Friday, 24 December 2010

Good Grief Next Thing You Know I'm Going To Do One Of Those 'Best Albums Of 2010' Posts

This is my 'Best Albums of 2010' post.

TOP 13!

That's right! My lucky number's up, y'all. Now, then, in no particular order, and with vids from youtube whenever I could.

Nina Nastasia - Outlaster - I cannot foresee a time when Nina Nastasia releases an album that isn't one of the best albums of the year. I just cannot believe how good it is. And by 'it', I mean everything she does. Her position as a cult artist is one of those things that makes me look around the world and wonder why the heck all these people are taking stupid pills. SERIOUSLY! PEOPLE! THEY'RE CALLED STUPID PILLS! They ain't gonna make you any smarter! Stop taking the damn things already.

Kimonos - Kimonos - I wasn't sure that I was going to like this, despite the fact that it's a side-project of Mukai Shutoku, leader of my favourite Japanese band Zazen Boys. It's really good though, a fun electro-pop album which sounds like a whole bunch of great 80s groups, and having Leo Imai sing most of the lyrics makes a nice contrast to Mukai's voice.

Sleigh Bells - Treats - It's just a button pushing riot, this album, and most of the time they're just hammering on the button marked 'rock'. It also has one of my favourite ever 'proper' versions of a demo, where 'Infinity Guitars' sounds pretty much identical to the demo until the end when they just TURN THE VOLUME UP AND ADD MORE GUITARS. YES.

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz - I finally just stuck my neck out and decided that I really like Sufjan.

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Almost every track on the album is over five minutes I think, and yet it never drags. How is that possible? Pop masterpiece. Also the GOOD Fridays stuff was really, really, really good too. Goddamnit, Kanye was so good this year! Except this new Christmas song... that's... mmm, okay.

Janelle Monae - The Archandroid - Holy wow, this is a great album. It would have been great without the sci-fi concept, but of course the sci-fi concept makes it even better. A sci-fi concept would make anything better.

Big Boi - Sir Luscious Leftfoot - I think possibly I like this album more than anything by Outkast that I ever heard. Not sure, but maybe. Maybe I need to listen to more Outkast. Almost certainly I do, but this is fantastic.

Tokyo Jihen - Sports - Again, a couple of so-so singles meant I wasn't sure I was going to dig this record. But the singles grew on me and it turns out that almost all the other tracks on the record were much better anyway.

Buffalo Daughter - Weapons of Math Destruction - Buffalo Daughter are still more advanced than you. However there are no videos of their new music on youtube.

Mass of The Fermenting Dregs - Zero Comma, Iro toridori no Sekai - It's like this keening, longing rock music that's both fighting and punching and staying detached from the fray at the same time.

Wovenhand - The Threshingfloor - I'm not sure what you thought life was like, but actually it's hard. A hard, cruel life, and the harvest this year is going to be even harder, and even more cruel and all the time a vengeful, cruel, hard God is breathing down your neck, and the only thing you can do is get right with God and somehow that makes a great album of hypnotic depth. I'm regretting not putting the last Wovenhand album on my end of year list last time.

Deftones - Diamond Eyes - Bills has been banging on about them for years. So I picked up the album, didn't like it after one listen and somehow ended up listening to nothing but for like two weeks now. Actually it does that same brutal physicality + dreamlike transcendence that Mass of The Fermenting Dregs do, except while sounding completely different. And like I said, it doesn't sound like the Cure, it sounds like Tears for Fears, but metal, and that's excellent.

El-P - Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 - I spent a while hunting for this earlier this year, and then found only recently that I could pay to download it from the DefJux website. Which of course, would be the easiest option. In a way I wasn't sure I should put it in here because on first listen it just made me hanker for a vocal album, not just an instrumental one. Then I realised that it's still one of the best albums of the year, so.

Honourable Mentions

Albums that each had three amazing songs on them, but sadly that isn't enough to get in the hallowed top 13:

Kele - The Boxer
My Chemical Romance - Danger Days
EGO WRAPPIN' - Naimononedari no Dead Heat

Stuff that isn't albums but then why should that matter in this, the world of the future?

Ash - The A-Z series It was released on CD too, but I'm pretty sure it worked better as a track by track thing. Many, many great songs, and so fun to get a new one every two weeks.

Kanye West - GOOD Fridays - That was some good shit to be giving away for free every week.

Perfume - Fushizen Na Girl / Voice / Nee - All three singles from Perfume this year were amazing, all three were from commercials and none of them are on an album yet. That'll probably be one of the best albums of next year I reckon.

There you go! Good year for music! More good music next year please, thank you, good night!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Sometimes I listen to music. Japanese music!

Sometimes I listen to music, and sometimes I write about that experience. This will be one of those times. You have been warned.

It being December and all I'm starting to think about 'Best Albums of the Year' which always depresses me. Not because there are no good albums mind you, but because I can never remember when albums come out. Who really can? How can you judge an album that you've lived with for ten months in the same way as an album that has only just come out? Ah, but I'll end up doing it anyway, you'll see. For now though - recent listening. Oh, and I'll make it about recent Japanese music shall I? Yes I shall.

I am, as they say, 'in the bag' for Mukai Shutoku - the brains behind Japanese indie royalty Number Girl and (for my money the best band in Japan right now) Zazen Boys. But I wasn't totally sold when I saw he was doing a more electronic two man side-project with Leo Imai, a Japanese-Swedish singer. I needn't have worried. Kimonos first album is a really solid, enjoyable electro-pop album with roots in a lot of great 80s synth-pop. There are elements of Zazen Boys' recent, more spacey stuff, but mostly Kimonos are doing their own thing, and I've got to admit I kinda like Leo Imai's voice. It certainly works well having his voice and Mukai's higher, more neurotic voice together on some of the songs.

