Ride the Yamanote line, in any direction

Tokyo International Film Festival

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The Tokyo International Film Festival took place from October 22nd-31st. In 2011 I had the chance to attend to some screenings. This year, however, I made use of my status as student and enjoyed quite some screenings at reduced price.

P1030858The TIFF is one of the approved A-class film festivals, at the same level of Berlin, Cannes or Venice. It’s a good chance to catch world premieres and to spot film stars. In atmosphere is different to, let’s say Karlovy Vary and Berlin, two festivals which I had the chance to visit. Being Tokyo a huge metropolis where the amount of events is just overwhelming,  the TIFF may not be in everyone’s agenda.

There seem to be less glamour than, let’s say, the Berlinale. For instance, there’s a red carpet on the opening evening of the festival, and not before the premieres of the films in competition.

The format of the screenings is slightly different too. There may be a stage greeting from the film crew before the film begins. There is usually a Q&A after the film finishes. Sometimes, after the Q&A there may be a photo-call for the press. All this in front of the audience! At some world premieres (specially of the Japanese films), the host kindly asks the audience to not take pictures during the official photo-call, as it’s a press reserved privilege.

Besides the Official Competition Selection, there are other sections like Asian Future, Special Screenings, Panorama, World Focus, and three sections dedicated to Japanese cinema. There are also some special retrospectives (this time there was one of Orson Welles and other of Gundam) and some parallel co-hosted events (Latin Beat, Korean Week, China Week…).

The main venues are in Roppongi HIlls. Most of the world premieres take place at the TOHO Cinemas in this complex and some of the glamourous events occur at the 49th Floor. Some other events are hosted at some cinemas in Shinjuku too. The festival offers a shuttle bus to transport people from Roppongi to Shinjuku.

The Roppongi Hills arena also hosts some live music concerts; like the photo-calls, some of this musical events aren’t allowed to be photographed by the audience.

A nice touch are the five food trucks parked at the arena, from well known restaurants (and chefs) at a reasonable price. Not only that, a discount is received by showing a screening ticket.

I managed to see the following films in competition:

And also:

The tickets aren’t that hard to get, except for Japanese premieres.

A visual, musical and culinary experience at an affordable price.

Here a small video I made with live music from a lovely Brazilian/Japanese lady accompanied by two great musicians. I apologize for not getting their names! Also for the potato quality. My computer has been behaving very bad in the last weeks.


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It looks like here in Japan is easy to adopt foreign cultural elements, specially if they are marketable. Valentines, Christmas, Halloween are examples of this.

There is the Obon celebration in August, a Buddhist celebration where the spirits of the ancestors come to visit. Halloween doesn’t necessarily makes sense. However, during all October there’s pumpkin decorations all around.

The Halloween celebration takes place the whole month of October, and one of the highlights is a parade in Kawasaki, which doesn’t need to be on the actual day of Halloween celebration. There are similar events in other areas, like in Roppongi.

I cannot tell how this is every year. This year, October 31st happened to be on a weekend. Saturday night to make it even more attractive. The place to be is either Roppongi or Shibuya, if one wants to, well, celebrate Halloween. And lots of people do it. With lots, I mean, a really, lots of people.


Of course a costume is needed and whereas there is a lot of creative people to create their own, including make up (after all is similar to cosplaying), it’s easier to go to 100-Yen shops or any essential Don Quijote shop to buy a whole outfit. On the last days of the month, some costumes get a considerable discount.


The Shibuya crossing was packed in such a way that at some times it was not even necessary to walk, the flow of people would drag you at any direction, perhaps the wrong one. And the crowd just continued all over the Inokashira Dori. Police men took care that the flow wouldn’t go beyond the white stripes.The actual police men were hard to distinguish among the police disguised people. Because in Halloween it’s not mandatory to dress as someone scary, actually, sexy seems to be more important than scary.

After gathering with friends, one can go to a bar or Izakaya or Karaoke. After the last train departs, going to a club is a good choice. At this point in time, however, the prices may be higher than before midnight.


