Saturday, 31 January 2009

Spidey vs. Kitaro! International pop-culture showdown!

We were in Fugetsu, eating okonomiyaki,and I got up to go to the loo and I was all like "Where is the toilet anyway?" And James was all like "Use your Spidey-sense", which is... I mean it's not strictly accurate, it's Spider-sense for the most part, and it warns him of danger or untoward goings on, it doesn't guide him to the bathroom. But I'm happy to let it slide coz it's a good pop-culture reference:

But Yuki tells me they have a similar reference in Japanese pop-culture, although it's more about your hairstyle than senseing danger. Kitaro from GeGeGe no Kitaro has a hair that stands up whenever monsters or spirits are around, and people say "Youki tatteru yo" when a bit of your hair is sticking up, like "Oh your monster-sense is standing up"

I guess it's not used in quite the same way, but it's a pleasing piece of symmetry nonetheless.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Thursday, 29 January 2009

David Bowie

So I'm kinda down at the moment because the weather here is so damn... mild. Seriously, I'm a man that loves snow and the Snow Festival is only a week away, and after a few spates of mild weather and even rain there's barely any snow in the streets. I'm keeping everything crossable crossed and I guess we'll see how it looks next week.

So - I turned to David Bowie. About 30% of the pleasure I derive from listening to Bowie is from pissing off my band who all hate him, but recently I've found myself liking him more and more. And even the later stuff, the post-Scary Monsters stuff that I've always thought sucked before, is growing on me a lot. Blue Jean has some great hooks in it! And this:

I used to hate that song and now, terrible video and all, I love it. Seriously, why was Stan Lee selling that couple jewellery? That threw me completely.

I went to cherry pick the best tracks from the three Best of... albums that are organised around different periods of his career and just couldn't be bothered. Instead I cued it all up and found that I liked his later 70's and 80's stuff more now than his 60's and early 70's stuff. I wanted to skip Jean Genie and all that but whenever Bowie does that weird faux-soul yelp or you get that tinny, spiralling, freak-out guitar it kicks ass.

So, to top this off I did some research and dug up some little known facts about David Bowie, I hope they add to your concept of this great artist:

1) David Bowie invented and owns the internet.

2) David Bowie has secret a menagerie hidden in the mountains of Chilean Patagonia. This menagerie contains amongst other things:
Dodos (3)
Unicorns (7)
Trolls (Mountain) (5)
Trolls (River) (3)
Dragons (1)

3) There are actually many David Bowies, although these are not played by actors, but are alternate Bowies from parallel earths. This explains Bowie's many stylistic changes - each version of Bowie comes from a different dimension, although in their own dimension each one is considered somewhat conservative and something of a dullard.

4) David Bowie killed and ate Lou Reed in the early 80s. Luckily the Bowie of Earth 542 was a Lou Reed impersonator and the world was none the wiser.

5) Despite a period in the 80s in which he was heavily influenced by soul music, Bowie does not in fact possess a soul.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Two Hundred and Thirty Six Dollars and Thirty Two Cents of Beef Jerky

A few weeks ago I mentioned going hog wild on Amazon. I ordered a bunch of books I couldn't find over here and they completed their journey over the Atlantic from the jolly old USA to Japan to my doorstep today. Of course on the journey the box apparently got accidentally torn open (in a surprisingly... linear fashion) and Japanese customs had to reseal it and stick a sticker on it. So when I opened it I took a look at the Amazon invoice to check everything was present and correct. Except...

I blurred out all of the details of course, but lets just say someone in Princeton ordered $236.32 of beef jerky in eight, sixteen-ounce bags and a variety of flavours. And I assume that this guy in Princeton now knows that someone in Japan ordered David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Chuck Palahniuk's latest and a bunch of comic books. I mean in some sort of "Medium Sized Dry Goods" metaphorical sense I probably ordered $236.32 of beef jerky - but I'm pretty sure that Amazon don't label their invoices symbolically.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Sumo: Asashoryu and his enormous cup!

