Check it out, I was in a BBC video recently!
They also had me in a story a few weeks back…
I had an odd week. Monday and Tuesday I took days off and did a few things around the house. I also finished off the manuscript for my second book – hah! Thursday I worked from home, which meant editing some videos and also going in to Little India to edit some videos. Friday was a regular day at work.
Nice weekend. On Saturday morning Zen and I went to see Megamind. It was pretty funny. I even laughed out loud once at a line, like “You’re so naive – I suppose you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Queen Elizabeth.” In the afternoon Zen and I went swimming, it was fun! In the evening we watched two episodes of Space: 1999.
Sunday started off with a softball tournament, which lasted until about 2:00. Zen’s team, the Coconuts (junior division) automatically won the first game, because the team that they had been matched up against had to withdraw for some reason. And then they also won their second match, which they played in real life, and won 9-2. Zen didn’t have much action, but it was a good game. That was followed by another game, which the team lost, but not by a wide margin – 6-4, so they were out of the championship, but they could play for 3rd or 4th place. That game they also lost, but a slightly wider margin – 6-3. But we were happy that the Coconuts won games in two consecutive tournaments, that when they lost they only lost by a few points (not like previous years’ blowouts), that they were playing better together as a team, and that they got as high as fourth place!
After that we went home, had a swim, took a nap, and Naoko and Zen packed and prepared for their trip back to Japan tonight. I went through Zen’s book and papers tidying up things, filled two bags of stuff to toss and one of books to sell/give away to next year’s students (if they do that sort of thing here).
It was a fun day, but a bit sad – Naoko and Zen will be gone for six weeks.
Wow, someone put the great るるるの歌 from NHK onto YouTube. For people who know Japanese, the songs are simple, clever and funny, and they are a great way of learning Japanese infinitives and ajectives (which all end in “る”, which is the “ru” sound). For those who don’t know Japanese, the songs are sort of catchy, and the animation is interesting. Try to figure out what is happening.
Every summer Zen and Naoko go to Japan for four weeks when Zen has a month off from his Singapore school. This year they went at the beginning of June, and then on June 17th I flew off too to join them. And not a moment too soon – I was just so busy with so many different things before I left, it was crazy. The last day here I spent the day working from home, but I was really busy from morning until night, editing chapters from my book, helping out with office stuff, and cleaning the place. Very very busy. But it’s all good work and worth it.
I took a taxi to the airport on the evening of Wednesday June 16th around 11:30 PM, just before I left I took a shower, then prepared the suitcases, closed the windows, and called for a taxi. When the taxi arrived I put the suitcases in, but then ran back upstairs to check that I had locked properly. I had. Then 10 minutes later, when we were on the highway I began to wonder if I’d turned off the shower’s hot water heater!!! I half-remembered turning it off, I remembered looking around the dark room and not seeing it the heater light burning, but… I still wasn’t sure. I put the thought out of my mind, went to the airport, checked into the flight, had a beer, got on and flew to Osaka, landed on Thursday, July 17th at 8:20. Nothing interesting to report about the trip, except for the long-haired guy I saw in Kansai airport who was dressed in black and had a big backpack. The guy was tattooed all over his arms and neck, with the tats coming partially onto his cheeks. Pretty freaky.
After killing time in the airport for a while, I got on the 9:35 bus to Himeji with some Italians and some local sourpusses, listened to the same Nagisa Nite song over and over again as I read The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Arrived at 11:30, met Naoko, got a ride with Jii-chan, got back, ate, drank beer, went to pray at the home shrine for baachan, and napped. Zen came back with Nanaka and I talked to them, then I napped some more, ate dinner. I remember at one point sitting at the small square table and thinking that I was very very very very happy. But I was tired, so I went upstairs and napped again – I would have gone to sleep for the night, actually but around 8:30 Masayuki and the family came and wanted to see me. I finally, really slept at 10:00.
Friday June 18th we went off at 10:00 shopping for sunglasses. At the first one we saw a cool set of Ray Bans at a ripoff price, the second and the third had nothing inspiring, but at the fourth we found very nice Ray Bans for a decent price. Worth the wait. Went to Tower Records, bought the Boris “Variations” CD and DVD, then got a cross necklace and a Detroit Metal City (DMC) wristband, a black Uniqlo t-shirt, bought tai-yaki, and went home. Oh yeah, we had Hope-ken ramen for lunch – delicious!
After a short break, went back out and bought Adidas short sports socks at Avail, then blank video camera cassettes at Japan. Dinner of Tonkatsu. Watching TV, Zen was scared because he saw a fake alien mummy on TV, asked me as he went to sleep to tll him “Jesus stories” to make him calm down and relax so that he could go to sleep. But he wasn’t scared and went to sleep quickly. Had strange dreams about being in the office in the middle of the night with Naoko, then there was water leaking from the next unit, then workers came, then TAB staff. Then I dreamed I was hailing a cab.
Saturday June 19th, woke up, had breakfast, went to Himeji Port, bought tickets to Ie-shima, talked to a fishing uncle about the fish he catches, went to Ie-shima, checked in to our lodge, ate onigiri, played catch, napped, Zen and I went for a paddle in a canoe, saw a big black snake baking in the sun. In the water, saw bluish-white jellyfish and red and white striped poison jellyfish, also beautiful herons. We paddled all over the bay, sometimes getting into difficulties when the wind pushed us in the wrong direction (i.e. out to sea), and I had quite a battle at some times. Wished we’d taken the sailboats… Got back, napped, Zen did homework, I read; we had a great balcony with a beautiful view of the shrubs. Went out to build the barbecue. Had major trouble getting the coals going, as I thought we would, but people who were finishing up gave us their coals and pretty soon we had a great batch of barbecued food. Went to the bath at 8:55, Zen went to sleep, then Naoko and I had a restful and wonderful sleep ourselves.
Sunday June 20th we woke up, chilled out, went for a hike to a nearby camping centre. Saw lots of crabs scurrying around, there was a smiley crab as well (see picture below). Heard a crow cawing “ah… ah…”,we said “ho… ho…”. Together it sounded like “A-ho. A-ho, Zen no A-ho…” Got back, ate our instant noodles, napped on the bench, then went for another canoe ride – this time all three of us in the boat. The wind was coming from the other direction, and it was much lighter, a more beautiful ride for sure. Forty minutes into our one-hour ride we heard distant thunder and felt a few drops, and very soon the dude from the office came out in a motor boat to tell us we had to go back because of the coming storm. Sheesh. The drops intensified a bit. We cleaned up our equipment and collected our bags to go at the office. Zen read more of the unchi book, which is about the different types of animal feces. We headed off for the ferry terminal, wearing our rain capes because the precipitation had intensified into a strong mistu. Seven minutes into our journey the rain stopped completely. Funny how Naoko had been worrying for a week that the weekend trip would be washed out, and how her father had been chiding her for booking any sort of an outdoor trip at all during the rainy season; it was, in fact, a beautiful, restful, gorgeous trip. Got to the ferry station – more of a bus stop than a terminal – and saw all the families that we had gotten to know at the nature centre. Took the boat back to Himeji, sat in the open-air back part and watched the islands slip past or zoom by. Got to Himeji, rode back with Jii-chan, chilled out, ate dinner, read more of my book, then went to sleep.
Monday June 21st, Zen went off to school at 7:15, I read my book, then at 10:20 Naoko and I went to River City to buy clothes – boxer shorts, sleeping pants, undershirts – and then I went to rent videos. Stangely, I couldn’t find any that I wanted to watch, so I left without renting anything. Went to an Internet cafe to check five days worth of emails, then headed back by 4:00. Showered, listened to Jesu while writing my journal and drinking beer. Felt extraordinarily good. Been watching the World Cup… can’t believe that irritating bee sound that drowns out all other sounds from the pitch. Went by bicydcle to Nagahama Ramen for gyoza and ramen- yummy. Went to Godai Pharmacy for some medicine stuff – open toe and ear wound cream, and underarm deodorant. Talked to Oma and Opa, talked to Matt as well. Started reading Murakami Haruki’s Underground, drank sochu. Slept.
Tuesday June 22nd. Woke up at 4:20, read for a while – it was already getting light outside; seems strange that the sun rises so early, but it is the evening after Midsummer’s Day and one of the shortest night of the year after all… Went back to sleep for a while, got up for real at 6:45, learned that North Korea had lost to Portugal 7-0. Gosh, what a shame. Hung out, read Underground, watched Boris “Variations” DVD, went to Book Off to look for used CDs, didn’t find anything, went to the video shop, rented “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Milk”, “The Departed”, “Gangs of New York”, and “Balls of Fury”. “Tropic Thunder” is rented out, and they don’t have “Shaun of the Dead”. Bummer. Watched “Balls of Fury”, then Zen came home. Zen did homework, we ate dinner, went out to throw the ball, but not for long – I threw a good ball right at Zen, but he didn’t catch it properly and he missed it, it hit his nose, he cried, some blood flowed, dripped onto his shirt, so went back, cleaned up, chilled out until 9:00, and Naoko and I watched “Milk”.
Zeitgeist section: The asa no drama is “Gegege no nyoubou, about the life of Mizuki Shigeru; the taiga drama on Sundays is about Sakamoto Ryoma. The big news item is sumo gambling, and prime minister Kan’s appearance at the G7 and G20 meetings in… Muskoka!
Wednesday June 23rd; woke up, hung out, watched one hour of “Gangs of New York”, Naoko and her parents went to buy stuff, I went to the internet cafe and Tower Records. Today Spitz released a single but I didn’t buy it, bought Heaven & Hell’s “The Devil You Know”, went back for lunch, read, napped, watched one more hour of “Gangs of New York”, Zen came back, I went to pick up my sunglasses and bought two more t-shirts at uniqlo, Nanaka came over and played catch with Zen after dinner. Went to Book Off to meet Yuki and Kazuo of Love Love, we went to the Yukata Matsuri. At the last minute, Zen was also invited along to the same festival with Masayuki’s family, so we were both in the same festival at the same time (although I never saw them, and they never saw me). Parked, walked aross the railway, wandered along the main street, came across the former guitarist of Droop (Yayoi-chan), bought smoked cheese, bought manjyu, saw a jamon display, went to a cafe where we drank Yebisu, chilled out, listened to Bubble oldies, then psychedelic tunes, then went home.
Thursday June 24th, walked around the neighbourhood testing out my new sunglasses, read Underground, finished it (finally!!), hung out all morning, lots of election news, watched “Gangs of NEw York for the second, third and fourth time, ate lunch, started to watch “The Departed”, Zen came home, went for a cycle, saw the old Jusco, went to throw softball with Zen, ate dinner, went to Mushroom to watch the Love Love rehearsal for their June 29th live show at Osaka Bears – that is the day that I fly off and can’t make the show, but being invited to attend the rehearsal at the Mushroom (my first live house in Japan) is an outstandingly intimate consolation prize, especially since I’ve never really been to a studio with a Japanese band before (I only know what it’s like for my own band). Chilled out with them, introduced them to Black Sabbath, Om, and other good stuff, they showed me Droop videos. Came back, finished watching “The Departed”. Baa-chan will wake up at 3:0 AM to watch Japan play Denmark. Go, Japan!!
Friday, June 25th. Woke up, found out that Japan beat Denmark 3-1, yay Japan! Ate breakfast from 7:07 to 7:37, then went back upstairs and slept another two hours, got up at 9:30, went to the internet cafe, then tried to buy cheap Osaka train tickets, but the shop we used to use was closed (no surprise – it was always pretty run down). Showered, ate lunch, headed off to Osaka. Did find another place to buy cheap tickets, saved 900 yen!! Read on the train, listened to music, drank Chu-hi, got to Osaka, walked around Umeda trying to figure out where I was, it wasn’t easy because the whole place is a construction site. Went out Shinsaibashi station, found Dogra Magra, went into Uniqlo, then along Shinsaibashi, then to Book Off, bought Spitz’s “Hachimitsu”, then to Tower in Namba, where they didn’t have Okuda Tamio or Nagisa Nite CDs. Went around America Mura – Miki Gakki, Time Bomb Records (bought Acid Eater and Shinebuilder CDs), King Kong Records. Got a deal on two cross necklaces, found Freak Scene, talked to Fusao (the fuzz guitarist from Acid Eater and the wife of lead singer Masonna/Yamazaki Maso), bought an Acid Eater t-shirt from her and got a signature for the CD. Went back to Time Bomb records, got a signature from the drummer of Acid Eater as well. Great. Then off to meet Mr Matt Kaufman at Dogra Magra, chilled out, listened to ZZ Top, Boston, and some other stuff, Josh came, another guy came hung out with Master Damone, then went upstairs to watch Dennis Hopper rant and rave about his production of The Last Movie, didn’t watch all of it, plucked on a guitar, comfortably numb, then went to the 200 yen bar, met Jamie and his mad buddies deep into Saturday morning, got to hear some Black Sabbath, David Bowie, then off to the Pink Elephant, where the master was being a rude bastard, then off to the place next to the Pink Elephant, where we chilled out, sang “the Hoochie Koochie Man”, finally falling asleep in another place. Long night! Woke up on the sofa, ate some Yoshinoya gyudon, then took the subway back to Umeda, the train back to Himeji. Read two words of an article in a magazine about Pink Floyd, then fell asleep. Got to Himeji, it was pouring rain. Walked back under an umbrella but still got soaked, slept until 4:30, got up, family came over, and from 5:30 we were eating and drinking at our “barbecue”, now changed to an indoor event because of the lousy weather. Went to sleep at 9:30 or so, slept until morning.
Sunday June 27th, we were supposed to meet Matt and his family at Shiwase no Mura in Kobe, but weren’t sure if the weather would hold out. The weather was so-so, but Matt phoned and called if off anyway for family reasons – too bad, maybe next year. Hung out, went for a bike ride around Himeji castle (two laps), then rented the new “Star Trek”. Watched it in the evening, had a few laughs about some of the scenes.
Monday June 28th, last day in Japan, we packed, I took Zen to the zoo, we saw lions and tigers and bears, watched an ostrich pee and poo, stinky aardvark. Zen rode on the circle chain thing then we went back, had lunch, and off to River City to buy Zen’s shoes, then home, packing, dinner. Had a last sleep, but not before I finished re-reading Eric McCormack’s First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, a book I re-read every year when I have nothing to do in Himeji it seems.
