UENO IN THE NORTH OF TOKYO HAS LONG HAD A REPUTATION FOR BEING ONE OF THE SHABBIER, MORE WORKING CLASS NEIGHBORHOODS OF THE CITY. Ueno was and still is the home of Ueno Station, and in the old days steam trains from the north of Japan used to disgorge poor migrants hopeful to begin a new life in the great southern metropolis. Many of these northern migrants set up camp in Ueno in the streets and suburbs around the station, and the whole place began to develop a rustic, rusty working class kind of vibe which persists to this day (though the area is being gentrified even as we speak!) Over the years, a shopping district grew up in the area around Ueno Station and along the railway lines, which is still one of the most interesting -- and one of the cheapest -- shopping districts in all of Tokyo. This place was the epitome of mid 20th Century Tokyo -- crowded shops tucked beneath an overhead train line, bare electrical cables hanging from the concrete walls. If you are looking for no frills shopping and a glimpse of how Japan used to be (before it became so westernised and sanitized), then you ought to check out this part of town. One of the cornerstones of the Ueno shopping district is the Ameyokocho bazaar, which satisfies just about every Bladerunner fantasy of every tourist who visits here, due to the cramped conditions, copious use of neon and noise, the trains buzzing overhead and the shops and even apartments built under train lines, the crowds and the futuristic atmosphere in the air -- this is Japan! Let me explain in more detail: the Ameyoko (アメ横) bazaar between Ueno and Okachimachi is an open-air market selling everything from cheap clothes and accessories to fish and seafood, and it even has its own small population of African hip-hop hustlers! It is certainly worth a look for its un-Tokyoite atmosphere, and if you come here to shop you can unwind afterwards in the nearby Ueno Park, which is packed with museums.
According to the Japanese lifestyle page: "Ameyoko (アメ横) is a packed shopping bazaar full of stalls selling almost anything you can imagine. It runs roughly south of Ueno station along the inside of the JR Yamanote line tracks to Okachimachi station. If you are looking for a more typically Asian market street in Tokyo, with bargaining expected and friendly vendors trying to out-shout each other, this is it. Definitely a good place for souvenirs for friends back home. The district got its name in the post-war years from the American blue jeans and other items that were sold on the black market." Interestingly, there are still plenty of American blue jeans for sale today, along with jackets with dragons on the back of them and mean looking shoes. If I would have to use a word (or a couple of words) to describe the fashion scene in Ueno, the phrase which comes to mind is "Rockabilly grunge". It is as if everyone here is trying to look like a Rock star (or a hitman or a pimp.) Ueno is one of the few places in eastern Japan where old guys will tell you to get the f!ck out of their way, or abuse you for taking too long making a choice in front of a vending machine. Like Osaka, people in Ueno are not afraid to speak their mind! My general impression of the place -- after living here for more than five years -- is of a gritty, somewhat edgy, somewhat grungy metropolis. Homeless men in their legions line the highways and park lanes, drinking and laughing at nights and spending the daylight hours scavenging for cardboard and used beer cans (probably mine!) Although Ueno still contrasts sharply (and shabbily) with the extreme elegance of Ginza down the road, Ueno has been catching up of late. The area around Ueno Station is in full redevelopment mode, with the opening department stores like Marui and Atre attracting a new young and smart clintele. Pass through the area at night, however, and you will find homeless men sleeping in the windows of those high-class department stores. That gritty working class Ueno spirit will never die!
Here is a selection of some of the clothes stores you will find in the greater Ueno/Okachimachi/Ameyokocho area, the places I have shopped at over the years, and gotten to know LOL:
u e n o + s t r e e t + s t y l e ++ uncloned world
Beaver: 上野店 (1965年開店), 東京都台東区上野６−１０−６.
(6-10-6 Ueno, Taito Ward.)
Phone: 03/3834 4747.
If beavers were Japanese and they were young and they were cool, they might establish a den like this. The boutique is remisiscent of a beaver's den, built right under one of Tokyo's busiest railway lines, the Yamanote Line. Like a beaver's cave, the facade is humble and lowkey -- a slit in the wall. Inside, however, is much bigger than the outside suggests, and has a noticeable cavelike appearance.
Beavers are of course renowned for their collector skills, and their knack of knowing what to collect. With just the same good taste, Beavers is decorated with classic collector items. Plenty of shoes, jackets, jeans, etc on the racks. Upstairs there is another room for the ladies. Some of the coats on sale the last time I visited were more than 100,000 yen! Priciness aside, this is an interesting shop with a distinctly Japanese range.
