Monday, December 27, 2010
Shibuya Twilight by ~supergaijin76 on deviantART
I think I took this photo in May of this year, but it might have been in 2009. It's not far from Shibuya Station, in the maze of shopping streets behind Senta-gai. I went there almost every May, August and December while I was in Japan, but I never once ate at Miami Garden or the Standing Sushi Bar!
When I was teaching in Japan, my students often asked me, "Why are you interested in living in Japan?" I think they usually found my answer pretty mystifying, since I never once met a person who knew anything about Boredoms or Melt-Banana. So they'd ask, "Are Boredoms or Melt-Banana popular in America?" they'd ask, and I'd have to reply, "Well... not really..." and we'd have to go the "long way around the barn" to come to the mutual understanding I was in Japan for intensely personal, largely sonic and visual reasons, none of which anyone found interesting.
Eventually, I learned to just answer, "I'm here because I like modern Japanese music." If the students pursued that further and asked what groups I like, I'd say, "Different kinds. Not popular ones," and try to turn it into a discussion of the kinds of music they enjoyed. Sometimes this went over pretty well. We had one young woman who was so totally into Glay she went to practically every concert and she'd always light up and start chatting with enthusiasm about the latest show she attended.
In my highest level class-- the one that always left me giddy and out of breath from the super intense effort of keeping up with the two students and their quick witted repartee-- one girl (who spoke flawless, native speaker-level English, by the way) was a dedicated SMAP fan. One December afternoon late in the semester, she got excited talking about how much she was looking forward to their New Year's TV special.
The other girl in the class laughed, rolled her eyes and declared, "I don't give a shit about that!"
I'm a bit obsessed with this song right now. It transports me. Listening to it, I can almost imagine myself gliding into Tokyo on the shinkansen for my annual New Year's holiday there. For someone from a small southern town whose idea of a big city was Atlanta, Georgia, discovering Tokyo for the first time was roughly the same as David Bowman's trip through the monolith-- mind-expanding, soul-altering. I'm strongly emotionally affected by such things. And this song provides the perfect soundtrack for that experience.
Tokyo, I love you!
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Yes, I'm late to this party but I'm on a bit of an Orson Welles kick today and only just now found this on YouTube. Forget Bill Murray's character and his Suntory commercial in Lost in Translation. The incomparable Orson Welles for G&G, ladies and gentlemen. "Nikka Whisky" indeed!
Friday, November 19, 2010
They were incredibly nice when I talked to them.
I'd love to see the full band perform sometime. If I had the money, I'd bring them to the US and set them off on tour. Toy Missile would spread positive vibes from coast to coast and blow away all this pall of anxiety and uncertainty. Worry no more!
It looks as though she's really pushing herself as a singer these days. That's cool. She can be a multi-talented threat. Nothing controversial or unusual in these remarks; the things she loves about Japan are pretty much the same things my students used to tell me when asked the same question-- especially the "four seasons" part. But there's a flash of the wild Chiaki right at the end, a little teaser for something dangerous to come!
Friday, November 5, 2010
I couldn't imagine trying to deliver pizzas on one of those brightly-painted little pizza scooters to a Japanese house in say, Hirosawa-cho, Hamamatsu. It would be like driving along a noodle in a plate of spaghetti and trying to find a specific tomato.
Pay attention to the photo accompanying that story-- it's heartbreaking. I have no idea why they chose that particular photo. Yes, it's a Domino's, but it's not even in Japan. The Tokyo log line just under it could lead to confusion. Much like trying to find a residence in Hirosawa-cho!
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
bande annonce - Battle Royale 3D バトル・ロワイアル3D 予告編
Uploaded by hideto42. - Check out other Film & TV videos.
That's right! Toei Company has converted the cult classic Battle Royale into current gimmick format 3D for a November 20th release. I suppose as a 3D skeptic and Battle Royale super-fan I should be outraged or something, but I'm not. I'm happy the movie is getting a re-release. As much as I love this movie, it's not exactly a work of art. We're not talking colorizing Citizen Kane here, and we've already seen special editions and a crappy sequel. Battle Royale is a pulp movie all the way, meant to be seen by jazzed-up audiences. So I applaud anything that puts it back on the big screen.
