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Monthly Archives: December 2007

I’m in a bit of a rush today so in leiu of anything of real merit here is a list of amusing japanese band names.

Apui – they’re not at all shit.

Balzac – also a bit harsh on themselves.

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad – I really fancy a Mongolian chop right now. How about you famous alt rock musician Beck?

Bump of Chicken – this sounds significantly less appealing than a Mongolian chop.

The Candy Spooky Theater – and now I want some candy.

The Chewinggum Weekend – remember that weekend we chewed some gum? good times man, good times.

Earl Grey – what is it with the food themed names anyway?

Fake? – enigmatic?

The Gerogerigegege – I actually know what this means in Japanese and it still doesn’t make any bloody sense.

Godzilla and Yellow Gypsy – one of the weaker entires in the series. A traveller is not really a match for an 80 storey atomic fire breathing lizard no matter what the Daily Mail says.

Golf and Mike – this is a duo and neither of these are their real names. I understand the whole taking a nickname thing so I have no problem with golf but why Mike? His real name is Pirath, where’s he getting Mike from?

Happy End – I’ve got a very happy end right here, nudge, nudge, wink wink.

Head Phones President – I intend the visit the land of headphones one of these days. I hear it’s very quiet.

Husking Bee – ….a….no….no jokes fail me.

Hey Sey 7 – ok. seven…..was that meant to do anything?

kinki kids – I know why they’re kinki, they’re kinki for the same reason I am. Can you guess what I mean? Answers on a self-adressed postcard.

kome kome club – that’s ko-meh, ko-meh club and not what you were all thinking perverts.

MALICE MIZER – actually quite a good band. their name is short for malice and misery. It’s the answer to their own question, what is a human being made of? Malice and misery. Good band but they should cheer up.

Maximum the Hormone – ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

Melt-Banana – ok…ewwwwwwwwww

Merengue – is it a pudding or a merengue? No it’s a band. Bet they’d go well with melt-banana.

Mr. Children – I know technically there is nothing wrong with this guys name but honestly doesn’t he sound just a little creepy?

Puffy AmiYumi – Ami and Yumi are their names and they are both apparently puffy.

actually in reality they’re not at all.

Fun Fact: Puffy Ami Yumi have their own cartoon in America but not in Japan. Also they sang the fantastic theme song to the Teen Titans cartoon.

Rice – seriously what is with the food names?

Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her – this one is significantly less funny if you know what it’s a reference to. Answers on a self adressed postcard. Dad I expect you to get this.

Shilfee and the Tulipcorobockles – also known as the band that got their name when a cat sat on their keyboard.

Shonen Knife – translates as “girly knife” which sounds like an Australian insult.

SMAP – SPORT MUSIC ACTION PEOPLE. The Japanese Boyzone and exactly as horrifying as that mental picture is.

SONS OF ALL PUSSYS – Wait. All pussys? how does that work exactly? Surely you can only be the son of one pussy. Unless your a cat in which case at most you can be the son of 2 but in no way can you be the son of all pussys. No I think you need to rethink this one.

The System of Alive – I kind of want them to fight System of a Down. Don’t you?

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant – I christen thee michelle gun elephant. May god have mercy on thee and all who sail in thee.

Vajra – okay I admit I’m stretching now

AND NOW THE FUNNIEST BAND NAME THAT HAS EVER BEEN
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SPREAD BEAVER

Now if this were some punk band trying to be shocking it wouldn’t be funny at all but this guy is a sort of Mum’s favourite ballady type sunger. Think of him as the Japanese Ronan Keating….except his name sounds like a sexual instruction.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand I’m done.

(I’m sory for everything Mum, really it isn’t your fault that I turned out like this.)

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Sorry for missing Thursday’s post last week guys.

I’m going to defend myself on two accounts okay. Firstly I spent last Thursday sending Christmas presents and to most of yuo that read this that manes you directly benefit from my lack of blogging. Secondly I typed up a bonus post yesterday but my internet decided to go screwy and eat my typing.

