torsdag 29 januari 2009

Firecrackers – the silent killer

Yesterday I saw four japanese silent movies. Cool, huh?

This came to happen by the suggestion of Akiko-san, always keen to teach us white boys about the many faces of japanese culture. Or something like that.
I in turn told my fellow swedes about it, and six of us ended up going. Six swedes, in an audience of maybe fifteen people, total.
What I knew of this event was the time and location, and that we were privy to a pretty rare viewing of a japanese silent movie.
What none of us quite understood was that this was an authentic japanese movie-going experience, circa 1930, and that four films would be screened.
The authenticity came in the form of a benshi, a narrator and voice actor who provided one half of the sound to the mute visuals (the other half being music, mainly traditional japanese stuff.)

After a brief introduction by and of Mr Raiko Sakamoto, one of a few now-active benshi, the first of three short anime was shown. 
Taro's Early Training Days (Hinomaru Taro: Musho Shugyo no Maki) from 1936 is about a man named Taro who saves a princess from a baddy with a beard. Five minutes long and fun enough, it was interesting to see how similar it looked to the early Disney shorts.
Next up was The Bat (Komori, 1930), which had a really beautiful style and featured animals as samurai. This story had a pretty strong morale (although it was a tad bit difficult to catch its subtleties, due to the combination of Sakamoto and korean subtitles.) 
Komori was drawn and directed by Yasuji Murata, who is also credited with the third and last anime short of the evening: Sanko and the Octopus (Sanko to Tako, 1933).
Sanko is a lazy fisherman who neglects his wife and fisherman-duties, and spends much time drinking and dancing (as one does.) When his friend Kuma tells him about a sunken ship and its hidden treasure, Sanko goes out to sea. There he encounters a stubborn octopus and… well, it gets a bit odd, but no less interesting to watch. 
Another example of Murata's skill in animation and style, and a fine closure of the anime-chapter.

On to longer and more physical things, our main feature was Jirokichi the Rat (Oatsurae Jirokichi goshi, 1931)
Being the (apparently) only completely preserved silent film by Daisuke Itô – an extremely prolific japanese filmmaker – it features the very popular silent movie actor Denjirô Ôkôchi (who worked on most of Itô's silent films, and did several talkies with Akira Kurosawa) as Jirokichi, who is something of an Edo Robin Hood. 
All voices were again provided by Raiko Sakamoto, which proved quite convincing (well, under the circumstances.)

All in all, it was great. Well worth the 1000 yen we paid to get in (and we got a funky pen too! It writes on plastic, we were told.)

Denjirô Ôkôchi and Naoe Fushimi (or her sister Nobuko, I can't tell them apart.)

Also, the other day I got lost somewhere between Hibiya and Mita subway stations. My idea was to go for a short walk and maybe check out some of Roppongi. It ended up taking about an hour or so before I found Mita. 
It was great. I love walking.

Cheerful sumo wrestlers on the last day of the tournaments.

Tall buildings somewhere in Mita.

Here is my carefully reconstructed path of aimlessness. 
Hibiya is at the top, near the Imperial palace.

söndag 25 januari 2009


Being the ever-curious, bordering on autistic, I have during these past few days counted the number of trashcans in Tokyo.
In the entire Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, with its' 35 million inhabitants, there are four trashcans.

Really now. 
The Tokyoites do have a penchant for buying and consuming food and goods on the run, the popular bentō lunchboxes being an example. Despite this, there's nowhere to put your bentō once it's empty, or your candy wrapper, your used tissues, your bloodied knife, and so on. At least not anywhere near a subway station, which incidentally is everywhere in Tokyo.
What's even more fucked up is that, in spite of this ridiculous lack of garbage receptacles, there's no littering. Nothing. The odd cigarette butt, maybe, but most foreigners agree that Tokyo is a surprisingly clean city.

So combining these two facts we come to the conclusion that the Japanese are meant to – and actually do – take their trash with them, until they happen upon one of the four trashcans that do exist, or find a suitable river or something.
I for one think this is bullshit. So, there.

Today I went to Edo-Tokyo Museum with José and Eric. It was really nice, with lots of details about the rise and fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate (in English!) and many very neat models. Also, an annoyingly small section about the Tokyo bombings of World War II. If I remember correctly, they had more on that at the Yushukan War Museum… Well, I'm going there anyway one of these days.

Also, I've just started on the second season of Californication. Fantastic.

fredag 23 januari 2009

Shop 'til you drop. Then get up and shop some more.

