Thursday, January 30, 2003

If you read the NME you'll know all about the New Rock Revolution that's going on at the moment. It can be hard keeping up with everything living in Japan, but my coolest student - Hi, Kaori! - lent me the NME CD that came out at the end of last year with all the new bands on it. The Libertines, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Thrills, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - along with The Strokes these bands are really making music exciting again. I especially like Interpol (above) whose album, 'Turn on the Bright Lights' is moody and sweeping, very reminiscent of early Cure or Joy Division. One of the problems with the New Rock Revolution is that all the bands sound like someone from the past. BRMC - Jesus and Mary Chain. The Datsuns - AC/DC. And so on. But is that really a problem? If they sound good and look cool, it doesn't matter, right? Right? Go on, leave a comment. I dare you!

So what's been going on in Japan? Everyone's still fretting about North Korea. Nice to know that George and Tony are going to sort them out after they've finished with Saddam. WW3, anyone? Bring back the Cold War, all is forgiven. DoCoMo, the biggest cellphone company in Japan, have had to withdraw one of their most popular phones coz they kept catching fire. And an English teacher in Tokyo has been arrested for posting nude pix of his ex-girlfriend on the net. It wasn't me! More here.

One of my students told me that Hitachi has been given a contract to build bullet trains in England. But what will they run on? Expect to see them in 2038. If we haven't been nuked by then.

I've been getting loads more hits over the last couple of days. OK, so I ain't gonna be threatening Yahoo anytime soon, but it's nice to know someone's reading this stuff. Or glancing at it, at least.

For my adult readers, I stumbled across a very cool, and sexy, blog today called Raymi the Minx, written by a woman in Canada who likes taking her clothes off for the camera. All tastefully done, of course. Be warned, there are masses of pics - most of them clean - and the page takes a long time to load. But I bet this is the most-followed link from this page today. Hey, would I get more hits if I posted nude pix of myself? Um...

Finally, my 'Auntie' Jo sent me a huge package of chocolates, cookies and sweets which arrived today. Hog heaven, here I come.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Went to see my favourite band, Suede, tonight at the Akasaka Blitz. Here's my review:

From outside, the Akasaka Blitz, in the heart of Tokyo, looks like a branch of MFI. It’s a corrugated monstrosity surrounded by dazzling tower-blocks, ugly and out-of-place in the big city. And thereby perfect for a Suede gig. Brett Anderson’s lyrical concerns – trashy, sad, glamorous, lonely people, drawn to the metropolis like moths to a flame - have hardly changed over the years. He excused the repetition on ‘Head Music’ by saying he was trying to create his own lexicon. In fact, he was strung out on crack and too wasted to come up with any good lyrics. Despite his new clean-living lifestyle, the words on last year’s ‘A New Morning’ were no better. ‘Sometimes things aren’t like they are in lifestyle magazines.’ No shit, Brett. The first single from that album, ‘Positivity’ was reviled by Suede fans, and ‘A New Morning’ failed to make the top twenty. It was all a long way from the days when Suede were hailed as the Best New Band in Britain, kickstarting Britpop and paving the way for Blur, Oasis et al.

So some people might expect the Suede who are currently touring Asia, including their first ever visit to China, to be like a knackered old war horse, not knowing when to give up.

Wrong. Far from being knackered, Brett has never looked leaner or meaner. In their day, Suede made the Libertines look like a bunch of straight edgers, but now Brett is a walking, mike-swinging, hollering advert for abstinence and going to bed early. He prowls onto the stage, grinning like someone prone to statements like ‘I’m high on life’, and we’re off. They rattle through ‘Beautiful Loser’, ‘Trash’ and ‘Metal Mickey’. They slow things down for ‘Everything Must Flow’. They nearly start a riot with ‘So Young’. The energy that Brett exudes is so strong that you can almost see sparks flying off him. The rest of the band do their job, but right now Brett IS Suede. He seems happier than he ever did in the past, and the crowd respond in kind, beaming like loons as they bounce up and down along to ‘New Generation’. Brett says how happy he is to be back in Tokyo, and the crowd, who haven’t got a clue what he’s saying, roar.

Suede have such a strong back catalogue that the songs from ‘A New Morning’ find it difficult to shine. ‘Positivity’ is the low-point of the evening, and ‘Astrogirl’ sucks the momentum out of the encore. But ‘Obsessions’ is a Suede classic, with its piercing harmonica and Bret Easton Ellis references, and live it’s even better, with a long, slow intro that suddenly spasms into life.

