Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
Tokyo Diary

Monday 30th November 1998

Rehearsals at On Air Shinjuku. Huge and very well-equipped rehearsal studio. Horie-san is wearing a Satan jersey.

Wednesday 2nd December

I rise early, making the best use of my precious hours of freedom before the rehearsals.

Go to La Foret Harajuku, the five-level teenage clothes emporium.

Sitting in the back of a BMW , on the way home from shaking a tambourine in our expensive and immaculately equipped rehearsal studio in Shinjuku at midnight, I get 'If my friends could see me now' feelings. And 'Is this kind of life normal?' feelings.

Thursday 3rd December

Hooray! A day off.

I head to Ginza, which is disappointing. Nothing happening here. It's raining. And it takes me half an hour to fill out the triplicate forms needed to change a little foreign currency.

Spend the afternoon shopping in Harajuku with Gilles and Matt. Buy a funny grey waistcoat with a sort of neck brace attachment, like a grey tulip sprouting on a velcro stem.

Keep getting that feeling that Japan is living its 19th and 21st centuries simultaneously. Schoolboys in capes and caps, very strict and starchy, everybody bowing and clicking heels... but set in the utterly postmodern landscape of Tokyo, where, as Barthes said, everything is a sign, a banner with indecipherable slashed calligraphy, and the silent lifts which run up and down the outside of the buildings have bizarre Jules Verne turrets on them, and there are retro delivery vans with grilles that look like a 1950s Alvis.

The dazzle of the neon in the rain! (There's been a lot of rain, and one sunny day which felt like the height of summer). It's otherworldly.

Gilles pointed out that Tokyo feels a lot like Athens, which I think is right: it's a city of shoddy concrete buildings, sprawling without rhyme or reason, constantly being demolished and rebuilt. But it's a much more frenetic and rich Athens. The poverty of the buildings is made up for by the rich 'software' of their decor and signage. Everything is inauthentic here, a stage set.

I walked around Daikanyama and had tea in a french cafe which seemed correct in every detail, and yet was not a french cafe, but a bizarre misremembered reincarnation. A bit like seeing Juliette Greco, dubbed, on Japanese TV.

Bonjour Records is great, a totally curated record store designed like an advertising agency, with leather sofas and art books so you can hang out in civilised, creative comfort.

Everything is done here with delicacy and a very superior aesthetic sense: the Issey Miyake Pleats Shop, where I saw a girl wearing a kind of 21st century nun's outfit, all grey and black, with funky exaggerated lines: buffalo boots, a cape, a hood...

Does the fact that there is no god here mean that every ordinary everyday gesture - wrapping a box of bean candies, for example - has been invested with a little sacredness?

The megalithic side by side with the microlithic.

Off the congested main roads with their multi-level flyovers are tropical streets with humid bamboo and palm trees hiding tiny-scaled specialist shops specialising in telescopes, silver mountain bikes, video visors...

I love just walking around.

Which is just as well, because the taxi drivers never, ever know where they're going. And it's very hard to have any sense of direction in this snail-shaped sprawl, which is still the biggest city in the world (unless some new Chinese megalopolis has overtaken).

Friday 4th December

The rehearsals are sounding good: the songs we did off a hard disk recorder in the US have a new lease of life with a real band playing them. We can do things like play a driving Velvet Underground riff until Kahimi comes onstage and starts singing. You can't do that with a computer.

I bought one of the charming face masks Japanese people wear to protect their fellow workers from infection with their colds. But mine was to keep out the clouds of cigarette smoke generated by a band practise. I must be the only person in a room of 15 who doesn't puff on the toxic weed. It seems to be a tiny area of freedom in the life of an unfree person, this wretched little smoke stick they light up when they have two and a half minutes before the next piece of work.

Something interesting happened today. I arrived late at rehearsal after getting lost in the rainy chaos around Shinjuku station, and the band were already playing through the setlist. Kahimi kept looking at me rather intensely, and I wondered why. I decided she must have had a significant dream about me. Later she was laughing with the interpreter, talking in Japanese. Since I heard my name, I asked what the joke was. She said that she had a dream about me last night in which I was a molester, molesting her, and the interpreter had 'saved' her. (Of course I was a little offended at this verb 'saved', since a lot of people would pay good money to be molested by me.)

Waiting for my turn on this Mac (I'm in Las Chicas, charming treetops hideaway in the secretive backstreets of Aoyama, full of French and Australians) I was flipping through the new issue of Cutie. It's such a joy. Fresh faced Japanese girls wear pattern-overkill: maybe a camouflage jacket with a pink pom pom ski hat, a sky blue scarf, two layers of skirts, one ethnic, one animal pattern, a hem of petticoat, lime tights, and delicate ballerina sandals. Also elaborate hair, usually Lolita braids or something strandy and chaotic. More patterns than an Indian restaurant, or a Mongolian horseman's wife.