Tuesday June 29th we woke up at 4:50 so that we could be ready by 5:50 to leave for the bust terminal to catch the bus to the airport. Got on the bus, napped and read, got there early, used the toilets, creepy old lady hanging out nearb, got in early, Zen did his homework, but not well enough – Naoko was grouchy. Got in the plane, aisle 33, window seat was the only window seat without a window! Disappointed!!!! Zen played video games a lot, he was happy, although he hated his meal – not enough vegetables! I watched “V for Vendetta” and “The Ghost Writer”, both UK political thrillers. Zen watched part of “How To Tame Your Dragon.” Got to Singapore, took silent taxi home, got in and saw that I really had remembered to turn off the electric heater at the beginning of my journey and wouldn’t need to face an expensive electricity bill/fire/whatever else might have happened to someone who accidentally left a hot water heater on for two weeks. Tidied up, had pizza for dinner, got ready to re-enter the Singapore life.
Wednesday I woke up early, took Zen to school, came back, installed the bicycle basket while Naoko slept, had breakfast, hung out all day.
Here’s Daichi attacking the drums with Deep Purple’s “Burn”. Since it’s an electronic set, he listens to the noise with headphones, which I quickly put to the camera mic to translate what’s going on. But he’s quite good, and so sincere!
Here are some great pictures from my Japan trip, followed by media reviews from the trip.
While in Japan, I read a few books and saw several movies. I also bought “a few” CDs.
Underground, by Murakami Haruki – A book about the 1995 sarin gas incident in Tokyo, Japan, when five subway lines were simultaneously vandalised with liquid sarin, which evaporated, killing 12, seriously injuring 54, and affecting 980. It was a horrible incident, and the nadir in Japanese society of a misfit group of misanthropes who we now know had already committed several crimes. I remember thinking at the time “who would want to kill hardworking people on their way to work – aren’t they already suffering enough?” Now having read this book, which is a collection of interviews with some of the survivors, I can see the real tragedy of this, with one of the victims now a near-vegetable, who is described as a devoted and incredibly hard-working individual. Nowadays when she says simple near-words, her family sobs and cheers, even though these were all things that she had been able to do effortlessly – like all of us, before this happened to her. I still have no idea what these people thought that they could accomplish with their evil deeds. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The book is an English translation of a series of articles that Murakami published in Japanese magazines and newspapers, and then published in book form in different editions. The first part covers seven sections, each of which covers a separate incident, be it on a certain train line or at a certain station. The first five sections start off with a description of the perpetrators, mostly describing how they had come from prestigious universities and middle-class backgrounds; but only the first five sections have these descriptions, the last two do not, I’m not sure why. Each of the seven sections has case studies of the victims telling, in their own words, what happened that morning. The case studies vary from three pages long to ten pages long, mere snapshots of interviews that Murakami says sometimes stretched for three hours (I’d guess that a three hour interview would be about 80 pages long according to the size of the pages of this book, maybe more). After a while you get a sense of familiarity with the horror – the people describe the start of their day and its routines, why they are heading into town on a Monday before a national holiday when most people weren’t working, when they noticed something was wrong on the train, the reactions that they noticed in the people around them, how they realised that they were not all right, how they escaped the subway station, the behaviour of the subway and station staff, the organisation of the rescue efforts, how they received medical attention, their post-incident recovery, and their feelings towards the perpetrators. The book includes one interview with a foreigner, one interview with a subway staff member, one interview with the family of a woman who went into a coma and has barely recovered, as well as interviews with the widow and the parents of a man who died that day.
The interviews and the accounts of the victims of that day are very well done, and the five scenarios describing the actions of the perpretrators. Unfortunately, Murakami caps the first part with an essay of mumbo jumbo called “Blind nightmare: where are we Japanese going?” For example, one of his passages is like this:
I am a novelist, and as we all know a novelist is someone who works with ‘narratives’, who spins ’stories’ professionally. Which meant to me that the task at hand was like a gigantic sword dangling above my head. It’s something I’m going to have to deal with much more seriously from here on. I know I’m going to have to construct a ‘cosmic communication device of my own. I’ll probably have to piece together every last scrap of junk, every weakness, every deficiency inside me to do it. (There, I’ve gone and said it – but the real surprise is that it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do as a writer all along!)
The second part is also very interesting, as it follows the same structure as the first case study section, but in this case he’s interviewing the Aum Shinrikyo survivors. None of them were among the members found guilty of any crimes, they were just people who were for one reason or another drawn into the cult. These case studies are also interesting, but here Murakami tries to draw the interviewees into philosophical discussions, often editorializing and sensationalising somewhat, often alluding to incidents in the Aum world that happened outside of the subway attacks, some of which are not properly contextualised. The stories are often rather pitiful and these people seem like victims of a sort as well, first of Aum itself, and then of the society that judges them for having once been members of the cult. Whether they were brainwashed into conducting criminal activities or whether they were people who legitimately felt that yoga could improve their sense of self-worth, they are likely to live out sad lives.
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, by Stieg Larsson – This is the third book in the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson. I had a hard time finding it in Singapore at a good price, but I finally did the day before I went to Japan, so I happily bought a copy – yay. I read it on the flight and was very happy. The story picks up at the end of the cliffhanger second book. While the first book is about Lisbeth Salander slowly becoming a character to take on Mickael Blomkvist, and the second one is about drawing Lisbeth Salander out of hiding, the third one is about knowing just what will become of her life – she’s been shot in the head, but is saved and is in hospital. The story is now about unfurling the secrets of her past – with no help from her – and finding out which sort of extra-judiciary surveillance department has been working to keep her down. She, of course, has her own agenda and her own ideas about how justice is supposed to be meted out. The third book is better than the second book in some ways, and once again Mickael Blomkvist labours intensively (and senselessly, in the way that he has nearly no support from Salander herself) to right the wrongs acted upon Salander, this time enlisting not just the staff of the Millennium, but also several police units. Of course, quite a while before the actual end of the book, our heroes manage to figure out how to utterly annihilate their opposition, both in court and on the streets, and we’re all heading to a happy end. Somehow the book ties up too neatly, and the various superfluous passages require some explaining (presumably Larsson was writing about people he knew in real life), such as the one about the gay investment banker in Gibraltar, and the one about the theft of Erika Berger’s stash of very very very personal items. There is also something about how the chairman of the biggest newspaper in Sweden has invested in a company in Vietnam that uses child labour (is this mirroring something Larsson knew about but couldn’t prove?). The civilness of the good Swedes (Blomkvist and his process-driven bunch) is refreshing to follow, and these people seem fair, good and just. But ultimately it is good fun seeing the Cold War baggage that their dinosaur enemies are destroyed by their own arrogance and presumptuousness, never suspecting that their era of lawless activity was nearing an end. How they do it is somewhat clever; a masterpiece of detective fiction this ain’t, but it also never pretends to be that at all. I was especially happy with the last three pages of the book which I think were very well-done. Good job, Larsson, rest in piece.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Greg Kinney – Like all of the Wimpy Kid movies, this one is very funny, with interesting comic book artwork. the story follows the life of middle-schooler Greg Heffley through his diary and his simple illustrations. Funny tales of school and classmates (including some very strange ones, bullies, girls, etc). There’s the Cheese Touch, which is like the cooties but it’s acquired when someone touches a piece of cheese that has become part of the schoolyard pavement. Tricks that Greg’s older brother Rodrick plays on him. Funny tales of Rowley (great knock knock jokes), playing video games, and of course the introduction of classic “weird kid” Fregley (”Wanna see my ’secret freckle’?”) who howls “juice! juice!” when he needs to pee. Greg also has a sleepover with Fregley, who’s also his wrestling partner. We need more Fregley. There’s Rodrick’s band Loded Diper, Greg running for class treasurer, Hallowe’en tales, wrestling class, weightlifting, the class play, Safety Patrol, and Greg’s comic competition. Some of the “bad” comics that Greg was competing with were actually pretty good (check out Rowley’s “Zoo-wee Mama”. The book’s not all fun – there’s also a grim tale of giant snowmen that is a bit tough. But at least it ends well, when we find out what happens to the cheese.
First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, by Eric McCormack – I love all of the books that Eric McCormack has written, including this one. Here Eric re-imagines a young Scottish man leaving the Scottish mining towns after family tragedies have made him an orphan, going off to cross the world like Gorden Pym before ending up back in “Camberloo” (a cross of Cambridge and Waterloo, the town in Canada where Eric teaches English Literature) where he enjoys a strange addicted lifestyle of increasing girth and incessant loneliness, never really losing the demons of the past – until they, finally, lose him.
This book follows the usual McCormack tropes of voyage, loneliness, addiction, seafaring, strangers that drift in and out of the story, odd habits (painting prostitutes to look like snake-women), and uncertainties to paint a strongly alluring picture of a habitual paradise.
Check out the recently-created Eric McCormack Wikipedia page.
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling – I have never seen The Jungle Book movie, I just wanted to understand a bit of what might have captured the imagination of people 100 years ago (and how they might have written stories). The Jungle Book is not a happy story about people bopping around in the jungle, it is about life and death and honour and character and discipline in a pitiless world. Because it is written in a dense style by Rudyard Kipling almost 120 years ago, it is not easy to follow, but it does tell in eight chapters and eight poems interesting tales of the deep jungle. First of all it tells the tale of Mowgli, how he’s rescued from Shere Khan the tiger by Mother Wolf, and championed by Akela, and then it goes into his education, his abduction by the lawless monkey tribes, his confrontation with the Jungle council, his re-emergence into human society, and his final revenge on Shere Khan. The story continues on The Jungle Book 2, but we also have non-Mowgli stories: the amazing tale of Riki-Tiki-Tavi (which I saw once on TV as a non-Mowgli Jungle Book animation), as well as a really wonderful story of a white seal trying to save his seal-mates from perpetual exploitation and hunting from the nearby Russian communities.
Some of the stories are not so great – I didn’t really understand the point of “Toomai of the Elephants” or “Her Majesty’s Servants”, but on the whole it was a great, if somewhat incomprehensible, book.
Acid Eater, “Black Fuzz on Wheels” – This is a really great release, better than debut piece “Virulent Fuzz Punk A.C.I.D.”. The release opens up with the killer “Yes, Motion”, with a sinister chord progression, then cheezy organ, and Masonna’s grotesque vocals and electronics, and the album continues in the same vein. Six of the ten songs are originals, and of these “Well” is the standout track, with its funky groovy strangeness. The band also covers Crime’s “Feel The Beat”, the Miracle Workers’ “Love Has No Time” (great version), a pastiche of German movie dialogue from “Schulmadchen Report”, probably a kitsch favourite of Masonna and his guitarist wife Fusao, as well as a Tidal Wave cover “Searching For Love.”
Boris, “Variations” – I have reviewed this CD/DVD on My Big Bad Boris Page.
Shrinebuilder, “Shrinebuilder” – This is the definition of epic. Shrinebuilder is a doom/stoner supergroup, consisting of Scott “Wino” Weinrich (guitarist/living legend from Saint Vitus, Obssessed, etc), Al Cisneros (legendary bassist from Sleep, and now Om), Scott Kelly (vocalist and guitarist of Neurosis), and Dale Crover, the drummer from the Melvins and tons of other projects (he also drummed with Nirvana on their original demo). Stellar.
Opening tune “Solar Benediction” doesn’t start off well, with some weedy Wino vocals, but then gets high and mighty with tough guy verses, then it becomes a bit like a Pelican or Isis song with tons of cool chillout guitar parts that build up into some really great guitar sounds . It sounds a bit Soundgarden at times, but the layers of sludge finally get pretty thick and heavy. “Pyramid of the Moon” is a bit Alice in Chains at first, but the tough guy verses kick in and then it builds and builds with the shimmering wah and the oriental motifs into a slamming, penetrating druidic OM-like zone-out. “Blind For All To See” starts out with a groovy Om-like wandering bass buildup, then gets into the killer guitar riffs. Well, it goes into one groovy solo, then back to the chorus, before busting out into another groovy solo. Guitar noises and feedback EVERYWHERE!! “The Architect” – at 5:57 the shortest song on the release – is punchy and gets to the point quickly and is quite like a Saint Vitus song. It’s a pretty conventional rock song, but it does have a pretty trippy guitar solo. This song also ends off with a minute of Al Cisneros’ weird snaky bass sounds. It’s followed by “Science of Anger”, the CD’s longest track at 9:25, which starts off a lot like “The Architect” as a Saint Vitus song, but then becomes tantric and grooves on cool stoner moods,
Check out Scott Kelly’s blog about recording Shrinebuilder.
Heaven & Hell, “The Devil You Know” – First song has a great title – “Atom and Evil.” Is it about how nuclear weapons are bad? Can’t be sure, said the spider to the fly. It’s great to hear the band making original music again (Heaven & Hell, by the way, is Black Sabbath as they were with Ronnie James Dio on albums such as “Heaven and Hell”, “The Mob Rules” and “Dehumanizer”, except they’re not allowed to be called like that due to a truce with Ozzy Osbourne over who is allowed to use the name “Black Sabbath”), and you have to wonder if this is what people felt when they got a new Black Sabbath album in the old day (I’m old enough to remember when “Mob Rules” was a new album, with hot new singles, fresh on the radio). Too bad, though, that the release has an album almost as ugly as “Born Again” (also by Black Sabbath, but with Ian Gillan singing).
“Fear” is a raunchy rocker that soars nicely, while “Bible Black” starts off softly, with great Dio vocals grabbing the spotlight, turning quickly into a great rocker (this was also the album’s hit single). The song is long, the solo withering. Amazing to think that he had been in show business for fifty years at that point, but had just more than a year left to live (the album was released April 28, 2009, and Dio died on May 16, 2010, aged 67 years old.
“Double The Pain” is a somewhat corny ole track, while “Rock ‘n’ Roll Angel” is a bit more anthemic. “Turn of the Screw” is noble and gigantic, while also seeming quite poppy. “Eating the Cannibals” is probably the best thing on the album, the band gets real tight and has a lot of fun with great, tight riffs and huge noise. “Follow the Tears” is one of those spooky songs, and is more Ozzy than Black Sabbath, but “Neverwhere” is more Dio-era Black Sabbath, with a real bite of venom, with one of those old Tony Iommi solos (to the extent that you wonder if he bothered to put one on any of the other songs, or if he had a stand-in). Excellent! “Breaking into Heaven” the last song on the last full-length feature album Ronnie James Dio released in his life (until I’m proven wrong) is “”Breaking into Heaven.” Besides being somewhat prophetic, the song is good fun and very slow (finally) and plodding through several riffs and other deas. Great; while it’s not a great closer to a great album, it is nice to hear that the music is still there, and to have a Dio soundtrack for the next ten years. Thank you RJD!
