December 24, 2006

December 22nd: A second reunion

Friday afternoon it was over to Dover to visit the other side of the family -- my mother and sister. They had both visited me in Hiroshima four years ago, so not quite the long lost family reuinion feeling I'd had the day before. They'd both moved since I had last been home, so it was nice seeing where they live now.

In the evening we drove out through the fog to a restaurant called The Abbot's Fireside in the village of Elham for a Christmas meal-cum-family reunion with some aunts and uncles I hadn't seen for absolutely years. The building dates from the 16th century and is well looked after.

We had a wonderful three course meal together with planty of wine. I had mackerel terrine for a starter, sea bass with a coriander sauce and couscous for the main course and panna cotta with a mix berry sauce for dessert.

There was a lot of reminiscing and laughter over the meal and for me it was strange since a lot of the things we were talking about happened a long time ago, but I was somehow taken back and it felt like we were talking about recent events.

December 22nd: Sounds that take you back

Woke early on Friday morning to a sound I hadn't heard for years -- seagulls, which was a sure reminder of being in Folkestone. In Tokyo, the early morning silence is usually broken by crows -- not that I'm awake to hear it that often.

December 21st: Homeward bound

Thursday morning saw me up at 6:00 ith my final preparations for the trip home. Got to Shinjuku nice and early only to discover that the 8:03 Narita Express had been cancelled due to a points failure, and so I had to head to Nippori and then take the Keisei line. Still managed to arrive in plenty of time for check in, however.

Flew wih Virgin Atlantic, and it was a smooth and comfortable flight, despite being sat in front of two guys who went on and on about their Japan (and other travel) experiences for practically the entire flight.

The fog was really thick at Heathrow -- real pea-souper stuff -- so thick in fact that we lost sight of the wing outside. We were informed by the pilot that we would be landing using the automatic landing system, which was a new experience, but it went very smoothly.

Was through baggage claim and immigration in no time, thought I had to remove my glasses at passport control, as I now look nothing like the picture in my passport!

Then it was through to the arrival hall where my father was waiting. After having been away for almost ten years, it was an odd feeling at first, because time had obviously passed, but at the same time it was like picking up again from last time. For me, it was difficult trying to choose what to say, as there is so much catching up to do that I didn't know where to start.

Had a coffee and a chat and then had a leisurely drive down to Folkestone.

December 19, 2006

10 songs that floated my boat this year

Probably the last blog post before I head off to the UK for Christmas. These are, in no particular order, ten of my favourite songs of 2006.

Go ahead float - Dalindeo
Stuck - Peven Everett
Scoop out - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Ipa amarelo - quasimode
Step it up - The Bamboos featuring Alice Russell
Blow your horn - Quantic featuring Ohmega Watts
Scene-Cartain call - indigo jam unit
Lightworks -JDilla
The siren's call - Jazzanova featuring Thief
Ai no tabi - Sleepwalker

A new beginning?

Well, if you believe the English saying, today is when things all start for me. Can't really say I've noticed anything different yet (do you ever though?).

Afternoon sky

Snapped yesterday near my flat.

Hats! - 5

At Pizza Salvatore in Shinjuku.

Kamukura Ramen

This ramen (Chinese noodle) shop in Kabukicho in Shinjuku is unlike any other ramen shop I've been to. To start with, the decor is really trendy, and it's bright and spacious, whereas most ramen shops tend to be much smaller affairs where you have to breathe in to let other customers pass behind you when you're sat at the counter.

The decor isn't the only thing that sets this shop apart, however. The Kamukura chain (apparently it started in Osaka) is known for its unique tasting noodles. The broth they come in is thinner and less oily than in more standard ramen shops, the pork is sliced thinner (which almost makes it melt in your mouth) and rather than bean sprouts, the broth is packed ith Chinese cabbage (hakusai). Delicious!

An evening in Yokohama

Sunday afternoon it was down to Yokohama -- or more specifically the redeveloped port area for the Afrontier club event at Motion Blue in the Akarenga Soko (Red Brick Warehouse).
The main attraction of the event for me was to see Native live, playing songs from their recent new album. The event started at 5p.m., and we arrived at about 5.10 thinking a warm-up DJ would be playing, but in fact Native were already on stage, playing to a half empty club. They were really good however, and the keen jazz dancers in the crowd were impressive to watch too, and it was disappointing that they only played a 50 minute set.

After that the Afrontier DJs were on followed by live performances from Maki Mannami and the Higher Self Ensemble Orchestra and then Isao Osada Club Jazz Session, who were OK but didn't really do it for me. I enjoy music which blends different influences to create a new sound, but sometimes, if you put too many ingredients into the pot, you end up with a stew which is less than the sum of its individual parts.