This weekend the Yokozuna Asashoryu won the Prime Minister's Cup - one of the big sumo competitions. This leads beautifully into a number of themes - Asashoryu's recent injuries and controversies; the fact that he's Mongolian and most sumo wrestlers now come from outside of Japan (the first caucasian champion of a competition was crowned last year) and all sorts of assorted sumo trivia. However what I'd like to talk about is the huge, fuck-off cup he got for winning:

I mean seriously. When it comes to trophies I'm pretty sure that one takes the cake - which incedentally is what most sumo wrestlers will do if you invite them to dinner. Zing! I'm here all week folks!

Actually I'm here every day... which is depressing in a way...

Anyway, the photo above is Asashoryu receiving the cup from Japan's current Prime Minister Taro Aso. I saw the presentation on TV and was all like "Blimey! That's a hell of a cup!" then went looking for a photo on the web. It took me bloody ages to find that one, but it was a lot easier to find the previous iterations of the same event.

That's Shinzo Abe, and he was... two Prime Ministers ago. Last year's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda gave the prize to Hakuho who beat Asashoryu. He won it prior to that though, when Koizumi was in power:

Man, look at the size of that thing. I mean, he's got to have been tempted to walk into a bar, or possibly a ramen shop, and say "fill her up". Or use it to bathe his dog. Or his kids.

And in closing, I guess that - in sumo-trophy-photos - is my presentation on how Japan has had a lot of Prime Ministers in recent years. Thank you.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Three Trees

Three trees at Kiroro Ski Resort:

Not much in the way of brainwork for these last two days because I went snowboarding all day, both days. I wasn't sure I could hack it but... I'm not dead or anything yet. As it was incredibly cold and snowed all day, the snow out in Kiroro was unbelievable by the end of the day. Light and fluffy and like cotton wool or clouds maybe. That's why I started snowboarding.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Superman Beyond

I've been reading comics again:

Superman Beyond was ostensibly a two issue Superman tie in to the big DC comics event Final Crisis, written by my favourite author Grant Morrison, and drawn by Doug Mahnke - who's name and art I've always been a fan of. I'm sure it ties in well enough, but it doesn't need to. On its own this was one of the best, and one of the most bat-shit insane Superman stories I've ever read. It was dizzying, bewildering and partially in 3D. God, it was good.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


I'd forgotten all about the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline that's coming out soon, but something (sigh... trainers of course) pointed me at it's website and it turns out it'll be out soon in the west. In Japan I would imagine... at some point approaching the end of time? But when it does get released people with go freakin' wild over it, The Nightmare Before Christmas is firmly entrenched as an eternal brand here.

Your first stop should be the website which is one of those deep immersive jobs with all sorts of hidden stuff all over the place.

Coraline will be awesome for nigh-on innumerable reasons. Here, I will attempt to enumerate them:

1) The original book by Neil Gaiman is awesome and, frankly, terrifying.

2) It's directed by Henry Selick, who of course did The Nightmare Before Christmas and whose stop-motion style is so awesome that I still don't believe it's stop motion. I believe it to be sorcery.

3) They Might Be Giants have done some music for it, there's a song of theirs hidden away in the website somewhere. It's fantastic.

4) The voices are supplied by an almost flawlessly awesome cast including John Hodgman and Keith David. John Hodgman and Keith David! How can you fit those two in the same movie? I just ordered John Hodgman's book!

5) There are tie-in sneakers involved.

6) They also publicised it by sending out 50 unique handmade boxes of weird stuff and movie ephemera to a variety of writers and critics.

Ok, so that's just six - but it should make my point well enough. Interestingly I saw both John Hodgman and They Might Be Giants at a McSweeney's thing in London years ago which is a nice bit of serendipity.

I'm excited, but like I said with no Japanese release date in sight that excitement will have to bubble along for quite a while.

Oh... I just twigged, even when it's released over here I won't be able to see it. It's an animated movie so it'll be dubbed. Nuts.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Amnesia Funnies

From The Trouble With Girls #5, 1987

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Massive Screaming Metal Beasts!

Tonight on the way home I was witness to a vertiable clash of titans - a tete-a-tete of horrific technological monsters. They were breaking up and taking away the snow on the road near my appartment.