Milk – Great movie with Sean Penn and a bunch of other well-known actors acting as gay ’70s men. Judd Hirsch is in it too, getting away from his Speed Racer thing and a bit closer to his Dogtown thing. Josh Brolin is fantastic as Harvey Milk’s assassin Dan White. It was pretty trippy finding out about the weird world of Anita Bryant and her goofy anti-gay campaigners, but this is what the hate of the 60s and 70s was all about. Great zeitgeist.
Gangs of New York – I watched this film in about five sitting because I kept getting interrupted. It is about Leonardo Dicaprio as the son of Liam Neeson, who confronts Daniel Day Lewis and his gang in a turf war but is slain before his five-year-old eyes. All very Shakespearean, with revenge as the prime motivator throughout. Besides Bill “the Butcher” Cutting and his gang, there are the many other gangs, the criminals, the thieves and stealers, as well as the remnants of the Irish gang Dead Rabbits, with ghouls like Hellcat Maggie and all the rest of the filth and scum that make their living in the wickedest den of scum and villainy. People living sad, fearful lives where even the sex is frightening and traumatic. There are parallels and betrayals and regret and valour, but mostly there is a fearful loss of life, with no honour. What a crazy world. Is it still like this? The most interesting point is when the film ends with the fearsome New York Draft Riots of that year, showing a time when anti-draft sentiment was whipped up and the mobs marched on the house of the mayor, destroying everything, when they looted and raped and lynched, and when they fought against the cannons that the military had to fire on more than just the four dead in Ohio.
The Departed – Another DiCaprio movie directed by Scorsese. This guy has worked with everyone!!! Here he is, working with Mark Wahlberg and Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon to remake the amazing Hong Kong crime drama “Infernal Affairs”, where the mob has a mole in the police and the police has a mole in the mob, played by Dicaprio and Damon. But which is which? Great action and guts, but somehow Dicaprio is sleepwalking through this one, with Damon more convincing as a seedy, sleazy recruit gone bad. The violence builds up and gets labyrinthine, as the two characters close in on each other. Great action, great guesswork, but somehow Dicaprio and Nicholson feel miscast.
Balls of Fury – The trailer was funny, Christopher Walken was in it, why not watch? There’s something funny about a fat ping pong player with outrageous sideburns, which is what Dan Fogler is. There’s something funny about equating ping pong with kung fu, and there’s also something funny about James Hong. Indeed, he’s probably the reason I wanted to watch this film, and I like what he does with those chopsticks he always carries around. He acted circles around Dan Fogler and Maggie Q. But… he’s 81 years old, what can you do? The film is about a young prodigee who loses his father when he loses his first match, then he goes into a long slump and turns up in a Las Vegas ping pong show. He is enlisted by the FBI who want to use him as bait to lure him into a confrontation with Feng, played by Christopher Walken, and bring down his evil empire. Shades of Game of Death. Feng’s island has something for every desire, including sex slaves; unfortunately, they are male sex slaves… ha ha, there’s a couple of jokes there. The film carries on to its ridiculous conclusion. It’s good fun, but not great fun.
Slumdog Millionaire – Somewhat convoluted film that is told in and out of time order roughly at five levels, some levels separated by years, others separated by days, others by hours. The story is about two brothers Jamal and Salim, and their friend Latika, who are played by three teams of actors, roughly aged five, 12 and 21. The film starts when Jamal is thrown into police interrogation, suspected of cheating on a 20,000,000 rupee quiz show. No one can understand how a street kid could get so many questions right, but somehow he does. Through flashback, we understand how he does it. And the police, never having encountered someone so truthful, cannot keep him in the cell any longer. And so he goes back to the TV studios to play the final round.
Of course, the question of luck is a bit like the story of Chance the Gardener in “Being There” – he never did anything other than be himself, and was immensely successful at it – but the story of young people who fought their way out of poverty and bad luck to finally make something of their lives, and to win the support of the population in so doing, is simply a tale that is hard to beat. Some moments of unbelievability – where did these kids learn English, anyway? But it’s a great film.
Star Trek – By now in the Star Trek world everything’s been re-imagined and time-warped and saved and destroyed just so many times that anything can happen. It’s interesting how the new director manages to keep on having the brash Kirk pretty much unable to outshine the creepy Spock, but who would have ever thought that Vulcans could be sexy!!! Eric Bana as a Romulan general bent on revenge has a good blend of corn, and we enjoy the entrance of each familiar player as they come (although maybe Uhuru is just a bit too sassy?). I like the idea of “red matter”, and the mindless violence was really good fun. Zen and I laughed our heads off at Montgomery Scott’s alien sidekick, especially in his last appearance at the end of the movie (”You – get down from there!!!).
The Ghost Writer – Yet another Polanski movie about a hapless do-gooder who wants to do right, but ultimately cannot. Dig the ironic ending!
V for Vendetta – Great dystopian thriller about V and Evey on a one-year revenge- and death-trip. V chilling and cool in his Guy Fawkes mask, his heavy throwing knives, his superhuman fighting ability, his ability to pit his enemies against each other, and his conniving to throw the whole rotten country into anarchy and revolution. What an appropriate message for the mass media! Natalie Portman is not very charismatic in the film, despite getting top billing, with Hugo Weaving enchanting merely throughout the power of his voice and his body language (he’s masked throughout). Great movie, really splendid. I have read the graphic novel, and now want to read it again.
I got back from my mid-year trip to Japan almost two weeks ago, but have been so busy catching up on stuff – work, organising pictures, burning DVDs (3.5 hours in total, over three DVDs), putting CDs into my computer, writing reviews of books and CDs and movies – that I’ve left the blog to last. That’s okay, though, right?
I hardly remember the two weeks before my trip when I was living in the apartment alone; Naoko and Zen went to Japan on May 29th, and I was due to follow on the 12th. I think during those days I read a bit, played guitar a bit, worked a lot (at the company or at home), hung out with friends twice, went to the Prince of Wales twice (once to see a band, once to enjoy the 5th anniversary drink-a-thon), and was just in general quite lonely. And busy. But something interesting happened – my friend Mark invited me to join his band. He asked me to learn a few Bon Jovi songs and get ready for practice. Should be fun.
On June 11th, I worked until 7:00, took a cab home, ate, packed, jumped into another cab and got to the airport. I think the plane left late. We got into the air, they served drinks. I drank and drank and drank, didn’t sleep, tried to watch the Watchmen movie (Q: Who watches the Watchmen? A: I did, and so did millions of other people.) but the sound was fading in and out, it was just unwatchable, so I shut it off after 25 minutes (I watched the rest on the flight home 17 days later). Slept about two hours or less, got to Kansai International Airport in Osaka early (despite taking off late), got through customs, got to the bus stop. Bad news, missed the bus by two minutes; good news, there’s another bus in three minutes; bad news, it’s going to Kobe; good news, Kobe is on the way to Himeji and the bus has seats. Sold. Got on the bus, slept, got out, went to Sannomiya station in Kobe, bought a ticket, went up to the platform, realised I had forgotten my suitcase, went back, got it from the bus stop attendant, headed back up, took the train, watched an ugly girl apply her make-up for 20 minutes as I read a book I wasn’t interested in, got to Himeji, Naoko and Mr Fujino picked me up, I went home and ate and slept. Then around 3:30 in the afternoon I got woken up by an excited seven-year-old shouting “papa, papa, papa.” What happiness to see Zen again. Naoko later told me the story that around 3:30 she was downstairs, then she heard the sound of furiously running footfalls, Zen came tearing in and asked her in a loud voice, “Where’s Papa?!?” So we had our reunion, a great dinner, and some sleep. Saturday, June 13th We went to Yuuta’s sports day to eat a nice picnic lunch and to see him run a bit, then Naoko and I went downtown and Zen went off with his friends while Naoko and I went downtown to hang around. Sunday, June 14th was Zen’s own sports day, so we woke up very early, Naoko and I went off to see him. I took a bunch of video, there was Nanaka running, there was Haruka running, there was Naoko’s chubby brother Masayuki running for his PTA jog (looked painful), and then there was a nice lunch. It was hot and sunny, but not too hot and not too sunny. Once when we were walking, Naoko overheard some girls staring at me and saying to each other “hey, look – it’s Super Mario!!” Do I really look like Super Mario when I’m wearing a baseball cap and my hair is kind of grown out?
After lunch, Zen had some more events, and eventually there was the giant ball roll where the kids passed a big giant ball around their half of the track, and the team that could coordinate their hands best would get the ball into the giant-ball-holder first and they’d win. Yay! So we went home, ate, packed, and went to sleep early for our trip to Hokkaido. Monday, June 15th, we woke up early and were at the bullet train station for our 11-hour journey from Himeji to Hokkaido. We did our first four hours to Tokyo by bullet train, then another four hours or so to Hachinohe by a different bullet train, then onto a local train to go to Hakodate. The train from Hachnohe was something new for us, since we’ve never been to this part of Japan before, and the territory started to look very rural. Zen was reading his Beast Quest books, he was also doing homework:
I was reading the Detroit Metal City comic book, Naoko was reading something or other, we were all napping, or eating, or I was drinking Chu-his. The tunnel from Honshu to Hokkaido was very interesting: the longest tunnel in the world, it is 54.85 kilometers long, of which 23.3 are underwater (and the other 31 are part of the ramp down or ramp up). At its deepest, it is under 140 metres of water and 100 metres of rock, i.e. 240 metres under sea level. There is a station that is part of the tunnel, presumable to help people in case something is blocking both entrances. When we got to Hokkaido, we could see that the territory was very different: the hills there are rounder, the open spaces more open, and the houses more like big shacks on broad ranges of land rather than neat houses on small plots like you’d see in the rest of Japan. The train also ran along the coast for a very long section, something which is not really common in Honshu (the bullet train gets near the sea in Atami and in one other place near Kobe, but it’s never there for long). I took pictures of farm houses, acting as if I’d never seen farmhouses before.
