September 13, 2007
When I was sitting in a train station in Japan, I watched a variety show that featured a young guy with a banjo lookin’ thing who was dressed in traditional garb … but produced some SERIOUS TECHNO ACTION with some lady with a flute and a guy with a drum. It was awesome.
Not being able to communicate in Japanese has put a serious crimp in my plans to find out who this guy was and buy all of the music he’s ever made. So, this evening I was hunting around on the Intertron, and found a few things that get me close … but not quite there.
First, the thing he was playing is called a shamisen, which translated into American means “three stringed, cat skin banjo, played with a spatula.” No joke, it’s made with cat skin.
That let me dig up some pretty sweet stuff, like this dueling shamisen video, some hot solo action, a little shamisen vs. a DJ, and a shimsen vs. taiko video that gets pretty darned close to what I heard in that train station. The common thread in most of the good stuff I found is Kinoshita Shinichi, who, apparently, has awesome fingers. This is a promising lead.
Any chance anyone else out there can help me in my quest?
Update: Worth posting again — the Hifana Wamono video that planted the Japanese hip hop / techno seed in my brain earlier this year.
September 8, 2007
A few of my graffiti photos from Tokyo have been explained and pulled into a Flickr group for Japanese street art … it’s a big collection. Worth checking out, if you’re into such things.
August 29, 2007
When: August 26th
Oh, the deer. Lots of deer. Cute, big eyed, white speckled little deer, hell bent on taking food from tourists. If you have a packet of special deer biscuits (or even if you don’t), be prepared to be mobbed by a small herd of nipping, butting, ravenous deer. Rumor has it that the first emperor of Japan descended from heaven on the back of a deer, in the sacred city of Nara. Since then, the deer in Nara have grown accustomed to a particularly relaxed lifestyle of lounging about and/or rolling tourists.
Other than the deer, Nara has a particularly high density of World Heritage sites. For example, the largest wooden structure in the world is located here, a Buddhist temple housing the largest sitting buddha in the world. It’s big. Amazingly big. I could lay down comfortably in the palm of his upheld hand. An average sized Japanese woman could lodge herself in one of his serene nostrils — we know this for a fact, as one of the pillars has a hole of the appropriate size for (dainty) tourists squeeze through.
Our host in Nara was a gentleman named Kenji, and his wife, Yoshie. They were energetic and gracious, patiently explaining to us how Japanese showers worked, introducing us to new foods, and guiding us through the history and highlights of Nara.
August 27, 2007
When: August 28, 11:40 AM (Japan Time)
Where: Hiroshima Memorial Visitor’s Center
Sorry for the break in communication — we’ve been wandering around Nara and Hiroshima without a reasonable Internet connection … but you can expect a series of posts when I find the opportunity to upload photos and copy some of my scribbling from my laptop. Other than connectivity issues, things have been going very well!
August 23, 2007
When: August 24, 8:30 AM (Japan Time)
Where: Righa Royal Hotel, Kyoto
We arrived at our hotel in Kyoto and immediately acquired an entourage. It took no less than six people to pick up our luggage, usher us through the lobby, guide us to our room, and thoroughly explain everything including a thirty second guide on how to (efficiently, politely) use a card key to unlock the door. What they didn’t explain was the toilet.
Toilets are peculiar here. There are the standard accessories you expect on a toilet, and then there’s the mysterious computer console. It has three knobs, four buttons, and two status indication lights, all perfectly labeled with squiggly lines that I can’t read. What I did understand is that there was a blue button, a pink button, a grey button, and it all had to do with water.
At this point, I should note that the entire reason I got into computers in the first place is that I have a nearly uncontrollable urge to push buttons.
The grey button is pretty straight forward. There’s a single character there, looking rather abrupt and grounded in it’s design, which seemed to communicate “push me, and I’ll stop whatever is happening, thank you, thank you.” The pink button has obvious feminine overtones, but only has two simple characters — reassuringly uncomplex. The blue button, with two complex characters and a frightening number of supporting squiggles, appears to do something quite masculine to one’s undercarriage.
So, having rationalized my fears and screwed up my courage, I accidentally pressed the pink button.
My view was obscured at this point, so I can only imagine what happened next. But, I clearly understood two things: it involves robots, and they were vaguely confused. I’ll spare the details, but I am happy to say that the grey button lived up to it’s promise.
August 23, 2007
Hey kids — I’m also uploading images of my Japanese adventures to Flickr. Check ‘em out if you’re keen.
August 22, 2007
August 22, 2007
When: August 23rd, 2:45 PM (Japan Time)
Where: Shinigawa Train Station
When it’s this hot, and this humid, people say “holy crap” when they see the sweat jetting out of my pores. It’s hot in Tokyo. And humid. If it weren’t so damn awesome here, I’d be completely miserable.
Yesterday afternoon was spent stumbling around in a jet lagged daze, hopping from traffic jam to traffic jam on our airport shuttle bus. We arrived at our little hotel, a family run place down a Shibuya alley, and collapsed in front of the air conditioner in our room, only venturing out to consume a slightly expensive dinner down the street at the train station.
The Japanese-style inns are wonderful. It’s everything you need to get a pleasant night’s sleep and prepare for the next day … but nothing more, and nothing less. Futons on tatami mats, a small bathroom, and a closet sized entry way with a small table set for tea.
We’ve spent most of the day getting our rail passes and time tables figured out, then spent a couple of hours in Harajuku, at the Meiji Temple, and a “western themed” pizza joint called Shakey’s. If you’re hip to shrimp, egg, and corn on your pizza, you’ll feel right at home.
The temple has definitely been the highlight of the trip. It’s in the middle of acres of of carefully maintained forests, ponds, and gardens. Wide gravel walkways wind through the forest to the temple, which was straight out of my fantasies about what such a grand structure would look like (albeit with more tourists). The curving roof lines, the thick wood construction, the granite blocks, the gardens and screens — all fit together perfectly, gracefully blending into the forest around it.
August 21, 2007
When: August 21st, 5:50
Where: 35,000 feet over the Bering Sea
Holy crap. I was prepared to spend 10 hours squished between disgruntled sweaty people, but when we handed our boarding passes to the gate attendant, they said the magic words: “Peter and Nova Bakke? You’ve been upgraded!”
Anyhow. I’m a big fan of flying. I’ll go cattle class and enjoy it, so long as I have a window seat. One of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen was on a flight over the north Atlantic. It was the middle of the night — cloudless, clear, with an extraordinarily bright full moon. The ocean was frozen, but breaking up. The ice was a brilliant silver, shattered like a broken mirror in the pitch black water, stretching off into the horizon. Just beautiful.
This time I’m in the middle row, and all I have to watch is a little TV, playing an uncensored copy of Hot Fuzz over and over again. Bonus points for showing a rather gory British comedy, complete with an abundance of amusingly coarse language. Not exactly “beautiful” … but certainly something special.
August 17, 2007
Woo, it’s been busy. So busy, I forgot to mention that I’ll be in Japan from August 20th through September 1st. Don’t worry, I’ll share the fun with everyone.
If you need to get ahold of me, e-mail works, and if you’re desperate, you can call my wife (who has an international calling plan). If you don’t have my wife’s number … too bad. We’re on vacation.