Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Japan officially admits that it doesn't know whether UFOs exist or not, shock

In response to the increasing numbers of people who've spotted flying objects in the skys above Japan, the government has issued a catagorical statement that they haven't confirmed the objects's existence. Luckily one brave man was willing to step forward. Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura pronounced at the press conference: "Personally, I'm convinced they exist". He further continued that "Japan has successfully fought of the threat of Godzilla and other giant monsters, so we'll be more than a match for these little green fellows." Okay that sentence was made up. For the shocking facts in full read the original story in Mainichi:

Immitation samurai sword ban

The UK has now followed in the footsteps of the Emporer Meiji in banning samurai swords. While Meiji banned the wearing of swords in public, thus rendering samurai defunct, modern UK has trod a more diplomatic line by only banning cheap knock-off swords in order to spare the feelings of martial arts enthusiasts. The ban follows a few high profile incidents, including the case of a man seeking vengance for what he thought to be the attempted rape of his wife by brutally murdered a passerby.
One wonders if the success of Kill Bill had anything to these lone wolves taking justice into their own hands. I knew a guy who used to prowl round his house in the middle of the night with his sword when he thought there was a burglar abroad. Needless to say it was an immitation, those with the cash to pay for real swords crafted in Japan wouldn't be so daft. Right?
To view the full story:

Child abusers just need to see the bright side

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported yesterday that Aomori prefecture government have launched a scheme to help young parents ease their stresses with laughter therapy. Concerned over a recent rise in the rate of child abuse, they enlisted the aid of professor Kazue Takayanagi who started up program to train employees at councelling centres, medical institutions and police stations to be 'smile producers'. She claims that laughter can "change the way people mingle with others."
Wow, I never realised that solving child abuse was as simple as teaching the abusers to smile, luckily that doesn't mean we have to tackle unpleasant issues like overwork, marital problems and abuse history. Lets just gloss over those issues with a big cheesy grin. Mind you, I wish Takayanagi all the best trying to get Japanese police officers to smile. That's one tough nut to crack.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hazel Nuts Chocolate live show

Hazel Nuts Choco (aka Yuppa) brought her brand of slightly screwy happy candy pop to Club Que in Shimokitazawa tonight. Playing last but one on the bill, she was an incredible contrast to the line up of wooden idols who marched across the stage before her. She is a "one woman unit", as she says on her myspace , with no songwriters or heavy management pulling the strings. Everything about her is very spontaneous from her comic ad libs to the crowd to her freestyle dancing. She gives out the refreshing feeling that her eyes are not on the prize of future fame but on what's going on around her. It seems she has a thing for geeks with glasses and Christmas songs, so she invited a group of awkward otaku on stage to shake some bells to her song asking Santa to get her "something good". The above picture reflects that Yuppa's wish has come true, she's got a very good thing going on.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Evil electricity tower, beware!

That's right, if children won't pay attention to facts about the dangers of electricity, then scare the living daylights out of them with an anthropomorphic electric tower boogieman.

Meiji era (1868-1912) sushi bar

This restaurant is just down the road from my house in Ningyocho. It's the first evidence I've yet found that this part of Tokyo escaped the bombing to some extent during the war. The design is a wonderful mix of old Japanese and art nouveau with beautiful dragon's scale metal tiling that has rusted green. Tucked between nondescript modern brick buildings on the busy high street by Ningyocho station, it's very easy to miss. I'd rushed past it numerous times and only really noticed this wonderful design when I was taking a more leisurely stroll about. You have to stand to get a meal but, being so near Tsukji, the fish is very fresh and prices are incredibly cheap (me and my friend stuffed our faces and only paid 1,200 yen for the both of us). You also get free tea and miso soup.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Loving fags is a crime in Japan

If you want to demonstrate your love of fags in public, you better be prepared for the social repercussions. Smokers, get back in the closet!