December 18, 2006

December 15, 2006

In front of a pachinko parlour

Drumming up business before Christmas.

Canal near Iidabashi Station

A bright, warm winter afternoon at Iidabashi.

New pet shop in Nakano

What's your favourite animal?


Went out for a 'bonenkai' (end of year party) on Tuesday and had some really great food and drink at a place called Musubiya in Ochanomizu. The restaurant is quite small and there were twelve of us, so it was quite a squeeze, and coats and jackets were piled up on a vacant seat at the end of the table.

Unbeknown to any of us the pile of coats toppled during the evening and the collar of my jacket came to rest on the top of a spotlight bulb that formed part of the uplighting system. When it was time for me to leave I noticed there was a huge scorch mark on the collar, a couple of inches in diameter. Sadly, it looks like it's 'sayonara' for the jacket, which is a pain as it's barely a year old.

On the bright side, I guess I had been persuaded to stay to have one more for the road, there could have been a fire.

December 14, 2006

Would it be impossible?

Futuristic - Peven Everett
Ipe amarelo - quasimode
It's simple - Visioneers
A taste of honey - Tubby Hayes Quartet
Sun walkers - Jneiro Janel
Frost and fire - Everything But The Girl
Stolen hours - Patricia Holloway
Would it be impossible - The Superimposers
Go ahead, float - Dalindeo
This is the lost generation - The Lost Generation

December 11, 2006

Shop in Nakano

The strange thing is, that's exactly what they sell -- clothes for ladies and dogs.

Odd buskers

This pair had quite a crowd going just across from Studio Alta early Sunday evening. The singer was kind of Marilyn Manson meets My Little Pony, squeaking and wailing away in a high-pitched voice, and occasionally he would jump up and down turning in a circle, first in one direction, then the next, with the front row of the crowd doing the same. Then a policeman came along, ahd a quiet word, and the show was over.

Shinjuku cool cat

Christmas shopping in Shinujku

Went to Shinjuku on Sunday to do battle with thousands of other shoppers and do some Christmas shopping. Had good fun looking at stuff I couldn't afford (nor would dream of buying) as well as stuff I was actually interested in. Managed to get some of the presents I was looking for, though not all, and also managed to find a new hat shop -- CapTain -- so the collection has grown a bit. If I carry on like this, I could become the Imelda Marcos of hats, but I still have a long way to go yet.

Was shopping into the evening, so eating out was on the cards, and I plumped for okonomiyaki at Boteju. It was good to eat okonomiyaki after so many months without it -- good enough to warrant a return visit sometime, but not quite the same as you get in Hiroshima.

Hats! - 4

Enjoying a beer in Boteju.

December 04, 2006


Heritage hum - James Moody
Didn't I - Darondo
Don't know about that - Dirty Diggers
Devil's pie - D'Angelo
Quiet fire - Roy Haynes
Snakehips - Soweto Kinch
First lady - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Bomb in a trumpet factory - Quantic
Surely shorty - Peven Everett
Time - Ju-Par Orchestra

Looking for love

This guy was singing away in a reedy voice on the streets in Shinjuku on Sunday complete with his dirty waving stuffed toy mounted on a tripod. After his song he showed his audience a flipchart where he revealed that he wasn't performing for money, but was hoping to find a girlfriend.

Wonder if it worked ...

December 01, 2006

Soil & "Pimp" Sessions at the Liquid Room

Thursday night. Finished work at 7.30 and hotfooted down to the metro, hoping to get across town from Kudanshita to Ebisu before 8.00. Luck was on my side with the trains and I was able to get to the Liquid Room, grab a drink at the bar and find a fairly good place in the crowd just in time for the gig to start.

This was the last night of the Soil & "Pimp" Sessions autumn tour and the venue was packed to the rafters with an eager crowd. It was the fourth time I'd been to see them, but the first time in Tokyo.

Shortly after 8.00, the introductory theme came blasting over the speakers, and a couple of minutes later, Josei, Akita Goldman and Midorin (aka J.A.M.) made their way on stage to rapturous applause. The trio kicked off the set with a blistering cover of 'Quiet fire', which was to set the tone for the whole evening.

They were then joined by the rest of the band and things stepped up a gear as they launched into 'Suffocation' followed by 'Memai'. The band were equally as hyped up as the crowd, the atmosphere totally electric and you could tell that it was going to be a good night even at this early stage. Compared to the gigs I'd seen in Hiroshima (which were great), this was at another level altogether. Shacho was agitating to the max, encouraging the crowd during the riffs and solos and rousing us with his banter between songs.