It's friday! Yay!
It doesn't make all that much difference, but weekends are always welcome when they decide to show up.

Today I went to Nakano, having recieved a tip from Eric that there lies a goldmine of manga and its related merchandise. Now, I'm only moderately interested in anime, and I've only read a few manga translated into English. I'm not very into the whole thing. But…

Holy crap.

There was literally a dozen stores, all crammed full of every type of manga I could think of (and many more, of course) along with thousands of plastic figures, ranging between 100-yen robots to 50,000-yen Doraemon statues and the like. 
It was awesome. They also had tons of vintage manga, like original issues of Astro Boy, and animation cells from, amongst others, a few Miyazaki-films. I wanted those real bad, but I don't think I have 125,000 yen to spend on that just now.

Yesterday the Oscar-nominations were announced, and the world stood still (yeah). I was pretty annoyed when I realized that I haven't seen any of the nominees for Best Picture. I'll have to do something about that.

This week I'm listening mostly to the new Architects album, Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, and Blonde Redhead's 23.
Next week, who knows? The fun never stops.

Pictures, because you know you want to:

Early spring in Setagaya-ku

Cool toys in Nakano

Cells from Miyazaki-films

I bought stuff today! A shirt and a pair of purple socks

onsdag 21 januari 2009

Temples, rodents and pork

Welcome to Kamakura, population: 173 588. 8 billion of you count the squirrels.

Since I last wrote, I have explored my hometown of Kugahara, eaten expensive pancakes at the Moomin-kafé and almost gone to see sumo wrestling.
But most memorably, I went to Kamakura on sunday for some quiet sightseeing of old Japan.
Kamakura is one of a few cities in Japan that the US ear-marked for preservation during the bombings of the second World War. Or, so they say.
It is unclear how Henry L Stimson and others influenced president Truman in the decision to spare Kyoto, but it wasn't the only city whose historical value was deemed too great to... well, lay flat.

While probably not quite as magnificent as Kyoto (I have yet to go there), Kamakura is the place to go for temples and shrines (and let's be honest, that's why we all came to Japan in the first place, right?)
It took about an hour from Kugahara, which itself is about an hour from central Tokyo. So a bit of a journey, but surprisingly cheap. We passed Yokohama, which I thought was pretty far off. So that's promising as far as daytrips from Tokyo goes.

Anyway, the company was my surrogate-mother Akiko-san, and my fellow house guest students Eric and José. We started early, by Akiko-san's orders, and by lunch had visited a couple of ancient and revered sights, including the Great Buddha (yes, the God himself.)

We delayed lunch and instead decided to take a cookie-break. Apparently, Kamakura is a seaside town, so we had a nice view. (And how the hell did I miss that? I mean the pacific is a rather substantial body of water.)
And thus it was, that we came upon the mythical creature known only as: Cookie Snatcher. It was no surprise that this fabled being of ancient Japanese folklore surfaced here, at a shrine dedicated to nature itself. And on this beautiful, sunny sunday, that we should encounter first-hand the doings of such a sneaky-as-fuck animal.
I was off to the vending machine to purchase a can of hot tea. Yes, they have hot drinks in vending machines here. Pretty neat.
Suddenly, out of nowhere (or rather, from right above us) the bird struck. Akiko-san was helping herself to a lemon-ish biscuit when SWOOOSH, a lightning of feathers and sneakyness dove from the heavens and yoinked said treat from her hand!
Needless to say, there was much commotion from on-lookers, who frantically ran for their lives as the beast ascended upwards.
This was probably the most exciting thing that happened all day, which was kind of nice.
We continued to find and appreciate shrines, washing our hands with water to purify our blackened souls and inhaling incense to… give us asthma, I guess.
One shrine, dedicated to the fox, was particularly picturesque. It was located at the top of a long flight of stairs, lined with narrow tori gates and fox statues. As we reached the shrine itself, we realized that the foxes had all been killed or enslaved. By squirrels.
There were literally fifty thousand squirrels (well, about six) casually skipping about between the treebranches, and we got close enough to feed a couple of them with cookies (yes, feeding fauna with cookies was the theme for this day). One even climbed onto Eric's coat.

We had lunch at a nice, very japanese restaurant which gave me reason to reflect on two annoying facts: there's nothing to eat here but meat. What the fuck? And also, it's perfectly fine to smoke in restaurants, even McDonald's. Again, what the fuck, Japan?