Anyway as an added bonus to go with the rest of today’s post I HAVE A TELLY! This means I now have access to the gloriously insane world of Japanese television. As I type this my TV is on for the first time and I’ll be keeping you all updated on whatever madness comes on screen.

Already in the time it took to type that the news showed a “handball” game. A sport I wasn’t sure actually existed.

So what have I been up to then. Well on Sunday Night I went to go see the Kobe Luminare, the biggest and most famous festival in Kobe. They started it in 1995 to honour the anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. It consists of some really elaborate and orante Christmas lights which were donated to Kobe by the Italian government. Really they’re just a set of glorified Christmas lights but they’re quite famous and as I live in Kobe I thought it would be a shame to miss them.

And I’m really struggling to type at the moment because I’m very distracted by some kind of Yoga-themed game show and….
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DOCTOR WHO DUBBED INTO JAPANESE!

This is truly surreal. The guy doing David Tennant is utter crap but the voice of K-9sounds exactly like the original, and Rose just sounds….odd.

Anyway back to the Luminare.

So firsly I have to stress that I had to queue.

… and queue

….. and queue. For a long time.

And it wasn’t just that I was queuing but that we got herded like human cattle all around the city in a big loop. It was the city wide equivalent of when you go to a theme park and think that you’re nearly at the ride. Then you turn the corner and realise you have a whole room of zig-zagging barriers to get through first. It even had those barriers.

One thing the queueing emphasised too was quite how many people in Japan. I’m always aware that Japan has a lot more people living here than in anywhere I’ve lived before. Hell whenever I need to cross the road in Sannomiya there are always close to a hundred people waiting to cross at the same time.

However that’s nothing compared to the crowds whenever there’s a festival. Simply put you don’t realise how many people live in Japan until they all try and go to the same space.

Anyway I didn’t much mind the wait. This being Japan plenty of enterprising people were selling things in the queue and I bought a coffee to warm my hands and settled into a gentle wander. Enjoying the brisk air and the lights and sounds of the city.

Besides there were plenty of sights on the way.


Sorry for the poor quality pic. You can just about pic out the Anchor that’s been set up to look as if it was some kind of giant anchor on the mountain.


And this would be one of my favourite shop names in Sannomiya.

And when I finally got to the lights well….

I thought they were worth the wait.

I stand by my statement that they’re just glorified Christmas lights but they were worth seeing all the same. They are gorgeous, and I love the way they seem to float in the air without any visible means of support.

What did surprise me was that the Luminare was more than just the lights and actually had a proper festival attached.Now festival in the Japanese sense usually means 10 billion stalls crammed into one place selling an enormous variety of food. The form seems to be to eat constantly whilst looking at whatever visual attraction is the excuse for the festival. So not wanting to break with tradition I set out to get fed.

Amongst the foods on sale (alongside the game and toys stalls) were yakitori (various kinds of fried food on sticks), kebabs of various kinds, inuyaki (flattened fried squid on a stick), barbequed corn, noodles, doriyaki, sweet potatoes, hot dogs on sticks, lots of sake, some beer and some coffee and candy strawberries, a bit like toffee apples but with strawberries, which to me seems a bit of a waste of a strawberry frankly.

Being me I opted for the takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and they were gooooooooooood. I also had some taiyaki. A bit like doriyaki this is anko in pancakey style dough. But unlike doriyaki the dough is shaped like a fish and it’s fried first. I also had some tasty little pancake balls which were incredibly addictive.

Suitably fed I had an amble over to the so called “event stage” and watched a female choir do accapella versions of Christmas songs. They were actually pretty good but as it was a Sunday I had to dash off and get some sleep.

Anyway this was mostly an excuse to show case pretty pictures so I hope you enjoyed them.

And on the telly is the fucking DONDAKEE transvestite. Apparently he’s won some kind of award. If I haven’t mentioned this annoying git on the blog remind me to because he is the bane of my existence.