Some girl is singing to an acoustic guitar in another room. The evening is so peaceful and delicious I could eat it up.

Saturday 5th December

I'm in the offices of KK's management, 3D Corporation (they also manage Cornelius, and he records upstairs). Everyone else is eating cake in the conference room (surrounded by shelves of CDs with neon tubes running round them: impression of perspex and pink light) watching the rushes of the documentary a photographer called Yoshie took of us in the US. It's after midnight, but we're not tired.

Kahimi is also overseeing the T shirts that will be sold at the shows. A pixelated image of her face. Upside down it looks exactly like a tamagotchi.

As usual when I come here, I sense my creative batteries recharging. The way everything is recognisable (capitalism, cars, clothes, people) and yet ineffably different, spookily different. There's some residual lingering presence of a medieval or extra-terrestrial enchantment.

Sunday 6th December

I got up this morning quite early, saw that it was sunny, and went out by myself. First I looked at a temple on a hill behind the highway that leads to Shibuya. Then I took photos of the Love Hotels in Shibuya. With the morning sunshine on them they looked great. I love the fake, tiny grandeur of them, the way they seem to be like plastic french chateaux, reduced like special gifts to fit a cereal packet.

Shopped in HMV. I bought Cutie, Studio Voice, the new Boredoms record, a CD of Telex and Harmony Korine's novel in Japanese, just because the sleeve is so great (a cream card cover with an ink-spill rabbit and faux-naive lettering).

I also bought a secondhand dress with lots of different ethnic patterns on it. I plan to wear it on stage.

Off to rehearsals now. I shake a mean tambourine!

Monday 7th December

Meeting at Nippon Columbia with Ken Komoguchi, my A&R boss.

Tuesday 8th December

To Osaka. We played the first ever Kahimi Karie Japan show in a brand new venue out by the bay, a metallic oil refinery. 2000 teenage girls were herded in, applauded wildly, and were then herded out at exactly nine o'clock. We were whisked off in a curtained van to a sterile hotel.

Matt, Gilles and I took a walk around the centre of town and all we could find were vast hotels, all looking as if they'd just been built, and an underground 'garden city' full of corporate sculpture and brightly-lit floral displays.

Playing the show gave me mixed feelings. Something electric, when Kahimi came onstage and the girls just screamed and shouted 'kawai'! But also a lack of spontaneity, the urbane and loose atmosphere of the US tour replaced by cattle stalls and discipline. And 'real music'!

Reading an excellent group biography of the New York School of Poets (Koch, Ashbery, O'Hara...). 'The Last Avant Garde'.

Back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen later. Great buffet food: green tea, bentos. And since it's sunny, the view of Mount Fuji should be better this time.

Friday 11th December

Had a really good day walking around alone before the last KK show.

-It was sunny, and I discovered some nice new parts of Aoyama / Harajuku.

-I bought new contact lenses, so I don't have to wear my glasses. (It's actually illegal to sell these one day disposable without a prescription, so I felt like someone buying drugs: furtive, sweaty.)

-I found a really interesting modern art gallery, the Watari. There was a piece by Fabrice Hybert: a number of swings hanging from the ceiling of the gallery, each with two penis-sized pegs protruding from the seat, spaced to fit the vagina and anus of a female swinger.

-I bought some clothes: a green jacket from Crow's Nest and an ethnic hat from Harajuku. The hooded jacket / anorak was horribly expensive, about 400 dollars, but good: all the panels have zips, so the whole garment can become a pocket.

-I bought some CD ROMS: 'Pop Up Computer' and a disk of the paintings of Elizabeth Peyton.

After the show (at which we played very well) there was a party in a Greek taverna for the tour people. I left early, melancholy.

I began to think about business, about finding a new label, and it depressed me. I hate asking for business meetings with people. The head of international at Polydor didn't seem very interested. And Kenji Takimi of Cruel hardly spoke to me, although he gave me a very warm handshake. That's because he barely speaks English.

It's tiring talking to all these people who really don't understand you. The best conversation I had all day yesterday was with an American expat I met on the subway, after cruising in Tower looking at the international magazines. He was carrying a golf club (his company pays for him to make contacts on the course) and told me I looked like the villain in Mad Max II with my eye patch and woolly hat.

