Category Archive for Nightcrawling

Shinjuku Visual Kei Jrock music stores, Kabukicho Goth bars! Psy, Deathmatch in Hell, Ni-choome Eagle Blue drag nights.

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We’re back to blogging, babes! So much to share from my month and a half in Japan — from celebrating Halloween with friends, to covering Goth / alt subcultures in Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and more.

Let’s start with a deep dive into Shinjuku’s best Visual Kei / J-rock shops, Goth bars, and drag nightclubs.

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The trip was made possible by Japan Tourism Board, who flew me there and gave me a Japan Rail Pass. Felt so good to be back at Shibuya scramble and my other haunts.

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If you’ve been following my Instagram @LaCarmina, you’ll know that Yukiro and I have been serving Halloween looks all over Tokyo for spooky season. (Here’s a throwback to the time we wore saris from our hijra friends — the third gender — to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.)

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For spooky season, we’re living our best lives in Japan. Read on for our tour of Shinjuku’s Visual Kei / J-Rock record stores, as well as a Goth alternative and LGBTQ nightlife guide!

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Halloween is of course my favorite holiday, so Japanese nail salon Glam Nail Studio glammed me up with ghosts, mummies, bats, pumpkins, and eyeballs. Based in Richmond, BC (near Vancouver), this award-winning salon has been doing my nails for years. Kana hand-painted the spooky kawaii creatures of the night, and added sparkles.

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My friends and I love to hang out in Shinjuku — it’s a center of alt and pop culture, and there are plenty of shops, restaurants, game centers, rock bars, and other quirky attractions to keep us entertained.

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I always recommend that people stay in east Shinjuku (San-Choome) or Kabukicho, as this location is near the subway and within walking distance of all the fun. The Godzilla-themed Hotel Gracery is a great choice for accommodations (here’s my review and look inside the theme hotel).

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Ah, that iconic Shinjuku skyline… Perhaps you recognize the egg-shaped skyscraper from scenes in TV series Aggretsuko (the character works in this district). That’s the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, an educational facility.

prega shinjuku rave cyber fashion shop

Yukiro and I spent an afternoon shopping in Shinjuku. We hit up all the subcultures shops like Closet Child, which I’ve written about many times before. This time, he also took me to Prega, a rave / clubwear shop in Shinjuku Subnade (the underground shopping hall).

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These sneakers are made for walking on the moon! The selection of intergalactic fashion at Prega is out of this world.

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They have everything you need for a catwalk in outerspace.

tokyo alien ufo store

Governments are now admitting UFOs are real… We’d love for the aliens to beam us away!

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If the aliens look anything like this Kasa-Obake mural in Shinjuku, I’ll be happy. (Kasa-Obake is a traditional Japanese ghost/spirit, or yokai — an umbrella that comes to life and hops around, with one eye and a lolling tongue).

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We went around to Shinjuku’s J-rock / heavy metal / Visual Kei music stores. Japan is futuristic in some ways, but old-school in others. For example, floppy disks and fax machines are still in use here..

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… and VHS tapes still have a market! We couldn’t believe the number of shelves containing old adult videotapes. Some were selling for $100 and up.

shinjuku visual kei music stores record shops

If you’re looking for VKei albums and merch, head to Pure Sound Nishishinjuku and Jishuban Club. These (and other small Jrock/metal record stores) are located near each other in West Shinjuku.

kamijo cds japanese jrock shops record store vk

CDs are still popular in Japan. Kamijo has a strong selection (you can find Versailles, Malice Mizer, and other VK favs).

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These record stores also sell The Cure magazine, and other band goods including signed posters and rarities.

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Nostalgia for the 2000s when Visual Kei hair and makeup were everything!

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I don’t keep up with VK bands these days, but it was fun to pop into Pure Sound and Jishuban to browse the latest records.

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Yukiro and some of my friends still go to Visual Kei / Jrock lives, like the recent Schwarz Stein show. You can get tickets and info about upcoming shows at these music stores too.

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When night falls, Shinjuku turns into a neon synthwave jungle.

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Here’s the vibe of Kabukicho — flashing lights, sounds, and skyscrapers everywhere. Advertising trucks like this one zip by, blasting frenetic Jpop music.

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My friends and I will never say no to a nightcrawl in Shinjuku. We hopped around to a few alternative / Goth / metal bars — starting at our longtime favorite, Bar Psy.

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Shinjuku has bars for every theme or niche imaginable. Bar Psy attracts a Gothic and underground clientele — many industrial and metal bands come here for drinks after a show.

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Cevin Key of Skinny Puppy is a regular here — his band’s poster is up on the wall.

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I tried the Hell Machine blood red cocktail and… let’s say it lived up to its hellish name!

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Hail Japan, at Bar Psy!

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Onward to some other Shinjuku bars that fit our dark aesthetic…

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We went across the street to basement rock bar Mother. The skulls and blood-dripping fonts indicate this is the place for us.

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Order a drink, and you’re able to make a song request at Mother! Pick a band (like Skinny Puppy, which was misspelled), and the bartender will hand you CDs to choose tracks from.

