Friday, 31 December 2010

Expectation Leads To Disappointment

Well here I am. This is the last post for 2010.

For the first time since I have been in Japan, I'm staying here instead of going back to Australia for Christmas and New Year's. Just for that reason it feels incredibly strange, even a non-event.

Outside at the moment it's 6 degrees outside. I find it strange that fireworks are not a part of the New Year's celebration, nor is "Auld Lang Syne" which although you hear it everyday as the shops close, it means nothing to Japanese as a NYE song.
What they do here is go to a shrine, pray and ring a bell, maybe watch a sunrise. Fireworks I hear, are probable at Tokyo Disneyland.

At least it's warm in the apartment. I hope to catch a live stream of the fireworks from home, drink a chu-hi, eat a rice cake, and maybe blow my fake iPhone paper whistle.

Usually I try to reflect on the past year and make my resolution for the following year so here goes..

I thought that coming to Japan was necessary for me to change things that maybe I'd done wrong, in a sense starting over again. I think that life is quite cyclical, and this year (in fact every year since the first) has had it's share of deja vu's.

In short, I don't think that I've changed that much at all, and the a*holes will always be around! One of my biggest changes is that recently I've slowly backed away from Facebook. I was reluctant to become a part of it. For a while it was great. I got in contact with a lot of people from school, some people around here, and my buddies in Italy.

But then I noticed the lurkers, the requests from people I didn't know back in the day, generally the ones that I have no interest in keeping in contact with. I could say something about the lack of privacy, but then why have a blog, right? Same thing with email. I miss the lost art of the written letter.

Anyway, my friends know who they are, and I hope the ones that aren't, know that too. A big thanks to them for making me what I am, both good and bad. Oh, and a big shout out to the people that stop by here and say "Hi". Lurking around a blog is a bit creepy. I think on the interwebs it's easy to forget there's a person behind the words.

I'm not making any big predictions for this coming year. Maybe learn that guitar a little bit better, but plans? No, I have no plan. What happens happens. Expectation leads to disappointment.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

KitKat Guitars

Wow. Slept in till 2:30pm. Nice.

I usually put it off until the very last minute, but I decided to pay my extortion money NHI today. At the combini I also bought this Nestle mug pack. It was only 250 yen! I thought it was some kind of end-of-year gift thing, but it looks like it's an encouragement promotion for students about to do their entrance exams early next year. Anyway, can't argue with getting an (almost free) mug and coffee with a kit-kat.

After a very quick stint in Shinjuku, we went to Ochanomizu. Yes, guitar heaven so to speak.

I saw this clear plexiglass Les Paul copy and really wanted it. Why? The whole guitar is plexiglass, including the neck and headstock! Unfortunately, they said it was already sold, so boo hoo to me. Apparently it's a no name guitar, but for the 60,000 yen they wanted I think I would've bought it.

Later on in the day I saw the Ibanez Jem20th for 398,000 yen. No, they wouldn't let me play it. No sale to you buddy!

I tried out this Fender Splattercaster today. They want 54,800 yen for it. This is like the blue one I saw last year in Ikebukuro. Like that one, this one sounded nice too. I haven't decided whether it's ugly or beautiful. But do I need it?

I have so many now, you'd think I bought them as investments. WAY back in 1994, while we were trying to make it big *cough* in Sydney, I saw a Fender Custom Shop Playboy Stratocaster. T'was quite a shock when I saw one here. Shame they're asking 1,280,000 yen for it! Told my mamma I'm going to buy it, for a joke. She didn't get it. Anyways..

Before we left I bidded 21,000 yen on an desktop Evolver synth. I got outbid. There was one in the store so I tried it out. The unit doesn't have a headphone out so I was listening to it through only one of the speaker outs. I didn't get a good listen, but it sounded like the demos I've heard on Youtube.

Also there was a Korg MS2000. It has a lot of useable sounds here too. I didn't buy them. It's nice to be able to try these things out. I did notice a Roland Juno 106 synth. One thing I LOVE about Japan is all that yesterday gear stuff isn't that hard to come across, and all those sweet, sweet guitars are here too. Why would I want to leave?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Mickey is De Gas

We bought discount tickets to see the Degas exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art yesterday.

Although I got up about 10.30, it wasn't until about 2pm that we finally got there. It's the last days of the exhibit so the line was long, and inside was almost uncomfortably crowded.

Most of the art were portraits of old people, ballet dancers, and a few tasteful nude paintings. While Degas was for sure very talented, this just reconfirmed my feelings that I prefer modern art and styles.

Once we left the final room, my eyes were drawn to the Surrealism section. If I have a favourite, Dali is it. It's like a warped dream. I could look at these paintings and art all day.

