Three Things of Middling Interest

Odds and Ends time today as we play catch up on some things I did recently that don’t merit a full post but might be of interest.

The Kobe Matsuri

The hot weather is coming and Matsuri (festival) season is approaching. At the moment we’re stuck firmly in the rainy season in Kobe so the weather is changeable, wet and generally not very nice. However for a brief spell before the rainy season started we had a couple of brilliantly sunny weeks and I got a preview of what summer in Japan will be like. Not fun, although I am looking forward to the festivals.

The Kobe Matsuri was a bit contradictory in many respects. It was partly a huge event and partly a bit of a non-entity. For starters none of the things I associate with Japanese festivals were present, no stalls selling tako-yaki, no goldfish catching games and nothing to do with religion or tradition.

What it did have though was a parade. I’m not particularly well versed in parades as Leeds is not known for any particularly famous ones and so my experience of them is largely limited to Disney World and the Scholes Village Gala. I can safely say that the parade at the Kobe Matsuri was better than the Scholes Gala but probably not as good as Disney World. Yes I know; that’s hardly particularly illuminating but what can I say, I know sod all about parades.

The highlights included.

A group of Beavers, Cubs and Scouts that carried tents in the parade. Of all the things I expected to see small children hefting tents about was not one of them. I’ve seen tents and they don’t really impress me, even if they are hefted by children.

A samba troupe. This group must have been enormous because they had actually managed to set up a second smaller parade on the way to the main one. In the main parade they had legions of women of various ages and body shapes dancing along with a band. The band was pretty fun. Again I know nothing about samba music but I generally dislike most Caribbean music and this was fun and cheery. I feel sorry for the guy singing though; he had to repeat the same phrase again and again for hours. I can only imagine the state his voice was in afterwards.

And finally giant ambulatory cigarettes. Because nothing says Kobe like waving fags.

The parade was a good laugh but the rest of the festival was a distinct disappointment. Events were spread out between the city centre and “Harborland” near the port. The stuff in the city centre wasn’t even vaguely diverting and the “Harborland” attractions had closed by the time we got there from the city centre.

Universal Studios Japan

Due to poor weather Fran and I had to abandon plans to attend a barbeque and were left with a free Sunday and no real plans.

We decided to go to the theme park that’s just on our door, Universal Studios Japan, or USJ as it is more commonly known.

I’ve been to USJ before and I can kind recommend it. If you’re an English speaker than I don’t really recommend it, at least not in preference to the park in Florida. The rides in USJ (Back to the Future, Jaws, Spider-man, Waterworld, Shrek 4-D, Jurassic Park and Backdraft) are all exactly the same as the originals with one exception. They’re all translated into Japanese. This would be a serious disadvantage if you didn’t speak Japanese because most of these rides are story driven and knowing the plot is integral to enjoying them. Only Spider-man and Jurassic Park are really rides with the others being more along the lines of shows or simulators.

However, as I have been on all the original rides I have the luxury of knowing the plot in advance and being able to compare it to the Japanese version. This for me is part of the fun, in that the Japanese attendants are super-super-ultra-genki. The staff in the theme park in Florida are some of the syrupiest, most gee-whiz and golly gee perky monstrosities to ever walk to earth. Doubly so because I’m British and we don’t do perky. But my god, they have absolutely nothing on the Japanese staff. These people are so happy they look like they might explode at any moment and reveal Hello Kitty’s head in their place. They actually applaud you when you complete the ride. Their smiles are like staring into some kind of diabetes hell. Sterner men than I have gone mad gazing into that grin. And yet it holds some kind of bizarre fascination for me. The abyss not only gazes into me it invites further gazing.

There is one attraction which as far as I know is unique to USJ; the Hollywood Dream roller-coaster. It’s a pretty generic coaster, nothing too exhilarating and pretty tame but it has two distinguishing touches, one great and one incredibly lame. The great touch is that riders can select theme music to be played whilst they are on the rollercoaster. I love roller-coasters but I have decided that what I love even more is blasting around a track at high speed whilst the Beatles tell me to get back, get back, get back to where I once belonged.

