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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cosplaygrounds in Akihabara, and the Animism of Roleplay

I have got to come right out and admit this: I am no Cosplay fanatic, and find the whole phenomenon just a little bit twisted, a little bit strange. Then again, I am not really one to get into the spirit at fancy dress parties, I am the guy who spoils it by coming clad in regular clothes. I have no interest in roleplaying games, and uniforms rarely feature in my sexual fantasies. That said, I do enjoy peoplewatching and documenting subcultures, and for six years I lived up the road from Akihabara, which is pretty much the Mecca of the Cosplay universe (as well as the Gomorrah and the Babylon, depending on how you look at it). The following post records some discoveries I made in those six years with regards to Cosplay and all the Cosplay venues and shops and institutions in the Akihabara Electric Town. For those who don't know, Cosplay (コスプレ) means "Costume Play", and basically involves dressing up as characters from your favorite anime movie, manga cartoon, video game, or the lead singer of your favorite band, etc. That treasure trove of wisdom, Wikipedia, claims that "in Japan, cosplay as a hobby is usually an end unto itself." I would add that in Japan all hobbies are ends unto themselves, for they are in fact Zen practices designed to initiate satori or selfrealization, but that is another issue! Let's stick to the topic at hand, shall we? Wikipedia continues: "Likeminded people gather to see other costumes, show off their own elaborate handmade creations, take lots of pictures, and possibly participate in best costume contests." I don't go in for it myself, but I do like peoplewatching, and subculturespotting, so I am often at the sidelines of these events, taking notes and snapping photos. When friends come from overseas to visit me, they always want to see some Cosplay. I escort them to Tokyo's Harajuku, which every Sunday is rammed with Cosplay enthusiasts. Some of the get-ups there have to be seen to be believed, they are so detailed, so elaborate, and so deviant!

Along with Harajuku, Akihabara is a popular Cosplay haunt, especially on weekends. The Electric Town is blessed with a large number of dedicated fancy dress cafes, department stores and galleries. The waitresses at such cafes are dressed as video game and anime characters, or maids. In any almost any big Akihabara department store you will find a Cosplay floor which will put your hometown's fancy dress shop to shame. Along with costumes, dolls are perennially popular with shoppers. Last year, at the height of my Akihabara research project, I discovered a creche of almost lifesized dolls inside the Laox Asobit C department store, all of them sporting fully movable limbs, and staring out impassively at the crowds, like deities at a temple. One of them was a maid (of course), another a high school girl with innocent eyes and a raunchily high-cut dress. Some of the others were anime characters or tennis players, or maybe a blend of both. They weren't particularly cheap, the average doll costing around ¥600,000 (US$6000, give or take.) I started thinking: what kind of guy would buy a US$6000 doll? Since that time it dawned on me: the Japanese love affair with dolls/costumes/roleplay is more than just a consumerist fad, or a bit of fun -- there is something mystical in it, something which emanates from the heart of Japanese spirituality. Spend a bit of time in Japan and you will realize that dolls of all kinds (and I'd include robots in this) enjoy an honorable status. In my opinion, this veneration of the doll, and the incredible attention to detail which goes into making them, is in fact a religious expression. It is an animist thing, a Shinto thing. It is no exaggeration to say that many Japanese believe there is a god in everything -- trees, rocks, rivers... why not dolls as well? Dolls are alive, and they have a roughly human form, so it is no wonder that they are given so much respect, and so much devotion. Like dolls, costumes are also alive, imbued with lifeforce, and offer those who put them on an almost magical power... the ability to become another person, to channel fictional characters, to converse with the spirits just like a Mongolian Shaman in a trance. When a Shaman goes into a trance, the ego disappears, and emptiness clears the mind. The devotee finds that his or her essential emptiness is mirrored in the essential emptiness of the Universe, and attains Enlightenment. That is my theory at least!

Maniac High outside the Ishimaru Department store in Akihabara Anyway, enough ranting... I promised myself that I wouldn't rant! Last month I found myself back in Akihabara with my man Dennis the Menace (aka Maniac High), kind of getting carried along in his wake. Dennis (pictured, on the left) was there for a TV job, a program about foreigners enjoying themselves in the Electric Town. Since I happened to be there, the camera crew hauled me in front of the camera and bombarded me with questions. "What are the things you like about Japan and Japanese culture?" they asked me. I burst out automatically: "Cosplay!" It garnered the laugh I anticipated, and I got a few seconds of fame on TV... a few seconds of fun, but nowhere long enough time to discuss my more esoteric ideas on the matter. Anyway, would Japanese viewers really want to listen to some random foreigner espousing his bizarre theory on the Shinto/Buddhist origins of Cosplay, and/or the animist worship of dolls? I doubt it. Gaijin are supposed to be genki and rambunctious, but not too deep. Better to dumb it down, I thought to myself, and not confuse anyone, otherwise I might offend someone! The film crew finished their "interview" with me, then they escorted Dennis to a premise upstairs to have his ears cleaned by a pair of young maids. He was dressed for the part, in a Fire Department shirt, and a police cap, and unlike me he was on his way to being paid. I scurried on through the cold drizzle and rain to Shinjuku, where I pretended to be Mickey Mouse on the telephone for a few hours, to earn my daily bread. Japan is a strange country, that is for sure... everyone is playing a role, and nobody is quite the person you expect to them to be! That's what makes it so fascinating.

Here follows some Cosplay shops, venues, cafes and attractions in Akihabara and other parts of Tokyo like Shibuya, which I have noticed on previous jaunts around town. It's not an exhaustive list by any means, and I may add to it as time goes by:

Cosmate: 千代田区外神田1-8-3 野水ビル5.
5th Floor Nomizu Building, 1-8-3 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3526 5043. Web: Map:
If high school girls in panties and leotards do it for you, then this is your place! If you are thinking of starting your own maid cafe and need uniforms for your staff, have a look at Cosmate's range. As far as I know, there are three outlets in Tokyo -- the address and phone number listed above belongs to the head store, in Soto Kanda. From the rather gruff reception which awaited me when I tried to enter one of the shops last year, they don't care too much for tourists walking in off the street just to check out the merchandise. This place is for serious fetishists only... whether young females or dirty old men, I am not quite sure!
That said, you don't even have to visit the store to buy that leotard or maid outfit -- you can order straight off their website! Which might be just as well, for schoolgirls (or dirty old men) too embarrassed to lug those stretch enamel sailor leotards up to the counter! I am not sure if they deliver overseas, but you could always try your luck, ne!