Like I said, Kamakura (Japanese for "old stuff") is a modest treasure of preserved houses and landmarks, and more than any shrine I enjoyed just walking through the small town and seeing the odd Edo-style house pop up. Some aren't genuine, I know, but some are and it doesn't really matter. It's beautiful.

All in all, that was a nice sunday. We had planned to do something nice this weekend too, but it seems nature is poking me in the proverbial eye with some cold weather on sunday. 
So that sucks.

Anyway, pictures from Kamakura:

The Great Buddha

This way to trains, toilets and nazis

Two cars in every garage

A squirrel and a cookie

lördag 17 januari 2009

The boys are back in town. Or rather, they are here now for the first time.

I woke up at 3:30 PM today.

So effing what? I hear you say. That's saturday for ya, right? Well, I tend to get up before lunch even on the laziest of days. 
The main reason why I neglected most of the sunlight-hours today is, I'm quite certain, the fact that I went to bed at nine this morning. Which is in itself largely due to a six-hour stay at a karaoke bar in Shibuya last night. 
I've never sung karaoke before. In fact, the number of times I've handled a microphone is pretty insignificant, not to mention my singing voice.
Anyway, as much of a Tokyo-cliché as it is, it's not bad. 
I had arranged to meet some friends at nine, who supposedly knew of a cool place for pre-singing drinks. After walking aimlessly through the labyrinthine streets of Shibuya, we actually found the place. The seven of us were barely able to squeeze in (and there was no one else there) and I cheerfully ordered my first 500 yen ginger ale.
After a couple of hours the establishment had served its' purpose, so we opted to find one more suitable for vocal endeavours. 
I can't remember the name (who am I kidding, I didn't care what it was called), but it was pretty close to Shibuya station. A towering plaza of drunken singing where gullable gaijin like us could make asses of ourself without having to apologize for it.
For 30,000 yen (divided by seven people, you do the math), we got a room, a karaoke-machine, and all the booze we wanted. For six hours. That was the deal.
Being swedish and quite appreciative of a drink or two, my companions quickly realized that they were going to die.
It started off well enough, with some  80's classics and beers, but soon the pitchers and random whiskey drinks (I think) took their toll.
As for the songs, I think I gave Blitzkrieg bop a fair treatment, as well as Prince's 1999. The others did superbly too, of course.

Anyway, we left at five o'clock to find that Shibuya looked the same as it had at nine (no real surprise) and I took one of the first trains home. I actually went the wrong way on the circular Yamanote subway line on purpose, because I felt like riding the train for a while and watching sleepy Tokyoites return home (or in many cases, going to work.)

I'm beginning to settle in now, which is nice. Tomorrow Akiko-san (the mother of the family in whose home I'm staying) is taking me and the other dudes to Kamakura. It should be good.
I've had karaoke, now I want some temples.


Tokyo tower

An awesome rendering of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, in Shimokitazawa



Gotanda station at sunrise

fredag 16 januari 2009

Blogging on the run!

Being the avant garde-trooper that I am, I am stealing some precious internets from the good people at Apple, out of their store in Ginza.

Today marks the end of the first, rather short, school-week. I'm enjoying it so far, although I haven't really learned anything new. I'm sure it's coming though. Practicing hiragana is really useful.

Oh well. This keyboard is fucking with me, so goodbye for now.

onsdag 14 januari 2009

Swedes in Tokyo

Yesterday I found out just how crowded rush hour in the Tokyo subway is. Basically, imagine standing in a 1 x 1 meter closet with fourteen other people. Then twelve more people decide to get in. 
Today was just as bad, but having confided to holding my breath for 15 minutes (being a pirate, this is not beyond my skill) I didn't really mind. I'm sure I'll have many fun mornings on the train between Kugahara and Gotanda in the coming month. I mean, when you've had a robust Mexican boy shoving his hip into your crotch, you can't even remember what life was like without it.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Yesterday morning I learned that Tokyo has way too many people living here – and only minutes after my arrival to school I found out who they all are.
They're Swedish.

I'm taking a Japanese Conversation course. So are about twelve other swedes. From what I know, the situation is the same in every other language school and institute. What the hell is going on here?
Well, for one thing we get the king's money for doing stuff like this. CSN (NAMBLA for short) happily hands out dough to anyone who has the bright idea of going abroad to "study", so why wait? 
And Japan is the it-place to go right now, I guess. I don't consider myself a trendy or fashionable so-and-so, but I can't deny that some of the same forces have driven me here that have affected every other blonde-and-blue-eyed gaijin in Tokyo. 
It's fascination, in various forms and flavours. 