The distinctly annoying touch is that riders are requested to empty their pockets completely and put them in a locker before riding. Why? I have been riding roller-coasters for years and whilst I have voluntarily divested myself of some things I think might get lost (mostly hats) I have never, ever been requested to entirely empty my pockets. Mostly because it isn’t necessary. G-force pushes stuff back into the seat. Even if you turn upside down (which you don’t) the majority of your pocket contents will stay in your pocket. I know it’s a minor thing to whinge about but the Japanese staff are so bloody insistent about it, constantly checking your pockets and actually checking to see if you have bulges. It feels insanely patronising which is one the biggest issues with being a Gaijin in Japan, the feeling of being patronised constantly. It’s a palpable hatred in the first few months but it eventually fades as you learn how to fit into Japanese culture more effectively.

By far the best thing about the Japanese version of Universal Studios though is the shopping. All I really need to say is that there is a shop called “Hello Kitty Celebrity Style.” Fran was very, very pleased. Pictures of my Helloy Kitty themed humiliation will be posted later this week.

Beer Festival

I love beer.

No, I really, really do.

I don’t drink beer for the alcohol, I don’t even particularly relish being drunk, but if it wasn’t so bad for me I would drink beer with every meal and all day long.

Beer is simply my favourite drink.

And I mean beer here, not lager and not that crap Americans laughingly call beer; actual beer. Ales, stouts, bitters, porters, blondes and all the rest.

I was pleasantly pleased when I moved to Japan and found the beer here to generally be to my liking. In my experience outside of Europe it is a real struggle to get what I would term a decent pint and I was deathly afraid that I would be stuck drinking Asahi Super Dry for three years.

Much to my relief Japanese beer tends to be very strong tasting and flavourful, particularly the “All Malt” and “Hop” versions of the main companies beers. They have a rich and complex palate but are sharp like a lager. Japanese beer uniformly has the body and consistency of a lager too although not always a carbonated one. This generally doesn’t bother me too much as the thinner, waterier beer suits the warm climate. However once in a while I do get a hankering for a proper English Ale.

I was very intrigued then when I was offered a chance to attend the Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka. For a mere 3000 Yen (about £15) I could drink as much beer as I wanted for 5 hours and sample a variety of brews from across Japan and around the world. Another example of something in Japan that simply would not work in Britain.

When you enter you get a free glass with this brilliant environmental slogan.

I have no idea what it refers to but that is some green thinking I can get behind.

You can take this glass to receive a free sample at any of the various stalls in the building and at various points there are stations where you can rinse out your glass to prevent the cross contamination of flavours.

I had a brilliant day, went with a group of friends, drank many delicious ales, got very tipsy and ended up at the karaoke.

Of the beers I sampled the Japanese beers played to type by all being deliciously flavourful but completely lacking any sort of body. This was especially pronounced in the porters and stouts which were far too watery to possibly bear those names.

Stands out included an “Inperial [sic] Chocolate Stout” which was a wee bit watery but very strong and richly flavoured. Conversely all my friends thought it tasted of tar. A grape beer was highly regarded amongst my companions but to me tasted like a child’s melted lollipop in some beer. A caramel beer from Hokkaido was a massive hit with all concerned and quickly sold out but was my favourite of the day. Rich, sweet, fruity without being sickly and with a caramel undertone that put me in mind of my favourite beer in the world, Deuchars Caledonian IPA. Also a man with a clip-board whom I assumed was quite clued up recommended a Coriander Ale which was one of the foulest things I have ever drunk.

However for me the overall winner was a Palestinian brewery called Taybeh. They produced a range of ales from an IPA to an amber to a very dark ale that were all quite sweet but refreshingly well bodied and very complex on the palate. Their slogan also drew some interest. “Taste the Revolution.” Hmm, possibly not in the best of taste.

Oh and as an added moment of surrealism the food people were selling Shepherd’s Pie.

I shall have to start including that in my self introductions. Nobody in Japan claims to know any British foods outside Fish and Chips so maybe I can surprise them with the revelation that shepherd’s pie was how I used to fortify myself at University.

That’s all for tonight. This week I should have some videos from the festival, pics from USJ and an article I wrote some time ago but that has been sitting on my memory stick at school.

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