Also, geek point here, although it's Mukai playing drums in the video there it's actually the dude from Deerhoof playing them on the record. Then, I think that's the only song with live drums on the record, so he's not really a major part of it.

The new Perfume song is pretty awesome. Yeesh, there's a lot of crap in the charts at the moment and Perfume are one of the few groups that keep me sane when I (as I repeatedly do) sit down to immerse myself in the various top 40s. I think the last three singles from Perfume have been separate from their last album, Triangle, and they've all been terrific. Also, they may all have been used in commercials, make of that what you will.

A friend lent me the 1997 Denki Groove album A, which is the first time I've properly sat down to listen to that Japanese electro institution. It's a helluva fun album, kind of oddball and off the wall without being annoying, and it's a pretty good mish-mash of every electronic-type genre you can think of from that deliberately tooth-achey loved up stuff above, to more ambient tracks, to more hammering, shouting tracks. They're a pop band, basically, which is why they're so popular I suppose! And why Pierre Taki is on the Febreze commercials in Japan.

I was also listening to a bunch of Monobright stuff, coz they're pretty awesome. The new album is much like the second one - the singles are by far the stand-out tracks but the rest of the album is fun too. No good videos on youtube though, hence, nothing to accompany this paragraph. Hum something to yourself, doesn't have to be Monobright because chances are you don't know who they are. The guy from Beat Crusaders joined them now too! What the hell's going on with that?

Other than that, the march of the '48 Series' continues - soon there will be nothing in the chart but Johnny's boy-bands and AKB48 affiliated girl-groups. Seriously, it's getting to the point when I cheer to see someone like AAA having a top ten single because they aren't Johnny's or AKB. I don't know where my priorities lie anymore. I'm all turned around, and better go lie down if I want to come up with a Western music counterpart to this post anytime soon.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Sapporo Food: World Japanese Foodin' [En]

Again, on the way to somewhere else entirely we found somewhere new!

Apparently World Japanese Foodin' [En] (I mean, possibly just 'En' would suffice, but then on the menus it's just World Japanese Foodin' with no sign of the 'En', so...) has only been open for a few months, so perhaps it's still finding its feet. That said, if it is, it's doing a damn good job of it. It's a stylish, fancy bar-restaurant place that's a little pricey (though not too bad at all, especially for the quality we got), and done up in a so-trendy modernly minimal retro style. You'll know what I mean when you see it. Or perhaps you won't.

Look at that craziness, and up there in the background is a private room that can hold more than 20 people and can be separated from the rest of the restaurant.

It's owned by the same people that own Meer Lounge, which is a great little subterranean bar in Tanuki Koji, but it's not just an above-ground, more restaurant-y version of Meer Lounge. I've eaten at Meer Lounge a few times, and it's good but nothing to write home about - it's more of a bar than somewhere to eat. The food at En on the other hand was really fucking good.

It's still mostly medium sized, sharable, izakaya style food, but - wow. We left thoroughly satisfied. The California Dragon Roll was amazing, seriously, and I'm no great fan of American-style sushi. We also got some raw spring rolls with smoked salmon off the specials menu - that were great, a big caesar salad - that was great and a Japanese-style pizza - that was great. It was, basically, all great.

Please note that is was Japanese-style pizza though, and I know a lot of Western people get all out-of-joint about pizza in Japan. I'm not comparing this to pizza you can get in the US or Europe, but at least at En they make the point of calling it "Japanese pizza" on the menu, so you know what you're going to be getting. I liked it anyway.

It was all good, the beer was good, the staff were super-friendly and I can basically recommend the place whole-heartedly as a great place to eat out in Odori. It's just a little to the West of the main drag and, going by my experience, so worth a visit. Is it on my map? Why of course it is.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

Sapporo Food: Jacksonville

Well I'm kinda late to the party on this one. After it gets shout outs on the Hokkaido Insider mailing list (twice!), in that lovely What's On In Sapporo newsletter and in Sapporo Source last year, I thought - y'know, I probably should write about the hamburger shop Jacksonville. Hell, it even got an article in the Southern Oregon Mail Tribune! All that, plus I go there pretty damn regularly already.

Now, as to why I haven't blogged about Jacksonville, a damn fine hamburger joint not ten blocks from my apartment, before - well, it's down to stupid self consciousness. I go there pretty regularly, the owner knows my face and I chat with him, so for me to whip out my camera and start taking bloody pictures of his food (something I feel I have to do if I'm going to talk about a place) seems... well a) awkward and b) bloggerish in a way that I find irritating. I like writing about things, and I like having a blog, but I'm also a big fan of not writing about things and not having a blog and just sitting back and enjoying things. Letting the moment pass unrecorded for the pointless posterity of the internet. One polaroid a day and all that. I wonder to what extent that feeling was stoked up by the guy from Hamburger RISA who told me it pisses him off when people take pictures of the burgers before they eat them.

All this by they way - nothing to do with Jacksonville, and separate entirely from those people (like my sister) who, for reasons of art or possibly insanity, take pictures of every single meal they eat. She's gonna have a helluva photo album one day.