After that long train ride, we finally got out of the train in Hakodate at 7:00 at night. We booked a room in the Toyoku Inn and then walked over. Hakodate is famous for its night view – you take a cable car or bus up to the peak to get a view of the peninsula that Hakodate is on (the peninsula is punctuated by the summit), but that night was cloudy, so we didn’t bother since we figured we’d be unlikely to see anything. Pity, but we’re planning to stay here on our last night in Hokkaido so there would be another opportunity to go up (fingers crossed, hope the visibility is better on Thursday night). Instead of going up, we walked to a sushi carousel place and just ate and ate yummy fresh Hokkaido sushi. Then we walked around the town a bit and saw some of the old port buildings and the silly little streetcar trams. Nice. Went back, drank Chu-hi and slept. Tuesday, June 16th – Since we were up early, we went to see the morning fish market, which is a tourist thing. We were one of the first people there, and it looked really sad and lonely. We watched some Nissei/Sansei American tourists sampling grilled crab, and Zen walked up and grabbed a piece for free (cheeky), and we wandered around there for a while observing the lovely squid swimming around their tank. Then we left Hakodate and went up past Sapporo to Otaru, a town Naoko has wanted to see ever since she watched the Iwai Shunji film “Love Letter” starring her idol, Toyokawa Etsushi. Sheesh. The trip was nice, we passed along some lovely scenery, I got out in the town of Mori to take a picture under the Mori station sign (”mori” means forest, it’s a strange name for a station), we got to Sapporo and during our ten minutes there I took a picture at Sapporo station with a Sapporo beer in my hand, then off we went to Otaru. Nice ride out there, along the southwest coast of Hokkaido (following the Sea of Japan, we’d been following the Strait of Tsugaru and the “Naiura” bay, on the southeast coast of Japan until then), past strange rock formations, and on to lovely little Otaru. The train station was on a hillside, we walked down the hill to find our lunch, in a famous fried chicken place called New Naturo, then further downhill to the dockside area where old warehouses have been converted into special little boutiques. Well, we weren’t interested in the boutiques, so on we went, to another street full of old houses, and then on back to the train station and on another train. Back through Sapporo and then on to Asahikawa. This trip was along flat lands, although we often saw mountains in the distance. Great scenery, great clouds, wonderful sunsets. Got to Asahikawa and tried to get our hotel. There was a convention in town, so we got the last room in town at the Business Hotel Fuji, an old-school kind of place that was a bit run down. The staff were professional and friendly and we had a choice of a Western room or a Japanese room. The Western room was one of the strangest I’ve ever seen in my life – it was jammed with three beds and a big leather sofa so that there was really almost no room to move about (it also smelled funny), so we took the Japanese room, which had the opposite problem – it was too empty! We showered and slept. Wednesday, June 17th we woke up early, had our breakfast, checked out, went to Asahiyama zoo, checked out the seals, polar bears, penguins, lesser pandas, wolves, chimpanzees, orangutans, spastic spider monkeys, swinging gibbons, giraffes, a lonely rhino, lions and tigers and bears, and tons of other cool animals. The best part of the zoo were the seal and penguin habitat, because both of them had water tubes. In the seal habitat, people were in a basement room, and the seals darted through plexiglass tubes that went from the floor to the ceiling; in the penguin habitat, the people walked through underwater glass tunnels that passed through the mid-level of the penguin pool watching the penguins dart in 360 degrees. Trippy. We left there before 2:00, went back to Asahikawa and booked our hotel for the next night at… Toyoku Inn! Still early in the afternoon so we had time for a short excursion; we got on another train and went out to Furano where we could experience a real flower farm. Arriving in Lower Furano, the station guy asked us if we wanted to go to the flower farm, we said yes, and he said that a train was arriving in two minutes that could take us closer to there. We were expecting a 30-minute walk, so that was nice. We had our JR pass, so the train was free, and off we went, 1.5 kilometers down the track to a temporary train station in a fruity tourist train that was full of students – local or on a tour, I’ll never know – and we were deposited neatly just down the road from our farm, an angry sky looking like it would rain upon us at any moment (although it never did). The farm was very pleasant, we just wandered around looking at the just-about-to-bloom lavender (a highlight of a summer visit to Hokkaido and one of the island’s prime drawing points in July), and lots of other groovy flowers whose names I don’t know. A nice farmhouse had been converted into a shop selling dried flowers and other junk, it was attended by well-groomed and earnest young Japanese people in smocks who were attentive and diligent. Off we went to catch out train back to Asahikawa, walking along the Furano streets, observing run-down dormatories and funky off-season mini-ski slopes. Lots of interesting old buildings near Lower Furano station, including one that looked like it was covered with mosquito netting; took lots of pictures, but accidentally dropped my video camera and it busted open. Tragedy! I thought it was broken permanently, but after some fiddling and massaging, I got it working again. Whew! (In the end, I only lost a few seconds of film, I was lucky.) Went back to Asahikawa, observed the lovely sunset, checked into our hotel – the room they gave us was actually decked out for handicapped people so it had extra-wide doors, nice, separate bath and toilet, also the room was bigger. Went out to eat in a Japanese-style eatery, which was okay but a little pricy; I had wanted to eat the grilled lamb that Hokkaido is famous for which they call Genghis Khan (named after the shape of the grill, which is apparently round and pointed like a Mongol warrior hat of Genghis Khan’s time), but neither Naoko nor Zen can take lamb so I had to give up that plan. Too bad. Went back to the hotel, drank Chu-hi, slept. Thursday, June 18th we woke up, ate, showered, went to the train station for another mini-excursion – cycling in Biei, a charming little town on the road to Furano. Rented a bicycle from a kind uncle who recommended a simple but pleasant route. Zen got a kids’ mountain bike with gears, so he learned how to manipulate those for the first time. The weather was perfect – not hot or cold, and brilliantly sunny – and we went through the pleasant town, over the bridge, and up along a tidy road to the top of one hill. Gorgeous, pristine farm fields on one side of the road, farm houses, cafes, grassy lots, barns, and birds chirping like a cliched Bugs Bunny cartoon – the rural Hokkaido soundtrack. Wow. Came down the hill, took a left and investigated another hill, where we saw wheat fields, vegetables growing, and more great views of the nearby hills. Stunning, pristine day. Went back to the train station, returned our bikes, and then headed back to Asahikawa, where Naoko and I took a picture in front of the Simon-and-Garfunkel-are-coming-to-town poster (What? They’re crazy enough to tour after all these years?). Got to Hakodate, went back to our favourite hotel Toyoko Inn (our third night in a Toyoko Inn on this tour), Zen greedily ate a big plate of their free curry dinner, and we quickly went off to Lucky Pierrot to get some food. Lucky Pierrot is a Hakodate-only mini burger chain that is totally decked out in gaudy clown stuff, mirrors, swing seats, and all sorts of other stuff. They played cool old garage rock from the Sixties – while there we heard the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and a bunch of other Nuggets. Naoko ordered the Chinese sweet and sour chicken burger that had been so highly recommended in her guide book (she loved it), and I ordered the Genghis Khan burger, since I hadn’t been able to eat it in Asahikawa. It was smothered in mayonnaise and totally yucky… YUCK!! So I ordered a cheeseburger, it was much better. Zen had gulped down a free dinner at the Toyoko Inn, so he just had french fries (nice). We bought mugs, and then went for a stroll. The evening was even more cloudy than Monday had been, so once again we were out of luck with seeing the night view from the top of the hill (crap – that means we’ll have to come back; no problem, though, I don’t mind since it’s a nice town). Went up the hill, saw a bunch of churches (Evangelical, Catholic, Greek Orthodox), wandered to the old city hall, took in the lovely old buildings in a charming neighbourhood, and enjoyed the evening air and the cool views of the city lights from the hill; then back to the inn to drink Chu-hi and sleep. Friday, June 19th we woke up, had breakfast, went out into the city, took the tram to the end of the line and climbed up the hill; saw the foreigners’ graveyard, went along the roads looking at the old rusted-out houses, saw houses that were Japanese-style, Eastern European (Russian Siberian) style, or a blend of both. Saw Japan’s first concrete electricity pole (?!?!), went back to Lucky Pierrot for an ice cream, then bought some “yakitori bento” from the Hasegawa Store. Although “yakitori” means grilled chicken skewers, this shop serves grilled pork skewers and calls them “yakitori. Pretty funny, we bought a few of those for the train ride later and then went along the harbour area; saw the old European-built red brick warehouses and all the other groovy old houses, then back to the hotel to check out. We went to the fish market again for our donburi: I had an uni-ika donburi, which is a bowl of rice with a layer of sea urchin layered on top and over the left half, and a layer of salmon roe over the other right half. Naoko’s was salmon roe and grilled salmon (sha-ke oyako donburi), and Zen’s was just the salmon roe on top of the rice. Great food. Went to the train station, caught a train, and back we were, going through the tunnel to Honshu. During the trip, we finally ate our Yakitori Bento…
Eventually got down through the Tohoku region to eventually get to Yokohama at around 9:30 at night. Nicole and the kids picked us up, and we chilled out at night at their place; the kids went to sleep – Zen slept over in Evan’s room, the first time he’d done that – and Nicole and Naoko and I chatted and caught up. Ralph came home at 11:30 or so from a business trip to Korea, and we talked a bit more, then off he went to sleep and soon enough so did we. Saturday, June 20th we woke up, ate pancakes, showered, got ready to go out, and off we went by bus to the big Yokohama harbourside park. Walked through the park, discovered yummy “yamamomo” fruits on one of the trees; although they were a bit tart, the ripe ones were really yummy, and while we were doing that we picked up a few fans, some local high school girls who had fallen in love with Lauren. Then we found the big spider monster part of the park and observed the mechanical monstrosity’s movements from a handy overpass. The thing was freaky and enormous.
We went to the red brick warehouses, rang the bells, saw the hundreds of Harleys that someone had put there to try to sell (good luck), and the kids played in one of those “tent-o-plastic-balls” that all kids like to romp around in. Then we took a harbour boat back to the far end of the park where we had started from. It was a beautiful day, and there were lots of beautiful well-dressed trendy Japanese couples on the boat. I guess it’s the dating thing to do for well-dressed trendy people. Ate lunch in Chinatown, then Naoko and Ralph went off to the nearby Yokohama Stadium to sort out our baseball tickets. Went to McDonalds for ice creams, then bought some groceries for the game and went into the stadium. We had good seats behind the batting plate, and the game was quite a good one – the Softbank Hawks were playing the Yokohama Bay Stars, which were – along with our favourite Hanshin Tigers – at the bottom of their division. It was action-packed – there were a dozen home runs throughout the game and the Hawks looked sure to win. We bought lots of drinks and ate stuff we’d brought in and had a great time. Highlights were the half-time show that used the song YMCA, since the nearby YMCA building was within our view, and the sumo wrestlers that we saw wandering around the seating area. It was also amazing to see the garishly-dressed ganguro girls working for a living, hauling heavy boxes full of cold beverages for the fans. Took off at the start of the ninth inning so that we could beat the crowd and get the kids home un-squashed and at a reasonable time. Found our bus, went back home, and Zen and Evan and Lauren were sleeping by 10:30 or so, exhausted. Sunday, June 21st, Father’s Day, we dads were supposed to get breakfast in bed, but we weren’t so keen on that so we got up and had breakfast at the table. The only task of the day, beyond the usual stuff, would be to get in our traditional Yokohama bowling game. Everybody ate and showered and then we headed out. The adults played one set in one lane while the kids played two sets in their own lane that had the gutters covered so that they could actually hit some of the pins. Zen did really well, and I think he won the kids’ second set. We wrapped up and went outside, coming across a temple festival with lots of rough-looking characters milling about, smoking, drinking canned coffee, getting ready for the festivities, which would be sure to go ahead despite the light rain. Went out for a ramen lunch, then they dropped us off at the train station, and off we went back to Himeji. Got there around 8:00 at night, our long journey over. This is the fourth year that we’ve done the JR Pass tour, and every year is just awesome. Monday, June 22nd and Zen went back to school, I met Yuki and Kazuo from the band Love Love and had a nice lunch at a very cool cafe that Yuki works at called Ten, then back home to help Zen with his homework. They told me about a good gig at Bears in Osaka on Thursday night and made plans to go there together. Great! Hung out at Book Off and bought a bunch of CDs (see reviews below) and browsed strange comic books, also rented a big big big bunch of DVDs. Bought another Detroit Metal City comic book for myself to read. Tuesday, June 23rd, had a great lunch with Naoko’s cousins that Mr Fujino paid for, at a lovely Japanese restaurant called Usagi (rabbit). Wonderful stuff. Watched a bunch of DVDs. Wednesday, June 24th I don’t remember what we did, but probably I watched a bunch of movies. Thursday, June 25th I hung out in the morning, then went at 2:00 to meet Yuki and Kazuo and we drove to Osaka. Hung out in Namba’s American Mura for a while, bought a few CDs at Time Bomb Records, met Matt Exile at Triangle Park, headed over to Alchemy Records so that I could buy a copy of Garadama II from Yamazaki Maso (Masonna) who runs the shop for label owner Jojo Hiroshige. Went to THE HUB, a corporate eatery; we mainly went there for the happy hour and the Long Island Ice Teas that Matt had recommended so strongly, and a burger. Good food. We swapped stuff (books, CDs, DVDs) and talked for a while, then headed over to another Book Off so that I could stock up on cheap used Spitz CDs (I’m aiming to round out my collection) and then to Bears. Mingling before the show we met a couple of cool people, and then Masonna himself showed up. I guess he wanted to see one (or more) of the bands. I had my video camera ready and was prepared to shoot 15-20 minutes from each band’s set, usually the first song or two, and maybe something from the finales (no need to record each band from beginning to end). The first band up was Shitayama, they came out blustering and blistering with guitar assult and feedback and lots of energy from the long-haired lead singer. The sound was fun for a while, but got a little bit boring eventually. At the end of the set, the guy jumped onto his drummer’s drum kit. I nearly got it on video, but just missed the crash, only got him when he picked himself up. No problem.
The second band out, Doburoku Kyodai, were much better, three rockin’ bluesy guys with a great lead guitarist, they heated up the place with their song intro, then out came the lead singer, a piece of work – groovy facial hair, extra long locks, leather jacket with sleeve tassles that nearly reached the floor, smoking a cigarette and belching brandy-soaked rotten growling blues vocals. Loud and fun!
Last up was Mondo Diamond, a garage band that played quite a few covers. Great, great fun – the lead guitarist was a skinny old guy with long hair and a big bushy beard, lots of grey hairs, a spangly tuxedo jacket, a nifty-looking guitar, and really great guitar licks. The bass player and vocalist was a sexy lady who looked really good onstage, and the female drummer also wore some sort of silver spangly dress. They kicked out the jams for a while, then the go-go dancers came up. Among the songs they played were a few by the Ventures, nearly unrecognizable, and then the go-go dancers came back with schoolgirl uniforms on and t-shirts that said “big tits” on the front in Japanese; the drummer and guitarist turned their instruments over to the respective guys from Doburoku Kyodai, and they jammed out a bit. My video cassette ran out near the end of their show, so I missed a bit of the action, but I got most of it. Good fun.
After the show, we were waiting around for invitations for the three bands’ post-gig drinking session but Matt, who had to get home on the last train, pulled us away to a 200 yen pub – everything on the menu was 200 yen – and we drank there for a while. The people in the pub had a lot of character – GEOS teachers from the nearby language school, some Japanese salarymen, and a Japanese lady who seemed to want to be everybody’s friend. Had a lot to drink, and Matt was pretty wasted by the end of the evening. Left so that he could catch his late train home, which he nearly missed, then we had a slow walk along the Dotonbori-suji, over the Dotonbori bridge, and back to the car for the long ride home. Got back to the home at 2:30 AM, roughly 1.5 hour before Michael Jackson died.
Friday, June 26th I woke up and heard that Michael Jackson was dead. Didn’t he sleep in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber that was supposed to make him live forever? Wow. Now that the King of Pop is dead, I wonder who will succeed him on the throne? It was Zen’s last day at school, and when he came home we went off immediately to sing some karaoke. Sang a few Michael Jackson songs, an Imawano Kiyoshiro song (since I love his music even more than Michael’s), the Ramones (RIP Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee), and a few others. The system was terrible, though, very bad versions of the songs, but never mind. Zen had a lot of fun trying out his favourite tunes by Arashi and Chibi Maruko-chan, although he certainly needs more practice. Went home, had a “farewell dinner” with all of Zen’s cousins, Naoko’s brother and two sisters-in-law, and we laughed our butts off at some of the crazy performances that the kids put on. Naoko and her brother had a bit too much to drink and were singing Kiyoshiro songs. What a nice night. Saturday, June 27th was our last full day in Himeji. I went for a long bicycle ride since I had basically nothing to do, saw the castle, went to River City, enjoyed the lovely Japanese early-summer Saturday afternoon vibe. At night, Naoko’s mother took us and Zen’s two girl cousins out to a sushi conveyor belt place, that was good fun. Sunday, June 28th we got up before 5:00 so that we could leave the house at 5:50 and be at the bus terminal before 6:20 to catch our bus to the airport. Got there way early for our flight, had over two hours to kill, did some shopping, went in, ate our lunch, got on the flight. I watched the rest of Watchmen, as well as a Japanese film called The Handsome Suit. Got to Singapore at 4:00, cabbed it home, had a couple gin ‘n’ tonics, unpacked, put CDs and video into my computer, answered emails, and started to re-adjust to life in Singapore. Ahhh… Singapore.
At the end of it all, Zen gave a very funny interview of us all:
Sports day in Japan
Our first stop in Hokkaido – sushi in Hakodate!
Who’s that at the front part of that train?
Zen doing his Singapore schoolwork on a train.
Having a Sapporo beer in Sapporo.
Family pic in Sapporo.
Zen’s name in Kanji – Dai Zen (”big zen”)
Zen’s name in Kanji again – Chu Zen (”medium zen”)
New Naruto’s famous fried chicken!
The former Bank of Japan building in Otaru, once at the heart of “the Wall Street of Northern Japan”
Sleep train, part 1
The Asahikawa zoo seal tubes, with a distorted view of Naoko and Zen on the other side of the glass.
The penguin path.
Sleep train, part 2
Trains and flowers
Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt
Simon and Garfunkel, Peter and Naoko.
