Friday, 28 December 2007
Wow! That came off grumpy, and believe me even though I had to work on Christmas Day, I'm not feeling all that grumpy at all. Because I am actually on vacation now for just over a week, and some fella called Chris is coming to visit tomorrow! In fact he's probably flying right now! So it would be impossible for him to hear any insult I direct at him huh?
Chris, you stink!
But instead of packing and getting a good night's sleep I seem to be writing words to feed the insatiable hunger of the internet.
What do I have to say? In lieu of an actual proper Christmas, with family and turkey and lethargy and The Great Escape, I instead fitted 6 Christmas parties into 5 days. This included lots of eggnog (made by me to great acclaim, but from the reciped passed on by Richard Swinbank, bless him), karaoke, expensive sushi, cold roast chicken and amazing mashed potatoes and a cold. Yeah, I pretty much assumed when I went down with a cold last weekend that I should just ignore it and carry on, and somewhere around losing my voice entirely on Tuesday I realised this might not have been the best course of action. Oh well! You live and learn, it's coming back now. The voice, not the cold.
So not only did I make eggnog, but Tara gave my recipe for eggnog to a bar we often go to where the barman speaks good English and he added it to their Christmas menu! And boy were they charging a lot! And no, we didn't get it free! We still love them.
Oh, I should blog something about Christmas in Japan. Christmas is pretty big in Japan, but not as a holiday, more as a fun celebration and a December based partner to Valentines Day. Certainly I was shopping on Christmas eve and every watch and jewelery department was just HEAVING with twenty something couples, picking out adorable presents for each other. Shopping for shoes with good ice grips by the way, and I'm still screwed on that front. I found some horrible size 30s (Japanese sizes are in cm, which is... phenomenally sensible) and it turns out I'm probably size 29, and I can't find any of those. Still I saw some awesome smart black leather numbers with built in flip out spikes for ice-walking. Just not in my size.
And today I tried sukiyaki for the first time. Sukiyaki being basically as follows, dip raw meat into a boiling pan of soy based sauce until it's cooked, then fish it out, dip it in raw egg and eat! Whenever I thought about this in the past I kinda assumed that the searing meat would cook the egg on it, but it pretty much doesn't, it's just eating raw egg and it's delicious. We've been talking about this quite a lot, what with concocting so much eggnog, but in Japan eating or drinking raw egg just isn't an issue, whereas in the UK and US it's some sort of leap of faith. I will leave the science to the scientists (or perhaps anybody wearing a white coat and holding a test tube... at the very least a clipboard), but I have no trouble eating raw egg in Japan.
Jesus, what a lot of nothing to write about. Just time to leave you with the greatest song title ever:
"If your face was Georgia, my fist would be home right now." by American Cheeseburger.
No, I've never heard it, neither do I want to. It could never live up to that title.
Oh and some pretty cool pictures taken from the top of the TV tower a couple of weeks ago that I forgot to post before.
Happy New Year everyone!
Monday, 17 December 2007
THE CONTENDERS! Your Humble Narrator: primed and ready for the unusual, the unknowable, the unfathomable. Tara Smith: never has such a ruthless eye for useless shit been crammed into the skull of so unassuming a Michigander. “Teenage” Matt Longarini: the windy city’s loss is Sapporo’s gain; out to show that age never comes before beauty.
THE ARENA! Sapporo Daiso. 5 floors of bargain basement goodies, from sweets to building supplies to pet goods to gardening equipment to toys to stationery to...
525 Yen each! Half an hour! Go!
After the smoke had cleared it was clear that EVERYONE was a winner. Unlike war of course, where no-one is a winner. Anyway the actual winner, as decided in a bar later that night by our friend Yuka, was Tara even though she ran ten minutes over time (I was two minutes over, Matt was early – and also managed to buy one item from each floor of the store, so kudos to him for that), because she found what may possibly be the unbeatable, final answer to all 100 Yen Shop Challenges – a “Buttocks Washing Seat” so that you can care for your elderly relatives. So that you can wash their buttocks that is. How could we possibly trump that? Impossible, nevertheless here are the final scores:
- Novelty Inflating Breasts – to be concealed under your clothes until needed.
- Hideous Plastic Dachshund Christmas Ornament
- Glass with cryptic definition of “Fragrance” written on it.
- Horrible, gurning “War Photographer” Figurine
- Illustrated Japanese “No Dog Fouling” Sign
- Beautiful Revolving Stars and Stripes Ornament
- “Rodeo – United States of America” Business Card Case
- “No Urinating” sign, with adorable “Peeing Boy” statue picture
- Combination Whistle / Compass / Thermometer
- Squeaky Plastic Dog Head Bicycle Horn Thing
- Phenomenal Buttocks Washing Seat
- A whole cooked corn cob
- “You Can Be A Drag Queen” Plastic Mask Kit
- Wild Dove Repellent
- Miniature Bust of Thomas Jefferson
Yeah, looking back at it now I’d have to say that even with points deducted for running over time and trying to slip more than five items past the judges, Tara pretty much took us to school with that lot. The novelty breasts gave Matt an early lead, but sadly Tara and I had already seen them, taking away some of their impact. So, well played Ms Smith… THIS TIME!
Sunday, 16 December 2007
Coz tonight it snowed pretty heavily, but I didn't really notice how much until I went to take my rubbish out. Halfway down the stairs I decided I ought to go back and get my camera, and once outside I decided I ought to go back and get a coat on so that I could stay out longer.
And of COURSE Tara was up, and wanted to make a snowman (see the video that I posted... um, on facebook, sorry!). So at 1.30am we went crunching around and it was beautiful and there was running around Asabu park and a snowball fight (yukigassen in Japanese!) and I fell over and hit my head on a tree, but I'm OK I think! and my new camera fell in the snow, but it's OK I think, and I seem to have bruised my hand and I couldn't feel my fingers and Tara made a snow angel too.