Cospa Shop Akihabara: 千代田区外神田3-15-5ジーストア・アキバ2F.
Off Chou Dori (Akihabara's main street), 2nd Floor Jiisutoa Akiba Building, near Akihabara Station, 3-15-5 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3770 3383. Web:
This is actually a funky little shop, funky in the way that only Japanese junk and collectible shops can be -- full of quirky and cute little products. This is on the second floor of the Jiisutoa Building, which also hosts the legendary Cure Maid Cafe (see a review of that place further below.) Basically the whole building seems to be given over to models of some kind, maids, or maid costumes. On this floor are the maid costumes. The last time I was there, a couple of Japanese girls were appraising the maid and high school costumes, swooning and exclaiming: "Kawaii!" ("So cute!") There were a range of Samurai style swords at the back of the store, mugs and T-shirts printed with weird anime scenes and slogans -- one of the shirts showed two maids at work, one with distinctive anime blue hair, and the title: "Here are our maids. They are only 13-years-old." Bizarre. Might make a cool sarcastic gift for the folks back home though...
Last April, on a walk through Akihabara, I was handed a document called Cospa Catalog for Girls... if anyone wants to buy it, send me 50 cents by PayPal and its yours! The catalog listed some charming items such as a traditional style Japanese folding fan emblazoned with manga -- a cool fashion item indeed for humid summers in Berlin or New York, and selling for ¥1800. There were also "book covers" and mugs based on the Kyo kara Maoh series (¥1000 and ¥800 Yen respectively), high school uniforms with an anime twist, book markers, neckties, uniforms based on those worn in Gakuen Heaven: Boy's Love Hyper, and plenty of other stuff. Hit the official Cospa website link above to see the latest goods on sale!
As well as Akihabara, there are other Cospa stores around Japan... they even have one inside Narita Airport! Over at Shibuya there is a branch in the Hagihara Building (5-3 Maruyamamachi, Shibuya Ward. Phone: (03) 3770-3383.) Shibuya is of course the coolest part of Tokyo when it comes to extreme fashion. If you come here for a browse and it is a weekend (especially Sunday), make sure you head up to Yoyogi Park at Harajuku to see all the Cosplay chicks, hanging out on the walkway near the dancing Rockabillies.

Cosplay Academy Cave: 台東区池之端1-1-2.
Basement floor Usudamu Kouji building, 1-1-2 Ikenohata, Taito Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3834 5018. Web:
When I used to go to Akihabara every day last year researching shops and venues for Vertical Streamline Implosion Crowded World Vagabondic, I managed to collect a lot of souvenirs from pretty girls in high school uniforms. They are everywhere in Akihabara of course, handing out flyers and packets of tissues and other goodies, and posing for/with you in photographs if you ask them nicely enough. Anyway, this packet of tissues I was bequeathed was adorned with two anime schoolgirls complete with big blue eyes and purple hair, and was advertising this new open! establishment called Cosplay Academy CAVE. I never actually made it there, but if the address is anything to go by, the CAVE must be down in Ueno near the pond.

Cure Maid Cafe: 千代田区外神田3-15-5ジーストア・アキバ6F.
Off Chou Dori, 6th Floor Jiisutoa Akiba Building, near Akihabara Station, 3-15-5 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 32583161. Web:
Waitresses at this maid cafe go by the names Pudding or Chocolate. As with other cafes, the establishment runs a website where customers and waitresses can chat. According to the manager: "We get nearly 1,000 page visitors a day, which is unbelievable for a restaurant."
Unlike some other cafes, the maids here are elegant rather than sexy... some would even say dour. Sometimes they get up and perform classical music. Items on the menu include pasta for ¥800, sandwiches for ¥500, and beer at ¥500 per glass. You can also buy sets of cards featuring what else but lots of manga style portraits of maids, and there are some pretty expensive but highly detailed maid dolls on sale for like ¥8000 Yen.

Jupiter Akiba Clothes Shop: 千代田区外神田3-14-6 恵光ビル6階.
6th Floor Ekou Building, 3-16-6 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3252 2918. Web:
When you see a place in Akihabara which advertises itself as a "clothes shop" you better sit up and take note -- it probably ain't just an ordinary clothes shop. Nothing in Akihabara is ordinary, mundane, or purely utilitarian. While Jupiter Akihaba, situated on the sixth floor of a tower overlooking Chuo Dori, proclaims itself to be a clothes store, it is really a Cosplay joint. A Cosplay heaven, if you will. There is a weird range of costumes and uniforms here. Mannequins of SS officers in full death regalia stand alongside flight attendants and maids and high school girls. Nice touch that...

Laox Asobit C: 千代田区外神田1-15-18.
1-15-18 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 5298 3581. Web:
Laox is a Japanese chain with numerous stores in the Akihabara precinct. This particular store is devoted to the universe of Japanese anime and manga. The "C" in the name means "character", and "Asobit" is a play on words combining the Japanese for play (asobi) and the bit from bits and bytes fame. In the basement you will find the adult publications such as comics, novels (literary and adult-themed novels as well as books based on games), magazines and gachapon. This is truly adults' only territory -- people under 18 will not be allowed down the stairs or out of the lift. Things are a bit more familyminded on the first floor, which is dedicated to trading figures, miniatures, collectible sets, fancy characters and character-based publications and DVDs. The second floor is filled with new character figurines, Gundam plastic models, paints, and related publications and DVDs. The third floor is called the "Anime Character Floor" and features the likes of Microman, Pokemon, Transformers, Zoids, and American toys. There are also goodies for the girls. On the fourth floor, meanwhile, you will find special effects and heroes like Masked Rider, Godzilla, Ultraman and their ilk filling the shelves.
The highlight of the building, in my opinion, is the fifth floor. This is where (as I described in lurid detail somewhere above) I stumbled upon a row of lifesized anime dolls and maids with US$6000 price tags. The floor also includes blister figures and smaller dolls, as well as plenty of costumes.
2013 UPDATE: I have heard it said that Laox is trying to penetrate the Cosplay and Akiba scene in China, which I would like to explore at some point in the future, seeing as though I will be moving there next year! Stay tuned for my reports... they will be coming!