They have two big fuck-off machines. One has a blade hanging down from what looks like a horizontal crane arm and it goes along smashing up the packed snow into pieces. Then it reverses out of the street and a regular, albeit huge, bulldozer scoops all the broken bits of snow up and clears them away. Then the bulldozer reverses - really fast actually! - and the snow-breaker-upper comes forwards again. It's quick, efficient and looks really well drilled.

The sound that the bulldozer made scraping away the broken snow was bone rattling though. It drags its huge metal scoop along the asphalt as it goes and I was right next to it, wincing when I snapped that picture above. But this just serves to highlight something that should be remarked upon more - people work really hard in Sapporo just to make it through the winter.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Young Fresh Fellows

When push comes to shove, my favourite band ever is still The Young Fresh Fellows.

I'm glad I remembered that.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The Return of... SNOW!

So it snowed today... pretty much all day. It wasn't good quality snow, it was very wet, but it sure as hell stuck around.

That last one is windscreen wipers of course. I'm pretty happy with this development as you can imagine.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Snowboarding / Army / Damage

My snowboarding now is reaching dangerously extreme levels - just look what I did today:

Kapow! It was, of course, nothing too spectacular, I tried a turn I couldn't make and bent my board too much. It was fun getting a replacement disk though and showing the guys in the snowboarding shops what I'd done. My first blow out.

We went to Fu's today, which isn't great but I like it quite a lot. It's the Sapporo council owned ski slope and as such it's very cheap, is served by a full bus and often full of students. It's also really small and a bit too close to the city to get lots of good snow, but I still quite like the atmosphere there. It's mostly Japanese people, few foreigners and lots of kids who are always funny to be around. We got a lot of gawky stares today for whatever reason.

Also today was SDF ski training day:

Those guys are watching and grading his jump, most of them wiped out. The SDF is the Self Defence Force - that is, the Army. There were loads of them today, a bunch in proper camo like those guys above, and a whole bunch in plain khaki with super-plain standard issue white skis:

Actually, to be honest I'm not convinced that lot were the SDF. They probably were, but they were a less serious bunch than the guys in camo, who were hiking up hills and practicing cross country skiing too. Also the kids were cute, two of them tried to get us to understand their question by spelling out the Japanese word in English phonics which was an insane undertaking and we understood the question in Japanese to begin with.

Movie Review: Let The Right One In

Let The Right One In is a really good swedish arthouse vampire flick that is really great in the face of almost insurmountable odds. This problem being that it features a vampire who is also... brace yourself... a little girl:

The movie was awesome and it didn't get bogged down in this well-fucking-worn concept at all. I thought I needed no more culture of any kind with this apparently shocking disjunction between the innocence of the child and... y'know... being a fucking vampire and killing people. But Let The Right One In makes the obvious points well and quickly and is never heavy handed. I liked it a lot.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Sapporo Bars: I Love Ping Pong

Look, stop it, I can see right through you. I know you're planning to work hard and save your money so that you can one day open a ridiculously fancy looking bar, hidden away on the top floor of some anonymous building with a bloody great ping pong table in the middle of the room. But you'd do best to remember - someone's always done it first:

This place has a Japanese name that I didn't catch, but you'll find it by the illuminated "I Love Ping Pong" sign on the street outside. It's South 3 West 3 in Sapporo, walking south on Eki-mae Dori turn left in front of Kawanaka Sports.

They serve Suntory Premium Malts, of which I very much approve, and the food was good albeit a hefty wait and more like bar snacks than a regular meal. And there's a cover charge, but here I can live with it coz you do get to play ping pong as part of it.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Friday Night Trip Out Of Town

Yesterday I had a hellish day at work and came home wrecked. After that I proceeded to make at least two dinners, only 3/4 of one of which was edible, and in doing so I somehow took a slice out of my finger without breaking the skin and did this to a small plastic covered mirror:

Then I went online, bought sneakers and went hog wild at amazon. Also I didn't post on my blog because I was kinda insane.

