Rock, punk and vegan cultures in Tokyo

I’m really fortunate that a friend of my friend B. introduced us to K., who is an activist in feminism, homeless issues and anti-consumerism. She suggested that we go to see a vegan cafe near Koenji station (after exiting the station, turn left immediately and take the first street from the left. The bar which hosts the vegan cafe is on the right, there is a sign saying “vegi [something]”. B. has read that the area around Koenji is famous for rock and punk culture. It is home for many bars and interesting shops. We went into a music store, which is on the left of the street. The person managing the store (I’m not sure if he works alone or with others) speaks perfect English and has interesting stories to tell. He told us that he used to study visual arts, but was drawn into music afterwards. It’s difficult in Japan for young and unrecognised musicians – they have to pay JPY 50,000 to rent a studio for practice for a week, and pay similar amounts for each show. There are, however, more and more clubs and bars who would host visual artists and musicians for free or for a symbolic fee.

The shop has a huuuuge collection of vinyls and amazing variety of genres. It’s worth spending some time browsing through Japanese and world music collections.

Just in front of the vegan cafe there is a shop for used furniture. Another shop nearby sells secondhand clothing – a challenge to the society so interested in the latest fashion 🙂 Also, on the left side of the street there are white stairs leading to an informal infoshop, where young people have discussions and hold sewing workshops. A very cosy place simply to be, without paying for anything (quite unusual, huh?).

And finally, the vegan cafe. A bar, which doesn’t serve food otherwise, lends its space for this initiative on Wednesdays, when it has almost no visitors. People here get vegetables from farmers in one of the northern prefectures, if I remember correctly, from organic farms. The people working there make miracles with just a few ingredients. Actually, while Japanese food keeps me full for no longer than 15 min, the dinner I had there had the most resemblance to what I would have at home (in Lithuania or in Budapest, my ex-home not so long ago), just the quality of vegetables was, needless to say, much higher. People who frequent this place are mainly those working in the cultural ‘industry’: we met a book editor, a journalist, a teacher of throat singing and a student. There were also two Germans who seemed to be friends with the frequent visitors, but we haven’t figured out what they are doing in Japan.

Having met people of the Irregular Rhythm Asylum, I also learned about a flash mob. Dozens of people sitting, walking and even lying on the pavement in front of the Shinjuku station and reading books aloud. So, the event happened, and, after some wandering, I found the venue. It was quite interesting to have all these people sit, walk or even lie on the pavement, reading aloud or mumbling to themselves, and I was not the only foreigner.

There were not that many people, but quite enough to make an impression to others. I felt a bit uncomfortable being filmed and photographed, so I made sure only half of my face is visible from under a hood. Not that I’m afraid to be caught at flashmobs – I have no problem with that. Simply, I feel a little uneasy being a temporary resident here in Tokyo and already hurrying to protest against something that I can always escape by leaving Japan. It’s the Japanese society that should be protesting, not me. Anyway, I wanted to express my support regardless of the shortness of my stay, especially because in flashmobs quantity is so important.From now on I can call myself a flashmob tourist. I was in a flashmob in Brussels, too. Would be fun to join a flashmob in every city I go to.

This was the invitation to the events:

Emergency March against Proposed New Surveillance Law 22 March 2009 Rally at Shinjuku Okubo Park (in Kabukicho, Shinjuku): 16:30 Start: 17:00 Organizer: Protest Against Surveillance Law Why you should demonstrate The Tokyo Metropolitan Government under Governor Shintaro Ishihara plans to revise a law called the Ordinance for Building Safe Towns next week, which will allow it to crack down on street actions and public performances and sleeping homeless. Even foreigners walking in commercial districts can be categorized as “nuisances” under the revision. This is definitely a step in the wrong direction, and a sign that our society is becoming more Orwellian, criminalizing performers, foreigners, and the homeless. Many labor unions and civil activist groups distribute fliers on Tokyo’s streets, but under this revision such actions will be regulated as “disturbing the social order.” Street performers will be subjected to this regulation, too. In addition, residents AND non-residents in commercial districts will become obliged to make efforts to tell police about these “nuisances” and to regard them as “crimes.” The targets will not be limited to performers or activists; literally anyone can be treated as “suspicious person.” This is a cynical attempt to raise distrust and anxiety and create an environment where everyone monitors each other. We should protest against this dangerous revision and reject this attempt to make a society silenced by mutual monitoring. Let us hear your voice. Demo course: Okubo Park – round Koma Theater Square – Kabukicho Central Road – cross Yasukuni Street – More Nibangai (More No.2 Avenue) -More Gobangai (turning left in front of Big Camera) – cross Shinjuku-dori – Musashino-dori – Shinjuku Station East South Plaza – Alta Plaza Dystopia Tokyo Project Team for Protest Against Surveillance Law ————- Small event: Flash Mob against New Ordinance for Building Safe Towns Venue: Shinjuku Alta Square Time and date: 11:00-12:00, 22 March,2009 With this event, we want to protest Tokyo’s attempt to build a surveillance society that takes away our trust in others. Here’s how you can take part: 1. Bring a book of your choice, and read it out together. It doesn’t matter whether you whisper or shout, whatever way you prefer. The flash mob will start at 1100 and dissolve at 1200. 2. Help us create Japan’s biggest flash mob ever! Let all your friends know by mail, facebook, blog, phone or smoke signals! YouTube *This event will take place regardless of weather conditions. *A flash mob (or flashmob) is a large group of people who suddenly assemble in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, and then quickly disperse.

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