December 07 continued the time of change that had started in previous months. I finished at my third school, Ebisu, where I worked on sundays, and moved to 3 days at the paper, while doing 2 days at the school for a couple of months (contractual obligations obliging). I was still rather happy to be getting out of the eikaiwa business, and still rather wide-eyed about having got a job at the Asahi Shimbun. Things were good, to an extent.
Something else that ended in December was the legendary Tokyo nightclub Milk, home to one of the capital’s most famous, and longest running, hip hop nights hosted by the also legendary MSC crew. The picture above is taken from my first visit at Milk that month, a few weeks before it was shut down, for the last MSC party at the venue. It was a shame I discovered the club and the night so late, as both were definitely among the best times I’ve spent in Tokyo. I can’t remember the last time I saw a club room packed to the rafters for 6 hours straight while guys did little else than freestyle on stage. Hardcore fans (or nerds) comes to mind. If I remember well the club was shut down as part of an ongoing crackdown on clubs suspected to be host to drug dealers and other shady characters (nevermind that they were primarily places of entertainment for young people and foreigners) by the then mayor of Tokyo in a kneejerk reaction to his nephew buying some dodgy pills and being sent to hospital as a result. The plan was for the club to shut down and reopen as a cafe of sorts, with dancefloors removed and replaced by tables and a more relaxed vibe. Not sure if it ever did happen, but a quick google search shows it showing up in various listing sites, so chances it’s still around. I recommend dropping by if you’re in town, it’s near Ebisu station.
I also had to renew my visa in December, a rather tricky situation due to my job arrangements and having just moved to two part-time jobs. In the end it worked out much easier than I’d hoped when the school decided to just do the work for me and submit my application even though I wasn’t a full time member of staff no more. The best bit of it all was having to spend time in Tachikawa, where my local passport office was, a city further along west on the Chuo line and just on the outskirts of greater Tokyo. Tachikawa is probably not on most people’s list of things to see when in Tokyo but it’s surprisingly fascinating, like most suburban cities in and around the greater Tokyo area. Most surprising there was the architecture (see pic below), which strangely resembled the more random elements of central Tokyo, and just how pleasant it was to walk around on the outskirts of Tachikawa center.
The month, and year, ended with a trip to the mountains for the New Year, something I hadn’t really expected. I’d originally planned a long ski trip to Hokkaido with a friend but had to bin that idea when the paper job came up (no holidays for the first three months see), and I was sort of resolved to spending the holidays in town. Luckily we managed to bag an incredibly cheap deal at the last minute to spend 4 days and 4 nights in the mountains with half board, transport and gear rental all included. The spot was Nozawa Onsen, a small skiing town near Nagano which was one of the Olympic sites when the games were held there in 1998. I took up the offer to work on Christmas day, making this Christmas one of the most surreal but also enjoyable I’ve ever spent (I’m not a big family xmas person), and a couple of days later escaped to the mountains for my first ski trip in about 14 years. After spending about 2 hours with my ass in the snow I realised that skiing is much like riding a bike, you never really forget it. Soon as I’d remembered how it all worked I promptly left all my friends behind and spent 3 days up and down the mountain, enjoying the weather and sights.
It was also pretty surreal to see that the Japanese’s dedication to doing things ‘properly’ also extended to winter sports: the way everyone was decked out in picture perfect gear, colour coordinated for most too, was slightly scary and fascinating. Politeness also seemed to extend to the slopes with people behaving a lot nicer than I remembered from my days of skiing in Europe. For NYE everyone was busy getting drunk in the little bars in town, and at midnight a flood of locals invaded the main street, passing their wishes to anyone they came across and carrying bottles of sake the size of a small child. I also discovered a pretty amazing ramen spot ran by some old lady, which became the staple lunch for the 4 days I was there, made the most of the town’s historically famous 12 onsen, which while they stunk of rotten egg (due to the diluted hydrogen sulfide in the water) were absolutely amazing and the most authentic onsen experience I had while in Japan, and walked around the snow covered temples and forest which provided some of the most memorable and enjoyable traditional sights I’ve had while in Japan (see above).
Returning to Tokyo a few days later was a bit of a shock to say the least.
Runner up pics
Festive lanterns in Nozawa Onsen provided no end of photo opportunities, while the local onsen provided the most amazing way to relax after a hard day of drinking and skiing, while also allowing the locals to take the piss out of just how scared some foreigners were of the hot water, downtown Tachikawa had some rather strange buildings, MSC took over the stage at Milk and didn’t let go of the mics for 6 hours, and Quarta330 rocks the BTC end of year party with a live game boy set.