Saturday, 31 October 2009

Englanding #13 : Brighton - Hip Cats Love Halloween

I've always felt that Halloween in England isn't as big as it should be. We've got Guy Fawkes night straight after, so people can't really focus on the ghoulishness as much as they, clearly, should. Still, festivals based on terrorism are pretty cool too.

However the good people of Brighton were doing their best to prove me wrong! I saw so many people in costume over Halloween weekend, there was a zombie walk going on, and this was the queue outside a costume shop on Saturday afternoon:


They had someone working the door! And then a few streets away another costume shop:


One in one out! God bless you people of Brighton! A lot of you are really fucking annoying, but at least you've got your heads right about Halloween.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Englanding #12 : London Town

London! The man who is tired of London is tired of paying too much for a chocolate bar and being treated like scum while he's paying for it!

I kid, I kid, but in this case not because I love. Without ever having lived in London I've been there so many times that I wasn't expecting my trip there to be much of an eye opener. But while I still put London in the same bracket as Tokyo (awesome to visit, wouldn't want to live there) it impressed me a lot more than I thought it would. For some reason living in Japan made the architecture and the buildings of London seem really beautiful and interesting this time out. I felt the same in Birmingham, but then Birmingham really is very familiar to me whereas going past St. Pauls and seeing business like this:


...was really fun. I let myself be more of a tourist than I ever have before down there and wandered around with my backpack on taking photos of tube trains and stuff like that.

Still, worth mentioning that when I first came back to the UK people said, "well, everyone's gonna seem really rude aren't they?" They didn't until I went to London and Brighton! Down in London almost (not quite) everyone in the shops and cafes was magnitudes ruder than the other places I visited. In London though, you've kinda gotta be, and the customers they were serving were a damn sight nastier than those people deal with in Birmingham I'd reckon.

So on my first day in London I met up with young Ben Green, who's doing very well, in the leafy borough of Hackney. After I'd taken my leave of him I went to probably my favourite place in the capital - Tate Modern:


The first time I went to the Tate Modern, a power station converted into a massive modern art gallery, I think it took me two days to go around the whole thing. Seriously. Two days. As Eddie Argos sez: modern art makes me want to rock out. The turbine hall installation at the moment is this enormous terrifying void:


How It Is by Miroslaw Balka is a giant metal box facing a blank wall so that no direct light can get in. In fact, once you're up that ominous looking ramp and inside it feels like no light at all can get in, you're just stumbling around in a huge pitch black box bumping into people and worrying that any minute the floor is going to drop away. There's no sense that you're progressing, or even getting closer to the back, until you finally reach it. The walls are covered in felt too. Awesome.

More modern art on Monday!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Englanding #11 : Birmingham

Waiting for the last train home.


I got drunk, kinda, and fell asleep on the previous train, missing my stop so that I had to jump off and dash around to catch a train going in the opposite direction. As a side note, I still love the Selfridges building.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Englanding #10 : Good Music

I'd like to thank Fate for sorting me out. Almost as soon as I wrote that whiny 500th post about not seeing any good music I found the following! Of course I'm not seeing any of these as videos anywhere, or advertised anywhere, any they're all old artists so I'm not seeing any good new music but... maybe one day huh?

Charlotte Hatherley's new album New Worlds is awesome, astonishing, I love it, she's amazing, continue ad infinitum. On first listen it's better than her first two solo rekkids which I both loved. Very smart, unique sounding guitar pop:



Oh GOD I just saw that there's a video for her song Siberia from the last album, which I love so much. Have to post that too:



SHE'S AMAZING AND SHE'S GETTING MORE AMAZING. CHRIST.

Luke Haines' new album is a double, and a) I love double albums and b) I love Luke Haines therefore x) I'm happy. The first disc is much like his last solo release - well written, slightly glam, slightly baroque guitar pop with great lyrics that is ill served by its glossy production. I like it, but I don't think it'll convert anyone. The second disk on the other hand has six creepy songs and three spoken parts of a sneering, spiteful, downright horrific story about a London art critic. It's exactly the sort of story you'd expect from Haines, but that doesn't stop it being hideously well executed and the whole disc becomes a mesmerising hiss of a record that reminds me of the best bits from his Christy Malry soundtrack.