At the end, after a rousing ‘The Beautiful Ones’, the man in front of me looks like he’s just climbed out of a swimming pool and I’m nearly crushed to death by teen girls at the T-shirt stall. Everybody’s buzzing. Suede are alive, well and galloping. The Best Old Band in Britain.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Omotesando Avenue

Since I've been in Tokyo, I've been trying to find the Bathing Ape shop in Harajuku. A Bathing Ape (or Bape) is a Japanese fashion label which makes hip hop-inspired clothing with pictures of apes on. It's painfully trendy, partly because the shop is so ridiculously difficult to find. This is fashion elitism taken to its extreme: there's no danger of any clueless, unfashionable plebs wandering in off the street. Until today...

This was my third attempt to find it. I knew from talking to students that it was somewhere in the backstreets of Harajuku, so one day last year Butter and I set out to find it, when we were looking for a Christmas present for yours truly. After combing the streets for about two hours, we gave up. Then someone told me that it's in a basement - with no sign and nothing to alert you to the fact that the shop exists. "It's just around the corner from Gap - turn left by Wendy Burger and it's right there." So we tried again. And failed again. Bape's slogan is 'Ape Shall Never Kill Ape.' More like 'Ape Shall Never Find Ape'.

I admitted my pathetic failure in locating this fashion mecca to my student, and this time he drew me a detailed map. Determined not to be beaten, I set out again. And forgot to take the map. Still, I remembered that it was just up the road from Wendy Burger and was convinced I would be able to find it. Apparently, a couple of years ago, when the shop was at its peak of popularity, it was easier to find because of the queues of fashion victims outside. There were no signs of anyone queueing today, which might be why I walked straight past, round the block and back to Wendy Burger. Then I had a brainwave: I'd watch the coolest-looking young Japanese guys and girls - and, finally, they led me straight to it. Down a set of nondescript steps, and there it was - a discreet sign that said 'A Busy Workshop', the name of Bape's shop. Resisting the urge to punch the air with jubilation I went inside.

Of course, it was an anti-climax, though it's certainly a lot cooler than Topman. The latest, limited edition T-shirts are kept in perspex frames. They had a grand total of six T-shirts, half of them extra small. The only ones in my size were pretty dull: plain white with the words 'Thug Mentality' across the chest. Not worth the 5800 yen price tag (£30). There were various jackets and sweatshirts too, and some nice sweaters which cost about 20,000 yen (£100). In a glass cabinet that lined one wall were some bottles of scent in ape-shaped bottles and a watch that cost 480,000 yen, which is more than I earn in two months. I wandered around a couple of times then left, satisfied that I'd finally found it, but disappointed that there were no must-buys.

Across the street, in another well-hidden basement shop, you can buy mint condition, second-hand Bape T-shirts for about 10,000 yen (£50). I resisted. In fact, I already have a Bape T-shirt, which I bought in the brilliantly-named Takeshite street for 5,000 yen. I'm half-convinced it's a knock-off, but no-one will ever know. Anyway, I have ambiguous feelings about Bape. On the one hand, it appeals to my sad need to buy cool things that are difficult to find, like limited edition Gloomy Bears with bloody claws, but on the other hand I think it's crazy and snobbish. The guy who runs Bape, Nigo, says his ambition is to open a hotel. I can see it now: a hotel that no-one can find, guests wandering in a daze with their suitcases in tow, and, inside, lots of beautiful, expensive, empty rooms.

Deceptively quiet from the outside

After failing to find anything to sate my consumerist desires in A Bathing Ape, I crossed the road to Kiddyland. This was not because I wanted to buy toys for myself but because I needed to buy a present for my 3-year-old nephew. Here's some advice: don't go to Kiddlyland on a Saturday. Why? It's full of kids. I bought him a Geomag (warning, their site has loud music) starter kit. Geomag is a bit like Lego, but with magnetic sticks. On the way out, I couldn't resist buying some Gloomy Bear postcards and a notepad. Now I'm exhausted.

Thursday, January 23, 2003
MarkCity just keeps on growing! I've just added another article, about life as a supposed Harry Potter lookalike, with a brief look at Anglophilia in Japan:

JK Rowling Ruined My Life

If anyone can think of any magazines/papers/websites who might be interested in this article, or any of the others on this site, let me know. I might have found a magazine for the Veggie article - we'll see...