Oh good he’s gone and been replaced by….I think another transvestite. Have I accidentally tuned into some kind of fetish channel?

And on that note, goodbye.

First order of business in order to educate my father.

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and now onto the exciting things.

Exciting Thing Number 3

Remember how I was so excited by the giant Buddha and said it was easily one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen.

Himeji castle tops it.

Himeji castle shatters it.

Himeji castle is simply gorgeous.

Himeji-jo (the suffix jo means castle in Japanese) is somewhere I’ve been wanting to go pretty much since I arrived in Japan. Not because I knew it was stunning and magnificent but because other people were going.

Basically my knowledge of Japan before I got here was really quite limited, particularly regarding places to go. However, as I was in no hurry and had a guidebook and other people about me I figured I’d pick up on interesting things to do soon enough. And so it was that in my first few weeks here I’d ask people “what’d you do this weekend?” and they’d reply “oh, we went to Himeji castle”.

However I didn’t actually get around to seeing it until a couple of weeks ago. At first I was waiting for a group of people to go with. Castles are not something that generally excite me, although I have seen some nice ones, and I reasoned that I’d probably want a group of people to travel with. However plans always kept falling through and by the time I got around to starting my own plans people would always answer “oh I’ve seen it”. After a while I got sick of this and decided to strike out on my own….just as soon as the leaves changed colour.

Man am I glad that I waited until the leaves changed colour.

Just….stunning isn’t it.

I hadn’t actually heard of Himeji-jo before I came to Japan and I doubt most people have but I cannot recommend it enough. This is a must see sight in Japan. For starters it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and the oldest standing castle in Japan today but more than that it’s bloody gorgeous.

Himeji represents what Japanese architects can do when they really succeed. The traditional aim of Japanese architecture has its roots in the Zen and Shinto culture of traditional Japan. A bit like feng shui its all about constructing a building in harmony with the surrounding landscape so that the building actually adds to the quality of the landscape and vice versa. Building and nature combine together, the landscape enhancing the craftsmanship of the building and the building framing and glorifying the landscape.

Too often they get this wrong, especially nowadays, and simply plonk a gorgeous building in a crappy dark forest or ruin a subtle and glorious landscape with a hastily erected and natty looking shrine.

But when they get it right they get it right. Buildings like this are why I came to Japan. Well one of the reasons anyway.

And to top it all off it’s a castle, a real working castle (well not anymore). Not a palace or a villa but something whose main goal was being able to withstand an attack. That’s why it’s so tall. The castle is built on enormous stone walls (called bow curve walls for the curve of them that repelled attempts to climb them) at the top of a hill.

For this height it gets the nickname “the white heron”. Specifically that refers to the way the actual building seems to fly just above the tree line. This is easily my favourite feature of the castle, it looks like some kind of floating fairytale castle, not a real thing. The trees disguise the walls so well that it does seem to be hovering majestically.

And speaking of trees just look at those colours! Fiery red’s, rich browns, distinctive greens, yellows letting it all run together. You could not design a more handsome colour scheme. I like Autumn in England, its my favourite month and that’s in part because of the lovely colours in the tree line but England does not hold a candle to Japan. Here entire mountainsides look like they’ve burst into flames. And you don’t have to travel far to see a mountain here, there’s two by my house and I go up one to work.

Japanese people love red maples actually. Going to look at leaves is a bit of a national past time. It’s called momijigari literally autumn leaf viewing. That all sounds a little bit funny and odd and decidedly Japanese (“now it is Autumn so we must go to look at leaves for that is the thing that is done in Autumn” sounds very similar to an actual sentence one of my JTE’s said once “Now it is the season when Japanese people think it is a good time to read so I am reading because it is a good time for reading.”) until you come here and get swept up in the magic of it all.

Basically the Japanese love nature, and based on the nature they have in this country it isn’t hard to see why.

Anyway enough gushing about pretty colours (sooooo pretty) lets talk about castles.