Gilles and Matt crack jokes the whole time, and don't seem to mind spending hours explaining them to the laughing Japanese, who still don't understand. It all reminds me of my days as a monitor, summers at my father's language college in Edinburgh. I was paid to speak English to foreigners. Now I do nothing else, since most of my friends are non-English speakers. With Gilles it's okay, we had a good talk (in French) on the bullet train back from Osaka about whether it's possible in 1998 to be a bohemian, and what that might mean.

Saturday 12th December

So many tiny streets, you can't seem to work out the location of a place by its address. The taxi drivers always stop and look for a long time at this street atlas they have, but it's useless. Sometimes they just let you out somewhere and say 'Sorry, I cannot find it, there is no charge, I am a new driver'. Apparently there are many new drivers now because the economy is bad, and when people lose their jobs they become taxi drivers.

I bought a street plan with the names in English, the only one of its kind. But it contains only a few maps of a few selected parts of Tokyo, and has no street index.

Now the Kahimi shows are over, I have become as mysterious and evasive as Tokyo itself. I change hotel every night, and can't be contacted by friends. I don't quite know why, except that this city is like chocolate, and I am a greedy glutton. I want it all to myself!

Read my book about the New York School poets.

Sunday 13th December

I spend a serene and lovely hour in the gardens of the Nezu Museum, watching ladies in kimonos milling around a tea house where a tea ceremony is being conducted. The leaves on the trees are orange and gold, crows caw, and I am the only modern thing here.

The cafe where I write my e mail also has trees around it, including a red Japanese maple, which now has the sunshine on it. There is koto music playing. I came here after visiting a Buddhist temple, removing my shoes to climb up and peer inside.

When Japanese people visit the west, they must be amazed at how the past is preserved there. One friend of mine told me that London seemed unreal to her, like Disneyland. Which is weird, because that's what Tokyo seems like to me.

The Floracion Hotel is right bang in the centre, near my beloved e mail centre. Aoyama Dori Avenue is the most cosmopolitan street in Tokyo. Intersecting with Omote Sando, a leafy boulevard which goes from the teen fashion extremities of Harajuku at its west end to the sombre and hilariously expensive 'good taste' of Missoni, Miyake and Comme Des Garcons at its eastern extremity before dying, literally, in the Aoyama cemetery. Here I see more foreigners than elsewhere, which is reassuring. I think a certain degree of cabin fever must set in here after a while. The press kiosks have no non-Japanese publications, the hotel TV shows nothing but Japanese networks, it's really as if the rest of the world doesn't exist.

That may be a good thing, since it seems that everybody is bored to death with the Clinton impeachment thing anyway.

What will I do today? Maybe look at the temple at Asakusa, or take a trip to the modern art gallery, the only building in Tokyo from which, if you go to the cafe, which is fluorescent and institutional like a Chinese airport, you can glimpse life inside the leafy imperial compound adjacent, the Emperor's Palace.

Not that that matters much, now that people acknowledge that the Emperor is not a god. They open his palace to the public every January 1st, so I guess you can queue up and take a pee in his toilet.

Is there no magic left in this world?

Monday 14th December

Riho was in town, and we spent the day together. We went to some art bookshops, then Las Chicas, where I had a chance to dash off a couple of e mails while R. sat on the sofa behind me, then lunch, then the rest of the day in Akihabara, the crazy 'Electric Town' where you can get cameras, computers, audio stuff for half the price it is in the west (and, it sometimes seems, a couple of years' worth of models ahead). So I bought a Fuji digital camera to replace the one I bought earlier this year and broke wantonly, by letting it slam around naked inside my bag, smashing into all the other luxury gadgets I have.

Wednesday 16th December

Interviews at Denon: Fine Boys and Sound and Recording.

Gilles and I celebrate his last night here with Takako Minekawa and about 8 other people in a traditional tonkatsu restaurant in Harajuku, near the Animal Of Airs shop, a place co-owned by Mars Art Lab, the designers who do the Yoshinori Sunahara sleeves. I bought a Newton-John shirt there and Gilles bought a little napkin man for Flo. Had to sign autographs for the staff.

I took lots of photos in the restaurant of Hirono's friends, two girls dressed in funny little sweaters and bobble hats, skirts over trousers... looking like a cross between androgynous toddlers and tartar nomads. It's the kawai indie thing, but also something very Asian and ethnic, the pattern clash thing that goes right from the mountains of Afghanistan to Korea and Japan.

Although here they're giving it an ironic, postindustrial look, I saw its Japanese version while browsing a kimono shop with Kyoko. All those splendid red and gold patterns, thrown together with totally unharmonious geometric designs, each element more flamboyant than the last. Or at Riho's house, where her mother offered me a kimono which had what looked like Mondrian on top of what looked like Escher.

