cursing at the TV and perhaps even launching the remote-con at the screen, once it dawned on him that India might have a chance of winning. But then Sharma was bowled out by Lee, and everything was golden again, Down Under. Rapturous cheers, and grinning commentators delivering their post-mortems. It was a vivid moment which proved to me that sometimes imagination outclasses technology; and the nearest memory it evoked, was listening to the action at Lords on shortwave radio, when I was about eight-years-old and living on the NSW Central Coast. Those were the days when books had better special effects, than the Hollywood recreations of them (I am thinking in particular of JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, or Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby). The following night, at my singing job in Shinjuku, I related the story to my Kiwi coworker D. "It is a pity there is nowhere on the Internet you can watch the cricket live," I remarked. "But there is," D. said. "Why don't you try Sopcast? There is some Indian guy running it, feeding cable TV live on to the Net."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Vintage Clothes in Shibuya (Tokyo, Japan)

On the streets of Shibuya
One of the first places I visited in Japan was Shibuya (渋谷), the famous youth fashion quarter south of Shinjuku, on the prosperous west side of Tokyo. The date was November 11 2000, my first ever morning in Japan! The sun was shining, the crows were cawing: it was textbook Tokyo to a treat. Unfortunately, my baggage had been lost in transit, and was sitting on a carousel at the airport in Singapore. I was dressed only in my Australian jeans and a T-shirt, and the cold Japanese winter was coming on. I needed to buy a winter coat -- and cheaply! Fortunately, Shibuya saved me. That's the great thing about it, it is a Mecca for recycled clothing. I never expected it would be like this, until I took my first stroll through the narrow winding streets here, looking for a place to stay. I thought Japanese hated old stuff, and were obsessed with the shiny and new. Certainly, the architecture accumulated around Shibuya's sprawling railway station seemed futuristic to a fault, that morning in November 2000: needle-thin buildings, some hung with huge TV screens or posters of J-Pop stars, and ads for the latest Beatles anthology. That was the kind of Japan I was expecting and it was all there, in overload. Brand name department stores and bling, check. Fast, brightly colorful passenger trains whizzing by overhead, you bet. Hypermanic salespeople spruiking the crowds with their megaphones and cupped hands, sure. But second hand clothes stores? Who would have thought that? There were tonnes of them, especially on the road which links Shibuya to Yoyogi Park, which I trudged up looking for lodgings. I couldn't find anywhere to stay, but I shortly discovered a preloved jacket, in a bitching industrial style!

Garnet Mae shopping in ShibuyaAccording to the must see website: "Shibuya leads Japan in popularity, constantly creating new culture in the worlds of fashion, food, and music. Fashion trends that start here always draw the attention of young people and they quickly spread throughout Tokyo and then the rest of the country. Sometime between the late 80's and early 90's, Shibuya started to attract public attention as a fashion town. Shibuya, subsequently became more entrenched as the definitive spot for Tokyo's youth. With the boom in brand awareness and the economic boost of the Bubble Economy, PARCO and Marui enjoyed several prosperous years in that era. After Shibuya reached its peak as a trend-setting neighborhood, the town quickly fell back during the economic strife of the late 90's. Though the unusual fashion and makeup among teenage girls captured public attention again during the late 90's, it was in vogue for a very short time."

However, while the economy has slumped, recycled fashions have risen to a new prominence. When funds run low, you turn to budget alternatives. And I believe this is one reason why Japan today is caught in a recycled clothing epidemic. Japan is turning to cheaper alternatives -- this is a good thing, a vagabondist thing. To me, nothing seems so vagabondist as the recycling of clothes and other essential items. It is the ultimate in vagabondism, and Japan is now patently a vagabondist country -- I realised that as soon as I stepped off the plane. I was expecting it to be a Bubble economy, but thankfully it turned out to be postBubble. It was (and still is) a glimpse of life after the Baudrillardian implosion, for those Westerners saddled with their fantasies of endless growth. Young people in Japan understand that while the conveyor belts of production are now dragging to a halt, there are nonetheless vast mountains of goods lying around all over the world, some of them in their original wrappers, waiting to be (un/dis)covered. Just don't call these gems "second hand", or even recycled... they're vintage! Japanese might be budget conscious, but they still have class. Even when they're grungy, Japanese are styling!
More of Garnet Mae unleashed on the streets of Shibuya
For the next 10 years, I used to go shopping in Shibuya a lot. Eventually I got sick of it, and started looking for fresh pastures, out in the suburbs where tourists rarely tread. When foreign friends and relatives came to visit, however, they always insisted on meeting in Shibuya, and seeing that globally renowned Tokyo street style. I made sure to show them some of the recycled clothes stores in the neighborhood too, and my guests were always impressed.