Himeji castle was first built in 1333 and finished in 1346…then it was destroyed in 1580 but unlike most Japanese Castles it has not been destroyed since then, despite Himeji being bombed in World War 2. This makes it the oldest surviving castle in Japan and it was in use as an actual castle for a surprisingly long time. It was sold to a public trust in 1871 (for a staggering 23 Yen…wow!) and the last battle fought there was in 1868. This is a building that mixes gun racks with hidden rooms and devices for dropping boiling oil and rocks. There are many portraits inside of the wonderfully odd sight of men in full samurai armour loading and firing rifles.

The major building period was in 1601 where the bow curve walls were made, and therein lies an interesting story associated with this rock.

In 1601 Ikeda Teremusa embarked on the process of re-shaping the castle ruin into a habitable and useful defense again. However his major stumbling block was a lack of suitable rocks. It wasn’t that there are no rocks in Himeji but that they weren’t of a suitable kind for masonry and Teremusa had to raise funds to have rocks shipped from elsewhere. He was struggling to do this for months and as legend would have it an old woman donated her only millstone to start Teremusa off. Soon word spread of her charity and people from all over the region began donating stones to the castle and allowing for the walls to be built.

Almost certainly utter bollocks but a good story nonetheless.

About halfway through the day I got to experience the thrill of being all wise and knowledgeable because I got chatting to some Australian tourists wandering around the castle. I rarely get to exercise my annoying know it all genes in Japan as most of my friends have been here longer than me and speak much better Japanese. So it was really fun to recommend stuff and help them plan out the rest of their trip and point out interesting things in the castle.

I neglected to mention that the reason I could point out interesting things was that I had been given an English guide when I bought my ticket and they (being all of Asian descent) had been given the Japanese one by mistake.

And here are some of the interesting things.

Okiku’s Well

Okiku and the 9 Plates is one of the most famous and important of all Japanese folklore stories and forms the basis for most Yurei (Japanese ghosts) myths. It’s been made into plays, stories and filmed numerous times. Most recently it served as a large part of the inspiration behind The Ring/Ringu films which are brilliant and well worth a watch.

The basics of the story are thus…

Okiku was the beautiful servant of the samurai, Aoyama Tessan. She refused his amorous advances so he tricked her into believing that she had lost one of the family’s ten precious delft plates. She counted the nine plates again and again but could never find the tenth. As a servant she could have easily been killed for such an error but Aoyama offered to overlook the matter if she became his lover. She still refused and he threw her down a well to her death.

She became a vengeful spirit who tormented her murderer by counting to nine and then making a terrible shriek to represent the missing tenth plate.

This would be the very well where okiku was apparently murdered if she actually existed.

Obviously the vengeful ghost climbing from the well bit was borrowed heavily by The Ring, as was the general appearance of her spirit as one can see in this wood print.

Spooky huh?

Gun Racks

Such a weird contrast.

Anyway I pottered around the castle for a bit longer after that but eventually left to go try and find Koko-En.

The suffix -en means garden and Koko-En is a traditional Japanese garden. It stands in the remnants of the old Samurai quarters quite near to the castle.

But could I find it? Could I buggery.

Instead I got hopelessly lost wandering around the back of the castle next to rivers, through parks and the like and not getting anywhere near to Koko-En.

Not that I cared as the scenery was GORGEOUS!

Just look at it!

No I was serenely happy being lost.

Eventually I heard some music and wandered off to investigate it and found one of the strangest sights of my life.

On top of a hill, facing the castle was a man and a dog. Not that strange I’ll grant you but what made it odd was that he was singing, loudly and unselfconsciously in the direction of the castle.

His song was one of those weird Japanese ballads usually accompanied by the Shamisen. The aim of the singing seems to be to get your voice to go as wobbly as possible (I think the musical term is vibratto but I’m not sure and I know Fran hates it when I get things like the wrong). Rather than one note per syllable each syllable necessitates a wander up and down the scale and a weird wobbly effect that’s like…. well remember when you were a kid and you used to press the flap of your ear closed repeatedly so every other second the sound cut off? No..? Maybe that was just me. Anyway it sounds like that.