For some reason I like taking pictures of reflections. I took this picture of us in an inverted Q sculpture. Looks cool. Very surrealistic, no?

We spent a short time at Minato Mirai before making our way back towards Yokohama station. I had a sickly strawberry cream filled chocolate from Pocket Mart before we caught our train onwards to go to Kawasaki.

Before I came to Japan I only thought of Yokohama as a tyre company and Kawasaki for motorcycles. Funny.

The reason I wanted to come here was to check out the local Hard Off store. As soon as we got to Kawasaki, we started on the 30 minute trek to get there.

It's still my favourite. As usual there were a few things I was itching to get. I walked out only with a Buzz Lightyear. Don't look at me like that. It was only 300 yen! Did I mention it has a "big one" rocket with it?

While she looked around Lazona, there were a few shops I wanted to check out.

Not that I needed it, I picked up a Mickey Watch. I'm a sucker for old school Mickey. I like the subtle cues. It was a 5% off day and I had an additional 50 yen off, so I saved some small Crunky money change. Only 2,325 yen :D

Before heading back, we went to the Sanwa supermarket in the Lazona basement. We had some limited edition Walnut and Maple Haagan Daaz. It gets Jimmy's tick of approval. Get!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Avenue Q Ginza

It seems to be an unwritten rule that if I leave my camera at home, photo opportunities will be more prevalent.

And so it was today when we got to use the Christmas present I gave, that I was REALLY wishing I had brought it along. As I mentioned last post, said present was a ticket to see Avenue Q at Tokyo International Forum in Ginza.

The first I heard about this show was while listening to InterFM on my way to work last week. They played one of the songs, and from what they said it seemed like an adult version of Sesame Street. I thought that I'd like it, but I have to say it was a fantastic stage production. Although a totally different concept, I liked it even better than "Chicago".

The parallels with Sesame Street are hard to miss. If you always thought Bert and Ernie were gay, and the Cookie Monster surfed places NSFW on the internet, then I think you'd like it too. The icing on the cake is a "cameo" with Gary Coleman. Yes, that one. And in this case he is played by a woman.

The sets, puppets, story and singing were practically faultless. The puppet actors are visible but not really acknowledged as part of the show. At first this was strange, but you soon accept it. We were on the second floor, at a little bit of a distance from the stage, so if anything I'd have liked to have been closer.

I laughed a lot, got a little misty eyed, and really loved this show. Unfortunately today is last day so I'm afraid it's too late if you're in Tokyo. If you get the chance to see it, I HIGHLY recommend you go. Just do it.

When it was finished we decided to walk around the forum complex. Also on today was the Hot Toys 2010 figurine exhibition in the main building. It was free so we thought we'd take a look.

We were led down narrow corridors by cute girls dressed in white. Made it look like something really special. When we got to the main room, we were presented with a whole lot of glass-cased figurines with extremely high price tags, and bass heavy "doof doof" dance music pulsating through the room.

We almost accidentally bought this one by going to the store area checkouts. "Only" 18,000 yen, yikes! I was thinking this would be the perfect place for guys that have absolutely no interest in women.

This is one of those situations I wish I'd brought my real camera. You can see the flash reflecting off the glass, and the exposure being too dark. The figures outside the glass came out a little better.

How about a Tokyo Tower-sized "Godzilla" Rocky Balboa?

I liked this Aliens recreation..

..but while a lot of the figures looked cool and all, I prefered the girls in white. Damn you, blurry iPhone camera! :(

Right next door to the Hot Toys exhibition there was a Omani Cultural Days exhibition. Quite interesting. It got me thinking that this part of the world would be interesting for a holiday.

The last two times I was in Ginza I missed out on anpan from Kimuraya, so this time we wasted no more time, and got there to a plentiful supply of anpan goodness. There were a few bread samples to abate Sampleman™ 's hunger too.

Yamano music is right next door, so I took the opportunity to check out the small selection of sweet guitars. Often on the ground floor they play jazz outside the main entrance which sounds really cool. Today's selection was the "Sonny Criss - This is Criss" album. In my old age, I'm developing a mature admiration of jazz and classical. Uh oh.

Next stop.. Sony Building!

At the moment they are showing (off) their 3D film of Hokkaido's Asahiyama Zoo.
Of course I made sure to have the way cooler, kids polar bear 3D specs. Hot, huh?

It's always fun to check out the cool gear in the Sony building.

Sony's mp3 players aren't as easily intuitive as iPods, but I liked the sound quality helped along by their groovy MDR-XB500 cans.

The bass was nice, and the rest of the sound was very clear. There was a little bit of leakage, but maybe not too much to be a problem on the trains. The price is quite reasonable too. If I didn't have the ones I have these would be a strong contender for my next pair. I was listening to Miliyah Kato's "Rose". I'm not really into J-pop stars doing American R'n'b, but there are some really, nice tunes on this CD!