While waiting for the first train, usually around 4:30 am, one can sit or lay on the street. Or go to a coffee shop to wait.P1030995

Exploring Neighborhoods: Oji

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Time is passing by and I want to use it. I also want to explore as much as I can in this city.

Crossing the Oji Station
The main entrance to the Shrine (Tori)

Sometime ago, after the school, I went to try to explore Oji. Here in Japan it gets darker quite early, around 6pm or even earlier. So, when I finally arrived to the Oji Station, the dusk was already set.



Oji is part of the Kita ward in Tokyo in the North-Eastern side. There is the Oji Inari Shrine, with a lot of fox statues. Later on I learned that the fox is a symbol for that area. It was already dark when I arrived, but I could explore it.
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Between the shrine and the station there are old style Izakayas and a place for selling Oden, which seems to be always crowded. I didn’t have Oden though.


I also learned that Oji has specialized in doing Tamagoyaki a little bit sweeter than usual. As I walked around I saw a place which looked like a small culture center, where they had pamphlets, (fox) masks and some other stuff. A lovely elder couple asked (and insisted) in me entering. After they greeted me and tried to explain the foxes and the shrine, they gave to me some Inarizushi! Three small packages (15 pieces)!



Not only that, they also offer to me some Tsukemono and… sweet tamagoyaki! Its taste resembles a little bit that of a flan. They didn’t want to charge!

Sweet tamagoyaki!

Besides passing by Izakayas, and a nostalgic street car station, I walked a little through the Asukayama Park, which I couldn’t enjoy much, since it was very dark.

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Anyways, I didn’t need much time to explore the area next to the station, I only wished it was before dusk.


Going back to school

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I went to the school the second day after I arrived to Tokyo. The lessons didn’t start yet, we were just invited to some orientation sessions. Three orientation sessions actually, including a knowledge test, the life in Japan, the life in School and some other tips about bureaucracy.

The Chuo Line at the Yotsuya Station
The Chuo Line at the Yotsuya Station

The school I chose is ARC Academy Shibuya, which since October, is not located anymore in Shibuya, but in Iidabashi, which is a convenient location for me, since I only have to ride two or three stations on the JR Chuo Line.

Pedestrian Bridge in front of Iidabashi Station East Exit
Main entrance of the ARC Academy in Iidabashi

I can easily reach the school from the Station’s East Exit, after crossing a pedestrian bridge. It’s on the West Exit though were there are more alleys, and facing the Waseda Street, more places for eating and drinking.

Waseda Dori
Small alley near the Iidabashi Station

When the lessons finally started we were accommodated according to our knowledge level, I’m obviously at the beginners level. And we sped up since the very beginning. We’ve got a homeroom teacher plus two additional teachers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The pacing is good enough, not so fast, and not slow at all. We’re planned to have tests each Friday, although the first one was skipped. So yeah, tomorrow is the testing day.

The ambient is relaxed, there are two shifts (morning and afternoon). I was placed in the afternoon shift –like all the beginners. There are in my group people from United States, France, Sweden, Indonesia, Italy, Honduras and China. Unlike High School Anime, there’s no access to the roof top; so it’s not like I’ll be Megane-kun coming from abroad eating my tuna salad sandwich up there while indulging my sadness. Nor will I be sitting in the last row at the classroom, since I am shortsighted.

View from the highest point I can reach at the school, over the 8th floor.

Anyways, today something nice happened, the school administration gave back to me 2000 Yen, from the tuition fee I paid, which was more than I should have. It looked like I paid too much. I was not the only one btw.

Exploring the music scene

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I was about to title this post “Exploring the Underground Part II”, but I changed my mind.


Anyways. Saturday evening and I was sure that there has got to be something going on and I started to recall that Shibuya, Koenji and Shimokitazawa are areas where the music scene is vibrant and there are lots of small live venues. I decided to get to Shimokitazawa, take the South Exit and walk passing the multiple shops and diners until I saw some interesting locations.