My only concern is the visual quality. The movie's cinematography is already on the murky side, and from what I understand, 3D conversions sometimes further darken images. Apparently, that was one of the many, many, many, many, many failings of M. Night Shyamalan's much-derided Last Airbender fiasco. What's the point of a movie known for its groovy ultra-violence by the likes of Aki Maeda, Shibasaki Kou and Chiaki Kuriyama if we can't see all the gore?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
You know, I get really bummed out about the constant reiteration of the same old movie plots. Boy tries to win girl, mismatched couple with impossibly glamorous jobs fall in love while bickering about gender differences, spies and secret agents pursue each other or some ridiculous, world-changing technology or secret via dizzingly choreographed action setpieces, giant robots who talk almost exclusively in simple-minded declaratives and/or pop culture references come to earth and fight for no particular reason while Shia LaBeouf looks on, yet another shabby child-targeted cultural artifact from a simpler time is dressed up with edgy scatalogical jokes and crotch-kicks...
How about a movie where the actors in a live radio drama start demanding changes to the script? Yes. Hell yes, I say. That's the premise of Rajio no Jikan (1997), also known as Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald. Thirteen years later, and it still seems fresher than the latest Hollywood CGI-laden 3D arglebargle. That one actor renames his character Donald McDonald because he sees a McDonald's bag is enough to make me want to watch this. That the writer is horrified when the drama's setting is moved from Atami to New York only adds to my desire to own it on DVD.
Even if every other element of this film proved to be an unmitigated disaster, I'd still want to see it. But apparently, it won three Japanese Academy Awards and was nominated for several more.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
This is someone's homemade video for Yoshimi P-We's noise song "Tuna Fish Power." I think. I just found it on YouTube and was so excited to share it with you, I didn't feel like doing any research. Yoshimi is a towering musical talent from Boredoms/Voordoms, OOIOO, Free Kitten (with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth) and at least one collaboration with Flaming Lips. Plus many others of which I'm not currently aware.
My one regret about having lived in Japan was not seeing her perform live with any of those groups, or solo. Some people go to Japan with a dream of climbing Mt. Fuji. Seeing Yoshimi P-We perform is my Mt. Fuji.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Sorry, I didn't make this video. Whoever did has my admiration and gratitude because it brings back a lot of fun memories. It's Kabukicho, the "red light district" of Tokyo's fabulous Shinjuku ward. Whenever I went to Tokyo back in the day, I stayed right in the heart of it at a business hotel called Hotel Kent. My students kept telling me how dangerous it was; apparently, they eventually got through to me because I shifted my Tokyo headquarters out to Hatagaya and the more affordable Sakura Hotel-- which I highly recommend to any young travellers looking for reasonably priced lodgings. They also plan all kinds of educational and fun cultural and social events.
I used to love walking around Kabukicho at night. Prostitutes-- female and male-- used to proposition me pretty frequently. Not that I'm anything special; it's their job to pick up stragglers and earn some yen for their pimps.
Once, being something of a smart ass, I switched up the transaction on a working girl.
"You'll pay me how much for what?" I asked her and she looked as if her brain skipped a groove.
A heavy-set man in a suit came running over, telling me and my friend Mike in perfect English we had it all wrong, that it didn't work that way. I decided my lame comedy stylings worked better as a road act so the two of us high-tailed it out of there and found a hostess bar in which to drink and be groped by topless women in g-strings as we passed from sobriety into a more risk-taking frames of mind. The end result was we left about 200 bucks lighter and my face smeared with lipstick of some kind.
From time to time, I wonder what happened to that girl. She was quite pretty, had a little English, probably was scared most of the time. I can't imagine her story will have a happy ending. Whatever else was happening to her at the time, it certainly was no fairy tale, and I was no Richard Gere.
That's Kabuki-cho. A dangerous place? I don't know. I felt a little nervous there, but I also came through unscathed each time, no matter how drunk I got. And during the day it's full of young office workers having lunch, teams of stylish young women shopping or high school kids. Plus hardcore pachinko addicts who are too fixated on their little metal balls to care much about some bald white guy walking around gawking at the scenery. And, as you can see from this video, even at night it teems with diners, shoppers and your everyday variety fun-seekers. So I imagine danger is a subjective thing.
Then again, I once threw myself into the center of a riot one night back home in the States. So perhaps I'm not the best judge of whatever constitutes risky behavior.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
And I've just now discovered Castle Tintagel. During my time in Japan, I met quite a few people who traveled to Japan to learn Asian martial arts, but this is the first time I've seen people learning European martial arts there.