HE'S AMAZING, BUT I CAN'T FIND A VIDEO FOR ANY OF THESE NEW SONGS.

Ash:



FUCK YES! A song every two weeks for a year, each of them standing alone so they'll have to be able to walk as singles without other tracks to back them up, only thirteen quid to download the lot, GENIUS. I bought the subscription and I hope they make a shitload off this, although I guess time will tell. It's just the kind of forward thinking engaging with the internet that every fucker should be doing but most aren't. Also they're doing an A to Z tour of the country.

THEY'RE AMAZING!

And, honourable mention since they're not British, and I was mostly aiming for the Brits here - the new Flaming Lips record is also phenomenal. Really, I'm so happy that Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots did well for them, but it was boring as hell and turned me off them so much that I didn't even bother checking out At War With The Mystics. This one is so good, it's not even like a return to form, it's like a new form that they never had before and I think I'll be listening to it a lot. If you read any reviews that are like: "Well, it's not as good as their last few... it's like a step back..." then you are reading a review by someone who is clearly in the wrong profession.

AMAZING!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Englanding #9 : Disquieting

So yes, busy, busy, busy. This Tuesday is from the following Tuesday, I'm sure you understand.

Japan has a zillion crazy ads. Of course it does, ads with people doing crazy things and ads with shouting. Lots of those. But still, I can't remember an advert that has disturbed me as much as the new Cadbury's bunny that I saw almost as soon as I got back.



The Caramel Bunny has been around for a long time (I think possibly they retired her for a while?) and, yes, possibly could be blamed for the rise of furries in the United Kingdom. I'd like a Freakonomics style breakdown of that actually - how many people who grew up with the Cadbury's bunny on their screens as a teen eventually fell into that little fetish? Wait, that's probably in the new Freakonomics book already isn't it. And it probably still tells us nothing interesting about the world.

So but anyway my problem with this new Cadbury's bunny is the way she seems to be a photoshop morph, halfway between a rabbit and a person. The figure, and those lips are especially chilling. It's like perhaps Cadbury's retired her while their black ops genetics lab went to work actually creating a real life Cabury's bunny girl, and now they're just doing photo shoots.

Creepy.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Englanding #8 : Monolith!

So, going back to Birmingham has actually been fairly reassuring. A few stores have closed down, though not as many as I had feared, and a whole bunch of new ones have opened up. Things have changed a little, but not enormously so my entire world isn't off balance like it was when I returned from University to find that half of Solihull had been converted into a mall.

However there is one new, big, fairly ugly player on the skyline:


THE CUBE.

Probably I don't need to write that in capitals but it seems more apt that way. I love brutalist architecture and buildings that stick out like a sore thumb and, in fact, ugly buildings in general so I'm broadly in favour of them constructing this massive block right next to the canals, but I would guess some people are less so. My photo doesn't place it in its surroundings sadly, but it towers over everything else and effectively dominates the area where they've chosen to place it. I don't know much about what is meant to be inside, but I'm really hoping that it won't be the cyberman processing plant that its name and appearance suggest.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Englanding #7 : No Good Music

Oh, this is horrible man. I live in Japan for two years with a massively diminished connection to Western pop, rock and indie music and when I finally come back and watch a few shows on MTV2 that are about kinda popular new music I'm just... really, really disappointed.

I mean, I thought I had softened! I thought that I could just watch stuff now and it would kinda wash over me if I didn't like it. I check stuff out online and if it doesn't seem like it's up my street I kinda leave it in its box and go about my business. But I found myself getting more and more annoyed by the cavalcade of mediocrity, probably because I wanted to catch up and be turned on to things I've missed. But it turns out that Biffy Clyro, having briefly contemplated becoming half decent have gone back to sucking and have made a farcical pirate video.

There's this girl/band called Florence and the Machine who have just made an entirely unecessary cover of You Got The Love that sounds... well, like the original, but worse. I'm not writing them/her off coz I haven't checked out any of her self-penned stuff yet and that might rule mightily. I was more than bemused by the cover though.

