Saturday, 28 February 2009

Old, Old Sapporo

Apparently my Dad has turned into some kind of retro-Japanese-tourist-merchandise-ninja, because after the first English-language Sapporo guidebook (1988) and the 1965 Tokyo tourist guide, he sent me these awesome, ancient picture-postcards of Sapporo:




Dated who know's when, but basically - there's no TV tower and... well, it looks like there's hardly any buildings either. It's incredible to see the city, and to be oriented by Odori Park, but to not find any of the familiar landmarks at all. Bravo Stephen, I am officially freaking out.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Cadence Weapon

This just in! Cadence Weapon's first album is ALL KINDS OF AWESOME.



So, I haven't heard his second album at all, and it's not like it's new news because I've been listening to it for ages, but I just slapped it on and was compelled to post! Plus, it's a great video, although it annoys the hell out of me that I can't find an uncensored one.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Kai-kun

My mobile phone company here in Japan is Softbank, which is fine, whatever. I'm not sure how it compares to the other brands but it seems to work OK for me. I do like their TV commercials though, featuring a bizzare family arrangement where the father is played by this guy:


Celebrity super-dog, Kai-kun (photo yoinked from here). He's a gruff voiced father figure in the body of an adorable dog, and the commercials play it perfectly. I couldn't find my favourite one, where his daughter's new boyfriend mistakes a regular, non-talking dog, for him, but this one makes it pretty clear:



He's a star outside the commercials too I think, because me and Yuki found a whole DVD boxed-set of him... doing stuff. I don't know, contemplating life, reality, the nature of things. He's adorable and I dig the ads, but I'm feeling that the voice of Otousan (father) is just as deserving of the adoration. You can't have a juxtaposition without two things to juxtaposate... against... one another...

Anyway - Look! Cute dog post!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Comics Stuff : Daniel Way and Deadpool

Why am I writing this blog every day? Why? I swear that I'm gonna start posting sequential photos of the ceiling of my appartment soon until I've covered the entire surface area. It'll be awesome. It'll be a fuckin' meme. You watch.

For now, comics.

There's this writer, Daniel Way, who writes for Marvel. I first heard about him through an insane interview he gave about an Ant-Man comic he was going to write. Ant-Man... what can you say... the concept is not enough to enthuse most people. Is Edgar Wright still working up that comedy treatment for a movie? I'd really like to see that. Anyway, Way gave a bizarre, hilarious, interview where he came off like a man who didn't give a crap about Ant-Man and just wanted to write a comic book. Stuff like this:

The Pulse: "Hank Pym in the Ultimates universe seems a little 'Max' but the mainstream universe Hank Pym has never seemed that cutting edge or mature - at least before the Avengers 71 issue - so why was this Ant Man (as opposed to Scott Lange ) chosen for the Max series?"

Daniel Way: "I don't know (just like I don't know about this 'Avengers 71' thing). Marvel sent me this big book of old Ant-Man stories and said 'go.' I flipped through it--sometimes he got really small, sometimes he got really big ... I didn't know what the fuck was going on. So I just read the first 6 or 8 pages of the first story, got it and went off."


Sadly most people didn't get the joke and just thought he was an asshole, so he seemed to have been shelved as a writer for a while before he started writing for Marvel regularly a few years ago. I was pleased at first, but frankly I haven't really liked anything he's written for Marvel since he started on the high-profile books. Until he started working on Deadpool.


I love Deadpool, and at last Way seems to be cutting loose. How do you solve the problem of having no-one to play off in a comedy action book? Have your hero banter with the voices in his head! It's not the greatest thing on the stands or anything, and probably no Deadpool joke will ever beat the very first one in the very first comic of his ongoing series, but it's at last living up to the Daniel Way I saw interviewed. That interview's gone from the website it was originally on, but I could still find stuff like this quote online:

The Pulse: "What do you view as Hank's greatest assets?"

Way: "Well ... he can make himself really small. That's what we call his 'power'."

The Pulse: "What do you view as his greatest weaknesses?"

Way: "Insecurity. Egomania. Totally gay outfit."

Mister Way, please... if you can make Deadpool any crazier than it already is... that'd be awesome.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Good Snow and Minor Disappointments


We're having good snow at the moment and lots of it. One hundred and fifty flights or so were cancelled over the weekend, and last week a friend of mine got stuck in Tokyo because of it. Today I tried to go snowboarding at one place but the bus I wanted didn't exist, so I went someplace else. It was fun either way. The second gig of the weekend though, last night, was cancelled. They asked us "Didn't you see on the homepage?", which is just a ridiculous question. I was actually looking at the homepage earlier in the day and of course I don't try and read anything I don't have to in Japanese. One of those little pot holes you come across. Instead we went and drank in a bar where it was just us drinking and the staff playing Othello. Really good fried chicken.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

More BECR

Sorry, yesterday I wrote BeCru, because that's what Beat Crusaders abbreviated nickname sounds like, but now I find out that it's written BECR. Man, I'm so lame and old.