Heck yeah, why not? Why not do something out of the ordinary, something free from cliche while you're in Japan? Anyone can eat sushi or take an ikebana class (and I recommend you try both)-- only the daring few will take a class in the German longsword. I really had no idea there were chivalry enthusiasts over there, and the photos certainly make the experience look fun. This is something I wish I'd known about before I jetted back to the States because I would have loved doing a little Renaissance dancing in Tokyo. Not so sure about the sparring in full armor. I'm a lover, not a fighter.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Thursday, May 6, 2010
It's not small! No no no!
This is a view towards Shibuya and Shinjuku from the main observation deck of Tokyo Tower. I climbed 500 meters up the central stairs to get to this two-story deck. The line for the elevator to the very top was so long, I decided to walk as far as they'd allow. I'm not squeamish about heights, just about human constructions that take us to those heights. I don't trust 'em. So huffing and puffing my way up some steel steps was actually more comfortable for me than taking the elevator and watching Tokyo vertiginously fall away from my feet, thoughts of structural and mechanical failure rampaging in my mind, sending panic-currents flowing through my nervous system.
The observation deck was crowded, due especially to the holiday. I went to Tokyo Tower during Golden Week, that special time of the year when three national holidays in a row shut down a lot of businesses and send families hither and yon across Japan in search of fun. I don't know what someone who suffers from both acrophobia and agoraphobia would do at Tokyo Tower; I don't recommend you try if you have both these fears unless your doctor recommends it as some kind of immersion therapy.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Friday, April 30, 2010
This is a short video I made the other night at the MxBx show. I'm going to post a review of the happening later. Things are kind of in flux right now so I don't have as much time as I'd like or the ability to concentrate. Sorry! But enjoy the jittery video!
Monday, April 19, 2010
Meanwhile, I know it's no fun being stranded at an airport for days. Sakura Hotel & Hostel of Tokyo reports some of their guests from France have had to extend their stay; these are the lucky ones, because the Sakura people are just incredible and they plan a lot of activities for visitors. Even so, I know these weary travelers simply want to go home.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Her official signing ceremony takes place April 13th here in Japan. Here's wishing Yoshida Eri the best of luck as she embarks on this exciting new phase in her baseball career!
Monday, April 5, 2010
Discipline, finances, planning trips, taking charge of their children's educations. These are the things left in their care. I doubt many (if any) of the positive aspects of Japanese society would exist without Japanese mothers. And do they complain?
Well, yeah, constantly.
Occasionally, Japanese mothers even go into space to operate robotic arms and inspect space shuttle heat-shielding tiles for damage. Aerospace engineer Yamazaki Naoko is just the second Japanese woman to travel into space and here's hoping she has a safe, productive journey. The Mainichi Daily News says this about her:
Her role will be one that affects the success or failure of the entire mission.
That's true in space or here in Japan, whether the mission is delivering supplies to the International Space Station or producing functioning, contributing adults who are a benefit to their communities. What an amazing person. What amazing people I've met and taught and talked to since I've been here. The Japanese mother. I stand in awe and open admiration.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I went looking on YouTube for some video of the MxBx show I attended at Earthdom in Tokyo's Shin-Okubo section, but found this instead. I'm not sure when it occured, but I do know from Yasuko's clothing it isn't the show I went to. I don't think I've ever seen her wearing anything other than her white hoodie.
Judging from this video and the show I was at, Melt-Banana's Earthdom gigs are insane. I was there September 30, 2007 (has it really been almost three years?), and bodies packed the venue. The action in front of the stage was insane. I tried to take photos, but even near the back people jostled my arms and pounded my body. I came away hobbled, suffering from intense back pain, leaning on my umbrella like sick old man.
My advice is, if you're young and energetic and ever in Tokyo with the chance to see Melt-Banana live, try to go to a show at Earthdom. If you're an oldster like me, with a body ravaged by years of chemical abuse, then catch Melt-Banana at Shibuya O-Nest.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
In honor of that achievement, here's the video I made of the band last year. This will be my fifth and probably final time seeing Melt-Banana in Japan, and it comes exactly 8 months after the last one.
I've never been to Setagaya (as far as I can remember), so it should be a double treat. Three bands, a new locale, a few new vistas. It will require some hard traveling-- I have to get to Tokyo, check into a hotel, find the venue, enjoy the show, get up early the next day and come back to close out my apartment, then it's back to Tokyo again.