M's Shop: 千代田区外神田1-15-13太平堂ビルB1-6F.
Seven floors of fun inside the Pacific Hall Building, 1-15-13 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Phone: (03) 3252 6166. Web:
This prominent building, easily visible from the Yamanote line south of Akihabara Station, is a huge sex goods emporium. I am not game enough to take photos inside but it is pretty interesting, and confirms my suspicions regarding the kinky side of Japan!
Cheap Bastard pointed out on his guide (mostly dedicated to porn): "This is a four-floor store that sells all sorts of pornographic shit. Funny, I didn't see any hentai manga, although they did have hentai anime. Anyhow, this used to be where a video store called Rocket Soft once lived, although that's not why I've included it in this guide. No, I've included it because of the surreal experience I had there. The store opened recently (recently meaning way back in May, damn I've been lazy about updating this section), and being a Curious Bastard I decided to see what was what. It was after working hours, so I found myself in a store full of young and middle-aged businessmen poring over, well, porn. This whole scene of salarymen earnestly scrutinizing various dildos, whips, riding crops, panties, and other accessories quite frankly scared the beejezus out of me. Having visited each floor briefly, I quickly departed this palatial proprietor of pr0n."
It should be noted that it is not only men who get into the costumes and sex aids at M's Shop. The adult convenience store manages to sell a lot of sexy costumes to girls. "When a girl tries one on, often she asks us to take a photo of her," a store PR guy said. "There are too many customers like that, and our walls are plastered with their photos."
Another unique shop in Akihabara is the so-called video box that features gorgeous rooms and a big collection of animation and adult video tapes. "Even diehard fans will never get bored," said a salesperson for one such place, Hanataro.

Do you want to learn more about Cosplay? Angel Cosplay is a good place for girls interested in dressing up. The Good Angel herself, has this to say about Cosplay beginners: "It's really hard to put yourself out there to cosplay for the first time. Find a character that's a lot like yourself and try to get some of your friends to cosplay with you. Cosplaying in groups helps if you're nervous about cosplaying. Just go out and have a good time! There will always be people out there who say mean things but do not ever let them get you down. Be happy and have a great time! ^_^."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Duty Free

After a long hiatus from the Akihabara scene, I returned to my former stamping ground today, to buy some beats at Tower Records inside Yodobashi Camera's cavernous new complex. It was a public holiday, and as soon as I stepped out of the subway station into the crowds and warm sun, I knew I had been away too long. So much energy, so much potential... Akihabara is truly an international city, the multicultural heart of Japan. In particular there seem to be a lot of Indians in the quarter these days, buying entire electronic outfits for their homes, and hunting for bargains in duty free stores. A few years ago I once spotted a Papuan looking family strolling magnificently along Chuo Dori. Not the sort of folk you pass by every day, at least in this part of the world! Akihabara has definitely become the biggest electronics market in Asia, and Yodobashi Camera is large enough to be a city in its own right, with everything you could ever need inside. 

German tourist in Akihabara, as captured by Crowded World (Japan, 2007)

Anyway, I found a CD, and careened home courtesy of my Toei monthly pass, feeling somewhat wistful that I didn't live downtown any longer. The Toei card will help, though. Before too long, I will be back in Akihabara again.

That's a given.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Islands in the Stream

There was a unique alignment of the planets yesterday presenting me a rare treat, and an entirely free Saturday with no classes to teach at either Ichinoe or Taito Ward. I had known already that Riki-kun and his mother would be on holiday in Okinawa (沖縄), so when I received an early phonecall from Kobayashi-sensei informing me that the lessons at Kidea were also cancelled, I felt pretty pleased. I fell back into my futon, savoring the opportunity to sleep in. An hour or two later, Nonomura-san called too, to say that her students were unable to study. I jumped out of bed, eager to seize the day (What should I do? what should I do?) Hang out with Maniac High, or explore my new 'hood, which I am slowly beginning to appreciate, and accept. I opted to go for a walk, and return to the river which had enchanted me a few weeks' previous, on my last totally all day off. Maniac High could wait, I reasoned. I needed time off, to get in touch with some of my older habits.

Edo River (江戸川) is one of the most storied waterways of the city, and it passes within half a kilometer from my apartment on its voyage to Tokyo Bay. It is the river which gives my ward its name, and its banks are pocked with baseball fields, baseball being of course the most popular sport in Japan. As it was a Saturday many of those fields were in use, young kids swinging their bats or fooling around on their bicycles, or driving remote controlled cars. I tramped past them all, following the floodplain (江戸川病院前野球場) roughly north, before ducking under the tracks of the Chuo-Sobu Line, to cross the Ichikawa Bridge into Chiba Prefecture. 
It was a long walk, and it allowed to me to contemplate all my recent adventures, moving house and my detention with Maniac High, the girl I had kissed in the whirlpool at Yomiuri Land after my release, my porn debut. I estimated that (based on current data) if I continued consorting with Maniac at the present rate, I might spontaneously kiss 20 girls over the next 5 years. How many kisses does it take to advance to the next breakthrough? I wondered, fingering my keitai's calculator. One could liken it to climbing a steep hill, each step becoming progressively more difficult, from mindsex to rapport, and then all the way to penetration. Or perhaps, the journey that spermatzoa take in their battle to fertilize the ova; a million souls might join in the challenge, but only one will hit their target, and achieve incarnation...

Traversing the Edogawa Riverbed Green Space, I noticed the Wayo Womens' University (和洋女子大学) ascending to the north-west. On my previous expedition on the river I had mistaken it for a shopping mall, and I imagined that I might find social stimulation there. Now it looked more like a Tuscan basilica. Whatever the case, there were no bitches to be seen in the vicinity of the school. I guess they were on holiday.

The Womens' University dropping behind me, as I ventured north (Japan, 2007)

Beyond the university the river, which until now had been bearing north-east, bent back to the west. Perhaps it was my imagination, but the landscape seemed to grow more rural too, more idyllic and abandoned. Houses and factories were thinning, with fields beginning to appear, many of them overgrown with weeds. Looking west through the summer haze, I could barely make out the skyscrapers of Shinjuku.

The towers of Shinjuku, visible to the west (Japan, 2007)
While I was getting tired, this contact with nature energized me... it amazed me to realize that such pastoral beauty could be found in walking distance of my apartment. 

Fishing in the Edo... in this island of nature in the city (Japan, 2007)

I came upon fields sprouting spring onions and other vegetables. Chiba is supposed to be the number one prefecture in Japan when it comes to spring onions, and they are a mainstay of Japanese cuisine.

Vegetable lots, in Chiba Prefecture (Japan, 2007)

Entering Matsudo City (松戸市) I encountered 
some kind of waterworks, an immense water treatment plant in fact, appearing to block my way. I swerved right, navigating a narrow path to a quaint village called Kuriyama, a short distance from the bank. I call Kuriyama a village because that is it appeared to me -- a lost village in the middle of the megalopolis. An island in the stream you might consider it, a pocket of Old Harmony that had been spared Virilio's mad urban rush, and his dromological doom.  Near the top of the hill there was a rustic temple, which is named Honkyuji (本久寺).

Honkyuji, in Matsudo (Japan, 2007)

Sometime later, Manic High sent me an MMS, inviting me to go see the fireworks with his family out at Setagaya. Much as I would have liked to chill at Shinozaki, watching The OC and Colombo on TV, I knew I was too young to retire so early. I found a train station at Konodai (国府台), on a line which I never knew existed, and began the laborious trip crosstown. I could sit down at least, and rest my aching legs. On a whim, I decided to rename Maniac "Dennis the Menace". It is what Meth calls him, and it has a nice ring to it. There is another Maniac High out there, and one day I might meet him.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Tower of Babble

I surfaced early this stormtossed Sunday, eagerly welcoming my reconnection to the wired world. The man from Mediatti (Edogawa Cable Television -- phone 0120-281641) did indeed arrive at 11am, as the sky thundered; my contract was finally signed, 2.5 months after the first attempt. However, contrary to my expectations, the guy who handles the hardware side of the equation couldn't make it on account of the typhoon. He/she won't be able to come until Tuesday, in fact. Which means two more days of trying to avoid myself, in a world of reduced interactivity.

My computer has been in detox for like 10 or 11 weeks; I have been suffering withdrawal symptoms for just as long. There must be viruses and cookies on my computer flapping around like condemned fish on a deck, frantically trying to reconnect, and complete their programmed agenda. It makes me wonder: are there also viruses and cookies loose in my mind? Now they are in detox, they must be feeling the pinch. Are they toiling to hook up again with the Web, but are mysteriously being denied access? Access has been denied a long time now, but there are only two more days of this cold turkey left to bear.

Maybe it was a good thing the Internet was not reconnected today, because it encouraged me to go out and investigate the typhoon, which was hurling towards Tokyo. After a night of unremitting rain, I was surprised when at about noon the heavens cleared, allowing the sun to shine bright and hot. The eye of the storm wasn't supposed to pass until 6pm. I thought to myself: this seems to be a strange meteorological phenomenon, and if I go outside, I will be able to experience it. Just like my mate down in Chiba, surfing the waves... just like that mad Australian I would be meeting the typhoon halfway, and riding it. So, I hit the street, and the first thing I did, was skirt 'round the perimeter of my apartment block, and creep 'cross the carpark that it abuts. I wanted to see what my apartment looked like from the rear, but my incursion freaked out one of my neighbors, an elderly woman who lives perpendicular to my back shutters. She opened the backdoor of her house and wandered out warily, mumbling to herself. Perhaps she suspected that I was a burglar, they always accuse foreigners of something or another in this country. When I unsheathed my camera to snap a photo of my room, she gasped, her worst fears confirming. I bowed awkwardly, and apologized, "Sumimasen, ojamashimashita!" as politely as I could, wishing I spoke better Japanese. I don't think she understood me. 

Bruised by my latest collision with Japanese xenophobia (why do I always end up living next door to busybodies? and by the way, I am not the only gaijin who has trouble with odd neighbors!), I swiveled around and left.

My apartment, from the rear carpark (Japan, 2007)

I returned to the road, and discerned in the distance a tremendous chimney, at least 20 to 30 floors high, flashing through the mist. As in many parts of deterritorialized suburban Tokyo, my local monument is a waste incineration plant. Inspired by Paul Virilio's concepts of speed (and its effect on the city), I decided to walk towards it. It's good sense, after all, to be able to orient yourself by the skyline, in case you ever got lost. And as it turned out, I had gotten lost once around this tower, more than 4 years ago in another era of my Tokyo life, while I was distributing chirashi for Kobayashi-sensei. Back in those days I would never have honed in on something as utilitarian as a chimney -- but I have learnt to appreciate extreme engineering recently, it is what Japan is all about. I reasoned it would be a good way to experience not only the typhoon, but the devastation of Paul Virilio's speed -- the Japanese landscape which had been swallowed up, and cemented over, by progress. As I was to discover, this was also the perfect place to perceive the potentials of negating speed, by learning to slow down and smell the roses.

My local landmark, a garbage incineration chimney (Japan, 2007)

It soon struck me how much greener it is here in Edogawa Ward, compared to my former locality of Taito Ward (台東区). A tiny temple lofted into view, radiating such an atmosphere of calm that I knew it was a little pocket of old harmony, in other words a piece of original Japan which had survived the explosion of speed. As I ventured on, it became more apparent that there were flotsam and jetsam of old harmony all over the place. Weeds springing verdantly from a cracked sidewalk, their flowers reflected in sputtering puddles... to me they were not vagrants but spontaneous Japanese gardens, in miniature and scattered to the margins. The real gardens of the people living on the Kyu-Edo River, every inch of their front yards hogged by azalea hedges, without a single blade of grass in sight. Totally different from the suburbs of Australia! And the weather was also different from your weather back wherever you drop from, unless you hail from the hurricane belt -- yes, the weather was pretty interesting today. The sun fought a mostly losing battle with the clouds, but every now and then it would emerge again, and transform everything into a wonderful summer's day -- for a couple of minutes at least. Then the wind and the steam and the humidity would return.

Asked if there was any merit in information society, Paul Virilio replied: "Yes, because it finally poses the question of a common language. It cannot be otherwise if there is to be world citizenship. It is Babel, moreover. What we are witnessing is not the Tower of Babel but the return of Babel. Can the world have a single language? Is this unicity of communication good or evil? Another positive point: Information will make us earthlings..."

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Greenland's Vikings, Victims of Climate Change

I have been reading a lot lately about the vanished Vikings of Greenland, how they just disappeared from the history books in the Middle Ages, never to be heard of again. I have been thinking a lot about them recently, those Europeans who for a couple of centuries eked out a civilization on the edge of the Arctic, trading in walrus ivory, worshipping in churches... they seemed to be flourishing and then one day they went MIA like the crew of the Marie Celeste, or those jet fighters swallowed by the Bermuda Triangle. It is worth pointing out at this point that I am in fact Australian, and thus hail from another European colony which was transplanted with all things Christian and European onto a barren, alien land, and left there to fend for itself. The Australian experiment worked, however -- the Greenland experiment didn't (at least not for the Vikings LOL!) Interestingly enough, Climate Change was the major culprit in the Greenland Vikings' demise -- not the Anthropogenic Global Warming we are (apparently) confronting now, but rather the Global Cooling of the Middle Ages (whose cause is still a matter of conjecture). Southern Greenland, once as verdant as its name suggests, presently chilled, then got snowploughed beneath a slowmotion avalanche of ice. The Vikings were snapfreezed out of existence; their neighbors the Inuit, who had migrated into the region at about the same time, somehow managed to adapt, and survived. Perhaps a similar fate awaits Australia in the future -- the white civilization which has ruled the roost for 200+ years will be forced to retreat from waves of heat and drought and searing fire, and the longsuffering Aborigines will crawl out from the margins to repossess their beloved homeland. History has a strange way of working like that. You never can really tell who is going to win the race, and revolutions are all too frequent. Gods hold grudges, and patiently plot their revenge. The laws of physics cannot be ignored, and neither can the science of Symbolic Exchange. Thus we have been warned! Thus we will be warmed.