So like I said yesterday, the gig was really good. I had reservations, but they were a really impressive live band and put on a hell of a fun punk rock show. Their keyboard player is an asset, when he doesn't have to play he's dancing like a crazy person and conducting the crowd, which is always useful when you're a crowd-pleasing band.

The other thing about BECR is that except when they're playing live they always wear these pixelated black and white masks of their own faces. Like this:


Seriously, like in magazine interviews and everything. And when they come on stage they're wearing them, and they walk around greeting the crowd for a few minutes before frisbeeing them into the crowd and starting off. They also have a lot of fun looking videos that are really difficult to find on the internet. But, y'know I did my best:



Oh, and that's another thing, they have a tendency to give songs the same names as western songs. Not cover them, just use their names. Hence Cum On Feel The Noize is not Slade's Cum On Feel The Noize; Winterlong is not Neil Young's Winterlong and so on. However they do have a bunch of covers, so it's hard to tell. And occasionally they make a pun on the original title like the spectacular Cunt, Buy Me Love.

Here's another amazing video, man I wish they'd done this yesterday.



We did get something special in a way. They're making a live DVD from their current tour, and accompanying it will be a kinda TV comedy drama DVD starring the band. They filmed the climactic scene as part of the show's encore and it was kind of cool to see.

Oh, and they make everyone chant Japanese obscenities which is always fun.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Big Weather and Beat Crusaders

On Friday night we had howling winds and a terrific dump of snow. Some poor guy went missing in Niseko after leaving a bar, which is scary, and when I opened my curtains on Saturday morning I saw this:


Vertical surface snow build up? Hell yes.

Saturday night I went to a rock show. Beat Crusaders, who are a popular pop-punk Japanese band playing at Zepp, the kinda commercial Academy-esque chain venue in town. We were there just before doors opened and we had to queue. Y'know, in the cold. Next to a frozen river:


There were people who had come dressed and prepared for the gig, that is, only in t-shirts. Here, Matt and Yuki look fairly warm, while next to Matt a girl in only a t-shirt vibrates with cold:


It got hellishly hot in the venue, but I didn't regret dressing for the weather outside. BeCru were good and it was a lot of fun. I'll post more about them for Sunday when I can track down some of their awesome videos online, but it was a tour for a new best of and at two hours for a pop-punk show where the songs clock in at 3 minutes or under it was a bit long. It was nicely structured: a blast of four or five songs keeping the momentum up, then some banter for a while, then another block of songs. But I only knew one album and a handful of other tracks, so it got a bit tiring to be honest. And while they're good at what they do, unless you're pulling out earth shattering hooks on every single song, with pop-punk there's only so much you can do. Beat Crusaders have some stunning hooks, but not on every single song.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Thursday, 19 February 2009

I want to punch high-school golf prodigy Ryo Ishikawa in the face (but I'm not proud of it)

Unlike my previous "I want to punch so-and-so in the goddamn face" posts, I feel kinda sorry about this one. But the feeling's still there so I'm gonna go with it. High-school gold prodigy Ryo Ishikawa has been very, very famous in Japan for a long time now, at least since I've been here and he's only seventeen now. This means he's probably been weilding a driver since he was two and has been in the spotlight ever since. The hype machine is kicking in globablly now though, since he was invited to a few competitions on the US tour and the masters, so I figured I'd post about him. About wanting to punch him I guess, so it's not like I'm contributing anything constructive to the world, but at least I'm true to myself.


Ryo-kun is widely loved here in Japan, and it's not like I have as powerful a loathing for him as I do for Kuro-san or Ohno Satoshi. Just today someone was telling me how incredibly polite and humble he always seems, and how he seems so mature for a high school kid, but it just that... ever since I saw him I found his slightly pudgy face... really punchable. He's a high school kid too, so I could take him pretty easily, but then afterwards there would be no real sense of achievement. I'd probably even feel pretty guilty, I'm sure he's a good kid and I wish him the best of luck on the world stage but there's just something about him that flicks my punching switch. I'd probably lamp him, give him a shot to the gut and then apologise profusely. But I'd still have to do it.

I'm not proud.

