pacific rim pretentiousness 

Warmed wabs wage war on worldwide warming

Been busy with work recently (not to mention Grand Theft Auto on the PSP), hence the lack of postings, but I just had to pop in to let you know that those teams of Japanese scientists that have been working around the clock to come up with ways to beat global warming have made a significant breakthrough: heated bras.

You've probably heard of "Cool Biz", the Japanese government's drive to save electricity over the summer by encouraging salarymen to ditch their ties and go easy on the aircon. Well, the corollary to that is - bear with me here - the ingeniously titled "Warm Biz", whereby office workers all over the country are encouraged to wear warmer clothes and go easy on the heating.

It's all well and good, of course, and I personally have been keeping my Biz Warm recently by wearing sweaters (well, hoodies, mainly) around the office. But heated bras? Really? Why do the girls get heated bras, but we guys don't get heated neckties? And why not just encourage people to wear scarves? Or hats? Or gloves - my touch-typing could hardly get any worse, after all.

And surely a scarf is more environmentally friendly than a bra containing HEATING ELEMENTS THAT NEED TO BE REMOVED AND STUCK IN A ****ING MICROWAVE OVEN WHICH RUNS ON... PERHAPS... ELECTRICITY? That is, if the point of this whole deal is indeed to save electricity, and not just, say, sell more bras.

*Sigh.* Calm now.

Posted by chris at 11:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

EVA Air Launches Hello Kitty Jet; Fails To Explode Into Ball of Kitsch on Take-off

I love planes, me. They're great. Flying too, no problem, love it. However. I think even I might balk at having to get on one of these: Taiwan's EVA Air Launches Hallo Kitty-themed Airbus 330. If one of those fleabag Kitty-besuited cabin crew came anywhere near me, I'd lamp them, I swear, such is my hatred of the Mouthless One. Air rage charges and sobbing children be damned.

Pokemon-themed jets, however, are a completely different matter. We actually flew on one of the ANA Pokemon jets on a trip up to Hokkaido earlier this year, and it was in fact rather cool. They were handing out goodie bags and postcards to all the kids on board; although not exactly children ourselves, we managed to blag a couple of the hagaki by playing the we-gaijin-love-your-crazy-japanese-pop-culture card. You can see a scan of one of the postcards here.

So, just to clarify: Hello Kitty bad, Pokemon good. If you have to ask why, you don't deserve to be told.

[Link via Boing Boing]

Posted by chris at 08:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Laughing lawmaker laps up lolly

Bleargh. I'm off sick from work and have been sedentary on the couch all day, wrapped in a blanket, eating waitrose peanut butter-smeared crackers and moaning gently to myself. I don't do ill very well.

Fortunately there's always WaiWai to raise my spirits: Effusive freshman lets politicians' pretty-sitting kitty out of the bag reports on newly elected LDP lawmaker Taizo Sugimura, who made the news recently for his effusive exposé of the plush perks granted to pampered politicos picked at the polls (sorry):

"I looked up how much a Dietman makes a year - 25 million yen!! And on top of that they give you another million yen a month to pay for communication fees!! I thought it was a million a year, but it's a million a month! I wouldn't know how to use a million a month."

The young man, Taizo Sugimura, may have been a total unknown and arguably the Liberal Democratic Party's biggest surprise winner in the Sept. 11 House of Representatives. But in the weeks since winning, he's made himself one of the country's best known politicos, mainly because of the sheer excitement he's showed while rattling off the list of perks he picks up as a member of the Diet.

"They say I get a three-bedroom apartment in the Diet members lodge," Shukan Shincho quotes the 26-year-old newly minted politician as saying. "I can't wait!!"

There's more: "I've heard that Diet members can ride Japan Railways trains for free as much as they want. And it's all first class travel. First class travel!! I've never traveled first class in my life."...

Bunshun says that Sugimura was surfing the Net at work one day a few months back and noticed that the LDP was advertising for candidates to run in upcoming elections.

"Oh wow. Oh boy. They're looking for candidates. Oh wow, wow, wow. Jeepers," Sugimura recalls his reaction for Shukan Bunshun.

I swear, the guys who do the translations for these articles have the best job in the world. It must be like writing for The Onion but, like, for real.

What I find quite amazing is that this guy was able to apply to become an official candidate just by filling in a form and writing a short "Why I shud B a politishun" essay. Thanks to the marvels of proportional representation, he got in - literally just to make up the numbers. With rigorous candidacy requirements like this, it's no wonder that many Japanese are so thoroughly disillusioned with politics.

Here are some other jobs that I think should be made available via postal ballot:

  • Astronaut
  • President of the United States (c'mon, we all know we could do a better job of it than the current guy)
  • Air traffic controller, preferably somewhere really busy
  • Nuclear submarine commander
  • WaiWai editor
  • Steve Jobs

Time to dust off the CV, methinks.

Posted by chris at 04:58 PM | Permalink

Quake? What quake?

Apparently we had a largish earthquake at 4:05 this afternoon... anyone?

I think I was sat in Benugo in Ebisu Garden Place around then, but didn't notice anything wobble. Mind you, I was probably tucking into my sandwich a bit too ravenously. I'm not supposed to eat for two hours before my yoga class, which means breakfast, if it were to happen at all, would have to be before 11:30am - hah! Like I'm going to get out of bed before midday on a Sunday for "breakfast". Hence the first meal of the day at 4pm.

Anyway, let me take this opportunity to tell you about the excellent earthquake page at Tenki (天気) is Japanese for "weather", and while I think you'd be hard-pressed to classify earthquakes as strictly meteorological events, I'm not going to argue with this very groovy little tool.

Use the drop-down menu just above and to the right of the main map image to navigate back through previous earthquakes; they redesigned recently and the new interface is definitely an improvement. The previous version listed not the earthquakes themselves but rather all the earthquake reports... so a single quake could be listed a dozen times as various different reporting stations around the country called in their data. Muy confusing.

Dots on the map represent the severity of the quake according to the Japanese seismic intensity scale, which ranges from 1 (Mild Flatulence) to 7 (Godzilla grabs rucksack of bottled water and Calorie Mate and makes beeline for nearest sturdy doorframe).

This is not to be confused with the Richter Scale, which measures magnitude (マグニチュード in the info table) and not intensity. The difference, if I remember correctly, is that the magnitude of a quake is a measure of the amount of energy released, full stop. So a magnitude 5 quake is a magnitude 5 quake is a magnitude 5 quake, no matter where you measure it from. The Japanese scale (shindo) is a measure of how strongly the quake is felt at the place where the measurement is taken. So a magnitude 5.1 quake (Richter scale) in Ibaraki might be a shindo 4 near the epicenter, a shindo 3 in Tokyo, shindo 2 in Yokohama, but a shindo 0 if you're sitting on a high stool in Ebisu, greedily wolfing down a gourmet sandwich.