After that there's loads and loads of bands mining the 80s for anything they can get their hands on, which is absolutely fine by me... but can't they make something interesting with their loot? It's like they're building this enormous stockpile of gems and gold and carved, jade pangolins with rubies for eyes and someone asks: "What are you going to make with all this stuff?" and they go - "Um, I dunno, maybe a coffee table?" A classy coffee table, of course. Christ everyone's trying to sound so fucking detached and "classy" all the time. The best thing I've seen on MTV2 has been Dizzee Rascal and he couldn't give three wise monkeys about being classy when it comes to nailing a track that you can actually pay attention to.

Of course as far from "classy" as you can possibly get, there's some new single from Cobra Starship who... oh man, I just want to grow as many arms as there are people involved in the making of that song so that I can punch all of them in the face at the same time. Even the girls.

EDIT : Oh, holy balls. I was just sitting here thinking - "Well, that's one of my weaker, whinier blog posts of recent times" when I realised that actually this is also my commemorative 500th blog post here. What a pathetic way to celebrate your anniversary. Well, at least this is motivation enough for me not to stop just yet, because this would be a sucky way to bow out.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Englanding #6 : Pro Wedding Photographer

It's my new job:




Oh look! I can say it again: Congratulations to Nicky and Chris!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Englanding #5 : Green and Pleasant Land

With certain reservations, I went into the countryside. It was Chris's wedding, and a wonderful weekend, but the countryside is... y'know, kinda muddy and full of animals. Then again it's also very, very beautiful and I was really lucky to see some of the most perfect rolling English hills that I've ever seen.





I got a little muddy, but I didn't get attacked by any of the dogs, cows or pheasants (and man, there were a lot of those) that surrounded us. And I got to see stars! Real, untainted-by-urban-glow stars!

And, of course, congratulations to Nicky and Chris. It was a wonderful shindig.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Englanding #4 : That which I had forgot.

So while I am, as they say, seeing everything through "new eyes" (Japanese cybernetic implants, if you were wondering), I am also finding a few things that I had completely forgotten the existence of. Spotting these things, while wandering or on TV, hits me like a slug to the gut. Not in a good or a bad way mind you, a mostly neutral fist of surprise. Here are three forgotten things:

1) Piccallili Sauce


2) Claudia Winkleman


3) Nando's Chicken Restaurants


I should keep some kind of master list! What does it tell us about my psyche that these things had entirely slipped my mind while I was in Japan? What does it tell us about Britain? What does it tell us about... Love?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Englanding #3 : Fish and Chips

Almost everything I'm eating at the moment, I take a moment to exclaim "I haven't eaten this in years!" Because it's absolutely true, if somewhat facetious. I didn't think I'd be chowing down on England's finest cuisine quite so soon but here it is.


And while I was tucking in I was saying "My God, this is the best fish and chips I've ever had!" when clearly it wasn't, but absence rendered it utterly sublime.


Because you can only get fish and chips in England (and possibly Australia).

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Englanding #2 : Rain

My first day back in England. Let's play guess the weather!


If you selected "Sunny" then I'm afraid you lose.


If you selected "Rainy" then, congratulations! You're glittering prize is that the first train you try to catch in England is delayed by over half and hour!

Oh wait! Silly me, that was my glittering prize!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Englanding #1 : Airporter

New Chitose Airport is like an old friend now, I've been in and out of there so many times. This time I did have more trouble than usual locating where the fuck I was supposed to be going, but it all ended up peachy so what's the fuss?

Kansai International Airport:


The international airport code for Kansai (which is pretty much in Osaka I think) is KIX. I have a couple of t-shirts from KIXTYO, a Japanese, sneaker obsessed streetwear brand, and now I'm a little confused. Is the name made up of KIX and TYO, the airport codes for Osaka and Tokyo? Or is it that KIX sounds like "kicks"? Or is it both? Or do they have an Osaka branch called KIXKIX?

When I got to the gate above I was the only person in that side of the building, it was a little eerie, but beautifully serene. The following flight was fairly miserable though, being packed and uncomfortable. Emirates is easily the nicest company I've ever flown with though, and I recommend their services unreservedly.

Dubai Airport:


Dubai Airport looks spectacular but has a disappointingly mundane shortcoming in that it has nowhere near enough toilets. The next flight wasn't full, so it was much more relaxing.