Then again, you know how famous he is? This famous:


That's a statue of him in the Sapporo Snow Festival. Holy crap, he could probably pay to have me erased from history if he wanted. Still, Ishikawa Ryo, if I'm ever near a golf course you happen to be playing on... look sharp.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Accordians

I keep downloading these old comics because I think they'll be fun to read. But instead of picking over the awesome sixties and seventies comic art, I instead find myself carefully scrutinizing the bizarre ads that were pitched at kids back then.


If they put ads for accordians in Marvel comics now I would be all over that shit.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Two Notable Public Appearances by Japanese Public Figures

This was world news, I even found an ITN piece about it on youtube, the Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa was pretty clearly trolleyed on something at a G7 meeting in Rome, here some of the highlights:



And here's where he falls asleep:



So apparently Aso's approval rating is below 10% and people are wondering if he'll quit. Jesus, please not another Prime Minister quitting - just call an election already.

So, while Nakagawa was making a tit of himself, under the influence of fatigue, jetlag and cold medication or whatever, Murakami Haruki made a fantastic speech collection the Jerusalem prize in Israel:



That's like, balance or something, right?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Sick, but it's snowing so that's something at least.

I'm sick, but hopefully I'm getting better now and it's started snowing again so that automatically improves my mood.

Seriously, the water pump for my building broke so I was without water for a night, I was sick, there was no snow... I was pretty fucking down for a while there.

One thing that kept me going was the good spirit of the Hobo. I recently took delivery of a copy of "The Areas of my Expertise" an entirely fictional and very funny almanac of useless information by one John Hodgman. That'll be a link to his website back there, go check it out. Amongst the disinformation and flim-flam within there is a list of 700 hobo names that is just spectacular. It's worth a book in itself, and I'm delighted to find that it has spawned a site where you people have illustrated all 700 hoboes. It's fantastic when someone takes an already brilliant idea and runs with it. I have, somewhere an mp3 of Hodgman himself reading aloud all 700 hobo names but it seems to have gone from his site. It was a thing of wonder, a 40 minute recording that you could totally space out to, and in which words lost all meaning after a while.


I like John Hodgman because he always pops up unbidden in things I like. He used to write for McSweeney's, of which I'm a big fan and compered a McSweeney's event that I attended in London admirably. Thereafter I happened upon his 700 hobo names which I thought was incredible. Shortly after that he appeared on The Daily Show promoting his book of nonsense and was picked up as a reporter on that show. He appeared in Flight of the Conchords, gave his voice to the makers of Coraline which I want to see, and now I find that he used to be Bruce Campbell's literary agent. He is a man of whom I approve, thouroughly.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Do Want / Do Not Want : Michael Jackson's Neverland Auction

Just like everyone else I've been browsing the auction catalogue for Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch sell-off to see if there's anything I could pick up for a song.


ITEM: Neverland Coffee Maker

DO WANT - I could really do with a coffee maker, and that looks pretty fancy. I dig the eagle.


ITEM: Large Chess Set with Marble Columns

DO NOT WANT - I like chess as much as the next fellow, and at present am without a chess set. However I don't think I have anywhere to put this beast.


ITEM: Royal Velvet Cape

DO WANT - The one I'm wearing to recieve visitors at the moment is looking pretty dog eared and the Ermine is a pretty horrible grey-brown colour.


ITEM: Oil painting of Michael Jackson as a king.

DO NOT WANT - Kind of creepy.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Sick Note

Marcia,

I'm afraid this latest missive from my distant abode comes with tidings of ill health. A consumptive cough periodically wracks my already morally degenerate form, and I find myself bringing forth vast quantities of ill-favoured substances as my body attempts to eject the poison within.

Moreover, the weather here remains stubbornly inclement. The usually crisp white snow of this season has occasionally been besmirched by rain (rain!) and thereafter the arctic conditions have rendered walking a slippery and hazardous undertaking.

Beyond that, these occasional climatic forays above freezing have awoken many of the local bears before their hibernation would naturally end. Luckily the bears are a fair tempered lot, and seldom fix upon passers-by as a possible source of nutrition. When they do, they are easily appeased by the poetry of John Donne - although I must admit my alarm is rising as my stock of Donne's verse dwindles. Once you have told a bear a poem he or she returns to his cave and regales the rest of his "gang" with said poem. Hence the poem loses all power over the other bears of that area - them having heard it already.

These are hard times Marcia, and I would not wish them upon anyone. Except perhaps Casper, that buffoon.