Situated right under the train lines opposite the Exotic Pub Happy Gang.
Casual 306 House: 台東区上野４-２-３.
(4-2-3 Ueno, Taito Ward, near Okachimachi Station.)
Phone: 03/5807 7330. Web: www.306.co.jp.
This Japanese chain store is not only cheap, it also sells fairly good quality merchandise (of a diminuitive kind). That is the good thing about Japan: due to the attention to detail, even the no frills no name no name stores still sell good wares. When I was with my old girlfriend C. I used to visit this particular Casual 306 House (near Okachimachi Station, across from McDonalds) often for cheap shopping, and I made good use of their point card/discounting system. For example, if I turned up and spent 10,000 Yen on purchases (about US$100), they would give me coupons for a further 4000 Yen (US$40) of free purchases in the future. So even when I was out of cash I could still go shopping, and pick something up, like a Mickey Mouse T-shirt -- you have got to love that system! In general, this place always seems to be holding a sale or offering a discount, of some kind, and the clothes are not that bad (even though some of them might fall apart six months after purchase.) You can generally expect to pay about 1000 to 2000 yen for shirts，while jeans up to 10,000 yen but often much less.
(6-9-21 Ueno, Taito Ward.)
Phone: 03/3833 7537. Web: www.garakuta-boeki.com.
There are clothes sold here, but clothes are just part of the Garakuta experience. This shop (which might well be a front for a trading company, but I am not completely sure of that) is kind of like an American junk mart. However, this being Japan after all, all of the junk is finely calibrated and therefore expensive (by American standards at least.) Imagine collectors scouring the world looking for junk so preened and pedicreed, it belongs in a high fashion boutique -- that is what the typical Japanese junk store is like. Even though most of the stuff for sale is still technically junk -- Rubicks cubes and sh!t, incense, North American road signs, primary colored objects, Western snack food and such. A million and one accessories for your cellphone and board games and all that jazz, and there are some clothes as well, and shoes and belts and hats.
When I visited Garakuta Boeki today (July 26 2006) my impression was thus: "Artificial marijuana vibe inside... an incense smell which can only be described as cute (I dont know the name of the exact flavor, maybe African American Passion or something like that -- anyway it blended in well with with the South American style bags and rugs for sale， and the druggy DeLaSoul hiphop on the soundsystem. I also saw for sale old McDonalds salt&pepper shakers, soaps&detergents, clocks and rubber duckies, Italian Duetto dustboxes, and funky belts. Check it out la."
Junk Market: SOUTH STORE 台東区上野６−３−１１. NORTH STORE 台東区上野６−７−１６.
(South Store 6-3-11 Ueno, Taito Ward; North Store at 6-7-16 Ueno, Taito Ward.)
Phone 03/3836 4401; 03/5846 5721. Web: www.junkmarket.net.
In Sydney I have a friend Matt Tumbers, a conceptual artist and notorious prankster, who was going out with a minor Australian rocker at one stage. Tumbers' favorite word was (and presumably still is) "rayon". A beach kid from Queensland's Gold Coast, Tumbers was fascinated with the retro surf culture: the fashion, music, corny old movies, and also the aesthetics and even metaphysics of the beach: a soft hibiscus breeze fluttering the curtains in your bedroom in the morning, two lovers embraced against a fiery sunset. Often when turning his head to encounter a particularly stunning sunset or oceanic view whilst driving in the northlands of Sydney, or overhearing an obscure 60s band on the radio, Tumbers would proclaim: "That's rayon!" More than just the name of a tropical fabric, rayon was for this guy was a spiritual essence and ideal, a constellation of sacred truths, and the foundation for a perfect life. Tumbers lived for rayon... and recognised it where he found it. Now, if he ever came to Japan and visited one of the two Junk Markets in Ueno's bazaar, I wonder whether he would proclaim it truly rayon, or just a wannabe sellout (he has a pretty cynical streak you must understand.) There is plenty of rayon for sale inside the Junk Market, mostly sewn up into pretty shirts of a vaguely surf hue, but that doesn't necessarily qualify this shop as "rayon" in the full quasimystical Tumberion sense of the word. Nonetheless it is an interesting shop... real Hawaiian radio on the soundsystem (I don't know whether it is taped or piped in straight from Hawaii, but it sounded authentic)... rayon shirts selling for 10,000 Yen (about US$100). Original design shirts suggesting they have their own designer or something, and jeans for sales as well.