And the snowman turned into a snowbear and I love snow.
Oh no, wait, not the end, there are pictures too! And I've had to start up a Flickr account coz I bought a new camera and facebook won't accept my pictures. So check that out.
Monday, 10 December 2007
How does that taste, huh? Tastes FESTIVE doesn't it?
The notion of Christmas has been so soured and devalued in the west as to be almost meaningless, but here we KNOW what Christmas is all about. And so we celebrate with all our hearts the anniversary of the day that Little Baby Jesus invented dynamite. Or something.
Anyway, I concede! I finally gave in, and started listening to Christmas music on Saturday coz I was feeling lousy. Christmas music is pretty precious to me, as some of you may know, so help me out here, and let's make the best Christmas playlist ever! Of course, we are constrained by the medium of our time to a maximum number of infinity tracks, so keep an eye on that. Suggestions below please.
So let's start with the best Christmas song ever:
1) The Jackson Five - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
after that they're in pretty much any order:
Wham - Last Christmas
Low - Just Like Christmas
James Brown - Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto
Milton Delugg & The Little Eskimos - Hooray For Santa Claus
Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry
Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song
The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
Crash Test Dummies - Jingle Bells
Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone
Pretty much all of Phil Spector's "A Christmas Gift For You..." but especially:
Darlene Love - Marshmallow World
The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride
And I'm torn about:
Eels - Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas
...because to me it doesn't sound so festive, but it does have the line: "Baby Jesus - born to rock".
Help me out, I'm keeping it short and I know I'm leaving a lot out.
Oh and here's some pictures of Sapporo too.
Doing lots of Christmas shopping for other people, and buying a camera for me. Really though, I promise to only take pictures of frighteningly awesome things, so it's kinda a present for you too...
Catching the train along the coast, where it runs next to the sea, and watching the surfers paddling out through the breakers as the snow started falling.
Eating sweet, sweet sushi. Drinking too much.
Making new friends.
Going out to an outlet mall where we rode a big wheel that gave us a spectacular view of patchy, twinkling lights and a big gap where the sea might have been. Also a nice angle on the patchwork of windows you can see below.
Finding a giant Christmas tree for the second week in a row. And a clock, powered by steam that gave off an enormous "TOOT!" while we were posing by it.
Finding a cavernous kids' hall in the same complex where a giant, police hippo, bouncy castle was being used by only one kid. Her dad was trying to make things more exciting for her though, again, as you can see below.
I hope everyone else had a good one too!
It's almost Hanukkah.
BOOM BOOM! Thenkyew, thenkyew, I'm hee-yah awl weeek!
Enjoy the photo.
Friday, 23 November 2007
I’m getting the hang of this powder snow business too. Hokkaido is super-popular for winter sports because it has dry, powder snow, not wet snow. I imagine it has ‘bitchin’ powder snow if you’re that way inclined. Anyway, I thought I could guess what that was like, but now that it’s started falling it’s actually dryer and more… powdery than I expected. It gets blown around by the wind a lot and it accumulates in corners like beautiful… white… dust? Sand? Once a layer of it has settled it acts more like the snow I know, but a bit lighter.
I promise, I won’t spend the entire winter clogging up facebook with posts about snow. I swear. But I’m pretty sure I’ve got to buy a camera now.
Here’s some of that beautiful serendipity that just kicks you in the teeth: one night this week Tara and I decided to head a couple of stops south for dinner at a tiny, wonderful Mexican restaurant. The whole place is basically a bar with some stools around it, and it’s run single handedly by the woman that owns the place, who speaks pretty good English and who we chat with when we eat there. So - we’re all freezing cold, but stoked for hot Mexican food, we get up to get off the train, the doors open and we’re face to face with the lady who runs the Mexican restaurant we’re aiming for. We were all: “Oh hi! How are YOU?” on the outside, while inside we wanted to grab her by here shoulders and march her back to work. Instead we were left on the platform trying to formulate new dinner plans.
There are plenty of places like that here, so tiny as to be handled by one person cooking and serving everything – but you always have to be prepared to wait for a lo-o-ong time. And since they’re such small scale operations they just close at random sometimes.
Some of my kids this week took great pleasure in showing me the spikes on their shoes. Since this city is going to be evolving into an ice-rink pretty soon you can get shoes with little spike things that you can flip out for traction. For kids these get built into trainers, like those trainers with the built in wheels but for junior mountaineers instead. It may not be easy to find any in my size, but I’m going to try coz I covet, I covet, I covet.
Sunday, 18 November 2007
So it didn't last very long anyway, it snowed a bit on Thursday, stuck around until Friday, but mostly disappeared in some mild weather and torrential rain on Saturday. But tonight we came out of an izakaya in the middle of the city to find that it had started up again, and there's a nice dusting all over the place now.
Along with the snow the temperature nose dived this week, which meant that I had to try and figure out my heater. Luckily my heater is a) easy to use and b) awesome, so I've been toasty warm this week. But unluckily my heater is a) easy to use and b) awesome, so I'm probably going to run up a comically large gas bill this winter. It has a thick glass plate on the front that I can see the flames through. I love my heater. I love snow.
Last weekend I hit a homebase-esque furniture store for those lamps that I KNEW would make my appartment that much better than the harsh neon ring I had to live with. Turns out the store is about three minutes from my door and that it had everything that I've been needing for my appartment for so long (decent rubbish bin, lamps, kitchen stuff). Such success meant that I could easily gloss over the fact that I didn't really do anything else.