SO ANYWAY! Most people I talk to who know places in Sapporo, now seem to know Jacksonville, which is awesome, and so I thought: "just take a picture of the burger before you enjoy it for once and write about it and then maybe more people will go." So I did:

The first time I went to Jacksonville I think I liked it, but I wasn't blown away. There could be, of course, a million reasons for this and I'm not a hundred percent sure why that was, but every time thereafter I've been thoroughly impressed with the burgers there. Good bread, good meat, good toppings... just great burgers. At the moment I'm digging the American Teriyaki Burger (teriyaki sauce and pineapple), but I try the monthly special every time (except this month which is mushrooms, which... nah...) and they're always fantastic. He does good homemade coleslaw, and good onion rings, and while the fries are the very thin, very crispy kind, I think this means they don't distract from the burger as much as they do at other places. They're good too, by the way.

It has a nice atmosphere (I really appreciated them playing Back To The Future 3 on the big TV when I had lunch there once), great food, it's not too expensive, and the guy that owns the place is incredibly friendly and speaks excellent English. It comes fully recommended, and while I can't call it my favourite burger place in Sapporo (because that's a very difficult question to answer), if you like burgers and live in Sapporo, you really have to go there.

I mark it on the map: thus. And hope that you will go and eat hamburgers there. And after this, who knows I might write about the Soup Curry and Chinese places that I go to all the time near my house too.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sapporo Food: Ease Cafe

Ease Cafe stuck in my head with some strange, delayed-reaction device attached to it. About ten minutes after it was suggested that we go there, and after I'd said 'yeah, sure, anywhere's good' it suddenly clicked that I knew the place, that I'd gone past it a bunch of times and noted - oooh, looks like a cozy cafe. Shame it's not exactly central.

There is however, a very good reason for its location - in that the place is on the ground floor of what looks like a ruddy great student dorm. I don't get the impression that it's exclusively the stomping ground of students, but I'm guessing they more than help the place stay afloat.

Inside it's relaxing and welcoming in that... kinda stock contemporary-rustic feel kinda way. That sounds both damning and snooty, but it's meant as neither - just saying that there is a style that a lot of small independent cafes kinda go for. That style of decor and atmosphere works really well for the most part, and is certainly infinitely preferable to the place we ended up in last week which... I mean I didn't write about it for a reason. Yuki's comment was that she didn't know what part of the place she would change first, since absolutely everything was horrible. Ease Cafe isn't like that at all, everything is great, the interior is perfectly executed and since the only thing I'd change would be the lounge covers of punk and new wave songs they were playing, and which I'm sick of, I guess I wouldn't really change anything at all.

They look to have won some kinda local coffee award, which made me regret not ordering something fancy. The blend coffee I got with my meal was fine, but nothing special. I think they build up to special. That said, it's worth bearing in mind that the coffee at almost any independent shop is better than anything you'll get at any of the standard chain shops, and this was no exception. We both got chicken something, which was their recommended dish and which was pretty great.

It's rice and chicken and someother stuff mixed up with some cheese and demi-glace sauce and was perfect for the miserable rainy weather we were escaping from. It looks like they're awfully proud of their range of pancakes, so I'd say you really ought to try those if you go. I would've loved to but I was kinda full.

Ease Cafe is thoroughly recommended as another preferable alternative to all those chain stores. It's a little far North of the city centre, but you should go there if you're in the neighbourhood. It's on the map, so you can do just that.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Monday, 1 November 2010

Gourmet Delicacies of the Far East: Pepsi Mont Blanc

Y'know in some ways I think Japan has turned me into a real foodie, a gourmand, an aesthete of the palate - a connoisseur of farcial flavours. I mean, you get Kit-Kats coming out in everything from "tea" to "glitter cherry-blossom" and how can I possibly resist when I see shit like that? When they go dipping random corn and potato snacks in chilli and then in chocolate - I mean, I think it'll tast foul but there's just a chance that they'll blow my mind!

I'm always delighted to see what the lunatics of Pepsi come up with too. This season we have:

Pepsi Mont Blanc! Mont Blanc, for those poor, ingnorant heathens who are still just tearing open paper sticks of sugar and pouring them down their throats in search of sugar, is a French dessert which has a wikipedia page that I just linked to. It is, as they say on wikipedia, very famous and popular in Japan, which makes this somewhat less bizarre than it might first seem to Western readers.

Review: it really does taste kinda like Mont Blanc - i.e. a kind of sugary chestnut confection. Mixed with the bitter acid burn of a soft drink of course. I don't find it as refreshingly strange as Pepsi Shiso, but it's probably better than the Pepsi Azuki that came out after that. In fact, I'd say this is a perfectly servicable soft drink that, if I bought more soft drinks, I'd probably try out from time to time.

As it is, I still derive childish satisfaction from drinking melon soda and feeling like I'm drinking radioactive goop that's gonna give me super-powers. Still, thanks for brightening up my shopping trip, Pepsi!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Suburban Sapporo Food: Halsanchi

This one probably won't be of much use to anyone, but it was a nice place and it seemed worth mentioning because, who knows - maybe there are English speaking residents of Shin-Kotoni that don't know about the place!

Shin-Kotoni being a suburb up North from Kotoni itself, about half an hour from the centre of Sapporo and on precisely no-one's list of 'must see places' in Sapporo. Nevertheless it's not a million miles away from where I'm sitting right now and so, driving back from someplace or other, hankering for nasi-goreng, we went to Halsanchi.

Halsanchi is a nicely shabby (I trust that isn't an oxymoron to anyone) bar/restaurant that looks to have been named for the owner's dog, Hal. The name is a compression of Hal-san's House, and there were dog pictures and knick-knacks all over the place, along with a zillion other pieces of decor that looked to have accumulated on the walls with minimal consideration given to design. There's a hand-painted portrait of Hal on the wall and, sadly it dates from 2000. I'm no good with dog years, but I'm thinking that if he was full-grown in 2000, Hal probably ain't with us anymore. It's sad, but the restaurant is a nice memorial for him.