Aside from that grown-up analysis, it was cool to meet some nice people from back home. 
We only had an introduction yesterday, along with a small test to determine our Japanese skills (or lack thereof), so today was the first actual schoolday. 
It was alright. Our teacher, Mrs Hasegawa, was great. The lesson itself was extremely basic and pretty easy for me. But I guess it will pick up soon enough. 

After that, I went with some of the swedes to Shimo-kitazawa. By recommendation, we knew it to be a cluster of small shops and cafés, selling old records and second-hand clothing.
It didn't dissapoint, but I didn't buy anything today. Maybe next time.

And that will have to do for these two days, since I am barely able to keep my eyes open. 
A combination of jetlag, lack of sleep and choice of activities has left me completely spent. At 10:30 PM. 
Oh well.

måndag 12 januari 2009

Store My Ducks

Welcome to Tokyo, the present time is tomorrow.

Today was Coming-of-age Day. That means everyone who's turning 20 today gets a free cookie from the emperor's hand. 
Just kidding.
No, it manifests itself in goings to shrines, and people otherwise enjoying a day off work. The Japanese don't get many of those.
Spurred by our lovely landlady Mrs Kobayashi, I and three of my fellow house guests set out to explore central Tokyo with naught but a map and my scattered memory to guide us.
We did fine, as a matter of fact, and found our way from Shibuya to Harajuku via the Meiji shrine, which was very busy today.
It appears this Meiji fellow is one popular dude. I dabbed my hands with holy water of some kind, so I guess I have his blessings now. Thanks, pal!

After that we went to Harajuku, which, according to Gwen Stefani is a super awesome "pedestrian paradise". I need to come back a few dozen times before I can say if I agree. Gwen has been known to make mistakes. From time to time. (If you get that reference, you get a cookie. From the emperor's hand.)
We also had lunch in the one place that wasn't completely crowded (probably a bad sign, that), in my case a very simple salmon with rice. Hey, it was cheap enough.

Again, I have chosen to write just before dinner (which is served at 7 o'clock, daily). Last night we had some very japanese dishes, which were excellent. The Kobayashis are really cheerful and talkative, as it were, much more so than us non-japanese.

Here are some pictures from today.

söndag 11 januari 2009

Arrival and excitement

Okay, I'm here now.

The trip from Stockholm began about four days ago (well, maybe not that long. But it takes a good few hours.) After a brief flight to Copenhagen, I bought four hours of wifi-time, and learned to appreciate Skype. I hope to use it extensively during my stay here in the Land of Heated Toilet Seats. 

Having spent waaaay more time at Denmark's international airport than I should ever wish to, I made my way to the gate, where I more or less stumbled upon two fellow Swedes. 
One has been living in Tokyo for three months, the other is just beginning his first year here. Long story short, we have common friends at home and ended up hanging out all the way to Shinagawa station. I think I'll be seeing more of them both.

The house I live in, where I will stay for the next six weeks, is situated in Kugahara. It lies a ways away from central Tokyo, to the southwest. I have yet to explore my surroundings, but my walk from the train station hinted at a very quiet neighborhood with small houses and – gasp! – some greenery.

In an hour or so I will have dinner with the other students staying here, so more about them later.

Okay, I'm here now.

lördag 10 januari 2009

Into the west... oh right, east.

You know that scene from one of the endings of The Return of The King? Frodo's departure at the Grey Havens, when everything looks shiny, and everybody's sad but kind of glad too? I've been re-enacting that scene several times over the last couple of days, and it's painful. 
I'm excited about the whole Japan-thing, but being away from the people I love is not cool. I suppose I'll be able to give a better assessment of how uncool it is in a week or so, but right now, I'm a sad bear.

I'm just about done packing, so I guess the next time I write something here, I'll be in Tokyo. Possibly Denmark. Maybe Portugal if I get lost at the airport. We'll see.

söndag 4 januari 2009

The year for living dangerously!

Yeah! Finally, the sad, monotone existence of 2008 is over! Dead and gone!
Alright, that's enough exclamation marks for now.

Another year has passed. A year that, for me, saw many transgressions. I ended a long relationship, moved from one job to another and spent many scattered weeks unemployed and chillaxed. 
I traveled to London for a week, Denmark for a day, and Malmö for two very pleasant weekends. My band found a new label and started working on our first album, to be released this year.