Japanese TV has just started showing my all-time favourite programme, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I finally have something to watch. Saw Goldmember last night, a lot of which is set in Tokyo. I think for the rest of my life, anything remotely connected to Japan will interest me, no matter how stupid. I spend half my life here talking about England (today, for the thousandth time, I tried to explain the difference between England, Britain and the UK; most Japanese people are baffled by the fact that we have four football teams and one Olympics team; actually, it baffles me, too). I suspect that when I come back to the UK I'll spend half the time talking about Japan and become a huge bore. I apologise in advance.

Monday, January 20, 2003

It's not over till the fat bloke tumbles

The big news in Japan today is the retirement of the Sumo grand champion, or Yokozuna, Takanohana. He's the bloke pictured above, and to give an idea of how popular he is, the first 20 minutes of tonight's News at Ten was about him, there was a long documentary about his career hastily put together and broadcast this evening, and old men were pictured weeping at today's Sumo tournament. He has a beautiful wife and when he makes public appearances he gets mobbed by screaming girls. He's almost as popular as Beckham. Read more here.

Butter and I went to a Sumo tournament last year and saw Takanohana in action. A lot of people think that Sumo is a pseudo-sport in which a couple of lardy-arsed blokes in bright loincloths trying to push each other out of a ring. And it is. But it's actually highly entertaining, and very athletic. It's exciting watching these mountainous men lifting each other off the ground and toppling out of the dohyo (the ring). There's a lot of pomp and ceremony surrounding Sumo too, and spectators are treated every night to the sight of the wrestlers performing a rather cool apron-lifting dance. It will be interesting to see if Sumo's popularity declines, as it did a few years ago, now that its biggest star has gone. Also, the remaining Yokozuna, Musashimaru, is Hawaiian and his only real remaining challenger is Mongolian - so the top two Sumo are not Japanese. Rather like the Premier League, Sumo has been taken over by fancy-footed (or should that be fancy-fatted?) foreigners.

Had a big karaoke sesh last night, with large quantities of beer consumed by all. Personal highlights included 'The Real Slim Shady', Wham's 'Freedom' and a riotous 'Walk Like An Egyptian'. Ah, karaoke wa dai suki desu!

Saturday, January 18, 2003
I have a pain in my balls where some horrible little kid whacked me in the crotch earlier... It was horrifically busy at school today, three kids classes, including a group of three kinder-age girls who usually ignore everything I say and fight over the felt-tip pens. Then I taught another small child who fell off her chair halfway through the lesson. Suddenly, she was lying on the floor, her mother watching with horror from the next room. Luckily, she was fine and found the whole thing hilarious (the child, not the mother). It's actually pretty good fun teaching kids - when they're not punching me in the balls - and I briefly considered becoming a teacher upon my return to England. Then sanity returned.

I've had a lot more people visiting this site this week, which is fantastic. I have a favour to ask of you all - can you follow these links and rate this site:

Is my blog hot or not?

Japan Zone - please click the the big box on the left of this page.

Thank you! Or not such a big thank you if you think this site is a pile of poo and gave me 1/10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
We're going home! Booked our tickets today, with Korean Air. We fly back to London on March 7th. Nearer that time, I'll write a full, reflective and, no doubt, nostalgic, look back at the year just gone by.

This means, of course, that we will now have to find new jobs. Shudder. And this blog will have to change its focus. So there are lots of exciting events coming up in MarkCity . . .

I contributed my article about being veggie in Japan to another Japanese site, called Japan Box. It's interesting, and scary, coz people can give you a mark out of 5 and leave comments (just like you can on this site, except hardly anyone ever does). So far I've had several people say the article is cool, one has moaned coz I mistakenly said tofu originated in Japan (so shoot me; and yes, it comes from China) and another raving about the benefits of a pure-meat diet. As I have long suspected, the net is a stomping ground for nutters and sociopaths.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Yesterday, for the first time since I came to Japan, the trains were up the creek. Lots of people standing around on the platform, looking confused, no trains in sight, incomprehensible announcements (well, to me, anyway)... it was just like being in England. I was an hour late to work, where I was told I needed to get a chit from the station, confirming the delays, or my company would dock five hours' pay from my wages. This valuable piece of paper is now safely tucked into my wallet.

And I was feeling emotionally tender because I'd just finished Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass, the last part of the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. It's the kind of book that makes you feel as if someone has ripped open your chest, reached inside and squeezed your heart.