Eat as much as you like sweetie bar (adults only)

Any self-respecting child should draw a moustache on their lips with their mum's eye pencil, get on some stilts and make it down to this bar cum sweetie wonderland. My knowledge of kanji is pretty sketchy but I think the gist of the sign above is: 'Please help yourself, you can spend awhile visiting your childhood but you can't return' (please send me your answers if you know the exact translation). Okay, the catch is that to drink here you have to pay a cover charge of 500yen but back in the days when I was at school with a hardcore penny chew habit, I could have easily eaten my way through double that amount. Unfortunately, the sign rang true, after sampling only half of the wondrously coloured delights above I began to feel rather queasy and had to make a swift exit, frothing at the mouth with a toxic mix of beer, e-numbers and sherbet.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Album releases

Why do half of all Japanese 'indies' bands still want to sound like Green Day? In terms of teenage rebellious gestures, listening them is on a par with sniffing Prit Stick to get high. If you want some real punk you should listen to Midori, whose latest album Shimizu jerks and spasms all over the place like a zombie with an axe in its head. Composed of piano, bass, drums and vocals, I detected a slight jazz sensibility but forgave them because of the overall brutal, raw and rude vibe coming from 'singer' Mariko Goto's chainsaw rantings. Check their website: From bitter and dark ravings to sweet and light tinklings, Shugo Tokumaru's Exit, breathes life into the sparse sounds of battered music boxes, theramins and toy instruments so that they take on a rich orchestral quality. The auditory equivalent of a ancient fairground coming mysteriously to life, lush and unsettling. Check it out on: Lastly, Afterglow, from Akira Kosemura and Haruka Nakamura, does what it says on the tin. Sparse, moving electronic music coupled with piano, some melodies are maybe a little too obvious and cloying, but this is perfect music for spacing out to after a hard day

Monday, November 26, 2007

Safety first

Yokohama subways have just started a campaign to stop people walking on escalators, claiming the practise is dangerous. Motivated by a flood of complaints from customers (the most poignant that of a grandparent whose grandchild was roughly shoved aside by a busy commuter - the beast!) the subway company decided to act.
Anyone who lives in Japan will be used to this kind of cossetting by private companies. My favourite is "it's dangerous so, don't put your fingers between the train doors".

A sheep in wolf's clothing

Your boss doesn't notice you, your wife doesn't respect you, you're losing your hair, what's an ageing businessman to do? Well, for only 5,000 yen you can don this fine quality hairpiece and become a young blade about town again. And you needn't worry about anyone discovering your secret identity as this benevolent company provides its own shampoos and hairdressing services, so you'll be suitably fleeced for your wolfish pelt.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Design Festa

I went to Tokyo Big Sight on Saturday and spent hours wandering around looking at fabulous and weird things. Here's some highlights.

Doing a poo can be cute too:

These girls demonstrate how this dog has come disguised as a cat:

A present for the follicaly-challenged doll:

A new look for the bodily-challenged mannequin:

Some pretty pictures for masochistic, homosexual, Mishima fans check out

And lots and lots of live art action:

Friday, November 16, 2007

The world's most tempting door?

This bar seems to be located in another dimension (I found it after wandering aimlessly around Kabukicho). A sweet old lady in kimono told me the area, which probably holds the record for the densest population of world's smallest bars, is called Gozenga. This teeny tiny bar is featured in the Catsoup comics - which were condensed into the world's wierdest and probably most disturbing film (see I'm sorry to say that, put off by the 1,000yen cover charge, I didn't go in and have probably now missed my only opportunity to walk through into this particular space/time ripple. If you somehow manage to find your way there beware, there is a very small sign outside that reads: “Welcome, attention to foreigners, if you can understand Japanese, you can enter this yellow door”.

Hair today

It seems that in order to become a host you must first get strung up upside down in a factory and get your head dipped into a vat of varnish and left out to dry until your hair sets into the requisite hedgehog style. After that you're outfitted with an identikit black suit and white shirt (opened low of course to expose a tempting expanse of bare chicken breast for those horny old ladies to feast their eyes on), finally you are allowed to show some personal flair by choosing your own individual diamond pin (from a collection of 20) to proudly show what a flash kinda guy you are. Now you are free to walk the streets of Kabukicho scouting for pissed up not so young women to dazzle with your glittery accessories.