Regards,

Leonard

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Park Air! Go!


video

Today was the last day of the Snow Festival and also a public holiday so there was a lot going on. Park Air is a ridiculous looking snowboard jump erected in the middle of Sapporo and we got to witness the Park Air FINAL NIGHT SESSION! as the announcer informed us about fifty times. Since I have to work this weekend and can't go to the big super-star snowboarding competition Big Air it was cool to see this.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

J-Pop (guitar type) - Monobright, Beat Crusaders, Mass of the Fermenting Dregs

I've posted about Monobright a few times, and they had a new single out last month that I haven't picked up yet:



It's pretty darned good. I do like their straight on power-pop, because power-pop gets all it's power from whether the hooks connect or not. For me Monobright's hooks do the job just fine and I'll try and pick up that single soon (and don't worry Stephen, I'll see you right too).

Next week I've got an astounding two (2!) gigs to go to. The super-power-pop Beat Crusaders:

Who have grown on me a lot and Mass of the Fermenting Dregs:



That's gotta be a quote from somewhere right? Anyway one of their bios mentioned Sugar so I'm pretty much down with that noise, and they sound a lot like toddle who I love. Ah live music, I missed you.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Ski-lift Self-portrait


And then today I went snowboarding and got really tired. So this is what you get.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Gifts I've Been Given - Matt and Yuka's Wedding

On Sunday I went to Matt and Yuka's wedding, and it was awesome. It's the first wedding I've been to in Japan (like I've been to so many weddings in England) and it was certainly a contemporary Wedding celebration, but it was romantic and cute in a lot of ways.

Also I sang - Elton John's Your Song - as part of the... entertainment? Celebration? I was kind of like a wedding singer, up on stage in front of a lot of people. I hope I did a good job for Matt and Yuka's day, I think I did. I didn't flub any lines or belch in the middle of a line or change key at random or anything, which is always something. Gold star.

At Japanese weddings the guests all pay to attend the ceremony and part of the deal is that they get a present too. I heard that in Hokkaido the going rate for both organising and attending a wedding is much cheaper than in the rest of Japan, which would be cool, but I can't say for sure. Here's the box (it says Koyama and Longarini on it):


And here are the very lovely and quite stylish cups and saucers I got.


That was certainly not what I was expecting when I cracked it open but they are actually pretty great. Thanks and congratulations Matt and Yuka! I had a fantastic time!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Gifts I've Been Given - Snow Festival

This weekend I drank, went to a wedding, sang, drank some more, and went snowboarding so no posts were posted over the weekend, I'll just play catch-up a bit now.

Like I mentioned before when I went to the Snow Festival a bunch of elementary school kids wanted to ask questions to foreigners, and in return they wanted to give you some hand crafted welcome to Sapporo kinda gifts. It was adorable:


That's a few origami cranes (one only half finished, one on a ribbon) some hand-written letters and some maps of Chitose hand-made on computers and featuring some interesting design decisions:


When I think of Chitose outlet mall I certainly think of Abe Lincoln. And tiny blue and pink elephants coz they're on the TV ad. But mostly Abe Lincoln.

The hand written letters are all in Japanese, but it's super-simple kids Japanese so I can get the idea and Shino and Yuki read them out to me too. One is addressed to "Mr. or Mrs. Foreign Person" and one says "Maybe next time you can tell me your dreams!" which is just beyond cute.

Friday, 6 February 2009

I recall memories of scorching hot love, although I can not remember those scents now.

Omiyage are very important in Japan. Omiyage means, pretty much, souveniers and every time anyone goes anywhere they pick up some of the local specialties, sweets, biscuits or whatever, for the folks back home. It's a nice custom, and one that ensures you're seldom without some kind of ridiculously fancy baum cake or shortbread variation. I exaggerate, but only a little, and often so you should be used to it by now.

One of my friends recently came back from Tokyo where she used her impeccable taste to pick out a box of dano, which were really delicious sponge-cake things. Seriously, I can't over-estimate the massive range of this kind of thing that will confront you at most Japanese airports - it makes the tins of Dairy Milk that I remember at Birmingham look somewhat lacking.

Anyway you're the owner of one of these huge sweets companies and it's a homicidally competitive market so you've got to make your little cake things stand out from all the other little cake things. Word of mouth is important of course, but so is package design, and of course - copy:


Please click to embiggen and enjoy for yourself, but I'll type out the description from the box here for you're ease of reading. And please, this isn't to mock the English used to advertise the product, but to marvel at how insane their descriptions get.

Sweets scorched just a bit.

