Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Last post of the year so sumfin a bit culchural. Sho-gatsu (new year).

These plastic packed beauties are 'kagami mochi' topped with a 'Dai-dai'. Kagami mochi would be traditionaly made from two pieces of mochi, one smaller one on top of a larger one. These would then be topped by a small orange like citrus fruit called a Dai-dai and displayed in the entrance hall to mark the end of a year, then eaten in a kind of soup in the new year.

Next up, the 'Shime Kazari' grass wreaths which can be seen on the doors and entrances of many a private home and business place in the new year period. This one was hung by the entrance to a Soba noodle restaurant nearby our "Mansion" (ha ha). See the Sho-gatsu link for a brief explanation of Shime kazari.

And I'm spent.
Tonight we will be in Arco, the small bar that we took my dad to for his birthday when he was over here, and also some of my sister's friends when they passed through. Happy new year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

At home

I had a call from a photographer friend the other day. She had been asked by a local magazine to find and photograph some 'interesting interiors' for an article on 'interesting interiors'.
I suppose she must have been an interior short of a presentation, because she asked to come round and photograph our place.

These photos are some of the test photographs taken to show the folks at the magazine, who will then decide if our place is 'interesting' enough to show their readers. They also give me the chance to show you some interior snaps with me in them.

We live on the third floor of a five storey "Mansion" (what the Japanese use to call something we might call flats or an appartment building). Can't afford a real mansion? Move to Japan and rent a small one!

We begin with the living room.

Then the room between the living and kitchen.
The fan is a god-send during the humid summer.
Just the one snap.

And then the kitchen/dining room area.

Not very mansion like is it?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day P.M.

The drink before the fancy dress party.

Christmas morning in Osu

2PM in the bar. Uploading the photos from the bar's computer.
Me: It's strange isn't it? I'm the only customer!
He-kun (barman): It's Monday.
Me: It's Christmas day!
He-kun: It's Monday.

Christmas Eve at the Sushi-ya

(Disclaimer: all photographs taken by some idiot drunk on hot sake with a camera and flash unit completely beyond his control. I thank you.)

Monday, December 18, 2006


I finally got out of bed early enough to go and watch Mitz's Kung-Fu practice. She started about 2 years ago and has, through rain, shine and hangover, been going (nearly) every Sunday morning since. She and the other 9 or 10 regulars are learning San-Sai Ken (三才剣), one of the forms that uses swords. かっこいい!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Kan Kan Oji San

"Aki Kan" in Japanese may mean empty can, but there is still money in it. You can see them everywhere. Not dancers, Kan Kan Oji San. The old boys who collect up cans put out for recycling to sell on to a recycling company themselves. Some are homeless, some are in it for the extra cash.
The cans are usually carried on a bike. The bike in this picture once carried all of the cans now being flattened on the ground. More daring than Mr. Kenevil, with better balance than a Chinese circus acrobat, see those Oji San go.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Buy two, use one

On the night of the great art and music live show at the Plastic Factory club in Nagoya, my camera gave up and died on me. I had been asked to take pictures, but instead spent 3 hours at the bar pulling out and putting in again the battery and memory card from the lifeless Nikon. My friend Thomas drank long island ice teas to show me his support. Ping.

Two hours into the humiliation and someone arrived with a Cannon 5D and started snapping happily away. Luckily she agreed to donate photos to the clubs web site so the evening was not a total loss for Heinz, the Swiss-German owner. We got snapped before I gave up, took the taxi fare and went home. Did I get the pout right? It comes from the nose you know!

Looky Likey

Isn't this nice? I got a mail from the Editor of Japanzine, the magazine for Japans western residents (outsiders / foreigners / non-native types / gaijin), to say that one of my photographs has been chosen for the magazines photo competition final.

This photo from my 'Superkids' post will be printed alongside... erm.... some other shots. Won't know which till the January edition comes out. This link will take you to the competition home page. Have a look. It's interesting to see what people choose to present as their image of Japan, and in amongst the fancy titles are some good photos.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Winter lights

It's winter in Nagoya.
Out with the Parkas and let's shopping!
This is part of the light display in the shopping arcade in Osu.
With a huge variety of independant craft, clothing and food shops and with perhaps more recycle clothing shops than the North Lanes of Brighton it is the gathering place for the pilgrims of street fashion.
People also live there. And it has bars! Have I convinced you? Osu is good!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You like? Me neither! Let's try more!