Nor normally I HATE this kind of singing. Whether its Shamisen singers warbling on like birds caught in a door frame or Christina Aquilera having some kind of stroke it is not a style of singing I like.

But this was guy was good.

And coupled with my confusion, the beautiful sight of the castle and the sheer unexpectedness of getting a free concert like this it kind of turned into something magical. A perfectly serene plateau.

Then his dog joined in so I quickly scarpered.

I did find Koko-En eventually. IT was alright. I like Japanese gardens but this wasn’t a particularly stunning one. I stopped in a place that promised I could have a cup of tea and admire the garden and was disappointed to discover it was a restaurant. I really want to sit in a Buddhist temple, on tatami and drink tea and eat wagashi but haven’t had the chance yet.

Still it was a nice temple and I had the local speciality, Unagi-obento or Eel Lunch Box. It was very tasty. Unexpectedly sweet and just what I needed after all my walking.

And then I had a walk in the garden and spotted that they actually had a proper tea room with tatami and wagashi.

Bugger.

Now most people and most guidebooks say that once you’ve seen the castle that’s basically it for Himeji, there’re some minor shrines and Koko-En but everyone says the town itself is pretty naff.

I disagree actually. Between the train station and the castle is a handsome very wide tree lined street and branching off from this is a veritable maze of shops. Essentially between the castle and the train station is one big shopping arcade full of really cool independently owned alternative clothing shops which I spent a merry hour just browsing around. Ooh and I bought a hat.

I also found the largest example of what I call a “hippy shop” I have ever come across. By this I mean a shop that sells a lot of beads, incense, vaguely African or Indian crafts and woodwork and some horrible Peruvian hats and tops in rainbow colours (of the type favoured by vegetarian students the world over). This place was HUGE though, it was practically a hippy supermarket and it seemed smack bang out of place in Japan but was packed, apparently there is a big demand for vaguely ethnic tat in Japan going unfulfilled.

I also know these shops by the name of Fran shops because of her peculiar attraction to them. At least she has the good sense not to buy the stupid Peruvian hats.

Looky looky I finally got my hit counter app working properly. Admire it’s pristine set of zeroes for they shan’t exist for long.

In fact they will automatically switch to a 1 by the time you see this.

Hmmm.

Anyway as promised I am now sticking to a regular update schedule. This weekend should see me finally post about my trip to Himeji (which isn’t worth the wait really but has some awesome photographs) but until then please enjoy more examples of my kids messed up and sometimes frightening English work.

This exercise was called Kocho-sensei’s monkey and is basically the bishops cat but written down. For example I drew a monkey and wrote the sentence “kocho-sensei’s monkey is….” and they had to finish it using every letetr of the alphabet.

For some reason they didn’t grasp that he was a monkey.
A and B were pretty uninteresting.

C – Kocho sensei’s monkey is cute

Every group wrote this and that tells you all you need to know about Japan.They love cute stuff here.

D – Kocho sensei’s monkey is dead/dying/die/die/dlag

Out of these groups one group didn’t come up with an answer, one came up with dlag which, frankly I have no idea about and everyone else killed the monkey….which I’m a little freaked out by.

E – Kocho sensei’s monkey is easy

The little tramp!

F – Kocho sensei’s monkey is fanny
I know they meant to write funny but nonetheless *giggle* fanny.

G – Kocho sensei’s monkey is India
……….what?……..oh right I think he means Indian.

J – Kocho sensei’s monkey is Jack

Again … what exactly did they mean by this?

J – Kocho sensei’s monkey is June
No he isn’t, he’s a monkey, not a month.

M – Kocho sensei’s monkey is man [sic]

No, he’s a monkey

M – Kocho sensei’s monkey is mine

No, he’s kocho sensei’s

O – Kocho sensei’s monkey is octobus

Putting aside for the moment the image of some kind of 8 tentacled method of transportation, no he’s not he’s a monkey.