Thursday 17th December

Interviews with Kahimi Karie at 3D. I describe my sulk in the US, when I wanted attention from her. 'You are grown up, you should just get on with your own life,' she says.

Miss Sato from Nippon Columbia then takes me to Rockin' On, which, like the NME, is at the top of a corporate tower. I video the views of Tokyo and grab copies of H (meet the editor) and a rather boring new rock magazine.

Divine Comedy show at Quattro. Alone. Have the pleasure of informing Neil and Joby and the rest of the band 'Of course you know that war has broken out?' backstage. They've seen green flashes on the hotel TV, so they know something's up. Neil talks a little about his new EMI contract.

Their show is rather sparsely attended... not surprising considering tickets were thirty quid. They use ghastly digital synths, and the atmosphere in the spanking new Quattro is zero. Neil is dressed in a long dark undertaker's suit, and his between-song patter is all those four letter words: flip, glib, smug. But he touches sublimity on 'Sweden' and certain other songs. Not short on ambition.

I reminded him afterwards that the first time we met I had predicted that he would be neglected in the UK and should concentrate on getting big in Japan: 'I'm glad you're following my advice'. 'We're working on it'.

In fact they seemed out of place in aggressively modern Tokyo, like a retro BT phone booth. They were hunting for 'Charlie' afterwards, a thin white acquaintance of theirs. It was odd to emerge from the building and see Neil, in sunglasses and clutching a bouquet, trying to slow down his journey to the taxi and sign as many autographs as possible. Girls ran after the cab calling 'Neil, I love you!' 'Neil I love you more!' (Neil: 'It's an auction!')... just as they did last time I played Quattro.

In the fan-type photos I snapped with him, I'm glad to say, we look the same age.

I consoled myself with the fact that I played a 2000 seater venue last week and had girls screaming 'Momus!' at me between all the songs.

Friday 18th December

L'Appareil Photo party. No. 44 Grey is a tiny room in Harajuku, busting to the gullets with people. I must have posed for 100 photos. The show was marred by the fact that my hard disk recorder crashed and refused to recognise its internal hard disk, so I had to improvise a show on acoustic guitar. For some reason all Momus songs departed my brain except for really old ones like 'Hotel Marquis de Sade', which isn't exactly party music, so it was a bit of a downer. Kahimi joined me for two songs, and out of nowhere TV cameras suddenly appeared. Since we had only one mike for two voices and guitar, it was a bit of a crush.

Yoko Ariyama said she cried.

Saturday 19th December

With Riho to the Takashi Homma photo exhibition at Parco.

Then we head to the far northern suburbs to meet some girlfriends of hers. They all speak Japanese, so I'm left to video the wedding portraits and listen to the CD collection (Fatboy Slim, Vaselines, The Who). People move to suburbs like this to have kids, who then leave the suburbs at the earliest opportunity. But wouldn't it be a shortcut not to move there in the first place?

Sunday 20th December

Off to visit Riho at her parents house in Gumma, an hour by train to the north. They have a new shinkansen station, probably because Obuto, the current prime minister, is from Gumma. He is known as 'cold pizza' because he's so ineffectual, and once bought his aides some pizzas as a token of appreciation.

We drove into the mountains and looked at temples in a nature resort, then to a hot springs spa town where we had tea in a really traditional tea house. Then I was given dinner at her home, which is really in the countryside, amongst pear and peach orchards. Her parents are simple, conservative country people. Her father was jovial and beaming, her mother fussed and snapped, a bit nervous. And her huge fluffy Persian cats seemed terrified of me.

Monday 21st December

Am at 3D now watching the NHK TV version of the KK concert. Pretty good, actually.

Spent hours in Kinko's messing around with digital photos and e mail.

With 3D and Mari to the Cornelius show at Ebisu Gardens Tower. We watch regally from a balcony. His video and graphics (he does them himself in Premiere) continue to amaze me, although the constant strobe lights and the increasingly unironic heavy rock riffing begin to get me down. I hope Keigo stops touring and gets back to the studio soon!

At the end I play hide and seek with fans in the lobby who spot me and all turn to look up, shouting 'Momus! Momus!' I feel like all four Monkees in a chase scene.

Dine at a cheerful and stylish Thai restaurant where Yoko used to work with an American journalist and his math teacher girlfriend. He writes widely about J-Pop and knows the funkier areas of Tokyo very well. Interesting conversation.

Tuesday 22nd December

Walked around Roppongi, browsing at Wave, the record store. Cornelius's eclecticism is writ large here, with the fantastically well-stocked rap and Brazilian sections, as well as an el Records space. When I first met him in 1993, Keigo lived right next door.