The famous Lucky Pierrot hamburger joint in Hakodate
“Sorry, we’re closed.”
What is a “Maison Excite Seegull”?
Last meal in Hokkaido – donburi!
Mine was with ikura and uni – salmon roe and sea urchin!
The Hasegawa shop’s famous yakitori… which is actually yakibuta (i.e. the grilled chicken is actually pork!)
Zen with Evan and Lauren in Yokohama.
Motorcycle alley in front of the red brick warehouses.
On the boat.
At the Softbank Hawks vs. Yokohama Bay Stars game (Softbank won)
Kyoto industry and agriculture.
Sleep train, part 3
With Yuki and Kazuo in Himeji.
With Masonna in Osaka
Matt, Kazuo and Yuki in front of Namba Bears
The Bears toilet.
First band of the evening: Yamashita
Mondo Diamond, from Kagawa
Masonna with the Mondo Diamond go go dancers
See ya later, Matt
Hangin’ out on the Dotonbori.
Yay, Naoko and Zen came back from Japan! They had a lovely time there and did lots of stuff. Zen went to the local primary school that his cousins go to and had a great time – he likes his Japanese primary school better than his Singapore primary school it seems (although he likes the Singapore primary school plenty enough). Naoko got to hang out with her family and friends. They took an overnight trip to the Sea of Japan to stay in a hot spring and eat crab. My brother and his family also visited them in Himeji in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Sounds like everyone had a blast. Here are some pictures and videos of the event.
Zen and Lauren and Evan and Haruka and Nanaka playing at Himeji Castle
Zen and Lauren and Evan and Haruka and Nanaka on the swings
Making motchi in a Japanese village
Making motchi in a Japanese home
Zen sings his primary school song
Zen sings the “Happy Life Happy Home” song
There was a monkey at my bus stop today!!!
Zen and Naoko and Jii-san and Baa-san went to Yamanaka Onsen
Having fun in Himeji
“Mountain” climbing in Himeji
Posing in the park
Back in Singapore!
Hey, we just got back from Japan. It was great!!!! Maybe our best trip there so far.
The weeks leading up to the trip were kind of stressful, with lots of stuff going on at work and with the book. My last day of work, I worked until the eve of June 4th, then got myself home. When I finally got home, I was so happy, I plugged in the guitar and cranked some chords, hooted and hollered and laughed out loud. I was going to see Zen and Naoko after 14 days separation – it had felt like an eternity! I had worked, gone out once to see live music once (the UnXpected at Wala Wala in Holland Village – great fun), ate simple meals, spent a lot of time on the internet, played music loud, played guitar loud, watched some rock documentaries, hung out, hung out, tidied, stayed up late, tidied.
But that last night was great. I had a beer, packed, and got myself to the airport, had another beer at the Hard Rock Cafe with the busted Gibson Les Pauls and SGs hanging on the wall (ouch!!), bought “Life of Pi” in the bookshop on the recommendation of my colleague (their last copy – it must have been fate), then jumped onto my night flight to Kansai International. The flight was short – I drank beer part of the way, slept for the rest. Didn’t bother to watch any movies. The flight was really empty, I snagged an Economist easily. They don’t even bother to put those “for the consideration of other passengers…” stickers on the magazines any more, good – that was a waste of stickers.
June 5 – Breezed through customs, got my bags no problem, and out into the general population. Took the bus to Himeji, sleeping much of the way, then Naoko was there at the bus station to pick me up. Got home, saw Zen as he came home from school with his little uniform. That night we had a really fantastic sashimi dinner and drank lots of beer. Wonderful. I felt zingy all day, so happy to be with my family again, so happy to have two weeks of vacation ahead of me.
June 6 – Got up early, took the suitcases, got to the bullet train station, took the train in to Shin Osaka, then on the Ocean Arrow tourist train on and on and on south. The train was full until Wakayama, then all of the college kids that were on the train with us got off and we had it mostly to ourselves. Got to Shirahama, where the station attendants wear Aloha shirts (it’s a beach resort, obviously). Found the tourist bus, that took us to the coast past ugly hotels and big weird rock formations, got out at another coastal area that was full of strange rock formation. Walked to another cliff area, they had Buddhist caves that we didn’t check out. Desolate tourist area, very interesting, it should be much more fun on weekends. Nice to wander around on the sea shore, hang out, catch the warm breeze and sunshine, and forget about work for a while. Took a bus back to the train station, ate a lunch of plum udon noodle soup, which was so-so, and Wakayama ramen. Got on the train, headed to lovely Shin Osaka, transferred to Shin Yokohama, then got on the crowded rush hour train with our suitcases and on to Negishi, where Ralph and Evan and Lauren picked us up. Got home, read the kids a story, Evan and Lauren went to sleep soon after that, Zen stayed up later, then the parents stayed up late talking, and everybody went to sleep. End of Day 1.
June 7 – Woke up, had a long lazy breakfast of Nicole’s famous pancakes, the kids played, after a while we jumped up, went to the train station, and jumped on a train for Hakkone so that we could grab some views of Fuji. When we got there, we found out that there was no chance of a sight of Fuji, it was all clouded over (it’s now the rainy season in Japan), although on the north face the cloud coverage was lighter and it could pop through. Oh well. Went on to Atami, a hot spring resort that I had a strange fascination with having seen it so many times from the bullet train passing through. Going there was almost like a pilgrimage for me, so off we went. Arrived there, soaked our weary feet in the train station hot spring spot, then walked along the streets. Found a convenience store that was offering special prices for Disneyland tickets. Since it was Saitama prefecture, considered “long distance” from Disneyland, they had special passes, and Atami is just into Saitama. Lucky we spotted that,it saved us Y2,500. Walked along the lanes, down the hill, Zen was happily skipping down the slopes, then he took a major spill and scraped up his elbows and knees. Poor kid. Walked along the strange lanes of old buildings, got to the beach and walked around. Zen wanted to go into the water, so we let him wade in for a while as we chilled out on the beach. After a while, left the place and went back the way we came, spotting more strange buildings along the way. Got to the train station area again, had a really fantastic honey-flavoured ice cream. I actually wanted a Chu-hi quite badly, but after getting a taste of Zen’s, I couldn’t think of anything else. It was monstrously yummy, I almost couldn’t believe it. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it. It’s almost worth getting out in Atami just for that ice cream. Headed home after that, got there just in time for a yummy dinner. Chilled out together all evening
June 8 – Got up, hung out, I barely remember what we did this day, but in the afternoon Ralph and Naoko and Zen and Evan and I jumped on the bicycles (Zen on the back of my bike, Evan on his own), and headed off to the Yokohama fishing pier. We passed along the park, with the wide jogging paths and the big old steam engine on display and all of the other funky stuff. Looks like the greatest park in the world, even though it is next to a highway bypass. Ralph pointed out that if the wind blows from another direction and the emissions from the refineries blow over the place it isn’t as nice any more. Got off to the fishing pier 30 minutes later. Ralph got a flat just outside of the place – uh oh… Paid the admission to get in, hung out with the anglers on the metal dock and also on the concrete waterfront. Great, old ladies talking to us about the sardines that they caught and wanted to fry up for dinner (I was talking to one of them in Japanese, her friends were shocked because they thought that their friend knew English… when they saw us communicating they probably didn’t think that the gaijin was capable of Japanese). Ralph took one of the good bikes back home to get the car, we stayed back and played in the park. When Ralph came around later on, we put two of our bikes in the back, I took the last one home manually. Got a bit lost on the way back, had to ask a policeman how I should go. Nice. Had a great barbecue dinner after that, and we all got to sleep early.
June 9 – Headed off to Tokyo early-ish. Got to Shinjuku, walked to the Tokyo government building to take a look at the city. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day, so not much to see. Unfortunately, there were plenty of Chinese tourist buses at the site, with plenty of dudes from rural Guizhou in a hurry to get to the 45th floors. Yuck. But the experience was pleasant enough, even if the view wasn’t. Took some video of Zen dancing in front of Godzilla’s Eye.
Next stop – Shibuya. Got there, checked out the loyal tribute to the loyal doggie Hachiko, watched the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing on a rainy afternoon with a sparse crowd, moved along the street, had a nice ramen lunch in a shop that has been around for 40 years (and it had the pics to prove it). Naoko and Zen went to McDonalds for coffee and ice cream, I went to Japan’s biggest Tower Records shop and bugged the sickly looking counter girl for Boris, Coa, Nagisa Nite, and Boredoms stuff. Found a few hard-to-find Boris CDs and a Boris DVD, then off to see Naoko and Zen again. Zen was so happy to be eating soft ice cream, we went back to the train station, back to Shinjuku, to the train to Mitaka where they have the Ghibli no Mori museum. The bus was full, so we walked along a canal in a fine misting rain, what a nice-looking little township only 14 minutes away from Shinjuku. Found Ghibli no Mori, it was super crowded with Studio Ghibli fans. We got in, saw the animation museum, the furry Neko-bus object, the rooftop robot surrounded by great vegetation, then down to see the robot shops, the book stores, and then the “sequel to Totoro” movie. Turns out that the “neko-bus” was only the tip of the iceberg. I’d rather not say more, but suffice to say that the 15-minute film is at once silly and also mind-blowing. The highlight of the visit for us was the recreation of Miyazaki Hayao’s actual studio (stylized, perhaps), as it perhaps would be in a Miyazaki Hayao film, but with cans full of cigarette butts and walls plastered with sketches of famous Ghibli Studio characters in development, sketchbooks full of story development thingys, as well as wacky artist reference materials. Fascinating developmental materials that seem to be from the actual production of the films, but then again – who knows. Great artists resource materials lined the shelves, including weird ’70s art books with posing people to help artists understand (caricatured) human form and emotion. Got out of there, walked through a sunny park full of happy people going for strolls in the early June afternoon, enjoying the day and happy to be alive. We went along past the open field to a children’s playground, then along the leafy trails and back to the canal route we had been walking along that misty afternoon. Seems that is the river that Dazai Osamu (author of “No Longer Human,” Japan’s existential answer to Dostoevskii and “Notes From The Underground”) used to drown himself in. Mitaka revealed itself even more to be a gorgeous town, and we passed a really funky outdoor sculpture museum that was attached to the zoo. Got to the train station, tried to figure out what would be the best way to go home, then just went back to Shinjuku and then to Yokohama and Negishi. Got back for a decent dinner time, ate dinner with the family, had a fun time, went asleep not too late.
June 10 – Planned to sleep late and get a mid-morning start on Disneyland, but Zen was too excited and woke us up just after 6:00, so an early morning start it was. We went into Tokyo, then took the long hike for Tokyo Station to the platform that heads out to Chiba Disneyland. It must be at least 10 minutes of passageways, stairs and escalators. Got into a train, then headed out. Got to Maihama, and Zen skipped off of the train and rolled along the feeders into the park. He was so happy. Just into the place we saw Minnie Mouse. Walked along Handsome Town Path, hooked a left at Shining Path, got to the Woodland Adventure Trail and all those cool rides. The first one we took was Pirates of the Caribbean, that amazing ride that showed that you could take a theme park attraction, attach Johnny Depp to it, and it would be a box office smash. Zen loves Depp as “Captain Jack Sparrow,” which was good fun, but the ride is bizarre – “a pirate’s life for me,” i.e. being constantly wasted, always luckily dodging bullets and cannon fire, nobody dies of gunshot wounds, leprosy or scurvy. But hey, it’s not as anaesthetic as a Mickey Mouse and still good head-scratching fun (and one of two “isn’t this a bit too satanic for Walt Disney” attractions, the other being The Haunted Mansion – also, we note, recently turned into a film).
We rode on the Safari Boat, the one where the “guide” saved the tour by “shooting” the rampaging hippo (kind of like the Jaws ride at Universal Studios Japan) and off we went. Took the Western Train, then grabbed a Fast Pass for the Big Thunder Mountain ride. Then we went around on a bunch of other rides in the meantime – Peter Pan, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland Haunted Teacups. Great fun. We had just entered the Peter Pan ride when we saw Peter Pan and Captain Hook in costume outside posing with fans. I wanted to get a picture (Peter Hoflich and Peter Pan), but didn’t want to leave the 20-minute queue we’d just joined. Should have – I never ran into him again the rest of the day. After that we were ready for Big Thunder Mountain. Wow!!! Up, down, along, riding in and out of the mountain like some sort of wombat. Screaming our lungs out, and down and out of the place. Naoko waited outside, which was more relaxing for her. The Fast Pass was great – it was a popular ride, but we were in and out of there within 20 minutes (at Tokyo Disneyland you can get one Fast Pass at a time – go to the spot, put your day pass through a ticket machine, and you will get an express ticket that fasttracks you into a special queue at a designated time later on in the day, but you only get one at a time). After we took that one, we got a Fast Pass for Splash Mountain, the log flume ride. We followed that up with a strange little visit to the “It’s A Small World” ride, with alll of its bizzarre attractions and animatronic weirdness.
In the meantime we went on the canoe ride around the Western Land lake, rode the haunted Tea Cups again, then off to eat a lunch in the World of Tomorrow. Space Burgers, set to a nuclear soundtrack of blips and bloops. In the meantime, there was another parade, which I saw while Zen and Naoko used the toilets. All very convenient. After that, off we went to ride the car racing thing, then the space flying thing. As I took some pictures from up there, the ride quickly finished. I wondered why the ride was so short, then an attendant came and told me not to take pics from the ride (I hadn’t seen the warnings, and I certainly didn’t catch them if they were mentioned in Japanese, sorry), then they gave us another few seconds worth of the ride. Afterwards, Zen begged me to ride on the car racing ride again. And when there was done, he wanted to go again with Naoko. Crazy. We went into Kiddyland, investigated Goofy’s crazy inflatable house, as well as the bizarre boat building. Saw the strange Goofy laundry, which was caricuredly and permanently frozen in spin as it moved along in time. Took a low-key kiddy roller coaster, then headed back to our Splash Mountain ride. Got there, navigated the strange, creepy feeder tunnel with people queued up in near-pitch black. Late in the afternoon, anyone entering the normal queue would have to wait 100 minutes (what – nearly two hours!!!). The entry to the ride was a dark, snaking queue, probably a favourite of guys who wanted to get close to their dates. I would think that 100 minutes in that queue would be intolerable otherwise. Our 20 minutes certainly weren’t any fun. Got in, then went up the splash mountain, but didn’t go down it right away. First we had some minutes of indoctrination, we coasted along in some strange dinosaur zone where we got some messages. I’m not sure what the messages were, but they were messages of a sort – these are dinosaurs, this is world peace… After we splashed along a few courses, we got out and headed for the Haunted Mansion. The place didn’t need any Fast Passes, it only had 10 minutes waiting period. I thought it might be okay for Zen – not too scary – since Eddie Murphy had been in the movie. Well, we went along and go throug the maze, then into the scary room with the elongating picture portraits. Then into the barrels, and through the strangely demonic and pointless display of scary monsters. Yes, ghosts are scary. And then…?