There are flea markets in the Shibuya as well, especially around Yoyogi Park (opposite the NHK headquarters) on weekends, and they are usually popular. The International Herald Tribune reports: 
There are two choices when it comes to buying used clothes in Tokyo: flea markets or clothing shops. Make that three choices if you count the street stalls that crop up on sunny days.
A visit to the Sunday flea market on the roof of the Tokyu Store, across from the East Exit of Shibuya Station, gives a glimpse into the future of clothes recycling in Japan. Most of the buyers and sellers are school kids in their early teens, who pour out of the rooftop elevator at 10 A.M. lugging big sacks of clothes to sell to each other. The limited roof space fills up quickly with shoppers sifting through clothes, shoes, a few electronic goods and the occasional box of used CDs or tapes.
By 11 A.M. the place is crammed, but you can usually decide whether a vendor's clothes are worth working your way toward by looking at what he or she is wearing. If the vendor goes for the massive-street-pants-and-oversized-shirt look, and you don't, try another direction.
Prices vary, but they tend to be low. Jeans that sell for 7,000 yen ($84) or more at the established Shibuya department stores can be found in nearly the same condition for 1,000 yen or less. T-shirts are another popular item that can be bought for around 500 yen. Point out imaginary flaws and demand a discount if you want: Bargaining is considered all part of the fun.
That's an insight into flea markets, but what about the vintage stores? Here is a snapshot of what existed in Shibuya in the mid 2000s (sorry if some of this information is a bit old!):

Adidas Originals: 渋谷区神宮前6-14-7.
Cat Street, 6-14-7 Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 5464 5580.
This story was lifted from Tokyo's well known and even more well read Metropolis magazine:
The craze for vintage clothing has been hitting some fashion retailers pretty hard, especially those whose business is street casual wear. Few brands are as prized as adidas when it comes to vintage, and the guys at head office have come up with a scheme to cash in on the cachet of the company's illustrious history: adidas Originals. Opened on Cat Street last month, the store is laid out much like a flea market with low trestle tables and haphazard stacks of cardboard boxes. The stock consists chiefly of remakes of classic adidas items from 1972-1996, allowing shoppers to get the retro look without having to traipse around swap meets or trawl through vintage stores. You may need to wear in the 83-C training top and 1976 Stan Smiths yourself, but at least the smells and stains will be your own. Some newly designed items on offer include the affordable Levi's collaboration denim sneakers and not-so-affordable Swarovski collaboration, a rhinestone-encrusted fantasy shoe available only in this store.
The shack is open from 11am-8pm daily.

Bikini Surfboard: 渋谷区神宮前.
Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3409-5017.
On the way to the Olympic Stadium and Yoyogi Park, if you are heading from Shibuya. Despite what the name implies, they don't sell surfboards here, but rather recycled surfwear like T-shirts and sh!t. Billabong and the House of Town & Country and all that jazz. I didn't see any bikinis inside either, so don't go looking for them. Placing your trust in Japanese-English names and signs will always disappoint you. I can almost imagine when the guys who opened this store were trying to think of a name, they decided just to slam together all the surf-related English words that they knew. "What surf words do we know? -- bikini... surfboard... hey, let's call the shop Bikini Surfboard!" It would be like if a bunch of Californian guys who spoke no Japanese decided to open a sushi restaurant -- what would they call it? "Sayonara Samurai" or something like that? Or maybe just "Sayonara Sucker"!
There are of course surf-inspired and Hawaiian stores all over Japan, but this one has a strictly recycled and vintage theme. 
Open 11am to 8pm.

Chicago: 渋谷区神宮前6-31-21.
6-31-21 Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3409-5017. Web:
Variety of vintage goods here: T-shirts, training gear, jeans, hats, coats, kimono, haori, modern clothing made from kimono, much more. Has several stores, mostly in Tokyo. At the Harajuku branch, you can even buy a used kimono!
The complete store list is as follows:
Omotesando Store/Tokyo: 6-31-21 Jingumae Shibuya Tokyo. Phone (03) 3409 5017.
Jingumae Store/Tokyo: 4-26-26 Jingumae Shibuya Tokyo. Phone (03) 5414 5107.
Shimokitazawa Store/Tokyo: 5-32-5 Daizawa Setagaya Tokyo. Phone (03) 3419 2890.
Sapporo Store: 1-3 Nishi Minami 1 Jyou Chuou Sapporo Hokkaido. Phone (011) 219 2202.
Fukuoka Store: 1-15-35 Daimyo Chuou Fukuoka. Phone (092) 739 0165.

