I’ve always wanted to go to Japan at some point. Topshelf having partnered with so many artists from there over the years had only cemented that further so I was really excited when the opportunity to visit along with my partner and a bunch of friends came up back in 2018. The above slideshow features [lol SO MANY] photos from Ratboys, myself, my partner Tabitha, and Dowsing’s Mike P.
Meeting Mike P at an airport somewhere around the world had become somewhat of a [pre-pandemic] joyous semi-constant in my life so it was great to greet his smiling face after a whole day of flying across a dang ocean. To kill some time until then though, we explored the airport, used the magic toilets, and joined a sketchy open wifi network wherein my Twitter almost immediately got hacked by someone promoting a SoundCloud rapper called “DJ Love” lol. In hindsight, it was kinda nice to be locked out of Twitter for the duration of the trip!!
This was a little different than all the other times I’ve jumped in a van and gone on a tour in that we basically didn’t do that, at all. Tabitha, Mike, and I rented a Toyota car (Toyota has a rental car service there like how we have Hertz, Alamo, or Enterprise, etc.) and basically charted a 10-day trip around Ratboys’ tour of Japan’s Honshu island together. Mike has an international driver’s license (which sounds way more official than it reasonably has any business being: it’s a little piece of paper he printed from an inkjet from a test he took through AAA which is for some reason respected by 300+ countries). Driving in Japan is opposite of how we do it in the US, so you’re on the left instead of the right. My heart jumped and I never got used to taking a left turn the whole trip. Having our own car, and thus, the ability to take any detour we pleased was a major perk and worth the extra expense though.
Someone posted this image in the meme channel of our Discord and, frankly, it checks out.
We started our trip in Tokyo, arriving pretty late, we took the subway to a guest house and then ventured out to find some food. The only place we could find nearby that was open: Denny’s. Not what I was hoping would be my first meal in Japan, but a truly different experience nonetheless. Upon being seated we were given the “American” menu which featured like 20+ kinds of Spaghetti—a dish I’m not even sure Denny’s in the US even serves one kind of? I have an almost exclusively vegan diet, but when traveling to foreign places, I enact a vegan moratorium and just eat anything served or recommended to me. Food is, IMO, maybe the biggest part of connecting with your surroundings so it feels counterintuitive to the idea of taking in and fully experiencing a place without also experiencing what they eat there, despite it running counter to my overarching dietary moral compass. Anyway, I ordered a Turkey Club and fries lol. We returned to our guest house and went to sleep in a shared room with a businessman who's teeth we could hear aggressively grinding from across the room all night.
One of the first things that became apparent, 7/ll is a fundamentally different store in Japan and oh my days we went there, and I mean it, at least twice a day. The cleanliness of Tokyo also immediately stuck out to me. I started my day waking up before everyone else and sneaking out for a morning run. It was early and so I got to catch lots of people going to work, kids going to school, old men fishing on the river—it was really pleasant!
Later on we headed to Shibuya to finally meetup with Ratboys at Disk Union. This location is four floors of music—a really great record store! There’s a photo in the gallery above of Julia reacting to seeing her music on the shelves of the shop, which, I feel like has gotta be a really cool feeling as an artist.
I wanted to visit as many record shops as I could while there, but I didn’t get to as many as I'd hoped to—maybe next time, Waltz and Flake!! Anyway, from there we went to the arcade which was bonk, did touristy stuff—Shibuya Crossing and all that—and then we broke off to go meet up with Yama from toe. Yama picked us up in a Toyota Deliboy (a vehicle I was unfamiliar with prior, but am now fully enamored with—it's featured in a few of the photos in the gallery) and drove us to his office above world-renowned beat boutique, Jazzy Sport. I wanted to spend all night here, but we unfortunately had to leave pretty abruptly.
We headed to the grocery store to pick up a few things and then we were off to Yama's for a home-cooked meal with his family. This is the best, most rewarding shit about traveling and touring and doing Topshelf: it's just, kicking it with your people and learning more about one another, and connecting in this way that just maybe isn't possible otherwise! It's something I deeply cherish, and miss dearly during this pandemic. Yama and his family were great hosts, and we drank whiskey and shared stories until we were all sleepy. We spent the night in their guest room and woke up early to the sound of crows chattering outside the window. Crows sound WEIRD in Japan!! I can't explain it. They're higher pitched—it's super unnerving.
