Sunday, 23 September 2007

Rainbow March / Dinosaurs / The Truth About Soup Curry

The phenomenon of Sapporo Soup Curry got slightly more sinister for me the other day. There are soup curry shops everywhere here, and it's touted as being a Sapporo speciality, and it's mostly delicious. However in talking to Sapporo residents it seems that all of these places suddenly sprung up about five years ago, and before that no-one had even heard of soup curry! Could it be a conspiracy? A tasty, tasty conspiracy?

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

Jack Bauer says...

Originally posted on Facebook on 15th September. This new look makes me a lot happier!


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!


Originally upped onto Facebook... 8th September? I haven't been back here for a while since a) I hated the format I'd chosen on blogger and b) I can't say I think much of blogger either. I'm giving it another go.

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


Updates are coming somewhat less than thick and fast these days I’m afraid because I’m properly into work now. So I’m pretty freakin’ busy, and hitting the internet café until 3 or 4am doesn’t seem like much fun considering how knackered I’ll be the next day. But hopefully I’ll be online in my domicile within a month or so, and then… ‘gee’ and ‘whizz’ you just try and stop me.

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.

Japanese TV Digest No. 1

Wow, so here's the internet! Please, take a moment, look around and see what people think about Japanese TV! Go ahead! The things that seemed to stand out to me from posts on Japanese TV from foreigners living in Japan, is that Japanese TV sucks. It's nothing but terrible variety shows and bad comedy and news that you can't understand and sports and whatever. People over here have told me this as well, so I want to put this in the politest way I can...

Dear Idiots,




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.

B-Cubed Addenda

Oh my! I forgot! So here are some punchlines and additional information for the "Bikers, Beer and Bears" post that you may have enjoyed:

One of the bikers has a musical horn. It plays the theme from The Godfather. No, I'm not kidding!

At Sapporo Beer Museum we had a drink with a Canadian called Gord.

At Sapporo Fish Market you can get cans of Bear Meat. Which is... well I still don't know what to think. Apparently it's legal here... ? Which is the only place in the world or something. Hmmm.

I taught a high school girl the word "Awesome" this week. I explained it meant "really good" and she tried it out a couple of times with a strong Japanese accent. The third time she said it, it was perfect, like an American high school girl - "That's AWEsome!". I may have created a monster.

OK, now a picture of an amusingly named store that sells designer clothes and goods for dogs!

Bikers, Beer and Bears

When I say I live in Sapporo, I really mean that I live in Asabu. Sapporo is the city, like Birmingham, Asabu is the Suburb, like Moseley. Asabu is at the end of one of the subway lines, but really it only takes about fifteen minutes to get back into town. It's not that far out.

But late at night we have biker gangs tearing through the streets of Asabu causing... perhaps a little havoc? I'm not sure. I saw a couple of young hoods riding motorbikes one night while I was walking along with Tara. She described them as wannabe yakuza and was particularly scornful. They were pretty awesome in a pathetic way. Anyway I presume they were part of this big biker gang that you can hear at night, and whose main weapon is driving incredibly slowly while revving their steroid pumped engines as hard as possible. I live near the main road and it sounds, I have to admit, pretty awesome. It's only once a week, but they put on a hell of an aural display. They woke me up one night and I thought for a second that one of them had snuck his "hog" through my window and fired it up right by my head. Seriously, it can't be good for their engines, but I guess it's a hobby. I'm going to try and record it so that I can share the power, the majesty of loud Japanese motorcycles with all of you.

Tara's boyfriend Fred is here to stay for a while, and since she works on Saturday and I don't, he and I headed down to the Sapporo Beer museum (not the shopping mall this time) to be educated in the ways of beer. Like I've said, I think Sapporo is a fine, fine beer, and Fred is a healthy, broad shouldered American who likes beer so it was a pretty easy choice to make.

The museum is free too look around, you just pay to drink the beer at the end, and frankly you don't pay very much. It also tastes fantastic there, crisp and fresh, indeed as if it had just been brewed. The musem isn't very big, but the whole area is full of nice old red brick buildings, and it was fun inside for what it was so I'd say it's definitely worth a visit. If you like beer.

Probably the most surreal thing inside was the tiny Willy Wonka-esque diorama of the brewing process. It was acted out by tiny, white, cone-monkey people and each step was encased in a large perspex tank to stop people from touching it. Now I'm not a qualified brew-master, but I don't think it was all that historically accurate seeing as it started with an old man living on a cloud at the top of a beanstalk, involved a river of beer (that flowed up hill at one point) and finished with the old man basking on the fluffy head of a giant mug of glowing Sapporo. Or maybe that's how they used to do it in the olden days?

The last scene from the ridiculous Sapporo museum brewing story. "I'm the king of beer!"
More bears! These ones guard a jewelery shop in Tanuki Kouji. Grrr!

Back on the Mountain

Phew, finally got that whole password mess sorted, so let's restart this shebang with a big picture of Sapporo taken from a rose garden on a hillside over-looking the city!