East Village/Field Line: 渋谷区神宮前6-19-16第3宇都宮ビル1F .
1st Floor Number 3 Utsunomiya Building, 6-19-16 Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3486 6716.
低価格、豊富な品揃え、高品質の古着を展開するイースト ヴィレッジ。アメカジ古着を中心としたラインナップは、ストリートの中でハズせないものばかり。ウェアだけでなく、ブーツなどフットウェアから、小物まで幅広く取り扱っている。ヴィンテージを中心とした姉妹店フィールドラインも併設おり、ともにタウンスポットが経営している。
Last time I waltzed past there was a rack of shirts out the front selling for just 100 Yen... but maybe that was because it was an end of summer sale.
Up the road from East Village you can find Mesa, another select used clothing, which boasts badges... tonnes of them. Also plenty of shoes and French hip-hop stuff on the soundsystem, ultracool Japanese staff.

E-Z shoe & clothing: 渋谷区神宮前112-16和光ビル2AF.
2A Floor Wakkou Building, Jingumae, Shibuya Ward.
Phone: (03) 3780 0494.
A small, non-descript shop on the second floor of a building on the big road linking Shibuya and Harajuku, E-Z is packed with West Coast, recycled clothes -- basketball shirts and faded jeans, etc. To be honest this is one of my fave haunts in the Jinguumae area, and it is situated not far from Tower Records, one of the regional landmarks. Plenty of dead stock shoes with an Adidas look, including live actual Adidases. There are rare trainers from countries that don’t even exist any more, such as Yugoslavia and West Germany. Expect to pay between 20,000 Yen and 100,000 Yen for a pair of shoes. Clothes much cheaper... say 2000 Yen to 10,000 Yen for Levis from the 70s or a Tshirt of Bert & Ernie, or something from the Hawaian school of thought.
E-Z shoe & clothing is open from 12noon to 8pm daily.
Located in the basement floor of the same building is Tom’s Shop Usa 古着, which is described later in this article.

Flamingo Saloon渋谷区神南.
Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
There is no sign on this store and the last time I visited, only a small piece of paper stuck to the door hinted at its name: Flamingo Saloon. Then again, it might be called Pink Flamingo,I am not quite sure of the name. At the very least there are two stores connected to each other (same owner perhaps, part of a chain) -- Pink Flamingo and Flamingo Saloon -- and you can find one of them in Shibuya, along the road at Jinguumae from Shibuya to Harajuku. This is basically another Shibuya style vintage clothes store with a street front. Phone is (03) 3477 7376 for the Flamingo Saloon and (03) 5489 4440 for the Pink Flamingo.
By the way, if you are interested in the world of Japanese city fashion, you should click this link -- it's an online Japanese fashion magazine, and it contains a list of clothes stores in Tokyo. They have an article inside called People Like A Used Clothing, with a model shot on location in such picturesque locations as Yoyogi Park.

John's Clothing: 渋谷区神南1115 ダイネス壱番館1F.
1st Floor Dainesu Ichiban Kan, Jinnan, Shibuya Ward.
Phone: (03) 3464 7705.
In the same building as another classic clothes store recreating the spirit of California, Santa Monica. This is also in the same building as the wellknown guitar shop, Acoustic Design. This looks like a funky little number, but it is one of only many recycled/classic clothes stores in this part of town. Why do they call it John's Clothing? I am sure that this being Japan, the owner's name is probably something like Hiroshi or Koji or something like that. Anything but John. Perhaps they called this shop "John's Clothing" because John is the stereotypical name of the Westerner -- the Anglo-American-Australian who would normally be wearing these kinds of clothes. Nonetheless, the shop is cool, so you better check it out.

More Budget ESP: 東京都渋谷区神南1-9-2Oビル1F.
1st floor 0 Building, 1-9-2 Jinnan, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3461 5055.
You can find a lot of neat stuff in Shibuya... there is a whole hilly hiphop district and a big mall devoted solely to Harley Davidson apparel. The classic clothes district of Shibuya is not half as glamorous as the hip hop district, but perhaps that is in keeping with the casual nature of the genre. In the middle of the district I found a store called More Budget ESP -- whether it is still there with the same name when you visit is an open question. Interestingly, More Budget is not really a classic clothes shop at all... but rather a hip hop/Reggae influenced boutique. If like me you like Reggae you will also like this shop. There are plenty of fliers on display giving you a good introduction to the Japanese Reggae scene. For example I picked up a leaflet advertising a Reggae Dancehall night called Rocker's Paradise at Shibuya Club Camelot (every 2nd Wednesday ++ next show on 07/02/14 featuring Burn Down from Osaka, Super-G and Gladiator with sound system + 2500 Yen plus ID to get in the door.) Apart from Shibuya Club Camelot, the long running Club Asia is another good place to catch Reggae and hiphop events. Also check out Club Unity. If you need to buy Reggae records in Shibuya, go to Homebass Records, duel, or Rocker's Island.