I would recommend Halsanchi to people who like home cooked food from practically any country in the whole damn world. Their slogan is something about food from many different countries and they aren't kidding. Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian... a whole bunch of national adjectives from all over the world basically. Hell they even had fish and chips. For the most part it's the famous dishes that they serve, but the sheer variety of the menu made me want to make multiple repeat trips just to see, for example, what their pizzas were like.

We had a Thai chicken soup thing, that nasi-goreng we'd been craving, some kind of Korean chijimi and fried chicken done in the style of some Asian country or another (I think it might have been Thai again). It was all good, satisfying food, done in a simple home-cooked style. Everything was made by the incredibly harassed-looking Master who was running the entire place single-handedly when we arrived. Oh! I just remembered they had carrot cake too! Carrot cake! The first time I think I've ever seen it in Japan, although to be honest, it wasn't much like any carrot cake I know. It was, however orange, and that must count for something.

I'll mark it on the map, and I'm curious to see where it actually falls - y'know geographically. I don't reckon many people will be making the trip out there, but I liked it, and I'll be going again.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Trends in Japanese Beer Commercials

I, like probably ninety seven percent of the heterosexual male population of Japan, kind of dig Dan Rei in those Suntory Kin-Mugi commercials.

(Rough translation: she's running, running, RUNNING through the park to tell you something, but when she reaches you she forgets what she was going to say.)

At first I thought I liked them because it was a beer commercial and she was actually acting drunk. I mean, that should be a no brainer - it's gotta play a pretty big part in motivating people to drink beer - but it's incredibly rare to see anyone actually acting believably drunk in any kind of alcohol advertising. From acting tipsy it's a slippery slope to vomiting and vehicular manslaughter I guess.

(An aside now to point out that Kin-Mugi isn't even, actually beer, but happoshu, something that wikipedia describes, mouthwateringly, as a "tax bracket of japanese liquor", and a "beer like beverage." It's cheaper than beer, that's for sure, but my main feeling whenever I'm drinking happoshu is: man, I could really do with a beer. I tried to like Kin-Mugi, for both Dan Rei and my wallet, but... no dice.)

Then of course, I realised it was because she was drunk and talking directly to the camera as if you (the viewer) are her boyfriend. Or date. Or at least some dude she's willing to flirt with in the park. Of course this isn't new, but I do think that the fun, light, and... somewhat inebriated tone of the Suntory Kin-Mugi CMs is pretty eye-catching and, in a way, unique.

That is, until Asahi noticed how succesful the commercials were and got smart to advertise their new happoshu, Kutsurogi-Jikomi <4VG>:

(Rough translation: "Want a kutsurogi?" Short and to the point I suppose.)

What was it that Bill Hicks said about gum ads? If you want, you can check out the accompanying Asahi website too, and pretend that you're actually in that appartment... ah... I mean your appartment, with Kitagawa Keiko. I warn you though, there are no pictures of you, only her, which is kind of vain when you think about it.

Really though, the top rated youtube comment on that advert says it all. I'd translate it for you but I don't want to be needlessly crude and... it's pretty much stating the obvious.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Sapporo Food: Cous Cous

Well this is how it went: we were going to go to a restaurant recommended by a friend of hers, that was meant to have really great nasi goreng. But when we got there we didn't really like the look of the place, plus there was no nasi goreng evident on the menu stuck to the wall. So we thought, well lets go to Stanley Market, the popular pan-Asian place near here (we don't talk like that, this is just an efficient summary of events, with added colour, for spice). But Stanley Market is popular, so when we got there they could only seat us at this tiny, tiny table and the smoke was so thick that it positively stung the eyes, so we thought: fuck it, let's just go somewhere we always go, and left.

But on the way there, in the drizzle we spotted a couple of weird restaurant things wedged down an improbably narrow alley, so we went to one of those instead and it was really, really good.

Cous Cous is in Odori, South 2, West 5, hidden down a dark alley and yes, they serve cous cous. That might not sound so exciting, but really - the dearth of cous cous in Japan has been a constant puzzlement to me. What!? They have rice so they don't need cous cous? Well, y'know, blasphemous as it may be I prefer cous cous, lovely little cloud dust that it is.

The place was great, small and welcoming and intimate, and while we had to wait a while for our food, I can imagine that's because they're making everything back there to order, in a pretty cramped little kitchen so I didn't begrudge it for a moment. Plus they had this great Shel Silverstein book to read while we were waiting, and when the food came (we shared the above lamb curry and cous cous, a sea food chijimi - korean pancake - and great tuna & avocado maki sushi) it was all delicious, satisfying and unpretentious. Which is kinda what I look for in a restaurant.

Pretty cheap too, so if you're downtown and don't mind a little searchin' I recommend the place. My map might (no promises) help.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sapporo Short Fest 2010

"In Dome!" As they like to say here from time to time.

Yet again I was trying to remember that Sapporo Short Film Festival was on its way, but utterly forgot about it 'til the whole thing had started. Ah well, I'm kinda sick and exhausted and so-on this year, so I might have to settle for the one selection I saw last night. It was a pretty strong one, and unlike previous years there was nothing that made me think - God I wish this guy hadn't decided to make a short film, but since he did, couldn't he have made it a little... shorter?

