Long Island City

On our last night in NYC we hop across the water to Long Island City and Gantry Plaza State Park.

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You can get more epic views back towards Manhattan from this popular spot.

As the sun sets on our last ever night in New York I realise just how much I have come to love this crazy city!

Another feature of Long Island city is the huge glowing red neon Pepsi cola sign!

In Gantry Plaza State Park the iconic Pepsi-Cola sign sits marking the site of the PepsiCo bottling plant that sat in that very spot.

The original neon sign was placed on top of the plant in 1940 so has a long and illustrious history of watching the waterfront. It’s been updated since then but remains as a reminder of the area’s industrial past.

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The sign was granted landmark status in 2016 (after 28 years of consideration)

So we’ll end this epic trip with me basking in an eerie red light cast from a sugary soft drink!

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Times Square by night

Suckers for punishment that we are we decide to make a second pilgrimage to the tourist trap that is Times Square. But this time at night to check out the ads in all their glorious, eye wateringly neon glory.

If the place was bad by day you could multiple the crowds, noise and frustration by a million at night!

It was as if the whole of NYC was out on the street, cheek by jowl, elbowing each other for space and prime Instagramming spots.

We literally shuffled through the streets as it was impossible to walk due to the sheer volume of people crowded onto the streets.

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So enjoy these few snaps of the bright lights of this big city as I couldn’t wait to get out of there TBH!

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Illuminated Osaka

We head back into the bustling heartland of Osaka in the evening to see it transformed into a throbbing neon paradise.

It is the most iconic and enduring image of modern Japan – eye splitting coloured lights as far as the eye can see. And Osaka does not disappoint!

Whether it’s giant puffer fish or octopus, to these jolly giant with his huge TV screen where you are the star, there is something to gawp at around every corner.

We head back to  Dōtombori canal side to check out the huge skyscrapers.

They reach dazzlingly into the night sky. Each tower making garish, neon promises.

These ultra high tech paragons of consumerism are truly captivating and we linger for a while, just watching the people, watching the neon.

Naturally we have to visit our old friend the iconic Glico man as well, to check out his night time splendour.

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Alas, the days are ticking down quickly towards the end of our trip . . . . still makes me sad to think of it ending, even a year later!!

Glico man

Dōtonbori or Dōtombori  is one of the main tourist hotspots in Osaka and is full of highrise neon adverts.

It runs along the Dōtonbori canal from Dōtonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba district and features the famous Glico man advert.

The Glico Man is the oldest neon sign in Osaka. Originally installed in 1935, the sign shows a giant athlete on a blue track and is a symbol of Glico candy.

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Even though it looks very old fashioned and simple compared to the slick ads surrounding it, the Glico Man still has huge popularity amongst the locals, who meet here to celebrate sporting victories.

 

Neon wonderland

Taking a brief break from our Japanese Odyessy to document a quick trip to London this weekend.

Staying with a university friend in Amersham we first head to Walthamstowe, the home of 90s boy band E17!

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There’s a surprisingly quaint old village centre with a 15th century timbered house. But our main focus is hidden, rather unprepossessing, on an industrial estate. . .

It’s the home of a neon wonderland, a warehouse of rainbow gas and colourful wonderment….

It’s God’s Own Junkyard – a warehouse of all things neon. A mini Vegas.

The warehouse is full f neon signs that have been created and curated by Chris Bracey.

He’s made neon masterpieces for a wide range of high profile films including Eyes Wide Shut, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Batman.

The junkyard is an elective, electric collection of signs, statues and general bric a brac.

The website describes his haul as “New & used neon fantasies, salvaged signs, vintage neons, old movie props and retro displays.

“Neon art made from found objects, retrieved and renewed waste and lights.
Fairground & circus lighting, architectural sign salvage. Led & cold cathode luxury products. ”

But in truth it is hard to put into words the explosion of colourful joy that this mini rainbow in a metal box evokes.

From words of wisdom to girly bar signs, iconic statues to religious icons. There’s a surprise tucked in every corner.

Whether you’re a lover of rock and roll, burlesque, 80’s club chic or just an avid snapper, this is the place for you.

It’s a eyeball popping, sensual overload and even though it’s only a small space you are hooked for hours.

There is a particular emphasis on striperama’s, girly bars and general sex themed signs.

Neon does have a certain sleazy, enticing charm that works well for the skin trade.

