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 engrish.com

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.

October 13, 2006

Bangkok Eight & Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

These two books are gripping and entertaining crime novels set in the Thai capital (as you can probably guess from their titles!). There have been other crime novels set in the Land of Smiles written by Western writers, notably the Vinny Calvino novels by Christopher G. Moore, but unlike the others, Burdett takes the brave step of making the main protagonist (and first person narrator) of his books a Thai policeman, Sonchai Jittlepeep. This has the effect of adding another layer of exoticism to the stories, as it offers an insider's view of the Thai system and a different way of looking at the world.

Burdett cleverly makes his hero half-Thai, who has spent some of his childhood overseas (his mother was a bar girl who conceived Sonchai with an American servicemen during the Vietnam War, or so we are led to believe), which allows him to display an insight into how the Western mind works, but preferring to find comfort in Buddhist teachings. The question of just how convincing a Thai character Sonchai actually is, though, can only be answered by a Thai, despite Burdett's extensive experience of life in Asia. But, I can say that he manages successfully to paint a very colourful picture of the city.

Both novels contain an interesting cast of characters (Sonchai's mother, Nong, and Colonel Vikorn, the powerful chief of police in Bangkok district 8, to name but two), and the stories turn out to be less whodunnit than 'howsitgointoplayout', though this in no way detracts from the pace, tension or enjoyment of the books.

There is a tendency in places for Sonchai to come across as a little preachy in his criticism of Western perceptions, and he somehow bizarrely assumes that the readers are, by default, Westerners, as some of this criticism is directed towards the reader. This is a fairly fresh and interesting device in the first book, but has less effect in Bangkok Tattoo, as it's no longer a surprise. This is likely to become a little laboured if it is continued too much in any future Sonchai novels. Having said that, I devoured both books and will be eagerly looking out for any further installations.

(Just as a final note, I wonder if it's possible for a Western writer to pen a novel about Thailand without using bar girls, ladyboys and corrupt policemen as the basis of their stories. As any visitor to the country can testify, Thailand has a lot more to offer than just that.)

October 11, 2006

Pictures from Kusatsu

Well, they're here, finally. For some unknown reason I couldn't load them with the Kusatsu post, despite several attempts, but they've loaded here OK. Go figure ...

The top two show the yubatake ~ one shows the channels where the bath salts are cultivated, the other shows the cascade where the rocks have turned a bluish green colour. The third picture shows some onsen tamago (hot spring eggs) being cooked, and finally there's yours truly realxing near yubatake.

Tonight .... the fragment

10 songs I enjoyed on my iPod today

OK. Well yesterday actually ...

Fragment - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Humpty bump (parts 1 & 2) - The Vibrettes
Gator bait - The Gaturs
I'm a believer - Idris Muhammad
I still have time - Burgtof & Saval
Didn't I - Darondo
Walkin talkin Mizell - The Rebirth
Tighten up - The Untouchables
Clock with no hands - The Roots
Get right - The Players

It's that man again

There he is standing outside the bakery at the station exit, occasionally puffing on the cigarette pinched between thumb and forefinger, his head bobbing up and down to the music from his headphones, his foot keeping time to the music no-one else can hear and a slightly crazed grin spreads across his face showing a few gaps in his teeth. His spiky hair is dyed a kind of dirty orange colour and he's wearing an oversized black sweatsuit complete with a big white logo on the front and a small leather pouch is tucked under one arm. He has deep laughter lines and a tan that suggests he spends a lot of his time outside. He is perhaps in his mid-to-late 30s. He seems to be waiting for something, though what exactly is not clear.

A few hours later he might be seen lurking outside a convenience store drinking canned coffee. Or later still he might be seen riding past on his bicycle. Or perhaps unlocking his parked bike, moving it a few metres and locking it up again. If the weather is nice, he'll be wearing a jimbei. Another time you might see him standing across the street from the convenience store watching a couple of young guys chatting in front of their car as if he were summoning up the courage to go and chat to them. Or he will be standing outside the tiny police box next to the station talking to the officer on duty. No matter what time of day it is (from sunrise to the small hours of the morning), you're sure to see him somewhere along the shotengai (shopping street) near where I live. That is until about a month ago, since when I haven't seen him at all.