This Saturday night we went out for a fun, sprawling, ill-thought-out night on the town, but before that we were in Sapporo station and we found a small iron bathtub full of milk, in an iron cage. In itself this was a somewhat disquieting find, but it signified a sort of low key art fest today that we immediately resolved to attend, hangover or no!
Turns out the bathtub wasn't quite as pointless as it had looked in Sapporo station, it was meant to have a projector above it projecting a film onto the rippling milk, and it looked quite cool when we found a bigger one today. The arts fest, called Arts! Meet! Mart! was in an abandoned school in the centre of Sapporo, and it filled their big sports hall with local arts and artists, selling their wares or just performing. I went with Tara and Akira, who is a school teacher and thus could explain that the school was empty because of that population doughnut that means no families live in the centre of cities anymore. Hence no catchment, hence no pupils. Included are pictures of a crowd watching a performance by a guy in a shed who stuck prepared adhesive shapes onto a background, while a vintage movie projector played over him and ambient guitar noise twanged away; SCIENTISTS in welding masks and their art robot that mostly just talked; and Tara and Akira posing with Terebi-to San, one of Sapporo's mascots, a personified TV Tower, with the personality of a slightly grumpy father (hence the moustache). They both signed disclaimers, so they may end up on a poster, TV or a weird website for tourist mascot fetishists.
There was plenty of fun stuff, and after that there was coffee, running into other friends, nabe, ramen and snow. I declare Sunday a rousing success!
Saturday, 10 November 2007
Number Girl were a turn-of-the-century indie-rock band from Fukuoka Japan that started really poppy, and ended pretty dubby and experimental. They’re one of those great bands where you can hear them pushing forward on each album, never sounding quite the same. Their first two records are heavily indebted to all those eighties indie-rock godheads, The Pixies, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain and so on... They even have a song called Pixiesdu, which is just gratuitous frankly. Even so, they’re great albums, and it gets even better when the sound starts spreading out, the rhythms get more syncopated and the reverb goes absolutely mental on their later albums.
I’ve posted a video of them playing Omoide In My Head, which is off their first album, but which turned into a set closer for their entire career. I hate long songs, but this one I love. I’m going to learn it for karaoke! Yes! They look super geeky too! Yes! They have a woman in the band (Tabuchi Hisako, first names last remember!) who plays LEAD not BASS! Yes! This is “Rock” and the location? Japan!
After Number Girl broke up, the lead singer and songwriter Mukai Shutoku formed Zazen Boys, a band that sort of picks up where Number Girl left off. I like Zazen Boys, and I admire them enormously because frankly they really don’t sound like anyone else, but I have a hard time loving them. Mukai really tries to distill out the dynamics of rock music with Zazen Boys, so half the time it’s enormously spacious, echoing, brooding music; and the other half it’s tense, pounding riffs, played in demented time signatures with ferocious intensity. That side of Zazen Boys has some of the best stop-start, tension-and-release rock music ever.
So Mukai Shutoku formed Zazen Boys, developing the percussive, dynamic side of Number Girl, and Tabuchi Hisako formed Toddle a couple of years ago, developing the melodic indie-rock side (she also joined another band as an additional guitarist, Bloodthirsty Butchers, who… I’ve only heard one album by, and I want to check out some of their more recent stuff after she joined, coz what I heard wasn’t great). I like toddle more than Zazen Boys, but there’s not so much to say about them. It’s great indie-rock that combines really loud, fast guitars with melodies of longing and dreaming. Unsurprisingly, that’s my sort of music.
Stay tuned! Next time Japanese Pops! : Shiina Ringo and Tokyo Jihen
Sunday, 4 November 2007
I went to see a couple of my students in a sort of community wind orchestra. The orchestra were surprisingly good, and they were really great, and it was an awesome way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I also got to see the inside of the fancy, fancy concert hall here. It was very nice, and outside the leaves were turning strikingly beautiful colours, and there was another car boot sale in the park. I bought a badge from one couple and they gave me something that Tara had been looking at for free, because people are REALLY nice here in Sapporo. She had been looking at a programme for an all female Versaille-themed dance spectacular that I found faintly disturbing.
Later we caught a tram, then a cable-car, then a minibus to get to the top of Mount Moiwa, the largest mountain near Sapporo with the best view. We had some kinda pie-in-the-sky hope of catching the Autumn Leaves Spectacular on the way up, but it wasn't too vivid because night was setting in. Hokkaido is a leafy island and people get very excited about the leaves changing colour. To be honest, from everything I've seen it look gorgeous, and I like leaves too, so their excitement is just fine with me. By the time we got to the top it was night and at night, on top of a mountain, with winter setting in... things get pretty cold. We could only stay outside for a few minutes at a time before running back into the lavishly stocked gift emporium to charge ourselves with warmth.
Sapporo has buses, a limited local rail service, three underground lines and ONE tram (or streetcar if you will) line. The route is particularly peverse, it starts just south of the centre of Sapporo and carves an enormous loop to the South and West of the city, before terminating maybe three blocks south of where it starts. If you went from one end to the other it would be perhaps a forty five minute journey to cover a distance that would take five minutes on foot.
Today makes two weekends in a row that I have caught the tram and had a huge American style hamburger. Today we went back to Yonoji + Jr. Kitchen, whose motto is something like "The cafe where the black labrador sleeps" (because they have a black lab in the corner) and whose burgers I think I mentioned on here before as being deluxxxe killer burgers. Today my burger was cryptically named F40, and was basically two separate burgers, connected by the thin conceit of there being one enormous bun cut in half. It was FANTASTIC, but frankly two meals worth of food.