But it's MxBx, so it's worth it.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
This song has it all. Agata's counter-musical guitar attack, Yasuko's barked, high-speed vocals and one of Rika's most propulsive bass lines.
And here's a short live clip of the band playing it live at Shibuya's O-Nest, March 21, 2005:
I was at this show. Fantastic night. Enthusiastic bodies packed the venue and interior temperatures soared. MxBx opened for the Red Krayola, but after their set I went up the exterior steps-- since closed to the public-- for some fresh air and to gaze out over the Tokyo skyline. An infinity of city lights, some flickering, some blinking and some perfectly still punctuating the night like satellite transmissions made visible.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I love me some Kitano Takeshi. He's a multi-talented, seemingly tireless and incredibly complex artist. He also hosts some of the funniest shows on Japanese television, like the strange spectacle of a large group of comedians being zapped with missiles via satellite by then-President George W. Bush whenever they failed to answer trivia questions correctly. And the time he declared what was apparently a ghostly head in the background of a ghost video to be just a homeless person sleeping behind a concrete planter.
I've been meaning to read his autobiography and soon I'll have plenty of free time in which to do so. Hearty congratulations on this honor, Mr. Kitano. Now, let's enjoy a television interview with this master of arts:
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I'm so happy to have gotten a comment on this blog, I decided to post another Melt-Banana video: Yasuko having fun on stage. This is a pretty nice clip, one of the more professional MxBx concert videos I've run across and it gives one an excellent feel for what their live shows are like. I tend to prefer them in an intimate setting so I can focus on each element without distraction but it's heartening to see the band in front of a large, appreciative and receptive audience.
Melt-Banana doesn't have many upcoming shows this spring. All I've seen listed is one at Earthdom in March, a Melt-Banana Lite gig. It'd be nice to catch them once more before I jet out of Japan, but that may not be possible.
Oops... I just checked the MxBx MySpace page. They've got a show on March 21st, but their live schedule hasn't been updated. Kinda makes it hard to search for one last chance to catch them before I go home.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Saturday, February 6, 2010
It was a wind strong enough to suck the breath right out of a person.
I'm not sure if we had snow flurries earlier this morning, but the ragged clouds flowing overhead like pale leaves caught in a sudden flood certainly looked snow-laden to me. The air smelled like snow. There was snow somewhere around... maybe a few miles away in the mountains. Maybe snow oni were riding those clouds towards them.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I'm not sure what that video is. I was looking for another AKB48 clip with which to illustrate this post, and this was first. Pretty amusing. At first I thought it might be two AKB48 members giving a press conference, but now I believe it's a couple of girls comically riffing on the whole "idol" phenomenon. I can only understand about 5% of what they're saying, so I could easily be wrong. I like their little synchronized hand gestures, though.
AKB48 fans found my post about the group, and if any are still reading this blog, welcome. I checked out some AKB48 messageboards and was happy to see a few people enjoyed my post. It was fun to write, and I had no idea the group's popularity had penetrated the North American market already. Anything that gets people excited about Japan is fine by me. Well, amost anything; there are a few things here that deeply disturb me and I try not to think about them.
But if AKB48 is your gateway drug, then I'm all for that. Mine happened to be Ultraman, Pink Lady and Jeff and bands like Shonen Knife and Melt-Banana.
Anyway, here's a bit more about AKB48 and their impact locally. That is, in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture.
At the beginning of the week, I usually ask my students what they did over the weekend. Standard stuff, and they're no doubt bored as hell by it by now. One of my classes consists of three kids from three different local high schools. Here's what happened Tuesday, in a semi-screenplay format:
ME: And what did you do last weekend?
GIRL (big smile): I went to karaoke... with my friends.
ME: How many people went?
GIRL (thinks for a moment): Three people.
ME: Wow, cool, fun! What songs did you sing?
(A barely audible, all-in-Japanese discussion between the GIRL and the one GUY in the class ensues. She wants to know what I'm asking and this is the safest, quickest way to find out. The GUY explains.)
GIRL (smiling again, still not sure she understands, but willing to do her best to answer): AKB.
ME: AKB48? Do you like AKB48?
GIRL (laughing because she's surprised I know what AKB48 is and possibly because the answer to such a stupid question should already be obvious): YES!