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Even in a hard rock environment, Hello Kitty and her kawaii friends reign (this is Japan after all).

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We requested Klaus Nomi – yass!

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For a taste of Tokyo’s LGBTQ nightlife… strut over to Shinjuku’s Ni-choome district.

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Nichoome has LGBTQ bars and nightclubs for everyone. We’re fond of the inclusive Eagle Blue, a friendly bear den.

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Yukiro (as drag queen Nattmara) runs events here, like RuPaul’s Drag Race screenings and performances by local queens.

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We always have a bear-y good time at Shinjuku’s Eagle Blue club! There’s a more old-school Eagle bar around the corner too.

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Yukiro’s Goth drag house, Haus von Schwarz, often takes over the stage at Eagle Blue — here’s Angel Heart in pentagram finery. (Check their Insta page for upcoming shows — like the upcoming Fresh Meat.)

deathmatch in hell horror movie bar golden gai

Finally, Shinjuku is home to Golden Gai, or several alleys packed with tiny, gritty bars (some only can seat about five people). We were drawn to the new Death Match in Hell, which has a B-horror theme.

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Inside, you’ll encounter kitschy horror posters and demon-skeleton-bat creatures!

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Fittingly, all cocktails are 666 yen (hail). I went for the ginger one.

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We crammed into Deathmatch in Hell, which has tributes to dark pop culture like Twin Peaks, Chucky, and Nightmare on Elm Street.

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In the background, the bartender played offbeat cult films (he personally loves Wayne’s World).

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And of course, Shinjuku’s Kabukicho is the red light district — the place to find host / hostess bars and adult entertainment.

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Speaking of aliens… these purikura filters are over the top.

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If you partake in any adult / hostess clubs, exercise diligence since you might encounter unexpectedly high prices and other sketchiness.

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But don’t worry — Japan is super safe, and you can walk around the red light district at all hours without issue.

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Look for the red Ichiban-gai, the main entrance to Kabukichō off of Yasakuni-doori.

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Shinjuku at night is my happy place. (Don Quixote, the general store that sells everything from costumes to makeup to Tenga, is on the right).

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Kabukicho night photography by Joey Wong. We’re so happy to be back in Japan for Halloween… I’ll be bringing you loads of new content this fall from Tokyo and beyond, so stay tuned to Instagram @LaCarmina and my other social networks @lacarmina.

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You can look forward to fashionable new adventures with Yukiro… Here’s a redux of the time we went to Myanmar (“it will always be Burma to me”) and explored the golden Shwedagon Pagoda filled with Buddhist monuments.

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Throwback to Wes Anderson vibes at Palais Faraj in Fez, Morocco. Where in the world should La Carmina go next?

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I’d love to check out the hardcore hell parks in Thailand and Singapore… I wrote about Asia’s bizarre Buddhist hell parks for National Geographic! Check it out here on Nat Geo — “Found across Asia, these popular theme parks began as temple gardens that warned visitors of Buddhism’s many levels of hell and the gruesome fates that awaited them there.”

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And here’s a fun interview I did with Vancouver’s alt/indie paper, The Georgia Straight. I wax on about visual kei by Malice Mizer, disco, Army of Lovers, yuzu and what’s in my fridge!

If you’re enjoying my Japan content, please add me @LaCarmina on Instagram for a deluge of photos and reels there from my trip, including a yokai parade that went viral…

Department H Tokyo: Drag queens fetish nightlife! Keroppy Maeda Jomon ancient tattoos & body modifications exhibit.

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No-Face rides again! When I was last in Japan, I only had 15 minute to get ready for Department H (Tokyo’s seminal alt/drag/fetish party) — so I did quick look inspired by the mysterious spirit in the Ghibli film, Spirited Away.

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Spirited Away is probably my favorite Hayao Miyazaki anime, and this scene of Chihiro and No Face riding the train is unforgettable. They pass through water and the mystical Japanese countryside… you’ll have to see the film yourself to understand the magic.

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The outfit was fitting, as Tokyo’s Department H club night feels like being in a fantasy movie. Let me show you around the all-night party that features drag queen shows and eccentric outfits. Get ready for tons of photos by Joey Wong…

Ryoichi Keroppy Maeda journalist photographer taku oshima

… and I’ll also give you a tour of Keroppy Maeda and Taku Oshima’s Jomon tattoo / photography exhibit, which took place at Shinjuku Beams.

(By the way, I’m now on the Threads app. Who knows what will come of it, but you can add me @lacarmina on Threads as well as Instagram.)

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If you’re a longtime reader, you’ll know that my friends and I have long been attending Department H. The fetish night takes place on the first Saturday of every month, and has been running since the 1980s!

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Dept H is held in a somewhat random venue: Tokyo Kinema Club (東京キネマ倶楽部) in Uguisudani (鶯谷). Vincent joined me outside — our purple/blue hair had matching vibes.

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It’s a Department H tradition to get canned alcohol at the Family Mart convenience store next door. There are no bars or food/drink available inside, so you’re encouraged to BYOB.

