August 27, 2008

Books: Rosa by Jonathan Rabb

Berlin in the months after the end of World War I. The Kaiser has fled after the defeat and left a political vacuum in his wake. Late in 1918 was an attempted socialist revolution led by the Spartakus Party with Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg as its leaders. The revolution was crushed and the clampdown severe.

It's against this backdrop that Jonathan Rabb's third novel opens. Several women have been found murdered in the poorer parts of town, all with identical stab wounds on their back, and world-weary detective Nikolai Hoffner is on the case. When the next victim that is discovered turns out to be Rosa Luxembourg, the case takes on a whole different twist, but Hoffner isn't prepared to listen to advice from his seniors and leave it all to the Political Police, or Polpo.

The case is seemingly solved and Hoffner and his assistant are the toast of the town, but the political intrigue persists, and Hoffner cannot leave the case alone. As he probes deeper he encounters ever-increasing dangers and has time to reflect on certain life choices he has made.

Rabb superbly recreates the Berlin of the era, with its cold, dark and dangerous streets, and the political tensions of the time have clearly been well-researched. His hero, Hoffner, the flawed human being with brilliant powers of detection makes for a classic lead, and the whole novel almost suggests something from a Fritz Lang film, or another classic noir director.

An utterly absorbing read.

"Yatosa! Yatosa!"

I enjoyed it as always, but paid for being out in the wet for so long, as I was laid up with a temperature for a couple of days after the event.

August 18, 2008

Material Curse

Rip A Dip - Latin Jazz Quintet
Book's Bossa - Donald Byrd
Lothar - Schema Sextet
First Lady - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions
Brotherhood - Sleep Walker
Shadowlands - Part-Time Heroes feat. Liane Carroll

Soul Machine - The Meters
Baby, I Love You - Vise
Material Curse - DJ Mitsu The Beats feat. Promoe

Woman To Man - Tony Allen feat. Damon Albarn & Ty

August 15, 2008

Yasukuni Shrine

August 15th is the day that the Japanese remember the end of World War Two, and each year the enormous Yasukuni Shrine is the focus of controversy and media attention. Visits by former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, despite protests from China and Korea made sure that the shrine was featured on the news worldwide. The present incumbent, however, stayed away this year.

It should be remembered that for most Japanese people the shrine serves as a place to honour soldiers who have died in battle for their country (a bit like the Cenotaph), though the war museum in the grounds and the fact that among the enshrined soldiers are some A-listed war criminals, means that it is a controversial place.

Every year on August 15th, anti-war left wingers, nationalist right wingers and war veterans gather at the shrine trying to out shout each other with their rousing speeches. The right wing groups also drive around in their black buses daubed with slogans and flags with nationalist songs blaring from their speakers. All quite a circus.

I popped along to have a look during my lunch break today in the searing heat, and whilst I missed the face offs between the left wingers and right wingers, there were TV crews aplenty and masses of people going to pay their respects.
Some of the veterans looked as though they were happy to go back in time and don their uniform.
An out of tune voice and a total lack of skill on the shamisen wasn't going to stop this guy singing his heart out.
Police talk with some flag toting teenage thugs (on bicycles) outside the gates of the shrine.

August 11, 2008

Tokyo Ganbanyoku

Despite the heat and humidity outside, I decided today to head to Asagaya to Tokyo Ganbanyoku, to pay for the privilege of sweating even more than usual. Sounds odd, I know, but it is a relaxing and refreshing experience.

A ganbanyoku is similar to a sauna, but not as intense. You change into some light cotton clothes and lie on a heated flat stone, and very soon the sweat starts pouring off you. After about fifteen minutes you take a break, drink some water, and then head back in for more, and so on. It is supposed to have a detoxifying effect as well as being good for your skin. I can't say for certain if that's true, but I certain felt better afterwards.

A Symbol of Summer

If the heat and humidity aren't big enough clues, you really know it's summer in Japan when you see this flag outside cafes and eateries or on festival stalls. This is the kanji for 'ice' and this particular flag means that the establishment in question is selling kakigori, which is crushed ice with a lurid coloured fruit-flavoured syrup.

Hair Salon in Kyoto

A nice trim behind, please.

August 08, 2008

Dinner on Ponto-cho Dori

On Tuesday evening I headed out for dinner with my colleagues and we opted for a very Kyoto experience and had dinner at a small restaurant on Ponto-cho Dori called Aritsune, that specialises in Kyoto-style steamed dishes.

It was a very relaxing and slow-food experience, with the meal lasting well over three hours. The food was incredibly healthy and delicious to boot. Also, once the owner realised we could all speak Japanese, he gave a very detailed explanation of every dish.

If you happening to be in Kyoto I can thoroughly recommend this restaurant ~ really friendly and some of the best food you can hope to taste.From left to right, mackerel, salmon cartilage and the roe of some fish I can't remember
Steamed vegetables
A selection of sashimi
Steamed pork with asparagus

Aubergine and ginger soup
Steamed fish and tofu
A serving of rice
Steamed chocolate cake for dessert
The owner showing us out of his restaurant after a three hour feast.

Miscellaneous Kyoto Snaps

Origami paper cranes at a temple.

Shops selling traditional Japanese snacks and sweets.
Sticker on a lamp post.
Entrance to a restaurant on Ponto-cho Dori, a long narrow street near the river packed with restaurants and bars.

Anti-Littering Sign

You are now entering the Beautification Enforcement Area ~ no ugliness permitted.

Gion in Kyoto

My business trip also took me to Kyoto and on Tuesday I had a couple of free hours to look around Gion and take a few snaps.

Gion has a lot of well-preserved old style Japanese buildings concentrated in a small area.
A noren, which is a kind of entrance curtain. When the noren is out, you know a shop is open for business.
Gion is one of the few places in Japan you can see maiko, which are like apprentice geisha, on a daily basis.
Buddhist monks on their way to a temple.

Osaka Underground Mall

Unfortunate choice of name for a mall.

A Night Out in Osaka

I was down in Osaka on Monday evening for a work commitment the following morning, so I could enjoy an evening out in Umeda. I stayed at the swanky Hotel Hankyu International, and from there it was a very short walk to the trendy shops, restaurants and bars behind Osaka. Station.

I opted for tapas and red wine at a newly opened place called the Factory Cafe, and had a window seat where I could watch young Osaka wandering by.

August 04, 2008

It's a Rough World Out There

Sunday saw coming the closest I've come so far to entering the evil empire of Tokyo Disneyland. I went to Club Ikspiari for a music event, and Ikspiari itself is a mall that adjoins Disneyland. Wlaking through the mall, I saw this poster advertising a clothes stall that would be trading their for the summer.

Somethin' Blue

Monkey Mush Down - Naruyoshi Kikuchi Dub Sextet
Ferrari - Kingdom*Afrocks
Supersossego - Saravah Soul
Somethin' BLUE - Aflex Combo
Learn To Let Go - Ocote Soul Sounds & Adrian Quesada
Why Am I Standing Here? - Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro
Gator Bait - The Gaturs
Milestones - Gerald Wilson
Brown-Eyed Girl - The Isley Brothers
Oslo, Late July - Kjellerock Jazzbandet

August 01, 2008

Candid T-shirt

Hey, just tell everyone what's on your mind, why don't you?