Happy Saturday.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Keeping my musical bases covered

Here's what I've been... rocking? in winamp for the last week:

They are all fantastic albums. Right now I'm thinking this is my new best of 2008.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Little bits of Geijutsu no Mori in the snow.

Taken with Yuki's new camera that dishes out a resolution so large you could probably carpet your lounge with the originals of these images.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

I want to punch Kuro-san from Theater S in the goddamn face.

We have another contender! Most weeks, as I hope you're aware, I try to watch the Godly Super Chample which is broadcast on one of the local stations (HTV? STV? I'm ashamed to say I'm not exactly sure) at around 1am. But to get to Chample I have to get through Sapporo's movie show Theater S. Don't get me wrong, I love movie shows, but this one is presented by this dude.

Kuroiwa, or Kuro-san who is one of those gurning, mugging TV presenters who... you just want to punch right in the face. He often dresses up as characters from current movies in a phenomenally irritating manner, but I was inspired to add him to "The List" today when he was wearing no costume, and doing nothing more than introducing the show and I just blurted out: "God this guy pisses me off." Seriously, I... I don't want to analyse it too much, it'll lose it's magic. Let's just say he gets on my fucking nerves and leave it at that. Perfect. Beautiful.

I guess since he's from Sapporo there's a far higher likelihood of me running into him and, y'know, being forced to clean his clock than there is of me running into the other guys on my list. The list by the way is Satoshi Ohno from Arashi, that high school golf prodigy and Kuro-san. Look sharp Kuro-san... I'm in town already.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Neoteny Japan at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo

There are two biggish modern art galleries in Sapporo: Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo. The former is located near the city centre, about ten or fifteen minutes walk from the central shopping area and has a small collection space and a big space for touring exhibitions... most of which aren't all that interesting (and some of which aren't even modern art). It's ok but I've been mostly underwhelmed when I've gone there. I much prefer the Museum of Contemporary Art, but to get there you have to slog all the way out to the wilderness way south of Sapporo. It's in Geijutsu no Mori, the Art Park that you have to get a train, then a bus to reach and it takes bloody ages. Of course they have much more interesting exhibitions and while you're there you can check out the sculpture park which I posted about a while ago.

I'm glad Yuki and me decided to trek out there today though for the Neoteny Japan exhibition before it closed this month. I love modern art and this was post 1990 Japanese work taken from the Takahashi Collection. I don't know anything about this Takahashi fella other than he's a psychiatrist, but I like to imagine him as the Japanese Charles Saatchi, and his collection looks to be hella well stocked. Neoteny by the way refers to creatures keeping childish traits into adulthood, or (more creepily) animals becoming sexually mature while still in the larval or pre-pubescent stage. In fact a lot of this exhibition was creepy, but not in a bad way, and it certainly wasn't very primitive or childish either. I'm pretty sure the Neoteny referred to the Artists themselves reaching adulthood while something inside still retained a childish trait.

Of course there were works from Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, but their work is so globally famous now I'm pretty sure I don't need to drop images in to give you an idea (they were heavily represented in the gift shop too, there was like a Nara, Murakami table that I'm not ashamed to say I shopped from). There was tons of other great art too, from some famous Japanese artists that were still only buzzing around the edges of my memory until today.

Tomoko Konoike had a big, gorgeously presented room exhibiting three of her works, a floor displayed video, a huge wall canvas and a giant, six-legged mirrorball wolf. She seems to work heavily with symbols - young girls, swords, bees, six-legged wolves - and those things get rolled together in all sorts of ways and across all sorts of mediums. It was great.

Makoto Aida, I'd already been reading about recently, and I wasn't surprised to see his big creepy salamander thing and naked pre-pubescent girls here. He's a kinda ADD modern art genius it seems, working with shocking violence and disturbing imagery and in a million different styles.

