December 31, 2007

Books: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Despite knowing the story and having seen different film interpretations, I hadn't, until now, actually read the original Bram Stoker novel. The novel is a chilling late-Victorian adventure, with the action described in the journals, letters and notes of the main protagonists. The Count Dracula of the novel is a far more scary prospect than any Bela Lugosi or Vincent Price, and Professor Van Helsing, Dr. Seward and co. have to resort to the latest technology of the day (blood transfusions, the emerging field of psychology) as well as more traditional folkloric methods in order to stave off the threat he poses to the people of London. The novel has several layers and the erotic undertones of the vampire, the fear of the unknown in uncertain fin-de-siecle times and the mistrust of immigrants, are all themes that can be explored at length. Alternatively, it can simply be enjoyed as a superb adventure novel.

Festive penguins in Shinjuku

December 23, 2007

Baan Esan in Koenji

Went to nearby Koenji yesterday in the cold rain, and, after mooching around the used CD and zakka shops, went to Baan Essan for some Thai food. This cramped, inexpensive little restaurant is a great place for a night out ~ as long as your group isn't too big. You have to squeeze past other customers to get to your table as it's a long and narrow place ~ if you stand with both arms stretched out, one would be touching the wall and the other would be in the kitchen! You're spoilt for choice on the menu, and have to shout your orders over tinny cha-cha-cha style Thai pop music (an authentic touch). Last night I plumped for glass noodle salad, stir-fried pork and broccoli and garlic fried chicken, washed down with a couple of beers. I'll definitely be coming here again.

December 22, 2007

Books: Millenium People by J.G. Ballard

This novel by J.G. Ballard is a black comedy set in early 21st century Britain. The narrator, David Markham, is a psychologist, whose ex-wife is killed by a terrorist bomb at Heathrow. No group comes forward and so Markham decides to investigate. His search leads him to an exclusive residential community called Chelsea Marina (actually in Fulham) where some of the residents are trying to start a revolution ~ the middle classes have become the new proletariat. In order to find out more about the Heathrow bomb, Markham has to become more involved in the revolt.

Throughout the novel, there are continual references to the meaninglessness of modern times, and the notion that with increased prosperity has come a spiritual/intellectual emptiness. Such serious issues are dealt with in a humourous way, with chapter titles such as 'Bonfire of the Volvos', and a group of demonstrators at a cat show being likened to 'an advancing chorus of an agit-prop musical' chanting "Moggie, moggie, moggie! Out, out, out!"

A thoroughly entertaining novel and a very astute assessment of modern life. Recommended.

December 20, 2007

10 Songs That Floated My Boat This Year

A lot of good music out this year, so difficult to limit my choice to just ten tracks, but these tracks were ones that I would certainly never skip when I has my iPod on shuffle.

Beaten Metal - Antibalas
A.I.E. - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Wind - Sleep Walker feat. Yukimi Nagano
African Rumble - Timo Lassy
Dangerfield - Grimace Federation
100 Days, 100 Nights - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
The Man From Nagpur - quasimode
Irresistible - Sizzla
Seven Nation Army - The Dynamics
Atlantic - Thief


After a great pasta dinner last night we popped in to a cool little jazz bar in Shinjuku for a drink. It seems that Dug has existed in one form or another for 40 years and judging from some of the photos inside, has had some legendary visitors over the years, including the likes of Horace Silver and Max Roach. Last night they were playing a lot of the Count Basie Orchestra, and while big band jazz isn't my favourite, I certainly want to check this place out again some time.

Love On A Sponge!

In Shinjuku there is a large building site where the old Marui shop used to be. While the building work is going on there is a temporary art space with works from young artists. This one is called 'Love On A Sponge'.

December 15, 2007

J.A.M. & quasimode at Unit Daikanyama

After work it was down to Daikanyama for an evening of live jazz at Unit. First up were quasimode, who played a 40-minute set comprising most of their bigger tunes, such as 'The Man From Nagpur', 'Down In The Village' and 'Ipo Amarelo'. In a slightly smaller setting than the Liquid Room, they looked a little less nervous than last month and delivered a solid set that went down well.

