Monday, April 30, 2007

Weird festivals in Japan...

Yeah... so the above is something I just ran across tonight searching around online... a festival with traditions dating back over 100 years in which sumo wrestlers hold babies up in a crying contest... you can't make this stuff up! Link here.

In addition to some of the more conventional festivals like Tanabata, which is huge in Sendai by the way, there are gems out there like the fertility festival held at an actual shrine out near Nagoya (apparently many affectionately refer to it as the "penis shrine", and with good reason), and my favorite, the naked man festival.

See, this last festival, held in the dead of winter, has you dressing up in one of the sumo diaper-looking things you see above - as an aside, if that guy was holding me up I'd cry too, then pee all over his diaper. So yeah, 1,000s of half-naked guys in the freezing cold, and they make you walk through a shallow yet frigid stream, then fight for a small bale of sticks in the maelstrom of nudity coagulating in a massive moshpit/scrum-like gathering at the base of a shrine. Traditionally, the person who brings a stick back to the door of the shrine is supposed to have a fruitful and productive year, but more recently, the one I heard of puts a gold stick in there as well that also comes with a cash prize. For this reason, I hear that some yaks try to enter, and will seriously mess you up if they find you with "their" gold stick. This in turn leads them to disallow anyone trying to enter with visible tattoos, but unless you have one of those full-back murals the old school yaks like then you can patch it up and squeeze through from what I heard.

Man, I gotta check some of these out some time! ;P The best stuff I've been to thus far was the snow festival up in Sapporo and the Streetjazz festival in Sendai, which is like on a totally different scale.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monkey Majik!

Ok, time to introduce you guys to some "local" talent - Monkey Majik. I say "local" because although the band is based out of Sendai, the lead singer and his brother, comprising half the bands members, are from our good 'ol neighbor to the North, Canuckistan! The lead singer and guitarist is actually a former ALT, which is the English teaching job that most others on the JET program do. Apparently after doing his time, err stint, on the English circuit, he called his bro over to help out with a band he started. Dude's Japanese lingo is probably better than mine and he mixes and matches with the English, making for an interesting mix sometimes. Needless to say they're big news out here, but recently they're starting to gain more recognition nationwide in the 2nd biggest music market in the world. (seriously, Japan's #2!!) The videos are 2 of their more recent releases, the 2nd being with M-flo, another multilingual act.

video 1
video 2

So yeah, the multilingual thing is where it's at in the music industry out here it seems... if you can pull off English and Japanese and mix them seamlessly then it's a winning combination. They've always loved throwing in little English words or phrases in there, but lately I've heard more and more acts that honestly qualify as bona fide bilingual acts. I like these two in particular though because I like the image they project as foreigners to the Japanese public. You may have thought that guy (he's called Verbal) in the 2nd video was Japanese, but he's actually a Korean guy that grew up in Japan going to an international school and graduated from Boston U! Anyway, the more high profile foreign Japanese residents with rockin' Japanese skillz we got out there the better, I say. Rock on.

Oh, and the way I found out about Monkey Majik originally was pretty interesting too. A friend of mine is apparently pretty good friends with the younger brother, BJ - she plays tennis with him all the time and stuff from what I hear. They're supposed to be pretty cool and all... they had a b-day party downtown a few months back that was open to the public, although I found out about it much later. Due to their popularity up here, I've put them in heavy rotation in my recent karaoke sessions.

Ok, check 'em out and enjoy!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hanamis rule!

Ok, it's official - I'm no longer a hanami virgin. I have popped the proverbial cherry... blossom. (cue slapstick bad pun drum roll ;P) One may wonder how I almost got through 2 full seasons of hanami in Japan and not gone to one, which I think may actually take more effort than just following everyone and going - and I do mean everyone.

See, last time in Chiba I went out to Ueno park in Tokyo and did in fact go to see cherry blossoms (hana=flower, mi=see), but I did not sit on a tarp for hours on end hopping from party to party with friends and random people in an excuse to get as much beer and snacks in my face as is possible for as long as possible, so it didn't count. That time we walked through, drinkless, looked at the flowers, then went to your standard izakaya restaurant/bar and that was that. No real different than any other night out, really.

This time around was sooo different though. These things are going on all day and pretty well into the night, and I'm talking weekends and weekdays, weather allowing of course. I hear stories of many a weekday warrior going straight from work/school to hanami, returning home on the last train, then waking up the next day to do it all again. I wasn't that sprite and nimbly-bimbly, but I did get around to the first part of that equation. I just happened to have today off, that's all, and if it wasn't pouring out here today I'd probably be out there again.