This initiation, however, is soft core compared to the typical hours a host works. I met a sweet young boy tonight while wandering around Kabukicho, he was so FRIENDLY, I wonder why... He told me that he hadn't slept in two days (and probably his spiky hair hadn't moved in weeks). Poor thing, he appeared to have caught a bit of a cold and was sniffling away. It wasn't until I walked past a guy with similarly immobile hair with his nose stuck into a bit of paper that the light dawned on me. And here I was thinking these guys had such vivacious personalities. Oh well, I suppose it was naive to think that they could stay up all night every night and drink copious amounts of alcohol without some kind of chemical assistance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Devil Robots at Parco, Shibuya

300yen entry, giant stamps to print on the walls, armies of cute plastic creatures and a huge couch festooned with square headed characters where you can chill out or read comics. Only four more days before this exhibition closes.

That's a weight off my mind

You may be a whale but at least you've got pals.

Spotted in Akihabara

I so hope this person does not know what this means to the Brits.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fashionistas do or die

A few years back, along with the usual numbers of drunken men 'falling off' train platforms, JR rail had to deal with another problem of drunken girls falling off their platform boots on the escalators. It's usually the victims of Japan's fiercely corporate system that get our sympathy but spare a thought for the fashion victims who put their life on the line everyday for the sake of style. Just yesterday night I encountered a young couple in sunglasses weaving dangerously close to the kerb of a busy main road. Perhaps they'd spent their life savings on matching Prada shades and were determined to get their money's worth dammit! Having witnessed the tribes of young lemmings wearing woolly hats in 38 degree heat last time I was in Japan, I was not totally stunned by this do or die attitude to style. You may break your neck at the bottom of an escalator, walk blind off the pavement and get hit by a car or die of heat stroke but at least you were on trend!

Heart on a plate

During my first visit to a maid cafe I got to witness otaku (geek) love first hand in the form of a balding 30-year-old man crafting a love poem, illustrated with a picture of a kitten, to his favourite maid. The message was written with cranberry cream around the edges of his plate. At first I thought his affections had been swayed by the tiny maid serving us whose charm point was a dainty run across the cafe to meet prospective customers - arms pinned to her sides and eyes glued subserviently to the floor. I then noticed an even cuter maid in glasses who seemed to be skulking about kitchen door and concluded that the love letter was probably meant for her and she was taking time out from her stalker. She probably heartlessly dunked his tender missive straight in the suds without reading a word.
Although the whole Victorian-era maid cosplay thing was undeniably fun, it seemed to me that the maid phenomenon is now so popular that the cafes just aren't trying any more. The place (Cute M, Akihabara) had a shoddy, half-finished look about it. The only attempt at original decoration was a pitiful wall display of red feathers stuck amateurishly to a grubby wall with glue in the shape of a lopsided heart. I was prepared to be fleeced for the overpriced 1,000 yen (about £5) cake and drink set, but I thought they'd try a bit harder with the ambiance. In the queue to the entrance I met some girls going together with their mum, when I asked why they were going, they didn't seem sure themselves and answered that they “wanted to see what the fuss was about”. Perhaps the otakus will soon be driven out by family groups and gaijin sightseers like myself, which should be good news for the maid in the glasses.

Sweet Caroline

A perfect antidote to the giddy, fizzy pace of Harajuku, I heard Caroline for the first time yesterday in a clothes shop while feverishly foraging through racks of frilly frocks and was instantly calmed.
Her gentle voice, reminiscent of Noriko Tsujiko, slows down and soothes, sounding out over dampened electronic percussion achieving a mellow diffuse effect without dissipating into formlessness. A hypnotic melody draws you in and opens you up to tiny nuances, so that the ting of the xylophone on Bicycle seems to resound down your spine.
Caroline's debut album Murmurs came out on the Temporary Residence label in 2006 Check out her myspace: