Thursday, 30 April 2009

Park Review! Moerenuma Park!

How do you rate parks? Well, I give Moerenuma Park, in the East of Sapporo, five out of five. That's like five non-functioning fountains out of five, or five mysterious pyramid constructions out of five!

Moerenuma Park was designed by the artist Isamu Noguchi and is just a wonderful, beautiful place. The last time I was there was to go sledding in the snow over a year ago, and though I thought I'd been there since... I guess I hadn't because all of this was new to me:





Mostly Moerenuma park feels like a huge set for a 1970s Sci-Fi flick about a utopian society that worships pyramids but eventually turns against itself in an orgy of violence and ray guns.

The only problem was that since Sapporo is still recovering from being violently assaulted by winter for four or five months, the grass was hardly a verdant green, and they haven't turned most of the fountains on yet. But we randomly happened upon the Sea Fountain display which had only started the day before. It was big, beautiful and soothing and very nautical, but a little simple.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Shin-Okubo to Shinjuku

Most of our time in Tokyo was spent exploring parts of the city, and I didn't really snap many interesting shots of the corners we found (you can see what I did take in my flickr stream). So sadly, I can't drag out the Tokyo coverage for quite as long as I'd like to. I did take a bunch of videos while riding on the train though - which is always fun, so here you go. This is going counter-clockwise on the Yamanote Line from Shin-Okubo to Shinjuku :

video

I could mention shopping too, let's see. I bought new sneakers at the BapeXclusive store in Minami-Aoyama (again, they had my size, I couldn't resist); and this time managed to find something I really liked at the Original Fake store, but I wish they'd stop making everything so darn classy there. I picked up a pretty unique hoody/jacket thing in Daikanyama that was either designed or made or both in some guy's appartment, I couldn't quite follow the store clerk, but he was very enthusiastic. I met up with Conrad and Rose, who I met when I first came here, and who have both stuck around in Japan for as long as I have. We did karaoke, and I have never had a bad karaoke experience with Conrad or Rose, they're awesome. Bunny got her photo taken (unsurprisingly) in Harajuku by some lady with a fashion blog, and made friends with a designer and illustrator in Daikanyama. In Akihabara, some British guy was so excited to be there he asked us to take his photo in front of a famous manga store. He was genki as all-get-out. We had incredible Italian food outside in the sun, and ate twice at the same Freshness Burger because both days when we were shopping in Harajuku it was pouring with rain and our patience ran out when we were near it. I kept up my record of always finding something unusual and cheap at Disc Union in Shimo-Kitazawa, and also have a much better opinion of Ueno now that I've checked out Ameyoko and the park. Still haven't been to the Imperial Palace. I'm sure it's very nice.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Drawing the wrath of Tokyo Tower Wax Museum

So today, I may be drawing the ire, if not the wrath of a Tokyo tourist attraction. What will this net me? Legal action? A sternly worded email? Time will tell, but since it didn't exactly seem to be a bustling tourist mecca, and since I'm not spoiling the majority of the exhibition, and since I'm posting this as a MUST! SEE! IN! TOKYO! I'd hope they let it slide.

On Bunny's list of things to do in Tokyo was go to Tokyo Tower, and more specifically the Tokyo Tower Wax Museum, which she had heard was a weird old wax museum and as such a must see. One of the interesting things there was this sign:


Which is why I'm feeling kinda guilty about this. I mean, if they go to the trouble of asking you not to... actually no, I don't really feel guilty. No one I've spoken to even knows this place exists, or why it's quite so awesome, but if you're looking around Tokyo I strongly recommend Tokyo Tower. And it's worth it to get the "Entertainment Pack" to go to the Trick Art Gallery, the Wax Museum and the somewhat underwhelming Guiness World of Records, because they're all kind of terrible and completely wonderful.

The Wax Museum is 70% a regular, kind of shabby, wax museum. They've got a whole bunch of Hollywood types, Churchill (someone's nicked his cigar though), JFK, famous Japanese people, Mao, Edison, a slightly odd corner with an arrangement of Princess Di, Ghandi, Mother Teresa and Anne Frank standing together like Heaven's Greatest Hits, and a partially hidden torture chamber. THEN at the end of the regular exhibition it all gets FUCKING AWESOME. They have a whole section dedicated to rock music. Except, it's not regular, contemporary rock music folks, it's guitarists like Tony Iommi and Richie Blackmore and a whole raft of German kraut and prog rock artists who I've never heard of. It's insane, I just cannot fathom who made waxworks of the members of Ash Ra Tempel, or Faust:


There's a big display for Frank Zappa. Y'know, as you would expect:


And for me, probably the cherry on the cake: a motherfuckin' waxwork of Robert Fripp:


Holy crap. I mean, add to that the shelves and shelves of utter junk that seems to be serving as some kind of retro-memorabilia exhibition (but which includes empty drinks cans, Starbucks instant coffee sachets and a Swatch home phone), and the gift shop which is just a kraut rock record store and punk merchandise stand, and the place really does have to be seen to be believed.

Tokyo Tower Wax Museum is one of the strangest, and best tourist attractions in Tokyo. And that's without the great view from the Tower, the cool timelapse video screens, or all the other stuff crammed in there. Easily worth the trip.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Kaerimashita yo.

OK, so I admit that I deliberately put off returning to posting duty and that I may have been back in touch with the internet for a couple of days, so that I might have spent some time posting blog posts, but I just decided to be lazy. It was probably good for me. Now, watch me recommence, daily, like a boss.

I went to Tokyo, it was pretty cool y'know, although a little rainy. We fuckin' walked the hell out of that city let me tell you; now I can recognize every cobble and kerbstone by feel through the rubber soles of my well worn shoes. Or something like that. I'll post a few things about the cool places we went to in Tokyo over the next few days for now I'll whet your appetites with some secret preview pictures. Strictly confidential, you understand:






When I got back I realised I should've taken a lot more shots, but that my dedication to documentation is still somewhat lacking. Ah well, you don't need a snap of the Mita Sneakers shop in Ueno Ameyoko, but it was cool that I could find it. I got new shoes from elsewhere, a fancy new t-shirt and lots of new clothes, so I'm happy as the proverbial pig. Bunny got all sorts of crazy stuff, like a live elephant, three stone dwarves and a three-quarter-size dirigible. It was crazy.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Tokyo Calling...

We came to Tokyo, and look what happened to us!


It warped and twisted our frail human bodies into pitiful mockeries of the human form! Behold! The wages of sin are never being able to buy clothes that fit! Ever! Again!

Tokyo report:

Weather: Sunny, then cloudy, then rainy.

People
: There are several people in Tokyo.

Shopping
: There are several shops in Tokyo, at some of which we have purchased things.

Tourism
: Tokyo Tower was freakin' mind blowing. Meiji Jingu was beautiful as always. Were I to have to marry a shrine, it would be that one. Or possibly Hokkaido Shrine. Maybe I'd marry Meiji Jingu and Hokkaido Jingu would be my mistress. Anyway, the situation is unlikely to come up so I'm probably wasting way too much time thinking about it.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Interruption of Service!

I'm going to Tokyo tomorrow, and while I have some pie-in-the-sky-ish aim of dropping by an internet cafe and posting some images to this blog, it probably won't happen.


Picture from the incomparable "If Charlie Parker was a gunslinger..." photo blog, which is a joy to browse. See you in a week or so! TTFN wot!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Gentrification

Just around the corner from my appartment, on the way to the station, there's a tiny alley lined with tiny little snack izakayas. They're like 10 seater bars that I've always thought it'd be nice to check out, but all of which have a distinctly old fashioned, locals-only feel. I don't know, probably I should've just barged through the door one night, but they've mostly got like four people in them deep in conversation with the owner, or there's someone singing enka or something. Anyway, the whole bunch are pretty seedy looking, but one got bought out and converted into this:


It's called the Fujiyama Rocket and it's owned by the same company that owns the blues bars Famous Door and Buddy Buddy. This one isn't American style, it's strictly Japanese, but it's similarly dressed up to the nines, and tonight on its grand opening that tiny alley was filled with flowers to celebrate. It was a surreal experience on my way home from work. Anyway, it looks like the diametric opposite of a locals bar, so maybe this time I'll check it out.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

J-Pop Video Drop!

In lieu of content, while I convalesce:







That's all.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

When you laugh, when you cry... here comes Mickey Eye


I have written many times about Grant Morrison, and how he's my favourite comic book writer, and thus (since comic books are the greatest of all mediums) probably my favourite writer full stop. For a while now he's been labouring on the big names at DC comics: Batman, Superman, and so on - putting aside the smaller, non-company works that are often his best. Thanks to this though, DC have agreed to publish the second part of Seaguy, and believe me, that is worth all the so-so DC corporate stuff in the world.

Seaguy is the best hero-trapped-in-a-brainwashed-world-of-conformism-that's-secretly-run-by-an-evil-company story ever. And there are a lot of them. It's probably also one of the best man vs. "them" stories ever, and it's mostly in the telling. Reading the first issue of this new mini-series was pure, pure joy for me. One day, I pray, there'll be a Seaguy omnibus, just like nine issues in one book. And I'll buy like three copies, and read it every time I fly, and I'll buy a copy for every person I know, and ninety percent of them will think that it's unreadable insanity, and the other ten percent will see it as the song of the human spirit it is. I love it so much.


So much.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Ask Small Soup Curry Bar Cancun

Hey Small Soup Curry Bar Cancun, how would you describe the relationship between you and President Obama?


Yeah, that's what everyone says.

Small Soup Curry Bar Cancun lives in downtown Sapporo and will happily assure you of its proximity to any given object or concept.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Book of Mansion Names 3





Please click the tage below for previous entries in The Book of Mansion Names.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

I wuz sick...

So, over the weekend I didn't go out, I just stayed home and felt sorry for myself and...

read The Complete Bone

That's a complete graphic novel series in one volume at about 1800 pages long. Forget doorstop, it's practically a door, and it was incredible. I heartily recommend it to anyone, especially kids, but anyone. It's like a kids cartoon, Marx Brothers, Lord of The Rings without all the boring bits. But BETTER.

and read Chuck Palahniuk's Snuff

Which I actually found a little lightweight even for a deliberately grotesque look at an attempt to break the world record for porn gang-bangs. For Palahniuk fans it's worth it, it cuts down on some of his narrative quirks (though many are still present in full force) and his prose style is impossibly good. Seriously, there's a lot of gross porn stuff, but the really disgusting stuff is mostly just about people eating candy and crisps, because it's so well written. But even though Palahniuk wins on a number of levels (it's about the characters not the porn industry, there are several twists but none of them carry the value of the book) it's still one of my least favourite of his books.

and watched Crows: Zero

The sequel to this Japanese high school yankee movie just came out and I had the original on my hard drive forever so I watched it. It was pretty fun for a movie where cute boys beat the shit out of each other and contemplate becoming men, but not all that great. I really liked Yamada Takayuki as the school's reigning champ, he played it a little too sensitive (read: kinda gay) which made his character a lot more interesting than everyone else. There was an interesting message which went something like: "Being a yakuza is not something to aspire to. Being the top dog at a school with no rules and no actual teaching staff is definitely something to aspire to, and such yankees (thugs) that attempt this are way freakin' cool. In fact schools like that where every day is like gang warfare is cool too. And if they eventually do become top dog they'll learn that being a Yakuza is lame. Somehow. Possibly by osmosis."

and watched 20th Century Boys Part 1

It's a big hit Japanese sci-fi conspiracy thriller which has been released on DVD in the west apparently (which means I can download it with subtitles at last!) that I've wanted to watch for a while. The concept's a killer, a group of elementary school friends make up a story about the end of the world and twenty years or so later someone uses it as a template for taking over the world, drawing them into a great conspiracy. It was good, but not great sadly. The story's probably a bit compressed from the Manga so it fell squashed and stretched a bit, and there are a few too many unexplored or unanswered questions for it to be completely satisfying, but it was very well directed. There are some really nice tricks the director uses to great effect es
pecially during some of the action moments. There's a slo-mo stabbing that puts Zak Snyder to shame. Still I'm in for the other two parts (part 2 just left cinemas, part 3 later this year).

Friday, 10 April 2009

Cursed Sickness

Y'know what awesome? When you get to the end of a spirit crushing week at work and catch a nasty cold just in time for the weekend, so that you have to spend all your time off coughing and aching and feeling shit.


Oh sorry, my mistake. It's not awesome, it's wretched beyond belief and I want to die. Hence, no blog posts for days.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Selling American Movies to Japan

Did I mention this before? Oh boy, that's an inauspicious way to start a blog post. Anyway, I read an article about Japan that pointed to the shifting balance in Japanese cultural consumption as an indicator in Japan's overall global output. Since the second world war, Japan has consumed more American music than Japanese music and certainly more American movies than Japanese ones. However, in recent years this trend has reversed, and now Japan buys vastly more Japanese music and Japanese movies even outperformed American movies at the box office last year. That article points to these things as an indicator that Japan is losing its interest in the outside world, including the hilariously condescending aside that it CAN'T be because of the quality, since Japanese pop music is so bad. Ah. What a dick. Way to make me completely disregard the rest of your article.

Anyway, Japan may be looking inwards more and more, I would argue not to the extent that that author believes and certainly no more than anyone would expect considering the global economic shenanigans, but it is no bad thing at all for Japan's movie industry to be establishing itself. And people like that should just be banned from writing about pop music until they understand why people buy pop music in the first place.

I thought this was really interesting when I was looking for a DVD in GEO the other day, Mike Judge's Idiocracy:


But the Japanese title isn't Idiocracy, it's a pun on 26th Century Boys. Why is that? Because they might increase rentals or sales by grabbing onto the coat tails of 20th Century Boys:


A hugely succesful recent Manga adaptation. It's not like Idiocracy is some huge blockbuster that has been brought low, having to scrabble pathetically for recognition here - it's a cultish flick that's probably a really difficuly sell to Japanese viewers however they do it. But it is interesting to see a Western Movie advertised in this way.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Chain

From Gary Glitter playing Rock and Roll Part 2 on German TV:



To the KLF playing Doctorin' The Tardis on Top of the Pops



To German band Deichkind performing Gut Dabei lying on their backs, waving their legs in the air:



An inevitable progression.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Things that need not exist.

With the best will in the world, surely there is no need for these to exist:


Saved By The Bell: The College Years collectable trading cards. Obviously I got these from my sister, who's becoming like the trading card nexus of the western world. She generally throws a few packs in with every present she sends and this time this is what I got. I love the smell when you open a pack of trading cards, that weird laminate and plastic smell is really nostalgic for me. But this time the childish joy was tempered with a whole lot of "What the fuck is this shit?"


Imagine in the early nineties, the guys down at Pacific Trading Cards putting these together, typing out the script with scant regard for punchline or relevance, putting all the character names in inverted commas for no apparent reason, rapidly losing the will to live.


Man, Screech. Creepy.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Sapporo Food: Magic Spice

Tonight Olivia was all like, "Let's go to Magic Spice", and I was all like, "Yeah alright". Then we got there and I was all like "Holy crap!"


Yow! That's some exterior, and the interior is similarly dazzling. There are so many strings of fairy lights and hand written laminated cards telling you about special toppings and extras that it becomes very hard to choose, or even do anything.