Then it was time for the main act, J.A.M., the piano trio from Soil & "Pimp" Sessions. I've seen them play for part of a Soil & "Pimp" gig, but this was the first time to see a full set from them. A few of the tracks were familiar, but there were quite a few new numbers too tonight. As ever, the trio played very tight together and were clearly having a great time up on stage. Josei led on piano, playing with superb dexterity and speed, shaking his head and getting totally lost in the sound, and whilst he doesn't say much on stage, he is most definitely a consumate performer. Akita Goldman strummed away on bass occasionally veering off into interesting solos, and Midorin was a powerhouse on drums. The whole crowd was dancing away throughout the gig as the band turned the heat up with a few funky numbers.

We were in for a real treat with the encore as the full Soil & "Pimp" Sessions band came out to play a blinding brand new track.

I think this perhaps ranks as gig of the year for me and I can't wait for the J.A.M. album to come out next March.

November 30, 2007

We Want More!

Song For My Father - Leon Thomas
A Different View - LTC
Stars - Nostalgia 77 Octet
Fisherman - The Congos
Irresistible - Sizzla
My People - Angie Stone featuring James Ingram

Tropidelico - The Quantic Soul Orchestra
General Confessional - The Electric Prunes
We Want More - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Budos Rising - The Budos Band

Soil & "Pimp" Sessions a Shibuya AX

The stage was enveloped in darkness and then soft lights came on as the band took to the stage. They started the set with "Dawn" and a spectrum of colour appeared behind them while they played, leaving them in silhouette. The song gradually built to its climax and then the black sheet that was hanging down in front of the stage fell and the stage was bathed in light as they launched into "Suffocation". Tonight was the last night of their autumn tour which has seen them take in cities in several European countries and a national tour of Japan, and they were playing to a sellout crowd at Shibuya AX. They were in full throttle, barely letting up the pace for the entire gig, playing songs such as "Pluto", "We Want More" and "マクロけ"/"マシロケ" ("Makuroke"/"Mashiroke") before a funky interlude from J.A.M. and continuing with songs like "The Party", "Summer Goddess" and "Sahara" before reaching a climax with "Slaughter Suite" and "Slaughter Theme". There was a three track encore featuring "Come On Baby", a new song from the soundtrack of a forthcoming film.

A bloody good gig and even at the end of the energy-filled set the audience would have happily watched more. We definitely do want more and will be looking out for their next tour.

November 26, 2007

Hats! - 13

A suede number by the New York Hat Co.

Hand made hair salon flyer

November 18, 2007

Turn It Up

Disposition - Nils Krogh
Time Is Love - quasimode feat. Carmen Lundy
Voices Whisper - Marc de Clive-Lowe
Prayer - The Stance Brothers
Heal The Nation - Jacob Miller
90% Of Me Is You - The Dynamics
Surely - DJ Spinna
Turn It Up - Shuya Okino
Breathe - Pink Floyd
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot

November 12, 2007

Shop sign in Koenji

I'll leave the captions to your imagination ....

November 07, 2007

Quasimode at the Liquid Room in Ebisu

I had been eagerly awaiting this concert for some time, as I hadn't seen Quasimode before but have enjoyed their first two albums. Despite the fact that their second album, 'The Land of Freedom' was released in September, this was billed as a release party. It was certainly a special concert as they had guest appearances from Massa, the sax player from Sleep Walker, and from legendary American jazz singer Carmen Lundy. The four-piece were also backed by a 6-member horn section, so from the posters alone, it was clear that it was something not be missed .

Shuya Okino of Kyoto Jazz Massive was the warm-up DJ, and then the band were on, starting with the intro track 'Catch The Fact' before launching into 'The Man From Nagpur' and their version of Tubby Hayes 'Down In The Village' ~ a superb way to kick off the set. A few songs later they were joined by Massa on sax, who gave a blistering rendition of 'Raw Cotton Field', fingers flying over the keys and pads of his soprano. Next Carmen Lundy was on stage for a couple of songs, with 'Time Is Love' being absolutely outstanding. From there on the band turned up the heat even more, playing some great club jazz, rounding of the set with title track of their latest album, before an encore of 'Oneself-Likeness'.

A superb concert and it seems it was recorded for release as a live album, which will be out next spring.

