I reckon I saw more live music during 2012 than ever before, apart from the summers when I went to a music festival (I have tentative plans to attend FujiRock 2014…). Rounding off the year, just as the last of my disposable income disappeared in the run-up to Christmas, I was fortunate enough to see two of the most startling – and loud – Japanese rock bands during their respective UK tours. Lucky me indeed.
This was the fourth time I’ve seen the instrumental outfit MONO live, being as they are a band who tour extensively worldwide year after year. I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing Boris in a live setting before last weekend, although I knew them by reputation. If you don’t pay attention to anything that follows, remember this: both of these bands are a real treat. Go see ‘em if they’re playing near you.
Bit by bit I’m uploading my holiday snaps to Flickr (a job that’s a bit more complicated since I bought a new camera partway through the stay) so full sized versions of the first few are now available to view over there.
Photography inside the museum itself is prohibited though, so my shots were limited to the roof area and those surrounding the site. In a way it takes a bit of pressure off you as a tourist because you instead focus on simply walking around the place without the concern of “…I ought to take a shot of this…” so I can see why such a rule is in place. Anyhow, it’s a perfect place to rediscover your inner child.
I honestly don’t know what’s come over me in the past few weeks. I haven’t had time or inspiration to post anything (I still upload a pic or short missive on Tumblr fairly regularly…‘regularly’ being a relative term) but what I’m most annoyed at myself for is not having the motivation to reply to comments. Rest assured that I’ve read each and every one of them and I appreciate the fact that at least my readers have the time and effort to write something, even when I haven’t.
Last weekend was a lot of fun though, and kicked me out of my little funk for a while. Ironically I watched more anime during the course of Sunday afternoon that I had during the past month…with the exception of finishing my childhood fave The Mysterious Cities of Gold. LIFF always has a lot of interesting things on offer but the anime line-up this year was impressive: I didn’t get time to see Gintama and One Piece isn’t my thing but I was able to make it to Mardock Scramble: The First Compression, Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0 and Redline.
I often say that I have trouble putting thoughts about certain things into words. It’s difficult enough when discussing TV shows and movies but music? Ehh~. I’ve gone on about how Mono convey thoughts and feelings without even using lyrics but their live shows are some of those you-have-to-be-there moments. In case I’m tl;dr here then, take my word for it and grab a ticket if they’re touring near you. And take earplugs. It gets loud.
The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is a great small venue (around 300 capacity, give or take) so while the sound isn’t of stadium quality it’s cosy enough and gives a sense of close-ness, for want of a better word, that’s more intimate to me than those larger venues. In this case the support act were a local band called Glissando and the headliners worked to a set comprised of highlights from their latest album and some old favourites.
Ah, that time of year again…as much as I’d have liked to have taken time off work for the full duration of the festival and watch as much as time allowed my finances wouldn’t stretch (especially since it’s an hour away by train). It became more of a social occasion what with the screenings of First Squad: Moment of Truth, Ponyo and Summer Wars forming the perfect excuse to meet up with friends and discuss the movies over a meal and a drink or two.
For some reason I prefer to watch episodic anime and the more headscratch-inducing stuff on my own at home but the feature-length efforts are more enjoyable when the experience is shared with friends and on the big screen. I’m certainly expecting these three to wind up licenced; assuming legal red tape doesn’t get in the way I see no reason why they won’t. I hope.
The weeks following my return to the UK have been a little bit blurred (the first couple of days were blighted by the inevitable jet lag and family-related stuffs have cropped up too) so trying to get my final thoughts on my stay in order took longer than hoped. It’s a bit tricky trying to be objective when this has been my first proper trip abroad – I’ve never been exposed to anything other than a North-European climate for instance, and strongly believe that mastering the language would’ve made things easier. You can get by in Japan if you only speak English but it’s a lot more straightforward – and rewarding in some ways – to converse with people in the language they’re more fluent in.
Culture shock is a funny thing; in this case it was doubly shocking in that, for all the things that took me off-balance, there was quite a lot that I found to be pretty intuitive and easy to adjust to. If you’re too lazy to read what follows after the jump, I found that the society is very different from the one I grew up in but in terms of individual people there aren’t many differences at all. I also didn’t want to come home…as in, apart from seeing my family and friends again, I really didn’t look forward to coming back.
This is the first half of my Tokyo retrospective (which I can do properly now the damned jet lag has worn off); I want to give an intelligent and balanced view of the place from a more personal and tourist-y perspective but a common view of Tokyo is that of a paradise for otaku, gadget freaks and lovers of Weird Stuff. While it’s indeed common to see people reading manga on the train (assuming there’s enough room to do so) the anime industry is still a niche interest next to the usual mainstream media, although it still enjoys a higher profile than in the West. The aesthetic is common and one or two titles are household names but it’s very dependent on where you choose to look. Wall of text punctuated by my favourite pieces of Engrish BTW.
A security barrier near the entrance to a shop in Akihabara
If it’s anime/manga stuff you’re after, or just anything electrical, Akihabara is the most obvious place to go. Elsewhere there are the chain stores: Tower Records and HMV are good for CDs, while Book-Off stock DVDs and graphic novels. My favourite spot is Yodobashi Camera which, as its name suggests, is an epic camera shop but is also a full-on department store for all things electrical, be it DVDs and CDs, toys, household appliances or computer parts. There are plenty of comic book shops that sell both new and used (the used stuff is actually very good value for money since it’s a lot cheaper but is in my experience in very good condition). Oh yeah, I’ll list the results of my shopping to prove that it’s easy to visit Japan on a budget but it’s also easy to spend a lot of money if there’s stuff you want to buy.
Eh, so my shopping list is pretty much done and at this point (almost going home, sadly) I have bought all the souvenirs I need for my family and have seen plenty of the city sights too. The second week was therefore comprised mostly of sightseeing; the idea of going to Kyoto via shinkansen was sadly shelved for financial reasons but fortunately Plan B turned out to be a good one. Actually this has been a holiday full of very successful Plan Bs that have been nearly as fun as the ideas they replaced: it leaves a few things yet-to-do for the next trip as and when I’ve saved up for it, if nothing else.
One case in point was the Edo palace and the surrounding gardens, which are closed on certain days of the week (some areas are off-limits to visitors anyway). Last week we went to the Shinjuku gardens instead but this time the Imperial Gardens were open…and the weather was scorching! Tokyo Tower is also well worth a visit in my opinion, especially if you get there late afternoon in time for the sunset…speaking of high-up places, it’s possible to see the one and only Mount Fuji in a day trip from Shinjuku. Really. I have pics to prove it. ^_^
I must admit I was a bit disappointed that the weirdness and wonderfulness that is Harajuku’s fashion and cosplay scene was dampened by the rain (that infamous bridge was pretty short on photo opportunities) but the surrounding area is still worth wandering around. It made for an enjoyable afternoon, not least because I walked back into Shibuya to sample the Tokyu Food Court again and discover how certain things are cheaper here than back home. It plays into my guitaku tendancies if nothing else.
The best thing of the past couple of days is the fact that it’s the Sanja Matsuri festival, one of the annual events that are held in the local area. I mentioned previously that Taito City, and Asakusa in particular, are pretty quiet and laid-back but in the last couple of days it’s become much, much livelier.
After the epic shopping spree in Akihabara (my OST and Jpop/Jrock album collection is mushrooming) I decided to do a bit of conventional sightseeing in the areas of the city that are more (in)famous among ordinary tourists. This involves more walking and photography and less spending of money, and helped give me a clearer impression of the place. Two of the most well-known names are Shibuya, a lively shopping district with the enormous pedestrian crossing and Shinjuku, which has a nice contrast between insane public transport mayhem in the railway station and a stunning public garden that sits in the middle of the urban sprawl.
Away from Shinjuku is the even trendier district of Ginza, which is where you’ll find high-rise office blocks and high-price department stores. This time around we decided to walk from Ginza through Ueno to get to Asakusa, just in time to see the Taito city festival processions. As I type this the usual sleepy, small-town feel of Asakusa has turned into a crowded festival atmosphere with (so I’m told) three million locals and tourists descending on the area.