I also ate jerk chicken this week that was exactly the right side of "unbearably hot". Every mouthful was a delight that was swiftly followed by horrifying pain that would slowly fade to mere numbness. It was great too.
My semi-falied mission for today was to buy some "lighting solutions". My appartment is still feeling much too cold and austere for my liking, and part of the problem is the terrible standard Japanese apaato ceiling light; a stark, white double neon ring. Following some slightly sketchy directions I set off North from Asabu (which, remember, is the most Northen stop on the underground) into the wasteland of suburban sprawl and retail developments, looking for second-hand shops. In the end I found the shops, and saw plenty of interesting places, like the used car lot of dormobiles below, but couldn't find a lamp that I could easily transport back to Asabu (the only one I liked was an ugly 1970s-ish standard metal thing that weighed a ton). I visited a junk shop in which almost everything looked to be broken, from the lamps, to the pachinko machines, to the speakers, to a whole basket full of non-functioning egg timers. I stopped in at book-off and off-house (the "...-off" brand is a huge chain of second hand stores) where there was a one-day sale that necessitated half of the staff be running around the store constantly shouting about the sale, the price reductions, some of their amazing products and how they were in the sale, and subject to the afforementioned price reductions... it wasn't a very relaxing place to shop. The teens out on the corner holding the "Sale Today" (in Japanese of course) cards weren't having much fun either.
Eventually I ended up buying a super-cute little floor-or-whatever lamp, that seems to be just great for now, from that monolith of retail Don. Kihote. Now that Halloween's over by the way, the Christmas departments are starting to bloom. How's it looking over there?
Here in Japan, Halloween just won't stop.
A Halloween/Birthday bash - Tara, dressed as a horse that in turn is disguised as a bear, and with fairy wings on her back.
That little twanging sound? That was your sanity snapping like a twig.
Then: the sight of Spider-Man, holding a TESCO bag, kissing a horse, on the corner of a busy intersection.
Goodbye terra firma, the clouds have a nice padded room waiting for me.
It probably would have been good to write about these super-plus-fun adventures in Japan when they first happened over a week ago, but I immediately tumbled into a week of deranged overtime, working nine to five down at the Tax Office Training School teaching English to young tax officers, then going back to my school in the evening to teach some regular classes. It sapped my strength all right, but it was actually a pretty good experience. The rest of my October is probably going to be pretty similar, so I’m girding my loins and settling in baby.
Anyway, we heard talk of a market... a GOLDEN market, held only twice a year. A temple to used goods, a bazaar of tat! Sapporo Golden Market!
We had to check it out, so, suitably hungover we made our way through the subway system, out into the wilds at the end of the Toho line, past the parched earth of unturned fields to the Tsudome, and the promised Golden Market, which was - yes, basically a giant indoor car boot sale. This was kind of what we expected / were hoping for and I certainly felt that I should attend at least in honour of Bunny, who probably would have turned up a shedload more stuff than I could. But then, I was feeling pretty lousy. I got a David Lynch documentary on DVD and a Pez dispenser of the Aardvark from The Ant and The Aardvark that used to be on The Pink Panther Show. I defy you to have done better after karaoke until 5am the night before.
The sight that greets you upon finally entering Golden Market. Next Golden Market is 27th & 28th April 2008 kids! There was a stage beneath that sign, and I was later asked by one of my students who happened to work part time at Golden Market: "Did you see any of the show?" I said I hadn't and he seemed happy. "Don't worry," he said "it was unimpressive."
But the size, as you can probably appreciate from the photo, was really something. And the setting was quite striking, the springy astroturf and the huge arching dome made for quite a weird shopping experience. Most of the junk was just pure trash, but there were a few stalls from actual retailers selling off damaged crap, ex-rental CDs and videos, some geek stalls selling trading cards and action figures, some craft stalls, and proper mini stores from three of the major mobile phone companies, which was very odd.
Some of the funniest stores were the little hipster clear outs. There were plenty of young, trendy things who just rolled up to Golden Market with a huge suitcase full of clothes and a poorly made cardboard sign with prices on. They found a spot I guess, settled down on the floor, flung their cases open… and waited. They were mostly in groups of three, mostly girls and one group certainly seemed to be more interested in trying on each others clothes than selling anything.
After that we had coffee, and I ate THE MOST AMAZINGLY PRESENTED SERVING OF WAFFLES AND ICE CREAM EVER. It took about half an hour to arrive, but when it did, it took the form of a meticulously crafted ice cream snow man with a cone for a hat, sitting on two waffles, with eyes and syrup and everything. I didn’t get a picture for some retarded reason, but believe me, it was a thing of beauty. Two girls who were the only other customers in the shop at the time had to come over and marvel at it. And then we demolished it in short order.
And after THAT we met some other folks and went for further fun at a veritable palace of the stuff: Leisure Sports, or Rejya Supo, as the katakana name goes. Leisure Sports is just a wonderful place, and not too expensive: you sign in and pay 70 yen (40p?) for every ten minutes you’re there. And for this princely sum you can wander around a cornucopia of amusements and healthy entertainments and play anything for free. There’s a small five a side pitch, remote controlled cars, a bucking bull ride, baseball nets, badminton courts, basketball courts, a climbing wall, a (frankly intense) assault course, pugel sticks, trampolines, an internet café and comic library, loads of other sporty things, some sort of chill out zone, and endless slot and arcade machines that are locked on so you can use them for free. I believe that the one-armed bandits, coin pushers and so on were powered by Leisure Sports tokens that were free for the taking and worthless, but I’m not sure about that. Either way we found some truly awe-inspiring games: a dog walking simulator where you had to power a treadmill in order to walk the dog, but in order to do so you have to attack it at a running speed that makes playing the actual game impossible (the dog then runs ahead, almost gets hit by a car and cowers trembling on the ground, traumatized); some wii-esque sword games, and most phenomenal/pathetic of all an arcade game called Tokyo Bus Guide where you drive a bus down the road and pick up passengers. At least it had a replica giant bus steering wheel.