They played a selection of favourites old and new, but as with any band that has built a good repertoire of tracks, you're always left wishing that one particular song had made its way on to the set list that night.

As is tradition, the set built to a climax with their thrash jazz anthem, with the crowd chanting "Soil!" at full voice.

The gig drew to a close and it was time to shuffle off home, adrenaline still pumping, really hot despite the cold air outside, ears ringing, but still wantig more.

Roll on February and the new EP and more concerts.

November 28, 2006

All that matters

Tar baby - Venus Brown
Fort Green Jazzmatazz - Brooklyn Soul Boys
The hop - Radio Citizen feat. Bajka
Sophisticated & coarse (Everyday thoughts) -Ty
Monterey Jack - Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
Above the clouds - Paul Weller
破片(Splinter) - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Beyond the border - Native
Solifer-lento - Dalindeo
All that matters - Gerald Levert [R.I.P.]

November 21, 2006

A rainy day in Kawagoe

I was in the mood to go out and do something last Sunday, so depsite the cold miserable weather, I decided to visit Kawagoe again, to see what the place has to offer when it isn't packed with festival goers.

Got there early afternoon and hopped on the loop bus to Kitain Temple, the origins of which are said to date back over a millenium. Part of the temple serves as a museum, housed in buildings which used to be part of Edo castle, but were moved to Kawagoe in the 17th century. The buildings show a typical old style Japanese interior which is impressive, though padding around in your socks on a day like Sunday was freezing.

The surrounding gardens are beautiful, and at this time of the year the trees were beginning to show their autumnal colours, and some areas had beautiful rock formations. In another part of the temple grounds are the 500 statues of Rakan, which are supposed to represent the disciples of Buddha, no two of which are alike.
As interesting as they were, it was by now too cold to linger, so it was back on the loop bus and off to Kasiyayokocho (Candy Street), crammed with tiny shops selling old style Japanese snacks and sweets. From there, a casual walk down the street that hosts the fetsival led back to the station, and, after a warm coffee, it was time to head back to Tokyo.
Interesting place. Mental note: try going again when it isn't raining hard.

November 20, 2006

Hats! - 3

Complete with autumnal backdrop in Kawagoe.

Straying away

La foto proibite di une signora per bene - Ennio Morricone
Stray away - The Rebirth
Circular motion - Nuspirit Helsinki
Do it - Alice Russell featuring Unforescene
Can't believe I loved her - Peven Everett
Mira pa ca - Chango
Sahara - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Birds - Radio Citizen
Slowly surely - Jill Scott
Dance (Flyin' home) - Shelley Nicole's BlaKbushe

November 14, 2006

Jazz funk in Shibuya

Monday night saw me down in Shibuya to see a concert billed as a Jazz Funk Expo 2006, featuring The Boston Horns from, well, Boston, and The Baker Brothers from that funk stronghold otherwise known as Bournemouth.

The Baker Brothers were on first, with their own inimitable hard-punching funk. There was plenty of clowning around on stage as they played (almost Ealing comedy), and they were clearly enjoying every moment of it. Vanessa Freeman guested on vocals for some of the tracks (as she does on their latest album), adding some more soul and depth to their sound. They worked the crowd brilliantly, and seemed to have a few friends there too, which really helped the atmosphere.

After a short break, The Boston Horns were on, playing some very slick, tight funk. They have been around for twenty years or so, but this was their first trip to Japan, so they were there with their cameras taking snaps of the crowd! I also got the feeling that they probably usually play to an older crowd back in the States, as they seemed a little unsure of the Club Quattro crowd at first. They soon got into their groove though, and they got better and better throughout the set. The first encore was really funky interpretation of 'Crosstown Traffic', and then The Baker Brothers were invited back on stage for an extended jam encore.

Enormous fun, and at almost three and a half hours, superb value for money. My ears are still ringing this morning.

November 13, 2006

Life's little pleasures

I (somewhat unusually since coming to Japan) have a huge box of potatoes to use, so for the last few days, spuds have been on the menu instead of rice or pasta. Made Shepherd's Pie yesterday for the first time in years, and it was great. A very simple dish, a standard of British home cooking, it really hits the spot. I have a feeling it won't be years til I make it again.

Hats! - 2

Had this one for quite a while, but wore it yesterday for the first time in a couple of months.

November 11, 2006

Galerie Coupe-Chou

Friday evening I met up with a couple of former students from Hiroshima for an "SCB Tokyo Branch Party" (which is meaningless to all but those in the know). I was surprised that Akiko was in Tokyo, since the last time we had spoken, she was preparing to move to Hawaii. I did, however, know that Atsuko was in Tokyo, but hadn't got round to meeting her since I moved here.

