July 31, 2007

Par Avion

Soild Air - John Martyn
I Must Confess - Everything But The Girl
Bossa Tres Bien - Quartette Tres Bien
Oneself-likeness - Quasimode
Par Avion - Marco Di Marco Trio

1974 - Jukka Eskola
Colours of Sea - Joe Haider
The Suspension Bridge at Iguaza Falls - Tortoise
Radio - Our Theory featuring Erik Truffaz
Are You Ready? - Aloe Blacc

Hyakannon Kentoue

Sunday evening in Nakano-ku and I was at another very different kind of festival-type of event. Unlike many other festivals which have food and beer stalls nearby, this was a much more sombre and sober, though equally enjoyable event. A temple in the neighbourhood has a garden with over a hundred statues of deities. Usually this garden is closed and you can only view the statues from outside, but every year, for this event, the garden is opened and you can wander around and look at your leisure.
Priests from the temple performed some kind of ritual in front of the largest of the statues and people queued to take part, though I'm not entirely sure what it was all about.
Normally, according to the signs, you aren't supposed to take pictures of the statues, but since everybody else was, I decided to follow suit.
For 500 yen (proceeds to Unicef) you could buy a candle and place it near a statue of your choosing, so that as night falls, the garden becomes bathed in candle light.

Outside the garden in the shade of some enormous trees, there was also a performance by an Indonesian-style gamelan orchestra, together with dance. Their soothing, exotic sounds together with the backdrop of the garden of deities among the trees made it easy to forget that I was actually in the centre of Tokyo.

Less than ten minutes after the end of the performance, the heavens opened and there was a huge storm, sadly extinguishing all the candles in the garden, and everyone ran for cover.

Kagurazaka Matsuri

Late July in Japan is matsuri (festival season) and numerous places around the country have their own festival centred around a local community, temple or shrine. Coming out of work on Saturday I caught part of the Kagurazaka matsuri. The narrow street was packed with people watching the dancers perform awa-odori (I think) and slowly make their way up the slope towards the large shrine (the name of which escapes me right now). The first part of the dance parade featured children from local elementary schools, and later it was the turn of the older dancers. I only stopped by for a short time, but it as with many other festivals, it was an enjoyable experience.

July 29, 2007

Books: Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

The Fourth Bear is the second hilarious installment in Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime series. We rejoin DCI Jack Spratt (who never eats fat) and his side-kick Mary Mary in the Nursery Crime Division at Reading Police Headquarters. In this latest adventure, Spratt and his team are looking into the disappearance of newspaper reporter Henrietta 'Goldilocks' Hatchett, a hard-working journalist (fussy in a not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft kind of way) who was looking into a story about giant cucumber contests at the time she went missing. Add to the mix psychotic murderer Gingerbread Man, who has escaped a high security institution, curious goings-on at the soon-to-be-opened theme park SommeWorld and a missing eccentric nuclear scientist and you have all the ingredients for a hilarious and very clever mystery. Fforde's puns and references to various nursery rhyme characters (Persons of Dubious Reality) come thick and fast, and this together with the occasional situation where both Spratt and Mary are aware that they are characters in a novel makes this book a good, fun read. Highly recommended, along with its predecessor, The Big Over Easy.

July 21, 2007

Behind The Blue Curtains

Ignition Heads - Sleepwalker
Melancholy - Alvinn Pall Sextet
Behind The Blue Curtains - El Michels Affair
Kryptonite Smokes The Red Line - Isotope 217
Made In Japan - Super˜Stars
Del Fuego - Fat Freddys Drop

Cuba Libre - Jazz Quintet '60
Universal Four - Timo Lassy
Dangerfield - Grimace Federation
Listen Love - United Future Organization

Books: Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

Following the success of Out, the latest book by prize-winning crime novelist Natsuo Kirino to be translated into English is Grotesque. The story centres around the murder of two prostitutes in Tokyo – Yuriko, who worked in the trade since her teens, and Kazue, who had held down an office job by day, but moonlighted on the streets at night. The novel is not really a ‘whodunit’, but more a ‘howdiditallhappen’.
The story is told by an unnamed narrator, who is the bitter older sister of Yuriko and ex-classmate of Kazue. With her narrative interspersed with diary entries of both victims, the reader gets to see the story from different angles as well as an insight into the main characters’ minds. We see the background to the main characters and their striving for success while at an exclusive all-girls school in Tokyo, and then, some twenty or so years later, we see how the lives of the women developed. Kirino doesn’t just tell a good crime story – she also offers some social comment in her novels (in this book the ultra-competitive world of the Japanese school system comes under attack) as well as addressing some of the main issues of modern life, such as the felling of the need for success and acceptance in society .

One thing that bugged me about the book, however, was the poor editing in the translation. On a couple of occasions there are examples of poor English (just when do way say ‘take a leave’ to refer to time off work?), and there are also hints that the translator had run out of ideas for translating a certain phrase and so instead resorts to repetition (‘horn in on’ someone’s business crops up several times in short succession, which was noticeable since it’s not that common a phrase). However, this is not to take away from what is a compelling story. As you might imagine from the title, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading ~
it’s not full of violence, but it is incredibly disturbing to see how the main characters head towards their tragic fate.

July 16, 2007

Election campaigning in Shinjuku

With Upper House elections taking place on July 29th, the politicians are now out in full force on the campaign trail, and in front of many stations around the country you can see politicians on top on minibuses giving speeches to the passersby. Like Britain, Japan has its share of novelty candidates, and celebrities such as professional wrestlers have taken seats in parliament in previous elections.
This guy, who, it seems, goes by the name of Mac Akasaka, and looking somewhat like a camp daytime TV aerobics instructor of years gone by, was campaigning and dancing in front of Shinjuku station on Sunday.

Street art in Nakano

The James Brown mural I snapped in Nakano a few months back is no longer, and has been replaced by this image.

July 11, 2007

Music is Ruling My Life

Start to move - Elizabeth Shepherd Trio
Ugetsu - Jabberloop
African Rumble - Timo Lassy
Disposition - Nils Krogh
Dangerfield - Grimace Federation
Light Up My Life - Spacek
Music is Ruling My Life - Kutiman
Go Je Je - Antibalas
Gimme Yaya - Kokolo
Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth - 24-Carat Black

Cafe near Shinjuku Station

A yawn a minute ... or your money back.

Street sounds

This band, by the name of Re-Trick, were laying down some pretty heavy jazz-funk grooves last Sunday afternoon outside the south exit of Shinjuku Station and drawing a reasonable crowd.

The days of the wandering troubadour with a battered acoustic guitar seem to have passed. These days a large number of Tokyo buskers have amplified sound and sell their own CDs.

July 07, 2007

Y-shirt shop

When in Kanda you can get your Y-shirts from this guy with a dodgy skinhead. Not sure why they're called Y-shirts exactly, but to people outside Japan they're simply shirts ~ the more formal work variety. T-shirts get their name from their shape, but for the same to be true of Y-shirts, you'd have to wander around with your hands in the air all the time.