And then there was the Halloween party, at least one picture of which has shown up in the inimitable Tara Smith's Facebook collection, so you should be able to find that if you want to see what I would look like as the shittest member of Kiss.
Chris and Jon in a battle to the soft, spongy death. Incedently Jon was undefeated champion of the pugel stick 'log'. But he's a tall, healthy, American fellow - he was my tip from the start.
We had our work Halloween Party tonight, which is pretty early I know but we... that is... actually I have no clue why we had it today. It was fun anyway!
Anyway, witness the fitness: a handmade skeleton outfit. That's some fine quality card there, a bargain sweat suit from Don Kihote, skeleton work gloves from Loft and a couple of hours of hard work. I got most of it and put it together today, and Yes there was black and white face-paint too. I didn't take a photo of myself, but I'm hoping that enough were taken by others that one will eventually make its way onto my hard drive.
Happy Spooktoberfest, ya Halloweenies!
Monday, 8 October 2007
Anyway, I took this picture a couple of weeks ago and forgot to upload it. Feast yer eyes baby.
One night, walking back from North 24 to Asabu, a figure loomed up behind the glass - hands twisted and ready to strangle! To choke! To Crush!
I had to post this picture here, because it seems to be no problem to do so, but it seems to be a big freakin' problem to upload any photos to the actual "Photos" section. It's a vista thing I think. Give them a few years to let everything bed in ne?
And is it weird that I think it would be quite fun to get one olf the new Zunes? Does that mean I've had an aneurysm without realising it? Am I right now propped up in a hospital bed somewhere in a coma, drooling, thinking: "Hmmm, new Zune? Doesn't sound like a bad idea..."
More on this glorious photo: taken by Tara, and there's a fibreglass Colonel outside every single KFC in Japan, which is fine but I find that pose somewhat sinister. And at night, when he's dragged in off the street and caged up behind glass where you don't notice him until you're right next to him. Perhaps I screamed like a little girl. Perhaps.
Stuart Mackenzie: Well, it's a well known fact, Sonny Jim, that there's a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as The Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as The Meadows.
Tony Giardino: So who's in this Pentavirate?
Stuart Mackenzie: The Queen, The Vatican, The Gettys, The Rothschilds, *and* Colonel Sanders before he went tits up. Oh, I hated the Colonel with is wee *beady* eyes, and that smug look on his face. "Oh, you're gonna buy my chicken! Ohhhhh!"
Watching western movies dubbed into Japanese is pretty interesting. The Japanese voice talents really go for impact: there's probably a lot more frantic breathing in the dubs than there is in the original, and when they dub tough guys - they dub them TOUGH. Ving Rhames and Sean Connery in Entrapment, was like watching a rusty steam locomotive trying to face down a submarine engine. Sylvester Stallone and Brian Dennehy in First Blood: a seismic event vs. the song of two planets slowly grinding together.
But enough of that. The electronic music last weekend was great. Generally clocking into the beat heavy IDM range? I liked it and I met a lot of great people, but I may have crashed my brain trying to talk so much Japanese, and I only got home around 8am. That said it was well worth it to look up as the sky was becoming light, and realise that there was a freaking mountain outside the window all night that I hadn't been able to see before.
Monday was another National Holiday here, so I was able to take a road trip to Lake Toya. It was the first time I'd been out of Sapporo into the Hokkaido countryside, and it was gorgeous! Tara loved it because it reminds her a lot of where her parents live, but I don't think many Americans probably appreciate just how much British people love dramatic scenery. I'm a city boy, and have never visited the Highlands (probably the only place in Britain that has mountains worth a crap) so I can just drink it in for hours. And the snow is still to come! Tara's friend Akira (yes!) drove us, which was awesome, and the point was mostly the road trip since we didn't really spend long in Toya once we got there. We stopped often for views, snacks and other sites of interest...
First there was the truck stop where they sell a local delicacy that consists of three battered deep fried potatoes on a stick. It's about four hundred times more delicious than it sounds, and it started us off on what would turn out to be a fairly carb heavy day. Deep fried potatoes, sweet potato chips encrusted with sugar, kabocha (squash) croquettes, and most awesomely, wakasaimo from Toya itself. Wakasaimo is a popular Japanese treat, sweet bean paste formed into the shape of a potato. So yes, that is starchy carbs formed into the shape of more starchy carbs. And again, several hundred times more delicious than it sounds. And no, I have no idea who thought that the potato would be the ideal shape for a sweet treat.
Later we stopped at Kyogoku, a town famous for a natural mineral spring that people come from miles around to help themselves to. It was beautiful, and the water was pretty freakin' refreshing and incredibly cold. I have a bottle of it in the fridge right now, which I would dearly love to send down to the lab for the boys to take a look at. Lots of people were just like me, emptying other 500ml bottles to fill them with beautiful crystal spring water, but some people were taking it seriously. On the approach were stalls selling spring water receptacles from flask size to small-lake-refill size. Some people were heaving trolleys loaded with hundreds of gallons of spring water back up the hill to their car, which, as you can imagine did not look like fun.
And from cold water to hot water. Toya is a huge lake that was formed a gazillion years ago when a volcano went totally OTT and collapsed in on itself, making a big hole in the ground. There is still one big active volcano nearby (with two smaller, support volcanoes attached to it) that erupted recently enough to destroy a crucial road connecting one side of Hokkaido to the other. And of course there are hot springs, including some small hot springs that act as footbaths. We chilled (or warmed) for a while in one of those. It was beautiful, relaxing and quiet (except for the group of four kids picking on a fat kid) and I took a lot of pictures of Swan Boats. I now believe that Swan Boats might be one of the best things to take photos of in the world. Something about the white with black highlights, the shape, the way there's always rippling water in the back ground. Try and take a bad picture of a Swan Boat, I challenge you!