Spent more time in Kinko's, putting my photos onto a Zip disk.

Dinner with Global Rights Inc, Ikkai and June. They gave me a Christmas bag of goodies from Sony Creative Products: lots of Rodney Greenblatt stuff, like a Parappa vinyl disk with a VW bus player, a needle on wheels which zooms round and round the record.

The restaurant was on the roof of a building on Aoyama Dori Avenue, with great views of the Tokyo skyline, Tokyo Tower etc. It was warm enough to sit outside for a while, with braziers around the table and a lit swimming pool dividing the Italian end of the restaurant from the Chinese end.

Ikkai was a bit embarrassed to be seated at the table next to his wife, who was dining with her colleagues from Louis Vuitton.

Wednesday 23rd December

To Osaka. Shoichi joins the train half way there. The weather is sunny, except around Fuji, which is shrouded in pollution from the adjacent smoke stacks.

The contrast with the last visit, when Gilles, Matt and I coudn't find anything except corporate hotels, couldn't be greater. The America-Mura area is amazing: trendy, vibrant, latin. In a record store called Velvet Moon I sign several copies of 'Circus Maximus' and buy a Marina Josef K compilation.

Dinner at an excellent Japanese inn on the 7th floor of a commercial centre. The best food so far: fried tofu, aubergines... I talk to Kyoko's friend, Chiharu. She is cute and childlike in her woolly hat, a kind of Calimero.

The show is in a chic room which has been decorated by the design team Pat Detective. The fashion sketches and animal prints are slightly too kitschy and 60s, but the overall affect is stylish.

Unfortunately when I take the stage neither microphone works, and it takes ten minutes to get anything approaching a sound. Then it's as if my backing tracks are coming up from the bottom of a well. I bash out some old favourites like 'Voyager' and 'Righthand Heart', injecting extra passion to make up for the terrible sound.

Thursday 24th December

Spend ages listening to traditional Japanese songs on the radio. I tape the weird and wonderful backing vocals. Read the brochure to the Josef K CD, which mentions me. Am transported back to Edinburgh, 1980.

Shopping in America-Mura. This area is so great. I run after the more flamboyant passersby, snapping them with the Fuji. I buy multi-pocketed combat trousers, a Norwegian blue jersey, and drink chai with the reticent, partied-out Shoichi in an excellent cafe.

Back to Tokyo.

Kyoko and I dine in a gallery restaurant with a busybody proprietress who takes a disliking to me when, failing to finish the food (each course takes about forty minutes to come and is finished in two bites), I say I have a small stomach. 'Small stomach!' she murmurs indignantly as she brings each dish from then on.

Around us are tetchy married officeworkers and intrusive christmas music. My mood takes a downturn.

Say goodbye to Kyoko at Omote Sando subway station and make for the Kypthone party at Kujas Lounge in Roppongi. Am early, but chat with Dutch DJ Team Arling and Cameron, who are playing to an empty room. Suddenly, though, people arrive. The band takes the stage. I find the girl singer coquettish, the music kitschy. Tout Indie Tokyo is there: the people from Marquee magazine, Tanaka... I sneak out early, chatting briefly to Terri (Pizzicato 5's manager) at the door. I have a sore throat and headache, and am relieved to get out of the smoke, even though it's freezing.

Christmas Day

Pack and head by taxi to Shinjuku station, buying a Walkman on the way.

When I get to the airport, they tell me that my flight has been cancelled, the few passengers transferred to another JAL flight which has already left. Nobody told me!

After being told that I will have to fly tomorrow instead, I am switched to the Paris flight, which is boarding immediately. JAL girls run with me through customs and passport control and get me onto the plane, where I am upgraded to a window seat in executive class. This is fine, although there is some confusion about which connecting flight I will get in Paris.

I watch Godzilla, a Police Academy movie, an awful British post 'Four Weddings' film, and write an essay on systems and the glass ceilings built into otherwise liberating technologies.

When I get to Paris I am taken by a callow French boy in the JAL van to my connecting British Midland flight... which is abandoned on the tarmac, lights off and empty. So I'm put on an Air France flight instead, on an Airbus which bumps its way through clouds and rain to London. There I am told that, despite all my questions and warnings, my luggage has been put on the wrong plane. Actually, it's a blessing in disguise. I take the Heathrow Express home with only my light hand luggage, riding from Paddington to Farringdon in a taxi driven by a man who seems to have Turret's Syndrome, and mutters 'Bastard!' all the way.

I'm assured the luggage will be delivered to me directly in the next couple of days. We'll see.

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