Went to Sakae (department store land) in Nagoya last Saturday for beauty goods and lunch. While waiting for Mitz to be overcharged I was watching the counter next door.
How out of place does a tall pasty foreigner look standing in his winter best with a huge cold sore and Digital SLR in a make up sales area? Very. I'm not confident taking candids as I prefer to have the subjects permission first, but my presence and what I was doing could only have been missed by the 'drugged or the determined' (a new film title?).
Art it ain't, but a moment it certainly was.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Have just turned on the T.V to find a full on tsunami warning after an earthquake in the northern area of Hokkaido.
(in japanese only)
this was a quake magnitude 8.1.
Depending upon the area (very wide) the height of the tsunami could reach from between half a meter and a maximum possible height of 7 meters.
The tsunami is expected to strike any time from now (9:20) to 10pm.
In Nagoya we didn't feel a thing. news still coming in. more to follow.
News advises those feeling tremmor to reach high ground fast.
Quake hit the Hinan Islands.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The tip of the Gold Mountain

Kanayama (where I is livin') is written with two chinese characters (kanji) 金山: the first means gold, the second means mountain.
The tallest building in Kanayama at the moment is the Kanayama Minami Building. It contains a hotel, office space and a museum and art gallery. It was also built right next to the south exit of the train station, which is where the rockabilly boys come to dance.

The building was completed in 1998. It is 134.4 meters tall with 31 floors above ground and 4 below.
The museum space is a satelite of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Boston museum signed a 20 year contract to supply exhibition materials to the Japanese site, in return for which the Japanese site paid a cool 50 million U.S dollars. Nice!

A view from the northern side of the station.
The kanayama minami building also houses the Nagoya Urban Institute.
Check the link for a detailed explaination of their urban activities.
The structure in front of the hotel here is the electricity generating wind wall that supplies power to the recently completed open air shopping area, curiously named 'Asunal' in English and 明日なる (Asu-naru) in Japanese. Mitz tells me it's short for '明日元気になる' (ashita genki ni naru). Grrreat.

The curious design of this and other buildings around Nagoya is something I will be coming back to at a later date. Japan seems to be going through a period of architectural confusion. It is a sad thing that the first impression of almost every big city I have been to in Japan was that it could be almost any other big city in Japan. There is no architectural flavour as such, more like an overuse of architectural MSG. City planning? Still, like I say, another time, with some research.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Super Kids

Friday the 3rd was culture day in Japan and a national holiday. There were various festivals and cultural activities throughout the weekend that I did not go to, but one on Sunday that I did.

This year saw the first ‘All Japan Super Kids Dance Contest’. On Sunday the grand final was held in the outdoor shopping area just down the road from my house in Kanayama, Nagoya. I went for a quick look, but then stayed for a few hours chatting to some of the dancers, the teachers and the passers by.

If you come to Japan you will see them. Not ninjas, dancers. They practice in schools, they practice in parks, and they practice on the street using glass fronted buildings for their studio mirror.

I spoke to Hiro Sakuma, one of the competition judges and a member of the ‘Spartanic Rockers’ dance team who were the winners of the U.K B-boy championship 1998 (and are still going strong). He gave me a brief history of modern dance in Japan.

It began for many, he said, in the 1970’s and 80’s with the American music program ‘Soul Train’ that was aired in Japan. Hiro told me that he used to watch it when he was growing up and that it provided an inspiration for a new generation of dancers. What about the young generation of today? Hiro explained that until about 6 years ago, breakdance was still the most popular form, then Hip-hop and other related styles began to gain popularity until about 3 years ago when the dance craze hit the mainstream.

Why it went mainstream is another story, but I imagine that the (instantly disposable) idols of the J-Pop industry have done their bit to popularize dance. Remember the boy bands of the early nineties? That sort of thing but with more glitter.

So now many people want to learn the new ‘non-classical’ forms of dance. I spoke briefly to an 59 year old lady (not in picture) who had been to see Janet Jackson in concert a few years back and last month signed up for the Hip-hop class at the local dance studio. She had come to the show to support her classmates. What about the younger dancers themselves?

I interrupted two girls during their rehearsal to ask them. Both age 15 and in their final year of Junior High School, they had traveled from Yokohama that morning. One told me that she wants to be a professional dancer, the other that she wants to be a dance teacher. Not at all different to the dreams of many girls of the same age in the U.K. Younger kids that I asked just told me that it was fun.

So now this very free style of dance has broken like a tsunami upon the shores of Japanese culture. I asked Hiro about the place of the more traditional forms of Japanese culture such as Kabuki in modern Japan, he told me quite simply that this is not Kabuki’s time. It’s the time of the ‘Ao Zora Kyoushitsu’, the open air classroom. The message is ‘just go out and do it’ (and yes, Nike were one of the main sponsors of the event)

So who won the competition?

I have no idea. The cat needed feeding and the shopping just wouldn’t wait. Time will tell if this dance craze has ‘got legs’, but for the moment I don’t see it slacking off.