The other notable thing about Toya is that it's going to be the site of the G8 summit next year. Wikipedia sez:
"On April 23, 2007, the town and its surrounding area was announced as the site of the 2008 summer G8 summit. Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe reportedly chose the area because of its proximity to many famous sightseeing grounds, such as Lake Tōya and Tōyako Onsen."
I would say he chose it because it is going to be IMPOSSIBLE for any protesters to get anywhere near the place. Toya itself is a tiny lakeside town surrounded by mountains, nowhere near any major population centres. The hotel where the summit is actually taking place is on top of one of those mountains, accessible by only one road, and from the lake it looks like fucking Doctor Doom's mountain fortress, or perhaps an untapped Bond location.
This week I got to be a J-Pop super-fan too, since the band that have rapidly become one of my favourite Japanese groups released their new album and it's just as awesome as I hoped it would be. I bought it on the morning it was released (since I work three doors down from a record shop) and I will be writing about them soon, so I won't shoot my mouth off yet.
And Jesus, Entrapment in Japanese is every bit as bad as Entrapment in English.
Sunday, 23 September 2007
Last weekend I marched in the Sapporo Rainbow March, Sapporo's equivalent of Gay Pride. There were lots of outlandishly dressed folks, and though I'm not actually gay (ssshhh!) I'm pretty sure that there were lots of other people marching in solidarity too. Being openly gay is a lot less accepted here than it is in the UK or America, so it wasn't a huge event, but it was important, and it was big enough to be great fun and involve a marching band and several floats full of drag queens leading a big mass of people around the centre of Sapporo. As we reached the end of the march we all released our rainbow coloured balloons and cheered, and then the marching band struck up on a big bandstand in Odori and it turned out that our friend knew some of the biggest, gayest queens there.
Today I sat for a while and watched some local unsigned bands banging away for a while on that same bandstand in Odori . There was a technically accomplished guitar and drums duo who lost me when the vocals turned out to suck balls, and a fantastically indisciplined three piece with girls on guitar and bass, and a guy singing lead and playing drums. They were great, and the whole thing reminded me a great deal of a lot of the shows I played where the audience is mostly the other bands and a few drunken elderly guys dancing badly at the back.
Also last weekend I went to a barbecue on the University of Hokkaido campus being held by some students of a friend. It was great (even though it rained a little) and it was right in the middle of the campus, literally on one of the grassy areas between buildings. But it was also next to the university museum, and I kept rabbiting on about how I'd read that there were dinosaur skeletons in there and no-one really believed me. So today I met up with Jon, who lives nearby, to check it out. We got there late, and by the time we left they were locking the door behind us pretty much, but it was fun in the end. It was pretty confusing though, because it's a big, old, western style, redbrick building which is still clearly full of professors and classrooms, and they've decided to create a museum that stretches randomly and crazily through it. The ground floor looks super modern and has all the information about the founding of the University and lots of quotes from Williams S. Clark, one of Hokkaido's favourite Americans (several Americans were integral to the founding of Sapporo, and thus the development of Hokkaido in general in the late 19th century, kind of like Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai" but in this case, with cows and ploughs rather than rifles). The most famous quote is:
"Boys, be ambitious. Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for that attainment of all that a man ought to be."
Which is a pretty great quote really. After you've made your way through that though it's not really clear where you should go next, so we climbed some stairs towards the gift shop and found that that was the next section of the museum. The 1st floor had some human bones, lots of dead birds and fish, some science experiments going on, a quiz about strange ancient scientific devices and a frankly bizarre bookcase with no books, but a backlit sheet with a photograph of a full bookcase stretched over it. From there, again it was almost impossible to work out where to go next, so we climbed up further to the top floor where it turned out the museum did actually continue. The top floor infact was the beans, with lots of rocks and minerals, animal skeletons, bugs, a special exhibition about Japan's nobel prize winners Hideki Yukawa and Shin-Ichiro Tomonaga, and of course dinosaur skeletons. There were a couple of herbivores and an absolutely kick-ass prehistoric crocodile that was probably 20 feet long or more. It looked super-duper-sweet and OF COURSE my phone had run out of batteries so I couldn 't take any pictures. I also couldn't take any pictures of the Space Invaders style arcade machine that had been set up in the street which I passed on the way home with a couple of guys gathered intently around it. You'll have to take my word that I wasn't dreaming any of this.
Afterwards we walked around the campus, which was beautiful except for the fact that wheeling clouds of crows kept freaking me out. At one point we were walking between two tall buildings when we heard a noise above us, and looked up to see dozens of crows silhouetted against the sky and looking down at us over the edges of the buildings. Their bony claws skittering against the cold metal that they perched upon. Waiting for their chance...
Ah, the British/US balance of foreign teachers here is tipping. This week two new teachers arrived in Sapporo, both from the UK, and I think both of whom attended the same interview I did way back in February or March or whenever the hell it was. So that makes, I think, 5 British & 5 American teachers here now. Evens the odds a little bit. Y'know, if it comes to a fight.
It's late now, but at midnight tonight I'm meeting Yuka in town to go and see her boyfriend play what she describes as geeky electro music at some strange bar. No sleep for me my friends! Electronic music, she be my master tonight!
The Rainbow March, about to turn right past Sapporo TV Tower. Please note the freakin' awesome time on the clock, a total accident mind you.