Motohiko Odani is someone else I'd come into contact with before, and his room here was a pretty impressive display of versatility. The picture above is taken from Rompers, which seems to be a universally acclaimed short video piece of his where a cute, creepy piece of music soundtracks a gharish, grotesque, technicolour paradise scene where puss/honey oozes from a hole in a tree and pink frogs with ears on their backs jump around a lurid green pool and everything moves in time to the music and it's more than a little disquieting. I was thinking that it would be nice to find the actual video to post here since it's only about two minutes long, but no dice. I'm always curious about modern video art and the way it's displayed in art galleries, if it's just a screen on a wall in a well lit room then it can't be being displayed for maximum effect... I just feel like some artists are embracing modern mass production to let people interact more with their art or actually own something, while others are avoiding what might be a logical step for them. However I'm sure as hell not going to criticise anyone for how their art is made available to the public, for all I care an artist could make a 5 million dollar movie and show it only to one person then burn the only print in existence. That would, in itself, be pretty amazing.

There was more, like Akira Yamaguchi's incredible fusions of old Japanese style painting with modern contents and some really fantastic paintings by someone who's name I can't read because it's on this paper in Kanji, but believe me she was really good. It was, as always, worth travelling a ludicrous way just to see one exhibition, and the Art Park looked beautiful in the snow too.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

I endorse the following products

People look at me - in the street, you understand, people I never met before - and they say "What do you recommend?" Well let me tell you, my opinion ain't cheap. I'm not one of those guys who can be swayed into liking an object just because that object's creator offers me a shiny, shiny fifty pence piece. That's not how I roll.

So you know that when I allocate the kudos, it's got weight behind it. Or that these are some things that made my hungover-alter-ego (I call him "The Reluctant Alex") pretty happy yesterday. One of those two.

My folks sent me the first season of Pushing Daisies on DVD for Christmas. I'd never heard of it, but assumed that since it featured Anna Friel (whose name I cannot think without putting it to the hook from Madonna's Ray of Light) it was a British show. Turns out it's American and after one episode it's really great and right up my street. I mean, it's a little too winsome at times, and tries far too hard to be quirky - but that only stands out so much because so many shows are entirely bereft of joy. Of course it's been cancelled, but it looks like they got about 24 episodes out of it which is a pretty satisfying amount. People shouldn't try to push these things for seven series, they invariably suck at times. Bless the British shows that could hit it and quit it at six episodes a series and to hell with the American network system that necessitates six-month seasons.

Q-Tip's new album The Renaissance is awesome. I got a tip from Kanye, who seems to have taken to posting MP3s of other people's music on his blog as well as his own, and the whole album is just as good as that one stellar track.

I heartily endorse Uniqlo roomwear. It's not strictly pajamas, it's for "being in your room" I guess, but it works damn well as winter pajamas which was something I sorely needed. I'd steer clear of all that fleece stuff though, that can't be healthy to sleep in. Go for the cotton-y looking stuff, it's improved my quality of life no end. Also interestingly enough Uniqlo have bucked the trend in terms of that global economic downturn, which probably means they're going to be making everyone's clothes before too long. Might as well get used to them now.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

aka I Got Drunk

From the top once more - this Saturday post comes courtesy of Monday, because you can't stay out all night and become quite ludicrously drunk and keep your blog posts punctual at the same time. One precludes the other.

Some notes: pan-asian cuisine tastes the same in Japan as it does in England. Stanley Market is a really popular restaurant in Sapporo but it didn't blow me away.

The last few minutes killing time until the first train was spent in a convenience store (it's pretty standard practice) but this time I was still drunk at 6am so I came away with the most ludicrously macho magazine in the world, chocolate biscuits with Disney characters on them and a sweet potato, sugar and sesame flavoured Kit Kat. Mmmm.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Nothing But Bears

Brain working on other things now. Look at picture of bears fighting. Look at!

As before, from riotclitshave, a damn fine photoblog.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Pipsisewah and the Skeezicks


Who's at the door?

Why it's the Pipsisewah and the Skeezicks.

Of course.

From Animal Comics #4, 1943

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

What did you buy over the holidays Alex?

I bought:

A T-shirt that came in a miniature shoebox.

A Batman: The Dark Knight toothbrush with logo embossed cover.