I wonder what his story is ...

Kusatsu hot spring

As with any vibrant, modern capital city, life in Tokyo can be quite hectic at times, so when a national holiday comes, one thing you often think about is getting out of the city in order to relax or refresh yourself. The problem, though, is that at least a million other people have had the same idea, and you can guarantee that wherever you go, it will be packed, which is exactly what I found this weekend.

Got up early on a bright, beautiful, Sunday autumn morning to get the bus bound for Kusatsu, the hot spring resort. As soon as we hit the highway, it was obvious that we wouldn’t make the scheduled arrival time of 12:45. Good job I had my iPod to keep me entertained. And, as we made our way deeper into Gunma prefecture the skies gradually darkened ~ by the time we eventually drifted into Kusatsu at 4:30 (yes, 4:30!!), it was blowing a gale, raining hard and a chilly 10ÂșC outside.

We were staying in a nice little pension just up the hill a bit from the centre of the town. The weather was so bad on the Sunday evening, that we didn’t really venture out much, but enjoyed the scalding hot baths in the pension and the huge dinner.

Monday the weather was much better and we were able to enjoy the town much more. At the heart of the town is the yubatake (‘hot water field’), a huge spring pumping up thousands of litres of sulphurous hot water. A sign informs us that in 2001 the Ministry of the Environment officially recognised yubatake as one of “100 scenic places known for their peculiar smell” (I’d be curious to find out about the other 99!), and everywhere in the vicinity has the unmistakable odour of boiled eggs.

I wondered, at first, why the hot water ran through the man-made wooden channels before cascading down over some rocks, but later found out that they use the channels to collect a chalky yellowish-white powder which is used and sold as bath salts, called yu no hana.

A short walk took us to the Tsurutaro Kataoka Museum. Not a name I was familiar with, but apparently, Kataoka is well-known comedian and actor who also happens to be a dab hand with the paintbrush. A lot of his works ~ mainly still lifes and landscapes in a distinctly Japanese style (lots of fish, fruit and veg) ~ are on show, and it makes for an enjoyable, if a little over-priced, visit.

Going on from the Museum, there is the Sainokawara Park, with its huge rotemburo (open air bath). As you soak in the water you can take in the relaxing view of the mountain forests around you, though you have to be careful where you sit in the bath, as the area closest to the source is piping hot, and I, for one, couldn’t stay there for more than a minute or so.

The rest of the day was generally relaxing, and at 5 it was time to get on the bus to head back into Tokyo. Again we hit holiday traffic, and arrived two hours later than scheduled. I wouldn’t mind visiting Kusatsu again , but next time I’ll steer clear of the national holidays and perhaps take the train instead!

October 07, 2006

One of those days ...

Woke up to clear blue skies, sunshine and fresh air ~ a great sight in the morning after yesterday's miserable rain. I soon realised, however, that I was too late to put the rubbish out, which means it'll be stinking in the corner of the kitchen until the next collection date.

I had a half day at work today with a later than usual start, and so decided to run a few errands on the way in. I was half-way to my destination when I realised I'd forgotten something I needed for work and so had to head back home to get it. So much for the errands ... Still, I managed to get to work on time. Being there was pretty much a waste of time today, however, as we were way overstaffed on what was a very quiet day. I guess I can count myself lucky that I only had a half day of thumb twiddling. Ran the errands on the way home, and then had a panic when the bus tickets for the planned weekend trip were nowhere to be found. A few phone calls to various places drew blanks. The bus company couldn't re-issue the tickets as there was no proof of purchase, so the only option would be to buy new ones ~ except that particular bus was now full. The only way to go now would be by train (a much more expensive option), having already thrown away 12,000 yen on the bus tickets. Have you ever had days like this?

After all this, it seems as though luck was smiling on me today, though, as on the way to the train station we retraced footsteps from a couple of hours previously, and, lo and behold, the small envelope containing the tickets was lying on the pavement at the entrance to some shops! How it hadn't blown away in the blustery wind, I'll never know, but at least the trip is still on. Hopefully I'll be posting a picture or two in a couple of days.