After that, we headed off to the haunted tea cups and the merry-go round for another ride. Then we skipped back to take the Mark Twain river boat and see the sun go down. It was good fun, riding along a river course that we had taken at water level in our canoes, but now we were coasting along from a great height. And no crowds. As we got to the end, someone spoke to me “excuse me, are you Peter?” It was someone I knew through work. Wow, what a coincidence that I would be spotted at Disneytland.
We went for yet another ride on the race cars, then off to watch the parade. I couldn’t believe that we had been at Disneyland all day and weren’t even getting worn out. It was nearly 7:30, and we’d been on 18 different rides and attractions, some more than once, and one of them more than twice! The weather had been perfect: just a little cooler and we would have been worn out trying to stay warm, just a little warmer and we would have wilted, but as it was it was perfect t-shirt weather. We sat down for the parade and saw a whack of crazy illuminated blimps pass by – the whole Pixar crew, Pete’s Dragon (?!?!), the regular Disney characters, and of course Beauty and the Beast. When that was finished we went off to find a place for the 8:30 fireworks. As we were wandering around in front of the castle, I heard it again: “Hello Peter.” It was another person from a bank in Singapore!!! Wow, it really is a small world.
The fireworks were cancelled, it seems that it was too windy for fireworks (or maybe the crowd was too sparse to give a show to), so off we went back home. The train wasn’t too crowded, and we want on and on to Tokyo. That big long walk from the end of the train back into the normal train station (it must be over a kilometer of walking underground), and then on a bullet train to Shin Yokohama. Zen was getting sleepy, but we didn’t let him sleep. Finally, in Yokohama he couldn’t hold out any longer. I had to carry him the last 20 minutes of the way. Got home, slept.
June 11 – Our last full day in Yokohama. We slept relatively late, then headed out again. This time, our destination was Karuizawa, which is on the bullet train line into Nagano. Set in the mountains I was expecting some gorgeous scenery, but the trip wasn’t that spectacular. It was more interesting by providing a view of parts of Tokyo I’ve never passed by train. When we got to Karuizawa, it seemed like just another rural train station – Himeji, Aioi, even Banshu Ako. All of the attractions were quite a distance from the train station. We bought a picnic lunch (onigiri, can Chu-hi, bento set) from the local convenience store (not a chain I’d ever heard of before), found the tourist bus to Shiraito waterfall, which I had read about and was supposed to be spectacular. We got on the bus, and found out that the cost of getting there and back was really a lot – over Y4000 for the three of us. Yoiks!!! Decided to carry on, though, and glad we did – the bus ride was spectacular as we headed up the only road in Karuizawa and into the deep verdant green hills. It was a deep jade colour, a full 360 tunnel of green-ness. I’ve never seen anything like it. It must be spectacular in the fall when the colours turn. We passed some guy in his corvette who looked like he was parked in the middle of the road looking at a map, a blonde beauty at his side. Nice. Carried on, got to the place, the waterfall was 100 metres away from the bus stop. Just the walk from the road to the place was stunning, with near-perfect sub-waterfalls, and when we go there it was a slice of heaven. A broad, shallow pool, with a plateau waterfall three metres above it. The water wasn’t coming over the edge of a rock wall, however, it was coming THROUGH the mountain, somehow squeezed through porous rock. I don’t know how it can exist, but it does – above the waterfall is rock and vegetation. I seems like it shouldn’t exist, but there it is. We were there at about 1:30, had our picnic lunch and enjoyed the chirping birds, the breeze, the perfect weather, the sunlit leaves and greenness everywhere. The guy in the convertible caught up to us, and there was a hippy couple there, as well as the obligatory retirees who are always to be seen visiting places of great natural beauty.
We stayed longer than anybody else, but unfortunately even we couldn’t stay long, and we went back to the bus stop for our trip back into town. Got out at the part of Karuizawa that is nicknamed “Karuizawa Ginza,” although the only think it shares with the Tokyo Ginza is that both have shops on it. This looks like your typical small-town shopping alley, albeit with some nice shops. One photography shop was interesting – it has pictures of famous residents of Karuizawa from the past, such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and the Imperial Family, and there were nice bakeries and jam shops. Zen had to rush to the toilet, so we stopped just short of the pasture land. After the toilet, we headed back to the bus stop and on to the train for our return to civilisation. Got to Yokohama at a decent hour and had dinner with the family. I even got to go out to meet a Canadian acquaintance who works for a bank in Japan who I had been in periodic email contact with over work, but had never met face to face. Really really nice guy. And while he may work for a bank, he is an artist – his true love is photography. Had a beer in a very nice cafe downtown that played jazz, then Ralph picked me up and drove me home. Thanks, Ralph.
June 12 – Last day on the road, and it rained in the morning. Nicole took us, along with Lauren and Evan, to Evan’s school. It was his last day of classes before HIS summer vacation. The school was going to have an assembly, but with the rain that was cancelled and the kids just played in the classroom instead, which was a lot of fun for them. The teacher had pulled out a typewriter, which is an ancient piece of technology that nobody had ever seen before. I hadn’t used one for 20 years either. Amazing. Got to meet some mums and dads, many of whom I had heard of or who had heard of me. Nicole drove us to the train station, we got on a train to one place near Hakone, where we met Naoko’s friend Lin for coffee, then off to Nagoya, where we met Naoko’s former colleague Horiike-san for lunch of miso katsu, the exact same restaurant we had eaten at the year before. Went up a big office tower to get the view, then back to Himeji. I was looking forward to being back in the Fujino home and really relaxing – I hadn’t had a chance to do that at all yet.
June 13 – I don’t remember what we did, but this was the start of the “typical” stay in Himeji, where we fell into comfortable living patterns:
- wake up before 7:00 each day for breakfast, see Zen off to school
- drink coffee, read the paper, watch TV, tidy up
- go shopping: groceries, food, CDs, DVD rentals, underwear, socks…
- cycle around the city revisiting places I had been previously only to marvel how they had changed
- have a light lunch
- eat some afternoon snacks
- greet Zen as he comes home
- go out for another bike ride
- drink can Chu-hi from the convenience store
- try to read Marcel Proust
- listen to old CDs that I still have in storage there
- watch DVDs
- play with the kids
- think about dinner
- eat yummy Japanese food, wash it down with beer, have some sochu in the evenings, go to sleep before 11
June 14 – The day of Zen’s sports day. We woke up at a regular time, Zen went off to school with the school kids, about 90 minutes later we went ourselves. I got there first, was greeted by my friend Wassan, who is Naoko’s old classmate from the days when she herself went to Zen’s primary school (Zen is the third generation of Fujinos to attend that school). A great, friendly guy who seemed really happy to see me, always makes me feel like I am part of the village. I watched the opening march, when the band comes out and they play rather severe-sounding tunes and march in step. A bit spooky. Lots of kids activities – a tug of war where kids use a staff instead of a rope. Then it was time for Zen to run his race. Since he’s the tallest kid in the class, he always appears at the back, or is the last to do something. In this video he’s the last heat in his class, and when his heat finished, the first graders all head back to their seats on the sidelines.
After he ran, there were several other events, including the village relay where kids from grades one to six from each of the villages ran against each other. Zen’s cousins were among the runners from his village. They got third, which meant that they could run in the final competition. We then broke for lunch, and everybody headed off to their picnic spots. We had a nice one at the back, and the ladies broke out all of the good food, the guys broke out the beer, and we had a great family time. Lots of adults and kids and babies, moms and dads and uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins. After lunch there was a tug of war between the red team and the white team, and a competition where the red team tries to see how many little plastic balls the kids can pitch together into a big old basket in one minute while the white team does the same. Zen was on the white team, and got lots of chances to sing his “go white team go” song. It is to the tune of the Mickey Mouse song and sounds a bit like this:
There was also a big old dance thingy, and some acrobatic forms, and then a race to see who could roll a big old ball hand by hand around half of the sports field – white team versus red team again. White won again and again – the whole day, they only lost one competition. Around 3:30 we went home. Then there was plenty of resting, recovering, someone sliced up a watermelon, the kids had snacks and refreshments, we all had cool things to drink, and then it was time for dinner. Zen had a lot of energy, and at 9:30 at night he was still so excited and didn’t seem sleepy. But eventually he did drop off and slept.
June 15 – This day was Yuuta’s sports day. We were a bit burned out on sports days, so we went to see him for part of the morning, ate lunch together with his family, then went off to do other things.
June 16 – Weren’t sure what we should do for the day, so we went to climb Mount Mega, the typical hiking mountain in the region. Cycled there, hiked up, took video, took pictures. Great weather, great day, very enjoyable, very friendly, very fun, very pleasant weather.
June 17-20 – Regular days. I watched 10 DVDs.
June 21 – After getting packed, we loaded the suitcases into Naoko’s dad’s car at noon and headed to the airport. Got there really quickly, were among the first to check in, and then went for a snack and a coffee. Did some shopping, then headed through customs. Of course Zen was very happy to see monorails and airplanes, and off we flew to Singapore. The food was okay – economy classes in Singapore Airlines are now served on bigger trays so you’re not always trying to figure out where to put your utensils – but the service not so. I didn’t bother with the stupid inflight entertainment system, preferring to read Charles Bukowsky instead – but Zen tried to watch Horton Hears A Who. While he was watching the sound cut out. His system was reset, which takes 10 minutes, but this didn’t solve the problem either. In the end he had to sit in Naoko’s seat, although he fell asleep anyway. The stewardess initially wasn’t very helpful, but the head stewardess came over and offered to give us new seats, which wasn’t much of a suggestion since they were just other economy class seats (I was hoping for an upgrade). Zen slept most of the way after that, and we landed, got our duty free, got our luggage, got our taxi, got home and found out that both of our surviving fish had lasted two weeks alone, and Zen slept. Naoko slept. And I stayed up late tidying and returning our lives to order.
June 22 – Tidied. Took Zen to swimming lesson.
June 23 – Zen was so sweet tonight. I read a story book to him in English. After that he was supposed to go to sleep, but he asked me if he could read to me from his Japanese book. He read about four pages of the textbook that he used in school in Japan, occasionally testing me on idiomatic terms that I might not have known (and in some cases I didn’t!). Thank you, teacher Zen!
Since we’ve come back from this trip, Zen seems to be much better in social situations. He used to be shy about going to other kids houses to play, and it had been a bit like that on other trips to Japan when he was five and younger. But on this trip he seemed to be able to make lots of friends among the neighbourhood kids, and now that he’s back he’s eager to run out and go to the playground, knock on doors to find kids to play with, things like that. Great.
Zen – “Mama, I’m going to give you one hundred kisses.”
Mama – “Thank you Zen.”
Papa – “And how many kisses are you going to give me?”
Zen – “Seven.”
June 24-27 – Work.
June 28 – We all slept late, a rare thing indeed. Zen and I went for a haircut, buzz buzz buzz. I worked on the DVD stuff, and in the late afternoon we went to Clementi to buy some fish for the fish tank. We got some neon tatra, a kissing fish (not nice-looking, but Zen loves the name), and two silver dollar fish. Wanted to get some of the puffer fish – fugu – but apparently they nibble at small fish and destroy their tails, and then they’re done for. Stayed up late editing my second and third DVD.
June 29 – Zen played with friends a lot in the morning, I took care of dozens of little things I needed to do. Naoko took Zen to the Japanese International School so that Zen could try out the little league softball that they do there on Sunday afternoons. Zen had a great time and tried really hard. Then he had his swimming lesson at 5:00. He’s a strong swimmer, but he sure hates to swim freestyle. I don’t blame him – I’m the same.
Zen went with his cousins to Rokko Ranch
Ready for his first day of school.
Teacher Kawamori introducing Zen to his new classmates.
On the road again!!!
Great view at Shirahama!
Happy on the bus.
Naoko, does a Lebowski. Zen does a Sobcheck.
We three bowlers.
A perfect pink princess bowling ball for Lauren.
Happy to get her fifth strike in a row.
The boys in their jet black steam train.
Zen, Evan, and Lauren group-hugging.
Naoko and Lauren waiting for their barbecue.
Barbecue is served.
In Shibuya with Hachiko.
On the roof of the Ghibli no Mori museum in the Mitaka borough of Tokyo.
Zen with budding hydrangea.
Zen and Naoko’s hydrangea kiss.
On the train to Disneyland.
Waiting for the train in African Queen in Disneyland.
It’s a Small World After All, Chiba style.
Honeymoon in Chiba.
Tweedledum meets Tweedledee. But which is which?
Alice sits on the Cheshire Cat’s ass.
Shiraito no Taki in Karuizawa.
The only butcher/flowershop I’ve ever seen.
Zen meets the Bee-boy.
A little bit of Singapore in Karuizawa.
Pants Ranger Evan!
Pants Ranger Zen!!
Three umbrella kids on a rainy day.
In Nagoya for lunch with Naoko’s former colleague/Peters former Japanese teacher Horiike-san.
Typical train view.
Zen with his class at the sports day.
Naoko and Yaeko.
Yuuta, Kyoko, Shiota and Haruhito.
At the peak of Mount Mega.
Daichi, Peter, Zen.
Zen having a class lunch.
Wow, a few weeks with no update. I need to get crackin’ over the next few days…
Okay – I’ve been back four days. In that time I’ve appeared on TV twice, attended a conference, went to a product launch and its (lame) accompanying evening party at a new night club, wrote a bunch of articles, edited some more, caught up with my colleagues, ripped CDs into my computer, put the pics to the CDs, and all sorts of other tidying up nonsense at home like laundry, cooking, ironing, dishes. Whew. So… what was the trip like?