Magic Spice is pretty famous, I've often heard people talk about it, and I reckon they have a few stores in Sapporo. According to the chopstick paper they also have stores in Tokyo and Osaka, spreading the sord of Soup Curry it looks like. Soup Curry, do I have to cover that again? It's a Sapporo speciality, curry flavoured soup filled with chunks of vegetables and chicken or whatever you want in it. It's incredibly delicious, and really is something for Sapporo to be proud of. There are no big Soup Curry chains (yet), just hundreds of individual stores so the taste varies massively, although the decor is always either Hindu, Rasta or a hideous combination of both. "Soup Curry Stylistics" is one of those things that makes me think Sapporo is a city of hippies and beatniks, which in turn makes it rather strange that I like it here so much.

Magic Spice serves Indonesian Style Soup Curry. I have no idea what that means, but the soup was a lot weaker and paler than most other places, maybe that's the key. Our visit was kind of surreal, as when we first sat down we were told sorry, no chicken, pork or katsu curry tonight. Then two minutes later, no vegetable. Then two minutes after that, no beef. We hurried up and ordered the Indonesian Gyoza option before the entire menu became off limits:


It was nice, but not as fabulous as I expected. The flavour was good, but really not very strong. They have pots of spice on the table for you to spice it up if you want I suppose, but to get the stronger levels of Soup Curry (I had level three, called "Ecstasy" and it wasn't spicy at all) you have to pay a lot more. Possibly the dearth of ingredients in the kitchen carried over to the soup in general but I don't think so.

It was nice, but there are so many interstellar soup curry restaurants in Sapporo that I have a hard time wholeheartedly recommending Magic Spice. I'd say go for it for sure if you're a big soup curry fan of course, and who isn't one of those?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sapporo Food: Jetset

Jetset is one of those ultra-stylish, design-centric cafes that seamlessly integrate coffee, light food, so-so chill-out music and a small imported stationery store into one trendy little package. These kind of places aren't without their flaws (they're expensive, and when your food or coffee sucks all the design flair in the world can't help you really), but Jetset has been here for a while apparently and it was pretty great.


Jetset's stylistic palette is a very 1960s, mod-on-a-concorde one. They have many euro-centric art and design books and lots of very classy european stationery. I am an actual European (I know, I know, but I try not to let it go to my head) so it wasn't all that special, ("Oh, London? Yeah, been there.") but it looked very nice. One thing places like this really need, is to be very nice to hang-out in for a while, and it was awesome to chill upstairs in one of those window seats and watch people go by on a chilly Sunday afternoon. They even have one of those stunning bubble chairs that I would kill a minor royal for:


You can't sit in it. Of course.

The coffee was good, but not spectacular (I've always got high hopes for places like this, that they might be real coffee obsessives). The food was surprisingly good though. I wasn't waiting with bated breath (I'm not a fan of open-face sandwiches where they pop-up in a non Pete & Pete setting) but the open-face BLT below was really, really tasty.



Yuki's nasi goreng on the right was a bit tasteless apparently, but still I wasn't expecting much and I was pleasantly surprised. It's not like you're going there for a hearty supper anyway, so if you want some good light food, good coffee, and expensive european stationery in a very cool setting I'd recommend the place.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Wonders of the Zooniverse 2 : Maruyama Zoo

A recently departed (for dear old Blighty, not for the next life) friend left me a season pass to Maruyama Zoo, the zoo that's actually in Sapporo. I've been meaning to go there since forever, so this was all the impetus I needed to finally head down. Of course, one of the things that had made me hesitate a great deal before was that almost everyone I talked to about it gave me the impression that it... pretty much sucked. I had this mental picture of something like the Edgbaston nature reserve that I used to walk past on my way to work; or possibly just a three legged giraffe leaning against a tall shack in a muddy field. Well, it should come as no surprise that people were sorely underselling the place. It's certainly not a patch on Asahiyama Zoo in terms of... well, being good, but it's got a lot to recommend it.