Before the Rainbow March we went to this place for the best soup curry I've had yet. Almost all soup curry places have questionable ethnic, hippy or reggae decor, but this was the best yet. A photoshop nightmare of the worst psychedelic compilation album cover in the world ever!
Saturday, 22 September 2007
According to the posters for 24 season 6 that are up here that is. Also included as a picture below is the heartwarming motto that adorns all the 24 adverts here. Brings a tear to your eye it does.
A number of the big US dramas are big in Japan, including Prison Break, 24, Lost and Desperate Housewives. I'm not sure if they screen on TV or cable, but they do a hell of a trade in DVD sales and rentals. They don't really sell as boxed sets either, there are just racks and racks of individual DVDs, each containing three or four episodes. Someone's raking it in, and I for one am looking at Keifer Sutherland.
I snapped that poster in the internet cafe that I no longer need to go to. Someday I'm going to spew out a ream on the oasis that is the internet cafe here, and on the comic book libraries that even tiny restaurants seem to have for their clientelle, but not today.
But hey, yeah! I no longer need to go to the internet cafe (which is bad timing, coz I'd just reached my second free hour on their loyalty card) coz I'm all hooked up to the internet in my appartment! It took most of a morning, and there were teething problems for sure, but the end, when it came, was a happy one. Getting set up also allowed me to experience one of those tremendous moments of serendipity that probably happen all the time here. Ostensibly both the company that runs the wires and the provider I was signing up with have English language support, but the setup CD for getting myself online was entirely in Japanese, so after bungling through that for around an hour and a half I eventually reached a screen that looked approximately what I thought a screen towards the end of the process should look like. And there even with my useless Japanese I could read the two boxes saying USER and PASSWORD and that they should be from my PROVIDER. However I had recieved nothing from my provider - infact I didn't even have a number for the provider, just for the company that owns the lines. I sat for a couple of minutes and turned over some pieces of paper, hoping to find a hidden password. No password. I gave up hope of getting things sorted anytime soon... then the doorbell rang. I didn't understand any of what the guy said, but I pressed the button to let him into the building, and seconds later he was at my door with a parcel from my provider with all my information.
Oh yeah! That's the sort of psychic service that you just can't pay for!
Of course it still didn't work and I had to call the helpline, but at least I had a number for the helpline now.
So I'm a happy, lucky bunny coz not only do I have the internet, but I have a sofa and an armchair too, for a less than princely sum off another teacher who's leaving soon! So I'm sitting here, in my armchair, with a peppermint tea (I found somewhere that sells that too), on the internet. Like The Sugarcubes said, life's too good. OH! And one of my colleagues had some speakers that she doesn't need at the moment, so she lent them to me for my computer. They turned out to be a three piece unit with a quite ludicrous looking bass woofer. Seriously, it looks like a freaking jetpack, I love it. Once I've tidied stuff up and cleaned a bit pictures will be around of some of this stuff for you guys who keep bugging me about seeing where I live. I still need a lot of stuff to make my box look like a home, but it's a great start!
After I posted last weeked it all went to hell, in a good way. For a start I found THE BEST COFFEE that I've had in Japan. Flavour! Strength! I was prepping a discussion class, and the coffee was so good that I had to just stop what I was doing and drift off into space for a while. I even looked up "excellent" on my phone's crappy Japanese dictionary so I could complement the lady behind the counter. Then again, maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised - the slogan in the window did say "For Thecoffee of youlife" (sic).
In the end I picked the birthday party over Inland Empire, but the epic trail of meat, beer and karaoke (until 6am) that led to was probably a similarly deranged experience to watching Inland Empire again. I had a great time! And funnily enough we wound up running into the people who went to see Inland Empire anyway, and discussing David Lynch's dream-reality in a rowdy bar at 3am.
Happily this weekend isn't letting up either. It will probably end up involving the second of three or four leaving parties for the guy whose sofa I bought, Sapporo Gay Pride Parade, Sapporo Short Film Festival and a barbecue!
See you in the funny pages!
A typhoon has been ravaging Japan for the last few days, coming in off the Pacific and curving north on a DIRECT COLLISION COURSE with your truly! It caused mayhem in Toyko, and some people died in another part of Japan when a river burst its banks, so it was no small thing. Yesterday it was raining pretty heavily all day as the typhoon approached, and when we asked students what they were doing for the weekend their eyes got wide and they said "Nothing! The typhoons coming!" The typhoon was due to hit LAST NIGHT!
Well, so I went to a party last night. It was raining on the way, and raining pretty heavily while we were there, but by the time I left it was only drizzling and this morning it's all blue skies and sun beams. I've glad that there wasn't too much damage up here, but I've got to say... it's a little underwhelming.
I now have a mobile phone charm. You may or may not know that it's a pretty heavily entrenched custom in Japan to have a little toggle or a charm hanging off your cell phone (I just typed that without thinking, those freakin' Americans are getting to me). I used to have a pretty sweet Doraemon one that I brought back from Japan last time, but they don't last for ever. And after I said I wanted one now, one of my colleagues promised to help me. So now I have a tiny green guy with a huge crotch attached to my cell phone.
He's called Marimokkori, and he's a Hokkaido thing. Apparently there's a lake in Hokkaido which is one of the few places in the world where a rare sort of algae grows. The algae forms free floating balls that are incredibly expensive to buy, especially because it's technically illegal to remove any from the lake. In Japanese they're called marimo. In Japanese the ol' wedding tackle, the family jewels, yer ol' meat and two veg is called mokkori. For reasons that I don't find entirely clear, the jump from one to the other was intuitive. Marimo, mokkori... Marimokkori! So the character was created, a green ball of algae for a head, a sizable package and the idiot grin to go with it. Of course he's available in about a million different costumes and varieties, on T-shirts and as soft toys. Tara has what has to be the daddy of them all - a soft toy Marimokkori where his bulging groin acts as a pull-string that makes him shake and giggle. I'm proud for him to be my charm, but would maybe like one of him dressed as a bear too.