There’s even a darling little outdoor space complete with Alice in Wonderland mushrooms and a pensive Grim reaper.

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We take a brief break from the job of snapping to enjoy a HUGE slice of cake in the Rolling Scones cafe . . .

Then it’s onwards to capture yet more of these gas filled neon installations.

You can commission and buy some of these gorgeous creations. I am already imagining one in the living room!

The name neon is derived from the Greek word, νέον, neuter singular form of νέος (neos), meaning new.

Bit of science – Neon is a colorless, odorless, inert monatomic gas under standard conditions, with about two-thirds the density of air.

It was discovered (along with krypton and xenon) in 1898 as one of the three residual rare inert elements remaining in dry air, after nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide were removed.

Neon is often used in signs and produces an unmistakable bright reddish-orange light.

Although tube lights with other colours are often called “neon”, they use different noble gases or varied colours of fluorescent lighting.

The neon sign is an evolution of the earlier Geissler tube, which is an electrified glass tube containing a “rarefied” gas (the gas pressure in the tube is well below atmospheric pressure).

When a voltage is applied to electrodes inserted through the glass, an electrical glow  results. Geissler tubes were quite popular in the late 1800s, and the different colours they emitted were characteristics of the gases within.

Neon tube signs are produced by the craft of bending glass tubing into shapes.

A person skilled in this craft is known as a glass bender, neon or tube bender. The neon tube is made out of 1 meter straight “sticks” of glass tubing, which are sold by sign suppliers to neon shops worldwide

The end result is the gorgeous, glowing, confections of light that we all know and love.

 

So if you’re a neon lover or enjoy exploring a living paintbox then take a detour to an industrial estate in E17 for a trip down the rabbit hole into wonderland!

So long Shinjuku, toodleloo Tokyo

Before we head onto the glorious Japanese Alps we have one final night in the neon heartland of Shinjuku.

The man is both intrigued and then delighted by this vending machine restaurant. Just pop in your money, make your selection, get your ticket and take it to the counter.

Seconds later – a meal is handed over. Proper fast food!

More futuristic eye popping neon sights await us, including this entrance to a girly bar that I force the man to pose in . . .

Tigers graffiti, cute kitty stickers and gigantic demons are just common place sights in this sleepless city.

But you can still find more traditional Japan if you look hard enough. I love the decorative kanji script. Even if I have absolutely no idea what’s being sold!

Below is the icon Kabukicho Red gate and it signals you’ve arrived in the district.

Or in our case it signals a last, lingering look at one of the most exciting cities on the planet.

But for now it’s so long Shinjuku, toodleloo Tokyo and onwards with our hectic journey across Japan.

Sayonara Shinjuku

Here’s one last neon whirl around Shinjuku’s flashing lights and garish nightlife.

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I’m missing the frenetic city again! The temptation to book flights and head back is increasing with every photo I post!

A last look at Godzilla is a kitschy reminder of the wealth of cultural influences that Japan has gifted to the world.

And if anything sums up the zany, colourful craziness of Tokyo it’s this unlikely pair of tiny dancers!

Sensory over load in the metropolis

Eager to make the most of our limited time in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo we head out into the bright lights of Shinjuku again.

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It’s a whirlwind of colour and sounds, endlessly scrolling sky high adverts and a flock of humans.

Coming from a tiny rural town in the midland of the UK, it is just about as far away from home as can ever be possible.

Every single wall, building, shop or arcade is an eyeball blasting shock of colour and pattern.

The proliferation of girly bars jar against the saccharine sweet, relentlessly cute decor and plastic tat vending machines that seem aimed at children.

Moving on just slightly we come to Kabukicho – the largest red-light district in Japan, without the official red-light prostitutes. Instead, it is full of host and hostess clubs, bars, and love hotels.

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Godzilla rears his huge head above the skyline to once again terrorise the city’s inhabitants.

Kabukicho is  often called the “Sleepless Town” and the district’s name comes from late-1940s plans to build a kabuki theatre. It never happened but the name lingers on.

It is truly an assault on the senses – almost fit inducing with its strobing neon, incessantly scrolling billboards and  . . giant neon robot women!

If ever there is an image that sums up the wild ride that Tokyo is – these are it!

Primarily used as a lure to get you into the Robot Restaurant (a robot techno neon nightmare) you can sit in these immense ladies and manipulate their arms up and down!