There were this two places next to each other, “Basement Bar” and “Three“. Subtly I was checking the admission in other places, they were around 2500 to something more than 3000 Yens. If I understood correctly, buying them in advance (or reserving beforehand) saves some 500 Yens. Also, one has to buy a drink at entering, for 500 Yen. It sounds expensive. I think it also sounds fair.


The line up were four bands. The first gig was Far Farm, a band commanded by a lovely girl, playing some electro pop and singing in English. They performed just a couple of songs.


The next band was SaToA, a trio of girls playing rock/garage, guitar, bass and drums rocking the small triangular stage. More people stood up (and also, more people were at this point at the bar) giving the ambient a rocking atmosphere.


Next was the turn of a very interesting project, called タカハシヒロヤス (or She Her Her Hers), and they are supposed to be a trio of dudes. However, there was only a man on stage with a synth and a guitar, and a laptop. So, the rest of the instruments were recorded. His tracks ranged from the 80s style electro-pop to the post 90s shoe-gaze sounds. I wish i could’ve seen the whole band.


Old Lacy Bed was the main act, who presented their recent mini album. They were four young girls rocking and… talking a lot… something which seems to be usual in the concerts here. For the record, the drummer girl seemed to be the one who commanded on stage.

Some DJs performed between acts and after the final one. I hope to have more chances to continuing exploring more music venues.

By the way, last night I went with some friends to the Chelsea Hotel were there were some concerts too. This time sponsored (in order to enter one should had to buy a beer). But that was a totally different story.

Note: click on the band names to visit their websites and listen some of their tracks

Going to the supermarket

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Although Combinis are ubiquitous, I wanted to hit an actual supermarket and take my time to think and choose what I (thought that I) need. So, I made my first visit to the Marusho supermarket next to the Yotsuya-sanchōme station, thinking that I want to be frugal, I tried to be careful with everything I took. Perhaps too careful.


Almost 28 Euros for shopping! Essentially, what I’d call food for singles. Please, save your comments about the excess of plastic on the picture.

I kind of liked that brand of Pasta which divides its content in single portions:


Later on, one house mate told me about a man who puts a little stand at the Aoyama Dori (near the Oracle building btw) where he sells fruits and vegetables for much affordable prices. I went to his stand and came back with avocados, asparagus and more eggplants.

The overwhelming mobile possibilities

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After clearing the basic bureaucracy work (Alien Card, Address Registration, Health Insurance), the next step was to organize a mobile SIM card so that I can have… the solely idea of what I can ‘ started to overwhelm me.

I could get a SIM card to get a Japanese Mobile Number (Voice), or…

I could get a SIM card to get Internet (Data), or…

I could get a SIM card to get both Voice and Data.

The mobile I have, a Motorola G (2nd generation) has 2 slots for SIM cards, so I could have simultaneously two SIM cards. At this point, what was clear, is that I didn’t need a contract including Mobile device. I only needed the SIM card.

Considering that the public WiFis are ubiquitous (lots of JR stations have them and almost all Metro Stations have them), I may not really need Data. However, I also knew how convenient is having Internet. Then, why not having voice too? Here I would barely use my mobile to make or receive calls, yet, it’s so convenient! So, yeah, I’d need both Voice and Data.

Next, would I need a prepaid SIM card, or a contract? I already had a prepaid card back in 2011, which was convenient (although expensive) for a short term. Back in 2011 I could get one with the big mobile companies (SoftBank, KDDI/au, NTT/DoCoMo, Y! Mobile). Now… it’s slightly different…

Yodobashi Akiba
Image Source:

If I understand correctly, B-Mobile was the first Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) in Japan, opening thus the door to a market of almost infinite possibilities. The offers from B-Mobile were already confusing. I hit the Yodabashi store at Akihabara and there is a whole line of MVNOs offering lots of prepaid and contract possibilities, for both Voice and Data: getting an actual Mobile Number, getting a virtual (VoIP) Mobile Number, unlimited monthly data, limited monthly data…

No time to check each and every MVNO from the list. So, I just went for OCN, which uses the NTT/DoCoMo network, for a 6 month contract with voice (actual number) and limited data (3GB).