Yesterday was also Coming of Age Day in Japan, when 20-year-olds celebrate being able to legally drink alcohol by, well, legally drinking alcohol. Most towns have a big ceremony, where the girls wear traditional kimono and the guys wear traditional dark business suits. However, some towns cancelled this year's event because of drunken shenanigans last year. Amazing, when you think about what a bunch of boozers the Japanese are. The number of salarymen I've seen passed out on the train, and not from exhaustion... As well as lots of girls in kimono, I also saw a man wearing a horse's head, advertising a circus. Here is a picture of a this latter-day centaur-in-reverse:

Had an email from the guy who runs the excellent Japanese Streets site, which is linked to on the left. He interviewed the creator of GloomyBear, Mori Chack. The article is here, and it's excellent, with some great pictures.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Just felt like sticking a picture of Butterbird on a mega-packed Tokyo train on here. Tonight, on the way home from work, I was on a train that was twice as crowded as this - bodies shoved together, the stench of stale alcohol wafting through the carriage. Hmmm . . . Delightful.

Had an email this morning from Simon Moran, the author of We Are Nippon, the book about the World Cup which I mentioned below. He asked me to point out that the book - which is highly entertaining, funny and insightful; a great book for anyone interested in football and/or Japan - can be purchased directly from the publisher:

We Are Nippon

And after that product endorsement, I want to mention cloning. It's been my top warm-up subject in lessons this week. There's an excellent article on the Guardian site today:

Far off in the distance, beyond Antinori and the Raelians, beyond the massive risks of cloning as presently understood, it is just about possible to imagine a time when human reproductive cloning is safe to use. If that time ever comes, should it be?

Click here, to read it.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

The legendary Hello Kitty vibrator

Yes, it really exists, and is an official, licensed Sanrio product. Although they don't actually market it as a vibrator - it's a shoulder massager. Of course. I've added some links on the left - the J-list site sells the 'shoulder massagers' along with lots of other dodgy products, and less-dodgy stuff too.

Last night, we went to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building for a night-view of the city. 45 floors up - it was jaw-dropping; one of the most spectacular sights you can imagine. Looking down at the roofs of skyscrapers, lights shining and pulsing, like brilliant jewels spilled from some celestial treasure chest. Incredible.

I've spent much of today working on a guide to being vegetarian in Japan - you can see the results here.

Monday, January 06, 2003
We were talking about racism in Japan today at work. It's a common experience, as a gaijin (foreigner), to be stared at wherever you go, even in Tokyo. Today, like every day, when I sat down on the train, the people beside me shifted as far away from me as possible. Standing outside the school where I work, every other person who walked by gave me what would be construed in England as a dirty look. Very often, when people walk past you they make a horrible hawking noise which, I've been told by a long-term American resident of Japan, is a sign of disgust. And two of my colleagues, who can read kanji, report seeing a lot of shops and restaurants with 'No foreigners' signs on the doors - written only in Japanese, though, so most foreigners can't read them and wander in, unaware that they're not welcome. Last week, I was reading an excellent book about the World Cup, We Are Nippon by Simon Moran. He recounts an episode when his Japanese wife called a hotel in Hokkaido to try to book him a room. After the hotel receptionist has told her that they have rooms, she tells him her husband's name:

"Ah! No foreigners here."
"What? But you said there were rooms available, didn't you?"
"Yes, but not for foreign customers."
"Because they are foreign."

Yesterday, I had my hair cut by my very friendly hairdresser. I was flicking through a magazine and saw a pair of jeans I liked. I asked him if her knew where I could buy them. He knew a shop but he suddenly got all flustered:

"Ah, this shop... black."
"Black skin."
"I don't understand." (Well, it had dawned on me what he was getting at, but I played dumb.)
"You know kokujin?"

Kokujin means 'black person'. I think he was trying to say that I, as a white person, wouldn't want to go to a shop run by a black person. His English ain't great, and my Japanese is even worse, so I'm not entirely sure, but it was a bizarre exchange. Anyway, I'll have to return to this topic another time, because the Japanese view of foreigners is a complex and confusing thing.

There are rumours, on, that Apple are planning to bring out a chameleonic computer which changes colour according to the user's mood or the task the computer is performing. I want one already.

My friend Darren has pointed out that the Gloomy Bears are v similar to the teddies in Barbarella, which I haven't seen all the way through.

Sunday, January 05, 2003
I'm back! Kyoto was like a draughty, charming antique shop, a city of geisha, tree-lined canals, gleaming temples and rock gardens . . . well, some of it was. Much of the city is neon-drenched and traffic-choked. You can read a full report here:

New Year in Kyoto

There are also some pictures on my .Mac homepage:

Kyoto photos

I've also added some FAQs to this site:


I feel a bit low today - back to work tomorrow, Butter's not well and it's freezing. Got my Gloomy Bear, though. Butter won't allow him (it?) into the bedroom because he's too creepy. Anyway, Happy New Year, everyone.