Greenland is on the path to independence from its colonial master Denmark, and now has its own flag and a new name, Kalaallit Nunaat
Anything can happen in life, and history is full of sudden reversals. Global Warming could well be just a beat-up, the latest strain of the Armaggedonist virus whose DNA was identified in the Year 2000 bug, SARS and the Bird Flu Epidemic, and which has consistently frightened more people than it has actually harmed (infecting them not through physical germs but rather exposure to sensationalist reports on TV and the like.) I believe these hysterias are in fact media viruses, and mark a mutation of the virus from the physical world in which it has proliferated for billions of years, into the Baudrillardian mediaswamp we humans now inhabit. We're going to have a lot more media viruses in the future, that's my theory at least! Some people just love to think the world is about to end, and indeed such a deathwish is built into the mythology of the capitalist system itself. How it works is like this: somewhere in the "real" world (eg, China, Vietnam, Africa, anywhere Third World) a new virus arises in animals and kills a handful of people, triggering a pandemic alert. The media, ever hungry for a good scare story, jumps on to the case, and proclaims that the end of the world is nigh. What WHO fears is that the virus will jump the species barrier, but actually a more profound evolutionary leap is taking place: the virus is becoming digital. Panic takes on a life of its own, and becomes viral... this is how the pandemic spreads, this is what gives it energy. There's a run on flu vaccines... everyone on the streets of East Asian megacities are suddenly wearing surgical masks. Little do the masses know that it's too late, they are already infected! Their masks aren't protecting anyone, they are in fact amplifying the fear, broadcasting the infection! The best response would actually be to chill out, and ignore the doom. Or at least maintain a skeptical distance. That's what I would do, but then someone would accuse me of being irresponsible...

Look, what I am trying to say is this: Climate Change could be real, and could well be hype... but the extinction of the Greenland Vikings is a historical fact, and I find myself strangely haunted by their disappearance. Recently I thought to myself: imagine if the colonies had survived and the fjords of Greenland were now sprinkled with colorful, asymmetrical cafes and bulging nightclubs and bars; imagine if every young Greenlander today dreamed of being a poet or an anarchist or an artist or a rock musician? In other words, what if Greenland had developed into a New Iceland or a somewhat edgier, more tribal take on the Faroe Islands? Wouldn't that have been awesome, wouldn't that have been totally cool? Not politically correct to contemplate, but an interesting thought experiment nonetheless. I must confess though that Inuit Greenland has turned out pretty swinging in its own way, and the music scene is just as vibrant there as it is in Iceland, from what I hear. Nonetheless, I can't help myself from thinking: imagine if the Vikings had survived, imagine what Greenland would be like today? And I wonder: maybe the green days of Greenland are on their way back, after a long bitter winter? Spring is dawning in the Far North of the planet, and the Day of the Inuit is arrived. How I'd love to be part of it somehow. If I had any money, that is where I would be investing it! 

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Prison Japan (an Introduction to the Story!)

Who could imagine that a night on the town would land you in jail for 16 days? Who would predict that a stupid dare could see you thrown behind bars, browbeaten by the cops and barraged by interrogation after interrogation, like something out of an old Pacific War movie (I am thinking in particular of Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, or Bridge Over the River Kwai)? If some soothsayer had warned me that one day I would be arrested and go to jail and live the complete jail experience, in bonsai form at least, I would have sniggered and said: "As if!" That is not to say I haven't had some close calls with the law -- I once got busted at Tokyo's Narita Airport with a Nepalese pipe in my suitcase, the same pipe that I had been hammering for two weeks in the Himalaya Mountains, smoking hash and weed. I didn't even clean it properly, and in a backroom at Narita Airport, as customs officers fiddled with tweezers and twirled test-tubes around, I discovered there are certain chemicals which change color to reveal the presence of marijuana. The cops let me off with a warning then (but confiscated my pipe), and I winged off on my merry way, oblivious to what horrors I had avoided. I just never imagined I would ever be arrested, or worse yet -- detained -- and so I remained in blissful ignorance. The prospect seemed absurd, and so I didn't even contemplate it. I guess most people do likewise, until it happens to them.

Menace and Crystal Meth hijinking, just before our Holiday in Hell (Japan, 2007)
Anyway, this story is real, and this is how it started: on Sunday, March 13 I collided with my man Crystal Meth and his brother Garnet, who was in Japan en route to Cannes where he was working another con. As I have already admitted, Meth lives in Kichijoji on the west side of Tokyo, and I had spent the past 48 hours drinking and running amok there and dare I say it, even smoking the odd canful of hash smoke. It had been a big weekend and I had only slept a couple of hours, so I wasn't really in the mood for another late night, especially since I had work to do on Monday. But you know, the guys insisted I go out, so how could I say no?! Truth be told the real reason I decided to go out on that fateful night was that I wanted to see Garnet's old girlfriend Miho, who was rumoured to be in attendance. Call me foolish, but I was beginning to think that I might have a chance with her!

I snuck back into my apartment on Sunday afternoon to drop off another shipment of stuff, and was seduced by the sight of my soft futon, its linen still crisp, lying supine on the lacquered floor. I remember thinking to myself: Surely I have partied hard enough this weekend... I deserve some time off. Time enough to sleep, or to watch some free-to-air TV, possibly even chant with Kobayashi-sensei, and get back into his good books. Buy a few cans of Asahi Dry from 7-11, and sink into oblivion. Then Meth texted me, saying that Miho was coming over. This was worse than waving a red flag at a bull, and I was forced to comply.

A few hours later we were doing dinner at a restaurant in Kichijoji. We found ourselves a table in the back corner; Meth, ever the joker, suggested we sit in single file against the wall, like panelists on a game show, facing the other diners. Typical gaijin prank, I thought to myself, embarrassed by the strange looks we provoked. I ended up on the far end of the line from Miho, and was not happy about this position (...always go to places you can kino the chick). Before too long I conspired to break ranks, by moving up to sit opposite her, in one of the empty chairs. Not that it got me anywhere, and I earned some chagrin from Garnet and Meth, who accused me of spoiling the symmetry of our seating. I was eating the entrée, tofu and shaved fish, when I got a phone call from another one of our friends, a Kiwi called Dennis (Dennis the Menace, aka Maniac High), who happens to be a porn actor in Japan.