To give you a mental image to accompany the physical specimens that will follow (as in pictures), there are tarps under trees and people sit on them, normally with copious amounts of various alcoholic beverages and snacks. With "Dutch courage" in hand, it also seems a lot more common to see people mixing groups here and flowing over into the next group, which is normally a no-no in Japanese etiquette. Unless you're white, then of course you just do whatever you want as normal. As I mentioned before, it's sort of like a swarm of little outdoor parties/picnics within close proximity of one another and no barriers separating them. An izakaya without the walls if you will. It really doesn't have much to do with the flowers - I mean, you can barely even see them at night. Granted however, this may just be the modern perversion the kids have given to a time honored Japanese tradition that's been going on since the days of Genji and beyond - I've heard as much for the coming of age festival, in which newly legal drinkers don't wait to get home from the ceremony to get belligerently loud and obnoxious. Anyway, in it's current incarnation I'm thinking during the day it's closer to a picnic with a beer or two, but given the fact that the average Japanese person loves to drink despite being extremely weak at it that sort of falls apart as day progresses into night.

So yeah, good times. And with that and no further ado, I present you more pictures. Proceed to flickr and enjoy the rest of your day.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tokyo - the big Mikan

I shall start off with a little Engrish gem I found that a new acquaintance of mine found in Thailand - it has not only funny Engrish but also funny Japanese!

And with that, I shall now talk about Tokyo since I was out there last weekend living it up. I've always sort of thought of Tokyo as like NYC with a whole bunch of Japanese people running around, which basically means it's just a big huge international metropolis and isn't really that representative of Japan as a whole. I never really enjoyed it that much when I lived right next door in Tokyo as a student, spending the vast majority of my time living it up and partying locally.

Now though, I'm starting to warm up to the place. I think there are 2 factors involved here - 1) I now have money. Tokyo is frickin' expensive to go out, so if you're on a tight budget then you may not enjoy yourself. Clubs are usually 2-3000Y at least to get in, and drinks can add up. If you just go for karaoke or some 2hr. all-you-can-drink deal like they have everywhere then it's roughly comparable, but you still have to pay to get around as well. A good night out in Tokyo usually runs you about 10,000Y (~90USD) - I think Saturday was about 15,000Y for me, and keep in mind that's with free accommodations since my friend Matt is such a nice and wonderful guy.

2) I don't live anywhere near Tokyo. The only time I go there now is to visit friends, or for the occasional convention, which is really just something for me to do during the day wasting time between the nights where I visit friends. It's vacation town.

There are some other factors in there as well, but I'd say those are the 2 major ones. Of course there's the fact that Tokyo is a place where you can find absolutely anything, including Mexican and some decent Thai and Indian food. And it's one of the few places with actual clubs. I've been to live houses for bands, but no good clubs in Sendai. That stuff was cool back in school, but because I was there entirely for the sole purpose of learning Japanese I cared more about the Japanese stuff than variety. Now I'd say options are good - have some awesome ramen or curry rice one day and a juicy Hawai'ian burger or good Pad Thai the next. Go to a hanami one day, then dance to some house music at Yellow the next. In the past I thought the international element of Tokyo meant that it was less Japanese, but now I'd say that Tokyo is very much a part of Japan. It's a sign of where Japan is headed, since things start there and trickle down.

I'd also say that the people there usually have a better grasp on the rest of the world than a bunch of people do outside of the big city. Just like anywhere else, if you live in a small town you're more likely to be slightly removed from the rest of the world and more interested in local issues. After all, everyone's really only interested in stuff that relates to themselves, whether directly or through someone else. Go ahead and think about it - it's true. I'm lucky enough to be in cahoots with people that have international ties despite living in the sticks due to their jobs, but some of the people I interact with around town have absolutely no clue about the world outside of Mr. Miyagi-land and what I tell them, which is basically why I'm here.

Tokyo though is where all international businesses in Japan have their headquarters, which means that there are plenty of well-off foreign nationals to interact with as well as plenty of people that go abroad themselves for business and bring back all these crazy ideas from non-Japanland. People there have more world experience on average, which makes it easier for foreigners to get along, especially if you haven't been here long but even if you have. Also, all the best and brightest aspire to move to Tokyo after graduation since that's where pretty much all the big jobs are.

So do I want to go live in Tokyo now? Well I wouldn't go that far yet, but I will say that I am now starting to understand what people see in it. Yes it's expensive and crazy and crowded, which can be bad, but it's also more diverse and crazy and crowded, which can be good. Yes it's a big crazy city, but that's not necessarily bad. I would say that given the right offer I wouldn't be opposed to the idea of a short Tokyo stint, but I could see myself tiring of it after a while. Hey, sorta like Japan! ;P

And with that, I make no guarantees I'll post anything in the next couple weeks as I'll be working pretty much non-stop... or at least be at work non-stop. Big event coming up.

The yaks in full effect!

Hey all - been in Tokyo over the past weekend, and maybe if you ask nicely I'll tell you about it. ;P I'll save that for another time.

So I hear some craziness went down over at Virginia Tech - the media is simply a-flutter over here with everything too. My bosses heard that it was a Korean guy and were asking if he was an exchange student, sort of looking for a connection there somewheres. I see that he's been in the States since he was 8 though, so hopefully that's enough for them to stick with the fact that he's just a psycho that lost it and went postal and race/nationality has nothing to do with it. If you want to know my opinion, yes it's definitely a tragedy and I hope the families and friends of everyone involved are handling things ok. To put things in perspective though, how many people do you think died in Iraq that day? And by people I mean those on both sides, not just the casualty figures of the soldiers, since they're people too.

