Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ikebukuro - Part 2

Note: this is a continuation of a post I started here.

Another thing I associate rather strongly with Ikebukuro which is by no means unique to it is long rows of vending machines. There are places in Shinjuku with similarly impressive strings of these eyesores but I think it's burned into my memory as a part of Ikebukuro because this is where I first saw them and I saw them so often. Such copious amounts of these over-lit refrigerators don't tend to appear in the more residential areas (such as the place in which we live) as the foot traffic isn't heavy enough to justify so many in one place. I do wonder how much energy could be saved if the number of these things was forcibly cut in half all over Japan.

I haven't actually been to Ikebukuro for a very long time but my husband recently went there to see a movie with his brother (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) at a movie theater which specialized in both bowling and movies (two great tastes that don't necessarily go great together). His ticket, which I'm too lazy to scan in and is too crumpled to take a digital photo of, shows a drawing of an old-fashion movie projector next to a bowling ball hitting pins. Classy!

He took the pictures in this post during his visit there and I recognized some of the shops and areas (such as the venerable Jean's Mate shop pictured above) but other places were built since I was last there. Like all of Tokyo, Ikebukuro is in a constant state of being torn down and being built back up again. Many of the places my husband took pictures of are the type with "funny English" on them so I'm pretty sure I'd remember them if they had been there before. Of course, it's also possible that they simply weren't places I came across in my then daily explorations.

The English school above is either ran by a fellow named "Sirius" or is named with a misspelled name. I'd bet on the latter. It sort of takes the wind out of the sails that this is a "serious" place to study if that is the case. The faded sign (under the "GA") of the letters "A", "B", and "C" with an apple, ball and a car don't do much to enhance the reputation of the school. It looks rather sad, slapped together and run-down, but these types of little schools can be better places for foreigners to work because they don't carry the corporate mentality of the large chain schools. Of course, they can also be worse because they are often strapped for cash and having difficulty competing and are therefore understaffed and overwork their teachers.

While a "chat club" carries overtones of a place where people get together and, well, chat, the sign below this says this is a karaoke pub. Why waste time actually talking with your friends when you can get up and sing some cheesy songs? The blue part of the sign says "all time" which I'm guessing means that the price for drunkenly crooning out a tune doesn't change during peak hours. The price is 2000 yen ($17.50) for a half hour or a bargain 3800 yen ($33) for an hour.

My husband got a big kick out of this custom sports clothing business's slogan. The slogan is supposed to indicate originality but manages to convey the notion that everyone gets the same one. Personally, I like the "sweat wear" option and the odd use of "etc." at the end. Even though the logo seems to say "1/80", the business is actually called "Eighties" and was named for the year of its creation rather than a way that represents the contents of its business.

This is a picture of the shop itself where you can order as few as 5 custom-designed bits of sports apparel for your team or gaggle of school girls. It's individualized conformity. You can look like everyone else in your group but not like anyone in any other group.

Outside the shop, there is a bin of Disney T-shirts complete with a hand-drawn Mickey Mouse on the sign. I wouldn't be surprised if the shirts were illegal knock-offs. Perhaps these school girls are shopping for matching "sweat wear" or possibly even those slouchy socks that were all the rage among the uniformed set some time ago.

Some shops are unforgettable even if they don't have funny names or slogans. There's something about a black and lime-green undies shop that you don't forget. Shops with names like this sound incredibly narcissistic but the truth is that such shops are really all about what men want rather than about what the women who shop in them desire deep down. Underwear is, after all, under your clothing, and the only one who sees it are those who are intimate with you (and yourself when you do laundry and spend all of a minute getting dressed). Why would anyone pay more for itchy, tacky undergarments just for themselves? And if you don't think what you see in the window qualifies as "tacky", check out the web site. A lot of it is porn star fantasy crap. I guess men have to have something interesting to steal off of clothes lines and stash under their pillows at night or to sell to those "used underwear" shops in Japan.

If you click and look at the larger picture, you'll see the sign says "Cool! Bowling and, many amusements are here" in addition to "Exitment (sic) batting". There's also "infomation" under the "Cool" sign. It's a veritable cornucopia of misspelling but the Japanese don't care. They just think English on signs looks cooler than Japanese.

Looking over the pictures my husband took and thinking back on my time working in Ikebukuro, I found myself wondering why I never go there anymore. It clearly has everything you could want in terms of shops, restaurants, and entertainment but it's not the sort of place people tend to go unless it's where they work, live, or have to go for some reason or another. For instance, I've never heard a student say they're headed for Ikebukuro this weekend. They always go to Shinjuku, Roppongi, Ginza or one of the other big name shopping and entertainment districts.

I guess part of the reason I don't go there is that one doesn't need to go to Ikebukuro if one lives closer to one of the other areas because there's little there which you can't get elsewhere. While it is a one-stop for nearly anything you might desire, it's not what my husband would call a "happening place." It's a nice place to live (or work) but you wouldn't want to visit there.


tornados28 said...

On my many visits to rural Tochigi, it is amazing still to see lines of vending machines in even remote middle of no where places along roads. It amazes me that even these seemingly remote vending machines do enough business to justify their placement.

It is also amazing that there are so many machines and that they apparantly do well on top of the fact that there are an amazing number of convience stores everywhere as well.

Shari said...

One of my students in the past told me that the vending machines are not costing the people in charge of them anything but time and electricity. The way it works is that the beverage companies offer the machines to people and sell them the drinks at whatever price such things cost retailers.

The people who accept the arrangement refill the machines and deal with the money in them. Essentially, most of the money above and beyond the wholesale cost of the drinks is gravy for those who maintain the machines. This is my roundabout way of saying they don't have to get much business to justify their placement since there's not much labor cost associated with them and no rental fee for having the machines themselves.

I think this is one of the reasons why shops are willing to line the sides of their places with them and block off bicycle parking for customers (which is really irritating). It's all gravy to them.

Harvey said...

Great fresh look at Ikebukuro! I have been through there many times, but some how you see it differently.

About the vending machines, there is also a law that your home must be in some way a place of business in order to have a vending machine. So you can't just get one if you don't do some other side business as well.

CMUwriter said...

It seems like using a bike in the city is a huge problem, with parking it and everything, and what to do with the item. How many people use rollerblades or skateboards to get around?

Shari said...

Harvey: I think the bar is set pretty low on what qualifies as a "business" in this case. Landlords can put machines in front of buildings they rent out, for instance. I think the law exists mainly to stop people from putting them literally everywhere or on plots of land that are otherwise fallow.

cmuwriter: I've never seen people travel by skates or skateboard. In large part, I'd guess this is simply one of those things that's "no done" but it also may be the need to carry everything around and that would make it hard to travel that way because of balance issues.

Thanks to both of you for your comments!