October 28, 2008

Books: All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe

Detective Honma is on leave after having been shot in the leg. During his recuperation, a distant relative drops by out of the blue to ask for help finding his fiancee, Shoko, who has run away. Honma agrees to help through a bit of private investigation, though what he uncovers as he follows the few clues and leads is far more complex a mystery than he initially imagined.

He descends into a shady world of debt collectors, loan sharks, bankruptcy, dark secrets and identity theft. Best-selling author Miyuki Miyabe uses the novel to launch an all-out assault on the credit industry in Japan and the lack of legal protection given to those unfortunate enough to run up serious debts, as well as highlighting the entangled bureaucracy involved in family registers and proof of identity.

The novel is a real page-turner leaving the reader hungry for the next revelation, though on occasion the long-winded explanations of, for example, the way the credit industry works, expressed by minor characters to the main protagonist seem quite clearly intended to enlighten the reader more than Honma, who, one suspects, being an experienced detective, may well know a lot of this anyway.

Having said that, it doesn't detract at all from what is a hugely enjoyable book, and even though it was originally published in the early nineties, the central themes seem particularly timely in these troubled economic times.

October 20, 2008

Seven Day Fool

Fingertip - quasimode
A Pocketful of Grease - The Osian Roberts/Steve Fishwick Quintet
Caravan - Nicola Conte
Hi-Fly Stomp - The Hi-Fly Orchestra
Seven Day Fool - Lizzy Parks
Garra - Marcos Valle
Trust Me - Aged In Harmony
Back To Funk - Robert Lowe
Pressure - Lady Alma
Walk Into Space (Pts I & II) - Mo' Horizons

October 15, 2008

October 14, 2008

The Shop That Promises A Few Inches More

Something you might expect to see in the subject line of spam in your inbox rather than on the front of a shop. Can you guess what they sell though?
Answers on a postcard ...

A Weekend in Yokohama ~ Saturday

After breakfast I headed over towards Motomachi, an area situated beneath the Yamate hill which features the foreigners' cemetery and some Western-style residences still left from the old foreign settlements. It seems that many of the foreign settlements in the early open ports of the Meiji era were perched on top of hills ~ Yamate in Yokohama, the Kitano area of Kobe and the Glover Garden area of Nagasaki. I'm not sure if this was by choice or whether it was the only areas that foreigners were allowed to build housing, but it's distinctive nonetheless. Well, I'm digressing now anyway, because I didn't actually wander around the Yamate area this time, though I have been on a previous visit.

Motomachi itself is a stylish neighbourhood with picturesque shopping streets filled with boutiques, cafes and restaurants that seem to be aimed at a clientele that has money to spend on the finer things in life. As well as clothing boutiques, there are zakka stores, French restaurants, wine tasting bars, studios to learn the tango and other dances, and so on.

The tori at Itsukushima Shrine, Motomachi

A dance studio

From Motomachi it's a short walk to Chinatown (another common feature of the early open ports mentioned above), which is packed with restaurants, food stalls, groceries and souvenir shops.

Lunchtime sees queues of people waiting outside the most popular restaurants, some of which seem to cater mainly for groups judging by the size of the lunch courses offered. I opted for a (slightly) shorter wait and some great food ~ prawns in chilli sauce and crispy fried noodles.

Detail from the entrance to a temple

Chinese dumpling stall

After lunch I strolled over to the other side of the port to the Minato Mirai area with Landmark Tower (the tallest building in Japan) and the Queens shopping complex as well as the distinctive big wheel.

This weekend also saw the staging of the Yokohama Jazz Promenade which saw a couple of days of gigs in various different venues around the city as well as some street performances at certain designated places. There were three such areas in the Minato Mirai area ~ one outside, one inside the shopping complex and a third in the disused dock in front of Landmark Tower. I took some time out to watch some of the acts, some of which were really good, though there seemed to be an emphasis on big bands rather than smaller combos at the places I watched.

A Weekend in Yokohama ~ Friday

Last weekend was a bank holiday weekend in Japan with Monday being "Sports Day". I headed down to Yokohama for a few nights intent on catching a couple of gigs, eating some good food and generally enjoying myself. I succeeded on all three counts and probably now need to do some extra exercise in order to burn off all the weekend excess.

Having checked into a hotel late in the afternoon I soon headed down to the port area. The idea was to get something to eat before heading to the Nicola Conte Jazz Combo gig at Motion Blue, and I originally thought of going to one of the eateries in the Aka Renga Soko (Red Brick Warehouse). However, it turned out that in the space next to the warehouse, there was a huge tent set up for the annual Yokohama Oktoberfest. I'm not sure how long this has been happening, but it seems that they have a Bavarian-style beer festival every autumn, complete with overpriced beer, more sausages and pretzels than you would normally imagine in Japan and an authentic lederhosen-clad German oom-pah band.

I stayed long enough for a couple of pints and a plate full of food enjoying the overall atmosphere and trying avoid being drafted into the ever-growing drunken conga stumbling around the tent. Lots of fun and plenty of very pink-faced and tipsy customers, though I'm not sure what made a couple of Japanese guys think that wearing WWII German military uniforms would be a good costume for the evening.

A bit after 8 o'clock I dragged myself away from the mayhem and wandered the short distance to the Aka Renga Soko and up to a completely different atmosphere in Motion Blue for a superb gig by Nicola Conte (review here ).

Minato Mirai viewed from the Aka Renga Soko.

October 09, 2008

Late Afternoon at Heiwa No Mori Koen

Why She Had To Go

Home Again Hello (1972 Version) - Don Adams
Air Duct - jaz'presso
Young Black Horse- quasimode feat. Tabu Zombi
Macedonia - Nicola Conte
Night in Tunisia - Tubby Hayes Orchestra
Groovin' for Mr G - Richard "Groove" Holmes
Round Town - Elvin Jones
Why She Had To Go - Burning Desire
Reversible Top - Steve Spacek
Nah Mean Nah'm Saying - The Herbaliser

October 07, 2008

Dark Clouds in Shibuya

The bright lights of Shibuya set against the rapidly blackening skies at about 4:30 this afternoon shortly before the rain started.

Graffiti near Sendagaya Station

A Look Around Shimokitazawa

Shimokitzawa is a hip little neighbourhood tucked away in Setagaya ward that is famous for its secondhand clothes shops, live music venues and small independent theatres. There is a network of narrow streets running immediately north and south of the station that are packed with literally hundreds of small establishments, and it would take a few visits to fully familiarise yourself with everything you can see there.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around after lunch, generally soaking up the atmosphere but not really hanging anywhere for too long. I felt that it was similar in some ways to Koenji in that it seems to attract a similar kind of person, though it certainly has its own unique atmosphere.There a number of shops selling antiques or retro toys from the Showa period.

Some buildings are adorned with paintings and some shops have pretty colourful shutters.
Sounds like a winning combination to me.
An incredibly narrow building.

As with Koenji, there is a wide selection of secondhand clothes shops and record/CD shops.

October 01, 2008

Reflected Clouds Shinjuku

I Need A Change, Too

Nubian Queens - Nicola Conte
That Ain't It - The Blessing

I Need A Change, Too - Yasumasa Kumagai
Nunca Never - democustico
Stepping Stone - Duffy
Ain't That A Groove - Dave Hamilton
Everything's Gonna Be Alright - Robert Moore

Ugali - The Tony Benson Sextet
Shabazz - The Rhoda Scott Trio
Sphinx- indigo jam unit