Unfortunately for her, a quick quiz determined she was the only AKB48 fan in the room. But outside the classroom, she's not alone.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
And yet I do recommend you watch it.
I don't really know a whole lot about these girls, but they're one of the hottest things going right now here in Japan. So hot, the Asahi Weekly English-language weekly tabloid made them the cover feature over New Year's.
Forgive me if my facts are a little hazy, but here's what I've gathered by a sort of psychic osmosis: AKB48 is an electrically energetic singing/dancing idol group that regularly performs sold-out shows in their own theater in Akihabara. There are approximately one thousand members of AKB48; 800 members and 200 "interns." Their plan is to assault the world with high-energy cuteness, conquer international pop culture and then reign supreme from a solid gold palace located directly atop the South Pole from which they'll broadcast messages of peace and moe.
On a no more serious but hopefully more accurate note, there are actually 51 members in the group's current line-up, in three teams-- A, K and B. Their producer and mastermind, Akimoto Yasushi, has written lyrics for Nakashima Mika and Exile, a couple of evergreen musical acts. Nakashima played Nana in the movie adaptation of the popular shojo manga of the same name. Yasushi began AKB48 in 2005 and they've really hit it big. And it's looking more and more as if 2010 will be their most triumphant year yet.
Because as I learned today, AKB48 is so popular with young people here in Japan several high schools in Hamamatsu now feature teams of girls who have assigned each other AKB48 roles and peform spirited imitations of the group during breaks between classes and at lunch. I learned this from some amused witnesses to the AKB48 phenomenon, which seems to have erupted here almost overnight. One guy told me some girls at his school begged him to write an AKB48-style song for them to sing. Since he's a man of musical integrity, he refused.
He did admit, however, he'd write one for the real AKB48 if they asked. I wanted to know why.
"Because I could write a better song than the ones they have now," he replied. I haven't heard any of his songs, but I agree completely. He also feels while all the AKB48 girls are cute, there are just too darned many of them.
The girls I talked to said they enjoy their friends' AKB48 imitations, but they themselves have no interest in participating. They also said they have no intention of ever auditioning for the real AKB48.
"It's not my kind of thing," one told me. The other is starting to get into Ozzy Osbourne, so I'm guessing she feels the same way.
Anyway, if you're a Japanophile, you're going to be hearing a lot about AKB48. You probably have already!
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I still find it hard to believe this show even existed. I tell people about it here and they're like, "Get out of here! No-- get out of Japan and go back to America. Right now. Before I kill you."
First big mistake: "Welcome to Pink Lady... starring Jeff Altman." Second big mistake: mispronouncing Mie's name. Not a mistake: Blondie as a guest.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
In fact, out of three kids Friday, Arashi got unanimous approval, the first time this has happened as far as I can remember. It seems in the past, Kat-Tun would garner a vote, or someone I'd never heard of at all, someone so mysterious to me, I'd be forced to just smile, nod and say, "Great!" in response because I wouldn't even know how to pronounce the group's name.
When I first moved here, I taught a lot of college students and they were all into Bump of Chicken.
Right now, it seems only one person would list SMAP as her favorite and she graduated high school two years ago and only comes to visit during her holidays, if she has time. We have one young woman who goes to every Glay concert she can with her mom. The high school girls seem to be mostly into Exile and the junior high kids and younger like Arashi. One guy likes Love Psychedelico.
No one's heard of any of the groups I'm into, which include 5678s, OOIOO, Boredoms, Melt-Banana, Spookey, Puffy, Blue Hearts, Shonen Knife, Electric Eel Shock and Asian Kung Fu Generation. We had one young rocker who likes American punk/pop-punk who started to get into Go!Go!7188, another favorite of mine-- but she's one of the very few people I've met in Hamamatsu who had even heard of them.
Everyone else seems to like J-Pop-- Hamasaki Ayumi remains on top, and sometimes people cite Amuro Namie as being "pretty" but don't seem too into her music-- or else hip-hop. Lots of young hip-hop fans in Japan. And every once in a while, someone will mention Southern All Stars.
So my expert advice to SMAP is to stay the course, guys. Especially you, Shingo.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
2011 will be Puffy AmiYumi's 15th anniversary, and to celebrate they're starting their first fan club. I think it's their first; I'm inferring such from Ami's blog entry about the club. It's hard to believe they would have neglected to form one before now, but them's the breaks.
Puffy AmiYumi also have a New Year's video message for you.