But that dome! Yeah, check it out:

This year's main program is going on in that white geodesic business there in front of the TV tower. I was, let's say sceptical. A big, big part of my enjoyment of going out to watch a movie is the actual ambience of a cinema building, and I've gotta say while the dome setting certainly didn't suck... it wasn't as good as previous years which were mostly in the TOHO Plaza in Tanuki Koji. Then again, how often do you get to watch movies in a screen that has actual trees growing inside?

The sound was great, and though the picture wasn't from time to time, some of that might be down to the problems with film quality that I assume comes along with some of the submissions they recieve. I really don't know what made them use the dome, perhaps they couldn't use the TOHO Plaza and this was their best option (I'm pretty sure it's the same thing they use for the Jazz Festival). So, I don't want to be too harsh, but... I was kinda looking forward to being in a cinema. That's just me being pouty though. It wasn't too cold, or too uncomfortable or anything, and the selection of six films, while being bookended by pieces I didn't much care for, was really pretty strong.

I would guess that when you set about making a short film, a short, comedy thing with an obvious punchline would probably be the most reliably... pull off-able. And certainly the most crowd pleasing. So I feel a little guilty that I thought the two best films in the selection I saw were the two short, sweet, comedy ones.

That was 'Born and Raised' directed by Eelko Ferwerda, which was great, probably especially for music makers, and the other was 'True Beauty This Night', directed by Peter Besson:

Two trailers there of course because, since they're short flicks putting them on youtube, while tempting, would be like... Well actually I don't know what it would be like. The world of short films is a fascinating enigma to me. I presume none of the festival fare kinda movies end up on the big video sites like youtube because the directors don't want to give their work away entirely for free, and thus cheapen it or whatever. Plus there is a trade for short movies that... I mean I have no idea about that either though, but there's a short film market going on to coincide with the festival, so I guess people are buying and selling them, but I have no clue where they end up. It doesn't seem to me that there are vast, unwashed mobs clamouring for the latest 5 minute Norwegian thought-provoker, and yet put one of these movies on youtube and it would reach a far, far (far) greater audience. But then, it would just feel like a five minute diversion and not... a 'film'. I really can't be bothered to think my way out of this little intersection of ideas, but I'm almost curious enough to do some research and find out what the short film world thinks about their future.

I have spent even longer ruminating on video art, believe me, and I'm pretty sure I'm never gonna make any.

Anyway! Sapporo Short Fest! Fun again, I wish I had the time and health to see more. But the Norwegian '2023' wasn't very good.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Sapporo Food: Shindofuji (organic vegetarian restaurant)

Not only back, but attempting to use my blog for the power of... good? I swear someone slipped something undetectable into my juice this morning, either that or this festering, blighted summer is finally coming to an end.

I mean, the blogger software seems to be doing its best to actively discourage me from blogging (in entirely new ways!) but that's just like getting in touch with an old (not-too-bright) friend, and to be expected. Almost every online service I use seems to have seen some kind of overhaul recently, and to my jaded, well practiced fingers, every single one of them has become more difficult to use. Gotta hang in there and wait for my muscle memory to update so I can stop swearing at things I suppose.

Wait! A post about a fooderie in Sapporo! That's right, here's the place, or rather here is the blue sign marking the stairs down to it:

It's called Shindofuji (身土不二) and is hidden under the AU store just North of Sapporo Station (diagonally opposite Yodobashi Camera, very central). Miraculously, for a country in which the concept of vegetarianism is baffling to the majority of the population, it is not only a vegetarian restaurant, but an organic one too. I'd like to add something to the effect that it also serves macrobiotic, or microbiotic food, but I... really have no idea which one of those is correct, if it's even true, or what it would actually mean if it were true. Let's just stick to the facts I established when actually speaking to the nice women who work there.

Shindofuji was probably one of the first restaurants I went to after I moved to Japan - I just happened to be invited along with a group of people who were going there - but it took me a hell of a long time to find my way back, partly due to the opening hours. I'm not sure if it opens in the evening, but in the day it only opens for lunch, from 11am to 3pm, which means I've headed there a bunch of times only to find it closed.

The food is great, although I don't know how much that comes down to the fact that it tastes and feels so damn healthy. I almost always go there at lunch time, and get the lunch set with brown rice (Genmai Teishoku) which is essentially a fantastic bowl of brown rice, miso soup and a variety of small pickles, vegetable and tofu dishes. Man, I love that rice, really. They put some kind of crushed sesame or pepper or something on top... Oh boy.

Here, I blushingly (ah, such a terrible adverb for a guy to use) admit that I've sadly never taken a picture of the kind of food they serve down there. Either no camera, or I just wanted to eat, or just plain didn't want to look like a tourist there. So here, I supply a link to a Japanese food blog indexing thing, there's a bunch of photos if you click around links there: GO! Ah, someone on there says that it's macrobiotic, so there you go.

I like the simple, hearty (and very Japanese) flavours, but I don't think it'll satisfy people who don't usually have much time for vegetarian food. That said, I've only really tried the lunch set, and they have a whole menu with a veggie curry that my sister tried when she came, and a lot more besides. It's all bound to be pretty good, and healthy as hell. Plus, for real vegetarian places, you are certainly not spoiled for choice here, so it's worth checking out. I really like the place, and the people who work there are incredibly nice, so if I hear about any of you lot putting your feet up on the tables or causing a ruckus... there'll be trouble.

Also, y'know, it's macrobiotic apparently! Whatever that means.

It's going on the map of course, which is nice, because the only thing I've been able to do to my map recently was delete Half Dime from there because the place closed down. It was this crazy enormous sci-fi mining colony thing and we were driving past as they were pulling the whole thing down with bulldozers the other day! I almost cried.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Back in Blog / A Solution to the Case of the Non-Existent Centenarians

Whuh? There's still a blog here you say and people occasionally stumble across it in (what I assume to be) their drunken, lurching quest for distraction on the internet? Shit, balls, expletives, I better start writing it again. Eight months off is probably enough.