Now I can surf the Internet while I ride!

Back to Tokyo

The Yamanote Rider is back to Tokyo! This time completely on his own to try to learn Japanese.

Like a snail, carrying with a huge backpack, I decided to start from scratch, applied for a language school. After being accepted I received a Certificate of Eligibility, which I took to the Japanese Consulate to apply for a Student Visa. I contacted again FujimiHouse for a room and booked a flight with British Airways –which happened to be operated by Japan Airlines– and landed in Haneda.


Although it’s possible to make all by myself, I used the help of Go Go Nihon, who really assisted to make it smooth and easy. I landed on September 30th and received my Alien Card and immediately headed to up my keys. It was a tough ride with the huge backpack, first with the Keikyu line from Haneda to Shinagawa, then with the Yamanote line until Shibuya. However, after picking up the keys, at 6pm, it was a big adventure to ride again the crowded trains.

It is for sure a weird feeling to be in the same room where I was some years ago. Some neighbors are still around.

Today, October 1st, I first attended my school, the ARC Academy at Iidabashi (they just moved from Shibuya) where we just had an orientation. Later on I visited the Shinjuku Ward Office to register my address and to enroll the National Health Insurance. Japanese bureaucracy at his best efficiency!



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Exploring the underground…

I often say that music is the best invention of humankind and with that idea, I land somehow with music. Last year I could attend to two gigs plus some performances at the festival Bossanova in Aoyama. This time I also witnessed some performances at the Sumida Street Jazz Festival.

And some days later I hit Shibuya and landed at a tiny place in a sort of basement, called the NOB. A band from Taiwan, “1976”, plus another band, “Icon Girl Pistols” where going to perform. 1976 had performed some days before at the Summer Sonic. The entrance was 1500 yen with a drink included, or 2500 yen with all-you-can-drink. The ambient was cool, and the audience responded very well, the bands, not to say were excellent performers.

That was a good dosis of music for me, in a kind of underground spot with a certain kind of underground music.

But that was not all. Some days later I hit Asagaya. While travelling the Chuo/Sobu Line and stopping at Koenji Station, I saw from the window a lot of things going on, a Matsuri I supposed. So, in Asagaya I went to a place called “Gamuso“, with three floors, also very little spaces: the first being a bar, the second holding an exhibition and a stage for concerts, and at the last floor the exhibition continued and there was a live performance, where the artist was impressive tattooist Carlos from Shimokitazawa, who live-tattooed a couple of persons. Cool place, with lots of expats.

After the live tattoing I turned to the gigs. I didn’t really pay attention to the first band, and I guess I don’t really feel bad for this. The second was a solo performance by singer songwriter Mana Hardcore.

That is cool in Tokyo, I guess that if one follows the Chuo-Sobu Line, westwards from Shinjuku, there is a restless music scene, in stations like Koenji, Okubo, Asagaya…

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Japanese efficiency: at the metro stations

Navigating the stations in Tokyo is hard very often, the distances are long, there are many stairs, underground levels and many signs which display information in Kanjis, Hiraganas and English. Although helpful, can be overwhelming and confusing. If one pays attention, they’re really helpful.

There is a particular kind of signs which I found useful when one wants to save time, it is the board next to the platforms, indicating the direction of the train, the next stations and sometimes also the approximate travelling time.

If we look closer, it also displays more interesting things, like he amount of cars in the train… but if we look closer, each car may have some more symbols.

How can these be useful? Let us see for example, in this pic: if one is travelling in the 5th car, and is planning to descend at the Ginza station, we know that when descending, we’ll be next to the path to change to the Marunochi and Hanzomon Lines, and also to the lift and the escalator; or, if travelling in the 4th car, then we’ll be next to the toiletes, the wheelchair access, the information point and the police station.

A french friend was telling me that he wishes to have those symbols in the Metro stations at Paris. It is just efficiency, I suppose, when time management just happens to be more than important.

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