We met up at Shinjuku station and headed to a cosy little French restaurant that Atsuko had reserved, which was tucked away on a little backstreet. It's one of those places that you need to know about, as you're not going to stumble across it by accident.

We had an enjoyable evening catching up on news and savouring the delicious food. Definitely need to have another SCB party and also need to visit this restaurant again.

November 09, 2006

Livin' in a new world

Black is ... - Fertile Ground
Questions - Jesse Sharpe Quintet
Too high - Yesterdays New Quintet
Lightworks - J Dilla
Livin' in a new world - The Roots
This is the lost generation - The Lost Generation
I don't need this trouble - Alice Russell (feat. Natural Self)
Bong fury - Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
Your love is mine - The New Mastersounds (feat. Corinne Bailey Rae)
Autumn song - Incognito

November 06, 2006

You know it's autumn in Japan ...

... when you hear the van selling baked sweet potatoes. They have speakers and a tape of someone singing/yodelling 'yakimo-o-o-o-o!' You'll hear the vans from later October/early November through til about March.

I wonder what they do the rest of the year.

Busy doin' nothing

Bit of a lazy day today as I was up til silly o'clock watching Spurs on TV. Well worth it, as they beat Chelsea 2-1 -- the first victory over them in the league for 16 years!! Great result. Result for me though is feeling pretty lethargic and sleepy now.

Wall in Nakano

Decor on the outside of a bar in Nakano.

November 05, 2006

Sunday in Kichijoji

Got on the Chuo line and headed to Kichijoji in western Tokyo after lunch. It's always busy at weekends, but is somehow more laidback than other areas. Briefly went into Inokashira Park -- watching families in the swan boats whilst eating cinnamon and pumpkin ice cream. Was hoping to see autumn leaves in their splendour, but the wrong mix of trees I think. Will have to go further afield for that I guess. Spent the rest of the time mooching round zakka and clothes shops -- always good fun. Picked up a case of wine at Enoteca for a reasonable price, which will see me well in to the New Year. They always have a good selection and buying the selection of the month case means you can get some great wines at a huge discount. Getting hungry early evening, so had some tempura (for the first time in ages) before heading back home.

October 30, 2006

Tell the story right

Would you believe in me - Jon Lucien
How do you really feel (Cut Chemist Atkins Edit) - Breakestra
Mirror, mirror on the wolf (Tell the story right) - Alice Russell
Throwing shadows on the wall - Shawn Lee
The sweetest girl - Scritti Politti
Faith - Amp Fiddler
Coco-e - Joe Bataan
Stuck - Peven Everett
Ella Weez - Leroy Hutson
Spental - The Baker Brothers

Hats! - 1

First in an occasional series of pictures. Had to get this snapped from the side so that the design can be seen.

Sunday in Shinjuku

Did battle with the Sunday crowds to go window shopping in Shinjuku. Not looking for anything in particular -- just wanted to go out. I did pick up a new hat though -- the collection is growing! Took refuge in Barbara Portable for a while to recharge the batteries -- ginger and honey tea, together with soy milk pudding and Soil & "Pimp" Sessions blaring from the stereo.

October 27, 2006

In Japan pigs go 'boo'

Had dinner here in this tiny (it only seats 8!) little restaurant the other night, and it was great. It specialises in pork cutlets with different toppings, and you get loads for your money. I had the Tokyo Miso Pork Cutlet Donburi, which was delicious. The interior is decorated with lots of cute pictures and models of pigs ~ almost as if the owners want to send you on a guilt trip!

October 24, 2006

Plans for the holidays

Well, it's still a couple of months away, but I've made my plans for the end of year holidays ~ I'll be heading back to the UK for a few days. So what? you might think, but this will, in fact, be the first time I've set foot there since 1997 (which was only really a transit stop)!! The last real time I spent there was the summer of '96, when the latest pop sensations were the Spice Girls, Tim Henman was the future of British tennis and Tony Blair was looking forward to contesting his first election as Labour leader. Oh yeah, and Dover Athletic were what now seems like the giddy heights on the Conference. How times have changed ... wonder what it'll be like ...

October 23, 2006

Soul village

Here (Intro) - Nicolay
Tante Nelly - Joe Haider Trio
Soul village - Walter Bishop Jr's 4th Cycle
Peculiar times - Shawn Lee
Runnin' - Visioneers
Scoop out - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Make a baby - Vikter Duplaix
A woman like me - Spanky Wilson & The Quantic Soul Orchestra
Soft soul - Afro Soul Review
Rizla - Glen Scott

The rapping optician

Take the east exit of Shinjuku station and you will see the shop Megane Super across the road in front of you. At the weekends, outside the shop, you can see one of the sales staff drawing a crowd as he raps about the products and services available inside. He's not decked out in any fashionable gear, just his regular sales staff clothes, which makes him look like a Japanese salary man on a karaoke night who just happens to have been beamed down outside the shop. He looks he's having fun though. Apparently he's attracted enough attention to have been featured on TV.