And Heathrow was Heathrow.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Sapporo Short Fest 2009

Earlier this year I scrawled Sapporo Short Fest 2009 into my diary thinking that I wouldn't be working and that if I wasn't in England I might even consider getting one of the huge passes and going to almost every screening. In the end I was busy when it started and forgot it existed, only remembering when Tara brought it up. Whoops!


That slightly creepy accordian player was wooing people into the cinema on Saturday afternoon. Not sure how succesful that was but plenty of people were craning their necks to look at him.

In the end I only saw two selections (you buy a ticket for a set of six, thematically linked shorts that run for about an hour and a half): a national set of only Japanese movies and an international set with the vague-ass title "A Sense of Wonder."

The Japanese selection featured three short animated pieces that weren't much more than musical interludes on some arty TV show. It also had quite a nicely observed piece about relationships in Tokyo and a brief, funny relationship skit where everything was drawn onto fingers. It ended with what was essentially an episode of macho sci-fi anime lunacy that was ok, but not what I really wanted to see at a short film fest. I wasn't that impressed.

The "Sense of Wonder" thing was much better. There was a fantastic Italian short about a disgraced football referee who is banished to Sicilian non-league matches. It was really, really good.

Then there was a very strange and beautiful film Danse Macabre that followed a body through death and all the various subsequent procedures, all the way to cremation, but all the while the body was moving, being lifted or sliding or falling. It's very difficult to describe, but again really, really good.

Oh, OK, I just looked it up and apparently it won the Best Canadian Short award and was described by the jury as being
of such devastating beauty that watching it was [like] having fireworks shattering your heart." That pretty much sums it up for me too. There's a thirty second trailer for the ten minute short on youtube too. I don't really know how one goes about tracking these things down to buy or whatever, but if you get a chance to watch this, do.



There was one film that was so excruciating for me (not saying it was terrible, just that I enjoyed it so little) that I was praying for it to end. There was an animation that I'm sure was good stuff but that I had a very hard time following for some reason. And there was a long, trippy thing that I could stand until it turned into a bad 90s rave video and after that, no matter how pretty it got it dragged interminably.

But still, three out of the six pieces were spectacularly good, really some of the best short films I've ever seen. The best one was probably Next Floor, again a trailer here:



... and I won't tell you more except that for the five of us who went it was unanimously voted the best film. Oh, I think both that and Danse Macabre were produced by the same company. Good work lads!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

J-Pop (girls with euphoniums type) - Pistol Valve

This post is meant to be from Saturday, when I was still safely ensconsed in the potato abundant bosom of Hokkaido. Now I'm back in England, but I wasn't on Saturday, so I'll pretend like I was still in Japan and make no further reference to that business here.

Thus:

After I went to Hakodate, I had one of those moments, like Laura Palmer's mum at the end of the first episode of Twin Peaks, where you suddenly remember that you saw something, something so terrifying that your mind had immediately erased it rather than face the psyche-shredding truth. That truth? A ten-piece, all-girl, J-Pop brass band called Pistol Valve:



I saw a tour poster for these guys that caused a double take, but then somehow I completely forgot about them until days later. Checking them out now, I'd say they're ok. There don't seem to be any good quality tracks on youtube, just shoddy ones, so I may be being a bit harsh when I say their music might be a little too busy. It's hard to tell. Anyway, it ain't terrible, but it's no Soil and "Pimp" Sessions. Check it out:



Hey, it's a bit hard there to pick up who all the different members are right? Well, good job they put it on one of their DVD covers too:


C'mon now, who's your favourite? I'm pretty sure mine is Jenni 7000, because she's, like, more than twice as good as Andre 3000. Though Cotton is also an interesting name.

I don't think they're very famous in Japan, that tour poster was the first time I'd come across them, but they're building up a discography and they've toured the US. So, to my - admittedly cynical - mind that says "Otaku Group." Cute girls, big lungs, pumping brass... phew! What more could a growing lad want?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Sapporo Food: Mohan Dish

OK, I really, really should have blogged about this place a long time ago, because Mohan Dish serves the best Indian food I've had in Japan. I also go there pretty darn regularly, so I have no qualms in recommending it wholeheartedly to the denizens of this fair city.

Here it is, in all it's new-premised glory:


It just moved y'see. Before, it was the best Indian food in Sapporo served in the worst premises - a tiny, shabby little restaurant that didn't even have its own toilet and where the refrigerators were out in the restaurant because there was no room for them in the tiny kitchen.