The next day we stopped By Satoshi (bass in toe)'s shop that he runs with his wife, F/CE, to drop some stuff off and then go explore with Yama's daughter who was playing hooky for the day to kick it with us. We ate a ton of food (Ballon was really good), visited some shrines and shops, and then met up with toe's manager and friend Katsu. He had the key to his co-worker Chie's apartment. Chie works as a tour manager and was away on the road with a band on tour so she said we could stay at her place for free while we were in Japan, on the condition that she could stay at our place if she ever comes to Portland. I still have never met Chie, and with the uncertainties of a global pandemic now who knows when I ever will, but I hope she comes to Portland someday.
From there we headed to the first show of the tour at WARP. I remember hearing Ratboys play songs that would eventually end up as tracks on Printer's Devil for the first time this night. The room was packed, but Tokyo crowds are kinda timid, and this was my first experience at a live show here, so I didn't know what to expect. But yeah, crowd reactions were super enthusiastic after each song, but during songs—even like, full bops, y'know?—a stoic crowd you'd otherwise have no idea was enjoying the set. I also recall I iced™ Dave within minutes after their set lol such poor etiquette. Otherwise, I remember thinking it was really special to get to kick it with a bunch of people I knew from home while simultaneously meeting so many others I have exchanged emails and social media messages with for years—and also to see so many Topshelf cassettes and records stocked in the shop upstairs! Idk, just a cool sense of connection on the other side of the world. We hit up 7/11 again for booze and onigiri after a kinda long train ride and then headed back to Chie's completely exhausted.
The next day we woke up and metup with Ratboys again. Their hosts, Hajime and MJ, took us to a sushi spot (y'know one of the ones with the conveyor belts—I mean, c'mon, you have to). I sat next to Hajime who kept recommending things to try. I ended up stacking up eleven plates, completely gorged on sashimi. It was awesome lol. We found out toe's stage manager Yu works nearby so we went and stopped into the shop he works at building custom syntheziers for artists around the world. It was sick and made me wish I knew, frankly, anything about making music.
The show that night was at Nine Spices and Lucie, Too were opening it. Which, if you're reading this, you will like them and should check them out!
I have a lot of questions about showers in Japan. Is it expected that just, the whole room gets wet? I couldn't figure it out.
Going from Tokyo to Osaka was a really pleasant drive. Didn't get to see Fuji because it was covered by clouds :/. Rest stops have airport duty-free gift shop energy here. They're realllly big and full of like, every kind of delicacy. Lots of fancy packaged things. Kind of like a mall for well packaged desserts. Both rest stops we went to had magicians performing at the entrance with honestly, pretty sizable crowds, like people weren't on the highway with somewhere to be.
When we arrived to Osaka, it was already night time and holy hell Osaka is a visually stimulating place!! Where in Tokyo there wasn't so much as a speck of dust on the ground, Osaka is gritty as hell. People also seemed a lot more laid back and outgoing. Definitely a more raucous crowd for Ratboys than in Tokyo.
Afterward, I got to meet Dawa, who runs the previously mentioned Flake records. It was brief, but I really enjoyed our conversation—it's always pleasant to meet other record label peeps! I dug Osaka overall, but we didn't even get to stay for more than the evening, unfortunately. We broke off from Ratboys after the show as Mike, Tabitha, and I wanted to go to Nara and Kyoto, but the tour routing had the Rat crew going back east again.
The next morning I got up early to go running in the woods in Nara. It was ~ m a g i c a l ~. I ran around some foot paths, passing centuries-old shrines and it was really nice to have the whole place nearly to myself (well, and hundreds of deer). An elderly woman was also out running and passed me going the opposite way and she was fully cruising lol!! I could not believe how fast she was moving. She was awesome. The rest of the day was spent doing touristy stuff and eating lots of delicious food around the city. Tab bought a can of heated corn juice from a vending machine that had tons of chunks of corn in it and was honestly basically just a can of corn soup? lolol. I'm still kinda grossed out about it to this day but she loved it.
The next day brought us to Nagoya. Nagoya felt like somewhere in between Osaka and Tokyo vibe-wise, but a lot more industrial. I had been looking forward to arriving here the whole trip because I was excited to meet Tak who runs Stiffslack Records, and to check out his shop. We hung out on the rooftop balcony for a bit and chatted about music, and running record labels, working with some of the same bands together, but on different sides of the world, etc. It was a really insightful conversation with someone whose drive and ambition I've always admired from afar. The show was great and, again, the band had a really good crowd. I noticed a lot more people singing along and knowing the words this night. I remember not realizing at the time that this was the last set I'd see the band play on the tour (and last time in general since, with COVID :/ ).