By the way, I love the haiku-esque nature of the JMA scale explanations:

5+: In many cases, unreinforced concrete-block walls collapse and tombstones overturn. Many automobiles stop due to difficulty in driving. Occasionally, poorly installed vending machines fall.
The neglected parking meter beeps;
Odaiba slides into Tokyo Bay;
Melancholy tremblor.

Posted by chris at 11:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Waterboys

Oh. My. God. I wish I had a blank video tape free... you guys have no idea what you're missing here.

It's amazing just what makes it onto TV here in Japan, sometimes. For example, right now I appear to be watching the Japanese National High School Synchronised Swimming Championships... which would be weird enough, only it's the Boys' championships. You know... for boys. Not girls. Boys. Doing synchronised swimming. Seriously, we have a team of about twenty 12-to-15-yr-old schoolboys in matching speedos, doing the most outrageously fey aquatic dance routine you've ever seen. It's terrible. Just terrible.

So many things make it much much worse than you might imagine... the trance soundtrack, the Busby-Berkeley-50's-musical-style diving into the swimming pool in perfect synchronisation, the matching speedos and bathing caps, the absolutely menacing fixed grimaces - make them stop, please, just stop f**king smiling like that, you look like your face is about to snap in half - the prancing, the more prancing, the (male) presenter sporting a pink boa... it's the Perfect Storm of camp.

Amazingly, I have not had to make any of this up. Oh - the music's just changed. It's Radiohead's Idioteque. That's too good to be true - doesn't it have a line in it, something like "I'm not scaremongering, this is really happening"? And now the Star Wars theme.

And all this is taking place in an apparently specially-constructed swimming pool, with light show, fireworks, and even a rising-out-of-the-floor golden bauble thing to bear the enthusiastically posing teens to poolside. We're talking scarred for life, here. Oh god - the male coach of the team is, by the end of their routine, in tears. Fabulous, darling, just fabulous.

I think I'm going to turn the TV off now, and just sit in silent horror for the rest of the evening. Goodnight.

Posted by chris at 10:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thin eyebrows cause displeasure

Judo meet organizers disqualify 6 students for thin eyebrows - "We have banned thin eyebrows because they are intimidating to opponents and cause displeasure."

Yeah, that was always high on my list of intimidating factors when I used to fence competitively. Of course, I had to actually stick the plucked eyebrows onto the outside of my mask to have any effect, but still.

Posted by chris at 05:44 PM | Permalink

Nice shooto!

The Japanese national team may have said sayonara, England may have headed home, my initially promising sweepstake draws may have crashed out (France, Sweden and, despite a delightful run, Mexico), people may have been killed in riots in Moscow, been shot by spouses in power struggles over the remote control or tried self-immolation in an attempt to bolster their team's fortunes but, all in all, this has to be the most enjoyable World Cup I've ever seen.

Obviously a lot of that is due to the corking games we've had and the sheer number of form-defying results - it's been great to see so many underdogs giving the favourites a good stuffing; the huge number of upsets and early plane rides for those who weren't expecting it has led to some great, wide-open matches in the knock-out stages and some great football.

But another thing that's made it really good is watching the whole thing through the filter of the Japanese media - the studio punditry is generally appalling, no matter whether you watch in Japanese or English (NHK broadcasts carry on-the-fly English-dubbed subchannels for those of use fortunate enough to have suitably equipped bilingual tellies) but it all becomes watchable thanks to one little detail: papier-maché garden gnomes of all your favourite players.


These are taken from the build-up to the England-Argentina match the other week; the Japanese text on the screen behind the two presenters reads, dramatically, "innen no taiketsu", lit. "fateful showdown".

I've already mentioned the short explanatory documentary they played before the match detailing the two teams' history; I don't *think* any of the three Diegos - Maradona, Simeone, Heskey - bear much personal responsibility for the Falklands War, but NHK didn't seem to be ruling it out. Stoke the flames of rivalry? Media frenzy? Who, us?

Posted by chris at 12:16 PM | Permalink

Forget the "-san" at your peril

Hmmm. Really ought to blog something about the England-Sweden game seeing as a) I was there and b) it was almost a week ago. Unfortunately I have to dash out to Japanese class, so I'll leave you with this brief only-in-Japan tidbit instead: Man beaten to death for not using honorifics.

Posted by chris at 12:47 PM | Permalink

Obscure Desire of Bourgeoisie

A recent stroll around the backstreets of Harajuku yielded some marvellous Japlish shop names.

I have to go back and buy something from each, just for the bags.

Posted by chris at 03:03 PM | Permalink

How to motivate your staff

The Subway sandwich franchise near my office are running a healthy eating campaign at the moment - although their idea of "healthy" appears to consist of lots of tofu sandwiches; tofu is bland enough on its own, but tofu in a bread roll... if it's possible to be superlatively mediocre then these guys are pushing that envelope for all they're worth.

In an unfortunate piece of visual comedy, the rather plump member of staff who took my order was wearing a large lapel badge reading simply "Diet!". My first thought was that it was a little harsh of her colleagues to make her wear it; I mean, sure, she was a little on the heavy side, but that hardly justifies ritualized hazing. You gotta love that Japanese humiliation mindset - let's shame the poor girl into shedding some pounds.

But it turns out simply to be their attempt at a snappy healthy cheery feel-good slogan. Which is a shame, because I was hoping the targeted lapel badge idea might catch on. Badges I'd like to see in fast food joints back home include: "Pay attention!", "No, please, go ahead and chat to your slack-jawed burger-flipping idiot co-worker; I didn't want the damn quarterpounder anyway" and "Christ! How hard can it be to operate one of those picture-coded tills correctly?"

Posted by chris at 06:23 PM | Permalink

Hide with Spread Michelle Gun Yellow Elephant Monkey

<voice tone="strangulated">garnet crow is a.... perfectly... normal... name... for... a... pop group.... *urk*</voice>

Posted by chris at 01:32 AM | Permalink

Clandestine camembert baguettes

Other good things about the weekend: Lego ninja mousemat; classic Atom Boy-design writing paper; Breton crepes; smuggling groceries into a 10th-floor ragga club to make clandestine camembert baguettes; sitting under the cherry blossoms in Yoyogi Park drinking sake and eating freshly delivered pizza - giving your address as "tree 203" takes a bit of getting used to, but works surprisingly well.

Posted by chris at 12:25 AM | Permalink

The Vernal Equinox, you say? Why, that's my favourite too!

Oh, of course, it's Vernal Equinox Day. Silly of me to forget. I even felt a little vernal as I got up this morning, actually, but at the time I put it down to the Nepali I had for lunch yesterday.

(Comprehensive list of Japanese National Holidays here)

Posted by chris at 01:35 PM | Permalink

National (Velvet?) Holiday

Happy... er... Whatever-the-heck-day-it-is-today Day to you! I know it's a national holiday today, I just don't know which one.

I know it's Something Day today because it's 1pm on a Thursday and yet I'm sitting here at home in my pants, reading newspapers and surfing particularly bad Japanese daytime TV... oh... that's how they make rice... I seeee... I really never thought I'd experience a wistful yearning for Richard and Judy. It's funny how life works out, sometimes.

Posted by chris at 01:16 PM | Permalink

Shopping Rebellion

Shopping Rebellion - a good article on the vagaries of Japanese fashion, courtesy of The New Yorker.

At certain popular stores, like Silas & Maria, a British skatewear brand, would-be shoppers are required to wait in orderly file in the street, as if they were on a bread line, before being permitted, twenty or so at a time, to rush in and scour the sparsely stocked shelves for any new merchandise. The next twenty customers aren't allowed in until the last of the previous group has left and meticulous sales assistants have restored the shelves and racks to their unmolested condition. The whole cycle can take half an hour or more. This is what Japanese teen-agers do for fun.
(Thanks to bgirl for the link)

Posted by chris at 10:50 AM | Permalink

"125 public information symbols have been determined"

Finally remembered to check out a URL that I've been meaning to look up for ages. Posters went up in subway stations a few months ago proudly proclaiming "125 public information symbols have been determined" and displaying a comprehensive list of government-approved signs, covering everything from "safety evacuation area" to "swimming place".

What I really wanted was one of the actual posters, but I'll have to make do with the free downroads instead. Plenty of scope for subverting these, I'm sure you'll agree. The t-bar one in particular is crying out for a spot of photoshopping.

Posted by chris at 11:53 PM | Permalink

Shut up! Bloody Vikings.

I came out of the shower the other day to find that I'd missed a call to my cellphone. My keitai had picked up the caller's number, but I didn't recognise it - nor was there any voicemail waiting for me. I had been expecting a call from someone, so I dialled the number... and got a recorded message - specifically, a very bad recording (as in unconvincing rather than lo-fi) of what was probably meant to sound like an act of sexual congress, accompanied by a voice-over encouraging me to phone another number to arrange a more private audience at a love hotel of my choosing.

For god's sake - not only do I have to put up with the usual barrage of unsolicited e-mails promising to enlarge my breasts or reduce my mortgage (it's never vice-versa, is it?), but I'm now getting Japanese porn spam voicemail. Un-be-freaking-lievable.

Posted by chris at 11:50 PM | Permalink

The end? You promise?

Number 31 in the "CDTV Midnight Groovy best ranking" pop charts tonight appears to be Yuki, with a song called the end of shite.

Not... sure... why.

I bet there'll be some more along soon enough.

Posted by chris at 01:11 AM | Permalink

Pizza weirdness

Beware Pizza Hut Japan's newest addition to their menu: The Garlic Kingdom. Next month, the Fungi Fiefdom. Thank you very much, I'm here all week.

Posted by chris at 10:44 PM | Permalink

Tremblor is a marvellous word

Earthquake! We had a 6.3 tremblor hit last night, about ten o'clock; they happen all the time, but this one was definitely one of the longest I've felt - it lasted at least a minute, maybe two, and the forest of wine glasses hanging upside down above the bar (oh don't look so surprised, of course I was in a bar) kept jangling for a good minute or two afterwards, like some kind of dipsomaniac windchime.

That the swaying was more pronounced this time was probably also something to do with being on the 7th floor; I was tempted to look out of the window and see if other buildings were moving perceptibly, but that would have meant standing up, and I was *way* too comfortable for that.

It's always interesting seeing how people react to earthquakes; everyone stops talking and looks up, silently, as if listening for the roar of an approaching tsunami or something. You look at light fittings, computer monitors, large pot plants - anything that might help you gauge the size of the wobble. You can see everyone thinking the same thing - can I get away with not standing up? Will I know when to make a dash for the exit? Is it... the Big One? My personal rule of thumb is to stay put if it's just horizontal movement - vertical movement, though, is a different matter - time to flee screaming and waving limbs crazily as I jump out of the nearest window. I'd probably still finish my drink first, though.

When it became clear that it was lasting a bit longer than usual, the bartender got up from his stool and sauntered across to open the door, which he held open for the next thirty seconds or so, until it had subsided. Not so we can flee when the building starts to collapse, really (we're on the seventh floor, people) but more so that if the doorframe is warped by the quake, the door is stuck open rather than stuck closed - although I can think of worse places to be stuck than in a bar with comfy sofas, its own radio station and chicken pies...

Posted by chris at 11:58 AM | Permalink


Addendum: Ringo is Japanese for "apple".

Posted by chris at 04:22 PM | Permalink

All you need is rub

That was very funny, actually. We spotted the photo of the band outside, and the first thing we both thought was "How come there are *five* of them? Which one is Stuart?" They were pretty good, though - although, yes, some of the lyrics were largely indistinct. It's a guaranteed source of cheap laughs, Japanese bands doing English-language songs - the night reminded me of a Japanese girl I saw doing a live act in a soul club in Omiya once, who I could have sworn was singing "killing me salty with his words", which I doubt was quite what Roberta Flack had in mind. Death by condiments? Aaaaanyway.

All in all it was great fun and they really rocked, but they weren't as good as a group I saw a couple of years ago in Koshigaya, who were note-perfect, enunciated perfectly and sounded exactly like their respective idols. Dan's right about the drummer, though; a very accurate portrayal - unlike the Koshigaya Ringo, who was far too professional to be totally convincing.

Posted by chris at 04:18 PM | Permalink

Strike a pose

Tokyo moment: crossing a Shibuya footbridge earlier tonight with Raju, on our way to a bar that turned out to be shut: two youngish guys in smart suits, frozen in mid-tumble in the middle of the walkway; each was balancing on one foot, limbs sprawling, and appeared to be caught somewhere between a starting-block pose and Rodin's The Thinker. Meanwhile a third guy prowled around them with a Hi-8 camera... very "artistic"... I'm waiting to see if it shows up on TV at some point over the next couple of weeks and, if so, whether or not two English voices are audible in the background... "I think we'll call it I've Nearly Fallen Over And I Can't Get Up"; "I always thought capoeira was meant to be, you know... more *dancy*..."

You had to be there, I guess.

Posted by chris at 01:16 AM | Permalink

Round and round the Isle of Wight till everyone gets dizzy

Aaaanyway, dream-sequence cockroaches aside, it was a good weekend. I seem to have missed halloween completely... it's not really celebrated over here anyway, but there is one particular Tokyo tradition that deserves mentioning: the Yamanote Line Halloween Party.

The Yamanote Line runs in a circle (more of a rather squished elipsoid, actually, but who's counting?) around the centre of Tokyo. Trains run every two or three minutes and take about an hour to do a complete lap of the city. Not, of course, that you would ever sit on it and ride all the way around - I mean, what would be the point of that? Perhaps you can already see where this is going... I don't know if it happened this year but in years past, a small anonymous ad would appear in Tokyo Classified in the week leading up to Halloween: "Halloween Party; 9:02 pm October 31st northbound from Shinjuku station - BYOB"... the idea being that an entire train would be taken over by costumed foreigners as it wound its way around Tokyo, a mechanized conga of strap-hanging, beer-chugging gaijin ghouls going round and round and round... sounds either brilliantly surreal or absolutely hellish.

I don't think it happened this year... there's very little out there on the web, for instance, and I've seen nothing in the small ads. Possibly the cops cracked down, as they are periodically wont to do. Drinking in public (and indeed on the trains) appears to be legal here, but one thing I've learnt whilst living here is that if the Japanese police decide they want to arrest you for no good reason, there's very little you can do about it. It's hypocritical, really; drunken salarymen's vomiting on fellow passengers is tolerated, but raucous foreigners in fancy dress (no matter how well-behaved) would definitely be fair game. Ah well. I guess I'll be back in the UK in a couple of years or so... Circle Line, 8:56 westbound from King's Cross, anyone?

Posted by chris at 12:55 AM | Permalink


Remember that Nic Cage advert I mentioned a while back? Not an advert for Nic Cages, of course, but rather a Japanese TV commercial making full use of his magnificent talents... well, I've found it. Praise be. I don't want to spoil the punchline for you again, but it helps if you have a little background knowledge about popular Japanese pseudo-gambling pastimes.

This is very common - Western movie stars appearing on Japanese TV to advertise local products, thereby lending them an air of international savoir-faire cool that could simply not be attained with domestic stars. The best bit is that the stars never have to do very much; witness Antony Hopkins's "Let's have a thrilling time" car commercial (that's literally all he says) or Winona Ryder's efforts for Subaru (Does five seconds of tai chi in park. Stops. Walks up to car. Says "alright!" Drives off. Fin.) All of which makes it all the more satisfying when they *do* try a bit harder - which is why, I hope you'll agree, Nic's Sankyo ads are such exceptional classics.

A huge thank you goes to bwg for pointing me towards this site... it made my week. Similar, albeit with a smaller archive, is gaijin a go-go - worth visiting just to see what happens when Hollywood stars find out that their dirty little Japanese-TV antics are being made available to a wider (and English-speaking) audience...

Sankyo, I'm coming!

Posted by chris at 05:21 PM | Permalink

Think about this the next time you order rice in a Japanese restaurant

Um, I'm not sure exactly why, but the program currently on TV appears to be a documentary on a rice-making factory whose unique kneading process requires the workers (lardy 40 yr-olds to a man) to be naked from the waist up... eeeeuw. It's times like this I'm glad I don't pay my license fee - I can't wait for them to come and confiscate the set.

Posted by chris at 02:04 AM | Permalink

Corkscrew sold separately

Spotted as I was stumbling home from a bar last night (alcohol in great enough quantities heals all ills, it seems): a vending machine selling beer (nothing strange there), small bottles of sake (again, not uncommon) and... full-size bottles of red wine - excellent. Sometimes I get the distinct notion that I could live in this city without actually buying anything from a human ever again.

Posted by chris at 04:54 PM | Permalink


Spotted while I was cycling to the (24hr) post office the other night: middle-aged Japanese guy, polished bald head, slippers, purple velvet dressing gown, nothing visible underneath, black aviator shades, walking down the street carrying a convenience store bag of groceries. At midnight.

We *foreigners* are supposed to be strange? Kettle, this is pot - do you read? Your status appears to be black. Please copy, over.

Posted by chris at 01:09 PM | Permalink

Did I miss anything?

I let my kidnapping victim go in the end; put her on a plane back to New York on Sunday. Well, we were having to change our location every couple of days, we were cringing every time a police car drove past, the Feds were bound to get involved sooner or later, I didn't have enough newspapers to do one of those cut-and-paste ransom notes... and she only had until Monday off work. So it had to end eventually.

The past week or so was an attempt to decant all of Japan into a single ten-day period, and I think we pretty much got it right. We had the nighttime views over Tokyo's vast urban sprawl, the Bladerunner-esque narrow neon-throbbing backstreets of Kabukicho, the future-according-to-Sony building, the gnomicly translated shrine fortunes, the mockthentic British pubs, the Harajuku Hang, the Sanrio-soaked toy shops, the Yoyogi Park exhibitionists, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, the cooler-than-thou-and-thou-and-thou hipster bars, the revolving sushi, the eight-storey Tower Records, the 39th floor cocktail lounge, the bullet trains, the ryokan-and-yukata experience, the hillside temples at dusk, the postmodern architecture, the torrential rain, the zen rock gardens, the 16th century castle, the discreet geisha tea houses, the yakiniku, the wild deer in the streets, the hordes of yellow-capped schoolchildren who want to practise their English on you, the tour groups of identically clad pensioners crowding around their flag-bearing rapid-fire guides, the bamboo groves, the ultraprecisely landscaped gardens, the stepping stones to make sure you slow down and appreciate the view at the exactly preordained spot, the New York-style fusion restaurant minus all traces of New York attitude, the quirky dark-as-the-bottom-of-a-well-at-midnight rock bars that sit a total of nine people if you all breathe in at the same time, the world's fastest elevator, the fearsome massage chairs, the modern art, the roller coasters, the ferris wheels, the Chinatown, the eighty-boutiques-in-one-building buildings, the Tokyo Bay island built out of reclaimed land, the packs of scenery photographers all taking the same shot, the artificial beach, the burnt orange smogsets, the ferrets, the surreal arcade games, the taiko drumming, the print club sticker machines, the seven-storey second-hand record store, the japlish t-shirts, the bustle and pulse of life in one of the most intense cities on Earth.

I'm sure there's a few things we missed out - but we had to leave something for next time, didn't we?

Posted by chris at 12:00 AM | Permalink

Best fortune

Oh, yeah, it would have made sense to mention this earlier, wouldn't it?

I'm on holiday for the next week or so. I've kidnapped a fellow blogger and am holding her ransom in Tokyo. I haven't released a set of demands, as I don't want to give her back yet. The last few days have been spent wandering round Tokyo going "ooooh!" "aaaaah" and "eeeeeh?" as I use her stay as an excuse to revisit a load of my favourite places.

Stuff so far: Shinjuku neon, Bladerunner views, TMG building, Tokyo International Forum, Ginza, a hunt for Godzilla, Sony building, Formula 1 cars, plastic sushi, repro Flash Gordon tin stamps, thunder god, rain god, best fortune, pagoda, golden flying turd building, British pub, Minx, EnBar, Freak Bridge, crepes, ace t-shirts ("lord it over"), art postcards, hairy mannequins, katana posturing, seven floors of character goods goodness, Meiji Jingu Shrine and the biggest torii gate in Japan, Yoyogi Park, dub hippies, hilarious discombobulated dancing (Bill Gates on a potent acid / mushroom mix vs. minimalist Karate Kid crane style), sneaky trash-disposing three-year-old, capoeira at dusk, Elvis museum, candlelit pond, pizza, wine, friends, bar, booze, chattage, sleep.

Off to Kyoto tomorrow - expect infrequent updates.

Posted by chris at 11:57 AM | Permalink

The Biggish One

Whoa - earthquake. It was quite a big one; must have lasted about a couple of minutes, which is one of the longest ones I've had. It must have been strong to have lasted so long, but the movement wasn't very great - a colleague who was standing next to me wouldn't believe anything was happening until I bade him sit down. That happens quite a lot - it's difficult to feel even medium-strength ones if you're on foot rather than seated, lying in bed or sprawled drunk in the gutter. (Actually, perhaps I should more fully examine why such a disproportionately large number of these earthquakes seem to happen when I *am* sprawled drunk in a gutter... can't be anything to do with the booze, surely? hmmm... anyway...)

Monitor wobbling, anglepoise lamp swinging, pot plant rustling... but only gently. So, eastern Tokyo still seems to be here but I can't vouch for the rest of Japan. Maybe I'll turn on the news when I get home to hear that we've lost Osaka.

The perpetual fear of waiting for the Big One.. is something I'll write about at a later date. Suffice to say that you don't really think about it much day to day. You feel a tremor occasionally and think, "Could this be it...? What if...?" and then the swaying subsides, you breathe out, and life continues.

And I'm not going to tempt fate and tell you what I really think of them. No. Definitely not. Absolutely not going to let slip that I quite enjoy the rather surreal sensation of having the ground, yes, the usually reliably, dependably, reassuringly solid ground, actually move under my feet. Not a chance. I know how Murphy's Law works.

Posted by chris at 05:47 PM | Permalink

Japanese media 9/11 analysis

I started writing a post to go here, just a little piece about some of the Japanese media coverage of the week's events, but decided mid-way through that it would fit better over at Fictionsuits. So that's where it is.

Posted by chris at 02:33 AM | Permalink

Not to scale

Note: The following post first appeared on [?]. Reproduced here in full but without original comments.

The Japanese need for context, the desire to have things explained to them in a precise, detailed manner, manifests itself in some odd ways sometimes. Few TV news features, for example, are complete without one of the presenters holding up a little placard bearing some important statistics, which they then have to hold steady as the camera zooms in on it.

It's not that they can't, or don't, use digital graphics, it's just that sometimes they feel the need to make the presentation of this information more personal, more involved; they'd rather hold the viewer's hand and talk them through something, pointing out the salient bits along the way. Hence the subtitles (yes, in Japanese) on every late-night variety show, making sure that no-one misses a single joke, that everyone shares the experience, that no-one is left behind.

I used to think it was odd; now I just think it's Japanese.

All the same, last week's mission on the part of the TV networks to explain the events of Tuesday to the masses left me a little shocked.

One of the networks on Wednesday used an intricate little desktop model of the World Trade Center complete with scale-model 767s on stalks, which they manoevered, by hand, up to the sides of the buildings. The aircraft nudged lamely to a stop and I noticed, with a mixture of approval and despair, that they'd set the heights of the stalks to correspond to the exact heights of the collisions. Christ, why not go the whole hog? If only they'd bothered to make the towers out of paper, they could have had the planes actually ripping into the interiors of the skyscrapers. Thank god, though, that they stopped short of rigging up pyrotechnics, or pushing scale-model people out of the windows of the immolated floors in their quest to elucidate.

Not to be outdone, one of the other networks followed that the next night with seven-foot-tall models of the towers on the studio floor, with the relevant scorched storeys painted black. Fair enough, they were detailing the respective locations of the many Japanese banks located in the building, a number of whom lost staff in the attack, but still - do you really need a walk-through model to accomplish that?

But the piece de resistance was the network which put a female "reporter" (one of the ones that don't do any actual reporting) in a flight training simulator, the kind that are mounted on massive hydraulic jacks (I'm talking about the simulator now, not the reporter), and had her fly a virtual 767 into a building. Twice. She hit the first one okay but fell short of the second one, grunting as she tugged at the controls and then giggling at her own ineptitude as the plane ploughed into the ground. I will admit that I started, briefly, thinking "Oh, that's a good idea", until I was suddenly overtaken by an angry desire to throw the fucking TV out of the fucking window.

Insensitive? Or just another example of cultural differences? Bit of both, I guess. Maybe I'm all wrong, and there's nothing odd in any of this, but I'm sure that kind of reporting would bring immediate outrage back home or in the States. Someone please tell me I'm mistaken, and that Channel 4 News had Jon Snow throwing airfix jumbo jets at a model of the Pentagon?

Posted by chris at 06:47 PM | Permalink

The salaryman and the Shibuya girl

Tokyo mini-vignette on the subway this morning. A sarariman and a Shibuya girl sat opposite me, the salaryman fast asleep, jaw on chest, mouth so far open I was tempted to try flicking things into it, slouched so far down in his corner seat that his head, lolling to one side, was partially wedged between the seat-back and one of the grab-rail supports, the bridge of his regulation-issue corporate warrior spectacles being squished into his face by the chrome railing. Commuting never looked so glamorous.

The girl, in spotless trainers which looked fresh out of the box that morning, spray-on jeans, excessive 80's blusher and with a CECIL McBEE shopping bag perched on her lap, was wired in to her cellphone via a set of mini-earphones, studying the display closely as she thumbed away at the keypad, presumably listening to a downloaded MP3 as she composed an e-mail to a similarly-attired friend, or maybe trawling i-mode for news of the latest boutiques.

Two very different engines of Japanese economic growth; one slaving away for a susidiary of Japan Inc, one busy pump-priming its retail sector by buying shiny baubles. I wonder what they made of the smartly-dressed gaijin sitting opposite them? Fellow cog in their machinery, or parasite foreigner? Or, rather, what they would have made of me if they hadn't been busy drooling onto their shirt or hunting down Hysteric Glamour stores...

Posted by chris at 02:28 PM | Permalink


Well, this is... er... interesting: Water Gun Tokyo 2. No, it's not some kind of Japanese riot-control method (now there's a thought...). I haven't read it all yet, but basically a Tokyo photographer takes pictures of young women spitting water at his lens.

Fascinating, even if it does look rather disconcertingly like spew in a couple of cases. (via gmtPlus9)

Posted by chris at 12:45 AM | Permalink

To the Batmobile!

If I had one of those secret garage pit things (see below), I would never leave the house.

Actually, that's not true. I would leave the house but I would only do so in the car, via the trapdoor. I'd install a small subterranean passageway, in turn accessible via a batpole. And I wouldn't bother having a second car parked on top; maybe some cleverly hinged fake patio furniture instead. Or a swimming pool.

Posted by chris at 04:38 PM | Permalink

Coolest garage ever

One of the small apartment blocks opposite me has the coolest garage ever.

The couple who live in the ground floor flat have two cars, but only one parking space. Their single space is overhung by the rest of the building, so they don't have room for a vertical stacker, capable of lifting car #1 into the air so that car #2 can park underneath it. (NB those are very common here, even for residential blocks. I saw some 2D ones in NY too but here you get full-on, three-dimensional monstrosities, capable of holding an array (as in data structure rather than range of types) of vehicles in a neat 3D, 5x3x2 box. I want one, but I don't even own one car, let alone 30.)

Instead their solution is pure Thunderbirds. I watched the other day as the guy swung car #1 out into the street, parked briefly, returned to the parking space, pressed a button on the wall, and stood to one side as the metal floor swiftly trapdoored up and into the side wall of the parking bay, revealing the roof of car #2. Another button on the control panel, and car #2 rose majestically into view (hydraulics? pneumatics? giraffes with strong necks?) Then he drove car #2 onto the street, reversed car #1 back into the bay, lowered it back into the pit, and then drove off in car #2.

I *love* this place.

Posted by chris at 04:28 PM | Permalink

Goodbye Kitty

Phew. Problem appears solved. Ran the emergency disk, whacked the infected files ("Booyakka! How d'you like me *now*!"), updated the registry. Backed the entirety of the kanjisite (all 96 megs of it) onto cd-rw. Finally breathed out. Went to the pub.

Well, I say "pub"; actually I took Chris(2) and Chris(3), freshly returned from their macrocyclical chemistry conference in Fukuoka, to Dogberry and the Hello Kitty bar. What is it about Koenji and bars named after household pets?

Then we buzzed home in a taxi - hilarious technology-revolts-against-its-human-masters moment as Christian tried closing the taxi door behind him as he got in, only to nearly get eaten by the damned thing. Munch! If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I won't tell you; I don't want to spoil the surprise when you come visit.

Posted by chris at 11:28 AM | Permalink

One roach at a time

Okay: travel insurance bought, city tax paid, large bin bags bought in preparation for gassing of flat.

I'm not sure exactly how the gas bombs work, but the instructions are quite clear about putting all your electrical goods in plastic bags to protect them. I guess they deposit a fine layer of dust, or something, throughout the entire room - presumably this can interfere with circuit boards and the like.

They're certainly effective, anyway. The first time I used one, I triggered it in the kitchen (back in the days when I had a kitchen, not just a kitchen sink - ah, the nostalgia) and then left for work. When I came back that evening, I opened the front door to find a cockroach right on the threshold, under where the door had been - dead. He'd obviously either been in the flat when the bomb went off, and only made it as far as the front door before expiring (how tragic - another two inches and he might have lived), or he tried to come in under the door at some point during the day, took two sniffs and then keeled over on the spot. Anyway, I took my umbrella and practiced my golf swing on the little bugger, pinging him out into the car park. I don't think we saw a single cockroach for the rest of the summer. Chris one, Roaches nil. I'm Tiger Woods.

The last time was a couple of months ago, and it was similarly deadly. I went for one of the pedal-operated ones this time. If you haven't seen one of these, then basically it's a short, squat aerosol with a foot pedal on it. You put it on the floor in the middle of the room, press the pedal with your foot, and run as an impressive plume of grey gas hisses forth from the canister. You have to leave the house for at least a couple of hours, until the gas disperses or settles or whatever the heck it does.

So I got back from work to find, again, a dying cockroach in the corridor, six inches from my door. He'd made it further than the last one, I suppose, but even so - he was clearly on his way to the great under-kitchen-sink-area in the sky, twitching forlornly. Sympathy? Save it for the whales. (Mind you, if I ever get a cetacean infestation then sod that - the big blue bastards are toast.)

It is a measure of just how much progress I've made in dealing with my phobia of roaches that I was able to shuffle him onto a stiff Pizza Hut flyer, bundle him up (a practical use for origami skills - at last), put him in a plastic bag and run out of my apartment building, holding the bag at arm's length, moaning in terror all the way to the nearest public trashcan. Trust me - it's a big improvement.

Posted by chris at 02:01 PM | Permalink

The towelling paradox

It's hot. Damn hot. It's so damn hot, I could cook things in my shorts, do a little crotch-pot cooking. (Good Morning Vietnam, if you were wondering.)

Yesterday was my first two-shower day of the season; plenty more will follow. It's getting to the stage where walking seven minutes to the station in the morning wearing an open-necked office shirt is enough to get you sweating lightly, and by the time you have to brave the subway on the way home, you're practically swimming in your own salt solution.

It's not so much the heat as the humidity - Japan veterans chuckle whenever newbies complain about the June heat, smirking into their beer: "Just you wait until August... oh yeah... I remember the humidity of '93... I lost 20 stone that summer, had to be put on a drip for eight months..." etc etc. Oh piss off.

Another eye-opener for freshly-arrived souls is the towelling paradox: the phenomenon whereby the exertion involved in the simple act of towelling yourself down after a shower is enough to get you so sweaty that you need another shower. Most people give up after a couple of iterations, but it could be a bad time of year for all you obsessive compulsives out there.

Posted by chris at 08:35 PM | Permalink

This meeting effectuates trans-company communications, I believe

Combine Japlish with corporate buzzword jargon, and you get the following - this is a genuine excerpt from a memo I received last week:

Thanks to the entire busy member the meeting was successfully brought off for the first inning. We could confirm this meeting effectuates trans-company communications, I believe. Would you, therefore, please utilize this meeting effectively to harmonize mutual works.
Now, I'm not taking the piss here - whoever wrote it deserves praise rather than scorn, if only for managing to get the word "effectuate" into everyday prose. What I love about this memo is that expressing these kinds of sentiments in such a formal setting is absolutely routine, nay, essential, in a Japanese office atmosphere. The original Japanese text, which I also have a copy of, doesn't seem mawkish or odd in any way - this is just how things are done; it's all about oiling the delicate wheels of office interaction and making sure that everybody is "on the same page". Put it in English, though, and it's complete dross. I'm sure the same thing happens in offices all around the world - just with less wild, over-the-top prose, and a damn sight less effectuating.

Right - I'm off effectively to harmonize my mutual works, and I suggest you do the same.

Posted by chris at 05:28 PM | Permalink

Cubic watermelons

These cubic watermelons were in the Japan Times print edition yesterday, but their on-line version didn't carry it. Thanks, BBC.

Unfortunately they're still too big to fit in my ickle fridge.

Posted by chris at 09:19 PM | Permalink


The show on TV at the moment appears to consist of a team of six b-list comedians dressed only in flesh-coloured briefs with fig leaves attached taking turns having nasty things done to them... oh, I see. I think they've formed a pop group... called Green Leaves? and they have a song to promote... it's awful...

Anyway, back to the torture. Two had to remain in a handstand (albeit forcibly restrained by their mates), legs akimbo, while a bag of ice was placed on their nuts. See them scream! What fun. Then one was hit on the head with a mallet - ho ho! Finally, one of them lay down on his front on a mat; his compadres pulled his shorts down to reveal his arse... and then some bearded dude shot darts into his butt with a blowpipe.

The Japanese for "it hurts!" is "itai!". By the sound of things, this little lot itai'd quite a bit. Just another regular Thursday night on Japanese TV...

Posted by chris at 09:05 PM | Permalink

Does my bum look big in this?

I've seen these off-duty sumo photos (actually very on-duty) somewhere before, but I can't remember where. Probably appeared in the paper over here last year some time - some kind of official "meet the sumo" event.

Imagine being a two- or three-year old tot, looking up at these guys... normal sized adults are scary enough, let alone the seventy-five ton Musashimaru. Put them in drag and surely the psychological damage can only increase exponentially...

Posted by chris at 04:27 PM | Permalink

Does exactly what is says on the tin

Grrraaaaahh! Roooaaaaaaar! Grrrowwwwwwlll! Stomp flame stomp stomp crash Grrraaaaahhhh!

Excellent. I want some. I want some bigtime. That's this year's Christmas shopping sorted.

Posted by chris at 03:27 PM | Permalink

Do you have "Girls Be Farting 7"?

This fart fetish site is undoubtedly puerile, sexist and exploitative.

It also made me laugh a lot.

"Good smell."

Posted by chris at 12:59 PM | Permalink

What is this thing you humans call "relacks"?

Hmm. Maybe this relaxing thing has got something going for it after all. I spent a pleasant hour in a coffee shop this afternoon, reading the paper and watching people pass by. I managed to do so without feeling the need to work on my websites, go white-water rafting, or anything like that. I think, with practice, I may be able to relax for as much as two hours at a time by the end of the week.

Mind you, the coffee shop in question was actually the Starbucks overlooking the Shibuya crossroads, possibly the busiest pedestrian crossing in Tokyo. Every two minutes, the traffic stops and four opposing masses of people flood towards each other. The tarmac is a seething confusion of directions for thirty seconds, and then thins just in time for the cars, taxis and buses to reclaim the streets. Slowly, the waiting pedestrians accumulate, until the traffic stops again and yet another human tide surges forth, relentless. You should see it when everyone's carrying umbrellas.

I plan to start with relaxing in front of hectic scenes, and then move on slowly to relaxing in front of genuinely-relaxing scenes. Got to start somewhere.

Posted by chris at 03:15 AM | Permalink

Wicker basket affairs

Teething troubles at the new cafe in the station. I asked for a take-out cappuccino and BLT, but the cashier, who looked slightly overawed by the high-tech till, managed to key in a Belgian waffle. Then she managed to delete that, so thankfully I got to repeat the order. The cappuccino came straightaway, but the BLT took rather longer as the specialist BLT maker was summoned from a back room. I was eventually presented the BLT in a delightful wicker basket affair, in which I suppose technically I could have carried the sandwich away, but instead I pointed out, politely of course, that it was to take out. That produced a torrent of apologies and a dash back behind the counter to de-basket the baguette and bag it up.

The specialist was still wearing plastic gloves at this point, and there followed a hilarious episode where the tape she was trying to secure the wrap with kept sticking to her gloves... again and again and again... I really didn't want to interrupt, as I thought that might have been even more embarrassing, but as she was struggling to get the glove off (leaving it still attached to the tape and therefore the baguette - I had premonitions of the looks I might get while carrying my sandwich, with dangling surgical glove, through the streets to the office), I finally offered a sheepish "ii desu yo", lit.:"Leave it! He's not worth it! Give it up, I tell you - it's no good!" or "I'll take it like that, thanks." It depends how you stress it, really.

And after all that? The coffee and sandwich were excellent.

Posted by chris at 05:00 PM | Permalink

Stay Golden (Week)

Golden Week is a group of three national holidays in the space of five days. Many firms designate the remaining two days as company holidays, thereby creating a de facto national week off - and those employees who don't get given the time off just take paid leave themselves. The entire country effectively goes on holiday, clogging roads, shinkansen and flights out of Tokyo on the first weekend, and jamming them solid again a week later as everybody teems back into the capital.

Tokyo is a great place during Golden Week - because it's practically deserted. Silence descends over the normally thronging shopping streets of Ginza and Shibuya... tumbleweeds roll across the deserted thoroughfares of the business district.... well, not really, but close enough.

All the normal tourist places outside of Tokyo will be ram-packed, and I have no desire to jostle packs of schoolchildren on cultural trips and posses of elderly grandmothers with their fierce elbows; I get enough of that on an average day in Shinjuku. Air fares are always sky-high, too, so I'm staying put this week. Time to roam the city and maybe have a go at this "relaxing" thing that everyone always tells me I should try... all reports point to it having something to do with, er, not doing anything for periods of time. How bizarre - that's the one thing which is pretty much guaranteed to stress me out.

Posted by chris at 04:28 PM | Permalink

Parlez-vous London?

When reporting on how naive the average Japanese youth is when it comes to matters of global geography, I have a fairly helpful rule of thumb. It's okay to take the piss if the Japanese themselves would clearly agree - which is why I have no problem with mentioning the following excerpt from tonight's TV, a panel show exploring "Japanese people's general knowledge". If it's got Beat Takeshi in a white coat presenting it, it must be scientifically rigorous. That's how things work over here.

A twenty-year-old and her boyfriend are stopped in the street. She is asked, for the benefit of the studio panel, if she'd like to travel abroad and, if so, where she'd like to go. "Disneyland", she answers. Hmm. Next question: "Which country is Disneyland in?" Answer: "The United States of America." No problems so far, apart from the rather obvious one of taste.

Next she is given a map of the world and asked to mark America on it with a pen. "Um... it's very big, isn't it?" She draws a big ring around the entirety of North America, thereby granting US citizenship to an extra 30 million Canadians, 100 million Mexicans, and numerous residents of the Caribbean. Big it may be, but not that big. "Where is Canada, then?" asks her interviewer. "Um, over here somewhere...?" She indicates Siberia, so I guess she could have been further off the mark.

Next, a nineteen-year-old is asked where in the world she'd like to travel. "I hear London and Paris are very beautiful, so I'd like to visit them someday" she replies. Promising. At least she didn't say Disneyland. Again the map - can she correctly pinpoint the two cities?

Can she buggery. Paris is "pinpointed" as being on the southern coast of Ireland. Mind you, at least the continent was correct. No such luck for London, which is summarily re-located to Nova Scotia. The interviewer asks which country London is in. "Er... France?" I bet the Quebecois would be delighted to hear that Canada's newest city of seven million is full of French speakers, but I rather think Ken Livingstone (the Mayor of London) would have something to say about it.

As long as they put London back before I finally head back to the UK, that's all...

Posted by chris at 12:35 AM | Permalink

The Harajuku Hang

Harajuku is an interesting area of Tokyo. One of the miniature towns strung out along the Yamanote Line that rings the centre of the city, it's an intriguing intersection of styles.

It's home to Meiji Jingu, possibly the foremost example of traditional Japanese shrine architecture in the country and home to the largest torii gates in Japan. The shrine is next door to Yoyogi Park, prime venue for summer picnics and impromptu Sunday afternoon raves. Harajuku also marks one end of Omotesando, a wide, tree-lined avenue of chic boutiques and snobbish pavement cafes.

But it's also the place where, by some kind of unspoken consensus, dozens of teenagers congregate each Sunday, dressed to shock. On a typical afternoon you can expect to see Little Bo Peep in Doc Marten boots, goth doctors with stethoscopes and spiky blue hair, and sado-masochist fetishists pierced with safety pins and clutching teddy bears.

The bridge linking Harajuku Station with Meiji Jingu is where they all hang out, and is always great for photo-opportunities. They are, pretty much without exception, totally up for being photographed and will pose for anyone who asks, complete with affected scowls and maybe the odd extended middle finger. There's not much point in being an introverted exhibitionist, I suppose.

This weekend was particularly interesting because of the Falun Gong demonstration amid all the chaos of white-faced ghouls, bondage Nazis and bemused tourists. I found myself wondering if any of the assembled teens had any idea what the two gents doing what looked like Tai Chi were doing there. Probably not, but it seems unfair to blame teenagers for having teenage priorities.

I'll put some of the photos on-line, if any of them come out okay. But first I should sleep.

Posted by chris at 11:35 PM | Permalink

Not an advert *for* Nic Cage, silly

Bugger. Two all-night vigils by the TV fail to yield the new Nic Cage advert. Show it again, you bastards. Don't make me come after you.

Posted by chris at 01:35 AM | Permalink

Spring is sprung (no more warm buns)

A sure sign that it must officially be spring already - whoever is in charge of deciding such matters has switched off the electrically-heated toilet seat in the restroom at work.

Posted by chris at 01:33 AM | Permalink


Yes! I am one ureshii usagi (lit. "glad bunny"). I just switched channels and caught what can only have been the very end of another Nic Cage advert... For those of you who haven't seen the first one, I'd better explain that one first.

Nic Cage, playing himself, is answering questions at a Tokyo press conference. He doesn't look happy. Press conferences in Japan tend to be rather lame affairs, especially when Hollywood stars are on show, and this scene captures the mood perfectly. Off camera, a reporter asks pleasantly, "Nihon no mono wa, nani ga suki desu ka?" lit., "What do you like about Japan?". The interpreter turns to an obviously bored senseless Nic and repeats in a sing-song voice, "What do you like about Japan?" Nic practically sneers: "Oh, I like sushi... Mt. Fuji." He condescendingly makes an exaggerated Mt. Fuji shape with his hands as he says this, and it's clear he'd rather be practically anywhere else.

Another reporter is heard to ask, "Hoka no nihon no mono wa, nani ga suki desu ka?" lit., "What else do you like about Japan?". It's clear that this is The Press Conference From Hell - but Nic doesn't hear the interpreter politely intoning "What else do you like about Japan". Cut and zoom! in on an attractive female Japanese reporter in the press pack! Cut and zoom! in on Nic's face, which is suddenly alive with joy, nay, rapt with wonder! - Zoom! back to the attractive female reporter, who smiles at Nic! Cut back to Nic, who's still clearly in awe at her beauty. Surely he's about to say, "I like Japanese women" or "I like her"... an advert for skincare products? Shampoo? Women? But no.

The reporter pushes a strand of her hair over her ear, knocking her earring as she does so. Part of the earring, small, silvery and spherical, drops off, falls to the floor and rolls towards Nic's table at the front of the room. Nic follows its path across the carpet, transfixed...We hear the interpreter ask, "Mr. Cage?" as the ball reaches Nic's feet - he deftly flicks it up into the air and catches it. His eyes are agleam as he jumps to his feet, brandishing the ball, and shouts, "I love... PACHINKO!" He dashes out of the building, jumps into a taxi and tells the driver, "Take me to Sankyo!" which is the name, one assumes, of a chain of pachinko parlors. Off they drive, Nic still with an excited, feverish grin on his face. Priceless. Absolutely priceless.

What? You don't know what pachinko is? Oh. Well then, I guess that makes it marginally less funny for you. But trust me, I nearly pissed myself laughing. Nuff respect to Cage-san for appearing in an advert which so brilliantly lampoons the standard gaijin-TV-advert format. Pachinko is a vertical pinball game where one feeds little steel balls into the top of the machine, and tries to manipulate their passage down the machine by twiddling a knob, in order to win... more balls. That's it. The balls are eventually exchanged for cash, but there is no skill; it's mindnumbing, financially ruinous, noisy and hopelessly addictive to millions of Japanese. Foreigners simply don't play it, so the idea of Nic Cage beign hopelessly addicted to this most Japanese of Japanesisms is a sublime work of genius. I only hope the second one comes on again soon - my remote control thumb is getting sore. I can't wait.

Posted by chris at 10:05 PM | Permalink

"No loan for you! Come back one year."

Good grief Chinese is a complicated language. Ma with a flat tone is "mother", ma with a falling then rising tone is "horse". The possibilities for hilarity are endless. Let's see, you could call someone's mother a horse, or refer to a horse as "my mother". I never thought that I'd be using my primitive Japanese to study Chinese, but it's gone 1am and beggars can't be choosers where late-night Japanese TV is concerned. So it's either "Let's Learn Chinese" on NHK, or channel surfing.

The pickings are scarce tonight. A personal loan company is advertising. Their (English) slogan is "No loan!" I wouldn't have thought it was much of a selling point, but there you are. There's a new coffee called "First Drip". A panel of young scantily-clad ladies are cooing over Palm Pilots, which they appear never to have seen before, so amazed are they. They come in a range of snap-on colour covers (the Palms, not the ladies) and apparently this season's essential accessory is a Louis Vitton leather wallet for your leopardskin Palm V. ("Do you know what PDA spells?" asks one. "Um... isn't it 'panda'?" replies another. She doesn't sound like she's kidding.) Two more cute girls are flung down an indoor luge with reverse-angle cameras attached to their crash helmets to catch their petrified expressions, screaming all the way down.

I scream along with them.

"Quick Muscle Queens' Battle", disappointingly, turns out to be nothing of the sort.

Posted by chris at 01:35 AM | Permalink

Bump of Chicken

I love Japanese pop group names. At the moment, I'm specifically enjoying "Bump of Chicken", at number ten in this week's charts.

I shit ye not.

Posted by chris at 12:13 AM | Permalink

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