But the owners must be doing something right because just this month they moved from the backstreets to Hokkudai Dori, the main drag that leads North out of Sapporo through Kita 24 Jyou, and you probably can't miss it. The whole front of the store is like photo montage of assorted Indian food, I might even go so far as to call it a little gaudy.

But if gaudy brings in the customers then I'm all for it, because the people who work there seem nice and their food is great. Really great, flavoursome and satisfying, and although the big fancy new restaurant seems to have necessitated a small price hike, the vegetable spinach curry (fig. i below) was better than ever, with a wider variety of vegetables that seemed a lot fresher too.


The menu's a little bigger too, with more naans to choose from and I think more curries too. The spice level at Mohan Dish is pretty modest, I think my acquaintance ML went off the top of the 1-5 chart one time to hit a 7 and it didn't trouble him unduly (he can set me straight on that though). I forgot that they pitch it pretty low and got a 3 the other day and it was mild.

So please, if you live in Sapporo - patronise the place. It's better than the most well known chain Taj Mahal by a country mile and I really hope they can keep packing people in to maintain their new, sparkly restaurant. Although I do wish they'd go back to the bollywood music - the classy lift muzak they were playing the other day was horrible.

Check it the hell out on Kumaboshi's Sapporo Map!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Captain the Parrot On October 2nd

Captain the Parrot is Andrew Bentley, Alex Williams and Katsuhiko Sagai:


And we seem to be getting together annually to just go into a studio and make weird noises.

Last year's session can be found here.

This time we came out with 13 tracks of varying style and possibly varying quality. It's very loose, improvised stuff, but then, that's the point. You can listen to a few tracks here, and download them all from my ourmedia page or this archive.org page. You should also be able to download them just by right clicking on the names below and saving them to your computer box.

I'm sure that everyone will find their own favourites, but I'd recommend Your Incomplete Questionnaire, Fearsome Forces Face Fire, Sleeping in the Arms of the Bear, Captain the Parrot and 11.30am Eternal, if you're daunted by the whole list.

And really, who wouldn't be with this much awesome on display?

- - -

Captain the Parrot - Come And See Me Anytime You Want To

Captain the Parrot - Richard Nixon's Eternal Calculator

Captain the Parrot - Your Incomplete Questionnaire

Captain the Parrot - Fearsome Forces Face Fire


Captain the Parrot - Gank

Captain the Parrot - Doc. Cosmic

Captain the Parrot - Sleeping in the Arms of the Bear

Captain the Parrot - Captain the Parrot


Captain the Parrot - The Exorcism of Candy Caramel

Captain the Parrot - The Yoghurt Disaster

Captain the Parrot - Copacetic Child Driver

Captain the Parrot - 11:30am Eternal


Captain the Parrot - Photon Wrote On

- - -

Please enjoy at an appropriate volume.

I'm also going to be putting a few of my favourites on the creative blog I contribute to, Loom. Loom is still going, pretty much solely with the input of Paul who is doing a fantastic long dreamlike piece that you should really check out. I'll be contributing more, and I hope will be collaborating more with the folks there.

EDIT: Of course having 13 flash players will slow browsing this site down to a ridiculous degree. Of course it will. So I've taken out most of the players, you can click or download or whatever for those.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Hakodaterama!

Hakodate, at the very Southern tip of Hokkaido is one of those great tourist cities where it's nice just to walk around. Maybe it's because there's a whole part of the town that looks like this:


Maybe it's the fresh sea air. I'm not sure, I don't have any kind of qualification in the psychology of tourism. Anyway, I've been meaning to go to Hakodate since about two months after I got here and Yuki and me finally drove (five and a half hours because you keep having to take huge detours to go around mountains) down there and had a look around.

We were lucky in lots of ways because it's not really tourist season, the weather was a little miserable but not too bad, and we weren't really fussed about getting up early to eat seafood at the market there. We just chilled out and ambled around, and it turns out that just ambling you can see most of Hakodate in two days.

Hakodate has a unique feel because it's such a mish-mash of Japanese and Western architecture. It's history (which you can read about here) is closely connected with how Japan finally opened its borders to the outside world and as such there's a lot of Western influences in Hakodate.

Hell, there even used to be a British consulate there, which is more than Hokkaido can boast these days! Ah, sorry, slightly bitter about that one.

So, just walking around the streets of Hakodate and seeing the old churches and temples next to each other and the random attempts to make things feel European, but in a Japanese way, is interesting in itself. There really were a surprising number of buildings that wouldn't look out of place in most British towns - including one on a corner that, for some reason, seriously put me in mind of Leicester...

The most touristy thing we did, that involved queueing that is, was taking the cable car up Mount Hakodate to see the "most beautiful night view in Japan". Here it is:


Because Hakodate is built on a peninsular, and the mountain is at the tip, so you're looking back at the mainland, you can really see where the sea cuts into the land. It was very pretty and I love panoramic views, but it was hardly the most beautiful view in Japan. Also it was the busiest and worst organised place we went - it was kind of stressful just getting to see the view.

Other things included drinking beer at the Hakodate Beer Hall, and eating famous curry at Gotoken, which in a way was just Japanese curry, but in another way was really fucking delicious Japanese curry. Hakodate beer is the only one brewed in Japan to 10% apparently and it was very nice indeed. There was, however, a kind of tourist booby trap in that the Hakodate branch of Sapporo Beer's Beer Halls is in the middle of the touristy shops by the bay, and is also called "Hakodate Beer Hall". Cunning. You have to walk towards the station to find the actual Hakodate Beer Hall that serves Hakodate Beer.

Also, there's history:


That's Goryoukaku Tower, which is designed to look down upon:


Goryoukaku Fort, a fabulous looking five pointed star fortress thing that played a key role in Japan's restoration of the Emperor, after the feudal Edo period. I won't go into the history itself, but it is interesting that the losing side, those that wanted to keep Japan closed off to the outside world and opposed the restoration of the Emperor, are pretty much presented as the heroes here. To the point that you can buy macho, bad-ass t-shirts with the names and faces of those generals and leaders in the gift shop here.

So Hakodate - smaller than I thought, but a really great place to spend a couple of days looking around. And Hijikata Toshizou could kick your ass. That's what I learnt anyway.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Hakodaterama! Luck Pierrot Burgers

If I'm truly honest with myself (which is, y'know, a noble aim but one that I try to avoid for sanity's sake) one of the biggest hooks that Hakodate had in my mind was Lucky Pierrot. A famous Hakodate-only burger chain that people either raved about, or were underwhelmed by, I've wanted to try it ever since I discovered its existence.

Last weekend, John, my dream came true.

Was it good? Yes. But not for the reasons you might expect.


Y'see, the actual burgers themselves were good, but not great. The meat wasn't some culinary masterpiece, the sauce wasn't mind altering, the buns were nice but had too many sesame seeds... it wasn't an incredible burger experience by any means. I would think the menu leans too heavily in the direction of Japanese-style burgers for most western eaters, and the fact that their most popular burger is a chinese chicken one speaks volumes.

So really, the establishments position as a tourist destination (there are Lucky Pierrot's all over Hakodate, but the one by the dock is a big tourist draw) is kinda confusing. You could eat better burgers anywhere in Japan. I still really liked the place though, for almost everything other than the food.


The place is really good value, clocking in at less than 400 yen for most of the burgers and giving you a bigger sandwich than Mos or Freshness or McDonalds or any of those places. The menu is huge and satisfyingly eclectic, with a ton of different burgers, side orders, curries, sometimes even cake! The staff seem to be all little old ladies who are completely unhurried and unflustered in the face of a huge queue of tourists, and everything seems to be organised via little slips of paper that you are given, or that are taped to a wall or someone's arm.

Also I had a milkshake that was so thick it was basically ice cream. Which is like +100 points in my book.


And finally the decor. The touristy one has a vague fairground theme, with swinging seats and photos of carousel horses on the wall, but the one near our hotel was just terrifying.

It's a 365 Christmas Store.

The whole place is festooned with Christmas decorations to a farcical degree, with glass cabinets full of toy Santas and Christmas trees and holly and tinsel and the whole works. My first reaction, naturally, was that they'd just got their decorations up this year super-early. But no! They have newspaper clippings on the wall - it's like that all year round! They play Christmas music all year round! Man, if I lived in Hakodate, I know where I'd be eating lunch all year round.