All in all, I think 2008 ended with a pretty cool cliffhanger, so I'm not one to linger on what has passed. That said, I think a recap is in order. Here now, listed in no reasonable order, is my 2008 favorites.

Live Music
Having just read and responded to His Holy Beardness' post about gigs in 2008, I realised what an awesome year it has been for live music. I finally got to see Best Band In The World™ Oceansize, albeit as an opening act for Coheed & Cambria. They still killed, though.
Alt-noiserock-legends Sonic Youth were never on my must-see list, but having just opened my ears to them this summer, I joined some friends at the Way Out West festival to check them out.
In retrospect, it was one of the brighter ideas of my concert-going life, since their show was among the best I've ever seen. Hell, I didn't even know half the songs. I didn't care.
My friend Olle, aging veteran of a thousand gigs at a thousand blood-soaked venues, who has seen Sonic Youth, like, seven times, could attest to their quality on the day. It was fantastic.
I also saw Cult of Luna again. I've seen them about five times now, and I never tire. Really.
This time they played at a good venue, with both drummers on stage and a longer set than usual. Incredible.
Aside from that, The Mars Volta, This Will Destroy You, Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky and a Vessels concert in London were all good or really good.
As for 2009, I only have one concert in my calendar so far: Mono playing in their hometown of Tokyo on March 14. That should be cool, I hope I can get tickets (like, not that they might sell out, but I hope I am physically able to purchase a ticket in Japan. Maybe not, you know?)

I've seen alot of movies this year. More than I care to remember, which is why this recap won't really do them justice. Among the noticable were the many comic book adaptions, and their quality. The Incredible Hulk was alright, Iron Man was fun, The Dark Knight was excellent.
I was also happy to see at least two superb Swedish films. Yes, there are more than most care to recognize, but then there's also alot of shit. So when something is as good as Ruben Östlund's De Ofrivilliga, or Låt Den Rätte Komma In, it deserves to be noted. 
On the lighter side of things, the Indiana Jones series got its much anticipated closure in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Temple of Magic Spears of Light In The Hands of Evil Corporations (NAMBLA). 
I could do without it, but it has its moments. George Lucas wants my money and I can't turn the man down. Just look at him.

Anyway, I had a good time at the movies this year. Looking into the future (as I do), I have high hopes for 2009. Apart from the usual "hey, cool!"-stuff that looms on the summer-horizon – Wolverine, Star Trek, Watchmen, Harry Potter and The Half-blood Prince – there are things like James Cameron's 3D revolution Avatar, which seems like a very big deal indeed.

Again, the list is too long to even sum up. Among the favorites is Fleet Foxes self-titled debut, Cult of Luna's Eternal Kingdom, The Hawk Is Howling by Mogwai, The Mars Volta's Bedlam In Goliath and the heroic self-titled debut of United Nations. 
I've just heard alot of random stuff that made me go "dude, nice", and I really hope that'll continue this year.

I don't watch TV. I do, however, watch TV-shows. On DVD. And that has for the last few years been one of my favorite things to do in front of my 32" screen. This year, the highs included two seasons of 30 Rock (which I had just heard really good things about, but never seen a single clip from) and the first, excellent season of The Wire.

Well, okay, I won't try to cover everything I've done, seen, eaten, smelled, punched or raped, but I like games. Videogames, that is. Or console games. I don't know the right term for it. 
The kind where you're not as nerdy as PC-gamers but still can't pick up girls with it. That one.
I own a Wii, and buy enough games to sustain me constantly should I feel like playing. That has meant about five games this year. I started with Lego Star Wars, then moved on to Metroid Prime 3, took a while with that, then got Mario Kart for my birthday. That lasted a couple of months, then I bought Call of Duty 3 (a couple of years late, but I wanted to check it out). Went back and forth between that and Mario for a while, then I got Okami. 
Okami is easily the best game I've played this year, including the fantastic Metroid Prime. It looks, and plays, alot like Zelda (especially Twilight Princess, where you incidentally play as a wolf…) but only to the game's credit. 
It looks good, the story is good, it's fun, it's all shiny, Japanese-y, wolfy brilliance and I want more of it.
I also shared some of Fredde's PS3 funtime, namely GTA4 and Call of Duty 4 and 5. It was awesome. If I thought I had slightly more time to play games, or gave up hunting ducks, I'd get one.
As for predicting 2009, I have no fucking clue what to expect. But IGN does, so check that out if you give a shit. 

In less than four days, I'm leaving for Tokyo, never to return (for three months). It makes my eyes pop out just thinking about it.