Saturday, 31 October 2009

Going Green

I have now added green foods to my autumn diet. I just can`t get enough matcha (powdered green tea) and am eating it in matcha mochi (soft rice cakes with red bean filling) and in the Starbucks Matcha Latte. It`s so healthy I can FEEL myself antioxidizing. Coffee is dead.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


Thanks to the student who pointed out that girl idol group AKB48 has 48 members plus the 18 members of its off-shoot AKB48 SEED. I must have blanked it out.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Ready for my J Pop National Service

I`d better make this quick as I could be called up to join a J Pop band at any moment. In order to appeal to teen groups (and their pocket money), bands used to have 5-6 members, one for each teen to like and `adopt`. Suddenly Japanese bands are appearing with even more members (see Hey!Say!Jump above with 10 band members). Not only that but after a few months the members `graduate` to spawn other bands which appeal to new markets and age groups. It`s the J Pop version of swine flu. At this rate everyone in Japan will at some time or other be required to spend time in a J Pop band.

Two examples. Morning Musume (Morning Daughters) are an all-girl band of such saccharine-sweet, paedophile-attracting awfulness, I weep for the lost cause that is Japanese gender equality whenever they appear on TV. And in one guise or another, they are ALWAYS on TV. Formed in 1998, they currently have 8 members, 17 former members, and 9 associated acts including Country Musume and Mini Moni. They`ve released 9 albums and their 41st single, Kimagure Princess, is out this week. From an anthropological point of view they tick many of the boxes for Occidentalist thinking. For example, their amateurish style of singing and dancing suggests an honest, country attitude, free of the corruption and dishonesty of the city (or just a total lack of talent). They are popular across Asia in countries where women are supposed to be dumb and compliant. And young. Minimum age requirement at auditions is 12 years old. Here`s their 2006 hit, Sexy Boy, featuring para para style dancing. Para para style is when everyone learns the dance movements to a song and does them at the same time. Japan is a group society, remember.

Plastic boy band Exile currently has 14 members, being an amalgamation of Exile and J Soul Brothers, which was the original name of Exile until they became Exile, and J Soul Brothers emerged as a new band. Stay with me. They have only one former member, Shun, who quit when he found he couldn`t fit on stage with all the others there. Since 2001 they`ve released 31 singles, 7 albums and 7 Best Of albums. Interestingly, they don`t have to be young. Their ages range from 23-40. Here`s their No 1 single from July this year, Fireworks - part one only due to Youtube copyright reasons.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Not Allowed!

A new sento (hot baths) has opened near my apartment. I quite like sento and onsen (natural hot springs), especially if the facility has some special feature like a sauna or a waterfall. There is a great hot spring resort at the beach near Nagoya where you can sit in a hot bath and watch the planes taking off. (Actually the airport also has its own sento too so you can have a bath and relax before you fly.) And I once went on a school trip to a hot spring resort which had a melon bath. It was a surreal experience sitting naked in a giant green bath surrounded by floating plastic melons, talking adverbs with my students.

All sento have strict rules about who can enter. Some tried to ban foreigners until Japan`s crusading human rights campaigner, Debito Arudo, took them to court. But they still do not allow any drunk people (obviously, as they may drown) and people with tattoos. Tattoos in Japan are worn by society`s so-called losers, only in Japan this means the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Ya.Ku.Za is the name of a losing hand in Hanafuda, a Japanese card game.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Yakimo Man

I`ve graduated from white foods to yellow. Which is good timing because the Yakimo man is back. Yakimo or yaki jagaimo are hot potatoes, regular white and sweet yellow. Traditional Japanese cuisine is not oven-based so most Japanese don`t have ovens in their homes. The Yakimo man drives up and down the streets in the early evenings calling people out from their houses to buy the potatoes from out of the open fire on the back of the van. The call - a taped chant on a tannoy - sounds rather spiritual. A colleague who had recently moved to Japan said to me, "The Japanese are so religious. I hear them calling the faithful every evening but I can`t find the temple".

Many supermarkets also have little ovens for potatoes and roast chestnuts. I walk in and think it`s Guy Fawkes Night.