PEOPLE! Have you heard about 'The Curious Case of the Non-Existent Centenarians'? I'm sure you have, my folks knew slightly more about it than I do when I spoke to them yesterday, including the juicy tidbit about the dude who was carrying his mother's bones around in his backpack. Aliens have abducted a significant number of the elderly in Japan!
Eh? Not abducted by aliens? Merely shuffled off this mortal coil undetected by local authorities, or had their passing covered up by their offspring due to social security fraud? Oh - well that's a lot more believable. Although rather shabby.

But fear not: Japan listens, observes and finds a way to make things better. Or rather appliance manufacturer Zojirushi does with the Mimamori Hot-Line range of hot water pots:

Some of you may not be following so well, in which case I direct you to the TV commercial on their website here. That too, I admit, is rather confusing, so let me break it down for you. The pot sends an email to a designated address when it's used, thus you know that your granny is still at least alive enough to make tea. In the advert the middle aged son at home checks his mail to find that his mother hasn't used the pot today. "Oh, she must have gone out," he sings (horribly) and of course she's come for a surprise visit, bringing his wife to attention because that whole Mother-in-Law thing is universal.
At work today someone also told me about a town in which these kind of human 'dead man's handles' are attached to TVs in elderly households, so if they don't push the button every day someone will come round and check on them. It's all remarkably smart, and while it doesn't solve Japan's elderly problem it certainly helps to have an idea of extactly how many of them there actually are...

Monday, 15 February 2010

Alex vs. JUNGLE LIFE February 2010

Every now and then I think I'm gonna grow out of music. Like, I'm just going to suddenly not feel like finding out who's popular or who's any good anymore and then I'll just keep up on the bands I like and let the rest just wash over me. Hasn't happened yet though. While I've missed out on a zillion new bands from America and England I try to keep up with whatever new Japanese music is out there, and after watching a bunch of music shows over the weekend I was all geed up like "OK! That swas all shit!" (it was) But there's got to be lots more good stuff out there, right?

Thus: In a coffee shop on Sunday I picked up the February 2010 edition of JUNGLE LIFE a free indie music magazine (basically UK's The Fly in Japan, right down to the format).

And now, I'm going to go through every single band, listen to 'em write about 'em and give you a myspace link. To be perfectly honest my hopes are not high going into this, but I'm willing to be surprised and there is at least one band with cute girls, so there's always that. I'm limiting myself to bands with features or interviews, and I'm not gonna face the myriad albums that are reviewed at the back, for the sake of my own health. Consider this a State of Japanese Indie, Feb'10 bite-sized sampling. Here we go...

HY - HY are a big indie band. They had a Music Lovers showcase on TV the other day introduced by manzai rising stars (still rising? they had a shaky period but they're hanging in there) Audrey, and I've seen them promoting their new single and album on many TV shows. Of course, they suck. They suck... mightily. The kind of soft droning indie that is perfect for when you don't really want to listen to music, but you just want a few hooks which sound like other hooks that you used to like. Ugh. Their myspace puts them under rock/J-Pop/Hip-Hop and if they have anything that actually approaches hip-hop I will kill and eat the surviving members of Run DMC. They have some songs sung by their female pianist, and some sung by their male guitarist. That's as good as it gets. From the looks of things, all their album covers suck too.

STANCE PUNKS - Are a well established punk band, and they make that very authentic melodic punk that many bands make in Japan. I mean they do it well and listening to them now, if I had to make some kind of ranking of Japanese trad-punk bands, I'd put STANCE PUNKS pretty high on that list, but unless you're a huge punk fan... you don't need for there to be so goddamn many of them. Still, if you like punk music, like good old fashioned double kick drums and shouty vocals - check this lot out.

aobozu (藍坊主) - Up-tempo J-indie rock. Going by their myspace not too bad... and in fact might grow on me. When Chris came to stay with me (soooo long ago now!) he commented that he couldn't get into the vocals on a lot of Japanese bands because they were so studied and uninvolved, or sounded so to his ears. You could probably say that about this lot... but I kinda like them. On their myspace go for Gymnopedic - it loses me at the chorus, going for the key-change sky scraping chorus that is just massively over-used in Japanese pop music, but it sounds pretty good. On reflection this lot aren't great, but they've got something going on.

Flower Companyz - This lot have been going for twenty years! Their (possibly 2nd) Best Of... is coming out and they don't have a myspace, so I went by youtube. Fun pop-rock. Didn't bug me but didn't really grab me, middle of the road and kind of cheesy at times, but you can't really hate a band for that. Man, that makes it sound like I'm going through this trying to hate these bands, when in fact the opposite is true... sigh.

kariyushi58 - The first song of theirs I listened to was exactly the same as the last song by Flower Companyz that I listened to, which was a little surreal. Again, happy pop-rock with that faux-reggae beat that pretty much guarantees you a summer hit in Japan and goes down pretty well in the US too. We Brits don't get it because it only works on people who come from a place with real summers. Kariyushi58 are not very good. They sounds a little bit like Weezer at times.

竹内電気 - Again, no myspace (which means that this project is already three times as hard as I thought it would be) so going by youtube. Again with the upbeat pop-indie. This lot are better than the last two though, but still have that energetic good-times vibe that doesn't sit well with the sour British disposition I'm saddled with. I kid, but it's a very American sound - these bands would do well over there. Takeuchi Denki clearly don't take themselves very seriously, which is always a good thing, and I kinda liked some of the songs. But not all of them. By any means.