I got a yuzu Strong Zero for old time’s sake (I do not have the strength for these any more!)

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At Department H, you can be who you want to be without judgment. (Please make sure you ask guests if they’re ok with being photographed, before taking any pictures.)

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This is the place to wear hentai, fetish and latex gear. Lockers are available if you want to come in wearing normcore clothes, and then change into your finery.

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Anyone is welcome here, and the partiers are extremely friendly (don’t let the spookier looks fool you!) Department H draws a mixed crowd — LGBTQ, fetish, alt fashion, you name it.

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The event features a glitzy drag queen parade, followed by all sorts of performances from dance to aerial silks…

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… and racy wrestling with peen-monsters! Remember the time Naomi and I shot a German TV show with Mr Peen, at Department H? 

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This Japanese purple drag queen was giving Yukiro energy.

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Can’t beat the creative costumes and makeup at Japanese club nights like Department H.

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Photojournalist Ryoichi Keroppy Maeda always has a booth at Department H, where he shares his passion for extreme body modifications. He signed a copy of his Modcon book that chronicles these body mods and the people behind them.

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You may remember Keroppy Maeda from our Japan bagel head adventures — there’s a photo of Dr John inside, from our National Geographic TV shoot where he got a bagelhead!

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At the time, Keroppy had a Jomon Tribe exhibit at Beams Shinjuku, which showcases his photography and collaborations with tattoo artist Taku Oshima.

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Keroppy and Taku have researched and revived the tattoos worn by the indigenous hunter-gatherers that lived in Japan thousands of years ago.

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Archeological evidence shows the Jomon people adorned their bodies with geometric lines and swirls, which Taku has adapted into modern tattoo designs.

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At the exhibit, you could see their Jomon body art and photos in large-scale, and shop Keroppy’s books and DVDs. (He did the Japanese subtitles for “A Hole in the Head,” a documentary about trepannation or drilling a hole in one’s skull.)

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Fascinating to learn how Japan’s earliest inhabitants engaged in bold tattooing, and how Keroppy and Taku have revived it using today’s techniques (in a country where tattoos remain taboo).

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Taku Oshima shows tools like the ones used in Jomon body modifications, thousands of years ago. They’ve uncovered evidence of dental mods and piercings made by the ancient Jomon tribes as well.

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Research suggests that the Jomon may have had facial markings, much like the ones he wears. Tattooing has long been practiced among the indigenous people of Hokkaido and Okinawa, until it was banned in the Meiji Period.

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Researchers are still uncovering artifacts about Jomon culture and practices, which bring new insight into the history of tattooing in prehistoric times.

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These tribal influenced tattoos are stunning, and a departure from the full-body yakuza style that most people equate with Japanese body art.

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Can’t wait to see what Keroppy and Taku do next with their modern primitive tattoo endeavors! Here’s their artistic statement in Japanese and English:

縄文族』とは、タトゥーアーティストの大島托とフォトグラファーのケロッピー前田によるアートプロジェクトである。このプロジェクトは縄文の文様を抽出し現代的なタトゥーデザインとして身体に刻むことで、人類の原始的な精神が21世紀を生き抜くためのアイデンティティとなり得ることを示している。これは日本における「モダン・プリミティブズ(現代の原始人)」 の実践である。

“JOMON TRIBE” is a collaborative art project between tattoo artist Taku Oshima and photographer Ryoichi Keroppy Maeda, in which the patterns of Japan’s Jomon period (14,000 – 300 BCE) are inscribed upon real human bodies as modern tattoo designs to show how the primitive spirit of humankind will become a new identity to survive the postmodern life of the 21st century. This project is the practice of “modern primitives” in Japan today.

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And on that note… back to the fabulous personal expressions at Department H nightclub.

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Kinema Club takes up two floors: you can walk around to admire the outfits, visit various vendor booths, and clap along to the performances such as the drag queen strut-fest.

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Of course, we found Miffy among the latex fetish bunnies…

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Would you give your confession to this priest?

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Such talented alt performers, like this aerial silks artist wearing horns.

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At Department H, you can observe or take part in shibari / kinbaku (Japanese rope bondage).

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Always some kawaii and cosplay inspired looks in the mix at Japanese events.

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The party spills over outside to the convenience store next door, where guests went for snacks and drinks.

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Admission to Department H is 5000 yen, but 10% off with an event flyer and 40% off with a costume — so put on your best pentagram, and party here until dawn (as the trains stop running between about midnight at 5am).

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Department H remains one of Tokyo’s best alt night clubs — may it remain this way for decades to come. Thanks to organizer Gogh-san for always welcoming me.

tokyo japan travel writing tourism tips guides

If you’re keen to travel to Japan, I have some new resources for you. I wrote four travel guides to Tokyo for (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), geared towards new travelers!

My articles are about Tokyo itinerary suggestions (for 3-7 days), the best day trips from Tokyo, 15 best things to do in the capitol, and where to stay from high-end to budget and family options. Let me know if you find them helpful, and feel free to share them.

And add me @lacarmina on Threads — I’ve been around since MySpace so who knows if Threads will last, but I’ll give it a go.