Moving along, some of the less reasonable people out there are using this to attempt to spark up the feud between Koreans and Japanese online as posted about here. I'd like to think said nuts are in the rare minority, but it's always those loud few that out shout the humble masses, right? If you don't know what I'm talking about with the whole J-K connection, then you must've missed the fact that Korea was colonized from 1910-1945 and all the atrocities that Japan threw Asia's way during that period. In addition to raping, pillaging and killing indiscriminately, I heard this one J-kid stole a K-kid's lunch and then said his mom had fat little stumpy daikon ashi legs. Things have actually been getting a lot better in the last few years, but every now and then people are stupid.

In other news, the yakuza have been rather busy out here lately. In the first yak-attack, the mayor of Nagasaki was shot and killed in broad daylight by a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, which is one of the top yak families. The originally reported reason? He wasn't happy that the city refused to pay to fix his car, which was damaged by some potholes. Shyeah right, and nihon-zarus might fly out of my butt.

As if that wasn't enough, today I hear some guy goes and shoots another yak then holes up in some apartment just outside of Tokyo. As of now the cops are still in a standoff with said dude. Now this of course means that those same internet nuts on their J-blogs are scrambling to make a connection to something, which in this case means mixing the VA shooting and yak shootings into one big anti-Korean jumble of badness. In case you didn't know, a whole bunch of zainichi Koreans and other people lower down the societal totem pole in Japan are at the head of the yak trees, so of course it all just makes total sense that Kim Jong-Il orchestrated the whole thing from his secret lair, then ordered a pizza topped with corn and mayonnaise because I hear that's how he likes it.

I kid, but seriously this kind of stuff gets a whole bunch of attention out here, basically since the violent stuff is the majority of the news that Japanese people get of the US. If all they hear about is school massacres and us invading Iraq/Afghanistan, of course they're going to think that the majority of the populace is packing heat on the way to the corner store. Boo Japanese media.

yak story 1
yak story 2

Thursday, April 12, 2007

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything...

It won't tell you anything related to my daily goings on, and it won't teach you anything about Japan... except maybe what's being passed around youtube on the Japanese side. And yet I simply must share - slug copulation, set to the soundtrack of Japanese pop artist Hirai Ken. It is just... wow. Enjoy.

(brought to you thanks to the fine people over at japanprobe)

Oh, and I got some Engrish for you here somewhere....

This lovely gem was at the top of a ski lift... taking the syntactical error out of the way I guess it gets the job done, but geez.

Ignorance: Freedom of soul. Wow. I have not as of yet graced this fine establishment with my patronage, but it certainly takes "ignorance is bliss" to new unexplored heights. Maybe the underlying message is that you can have more fun with English if you don't know what the hell it says. I guess their ignorance is my bliss sometimes, so in a strange way I concur.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Spring is... well, springing

Ok yes I know, two weeks. Bad, bad Doug. Shame on me. So new pics to see, this time from around Shichigahama. Now that the snowboard is away, I'll probably be going out to shoot pictures around town more often since I haven't as of yet. It's actually a lovely little town with some great scenery, so look forward to that. Also, my neighbor Jo just got back from New Zealand, so if you'd like to see a buttload of pics from the land of Mordor and sheep, click here. The blog's in French, but the pictures are bilingual. ;P

Now we're in the middle of hanami season here in Japan, which means that Spring has officially arrived. What little snow we had this year is slowly receding from it's mountainous perches to reveal... well ok, just a bunch of rocks, but rocks are cool too sometimes. More importantly though as it relates to this post flowers, and by correlation cherry blossoms, are starting to bud and bloom as nature shows signs of life all around.

Cherry blossoms only have a window of a little over a week where they're in full bloom, so everyone out here makes a huge deal out of them. They're treated as a national treasure, and not without reason. On the news, the weather is supplemented with a "sakura watch" telling you when to expect the cherry blossoms to bloom in your area and what stage the flowers are in (not yet, budding, in bloom, full bloom, gone!). The big thing to do this time of year is the hanami, which usually amounts to a picnic with plenty of friends and drinking on a tarp underneath the cherry blossoms.

Now the season has already come to close down in Tokyo but just about to spark up here... unfortunate considering I'm going down to Tokyo to visit people this weekend. The idea was to hit up hanamis in both locations, but I sort of missed the boat on that one I guess. I was planning on doing it anyway with whoever was down, but now I hear rain is in the forecast. Oh well. I'm hoping the blossoms will still be around when I get back as it'd be a shame to totally miss out. On the bright side of things, I'll be in Tokyo visiting people I don't get to see all that often, minus Mike, who probably has his nose buried deep in a manga out in Seoul right now because he's a nerd and had to stay and work instead of coming out to play with us. Boo work.

Oh, and apparently it was Easter this past weekend, which I totally forgot about. Happy Easter everyone, and while I'm at it happy belated birthday to both my parents! I'm sure though that you're progressively wishing people would just forget about birthdays now that you've both crossed to that other side of the hill. ;P