My Way My Love - Oh wow, My Way My Love are one of those big indie-ish bands (in this case a kind of psych-punk, noisy as hell rock band) who I've never bothered checking out because I didn't get a good vibe offa what I knew about them. Turns out they're pretty good! In a good way. I'll check them out for real sometime! Looks like they've got an album out in the UK too...

The Back Horn - The Back Horn are a big deal rock band that I caught a little of at Rising Sun two years ago. Not terrible by any means, but the kind of professional stadium rock (Japanese style) that I'm not all that interested in. Check 'em out though, by all means.

Fact - Wow these guys got it going on in American and Japan already! English language lyrics and pretty typical American emo (mid-stage emo, that is). Super-professional, very accomplished, I'm sure they'll be huge. I hate it, but I'm happy to admit it's a personal thing and yr mileage may vary. When did Myspace start doing this thirty second sample length thing? I mean, it's perfect for what I'm doing today, but it would probably bug me if I actually wanted to, y'know, listen to music.

General Head Mountain - Chart friendly indie-rock from this lot. Their hearts are firmly stiched to their sleeves, their BPMs are cranked and they sound very earnest, if not all that interesting. Not a thumbs down, would have been good for a sixteen year-old me I reckon. Now, I'm old and cynical and I think they suck, but what do I know.

soulkids - Basically it's pretty easy to come off as sounding ok when you make that slightly angsty emo-ish radio rock. But to step up from there to being a really, really good band is really, really fucking hard. That's why I dismiss most radio-friendly rock out of hand, and it's only occasionally that I spot something that really chimes with me. This lot aren't bad at all. They're not up there with the best and I'm not sold, but they're one of the bands on this list worth checking out if you like kinda popular indie-rock.

Tokyo 60 Watts
- Phew, after those last few fast, rocky bands it's a relief to find a more classy, mid-tempo indie-pop outfit. Nicely crafted songs, foot off the accelerator... that's better... ONLY JOKING! I don't like the sound of this lot much, but they do sound like they can take you on a hammond-driven rocket to a very nice dinner party. If that was where you wanted a rocket trip to. Seems like a waste of a rocket trip to me.

Good Dog Happy Men
- I still think it's quite nice that there's a Japanese group named after a Bill Frisell album, but these guys (from their one track on myspace) sound like snivelling curs, rather than good dogs. See what I did there? I exaggerated to make the joke work! But really, they do suck. My least favourite band so far.

Taro Kobayashi - Wow again, much more 'rock' than I expected from a solo artist, but Myspace's 30 second clips pretty much stop me from forming much of an impression. His first "album" has four tracks... does that mean the tracks are really long? Or is it not really an album? Doesn't sound too bad, kinda big, catchy rock music... not what I'm looking for though.

Soul Junctions - They look like very nice boys, and they seem to be playing very nice jangly pop music.

Kinoco Hotel - Oh my god. At least they're girls. The sheer indie-boy-ness of the list so far was getting to me... And they're a retro-psych-pop outfit too. And wearing marching band uniform things? Frank Zappa on their friends list? Kinda awesome. The music's not too bad either, and since they're one of the few bands stepping outside of the indie-rock spectrum so far (in order to go back to the 60s admittedly) I'm going to give them a gold star. Check-them-out-why-don't-you-do-that-very-thing.

The Cokeheads
- Oh God. What a horrible name (worth noting that there's also an ad for Cokehead Hipsters later in this very issue. What?! Japan! You don't even know what a cokehead is!). I like that it's sloppy, punkish indie without being the kind of trad-punk I was rambling about earlier. Possibly even worth checking out! And I like that they aren't limiting you to 30 second snippets (I realise now that it must be the band's choice, not myspace, sorry myspace). Adorably they still have "Tom" as their friend on myspace. Awww... Maybe they were too busy doing cocaine to change their friends list... I DON'T THINK.

Jina - Oh my God! Kula Shaker are up at the top of their friends list! Crispin Mills, you'll always have fans in Japan. Indie rock that isn't bad, but I don't feel compelled to write home about it. Perhaps you will feel differently.

DOES - Ah, back to the... 45 second clips this time. More radio friendly than the last two, in a way that I find predictably boring. I like their album cover, but their music gives me the "Mehs".

Spank Page
- Spank Page's page in JUNGLE LIFE is a picture of some phone booths and a poetic message that I kinda liked. Their music is reverby indie-rock by the book, but one of the bands that I would slap a 'not-too-bad' sticker on, were they being stocked in my farcically judgmental record shop.

Half-Life - Indie-rock, again the heart-on-sleeve always reaching for the most dramatic, emotive button they can push. They have an '80s Version' of a song on myspace that sounds not at all 80s. Anthemic might be a good word to describe them, but I've already heard them three times already under different names on this list.

wash? - Fairly spacey, but not as spacey as you would think to look at them. I was expecting noisy, psychedelic-ish music, which you get a little, but not too much, to their credit. I mean, it's not too far into navel-gazing psychedelia - it is pretty noisy. I liked the slacker chant track and SLOWDANCE and you can listen to whole tracks on their myspace which I'm starting to love them for. If you know Japanese music, a bit like HiGE maybe? Maybe? I'm not sure. Final justice = GOOD AND GETTING BETTER WITH EVERY LISTEN.

Supe - Metal! Nu-ish, but not terribly so. Still - not my bag now. The vocalist has a perfect American accent, so I'm sure they travel well.