I have now eaten tacos, as prepared by an honest-to-god American, and they were very nice. No, we don't have Taco Bell in England. I've also tried another soup curry place nearer to my apartment. It was delicious but way more formidable spice-wise. Yow! Tonight I'll either be seeing David Lynch's Inland Empire again (with Japanese subtitles! I can only imagine that'll help) or hitting Sapporo Beer Garden for food and alcohol. I'm torn. And tomorrow: another barbecue and I'm buying a sofa and a chair where some guy tried to off himself. Don't worry he didn't succeed, so the only spectre haunting that piece of furniture is the ghost of failure.
Saturday, 1 September 2007
This week I finally tried Sapporo Soup Curry, which is a hugely popular local dish that (well, this is what one student told me) they’re starting to sell in some places of Tokyo, because – word to the wise – Sapporo is where it’s at, food wise.
And by it, I mean food. Sapporo is where food's at, food wise.
Good food, maybe I mean good food.
No, seriously, x-percent (where x is a LARGE NUMBER) of Japans fish, meat and vegetables comes from Hokkaido; and implicit in everyone’s assertion that Sapporo’s food is so good is that they keep the best for themselves. Apparently there’s an organic market somewhere near me, and one student asserted that Hokkaido’s farmers have a 200% self-support rate. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what that means, or what ‘self-support rate’ is, and either way 200% seems improbable, but the meaning was clear. Hokkaido farmers rock you sweet and long baby. Yeah! You know what I’m saying!
And so far I totally agree, pretty much every little ramen, sushi, soup curry or whatever place here is great. Every Friday I meet a bunch of other teachers and associated friends for sushi and I eat scallops so thick that the discarded shells must be like dinner plates. What’s even cooler about this culinary superiority is that the local speciality dishes are really simple. I’m no expert yet, but there’s Jingiskan (basically Genghis Khan?) that is a really simple, delicious lamb barbecue dish derived from Mongolian food, and soup curry. Soup Curry is exactly what it says: thin soupy curry served in a bowl with a variety of meat and veg mixed in, maybe some rice to mix in with the last of the soup. Having tried it I’m pretty amazed, it’s just a childishly simple variation on curry, but it feels and tastes pretty unique. It’s not like mulligatawny soup, it’s more like a curry. It’s not like a thin curry, it’s like a soup. It’s a masterpiece of culinary genre-bending. I assume that it works incredibly well in staving off the cold in winter too.
In other news I finally met another British person. Seriously, since I’ve been in Japan (maybe five or six weeks now?) I haven’t met a single other British person. It’s been Americans, Canadians and Japanese all the way. I knew that there were another couple of guys from Britain in Sapporo, and now I’ve met Dave, who is of course from Lichfield. So we can assert our nationality and gang up on the Americans who still outnumber us. Anyway, all the Japanese people think that British English is way cooler that American English. F’real.
Also last night I had it confirmed that I wasn’t imagining the biker with the musical horn that plays the Godfather theme. I mentioned the biker gangs riding through Asabu, and Yuka, who lives nearby-ish jumped in with the Godfather theme, and started talking very fast in Japanese. I mentioned that I thought it was awesome and she shockingly disagreed, but either way we both agreed that the concept of baby yakuza was kawaii.
I wanted to write another TV update too, but it looks like all the youtube videos of the awesome Sushi Oji have been stomped down on by The Man. I'll try and find a way around that.
Not soup curry or jingiskan, but the destructive wake of an all-you-can-eat pan-global buffet we visited as a farewell meal for Matt who was going back to the USA. The green stuff is melon slushie, which was almost all sugar so I loved it. The pit in the middle of the table is a gas lit grill to cook your meat on.
Not only did they have bowling shoes in clownishly big sizes for me, but they were day-glo too! Sadly not pictured are the racks of Hello Kitty bowling balls.
TV sucks ALL OVER THE WORLD.
Come on! Like I can honestly defend 90% of British Television. Like any American really believes that HBO and those other big budget shows aren't the exception to the rule. Most Japanese TV sucks, and so does most TV from the UK and most TV from America, probably most TV from the Phillipines and perhaps even most TV from North Korea. Who knows? What I know is that I've found several shows that I really enjoy watching, even though I barely understand them. And of course, you're living this with me you vicarious SOBs so here's the first one for you.
I watched My Boss My Hero because it was being repeated weekdays before I went to work. It was a popular drama in the evenings that was being re-run in the daytime I think. Watch the video that I've posted somewhere here, and I hardly need to say any more. When I did some research I realised that the main guy is the singer in J-Pop band Tokio, and that the plot has him playing the dimwit son of a Yakuza boss who gets sent back to high school to smarten up. Although I didn't see it all, and didn't find out how the series ended, it impressed me with the way that a grown man could develop a puppy-love crush on one of his high school classmates without it seeming very, very creepy. He plays a sort of moron, man-child throughout, that probably helps.
His face, the gurning, the insane reaction shots, the way he sometimes flashes back to gang fights in class or has an internal monologue delivered in a psychotic way... I desperately want to get this on DVD, but the only place I've seen it was charging around 100 pounds so I'll have to leave it for now. I tried to find a clip on you tube where he's practicing drumming, contorting his face grotesquely, horribly out of time while his henchmen crowd around trying to clap to the same beat as him and his sinister brother looks on from their mansion, but I couldn't. I laughed out loud, to myself, in my flat.