Japanese food ads

Japan seems to have perfected the art of annoying catchy jingles that drive you mad, and the TV commercials are full of them -- especially for food. Even if you don't have a TV, you can't escape them, however, as they are played incessantly in supermarkets, children sing them, and, if you're not careful, you can find yourself humming the melody to yourself!

Now, not wanting to deprive any readers who don't happen to be in Japan the pleasure of this experience, I have posted some links to clips of some of the better known jingles. They really have to be seen to be believed.

First up is the ad for Hokto Mushrooms, which is accompanied by the cutesy animated mushrooms. In many larger supermarkets, there will be a small TV in the veg section, playing these ads on a constant loop.

Wander further round the supermarket to the fish counter, and you are sure to hear the fish song, the title of which is Osakana Tengoku, which translates as Fish Heaven. The chorus reminds us that we will never grow up to be smart if we don't eat fish, while the verses are lists of fish. Classic stuff.

Now topping those two, the latest hit commercial jingle is for Kewpie cod roe pasta sauce. It sounds like a weird approximation of eastern European gypsy folk music that seems to go on for ever (well, 4 minutes anyway) complete with the funky choreography from two girls wearing cod roe hats.

Which do you find the least annoying?

October 06, 2006

Dog hanger

There's a nice little bakery not far from where I live, and outside
they've provided a place where you can, er, 'hang' your dog.

Say No To Drugs - Anti-Drugs Commercial

Pretty funny.

Wet and miserable

It's really foul out today -- nonstop rain and fairly windy to boot as typhoon 16 passes offshore. Don't particularly want to brave the elements, but work beckons later ... oh well.

Blinding Light by Paul Theroux

One book I’ve found really enjoyable lately is Paul Theroux’s recent novel Blinding Light. We follow the story of writer Slade Steadman, a middle-aged one-hit wonder of a writer, who lives comfortably form the profits of his book, Trespassing (together with money from the spin-off TV series and merchandise), but who has a 20 year bout of writer’s block.

He takes a trip to Ecuador in an attempt to get over this writer’s block, and also as a kind of breaking up trip with his partner, a doctor called Ava. While on the trip to the depths of the rainforest, he discovers a potent drug, a form of datura (or Jimson’s weed) that leaves him temporarily blind, but also gives him a kind of second sight. He manages to secure himself a supply of the drug and smuggle it though customs.

On his return to the US, under the influence of the datura, he dictates episodes from his sexual past to Ava, a willing participant in the experiment, who faithfully transcribes them. The evenings, when the effects of the drug have worn off, are devoted to re-enactments of what has been described that day. Slowly but surely, Steadman’s second book is taking shape, and also the various confessions/fantasies become more daring – almost an inner form of trespassing.

The last section of the book deals with the consequences of his reappearance in the public eye following the publication of his second book.

It’s no surprise to discover that Theroux himself has been on such a drug tour in Ecuador, as the description in this passage of the novel is very rich and lush, and Steadman’s observations of his fellow travellers is as sharp and sour as some of the passages used in Theroux’s own travel writing.

The only criticism I have of the book is that the description of the creative process starts off as very interesting, but perhaps drags on a little too long, and also the conclusion is not as powerful as it could be.

This, however, did not detract from what, for me, was an entertaining read.

October 05, 2006

Near Nakano Station

I love music!
Nakano station

Just me

Feelin' Good

10 songs I enjoyed on my iPod today ...

Feeling free - Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators
Atonement - The Roots
Blow your horn - Quantic feat. Ohmega Watts
Work your soul - Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
Feelin' good - Quantic Soul Orchestra feat. Alice Russell
If you want your man - Julia Dewitt

John Coltrane - Dwight Trible
Apple green - Mother Earth
Little B's poem - Dee Dee Bridgewater
The best way - D'Nell

October 04, 2006


Hello and welcome. This is really my first attempt at a blog, and hopefully I won't get lost for words. The plan is to post stuff that interests me (and hopefully you, the reader[s??] too!), some occasional thoughts and reflections, and other odd tidbits of trivia, together with some pictures.