For example, at the moment it has baby polar bears:


They're the big star attraction since they were born recently, and their first appearance (yes, it does feel like a show) before the public was only a couple of weeks ago. They're impossibly adorable, and move like toddlers dressed up in bear suits. Which, y'know, isn't impossible. That photo also illustrates one of the things that people are bang on about with Maruyama Zoo - it's really pretty shabby. There are some shiny new areas, but on the whole there's so much chipped and peeling paint that it's a miracle the animals aren't filling their bellies with the stuff and dying off in droves. It looks like Otaru Aquarium in that respect, but I like both places, I can't say that the lack of a lick of paint is anything that bothers me too much.

One thing that does bother me about Maruyama though is that that animals' areas are nowhere near as big or well designed as Asahiyama. Before I went to Asahiyama I worried that I'd feel sorry for some of the beasts, which I did because they're in a zoo at all, but they were kept in big, well thought out pens so they didn't go crazy. In Maruyama, especially since some of the animals are cooped up inside because they can't hack the chilly Sapporo winter (which still hasn't died), they look really depressed and bored. They have some awesome big lizards and tropical apes, a much more interesting selection than Asahiyama, but they look really cooped up. I felt especially bad for the loneliest mandrill, alone in its cage and brooding on a branch. And the orang-utan quarters were just depressing in comparison with Asahiyama's.

Still one of the things that they absolutely nailed was the shiny new wolf enclosure.


That guy was just pacing back and forth the whole time until he was fed. He put his paws up on the glass too, as if testing it, and you just know that to him that viewing screen looks just like a microwave that never goes off. There are all these moving, edible things just on the other side of this invisible wall and he can never get to them. It was interesting to see the the wolves being fed, the girl would eat pretty much from the keeper's hand through the bars, but the guy wouldn't come close, the keeper had to hang the meat on the bars and the wolf snapped it up and carried it away. It was a bit weird to have the macabre wolf pelts up on the walls though.

All of the tropical animals were inside too because it's still too cold for them outside, so we went into this vast, cavernous animal house. I was so excited to see this next guy that I almost grabbed some old fella's coat thinking he was Yuki:


Fuckin' Tapirs man. They're awesome. My other favourites included the komodo dragons (which weren't man-eating size, but were still pretty awesome), the macaques and the sloth bear that looked like a huge matted ball of fur sleeping on the edge of a cliff.

Also there were tortoises. Y'know:


Doin' it.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Ask the Magic Building

Magic Building, does some kind of spicy, tomato and prawn pasta sound like a good idea for dinner?


The Magic Building lives in downtown Sapporo. There is not one thing that it is "kind of fuzzy about".

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Sapporo Food: Goody Goody & Maptacular!

Frankly, I'm impressed that I'm still keeping this post a day thing going. So lets see if I can't up the ante on myself a bit as it were and make it something useful. I'm gonna try and write more about restaurants and places in Sapporo and not only that, I'm going to mark them on a freakin' map for you to find. That's a google map y'know, which means that probably you'll probably be able to stroll past on Streetview and invade people's privacy as you do so! The map is here:


And here's the first thing I'm gonna stick on there, a great little fooderie called Goody Goody.


I finish work late, y'know. Late, late, late sometimes and there's is no way on God's Green Earth I'm going to cook on those days, so places to eat out late at night (that aren't ramen) are wonderful, beautiful establishments for me. Goody Goody dropped a flyer through my door saying they were open till 25 o'clock (ahem) so we went down to check it out. They serve simple but delicious food like really great hamburg steak and chicken and rice bowls, and they give you a choice of mixed grain rice which... oh man, sometimes with the rice, I'm glad to shake it up a little. All that white rice... it gives me nightmares. They also do a bunch of kick ass waffles and desserts and lattes and stuff, and most importantly of all, they seem to be trying so hard. Every time we go down there they've added some kind of decor, or something to the menu, or something like that.


They're out of the way, down a side street just North of Asabu Station so I would guess they're scrapping for customers a lot, but I really like the place. They inspired me to sort out that map Idea I had ages ago and to start writing about food again. Even if I'm only giving a pretty brief description to Sapporo denizens, I hope it'll get someone to check it out.

Tomorrow, rest assured, we'll be back to filler material.