Some of the Ratboys crew had decided they weren't gonna drink, so they gave me and Mike their drink tickets. Having secured an airbnb a short walk away, and with an after party at Stiffslack already on the docket, Mike and I decided we'd be drinking whiskey. We stepped up to the bar to order two whiskey drinks and I'm not really sure what happened here in translation, but the bartender took our tickets and then proceeded to pour us each a pint glass filled to the brim with whiskey lolol, which we then proceeded to drink honestly way too fast. So Mike and I got really drunk. Everyone went back to Stiffslack afterward and it was a great night overall, I assume, I don't know, I don't really remember it weeeeee
About a month before I had even booked my plane ticket to Japan, I found a home-made zine on my kitchen table that covered things to do in Kyoto, helpful phrases, social-niceties, etc. It was really informative, but also super personable and playful. Having no idea I planned to go to Japan soon, my housemate picked it up on a whim from the local library's zine collection because it looked cool. Identifying this as maybe more than just a coincidence, I decided to look into it more and found the zine's creator, Mayuka, on Instagram. I reached out to say hello and mentioned I was expecting to be in town in a few months. After some back and forth, we made plans to meet up, get food, go sightseeing, and, naturally: go running.
Bonchi is a shop in Kyoto specializing in creating miniature versions of popular foods and dishes (@bonchikyoto on Instagram to see what I mean). Mayuka is the shop’s proprietor and one of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. In addition to housing her miniature foods business, Bonchi also serves as home base for her forays into all of these other niche things that she oversees with great care like zine making, tape collecting, and the Bonchi Runners Club where she meets with locals and tourists alike to run all around Kyoto together (I would say meeting Mayuka is what most prompted me to start The Topshelf Running Club).
You can be generous in many ways. Mayuka is generous with her time. She showed me and my friends all around the city, prepared us a fantastic home-cooked meal, and went running with us at 8:00am on the nose the next morning.
The feeling of connectedness you experience when you travel and meet (or host!, as I'm sure Mayuka would agree) other people, and intertwining your own experience with theirs is, I think, something that is fundamentally lacking in our current time (yeah, yeah, even without a pandemic). I’ve had people welcome me into their space all around the world and a lot of the time, as it was with Mayuka, running becomes this shared thing that helped to make that happen. That’s super inspiring to me and something I hope to foster with my own club and just, make people feel good and part of something. We should all strive to be like Mayuka!!!
Anyway, even though Ratboys couldn't join us, Kyoto was the highlight of the trip for me. I hope to go back as soon as I can!
The drive back to Tokyo and subsequent returning of the rental car marked a decisive change in the tone of the trip as it dawned on all of us that it was nearing its conclusion. Feeling nostalgic for a time we were still currently existing in, we did what any self respecting person would do and got matching tour tats of rats wearing Hajime's trademark glasses. I'm not 100% sure but I think being a tattoo artist might be illegal, or still really frowned upon socially in Japan. So our appointment was made with a guy in his apartment. Rat tatted up, we proceeded to meetup with Katsu and his family for a dinner in a traditional izakaya. As this was the last night of our trip, we absolutely went for it. We ordered like 17 plates of food. I ate everything Katsu ordered for me and then some. Pure bliss. Something that for sure is illegal is the amount of drugs we did and then walked around Tokyo. With Katsu as our guide, we stopped at loads of different little bars and eateries, snuck into the top floor of a high rise building to see the city skyline, went to a "gun bar" (???), and eventually ended up posting up at a bar for more drinks and stimulating conversation. I vaguely remember our cab driver on the way home crashing into a fence, but I also remember us all being way way way too casual about our cab driver just crashing into a fence so I don't remember if that was real or not.
Our last day started off relaxing and slow. We packed up our stuff at Chie's and left her a gift as a thank you for letting us stay at her place. Then we headed out to a lovely coffeeshop for some pourovers and breakfast. It is then that I realized our flights were at the other Tokyo airport—almost two hours away by train. Nice. We paid our bill, chugged an amazing cup of coffee :/, hugged Mike goodbye and burst out into the city running from train to train to train to train to commuter rail to airport shuttle to "wow we just made that by a few minutes." Classic.
Anyway, sorry if you read all of this expecting to hear a lot about Ratboys on tour in Japan lol, it was basically a nice vacation that happened to coincide with a bunch of Ratboys shows. Please put "a nice vacation that happened to coincide with a bunch of Ratboys shows." on my headstone btw. I love you all, thank you for reading about a really nice time that happened.
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