A Trip to Tokyo with Arlo Parks
The west London artist journeys to Tokyo for the very first time as part of her tour. Here, she documents the life-changing experience.
Arlo Parks had quite the year in 2021. Having released her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, to critical acclaim, the poet and singer became one of the youngest winners of the Mercury Prize and was later nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammy's. It was a stratospheric rise for the then 20-year-old, who was praised by artists like Lorde and Ghetts, and touted as the voice of a generation.
The artist is no stranger to travel, and has previously said that some of her most vivid memories are of family road trips from London to the south of France in the summers. However, she'd never been to Tokyo until her tour this year. The journey has been life-changing, and it's documented here in this Trippin on Tour video. Scroll down to read more about her journey.
How was your journey to Japan?
I got to Japan from LA, and it was so interesting because I wasn't sure what to expect but everyone had told me that going to Japan was like going into some other world. I remember looking down from the plane and seeing the mixture of the greenery and the urban landscape, and remember thinking, wow this feels like something different. But my favourite experience was probably taking the bullet train because I’d never done that before and I had the chance to do it. It was as futuristic as you might expect!
Walk me through your journey there. Did you arrive with an itinerary already or find your way once you arrived?
I had a few plans set in place. My drummer actually lived out in Tokyo for a couple of years and was fluent in Japanese so he had put together a very specific itinerary of the best coffee shops in town and the best vintage shops in town. He was so on it and I also had a friend there who was showing me around a little bit, so we had a loose itinerary. My favourite thing to do is wander round a little bit, and spend most of my time wandering out with the rest of my band and getting to know it on foot. That’s my favourite way to get to know a place. We shot the film in the first two days and then went out to Fuji Rocks (which was the reason why I was there). We got to Niigata by car and drove three hours out into the mountains. That was my favourite bit, being in the centre of nature. I love just staring at trees and flowers, and being in the heart of nature. It was a big contrast to the bustle of the city.
In every place that I go to I feel the nature, food and conversation are the three best ways for me to get under the skin of the place and get to know it. I really got the opportunity to do a lot of everything. When I’m on tour it’s usually a couple of days and then I’m out. I really wanted to put the time aside to really immerse myself in it.
What was the best thing you ate?
There were a couple of things that were really special. I went to this wagyu restaurant called Ebisu Yakiniku and I got to speak to the guy who owned the restaurant. It was my first time having any kind of wagyu beef ever, and it was absolutely mental. The restaurant takes reservations a year in advance so we somehow managed to get one in and he has this secret special sauce, which he refused to reveal. Even when I asked him to tell me he wouldn't! The interesting thing with him as well was that he used to be a DJ, so I managed to eat with the stage manager of the main stage of Fuji Rocks and it was interesting talking about his journey from music into cuisine, and the way that he approaches cooking in a similar way to making music and creating a similar experience.
You tweeted that Tokyo had been life changing. Can you share with us why?
The main thing for me was really delving into the sense of ritual and that deep sense of respect and attention to detail. I went to Harajuku and I went to Beans Records, and I was having conversations with Japanese DJs and conversations with the chefs at these restaurants. Just talking to people on the street and talking to fans, and there’s a real sense of care and attention to detail. Even when you go to the temples, it’s the way the hedges and flowers are kept in pristine conditions, and you go to coffee shops and you see everything is kept with a sense of ritual. I really carry that into my life and the way that I approach my music and the world. It was a reminder to focus on the little things and to do everything with intention/ I felt that in Tokyo. It instilled that in me for sure.
Was there a particular cultural highlight that stood out to you?
I went to this bar and I was speaking to some local drag queens and queer DJs. It was really eye-opening. On one side of things in a positive sense, seeing the fact that everywhere there are these bubbling pockets of queer expression and music and everyone's dancing; it’s filling out into the streets and rave culture is so present. That put things into perspective – how it’s a place where queer people still don’t feel completely safe and free, but there’s that sense of resilience and that sense of celebrating and finding community. Just being able to experience the nightlife is something I don't usually get to do, and just chatting to people.
Are there anymore memorable stories you'd like to share?
I got invited to try all these exotic, strange luxury fruits/ They were like 400 quid grapes, muskmelons and white strawberries. The melons all came from this set of two or three trees in this mad part of Japan, and that’s why they were so expensive. It was the most delicious experience of my life. I managed to have all these crazy little experiences that I didn’t even know existed. Learning about the fact that people, even when doing business deals or celebrating their ancestors, they give fruit instead of how you might give wine or whatever.
Fruit is a big part of how people show love and gratitude which was really interesting. I’m a big fruit person and it was the first time I’d actually tried fruit with a story and the shop itself was next to that square in Shibuya where there’s the statue of the dog, Hachi, that would wait for his owner outside the station after he died. So the guy’s grandfather had started a fruit shop there and used to feed that dog. It was sick.
Are there any aspects of Japan that you feel have fuelled your creativity?
Definitely. It comes back to that attention to detail I was talking about before. Whenever I go to a new place I love to go to the local record shops and see what’s going on there and see how young people are influencing the scene there. And just talk to the people who are working at these stalls and putting on these DIY gigs, and learning a bit about the subcultures. I guess I didn’t realise how wide reaching the subcultures in Japan were and the fact that there’s a big punk scene or a big DJ scene or even psychedelic rock, just all sorts. Really starting to delve into the art as well and rediscovering the artists that maybe I already knew but I felt enthused to come back to having actually been to where they’re from. Like Yukasama, I went into a deep hole of rediscovering her art and the motivations behind her. When I go to a place and it completely changes me it makes me excited about the world, and makes me want to write more and learn more and just see everything again. You learn about yourself through travel. When given the opportunity to be in a new place and if you really throw yourself into it, it does teach you a lot about you and your interests. You become a sponge. You become so much more open to soaking things up everywhere.
Even when we were driving up into the mountains and you could see these little bath houses, it reminded me of Spirited Away – there was a nostalgic feeling to it. Almost like when you go to New York and you recognise some of the streets or those little fire escapes.
Are there any lessons or rituals from Japan you would take with you?
The main lesson would be to notice every little thing. Take pride in every little thing and enjoy it. That was the main thing I think I learnt from the way that people treat you and how they treat their food and tea. There’s a real sense of taking pride. You know, the old man on the corner who’s got his little stall is taking absolute pride in placing each piece of food and placing the food into people’s hands. It’s such an exchange of love and it’s so intentional and it’s something I want to carry with me. Going to a place like Japan excited me more about travelling outside of work, really putting time aside to leave my phone behind and just go out with my camera and be open to whatever happens.
Travelling around the world you get to experience so many different crowds. What was performing in Japan like?
It didn’t feel that different in terms of the energy. Every show I play I’ve been welcomed with open arms and I feel this real sense of inclusion where everyone throws themselves into it. But particularly in Fuji Rocks, everyone really abandoned themselves to the music. There’s something about playing in a place for the first time that can be a little nerve racking, because I literally have no idea how I’m going to be received. But the tent was completely shut down and they put out text alerts, like, "no one come to this marquee 'cause its too packed!". So that was mad, everyone was so friendly and free, it was wild – I loved it! It was one of my favourite shows I’d ever played, the band and I came off stage so gassed.