November 06, 2007

Pottery, gyouza and jazz in Tochigi

It was up at dawn on Sunday and on one of the first trains of the morning to Hamamatsu-cho station to get on a tour bus headed for Tochigi prefecture. The trip would include a visit to Mashiko for the pottery festival and Utsunomiya for the gyouza and jazz festivals.

The bus pulled into Mashiko just after 9:30 and there was three hours to look around the festival stalls, which sounds like a long time, but in fact there were hundreds of stalls and plenty of interesting stuff to see.

A giant pottery tanuki (or raccoon dog), as seen outside many a Japanese eatery. There were hundreds of these on sale in all sizes.

A small pottery sofa at one of the smaller, trendier stalls.
Among the different souvenirs being sold to visitors was this pack of grasshoppers cooked in soy sauce (I think). As tempting as they looked, I decided to pass.

From there, the bus travelled for another hour before arriving in Utsunomiya where we had another three hours to enjoy gyouza (kind of pan-fried dumplings), which the city is fmaous for, and watch some live jazz. There were several areas around the city where gyouza stalls were set up, and after waiting in a long queue, you could get one portion (4 dumplings) for just 100 yen. Great stuff.

There were also four stage areas around the city where there were musicians playing jazz and soul music. The festival has been taking place for ovr 30 years and always features professional and amateut musicians from Tochigi prefecture. It was good fun, though with only three hours before the bus headed back to Tokyo, there wasn't really enough time to do it justice.

November 05, 2007

Skunky funky

La femme d'argent - Air
Life in the country - The Ebonys
1 2 3 4 - John Arnold featuring Paul Randolph
7 Nation Army - The Dynamics
Skunky Funky - Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
Garra - Marcos Valle
Sphinx - indigo jam unit
Take Inventory - The Isley Brothers
Pipe Bag - The Haggis Horns
Summer Rain - Natalie Gardiner

October 26, 2007

The canal at Iidabashi

Being a nice warm day today, lunch at the Canal Cafe was too tempting to resist. Just beyond the boardwalk by the canal side, these birds were preening themselves on the rowboats.

Peko-chan gets spooky

In the ten or so years I have been living in Japan, one big change I have noticed is how Halloween has become a significant commercial event in the calendar ~ regardless of the fact that little is known of the event itself and that most Japanese people only ever have any exposure to it via their English classes. Convenience stores, sweet shops, cake shops and gift shops all now have prominent displays of Halloween goods ~ ranging from pumpkin sweets or cakes to witch costumes. Whether or not Japanese people actually do anything for Halloween other than buy these goods, I don't know, though a lot of bars have been advertising Halloween parties, so maybe this coming weekend will be a scream.

So near, but yet so far ...

On the day that Lewis Hamilton was bidding to become the first British world champion since 1996, this giant ad was hanging outside a bank in Shinjuku. Sadly, last Sunday was not to be the day he was crowned champion, and he must be now reflecting on how he managed to throw his championship lead away. Still, there is always next year ...

October 25, 2007

A crepe at Mme Cirque

Last Sunday was spent window shopping in Shinjukju, and when it was time for a break, Mme Cirque in the basement of Mitsukoshi looked the perfect choice. The staff are all donned in Marcel Marceau style stripy T-shirts and there is a circus tent-like feel to the interior of the cafe. There is a variety of dishes on the menu, but in the middle of an autumn afternoon, the apple and cinnamon crepe seemed the only real choice worth making.

(Oh, and yes, that is a new hat.)

October 16, 2007

Ring My Bell

100 Days, 100 Nights - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Soul Turnaround - Walter Bishop Jr
Thank You - Sleep Walker
Early Summer - Ryo Fukuda Trio
You've Come This Way Before - Nancy Priddy
(A Case Of) Too Much Love Making - Gloria Scott
Ring My Bell - Blood Sisters
Wall Street - Jackie Mittoo
The Witch - The Broken Keys
Take Me With You - Jumbonics

Vietnamese lunch in Yurakucho

Sunday saw me in Yurakucho for work-related reasons, but once I was free, I decided to look around the brand new Yurakucho Itocia shopping complex which opened just last Friday.