6 July 2007 – I worked all day on July 5th, got home after midnight, had two beers, packed, slept at 1:30, woke at 4:30 to shower, got in a cab at 6:00, to the airport, check in at 6:45, went for a coffee and watched planes in the bright glorious sunny Changi airport lounge, ate a breakfast that we had brought along, sat on a plane for six hours. Food was good. Watched two episodes of The Simpsons and also the movie 300. Good use of narration. Tired, but couldn’t sleep, so I drank beer. Saw 40 minutes of Ghost Rider before we landed. Got through customer just a minute too late to catch our bus, then had one hour to go to JR, call Himeji, then got on our bus to Himeji. Rode for two hours and 10 minutes, got to Himeji. Odoo-san was supposed to be waiting for us on the other side of the station, so we walked over and saw Yuuta first come running out, and he ran away, and we found the car, got in, rode home. Had a great sashimi dinner, saw many of the relatives and plenty of the kids, including our first look at Shota, Zen’s newest cousin who was born in January, a chubby little bear. I was as happy as a clam all day, since I’d been working long long hours leading up to the trip and had barely seen my family, now here were so many relatives in one place, and so much youth. Went to sleep near midnight.
07 July 2007 – 7!7!7!!! Zen woke us up early, breakfasted and read the Economist, dug out old CDs, the kids came over and played all day. Went to Tower Records by myself and looked for Mushroom info, ate dinner, went out with the kids for a dinner of ramen and gyoza (Odoo-san was out with the boys), went to sleep at 11.
08 July 2007 – Hung out all morning. Zen went to Yuuta’s house in the afternoon, so Naoko and I went to buy clothes and to Book Off, where I got an interesting Spiritualized CD in a funky case, and Naoko bought train magazines so she could research our trip. Went home and finished reading the Economist, watched the kids play, listened to Haruka play “Fur Elise” on the piano over and over again. Amazing – she never takes lessons, just gets a bit of help from Kyoko from time to time. A patient learner.
09 July 2007 – Hung out, tried to go to Tegarai-yama by bicycle with Zen, but it was raining again so we gave up. Ate lunch, afternoon went to see Baa-chan, tried to go see Tegaraiyama again, but there was more rain – read and napped instead. Read more of The New Yorker, found lots of old notebooks, nice. Dug out old photos and reminisced, chilled out in the Fujino’s house watching sumo, drinking sochu, eating good food, enjoying quiet time.
10 July 2007 – Woke up late, rummaged through boxes of old memories, read from the New Yorker – all good articles and stories, but each with a certain over-descriptive New Yorker-ness about it. Went to River City mall, bought a Purarail trian for Zen, and talked to an 86-year-old man about the importance of education. Bought a Satie piano score, met Naoko to buy train route books, electric plug converters, doughnuts, groceries, headed home to eat great tempura, pack, drink shochu.
11 July 2007 (Seven-Eleven day) Woke up at 6:00, got ready, went to the station, on the bullet train to Nagoya, changed to the Nagano line. Ten minutes out of Nagoya, it was already green valleys and rural farmhouses for a while. Took in sights of bamboo gulches spanned by rope bridges, misty rivers and ponds, white water cascades, train tunnels coming out in hidden valleys, before we got back into industrial lands, that eventually also melted away in the rainy hills where nature took over again. Listened to Nagisa Nite noise, thought about Low, made plans for our week away. Even in the countryside we were reminded that we still were in industrial Japan, where there’s always at least one eyesore in the most gogeous of places – a car shelter underneath the flowing branches of a magnificent sakura, for example, or an ugly shed built in the middle of beautiful nowhere. Zen ate voraciously, then fell asleep. Naoko slept too. Got to Matsumoto, went to the tourist info, got a map of the town, walked to the castle, along a river path with ninja frogs, to the castle. There was a fire engine and an ambulance, I suppose some 80-year-old on a bus tour had collapsed. Climbed up the six levels. Zen left his shoes on level two, nice windy view from up top, so I had to retrieve them before we could see the top of the castle, known as the donjon. Nice windy views of the city, abeit from behind chick wire, and the surrounding Japan alps, although most peaks were behind the clouds. Matsumoto castle is a sister castle to Himeji-castle, as it is one of the few original castles in Japan – they were either destroyed in the Meji Restoration or bombed in World War II. Back down, visited the Vienna exhibit, took a trian to Oomachi, got info about a local inn, went two more stations, got picked up by the inn-owner, drove around a lake that was the “setting” of the anime “Onegai Teacher”, then checked into the inn. Nice place – we were the only ones there, so it was quiet. Our room had a remote control for the light switch, my first time seeing such a thing. There were beehives in display cases all over the inn, also quite strange. Relaxed, walked to the lake, ate ramen and gyoza, walked to Lawson, went to see fireflies. The lady from the inn guided us along the night streets, then past the place where we had dinner, under the highway overpass, along a stream until there were no more street lights, then we saw them pop out of the darkness near the stream, around the bushes. Little green lights bobbing around. Some of them flew up high, then lazily fell to earth, before disappearing. Zen was not enchanted, though, he was rather scared. Of all the places we stayed in Japan on this trip, this place was probably the nicest because the people were used to giving “extras” to people who stayed there, such as tours to see the fireflies, drives around the lake, blueberry (or whatever fruit or vegetable is in season) picking. After we got back, we went into the hot spring, Zen’s first. The water was around 42 degrees. Zen was a bit scared – he didn’t go into the water much at all, although I dunked myself right in. After that, we all fell asleep quickly.
12 July, 2007 – Woke up at 5:05, 5:10, 5:20, 5:35, 5:55, and 6:15. Went for a hot spring with Zen, who didn’t go in again. Never mind. Had breakfast, went off for a walk to the lake, admired the hornets nests in the display cases, got a ride to the station. Rode out of Nagano prefecture in a local train with 20 high school boys, many of whom were fat, others who were shrimpy and funny-looking. Most were grinning and joking garishly, sitting on the floor, stretched out on the chairs as if they were beds, playing linked-up TV games, or whatever. One girl got on, she seemed to be interested in these rejects somehow. Fat thugs or skinny geeks, all stupid. Great scenery , though. Got to Minami Otari and we switched to a diesel train, then went along a winding river course that we criss-crossed on old iron bridges. At the final part, there was almost nobody on the train with us. Slowly through tunnels, opened the windows and let the wind blow through our hair before finally getting to Itoigawa, where we saw a nice old three-train shed for the diesels. Took the trains to Naoetsu, one of the most run-down towns I’ve ever been to – no NOVA language school, no convenience stores, no non-local banks, barely any coffee shops, many shuttered shops. Although it will be the origin of the 2008 Taiga drama, the town looked like nobody had touched it in years, and badly needed a sprucing up – even the house that was built on the site of an old villa that Yoshitsune and Benke had once stayed in was overgrown with weeds. I was feeling sluggish the whole time, which was probably from the morning hot spring that I had taken. Got on another train, great seaside scenery for 10 minutes, to go to Niigata town; walked around, saw the famous political candidate Fukushima Mizuho and Yhamamoto Akiko campaigning from a speaker truck. I waved vigourously at them, Fukushima Mizuho nearly toppled over when she waved back to me so enthousiastic was her response. Went to browse in a Tintin Shop (I didn’t know that there now was such a thing), then on a train to Murakami hot spring town. Scary dry salmon hanging in front of the tourist info shop in Murakami, then went by cab to a minshoku with the scary-but-kind obasan running it. Went to a nearby hotel to have a hot spring with a view of crashing waves and angry white water. Zen went into the water of the hot spring this time, so proud of himself. Ate great sashimi, althouth there was maybe a bit too much on the plate – but it sure was cheap. Zen played with toy cars, we talked to the cook and the waitress, watched the night waves crash into the shore. Back to the room and Zen fell asleep quickly.
Seen from the train: a wind-swept old lady trying to take a picture of our train as it passed, a crew of train fans photographing us, a policeman, an island full of white birds, endless nooks and valleys.
13 July, 2007 – Friday the 13th. Woke up at 6:14, went for a walk on the beach, saw a spider building a web, ate a HUGE breakfast, Zen didn’t eat much, couldn’t finish even his c orn, checked out, took a bus, Zen forgot his bag on the bus. We called the bus company from the train station, they helpd us retreive the bag, we got our train on time, yay. Took the 9:26 train, direction: Akita. Sat on the train, got to Akita, got oriented, went to Ito Yokado to buy lunch stuff, then to the park to eat. Watched someone feed pidgeons, ten to the Resort Shirakami, great sceinic line. The train changed directions twice, nice for us because we were on one end of the train. Could stit behind the driver for a while, fantastic, and watched what hthey did. Read a little, filmed a little, ate a little, got to Hirosak, found Super Hotel after getting lost once, checked in, Zen said sweet things like “I want to live in this hotel” and sugh, he got the bunk bed. Naoko was impressed with the boiler/steamer. WEnt to an Izakaya to eat, then to a shamisen bar. Heard 20 minutes of shamisen being played like Jimi Page’s guitar. Zen was saying he was sleepy. Had squid and beer and juice and a spritzer, Y4,500. On the way home, Zen was not sleepy any more but wanted to race me! At the room, he watched Kiki, slept.
14 July 2007 – Woke up, had the crappy free breakfast, walked to the station, caught our train with 30 seconds to spare due to Naoko’s miscalculation (Naoko had misread the schedule, but we ended up on the right train by luck just by being at the station early – one “let’s look in this shop” moment would have done us in). Lucky. Rodt on to Hachinobe, got a bullet train, down to Morioka, took a bus on to the Koiwai farm, saw their streamtrain hotel, watched a sheep dog show. Zen was afraid of the sheepy, because they kept crowding him, but petted the sheep dog. He’s learning a lo\t. Saw a cow, saw horses, rode in a horse cart, milked a cow, ate barbecue beef. Took the bus back to Morioka, bought lunch boxes, went up to the platform, got confused about our train to Tokyo,”Why is it empty? Why are the doors closed?” Before long we realised our train was the full train on the other side of the platform that was nearly ready to leave. Sat down, ate, Naoko and Zen slept through the best scenery on the trip. Stunning views – empty green fields, steppes, snaking rivers and bridges, valleys seen for a few seconds, a single farmhouse set between hundreds of rice paddies. Amazing. Mist settling in. Can’t see the mountains. Got tto Tokyo, Shin Yokohama, and all the lines to get to Negishi. From the platform we could see them drive up in their cool van, Ralph and Even, got downstairs, they drove us to the home, time for drinks and the kids played, went to sleep.
15 July 2007 – Woke up, hung out, ate pancakes that Nicole cooked up. It seemed like the typhoon arrived, so we sought low-key things to do. And so we.. went… bowling! Lauren got a strike, then went to find the okonomiyaki place. It was… closed. So we went across the street to Denny’s, and I was shocked to discover how incredibly delicious Denny’s food was, even if they only had Japanese-style western dishes on the menu. Went back, hung out, had a barbecue in the evening.
16 July 2007 – Woke up, went driving, passed the military town of Yokosama where we spotted frigates and nuclear subs from the bridge. Saw the small beach, the light house, drove to Misaki village on the Miura peninsula. , saw the fish heads, then the nameless festival, then ate a light lunch of really delicious sashimi donburi/ochazuki at Uo-oto, then around the fish market, ate pumpkin pudding, saw jellyfish in the harbour, then drove to the cape where we clamboured over folded layers of volcanic rock to a jutting outcropping where geek hobby fishermen were using their rugged all-weather fishing gear with all the attachments and accessories to throw krill into the water with scoops in the hopes of attracting something. Weird. Waves crashing in, hypnotic. Went to the hilltop shrine, the kids carried a pole as if it were a danjiri, saw the mother and daughter fishing on the pier, the family visit, nice. Then drove to the beach, put our feet in the water, played with the sand, ran from the waves, Lauren posed naked. Went home, kids watched Dekoboko Friends and Superman II.
17 July 2007 – Last day of our JR pass. Went to SHinYkohama, part of the way with Ralph, just missed our 8:53 becasue we chose the slow queue with a trainee train guy. Went to Nagoya, got a train for Tkki, turned back when we knew the connections were so bad we’d only reach Osaka at 11 at night. Had miso katsu lunch in Nagoya (super yummy – I was shocked!!!), then went off to Kyoyto. And we discovered a plan to salvage our nearly-ruined day: we’d go to the steam train museum! Went there on foot, great place – semi-circle steam engine shed with turntable, next to th real train yards, bullet train whizzing by, took a steam train ride, Taiwanese on board, Emperor’s steam train, saw it go back into the sehd, took a bus (with lots of young gaijinn on it) back to Kyoto station, off to Osaka to Aki’s place by subway, then to eat ramen and gyoza, back to Aki’s place to catch Internet TV, Gatchaman, then to sleep.
18 July 2007 – Woke up at 8:00, went to Transportation Science Museum witht Zen, spent two hours and 45 minutes there, then back to Aki’s to eat noodles, then off to meet Matt. Lousy connectoin, was a little late. No more Alchemy Records, no more Tower. Went to King Kong Records, and Time Bomb, where they have an old S.O.A. EP for sale. Then to Slices Cafe. Matt went off to an internet cafe to check some work, I got chu-hi and walked around, saw a live girl-rap Puffy-like performance, Miki Gakki was closed, went with Matt to Tondabayashi, missed a transfer, riode into the countryside for a while, then back, just in time for his class. I sat in the pub for 90 minutes to kill time and wait for him, looking at my new CDs, chatting with the drunken master, his wife showed me her old bills fro around the world, I got an old 100 yen bill, then off to Popeye’s Ramen to meet “the boys,” who were Richard and Oliver, as well as the famous Dave Wesson. Ate good, got Jusco beers, then off to the train station to busk, sing songs (mainly Johnny Cash and the Beatles, but also one part of “War Pigs”), Got to the train just on time, then to bustling Tenji, then back to Aki’s, a ber, then sleep.
19 July 2007 – Woke up, prepared luggate, lugged luggate to JR Osaka, bought tickets, put luggate in storage, off to Universal Studios Japan, met Jason and Yukiko and baby Joe, then inside. Rode Spiderman first – scary but exciting – and all in Japanese. Watched a parade, rode Backdraft (which was more educational than a ride, and had explosions and fire that scared Joe), then Watworld (great fun), Jaws (okay – a bit hammy), lunch at Mel’s Diner, then to Shreck in 4-D (four dimensions sounds corny, of course, but it actually IS four dimensions), and then another parade. Left for home – to JR Osaka ,then to Himeji on a crowded train. Naoko and Zen got a seat quickly and instantly dropped off to sleep, but I had to stand the whole hour – I was exhausted when I got to Osaka. GOt home, date, drank whiskey, slept 10 ours!