Maniac High, aka Dennis the Menace (Japan, 2007)

"Hey, Diggity Dog, what's up?" he said, voice as smooth as silk. "Why don't you get yourselves over to Shimokitazawa (下北沢), we could play pool, have a few drinks, and I could hit you up with some choco." So we decided to meet up with him in Tokyo's Bohemian quarter, about 25 minutes away by train. Sadly, Miho made her adieu, bade her sayonara, leaving me empty-handed once again. I wasn't really that keen to go out, and I didn't have any money, but Garnet and Meth insisted: "You have to come -- we will pay for you." That is the honest truth.

I didn't have any cash... but that is not the reason I ran. What does it take to convince you? Looks like I need to rewind, and give this story better context! Let's backtrack a few days: Friday, May 11 I lobbed into Liberty House, and finally managed to get all my stuff out (mostly.) I stayed a few hours there slaving around with brush and broom, deleting the detritus of my occupation.... I must say I had that room completely polished by the time I left. I even got into the high shelf behind my bed, where I discovered whole drifts of mouse droppings hard as pellets, which must have accumulated during my stay. It disgusted me to think that I had been living so close to so much filth, for so many years, in such a state of ignorance. At least I won't have to worry about that in Shinozaki... that place is brandnew (not to mention bugproof). Nonetheless, my room at Liberty House was looking so clean that I once again regretted my decision to move. What exactly am I getting myself into, shacking up with Kobayashi-san? Why do I want to move into the 'burbs? I was in a rebellious mood, and I resolved: I have lost Liberty House, but I still have the 3rd Free Day! Let's put up a fight for it!

Bailing out: my room in Liberty House, cleaner than it had ever been (Japan, 2007)
I lugged my sack and some assorted bags by way of the warm sunny streets, up through Ueno to the Buddhist goods district in Suehirocho (末広町), where I was due to teach Sasaki-san. Actually, maybe she met me at Liberty House, and accompanied me to the cafe, offering to help carry my luggage? The details are so foggy, I honestly don't remember! The bags were heavy, and sharp angles dug into my legs as I walked. I had a full day ahead of me... after Sasaki-san, a TE semi-session, high in the clouds. And then the following morning, babysitting Kobayashi's rug-rats, at Kidea, etc. At times like this, I wished I had a simpler life, a freer schedule, and a bit more social excitement. Couldn't I cut Kobayashi loose? I thought to myself, as I shuttled to Shinjuku. But I just moved in with him, of course, and I had lost my liberty. The long game had come to an end, and his grasp was growing stronger by the hour.

Mad scramble, in Kichijoji Plaza, two days before our arrest (Japan, 2007)
Sometimes in life you need to do something stupid just to show that you have boundaries, and that those boundaries have been violated. Of course, in a perfect world nobody would need to act out, because everyone would recognize and respect their limits. That is not the world we live in. Much as I would like to believe that I am the victim, I know that I have crossed the boundaries of others once or twice in the past, and that those transgressions require punishment. What I am trying to say is that: having done the crime, I am willing the do the time. Jail is there, to show you that you have crossed the line. I have no regrets about what fate awaits for me. So for what it is worth, this is my confession.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Contemplating My New Apartment

I attended a Soka Gakkai gathering this morning, and once it was finished Kobayashi-sensei (小林先生) invited me to inspect one of the apartments inside his newly constructed mansion, out in the backblocks of Shinozaki. Umesh joined me for the ride, and like myself he seemed pleased by the place, although he muddied the mood somewhat by categorizing it as a "room". It might well be just the size of a typical room in Nepal, but in my opinion there is a whole house condensed into that apartment, and a whole world of seductive pleasures. It is a monument to Japanese miniaturization, cunningly contrived, every square centimetre exploited for all it can yield, and then some. They need to do that in Japan, of course, because there is not much space. They need to be creative. Umesh doesn't get that, evidently.

Anyway, upon returning to Liberty House I sent this repot to my Mum and Dad, a glowing report you might say, complete with choice photos:

I went to have a look at my new apartment today and I was amazed by what I saw. It is one of the best apartments I have seen in Japan, brand new and already set up with high tech fixtures like airconditioning and climate control, a computerised bathroom, walk-in wardrobe, and so on. It doesn't seem like anyone has lived here before -- it all looks so new and clean. And it is only costing me $150 a week -- I don't think you could rent a brand new 3-room apartment in Sydney for $150 a week. But since my boss is the owner of the apartment block, I think he is giving me a substantial discount.

High-tech features, and a little cupboardy thing in the genkan (Japan, 2007)
There is no furniture but I don't need a bed, since I usually sleep on the floor these days Japanese style (but it might be hard on a wooden floor.)

Micro-kitchen, tucked into a corner (Japan, 2007)
I already have a TV and computer and from what my boss was saying, it sounds like Internet and cable TV is free at his apartment.

Pristine kitchen sink, and a green tiled wall (Japan, 2007)

 I was planning to buy a fridge but I think my boss said he could lend me one of his.

I have been dreaming of an airconditioner since I first moved to Japan, and I might soon have one! (Japan, 2007)

The only thing I need is a washing machine but right next to the apartment block, there are a whole bunch of washing machines on the street -- you can take your clothes there, put in some money, and wash your clothes right there on the street. I am also sure I saw some fridges sitting on the street when I was walking back to the train station, and some other furniture which people had thrown away.

Nifty little walk-in wardrobe (Japan, 2007)

All in all the new apartment is about 100 times better than the place I live now, and a big step forward. Even though I would rather be in Vietnam -- I feel like going back down later in the year to check things out. But at least I have a secure home in Japan to come back to.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hue Noodle Soup