There was some snow put outside the Sony Building to promote the 3D show. "Please Don't Throw The Snow Balls" is like asking for it, right?

After the disappointment of the temporary Kiddyland in Omotosando, I remembered there's a four storey toy store called Hakuhinkan Toy Park here in Ginza.

Coming here made me happy. Lots of cute and fun toys to bring out my kid ego. I wanted to take this cat home. It says "Meow" in Japanese ("Nya!"), but in English, "I wuv you!". かわいい!

Just before coming home we went to the Chinese gyoza restaurant in Yurakucho. I've mentioned it many times before, so look it up if you're in this area. Many delicious food.

Wow. Long post, long day. A good start to my New Year's break! Phew.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas 2010

I'm glad that the Christmas craft lessons have come and gone.

My favourite activity though was making the Christmas stockings. The needles were impossible to thread, but when they were finished they actually looked pretty good!

Unfortunately even though we had the Emperor's birthday holiday off, the powers that be made us work an extra day before Christmas. Luckily no kids, but it meant a fully booked seven lesson day. Thankfully it went relatively quickly and seeing that it started a whole three hours earlier it gave a bit more time to start to enjoy the Christmas holidays.

I thought to catch happy hour in the local pub only to find the place practically empty. They had the great idea to put me away in a corner away from other people. Great. May as well do this at home!

Anyway I made a very quick change of plan. Without buying any drinks, I caught the subway to Shinjuku to look at the Christmas lights around Takashimaya Square.

There were lots of people despite a windy five degree chill. As usual the penguins were out on show.

Here's a video time lapse I did on my iPhone. Brrr..

Before heading home we had some okonomiyaki here again.

It starts like this..

and ends up like this :D

Christmas day was fairly quiet, and sleepy. I gave her the Avenue Q theatre ticket, and I got two graniph t-shirts, this Animal Matrix, and this Control Bear one. cute huh?

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tartan Days

I have to say I really love the EMS service. The first box posted on Thursday was already delivered by Monday!

The second box posted on Friday would've arrived on the same day if the Aussie Post didn't fluff the delivery address. Instead it, and the third box arrived today. Still, considering it travelled over the weekend, I think that is super fast. They mentioned that one of the boxes had been damaged, but I heard that all was received in good order.

I was in Shinjuku on Monday, so after work I picked up tickets to a theatre show I decided would make a good Christmas present.

There are many Christmas sales so we looked around and I saw some tartan pants in Taka-Q, next to ABC Mart.

I dismissed this shop in the past because it seemed like a very um, "metrosexual" kind of fashion. Quite appropriate when you look at the J-boys around here.

You're probably thinking "tartan?". Well, these are a bit more "punk rocker" than "avid golfer". I used to wear a pair back in the old gigging days playing in a band. I tried on a black and white pair, and a more reddish one. They actually looked pretty good.

I didn't have enough to buy them right then.I'd spent most of the money I had on me on the tickets, so I got them to hold them and I went back again today.

While I was there I went to the guitar store to try a Jackson PC-1. I tried it out a long time ago when it was something like 350,000 yen. At the moment it's 198,000 yen , and calling me. The gold hardware has a little bit of tarnish, but the transparent finish looks incredible, like 3D. I like Jackson guitars, but I've gone off pointy headstocks. This one has a Fender shaped one which appeals to me more too.

A Fender Triple Tele and maybe another Jem is also whispering sweet nothings in my ear. After the headache with that drum kit, you'd think I'd learnt my lesson.

Doesn't seem like it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Choco Ring

If you're in Shinjuku, go to the Marui, next to Bic Camera and Kinokuniya. There is a temporary Heart Bread Antique shop stall just outside selling Angel Choco Rings for 500 yen.

Basically they are bread pastry in a donut shape with lashings of chocolate and walnuts. To me they have a taste similar to Panettone, but more crispy than soft.

There is a playful website where you can control the rolls here, but it's much more satisfying eating them, and getting fatter.

I'm currently on my third one. You know you want it.


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Omotosando Illuminations

I've managed to survive three Christmas parties. (Yokohama's last week was a REAL struggle getting home I can tell you). Number three, although an almost total sausage fest, was entertaining enough for me to stay and get drunk.

At all three, I participated in the "secret santa" gift exchanges. Two out of three were bath products. This "Otome No Nayami" one was by far the scariest. Eww..It's going to take a while to get that visual out of my mind.

Anyway, let's just say I wasn't as hungover as I normally am, so it was that we decided to go to see the "unmissable" Omotosando Illuminations.

In my mind Omotosando is like a lesser Ginza. It has quite a few classy and pricey boutiques like Ginza, but nicely bypasses the snobbery. It's a stones throw too from both the more youthful Harajuku and Shibuya.