P – Kocho sensei’s monkey is pig [sic]

NO HE’S NOT HE’S A BLOODY MONKEY! I EVEN DREW A BLOODY PICTURE!

Q – Kocho sensei’s monkey is question

Actually that’s Renee Montoya ( link for all those that didn’t get the reference )

U – Kocho sensei’s monkey is unclean

This one impressed me

U – Kocho sensei’s monkey is U.F.O.

Whereas this is just someone writing down the only word they can think of beginning with a u.

V – Kocho sensei’s monkey is victory

For some reason every single group wrote this.

W – Kocho sensei’s monkey is wrong

Hey don’t judge kocho sensei’s monkey, he’s just doing his thing.

Z – Kocho sensei’s monkey is ziblar

I entirely agree

Okay so maybe not a post every night but still more EXCITING THINGS to come.

Until then I’m going on a massive digression with the first regular Tuesday post and talking about Final Fantasy 7.

Final Fantasy 7 for those not familiar with it is a computer game. You can find out more than you could ever possibly want to know about it here.

However all you really need to know is this. Final Fantasy is not like normal series of computer games, rather than Final Fantasy 7 being a sequel to 6, 5, 4 and eventually just Final Fantasy each new Final Fantasy game is a wholly unique game. It shares some elements with earlier entries in the series but creates its own fantasy world.

FF7 for some reason became massively more popular than any version of the game before or since, to the extent that it’s had numerous spin offs and sequels in its own right that aren’t technically FF games, its own film (Final Fantasy: Advent Children) and an absolute metric fuckton of merchandising.

The reason this is all pertinent is that this year is the 10th anniversary of the release of FF7. So what says you and I but in Japan to the gaming culture this is a HUGE event. There are new games (FF7: Crisis Core) a new film (Last Order: Final Fantasy 7) re-releases of nearly all the older games, new toys, new merchandise and generally its a big excuse to shift a lot of Final Fantasy 7 crap.

Including my favourite piece of video game merchandise ever.

Look, look it’s a “potion” from final Fantasy 7. Potions were just stuff you could buy that replenished health but now YOU CAN DRINK ONE!! Yay! I love this kind of tie-in, stuff plastered with likenesses is one thing but taking a fictional world object and making a real version of it is always fun. So even though I’m not a big FF7 fan (my personal fave is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance) I just had to get this.



The can is pretty nice actually, the print is lovely and clear and the CGI artwork is quite attractive. All in all much classier than a cheap tie-in needed to be.

While I came for the potion most fans will undoubtedly be after the toy included with the can. Now I know full well I’m a grown man and so shouldn’t be buying toys, even cool looking ones but honestly, no word of a lie, toys are considered quite cool here. No I’m being quite serious. I know an upmarket women’s shoe shop in Sannomiya which proudly displays quite a large set of Ultraman figurines in the window. Toys just don’t have the stigma they do in the West as being just for kids(and lets not get started on the porno statuettes). So while I’m not a toy collector I have picked up the odd thing.

So lets see what I got.

AWESOME! Vincent Valentine easily the coolest looking figure in the set. Gotta love the Cerberus statue he’s perched on. Plus I love a skinny gunslinger in a tattered red cloak. It worked for Trigun after all.

As for the drink itself. Well it’s green, fitting considering the in game potions were green, but never a good sign. It smells alarmingly like the chemical flavour from my childhood known as “bubblegum”. A flavour that always annoyed me as a kid because, well bubblegum itself is flavoured. Bubblegum can’t be a flavour when it comes in many flavours. That’s like having an ice cream flavour or a soup flavour. Nonetheless bubblegum pop was its own flavour. Sort of horribly chemical stuff with a vague sense of fruit but mostly just horrible saccharine sweetener.

So it smells of bubblegum…..how’s it taste?

Ah…. of bubblegum.

And now for no reason here’s a picture of famous Japanese transvestite Gackt dressed as Vincent Valentine. Enjoy.

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