With dano's scorched cake in my hand, I can always relish a sweet breeze.
I recall memories of scorching hot love, although I can not remember those scents now.
The golden color is more beautiful than my baked skin in that memorial summer and eyes of a panda in midwinter.
This splendor and the scorching smell encompass the globe with a long jet stream.
In a few hours, my dear person will enjoy deep taste of dano with rich aroma of coffee or tea.
By the way, my share is secretly waiting for me in my bag. It also goes well with cloud colored milk.

dano's delicious stories will be born for each person who cram one's mouth with it.
Tonight, let's look up the starry sky and enjoy the scorched taste and moment.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Sapporo Snow Festival 2009

Of course I went down to the 60th annual Sapporo Snow Festival before work today. It was the first day and we were stopped four times by elementary school kids wanting to ask us questions for their English assignments. This happened last year too and it's awful cute, but this year came with the bonus of gifts from the kids. I got some letters (in Japanese), some origami cranes and some... frankly odd maps of Chitose that I'll write about some other time. I've never actually been to Chitose (just south of Sapporo, home of the airport and the outlet mall) so I reckon I'll probably use them sometime. There were indeed a lot of foreigners, so they had rich pickings.

It snowed heavily for most of the day too, and certainly while we were walking around. It makes for a nice Snow Festival atmosphere, but after a while you're getting wetter and wetter and it starts obscuring the statues. I guess they clean them up a bit at night? I certainly wasn't dressed for it as I was heading to work straight after, but it was worth it.



The big statue which was in this place last year, and which was in a similar style so I guess it was by the same team, was my favourite. This year it was probably my favourite again, I like the accuracy and the clean lines. Owls and Eagles - together at last.


Here are the pros going to work on the official competition blocks. These are the same two blocks I posted a picture of the other day, and I'll go back and check in a few days when they're done.


And this is the - frankly underdressed - Miss Hong Kong posing in front of the Hong Kong entry. Don't worry, she put her coat back on straight after the photo op.


And finally the humble offering I helped Jesi to make. I'm gonna go again!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Sapporo Snow Fesitval 2009 - Pre-Game

The 60th Sapporo Snow Festival kicks off tomorrow, and well, I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl. Here's some pre-festival snaps I took last weekend before I lent Jesi a hand.


Citizens statues by people from Sapporo


These big-ass blocks will be the international snow sculpture competitors' blocks.


The big statue in this spot was my favourite one last year.


Ah industrious people, freezing their fingers off.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Superman

Y'know like so many people, I never really liked Superman:


I guess it just takes the right story to show you why he's so awesome. For me that'll be Final Crisis by Grant Morrison.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sapporo Snow Fesitval 2009 - Pitching In

Snow Festival starts on Thursday! Yeah! And just like last year Jesi managed to get a space for a small snow statue, and I went along to help out.


The small "citizens statues" are open to Sapporo residents but you have to enter a lottery to get a place. Jesi entered and got one of the 150 small blocks for the second time in two years! Way to go Jesi! This year she's making a tribute to the trash-ninjas of Sapporo. The trash-ninjas (as we call them) are a bunch of guys who dress up in old-fashioned clothes and go around town picking up litter and tossing it into bags on their backs and doing backflips and singing and dancing and stuff. They're on about the 11th level of awesome, so someone needed to pay tribute to them. In Jesi's statue there's a ninja and two samurai (what's the plural of samurai? samurais? samuraises?) around Sapporo's iconic TV Tower and bin at the bottom. She's still got one day to go, but it's looking good so far.

This year I worked on it a lot more than I did last year, meaning that I froze my ass off for longer than last year. It was really satisfying and rewarding though, and getting all bundled up and hacking away at a big lump of ice and snow with an axe seems like a great way to spend a weekend anyway. Jesi had a plan, and hers is looking way better than a lot of them, but some people - even though they're just regular Sapporo citizens - take it very seriously:


I think I saw those guys making a similarly perfect castle last year too. There are arsenals of tools laid out around some of them, and huge teams of people all chipping in all over the place. And when it comes to the big ones:


There are lots and lots of soldiers.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Sapica go!

Look what I got!


Babes and Bubbas, that is a Sapica - the new one touch Sapporo subway card scheme that was only started two days ago. Now that I've got one I'm just... I'm like so Sapporo. I'm cho Sapporo.

It's like the oyster in London, or the suica in London but on a much, much smaller scale. Seriously, Sapporo has regular train lines and bus routes which you can't use this on, and only three subway lines on which this is valid. You can't use it for anything else and really, the subway ticket system was pretty convenient already. So to be perfectly honest this isn't all that useful. Still never let it be said that I don't love a gimmick, and I can always hook it up to my credit card so that I never need to use a ticket machine again, or get my name printed on it or something. And now I think about it I do end up running for the train more often than you'd think so this might save me valuable microseconds.

And it's really, really cool too.

Today I ate a Sapporo Black Curry Burger, with a black curry sauce so black and sticky I thought I might be eating tar, or possibly Spider-man's alien costume. It was really nice.