Puma: 渋谷区神南1-13-4.
1st floor Harajuku Quest Building, 1134 Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3401 6100.
Another Metropolis sample follows here:
Bitter rivals of adidas for 54 years, having been established by Adolf Dassler's disgruntled brother Rudi, Puma is still battling it out with the three stripes for dominance of the retro sneaker market. Puma's latest move in the war is the unveiling of the world's second Puma concept store (the first is in Santa Monica, Calif.) late last year in Harajuku. As might be expected from a concept store, this one boasts a smart, clean interior and is sparsely stocked with high-end Puma products. The Italian-designed revival line, Platinum Collection, is the mainstay of this sneaker freak's paradise, but specially selected accessories, bags and clothes from other lines do make their way into the store. If you need to get kitted out for the gym, get down to Kanda, where "concept" means high-brow, high-fashion, high prices. Those who care about what message their footwear communicates won't want to miss the hot releases due in store this season. With the resounding success of the Puma/Sparco boxing boots behind them, more dual name sneakers are in the cards, including a new Jil Sander design. This store is the only place to be seen buying that dinky gym bag, a styling T-shirt or a good ol' pair of Clydes. The joint is open from 11am to 8pm.

Ray Beams Remodeled:   渋谷区神宮前3-24-7
3-24-7 Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3478 5886
According to the once informative, international (and now deceased) w-guides site, Ray Beams Remodeled "stocks customized secondhand and old clothing. However, unlike many other "recycle" stores, Ray Beams attempts to keep the loud "hippie" chic style away from its products. Instead, simple more neutral designs are made up from a mixture of old and new materials. The result is a more casual and comfortable range of clothing. The knitwear is particularly good and there are still some more eccentric items in the form of hand-painted and sequined T-shirts. There will soon be a range of imported recycle products from LA." The nearest train stops at Meijijingumae Station, and the shop is open from 11am-8pm daily.

Santa Monica: 渋谷区神南1115.
1-11-5 Jinnan, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo -- a few doors down from Tower Records, that great futuristic yellow building.
Phone: (03) 3409 5017.
I read this somewhere: アメリカ全土から買い付けされたアイテムが不定期に入荷。サンタモニカの姉妹店の中でもレギュラーアイテムを中心に着こなしとり入れやすいアイテムが揃う。今シーズンはボア付きのGジャンやコーテュロイアイテムがおすすめ。

Shop 33: 渋谷区神宮前1-12-16和光ビル2AF.
2A Floor Wakkou Building, Jingumae, Shibuya Ward.
Phone: (03) 3780 0494.
The Harajuku store for this chain is at 5-18-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku (phone: (03) 5468 3133). The Kichijouji store for those out further west is in the Keyaki Building 3F 1-1-8 Minami-Chou, Kichijouji, Musashino-shi (phone: (0422) 487 926).

Source: 渋谷区神宮前渋谷区サンフォレスト森田ビル4F.
4th floor San Forest Building, Jingumae, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
It is a steamy Sunday afternoon in August, and the streets of Shibuya are jammed with the usual packs of misfits. I stopped at a used clothes shop called Source. It is at the far end of Shibuya (actually Jingumae) near Shibuya Fire Station. In the Sun Forest Morita Building, on the 4th floor. There is the usual array of classic items for guys and girls... about 5000 yen for most stuff. It seems more girl friendly than other shops discussed on this page. On the other hand, there is nothing in this shop special or outstanding enough to justify climbing those four flights of stairs up there (there is a lift, but still, you have to stand around waiting for it to come), and the place is so small, you could probably skip it. In this part of town there is a used clothes store every 20 metres or so, so move on folks and find a better shop!
As the sign says, open from 1pm to 9pm.

Tom's Shop: 渋谷区神宮前1-12-16和光ビルBF.
Basement floor Wakkou Building, Jinguumae, Shibuya Ward.
Phone: (03) 5456 0236.
This place used to be on the 5th floor of the 和光 building, but as of late March 2006, it has moved down to the more accessible basement floor. It is similar to the E-Z shoes & clothes outlet up on the 2nd floor, although the shoes are cheaper (under 5000 Yen as far as I could see.) Apart from that, there is the usual selection of vintage wear, at pretty good prices.
Open 12noon to 9pm. Across the road from ABC Mart.

We Go渋谷区神宮前-5-3ビル1-2F.
Iberia Biru 1F & 2F, 6-5-3 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3400 7625.
Variety vintage. T-shirts, jeans, shirts, hats, coats, you name it. Large chain with stores all over Japan. Open 10am to 9pm.

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