I'm really sorry that I can't bring you photos of the place - it was pretty dark (with lots of twinkly Christmas lights) so none of my photos came out well. Take my word for it though, Luck Pierrot certainly don't serve the best burgers in Hokkaido, let alone Japan, but their shops are still worth a visit for a good look at how a decent local fast-food chain should be run.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Greatest Street Performer Ever

Yuki and I took a trip to Hakodate, it was fun and we had a good time but I got sick and then my heater bust and now I'm feeling a little sorry for myself. More on Hakodate in the next few days, but for now actual recorded footage of a street performer I saw in Sapporo performing late at night in Tanuki Koji last week. I dismissed it as a crazy dream as soon as it had finished, but in Hakodate I came face to face with it once more, and have to admit that the Dance-Painter is real:

video


I want to start talking about it... but where do I start? With the execrable euro-house? With his sublimely unselfconcious dancing? With his obvious chops as a painter? (He was painting a completely different picture when I saw him in Sapporo)

Why not just let the video speak for itself? I've already mentioned that I believe the future of sport lies in combining disciplines, like Chess-Boxing or Crossword-Tennis. How could I have been so blind as to exclude the arts from this rule?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Golden Market... Third Time Unlucky!

OK, this was my third trip to Sapporo's huge indoor flea market, Golden Market, and it may well be my last. Why? Because there are about a zillion girls' clothes that Tara and Bunny can spend hours digging through and about three people selling guys' clothes, and in every case, you can understand exactly why they're selling their clothes, but not why they bought them in the first place. Still the event itself is always fun, especially coz it looks like this:




There seemed to be more people there than there were at the previous Golden Market I attended, probably because this time there was patchy rain - last time it was a biblical-length downpour. But again, I came away with nothing but a trinket. It's time to face fact that, for me, Golden Market will never be the treasure trove that I long for.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Comics Stuff : Your Monthly Panel from Daniel Way's Deadpool

To be honest it is kinda hit and miss, but Way's Deadpool is still making me laugh out loud at least a couple of times each issue. This one involves a scene in which Deadpool has secret plan that he has kept hidden even from one of the voices in his head (the comic has been admirably keeping solid with the set up that Deadpool has two other voices in his head that comment on most of his actions, making him a kind of one-man-three-way-buddie-team). And this:


By the way, for non-comic readers out there, you should remember who Deadpool is coz I think they're still going ahead with the Ryan Reynolds Deadpool Movie. Reynolds as Deadpool was awesome at the start of the Wolverine flick although, as every comic geek knows, they completely departed from the character at the end. They'll go back to the original take for the movie I would imagine, yet in the same way that there's never been a truly great Punisher movie, I can't imagine they'll ever make a Deadpool movie that's as bat-shit crazy as it should be. It'll probably just be a regular action movie with more wisecracking and jokes when it should be like Crank meets Spider-man with more killing.

I would imagine that there'll be a bit of muscle behind it as well, since Marvel is currently going with three monthly Deadpool titles, which is just a terrible idea. I love the character but there's no way he can support that kind of attention. This is good enough for me.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Gamez

Todays shame: I am not really a "gamer".

I do like playing computer games, but it's never been a regular hobby of mine, and the last "console" that I "owned" was the Sega Megadrive. Pretty sure Bunny has that now.

That's not to say that I'm a complete video gaming naif, I've often played on other people's machines and there are a few games that I've played to death over the years (looking at you Street Fighter 2 & Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3). But even after I found out Yuki had a bunch of games for the PS2 I didn't really play it regularly.

So, it was clear I needed to "level up" (see what I did there? I wanted to use l33t, but wasn't sure how to spell it and refused to look it up on principle). Partly because I have more time, and partly because Andy was here and we played a couple of games that I wanted to see through to the end, I've played three games for the first time recently and they're all good for one reason or another.


Turns out Yuki has both Silent Hill 2 & 4, and since they were strongly recommended to me by a friend I thought I owed it to her to give them a bash. I'm some way through #2 at the moment and it is pretty fun, if deeply flawed. The music and audio is, as everyone will tell you, amazing. But the actual controls are clunky, especially when you're trying to kill beasties, and every now and then there are puzzles or areas of the game that require you to just walk around a lot, and I have very little patience for that kind of stuff. They do their best to keep the tension high, but when I had to run a mile up the fucking road to find a map that told me to run all the way back again I wasn't too amused. So I spend a lot of the time shouting at the engine and the game itself, but I'm still looking forward to beating it and trying #4.