Freshness Burger

I`m not a fan of fast food. It gives me a splitting headache. And why bother when there is always a sushi shop nearby. But on the rare occasions when I do feel like fried food, I head over to Freshness Burger in the high street for their Vegetable burger. It`s grilled tofu with tomato, avocado and relish. Goes well with their hot green tea latte. It is said that Japanese people live the longest because they have a lot of soya in their diet. I would say that it forms part of every meal the Japanese eat.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Bump of Chicken

The anti-SMAP brigade at uni have suggested that I actually introduce a band that most young people really like. They took a vote and Radwimps, Flumpool, Rip-Slyme, Kat-tun, Glay, Gackt and even Ikimonogakari made good running but the overwhelming winners were Bump of Chicken. Which is a pity because I think they are boring and bland. So my student will introduce them:

My favorite band is Bump of Chicken. They`re 4 people and consists of two guiters, base and dram. They`re rock musicians. They`re all from Chiba-Sakurai-shi. They met in their nursery school student. Their birth year is all 1979. Their brief is equality so they haven`t decide leader. They`re so cool!

Apparently, they chose their name because it means `cowards strike back`. They claim to be influenced by the Beatles (God knows how) and my students say their songs have beautiful and complex lyrics.

Well, try them. The first video, Namida no Furusato (Hometown Tears) will at least give you some idea of what a typical Japanese high school looks like. The second, `Danny`, is in English and will give you some idea of what a typical Japanese high school student`s English ability is like. Bloody awful.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Versailles Fashion

The other day in class the students were drawing self-portraits anime style. One student drew herself with long hair in ringlets and the others agreed it was very "Versailles". It reminded me of some clothes I had photographed recently on display outside a shop in Kichijoji. I couldn't understand the origin of this fashion so I wrote to ex-student K. He replied:

Umm... I don't know what kind of fashion too. In Japan especially Tokyo, there are many crazy people.
To me, it doesn't feel that's odd. This is merely one of fashion which born new style one after another.
I suppose these are inspired by anime or TV game(ex,dragon quest) whose story is the Middle Ages in Euro.
This period is noble sophisticated elegant to Japanese people.
Some might be fond of that kind of style.
Is it good explanation?
The smell of Autumn makes me happy:)

Thanks ex-student K and good luck with the Hip Hop.

The European 'noble sophisticated elegant' fashion is also popularized by the all-woman troupe known as the "Takarazuka" who perform musicals often based on romantic or fairy-tale periods in European history (although I have also seen a toe-curling excerpt from their version of West Side Story). I guess women playing male roles is no weirder than traditional Japanese forms such as Noh and Kabuki in which the female roles are played by males. Or even traditional English theatre. Even so, the Takarazuka seem odd to me. See for yourself. Here's a scene from their most famous musical, the Rose of Versailles.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Typhoon Melor

The 18th typhoon of the season, Melor, made landfall this morning and is currently working its way up the centre of the main island. Tokyo seems not to be too badly affected however most of the trains have stopped so classes have been cancelled for this morning. The building next door to my apartment is undergoing refurbishment (or 'reform' as it is known in Japan). The scaffolding is swaying and the canvas sheeting, which is supposed to cover the two-storey building from top to bottom like a curtain, ripped away and disappeared up the road half an hour ago. Oddly, the sun is shining.

Yesterday we were told to fill our bathtubs with water in case the typhoon cuts water and power. I don't think it will come to that here. But judging by the continuous TV coverage, other regions haven't been so lucky.

Japan's TV stations test the strength of a typhoon by sending some news cutie into the eye of the storm with a pakamac and clipboard and seeing how long it takes her to get swept away (see above). If it's really serious they send an ambitious young man down to the ocean and see how long it takes him to get an electric shock off his microphone. Great fun!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Autumn Stomach

Summer ended overnight. One day it was 29 degrees, the next morning it was 19. Japanese people are getting their autumn stomachs, replacing cold noodles with hot stews. But it takes a couple of weeks for your body (Japanese or foreign) to shift into autumn mode. As the temperature drops, we get muscle and joint pains and lose our appetites. I can only eat white foods right now: mochi (glutinous rice cakes like the ones above filled with red bean paste and covered in sesame seeds) and fresh tofu. The above tofu is a speciality of a little izakaya near my university. The toppings are, from left to right, chopped spring onions, ginger paste, and green tea powder. Pour on soy sauce and add green wasabi (hot horse radish)... delicious.

Typhoon Melor has just reached the islands of southern Japan. It is expected to move up to the mainland overnight. If so, lessons will be cancelled tomorrow.