A couple of days ago I found myself with a lot of hours to kill inside Hồ Chí Minh City Airport, and to pass the time I bought a little book on sale there called The Cuisine Of Viet Nam (Nourishing a Culture). A nourishing little book it turned out to be, indeed -- it got me through the layover at Tân Sơn Nhất, and provided me ample food for thought, regarding the rich world of Vietnamese cuisine. One essay in the collection, written by Nguyệt Biều, concerned the spicy relative of phở -- Bún bò Huế (otherwise known as Huế noodle soup.) I did not know this until I read this book, but Huế is the food capital of Vietnam, and represents the culinary perfection of the nation. It is to Vietnam, perhaps, what Kyoto is to Japan, or Yogyakarta is to Indonesia. It is the soul of the nation. Nguyệt writes:
If one had to pick a single food which is reminiscent of Huế, it would be rice noodle soup with beef and pork. Huế residents prefer to buy their bún bò from street vendors, rather than in restaurants. Street vendors carry soft, thin white noodles (bún) and slices of beef (bò) and pork with them in two bamboo baskets hanging from a pole balanced across their shoulders. 
Consumers eat this noodle dish on the sidewalk, squatting on small stools right next to a pot of boiling broth. The intense fragrance rising from the pot is the greatest advertisement for this dish.
Most street vendors in Huế come from villages outside the city such as Thủy An, Phát Lát, and Vạn Vạn. In these villages, each household has one or two street vendors. Selling rice noodles is both a way of earning a living and of carrying on a family or village culinary tradition. In the morning vendors sell to regular customers, usually in small side streets or alleys. When lunchtime is almost over, they stop selling and shop for the ingredients for the next day. 
Street vendors carry one pot of broth that they can put on a portable charcoal stove, to be heated immediately. Another pot contains additional ingredients such as stewed pig trotters, grilled ground pork, beef and pork tendon, grilled crab, pig and duck blood, and thin slices of beef. On the other side of the bamboo pole is a container of fresh rice noodles and seasonings like onions, scallions, chili peppers, fish sauce, bean sprouts, banana flowers and diced lettuce. Finally, the baskets contain bowls, spoons, chopsticks, a basin for washing, napkins, toothpicks, a tank of green ginger tea, and a few stools: truly a moveable feast. 
Bún bò Huế is completely unpretentious. Its charm lies solely in its fragrance. According to the women who sell rice noodles at Bến Ngự Market, the broth must be delicious above all else: clear in colour with a balance between the salty and sweet flavours of stewed beef bones, pork bones, and chicken.
Vendors tailor each bowl to the customers' desires. In the winter, customers sit next to the red-hot stove and the boiling broth, covering their bowls with their hands, slurping the broth, skewering the noodles with their chopsticks, and biting into pieces of meat. Even food connoisseurs in Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh City admit to a love of bún bò Huế, especially when it is served in Huế.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Food, Fashion and Fetish in Newtown, the Swinging Soul of Sydney

Every major city in the world has a neighborhood where all of the local personality and lifeforce gets channeled, concentrated laser beam style, then finally ignited into a sun which is singular and eccentric, but also radiantly representative of the metropolitan ethos as a whole. Some cities, of course, have more than one such neighborhood -- in Tokyo there are for example at least two places where the Japanness of Japan gets pushed to its logical extreme, and beyond: one is the anime antnest of Akihabara, the other the Cosplay chickland of Harajuku, by Yoyogi Park. Some cities (eg, Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Amsterdam) are so far ahead of the times it is hard to find a precinct inside them which isn't progressive or kooky cool. Sydney, the capital of the south Pacific, is endowed with only one world-class Bohemia (in my opinion), but it is a brilliant Bohemia nonetheless. The place is called Newtown, and it was recently dubbed "Sydney's most creatively well endowed suburb" by the counterculture Sydney City Hub newspaper. For as long as I can remember, it has long been one of the food, fashion and fetish focal points of the city. The amazing thing is, Newtown is not reflected on any tourist/traveler radars, as far as I can see. Then again, the places which fly under the radar are usually the best places to explore, so perhaps it is fitting that Newtown remains a dark star, known only to the locals. If your aim is to get a feel for the gritty reality of modern Australian life, don't go to Darling Harbour or the Opera House, those places don't live. Newtown is the place to visit, it has a soul, and epitomizes the Australian personality! It won't disappoint you, I promise. I'll stake my reputation on that. Unlike other famous parts of Sydney (for example Bondi Beach), the ocean exerts little influence here. Instead, as in Melbourne, people turn to the streets for their entertainment. Restaurants, shops and pubs are the principal methods of diversion. You can shop for vintage clothes, or see a hard rock band, or have hot wax poured on your nipples at an S&M haunt. All the bands in Australia have names starting with the article "the", it has become something of a cliché. I've never really understood why.

Nonetheless: one thing you have got to keep in mind is that while Newtown is by far the most Bohemian district of Sydney, it is different from Bohemian communities elsewhere in the world. This is Australia after all, and the Australian personality still shines through -- perhaps even more blindingly than out in the Burbs. Along with Darwin, this is one of the last surviving outposts of the classic Aussie larrikin. Instead of openly rebelling against the basic Australian personality, as you might expect, Newtown folks caricature it, camp it up, and basically push that personality to its logical extreme, in the process transcending it. Take the issue of fashion, for example. Australians have always been decidedly daggy dressers, and many honestly don't give a damn how they look ("it is fashionable not to be fashionable," my mate Garnet Mae once complained). In rebelling against this, you might expect the subcultures of the inner-city to go the other way, and embrace European style haute couture, to prove they have more taste than the slobs out in the suburbs. That is indeed what happens, in some quarters (like Surry Hills). The Bohemians of Newtown, however, prefer the natural look -- sans shirt, bare feet, the potency of body odor. Whatever gets you closer to Mother Earth, that's what they go for. Now in an already laid-back society, one might think this is a strange way for a supposedly contrarian subculture to express its sartorial instincts. Like the anime addicts of Akihabara, like the Cosplay chicks of Harajuku, the Newtownians knows that the really contrarian way to rebel is not to oppose diametrically, but to mimic to the point of excess. Not just to ridicule, but to take ownership of the dominant culture, and live it the way it was supposed to be lived, before it got corrupted by The Man. Like the urban tribes of Tokyo, the Bohemians of Newtown know this is how you win the culture wars, this is how the real jihad should be waged. Once you stop attacking the dominant culture and start appropriating it, with a gleam in your eye which suggests you were never against it to begin with, the rules of the game are abruptly changed. You cease being silly freaks on the margins, bereft of influence and power, and recast yourselves as true disciples, the Guardians of the Way. Your way is not the alternative but in fact the Only Way: the Tokyo way, the Japanese way, the Australian way, whatever the paradigm that you are seeking to overthrow. In short, you subvert the system from within, by becoming the system, wearing it like an old coat. Or a pair of faded board shorts, if you happen to live in Newtown.