20 July 2007 – Woke up, went to Tegaraiyama by bicycle with Zen, but couldn’t see Wassan. Rode down, saw the pool, rode to another temple, back for a delicious reimen lunch, rained all afternoon so I finished Memomirs of a Geisha, relaxed, great yaki niku dinner with tons of vegetables.
21 July 2007 – Last full day in Himeji. Walked in the neighbourhood, played piano Gymnopedie 1, 2, and 3. Hung out, went to Shimamura, went to River City for one hour, looked a guitars and pedals, fun. Dug through boxes, watches sumo, went to A-Coop, had a great family fun dinner with everyone over. Love it.
22 July 2007 – had a sad farewell, but not too early. Masayuki’s family drove me down to the bus, so I could see Naoko and Zen, but also Nanaka and Haruka and the parents, nice. Uneventful bus ride, plane ride, watched three movies that I don’t remember very well because the nice stewardesses kept bringing me beer after beer. Wow. Walked around the airport looking for a toy for Zen that I wanted to get him, couldn’t find it. Got in at midnight, stayed up until 2:30 unpacking and doin all those strange things like checking email.
Zen doing some colouring
Zen and his newest cousin, Shota. Zen’s finally no longer the baby in the family!
Haruka Nanaka Yuuta Zen
Peter and Shota
Zen on the bullet train, with the “bullet train character,” Mr. Hayate.
Naoko Zen train
Castle bookstore in Nagano
Picture of Peter and Naoko taken by Zen
Lake in Nagano
Zen and train(s):
A real tanuki
Zen and Naoko on the shores of the Sea of Japan in Niigata
Our friends, the train drivers
store manequin dressed up by JR to promote the Hirosaki festivals
Naoko and Zen in the bunk bed
Naoko and sheep
The bowling gang:
Fish heads in Misaki
Zen and squid
Ralph Nicole Evan and Lauren and Naoko and Zen
Zen Evan and Lauran
Zen and Evan in the waves
Zen in front of a functioning steam train, wearing conductor’s cap
Zen with a steam train on a turntable
Peter, Naoko and Zen in front of the big Universal Studios world, at Universal Studios Japan
Zen greeted at the gate by Woody Woodpecker’s girlfriend
Checking out the Hello Kitty float
Naoko, Zen, Jason, Yukiko and Jotaro at the Waterworld attraction
Peter, Naoko and Zen flirting with Jaws
Naoko and Zen at Mel’s Drive-In from American Graffiti
Peter with Shota, Yuuta, Nanaka, Haruka and Zen at the Fujino’s house
Father-in-law Hiroshi in front of their house
Zen, Haruka, Nanaka and Yuuta in the family’s mini-pool
Zen wearing a summer kimono
Zen with Nanaka and Haruka
Sunn 0))) : “White 1″ – expanded 2CD edition - This is the CD that has the collaboration with Julian Cope with his ranting on “My Wall,” which is quite spooky as a druidic rant that goes on and on about all sorts of freaked out strangeness, as can be witnessed in the lyrics printed on the slip cover of one of the CDs. Eleven minutes of narration, taken over by a maelstrom of duelling bass noises of distortion and freaked out noise chords. “The Gates of Ballard” is a strange song that starts off with Norwegian folk singing from Runhild Gammelsaeter, Stephen and Greg’s lead singer on their Thors Hammer project, although it changes from spooky Norwegian singing to weird old death metal funk with a drum machine – something very different from the band. Is this a case of an experimental band becoming experimental? Somehow it sounds more formulaic than it should, but maybe that’s the point. “A Shaving of the Horn that Speared You” is a wee bit on the boring side – long groans, tuneless guitar plonkings, on and on for 17 minutes. The second CD in the extended version has a 49-minute live set with the creepy title “the Libations of Samhain,” whatever that means. It starts out with some sounds and a bit of children’s voices, as in some sort of a recording of a choir, and then gets into the regular buzz-saw frequencies of buzz and moan as it builds up to something interesting. It then continues in that vein for another 40 minutes. Lots of groaning and scary voices too, not surprising sincce it was recorded on Hallowe’en (London, 2003).
Sunn 0))) : “White 2 – expanded 3CD edition” - When I was in Time Bomb records in Osaka I found this triple disc release of White 2, had to get it even though I do have my fair share of dense, monumental Sunn 0))) tracks – surely three CDs of Sunn 0))) should be more than anybody would need, but listening to this music does give you a certain sense of the grins, even when it should be irritating, nauseating, headache-inducing or just plain boring. This one comes with the regular three-song release of the album, a 10-track live album, and a two-track mini-CD that has two more live tracks on it, “Funeraeldrone”, and “Funeraelmarch (To The Grave)” on it. Inside the gatefold is a silver-tinted picture of three leopards devournig a gazelle, alongside the 5000year-old Shrimad Bhagavatam, part of the ancient vedas that is one of mankind’s oldest books, chanted with scary noise by the Hungarian former Mayhem vocalist Atitila Csihar. The three CDs are also in paper envelopeps with artwork on it. White 2 starts has three songs. “Hell-0)))-Ween” (which has nothing to do with the band Ween), is impenetrable riffs and noise. “Bass Aliens is weird tweaking and twonking. It is an incredibly dull song, and it goes on for over 23 minutes. “Decay2 [Nihils Maw]” is also incredibly dull, chanting and groaning punctuate the odd gloom. The live CD is called LiveWhite and it starts off with some crowd chatter and a few gloomy notes. The song, “B-Alien Skeleton” may be a version of “bassAliens” from White 2, but you couldn’t tell that any of these live songs appeared on a Sunn 0))) album since every song is so thoroughly dripping in Sunn 0))) that it simply is Sunn 0))). But the opening to this song really sounds a lot like it is played by humans on earthly musical instruments at least, the crowd screams and shouts and hoops, perhaps overcome by the monotony of a 14-minute long stretch of music where nothing happens. Then it picks up… and about 18 minutes into LiveWhite it’s starting to sound droney and doomy. Once we’re 30 minutes into LiveWhite, it’s your usual cord after cord after power cord. This should be monotonous, but it isn’t, actually… With “B-Witch” the suite suddenly gets darker, louder, heavier, with more screaming feedback, thick and layered. The final song, “Bathory, A Tribute To…” is supposed to be a cover of a Venom song, but is really just an experiment in the vein of the Sunn 0))) tradition of playing what is supposed to be a cover of a song… that actually just sounds like Sunn 0))) and not the song itself. Ironically, just as much as anything else it could even be a cover of the song “Black Sabbath” by the band Black Sabbath, the first song on the band’s first album. The two songs on the mini-CD are also part of LiveWhite and are your usual chainsaw buzz distorto-drone acoustic searings, grim as hell and twice as monolithic. It pulses and groans with gorgeous deep bass buzzes that turn hatchet-like pumelling the air with axes of fury. Crazy stuff. Then at the end you hear the music stop, the crowd react, and you know that it was recorded live. The live songs on the mini-CD sound like they continue where the live songs from the other live CD stop, meaning that this was nearly 90 minutes of drone and feedback. Must have worn the crowd out.
Guitar Wolf: “Golden Black” – Well known to be one of the most savage rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time, Japan’s guitar wolf has been doing ‘lock ‘n’ loll’ for 20 years, and this recording has music from 1997 to 2005, the year that the band’s bass player Billy died. Hard to describe their songs other than a sheer blur of guitar and drums with screeched vocals. The energy is incredible, as is the apparent lack of talent as the band embraces a pure ’smash, smash, smash’ attitude. Nearly every song follows in the same vein, but it’s all great biker rock fun. The loudest, fastest, most insane rock ‘n’ roll band ever.
Acid Eaters: “Virulent Fuzz Punk A.C.I.D.” –
Spiritualized: “Let It Come Down” – I didn’t know much about Spiritualized before I bought this CD, except that one of the members had been in Spaceman 3, a band that has a song out there that hypnotizes me. I came across a copy of this CD, with its cool moulded plastic case with a mould of a girl’s face set in it, and really wanted to buy it. The lead singer sounds like the guy from Mudhoney. The lyrics are punny and full of drug references and negativity, but also a good deal of spirutuality of sorts (go figure, from the band’s name). Reading the lyrics, I was very happy to see the name Mimi Parker, from the band Low that I have been listening so much of recently, in the credits. The first two songs are not great, but the third “Don’t Just Do Something”, with the lyric “don’t just do something, sit around insteat” is a kind of Britpop gospel song or something. Great. Wonderful, majestic songs that build and build, often with cool guitar effects, but also a full orchestra. “The Straight and Narrow” sounds like a Leonard Cohen song from “Death of a Lady’s Man,” which was (over)produced by Phil Spector.
Corrupted: “El Mundo Frio” – One song, 72 minutes long. Kind of like Super Roots 5, but with variation and less energy. MUCH less energy. An acoustic intro fades in slowly for the first 11 minutes. Then there are scary slow power riffs. Then at 22 minutes, the sleepy, distorted, hoary lyrics begin. It’s supposed to be Spanish, but it sounds Japanese. Hypnotic, sludgy, heavy, powerful. After tenminutes of lyrics, then ten minutes of mellow Nagist Nite-like instrumental sombreness. Building up, getting louder… and at the 50 minute mark more sombre lyrics. More hard lyrics, then a gradual fade-out. Nice.
Boris with Michio Kurihara: “Rainbow” – Please see My Big Bad Boris Page for a review of this CD.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden – I was a bit sceptical about this book, since I’d read so many wanky books about Japan by Westerners, plus this was Arthur Golden’s first book, not to mention that they’d made a movie about it starring non-Japanese (why would you make a movie about Japanese geishas with a cast of Chinese actresses when there are so many fantastic Japanese actresses our there?). But I had to read it nonetheless. The story was quite amazing, if a bit implausible (a geisha born in the deep countryside? a Japanese girl with blue eyes?). The characters are great, although the description of the skills she had to learn to become a geisha were somehow less developed than his descriptions of the hardship of life in Gion. Some episodes that describe how geisha entertain were good, but the enymity between main character Sayuri and Hatsumomo is neither explained nor properly developed – Hatsumomo is all but forgotten as a character two thirds into the book. The ending of the book is one of the worst I’ve read and it even makes Ransom look like a masterpiece – while book was not as good the ending certainly was a stunner, albeit a pointless one. The last fifty pages of the book could have been deleted. Golden has somehow perfected the airy tone of a flighty geisha, who nonetheless has a poetic elegance, and he does it by writing complex similes. I don’t know how he picked up the knack, but he does it well. I was very impressed initially, until I found it becoming a bit over-wrought. For example, he writes “That startling month made me feel limething like a pet crickes that has at last escaped its wicker cage. For the first time in ages I could go to bed at night believing I might not always draw as little notice in Gion as a drop of tea spilled onto the mats. I stil lhad no understanding of Mameha’s plan, or of how it would lead me to success as a geisha, or whether success as a geisha would ever lead me to him. But every night I lay on my futon with his handkerchief pressed against tmy cheek, reliving again and again my encounter again. I was like a temple bell that resonates long after it has been struck.” Three similes in five sentences, not bad. And typically any chapter would begin this way.
From the Velvets to the Voidoids, by Linyon Heylin – The history of New York music, starting with the Velvet Underground and then skirting around bands like Blondie, the Ramones, the Jerry Harrison bands Modern Lovers and Talking Heads, the Richard Hell bands Neon Boys and Television and the Heartbreakers and the Voidoids, the Peter Laughner bands Rocket To The Tombs and Pere Ubu, Patty Mith, the New York Dolls, the Stooges, and many others. Not dealing with any of these players in a thorough manner, the book comes off feeling a bit scattered, as well as a bit fanboy-esque considering that zines from the era are a main source of quotes and material. The doomed Laughner is given the most thorough coverage, and he comes off as the most thoroughly investigated character, although Hell is also given a pretty decent treatment. Great assortment of old pictures from the day.
300 – Great movie adaptation of a Frank Miller comic book, and very much in the grotesque and over-exagerrated style of other comic book movies like Sin City, also by Miller, and maybe the Matrix. The CG drips from each and every scene, and that is probably the intent – an epic is an epic because it has been epically mythologized and idealized. The heroes are noble and strong, the villains are deformed, merciless and corrupt. Xerxes is a beautiful creature, but speaks with a mildly satanic voice, his harem of ultra-curvaceous beauties un-naturally slutty. Wow! The themes of treachery are gorgeously portrayed, as is the message of democracy and sacrifice.
Meet the Robinsons – Perhaps the strangest movie I’ve seen in a while, about a strange little orphan boy who invents a time travel machine… sorta. Lots of dinosaur fun, and plenty of eccentric characters. Perhaps one too many, in face – it’s not the Addams Family, although it sure tries to be. And it’s not Back To The Future (or maybe that should be Back To The Present), although it sure tries to be. Too bad they didn’t travel back to the ice age and catch that squirrel…
Ghost Rider – This didn’t get good reviews, but how bad can a movie be if it’s starring a guy with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle made of fire? Sure, some argued that Nicholas Cage was miscast in the role, but by now it should be clear that the man who starred in the re-make of The Wicker Man was born to ham up this role. And on top of it all, you get Sam Elliott reprising his role as a cowboy from nearly every movie he’s been in, including the Big Lebowski. I don’t remember how Johnny Blaze beat the bad guys and won back his soul, because I’d had many many beers on the flight at this point, but I’m sure it must have been quite nice.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith - The poster says “smart and sexy.” I would say it is neither. One review I read around the time this book came out was incredulous that Pitt and Jolie could convincingly portray a couple whose relationship had become dreary, pathetic, sexless. Yes, it must be a drag being married to Angelina Jolie (ask Billy Bob Thornton?). And how terrible it would be to call yourself Brad Pitt’s husband (ask…). Either way, I fell asleep before the movie finished, so I don’t know how it ended up, but I figure the real villain must have been Pitt’s geeky friend. The Long Kiss Goodnight was a better movie in a similar vein (of sorts), even if it was made by another failed husband-wife team, Renny Harlin and Geena Davis.