While the candy bright colours and flashing lights are disconcerting enough, the area also has a very seedy, downright dangerous, underbelly.

In 2004, according to a spokesperson of Metropolitan Tokyo, there are more than 1,000 yakuza members in Kabukichō, and 120 different enterprises under their control

There have been concerted efforts to clean up the area’s reputation with crackdowns on the gangs and illegal brothels.

However there were a lot of sharp suited young men hanging around the clubs who left us slightly unnerved. Whether gang members or toutes trying to get the single men into the girly bars, we moved on quickly!

Next up the rabbit warren of bars that is the Golden Gai. Stay tuned!

 

Night time neon

We spend so long pottering around Akihabara that night time descends upon us – but this is by far the best time to see the area.

As darkness falls, the sterotypical image of Tokyo splutters into life and the evening is blazed bright with neon billboards and advertising.

The lights add yet another dimension to the zany, frenetic Tokyo skyline.

We wander around gawping upwards – it’s a wonder we didn’t end up with cricked necks.

The Sega building looks particularly fetching all glowing red and blue , the whole block is like a glowing rainbow of building blocks.

More elfin faced, hyper sexy cartoon manga girls can be found everywhere. It’s a strange, slightly uncomfortable sensation that young women are so fetishised.

Below we can see the Sega games arcade again. It’s a mammoth multi story building, one of many humongous temples to gaming. Each floor typically represents an entire genre of video games such as rhythm, fighting, digital card games, and racing.

Arcade machines are packed in, back to back on each floor and the noise and flashing lights are frankly overwhelming.

We last mere minutes before beating a hasty retreat back onto the relatively calm streets.

A super cute sign welcomes tourists into one of the many maid cafes while a vending restaurant offers a quick and cheap option for dining.

You simply pop in your money, push the button for the meal you want and receive a receipt that you take to the counter. Seconds later – piping hot meal!

As well as the electronics superstores and gaming arcades, the other focus of the area is its high concentration of manga and anime stores.

It’s a mecca for Otaku (which sort of translates to “fanboy” or “fangirl.”) It generally refers to those passionate about manga or anime but can mean anyone with an intense passion for any subject.

The dazed look on the man’s face below sort of sums up the whole experience – sort of a cultural WTF?!!

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Awesome Akihabara

After sating my desire for all things kitchen related we head onto get our first glimpse of one of the ubiquitous sights in Tokyo – the neon jungle of Akihabara, AKA Electric town.

Akihabara is named after the fire-controlling god of a shrine built after the area was destroyed by a fire in 1869.

Akihabara gained the nickname Electric Town after World War II as it became a major shopping centre for household electronic goods and the post-war black market.

It’s a popular shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods.

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Anime and manga shops abound and numerous ‘maid cafés’ are found everywhere.

Everywhere you turn are a plethora of skimpily clad, doe eyed manga dolls. Illustrating a curious sexual but cartoonish vision of womanhood.

Another feature of Japan is the proliferation of arcades with machines for grabbing all manner of fluffy toys and plastic trinkets.

While we associate them with children in the UK, we saw lots of adults putting money into the slots. It all links into the Japanese obsession with Kawaii.

Kawaii is all about cuteness. It’s a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture that features in everything from entertainment, clothing, food, toys to personal appearance, behaviour, and mannerisms.

I feel the blue fuzzy things might be making eyes at me . . . .

Around Akibara are huge colourful billboards and screens with male or female dancing and singing groups.

These are idols – media personalities in their teens and twenties who are considered particularly attractive or cute and who will regularly appear in the mass media .

Another common feature to be found dotted around are Maid cafés.

These curious, cutesy affairs are a type of cosplay restaurant. In these cafés, waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants, and treat customers as masters and mistresses in a private home, rather than as café patrons.

Below I manage to grab a snap of one of the many, very camera shy, maid cafe toutes.

All in all it’s a jaw dropping array of neon highrises, billboards, flashing lights and cartoonish overload.

There isn’t a surface that’s not smothered in cutesy cartoons, or garish advertising. It’s a sensory overload!

I’ll leave you with these colourful snaps of another common feature – vending machines.

The Japanese love to vend things! Whether it’s food, toys, plastic tat or even flying fish in oil – there are literally 1000s of machines on every street corner.

We’ll head back to Akihabara later to see it all lit up at night.