I don't know when I got the Neverhood, or where I got it from, but it's been on my computer for ages and I finally got it to work... kinda. The "video" bits still don't run well on Vista, but the other bits work just great and it's an amazing, surreal game. Which of course is to be expected since Doug TenNaple is a genius.


The last one I started was みんなのテニス which I believe is called Hotshots Tennis in the West. It's a simple, cartoony tennis game that I'm using for two reasons: 1) to overcome a loathing of tennis games that was instilled in me by having my ass handed to me so many times by Chris, Owen and Alyn and 2) to sate my appetite for unlocking things. The game has like a million characters, but you only start off with 2. Juicy.

Now that I think about it, I've still got quite a way to go before I'm a real "gamer" though. After all, these games all came out years ago. I like Penny Arcade! Do I get points for that?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Choose Your Diet!

I've got my visa sorted so that I can actually return to Japan after I leave, I've got my ticket home printed, they've stepped up the gift-wrapping of my building so that they have now covered the windows with plastic in advance of painting it, and men are now moving up and down the scaffolding levels like some giant live-action Donkey Kong.

And you need to go on a diet.

You have to choose one of these current Japanese weight-loss supplements that I was perusing in the-drug-store-where-everyone-shouts-at-you today. You HAVE to. It's the law. Choose one then order it off some dodgy geezer on ebay and take it every day. Three times a day if you have to. DO IT!


Already widely blogged about in this internet, Jesus Body would seem to be the obvious choice. What is not so obvious is which bible-knocking joke to choose about it. "Yeah, Jesus was pretty ripped!" perhaps. Or: "Jesus suffered for our sins, but you don't have to suffer to lose those extra pounds." Or just: "Beats forty days and forty nights in the desert doesn't it?" Oh man, easy jokes. Lazy internet snow-shovelling.


But maybe you're feeling a little more... penitent? A little more... flagellant? Oh c'mon, we all want to whip ourselves with actual whips from time to time (if there isn't anyone around to do it for us). Now you can lash yourself (or MeLash) with Melash diet pills and achieve much the same result. I would imagine.


Finally, Greedy Yeast. This one I'm a little wary of, in that I imagine it releases some kind of rampaging Yeast-Beast into your insides and lets it feed on your excess fat, and unless you remove said beast at the desired weight it'll just keep eating you until you're a person-suit being worn by a sentient yeast creature.

Oh man, too much Silent Hill and too many ghost stories for me I think! Good night boys and ghouls!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

J-Pop - Monobright - JOYJOYエクスペリエンス

There's a new monobright single out this week with an animated video that moves from fairly peurile, genital-shaped objects into a primary colour space-trip with a synchronised dance involving what look like giant ape skeletons:



Which kind of fits a song where it sounds like they included every idea they had. Awesome.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Sapporo Cafes: nesco

I live in Kita-ku, the North ward of Sapporo and I like it here - hell, I even invented a Kita-ku gang sign, so you Higashi-ku and Chuo-ku motherfuckers front at your peril. We have great soup curry restaurants and even a few good cafes! Like this one:


I didn't want to include nesco under the Sapporo food heading, because although it serves food, and what I tried of it was good, I really wanted to recommend it for its atmosphere. For me it's the perfect balance of shabby and trendy, and with no-one else in there when we went and some nice downbeat indie on, we reach a level of almost vegetative mellowness. Check the serenity:


It looks like the guy who runs the place grinds his own coffee and bakes his own bagels (and can teach you to do the same! The bagels that is) which dominate a lot of the menu. The coffee was good, and I tried a "bagel bowl":


That's a bagel, with filling, on top of salad and topped off with a kind of soft, poached egg. It was delicious, especially the bagel, but I can't completely recommend it because the filling was... minimal. I'd like to try other stuff there and certainly intend to go back so I probably will.

But mostly I'll be going back to attempt to reach enlightenment again. And drink coffee. That's enough for me. I have placed it upon the map.