- Emo-punk-metal thing for kids. They look about fourteen and sound pretty catchy to be honest, but... you know.

Haysay Josay
平成女性 - Another one of those bands that was irritating to track down, look 'em up with the kanji on youtube (this video is fun for the way the kick drum is so loud it makes the camera lose focus). I never know what to call this music - not primitivist, but really simple, untaught, rock by people who just decided to start a band without learning any instruments (I assume!). Sometimes I'm really in the mood for this and sometimes I'm not. I can't decide with this lot, but of course I like 'em a lot better than 90% of this list. Fun.

Andou Yumi - I'm a little thrown as to why Andou Yumi is in amongst this clutch of indie boys, she sounds very MOR... almost easy listening... Is there an anime connection? To be honest it was kind of a relief, even though it's not my thing at all. Oh wait... are we getting into the nods to pop and the mainstream now?

Okumura Kyoudai
奥村兄弟 - Oh my God it is the pop section! This is a band with two brothers who have to still be in school. The kind of thing that you can't criticize for fear of crushing children's dreams. The elementary school kid on the tea-box drum thing is pretty awesome though, and I assume they don't have a myspace because exposing kids like this to the depravity of myspace would be unthinkable.

Saru Da Concrete (
猿ダコンクリート) - Yeah, I'm not sure how to romanize that one. Is it 'Monkey The Concrete'? Saruda? Is that a word? I was hoping for something a little weirder, but like Ogre You Asshole their names promises more than they actually deliver. Complex, sophisticated indie-rock to be sure, but the kind of thing that doesn't grab me so much. Worth a look perhaps. I'd put 'em in the same box as Sakanaction, but I like Sakanaction more.

The Royal Sweetest Embalming
- Look at that name. Imagine what it takes to transpose that into Japanese phonics. Can you imagine what kind of music they make? No, it's not very subtle, but it's not as cheesy as I expected, which is something at least. Pop-rock like GLAY or L'Arc-en-Ciel but not as bad... probably. Did I mention that I shout at the TV every time L'Arc-en-Ciel come on recently? Christ, I hate them.

FLiP - I'm starting to think there's actually a reason that Japanese bands drop to lower-case for 'i's beyond a mere stylistic choice. It happens pretty often... does it mean something? A group of four girls making poppy alt-rock. Not bad, but again, not all that great. There's a touch of early Shiina Ringo in there that I like, but it's just a touch and it's the more traditional side of her rock music, rather than the magic that I love about her. So-so.

Wait... that was the last one? Obviously, there are harder things to do, like competing in the Moguls in the Winter Olympics, or wrestling a bear, but that did actually take longer than I thought. Then again, I did find an indie band I liked - wash? - and I did catch a few others - Kinoco Hotel, My Way My Love, The (shudder) Cokeheads, poooossibly Takeuchi Denki - that I'll keep an eye on.

And you read it! Didn't you?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Sapporo Cafes: Cafe Sahabi

Ugh, I thought I wasn't going to write this thing anymore! Look, the whole place is so dirty I'm going to have to clean everything up before I actually get back to blogging. Or I can just pile the lot in the sink I guess...

Well y'know, don't blog because you have to, blog because you want to. Words to that effect.

I stumbled over Cafe Sahabi randomly one time, and have dragged a few people there for the coffee, the amazing donuts and the atmosphere. Here are two of those people:

Ignore them. Pleasant though they may be to look at, the cafe is the point. It's a retro-styled cave of pop-culture ephemera with the standard manga library, several cabinets worth of characters and action figures, heaps of CDs and even an old NES you can play. It's a little tricky to find I guess. I've marked it on the map, but it's inside the building on the ground floor, not actually facing onto the street. There's a sign outside with a camel on though, it should be easy to spot and it's well worth the trip if you don't mind spending a little more for your coffee and actually enjoying the experience. It's pretty central too, just a couple of blocks off Eki-mae Dori next to Tanuki Koji

And they make fresh donuts, really fucking good fresh donuts. Donuts that make you think - mmmm, Mister Donut donuts are just donuts. These are Donuts. They're really good.

Matt got some kind of paprika based rice-bowl dish which he said was good but small (which is par for the course at this kind of place). I myself have only tried the donuts and can, as above, recommend them thoroughly. The drinks are served in "Fire-King" mugs, which I guess must be something of a big deal since it's mentioned on the menu. I'm not sure if it makes the coffee taste better, but it certainly helps you caffeinate in style:

Mmmm, retro-tastic. So, if yer in Odori and want a coffee that isn't from a chain (frankly it goes without saying that the coffee here, while not spectacular, is better than any chain I can think of... could have done with a little more though) I really recommend this place. We stumbled in there after wandering around the Snow Festival in a -10 blizzard and it was a little bit like heaven.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

It's 2010

Whoa! Where am I? What day is it? Did I miss the last season of Lost? Who's the Prime Minister?

No, don't answer that last one. No matter at which point I wake up in the year I probably won't like the answer.

So hey! It's 2010 and what have I been doing? Working! Working and watching awesome movies like:

Crank: High Voltage that is, and District 9 which was exactly as good as everyone and their dog has been telling me. I've been listening to lots of music too, and more importantly working on some 'projects'. Mmm-hmmm, projects.

One of those projects, which I've been working on for about... eh, half and hour as of now is a tumblr (aka a minimi-blog!) that I'm just gonna dump links and stuff at, and we'll see if I post there far more often than I post here! We will see. Anyway it is:

And please to look, though there ain't much there yet.

I'll come back and post the stuff I should really post at some point too, but that'll hold the baying masses for now I dare say.