Flamingo Saloon: .
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 Harajuke. This is basicaly 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. It's nice.
The most recent issue also has an article devoted to the 30th anniversary of Beams, a Tokyo institution -- see the Ray Beams Remodelled story further down the page, for more information about this.
Natural Standard: 台東区上野6-2-5塚本ビル1F.
(1st floor Tsukamoto Building, Ueno 6-2-5, Taito Ward. Right next store to Ueno Okachimachi station.)
Phone: 03/3834 3040. Website: www.naturalstandard.jp. Map: www.naturalstandard.jp/shopinfo/index.html.
Now this place is cool. With quirky Japanese music on the soundsystem, the store is packed with vintage items. Plenty of old rock band shirts (The Knack， Guns'N' Roses, Janis Joplin, etc), stripey shirts galore, and torn jeans. Clothes cost 2000 Yen to 10,000 Yen in the main. Once I start doing my medical trials I will come shopping here once a week or so because the cool thing about vintage clothes is, they are so disposable and endlessly recyclable. You need only wear a piece a few times to score fashion kudos off your friends, then drop the said piece into a charity clothes bin in Sydney or Santa Monica, and recycle it back into the Collective. Then you give someone else the chance to wear it and impress their friends, and like a famous jewel the clothing begins to develop a history of its own, a personality acquired from all the backs it has been worn upon. Shopping at recycled clothes stores is like borrowing a book for the library, or ripping off music off the Net -- it's an almost Communist alternative to the rampant Capitalism of the 21st Century. Well, Japan is as capitalist as they come in the main, but there is a recycling vibe taking hold, and that is reflected in the rising interest in recycled/Vintage clothes and fashion. May the trend continue to take hold and multiply and spread!
If you read Japanese you can hit the link above, and go to the store's site. There you can view some of the current items for sale, which last time I checked included a ロッキーマウンテンダウンベスト (Rocky Mountain Down Vest) retailing for 102,000 Yen (about US$1000 -- more than it costs to fly to the real Rocky Mountains and back from Tokyo!) Visit the site soon enough and you might even be able to see a Guns'n'Roses shirt circa 1987, selling for about 8000 Yen (US$80), and in pretty good condition.
The shop is open from 11am to 8pm daily.
telephone: +81 (0) 3 3478 5886
Always a soundsystem playing Reggae and ragga tunes. Many of the goods are made in Thailand although there are Japanese made items， reflecting the strength of the archapelagio´s Rastafarian scene. Including： tricolor motorbike helmets (and we know which three colors we are talking about here!), neat little shotglasses with marijuana leaves painted on them， actually a lot of stuff with marijuana leaves painted on them!; necklaces， pipes and bongs (some of them penis shaped), Tshirts and CD cases with such inspirational messages printed upon them: "When you smoke herb you see the system right in front of you．" Next to ABC Mart... open from 11am to 8pm.
If you want more information about the Reggae scene in Japan, visit this site. The blogger claims that "AMS & Lee Scratch Perry are playing two nights in Tokyo, 10/31 and 11/3, both at Liquidroom. Nice space, will probably be much better than the Club Yellow show a year or so ago which frankly sucked ass due to overcrowding.
"Other Japan dates:
11/1 Nagoya Club Quattro
11/2 Osaka Shinsaibashi Club Quattro
"Plan on paying at least 6,000 Yen for each ticket."
Santa Monica: 渋谷区神南1-11-5.
1-11-5 Jinnan, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo -- a few doors down from Tower Records, that great futuristic yellow building.
Phone: 03/3409-5017. Web: http://www.chicago.co.jp/store.htm.
f i n a l + w o r d ++ uncloned world
One Ueno visitor described the highlights of the town thus:
I went shopping to GINZA and UENO yesterday.
999.9 is an optical shop.
I had glasses repaired here.
I saw iPod nano and CINEMA Display with Apple.
I bought sweets with USAGI-YA.
This DORAYAKI is very delicious.
I saw clothes with JUNK MARKET.
I saw pop miscellaneous goods with GARAKUTA-BOEKI.
I bought the magazine of play with YAMASIRO-YA.
I discovered the cat which rode on the motorcycle on its way home.
He is probably a considerable bad fellow.
住所 東京都台東区上野6-10-7 アメ横プラザA-50