February 28, 2008

Hinamatsuri display

March 3rd is Hinamatsuri, also known as the Dolls' Festival or Girls' Day, and, from mid-February onwards people in Japan put out a traditional display of dolls like this one in a shop space in the Nakano area. I don't know that much about the festival, but as far as I know, the display is supposed to represent the imperial court of centuries gone by, with the Emperor and Empress at the top. I think (though I could well be wrong) that displaying the dolls is supposed to ward off bad luck and bring good health to the girls of a family.

February 25, 2008

Lilac skies

Late Sunday afternoon. The latest in what, unintentionally, has become a series of sky shots.

February 24, 2008

J.A.M. at Apple Store, Ginza

Following a bit of fortuitous net-surfing I found what I was going to do with myself on Saturday night, and after work I was out the door and off to Ginza and the bright lights and ultra chic shops. On the third floor of the Apple Store is a theatre space which, judging from the flyers, is normally used for product promotion events and seminars. Last night, however, there was an event of a different kind, as J.A.M. were playing a live set as a promotional event for the "Jazzy Joint" EP that was recently released on iTunes Japan (and ahead of their debut album out in just under two weeks) to a lucky select audience of about 80-100 people.

The lights went down at 7 p.m. and on screen was the promotional video for the lead track 'Jazzy Joint' featuring Jose James on vocals. After that the band came on and played a 50 minute or so set with their usual passion and verve. No matter how many times I see J.A.M. (or Soil & "Pimp" Sessions) they never fail to impress me ~ their musicianship and energy is simply a wonder to watch. And tonight being in a tiny venue there was the added benefit of seeing them very close up as they played.

The set was closed out with a storming version of "Quiet Passion" and the went off to rapturous applause before a mellower track for the encore. A superb way to spend the evening, made even better by the fact that it was an on-the-spot decision.

Just counting down the album release now ...

Quiet Passion

Love - Jose James
The Sour - Peder
Just Four - Native
Marriage Is A State Of Vibes - Dave Hamilton
Carla's Beat - Diesler feat Katie Miller
Let's Straighten It Out - Gwen McCrae
Across The Atlantic - The Budos Band
African Battle - Brownout
Chester's Tongue - The Baker Brothers
Quiet Passion (live version) - J.A.M.

February 19, 2008

Early Blossoms in Shiba Koen

Books: Into The Wild by John Krakauer

With "Into The Wild", fresh-air fiend John Krakauer recounts the true story of Chris McCandless, a young idealist who, in 1992, set off into the Alaskan wilderness equipped with just a small backpack and a ten-pound bag of rice. Sadly his trip ended tragically and this book invetsigates his last years and tries to explain what led this upper middle class youth to cut all ties with his family and opt for a life on the road going by the name of Alex Supertramp. McCandless had an idealistic outlook inspired by the works of Jack London, Thoreau and Tolstoy, though there are some who suggest he was more of a naive fool than a modern day king of the road. Krakauer, however, paints a very sympathetic portrait of Chris/Alex and seems to feel some kind of kinship with him. The narrative of the main protagonist's last years are interspersed with anecdotes of other similar tragic tales, including a near-fatal adventure undertaken by the author.

I'll be curious to catch Sean Penn's film version of the book when it hits Japanese shores, as I've heard it's had good reviews.

A truly absorbing and moving book for anyone who has a sense of adventure and a love of life.

Moon in the afternoon

The view from my window on Monday afternoon.

February 18, 2008

Late afternoon sky

Shop sign in Nakano Broadway

A state-of-the-art shopping mall about 40 years ago, Nakano Broadway is now a shopping centre that could be called geek heaven. Visit the second or third floors and you will be surrounded by shops selling manga, cult books, plastic figures, costumes and so on. I usually go there to visit the CD shop Recomints and nearby is a book shop that has the above sign outside.

February 17, 2008

Do you dare go in?

Bar near Koenji Station

Native & Shima and Shikou Duo live at Tower Records Shinjuku

Friday night saw me hot footing down to Tower Records in Shinjuku after work to catch a free in-store gig. First on were Shima & Shikou Duo, a trumpet and piano combo playing jazz-influenced tunes. They opened with their version of Dizzy Gillespie's 'Night in Tunisia' , and played a couple of other selections from their album 'Road To The Deep North', which were very enjoyable.
After a very short break it was time for Native to take the stage and play three tracks to promote their new album. Frontman Tomoyoshi Nakamura got to display his talents on flute, alto and soprano sax over the course of the short set. They started with 'Mirage' and also played 'The Edge of Daylight' before closing with the title track. A great little gig, especially since it was free, and I'm certainly looking forward to the album release party gig in March.