"I have a dream": Martin Luther King tribute in Newtown (Australia, 2007)
Earlier this month I was down in Sydney for a few days, catching up with old friends, and staying with the aforementioned Garnet Mae, slumlord and director of such no-budget movies as Meat Pie (the one in which a guy with a penchant for kitchen appliances goes too far, loses his organ, and requires an urgent transplant!) I used to run with Garnet back in our uni days, and he introduced me to a lot of Sydney's prized jewels, Newtown among them. This was impressive, as we went to university at Bathurst, 200 kilometers to the west. We had plenty of breaks, however, and I used to enjoy cruising around Sydney with Garnet and his crew on spare weekends, sneaking into concerts, jumping the back fence into raves and festivals, getting into general mischief. One weekend we traveled all the way from Bathurst to Newtown to visit The Kastle, which was becoming infamous back then. I don't know why they called it The Kastle. The Dungeon would have been more apt a name. Sinister looking entrance -- just an anonymous door on a graffiti-splattered backstreet. Kind of looked like an abandoned warehouse. Enter inside and suddenly it was warm and there were tonnes of guys with thick mustaches wearing black leather, dark techno on the decks (this being the early 1990s!), and girls in latex and fishnet stockings. I was expecting it to be a nightclub, but it was more a theater... a theater of cruelty to be precise. Name your vice, it was here: bondage, submission, punishment, BDSM. We were there with our Bathurst bro Stu Ridley and his girlfriend Fiona, and possibly our flatmate Katja, who had accompanied us on the long ride in the car, over the mountains. We were there mostly out of curiosity, but I suspected Stu might have had more questionable motivations. He seemed to be in too much of a hurry to get his shirt off out on the dancefloor, waving his hands in the air, sweat flying out from his orange hair. From time to time the music stopped and a little performance was put on by the staff, a tableau in our midst: there was a shirtless man strapped to a rack as a Dominatrix flexed her whip, waving its strands over his nostrils menacingly, or possibly a guy and two girls engaged in a threeway kiss. It might have been a freak show for Fiona, for Katja, and for Garnet and I, but Stu seemed to be taking an earnest interest in proceedings. He was getting into it a little too much, methought. Suddenly I realized: wasn't it his idea that we came here tonight? Somewhere in the early hours, quite a few drinks later, the music paused one last time and the curtains rose on the final act: a spot of candle wax play. This time around, they put out a call for volunteers. I dug myself back into the crowd ever so slightly, concerned someone might nominate me for the role. I needn't have worried; standing next to me, Stu stuck his hand up, and submitted gleefully for the ordeal. They strapped him up to the rig, handcuffed him, and fitted him with a blindfold. The crowd was going nuts, gay couples nodding their approval, Fiona looking a little embarrassed (or was that pride in her eyes?) A domme stepped forward, and with a theatrical flourish commenced dripping hot wax all over Stu's chest. He grimaced in pain, but there was still a smile on his lips. Where did that come from? I wondered. Who was that for? Looking back on it all, it seems obvious this moment marked a turning point in his life. The beginning of his descent, in fact. If only I could have predicted it at the time!

That was 1993, 14 years ago. I don't know if the Kastle is still around, or what Stu Ridley is doing these days. I'm walking on King Street, the spine of Newtown, whiling away some hours while Garnet is at work, hustling customers on the phone. It's a grey day; the sun is struggling to break through the clouds. At 305 King Street, I stop to admire an iconic piece of street art: the Martin Luther King mural painted by the anarchistic Unmitigated Audacity Productions in the early 1990s. Not quite Banksy, but it is as good as it gets in Sydney. I don't know if the Gothic typeface is appropriate, but it would probably make for a good tattoo. It's about lunch time, and I am feeling peckish. There is certainly no shortage of culinary choices in this vicinity, with Thai eateries, Turkish pide joints, and even an African restaurant all within spitting range. I am actually hankering for Bondi-style Portuguese chicken, which I find at Oporto, on the adjacent Enmore Road, the other side of the railway tracks. I know it's fast food, but I don't care. It's soul food to me, and you can't find anything like it in Japan. I eat a burger and chips, as the wind blows garbage around in a nearby parking lot, and diners watch sport on an in-restaurant TV. I would love to sit and chill, but I have things to do. Hunger satiated, I return to King Street, to take a walk on the wild side.

One of Sydney's entertainment icons, the Sandringham Hotel, at 387 King Street (Australia, 2007)
Newtown is packed with entertainment venues, among them the Bank Hotel, the Coopers Arms Hotel (221 King Street), the Enmore Theatre (52 Enmore Road), the Dendy Cinema, and the Sandringham Hotel (387 King Street). If you want find out what is happening in Newtown, click the Newtown Precinct Page for details. In a newspaper article quoted on the page, Pam Walker writes:
Newtown has long been home to large numbers of visual artists and writers. In the 80s it was the hub of independent music with many a band paying its dues in pubs like the Sandringham. 
Now the area has become the cradle for the performing arts, actively nurturing young playrights, actors and dancers. So exactly what is about Newtown that attracts the creatively endowed? 
The Enmore Theatre's Greg Khoury says that the suburb's artistic leanings go back a long way. In fact, Newtown has thrived since its inception as an artistic outpost to Sydney in the late 19th Century. 

It is too early in the day for a drink, so I walk on, past the pubs. Me being me, I decide to check out the herbal shops. I'm looking for a legal way to get stoned. It's been so long, and I always associate Sydney with smoking a bong. I go inside one business, and locate a pack of dubious goodies called "Tribal Trance", or something similar. The proprietor assures me it will do the trick, but I am not convinced. These synthetic marijuana products are always rubbish, in my experience. Still, I have money in my wallet from my new job in Japan, so I figure it should be worth a try! I buy a bag for AUS$20. And I think to myself: Why is everything in Australia so expensive these days?

U-Turn Recycled Fashion, at 2 Enmore Road, Newtown (Australia, 2007)
Along with herbal shops and their New Age cousins, there are plenty of fashion retailers in Newtown. Suitably enough, many of them specialize in the vintage/recycled/classic end of the market. As I discussed above: appropriate the dominant paradigm, and wear it like an old recycled frock. That's how the game should be played! Some of the boutiques to be found include Kita Vintage Clothing (Shop 2503 King Street), and the local outlet of U-Turn Recycled Fashion (2 Enmore Road).

Exclusive Vintage Clothing, at 383 King Street, Newtown (Australia, 2007)
Just a U-turn around the corner from U-Turn, back on King Street, sits one of the landmarks of the Sydney vintage clothing scene: Exclusive Vintage Clothing (383 King Street). As the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported in 2004: 
Sydney's hunger for vintage and secondhand clothes has fuelled a 15 per cent profit surge for the Salvation Army's retail stores in the last 12 months. 
The workers hit the clearing house floor, sorting the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing that arrive each year. 
The best clothes are sent to the Salvation Army's inner city stores - in Darlinghurst, Glebe and Bondi Junction - where prices and turnover are higher.
Meanwhile each morning, between 20 and 30 wholesale buyers wait for up to an hour outside the Salvation Army's Minchinbury and St Peters factories. They buy damaged or stained clothes which are then cleaned up and sold at marked-up prices at the Paddington, Glebe and Bondi markets or in commercial second-hand stores in Surry Hills and Newtown...

Painting the Bridge
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