It didn't take long to establish that most of the shops were places I wouldn't usually visit, but it was fun to look around nevertheless. In the basement area there were various eateries or food to take home, including Krispy Kreme with its almost obligatory 2-hour plus queue. I found a wine shop where I bought a nice Medoc, which was on promotion, as well as a tasty but pricy chunk of Comte cheese.

After that it was time for a late lunch, and I joined the queue (thankfully just a few minutes unlike the doughnut place) at the Vietnamese restaurant called Banh Xeo Saigon. Banh Xeo is a dish described on the menu as a Vietnamese-style okonomiyaki. In other words, it's a kind of thin crepe cooked with a topping (there are three choices on the menu), which you eat wrapped in a selection of leaf vegetables. I had the pork and shrimp version, which was great. It looked huge, but was remarkably light.

For this food alone, Yurakucho Itocia is worth visiting again.

October 15, 2007

Small Club/Live Venue in Nakano

In the backstreets of Nakano

Saturday evening saw me out in Nakano for some sushi and then a visit to the pub B-Spirits. After a drink or two there I decided to spend some time wandering through the maze of backstreets north of the station that is packed with restaurants and bars. I soon discovered that there were a few streets I'd never seen before, and on tiny alleyway I saw the above defaced Coca Cola sign and the patchwork door to a tiny establishment that looked as if it were derelict, but was, in fact open for business. I didn't, however, venture inside.

October 14, 2007

Hair salon in Nakano

Is this what the customers do once they see what's happened to their hair?

October 12, 2007

October 04, 2007

One year and still going ...

Well, today marks the anniversary of the start of this blog. I didn't have a fixed idea as to how long I'd keep it going, but I'm still enjoying it, and people are still visiting it, so there will be more to come for sure. Here's to the future ...

September 30, 2007


Twice - Little Dragon
Nature - Zeep
Samba Para Dr. B - Les Gammas
Lighthouse - Five Corners Quintet
7th Feeling - indigo jam unit
Budos Rising - The Budos Band
Why Jupiter - The Broken Keys
Doot Dude - Nathan Haines feat Lyrik L
Irresistible - Sizzla
Recurring - Bonobo

September 25, 2007

indigo jam unit @ duo

Monday night was down to Shibuya to see indigo jam unit for the third time this year. After the opening DJ set, indigo jam unit came on for their first set. They opened with some familiar songs from the first two albums, and during 'Scene:Cartain Call', drummer Shimi managed let one drumstick slip from his hand in the middle of the frantic climax, but somehow managed to grab at it and continue without missing a single beat. Then after the first three songs there was the customary 'talk slot' from wisecracking bassist BJ, though I think he needs a couple more gags to slip into the patter before they come back next time.

Following the chat they showcased some new songs from the forthcoming album, which were really impressive, before a guest slot with duo Flexlife performing with the band. This slot was OK, and the vocalist was good, but somehow it was a pity to see indigo jam unit reduced to the role of backing band. Back to the band with some more familiar songs and then it was time for the support set. The lights went down on the stage and from the back of the auditorium there was a boom as percussionist Tsuji Kosuke kicked into action in his own inimitable style.

After Kosuke's set it was back to the main stage as indigo jam unit came back for their second set kicking off with more new tracks followed by a second guest vocal slot (one of the members of Hana Hana). Everyone was out of their seats for the last section featuring 'Ka I Ka', 'Alert' and then '2x2' with its duelling drummers forming the climax of the set. For the encore they played a storming version of the new song 'Sphinx' that brought the house down.

The new album is out at the end of the year and they are back at duo in January and I can't wait for either.

Higanbana viewing in Saitama

Late September in Japan sees the Autumnal Equinox holiday, and this time is also the best season to see higanbana, also known as red spider lilies or equinox lilies. I'm no expert on flowers and can't confess to having noticed this type before, but the posters on the Seibu trains convinced me to go out to Saitama to have a look. About an hour from Ikebukuro station you arrive at a small station called Koma, which was heaving with people. In front of the station there were plenty of food stalls set up selling the usual fare, yaki soba (stir fried noodles), onigiri (rice balls), yaki tori (grilled chicken), beer, tea and so on.