Learning To Fly

Spirits Up Above - Jose James
Dark Days - Fat Freddys Drop

Is That Enough - Marvin Gaye
King Charles - The Budos Band
Ritual - Nico Gomez & His Afro Percussion Inc
Learning To Fly - Andrea Sabatini Quintet
The Edge Of Daylight - Native
Songs Without Words - Dan Ecclestone Band
Tsui To - indigo jam unit
Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love - Odyssey

February 13, 2008

Hakone - Day 2 - POLA Museum of Art

One of the best attractions at Hakone has to be the POLA Museum of Art. Housed in a wonderfully-designed building, the POLA Museum has one of the largest private collections of Western art in Japan. It opened in 2002 and at the moment they are running a special exhibition to commemorate the 5th anniversary ~ Monet and French Landscape. It was an impressive exhibition with several works by Monet including some of his water lily paintings, a view of Rouen Cathedral and also the Houses of Parliament in London. Other well-known painters with works on display were Cezanne, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Sisley and Rousseau. A very enjoyable way to spend the morning.
Of course the POLA has the obligatory museum shop with postcards, posters and so on, which all generate a lot of income for artists or their estates (Vettriano is said to do very well from such royalties). One thing that did catch my eye though were the artist rag dolls. There was a kindly looking grandfather type with a big white beard, obviously Monet, and a black haired women with big earrings, headscarf and big colourful skirt for Frida Kahlo. My personal favourite, however, was the angry-looking flame-haired man with a detachable ear! Had it been cheaper than 3000 yen, I would have been tempted by the sheer kitschiness of it.

Hakone - Day 1

Standing by the lake
Not only was Hakone full of Japanese people geting away for the long weekend, there were also plenty of Chinese tourists taking New Year breaks

Hakone - Day 1

A weekend with a national holiday tacked on is the perfect excuse to get away, and this weekend just gone, I decided to see Hakone in winter. It was a beautiful day on Sunday and, following Saturday's snowfall, there was a nice blanket of white over the countryside.

First stop on this trip was Hakone Shrine next to Lake Ashi. Shrouded in trees, the shrine is invisible from afar save the huge tori on the on the lakeside, but makes a nice spot to visit even if you don't have any prayers to offer up to the deities.

A short bus ride away is the Hakone Checkpoint. This is an attraction and museum on the site of what was an old check point in the Edo period, monitoring people travelling to and from Edo (now Tokyo). The building that stands now is a replica of the old site, and it seems there is nothing of the original building still standing. As an attraction I personally felt it was a disappointment and that the plaster of Paris horse models in the stables together with sound effects tapes were unnecessary.

From there it was lunch and then back round to the port and across the lake on the pirate ship (again) and again with clear skies, there was an amazing view of Mount Fuji.

February 11, 2008

Twin Star, Blue Sky

Bird in Shiba Koen

There was a time, long ago when I was at primary school, when I could probably tell you what type of bird this was. I had an RSPB book of birds (which I think I got by saving peanut butter labels) that I spent hours poring over, though I eventually lost interest. Last week when I saw this walking through Shiba Koen its colour caught my eye, but that was about all.

February 08, 2008

Books: The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy

Part of the LA Quartet, The Big Nowhere is set in Los Angeles in 1950 ~ a world of Hollywood sleaze, corrupt police, influential gangsters and the communist purges. Against this backdrop wee have a young cop hoping to make his name cracking a series of gay killings; a member of the D.A.'s office trying to climb the ladder on the red purge; and an ex-cop-cum now working as pimp to Howard Hughes who will take on any kind of work for a fast buck. The three are drawn together in a web of deceit and corruption as they each pursue their goals.

However this is more than just a straightforward crime novel. It is a masterful recreation of an era gone by with an insightful look at the society of the day. The characterisation is superb and Ellroy has a good grasp of the period vernacular, meaning that it is easy to lose yourself in the pages. Totally unputdownable.

February 05, 2008

Yasukuni Shrine

I took advantage of the clear skies to wander over to Yasukuni Shrine today, which is a short walk from Iidabashi station. Somewhat like the Cenotaph in London, it is a shrine to soldiers who have died in action for their country. One noticeable difference is that since twelve prominent war criminals are enshrined here, it is probably the most controversial shrine in the whole of Japan, and as a result it occasionally makes the news nationally and internationally.
The grounds of the shrine are fairly extensive and the buildings are extremely well-cared for, making it an impressive sight, though the replica fighter plane and howitzer in the lobby of the attached museum seem incongruous and are an eerie reminder of the purpose of the shrine. I didn't have time to visit the museum, but I've been told that the explanations with the exhibits add an interesting spin to historical events and that there are some glaring omissions of certain events that remain contentious to this day.

This Is Dedicated To ...

Weldon - Timo Lassy
Park Bench People - Jose James
This Is Dedicated To - Wale Oyejide
A Taste Of Honey - Tubby Hayes Quartet
Blowing Tune - Super*Stars
Afro Texas - Letta Mbulu
Stars - Nostalgia 77 Octet
Going Down For The Last Time - Ronnie Keaton

Million Faces - Contemporary Noise Quintet
Anna's Song - Marvin Gaye

February 01, 2008

Books: A History of the World In Six Glasses by Tom Standage

Tom Standage's very original book takes a look at six of the world's most popular drinks ~ beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca Cola ~ and traces their origins as well as looking at the political and economic impact they had on different eras of human history, going from the Mesopotamian era to the modern day.
The book is very readable and the author tells the story of each drink concisely but succinctly, illustrating just how profoundly important each drink has been at different stages of human history. We find out how the social and scientific advances made in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries were down to coffee and that the British Empire was largely shaped by tea. There is also an explanation offered for something I've long wondered about when it comes to tea ~ namely why the Chinese and Japanese are predominantly green tea drinkers, but in Europe it's black tea that is the more popular.
Very entertaining and it left me thirsty for more.