I didn't have my camera with me yesterday, but I did manage to dig up the following link at YouTube, where you can see him in action:

October 19, 2006

Indian summer

Autumn is here, but no one seems to have told the weather people -- late October and it's still in the high 20s with sunshine and blue skies. Much better that than chilly winds and grey skies, but this balmy weather does leave you with a fashion dilemma. It's too late in the year to wear Hawaiian shirts and the like, but you certainly don't need a jacket in the metropolis yet, and even a long sleeved shirt leaves you in a sweat -- until you step into the office, where the AC is still set to freeze dry. Of course, me having said this now will probably trigger the start of winter, and I'll be back here moaning about that instead ...

October 17, 2006

slight change

I've switched over to the beta version of Blogger, which will mean that some of the formatting has changed slightly. Hopefully it'll make things easier to read and sort.

I can now sort my posts into labels, so if you are mainly interested in reading about my travels, you can click on that label to get all the relevant posts, and if you are really fascinated by the songs I've been listening to (and I just know you are, .... hehehe) , you can chose that label.

If you have any suggestions to make viewing even easier, drop me a line.

Wow, forgot how good that was...

10 songs I've enjoyed on my iPod of late:

Do me - Jean Knight
Listen love - United Future Organization
I'm the one to blame - John Holt
Winding dance - Marco Di Marco featuring Nathan Haines
Our lives are shaped by what we love - Odyssey
Stoned out of my mind - Maryann Farra and Satin Soul
The sidewinder - Lee Morgan
Words and poets - Mr Spock
I can't believe I loved her - Peven Everett
Vitamin C - Can

October 16, 2006

Spotted ... in Kawagoe

Japan has lots of examples of strangely named products, shops or weird English slogans, a large selection of which can be seen at

Occasionally I will post here some of the things that I spot.

Today's post ...

Not sure I'd want to use this tailor ...

No. 1

(in an occasional and irregular series dependent on me finding such stuff, remembering to take a snap and then being bothered to post it here)

October 15, 2006

Kawagoe Matsuri

Take the Seibu Shinjuku line for from Tokyo for about an hour and you get to Kawagoe City in Saitama, also dubbed Koedo (or little 'Edo'), since it has a lot of Edo period buildings. Every year in October is the Kawagoe Matsuri (festival), which apparently been happening since the seventeenth century, and is one of the three biggest festivals in the Kanto region. I decided to go along on Sunday to see what it's like.

As with any festival in Japan, the streets are lined with hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of food and drink. During the course of the day I had some takoyaki, raw Thai spring rolls, some yakitori and a bowl of noodles ... oh and a rather nice plastic cup of Australian Shiraz. For some reason there seemed to be an inordinate number of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki stalls, despite being some way away from Hiroshima. Mind you, there were quite a few Thai noodle stalls and Turkish kebab stalls too, so maybe it wasn't so odd after all.

The main attractions of the festival are the lavishly decorated tall floats complete with a band of musicians playing taiko drums, wooden whistles and other tinny percussion (I'm sure these instruments have proper names ~ but I don't have a clue) and dancers dressed in various different masks representing people or animals such as foxes, boars and the like. The floats are pulled up and down the streets by rope in a kind of procession. I loved the masks, which are fairly amusing, though a couple are quite eerie too.

During the afternoon it's a fairly sedate affair, but once the sun sets the temperature heats up, and the festival enters its next phase. By now everyone's pretty sozzled (try going to a Japanese festival where this doesn't happen!), and the evening is the time for the floats to face off against each other. They rumble through the crowd and when they encounter another float they turn and face each other and then a kind if battle ensues, where the musicians try to outplay each other, the dancers outdo each other and the float supporters (carrying paper lanterns) out shout each other. The battle continues for some minutes and then the two floats go off in different directions in search of another face off, clattering through the streets at fairly high speeds given the mass of people.

The crowds surge in to watch the face offs and add to the cacophony and everything is done in very high spirits, though I was amazed that the crush didn't turn into a stampede and people weren't trampled under foot.

Feeling fairly hot despite the cool autumn evening, toes throbbing where they'd been trodden on, the sounds of the festival music going round in my head, and on a full stomach, I made my way back through the masses to the station.