A novelty webcam of Medama Oyaji from GeGeGe no Kitaro.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

James vs. The Snowy Apocalypse

James was like fuckin' king of the mountain when he went to Niseko last week, but even he could fall afoul of the deep powder snow. Tara took this incredible video of him dragging himself out, and I immediately pictured it as some epic journey, or perhaps the soundtrack to the end of the world:

That was ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead soundtracking that one, and next:

Danny Elfman's score to Nightbreed. Seriously, I could fill up about 2 and a half years of this here blog with these, there's just so much to work with: the lighting, the pacing, the human struggle... It's epic.

Monday, 5 January 2009

New Years Prayers

On January 4th we went to Hokkaido Shrine to pray to the Shinto Gods for good luck and to find out what this year holds for us. Here is the queue to get up to the Shrine:

It was more than chilly, we lost feeling in our feet. There is a ritual of sorts to praying at a Shinto Shrine, one which I always forget but I'll try to go over it here. First of all you have to purify yourself at the water spring outside the shrine. You use a wooden ladle and I think you hold it in your right hand to wash your left hand, then left hand to wash right hand, then right hand to pour water into your left hand and sip it to clean your mouth. Finally let the water trickle down over the handle to clean the ladle for the next person. I may have that wrong.

When you reach the Shrine to pray you throw five or ten yen into the collection tray then it's two bows, two claps, one bow, pray and one bow again. Once more, that's probably wrong but I've done it a few times now and I can never keep it straight in my head.

We also got Omikuji, which is divination by lots. You make a 100 yen donation and pick a piece of paper on which is written your fortune for the year. Broadly you can get small, medium and big good luck or small, medium and big bad luck. Almost all of them are Shoukichi - small good luck - which is what I got. There are also some details under different headings like "business - you won't make a lot of money"; "something lost - it will be found, but you must look hard" "illness - it will be serious, go see a doctor". That kind of thing.

You can always see these too:

They're prayers written on pieces of wood which are displayed for a while before being burned so that the Gods can read them in the smoke and maybe help out. I took a photo of this one because it's a band asking for fame, fortune and a national tour in 2009.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Snowboarding at Niseko Grand Hirafu

I'll put the set up soon on flickr.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Easy Mistakes To Make No. 1 : I Am Sam

I mean you go to the store to rent a Sean Penn tearjerker:

and you come away with a Korean high-school sitcom:

What can you do?

Friday, 2 January 2009

Friday via Sunday: New Year Shopping

Post New Year has been pretty hectic, so this Friday blog post is brought to you with the blessing of Sunday and the hindsight of two days. Let's begin:

Those are lucky bags - fukubukuro - that are sold on January 1st of every year from pretty much all the big stores and malls. The idea's pretty simple, you buy a bag filled with mystery contents (you can choose the size if it's clothes) worth a lot more than you pay. At the shit stores fukuburo stick around for days into the January sales, but at the popular places they go within minutes of the stores opening. In a couple of stores it was kinda like one of those speeded up shopping montages in a movie where hands a grabbing items off a table until the table is empty. Either that or there are security guard-enforced queues and massive crowds. We got into town just as the stores were opening (nine-fucking-thirty on New Years Day) and Yuki got four of those bags, I got the Adidas one on the far right, and when we opened them up...

Unsurprisingly the ones from the good stores, the busiest stores, were the best ones. One of them was almost a total write-off for Yuki, but one was almost all good and she was happy overall. I got two t-shirts and two hoodies in the Adidas bag, one of each of which is awesome, so I'm happy.

This, by the way, is not the actual January sale, that doesn't start until the 2nd and of course we were there for that too. The crowds were even bigger because some stores don't sell fukubukuro until the 2nd either. I thought it would be unbelievably awesome to get a Bape fukubukuro, but unfortunately so did about a hundred and fifty other people and they were more into waiting in the snow than I was:

They only had 30 fukubukuro which were being handed out in a lottery to some people out of the first hundred in line. After that people were just getting tickets to get in the store because the pre-release from the Spring/Summer 09 line dropped that day. Overall I guess I didn't buy too much which is probably a good thing, but I was fun just wandering around these stores while they verged on riots. My kinda fun.