From the station it was roughly a 15 to 20 minute walk to reach the wooded area next to a river where you paid 200 yen to view the higanbana.
It was a warm but cloudy day and the view was pretty spectacular, though rather than strolling through the woods, it was more of a slow shuffle as you waited for the queue to advance.
Much like the hanami season in spring, there was an incredible array of photographic equipment on display as everyone tried to capture the defining shot.

Also, in a field adjacent to the forest, you could enjoy the view of cosmos, or for a small fee pick your own bunch to take home.

A nice relaxing day ahead of an evening of jazz.

September 20, 2007

Bring It Home

Battle Of The Species - Antibalas
Looking After Life On Mars - Isotope 217
Crunch - Chicago AfroBeat Project
Bring It Home - The Bamboos
Start To Move - Elizabath Shepherd Trio
Rigormortis - Lee Morgan
Ching Miau - Yusef Lateef
Dreaming Of One - Trina Broussard
Test - Little Dragon
The War Song - Jon Lucien

September 13, 2007

Barge at Ochanomizu

On the way to work this morning I saw this barge being towed by a tug up the canal near Ochanomizu Station ~ a real throwback to the past.

The plants are taking over ...

This bike has been parked amid the greenery outside this house for months, and doesn't seem to have moved. Given a bit more time, I'm sure the bushes and trees will swallow it.

September 11, 2007

Lucky Day

Sha-bazz - The Rhoda Scott Trio
The Man From Nagpur - quasimode
Outra Vida - Les Gammas
Wonderful World - Grand Union
Forever - Little Dragon
Anaconda - John Arnold
Moonlight - The Politik feat. Blu
Lucky Day - Faith Evans
Tryin' Times - Montreal Black Community Youth Choir
The Smile - David Axelrod

September 08, 2007

Missed opportunity??

Thursday saw a huge typhoon hit the Kanto area and the rain came bucketing down from late afternoon onwards. On my way home, walking up the shoutengai near the station I was amused to find the little shop that sells nothing but umbrellas and plastic macs had a sign up saying 'Closed due to heavy rain'. Could have been a bumper day for business...

September 07, 2007

A trip to Kamakura

For the last weekend of my summer holidays I decided to go on a short trip. Saturday was Yokohama under grey skies, and in the Sunday morning sunshine it was juts a short train journey to Kamakura, the ancient capital, and nowadays famous for its temples and surfing.

The sites in Kamakura are fairly spread out, so I decided to rent a bike for a few hours, which was surprisingly expensive (though I was later to discover that many things were overpriced here). The bike also turned to have a small electric motor to assist on hills, so it was simple to cycle up and down the hills without breakig a sweat.

First stop was Hasedera, a temple with fairly large gardens, a cave and a nice view over the bay. They also had good mango lollies on sale to quench your thirst!

From there it was a short ride to one of Kamakura's most famous sights ~ the Daibutsu (Big Buddha). The temple it was orginally housed in was destroyed in a tsunami centuries ago, and since then he has been sitting serenely outside come rain or shine. It's a pretty impressive sight and for an extra 20 yen you can go inside the bronze statue, which in the summer is pretty much like paying to step into a kiln ~ and of course the interior view is nowhere near as impressive as the outside.

After the crowds at the Daibutsu, it was time for something quieter, which involved a ride back to the centre and out again up a long incline (luckily with the electric motor it was no problem) towards Kamakura Kita station. Nearby there is a small temple called Tokeji (so poorly signposted I almost cycled past), which is located in a lush green garden surrounded by forest. It was very peaceful (cicadas aside) and relaxing, and if the clock hadn't been ticking on the bike rental, I could have happily spent all afternoon sitting in the gardens.

Passing back through the centre there was enough time for a quick stop at Hachimangu, a huge shrine complex that dominates the centre of Kamakura. The main shrine is housed at the top of some steps, though there are several smaller shrines, impressive gardens and lily ponds to take in as well on your trip.

After returning the bikes, it was time for refreshments, though I found that a lot of places were quite over-priced, so not wanting to pay 800 yen for a coffee I plumped for Starbucks. In the one day, I think I only really scratched the surface of Kamakura, though at the same time there is a limit to how many temples you can take in at a time. Good fun all the same.