Apparently from 2009 someone decided after eleven years to put up a whole lot of Christmas lights on the avenue of trees lining Omotosando once again. There were lots of people taking photos.The authorities inconveniently blocked off the overpasses, likely to prevent the shutterbugs from clogging them up taking photos from above.

I'm sure it's a real PITA to put the lights up, but it'd definitely have looked a lot more impressive with a bit more colour.

Off the main thoroughfare there are a whole of small clothing shops. As we made our through the back streets I walked into "Sevens", a 700 yen clothing store.

I saw this Batman shirt on a mannequin. I thought it looked pretty cool, so I tried it on. For the loose change, I thought it wasn't a big expense so I got it. At the counter I quickly learned, just like the 100 yen shops that aren't, these guys conveniently left out the extra 5% tax you have to pay. 735 yen though, I can live with that. Just keep it honest, right?

One store i really like here is the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) store, in the Gyre building. They have a lot of cool stuff that would make great presents. It was here that I first saw my Issey Miyake watch.

Right next door there is an "Eye of Gyre" art space where they often show a free exhibition. On this occasion we saw the photographic work of Mika Ninagawa.

Most of the photos had a lot of saturated colours which really made the images pop. If you're in the area this is definitely worth checking out.

In the basement of Gyre there was a small food shop that gave out coffee and food tastings. Sampleman™ definitely got his fill.

Just before we were about to leave, I wanted to see the temporary Kiddyland store. They are doing a major renovation, so they have relocated to smaller premises for the time being.

Sadly, it doesn't have the "magic" that the old store had. This abridged version kept me wanting more. It feels like how "Blister" in Shibuya shrunk down and relocated in Harajuku, them too losing what made them great in the first place.

+1 to the lightsaber chopsticks and Heely's roller sneakers they had, but a big boo hiss to leaving out the Domo-kun toys.

What's up with that?

By this time we were both really hungry. At the moment Macca's are doing 200 yen Big Macs, so we had that before being on our merry way back home.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Drums Say Bye Bye

I don't know what it was, but definitely the freaks were out in force on another leisurely Wednesday night station beers.

I was first accosted by what was probably the most busted sumo girl in Japan.

I thought she wanted to ask directions or something. She asked, "What is your country?" The first thing that popped into my head was "America". They all think we're American, so I thought nothing to perpetuate the stereotype. In hindsight I should've said, "Japan". Now THAT would have done her head in!

While I was sipping down a pretty bad, kiwifruit chu-hi (hey, it was on sale), there were a few other near miss Japanese "objects" coming our way.

As one woman approached, the other guys moved to the side leaving their bags unattended. She went right up to their stuff. I thought she was going to do a runner. I had my mouth safely buried in an anpan.

All i can say is it must have been a full moon.

The good thing about Wednesdays is I pretty much drunkenly fall asleep straight away. The not-so-good thing is that my day is at least half over before I wake up.

Last Thursday I attempted to post the electric drum kit back to Australia. I can't set the whole kit up, and it's taking a lot of space up in the apartment.

This time I was going to do it via International Parcel Post (or "by ship" as you might say). The general idea was that I didn't really need it in a hurry back home and it's a whole lot cheaper than EMS (Express Mail Service).

The English Japan Post pages are reasonably easy to understand, but you have to look around pretty hard to get the details you have to understand, like size and weight limits as it pertains to your country.

For the International parcel post I looked here.

The picture shows the "formula" for size. According to this (Japanese only), Australia is B. That means maximum length is 1.05m, and the length PLUS the CIRCUMFERENCE must not be more than 2m. Furthermore, for Australia the maximum weight allowed in is 20kg.

Still with me?

With EMS the sizes are a whole lot more flexible. According to this on another far away page you can send a 1.5m long package, with a combined length and circumference up to 3m! Still only 20kg though.

Anyways, the two boxes I had neatly packed were both too heavy, and too big for Surface Mail. It was a pain getting the boxes to the post office, and I just didn't have time to unpack and repack. By this time my morale was pretty low too.

It was going to have to be another day.

So, fast forward one week, and I tried it all again. The problem was the drum rack. The poles were quite long, and the only way I could do this was to make a custom box out of the plentiful cardboard I have in the room. Wonderful!

Even with the best I tried, I STILL couldn't make it fit the restrictive dimensions. I gave up and sent it EMS. The other two boxes I decided to do the same. I even threw in the Tickle Me Elmo as I don't use it anywhere near as much either.

It cost a LOT to send three boxes of almost 20kg each. The last was 150g over, so I had to remove one item from the lesser box to let me send them. Although I'm a little sad to see it go (for now), it's a relief I finally got it able to be sent.

What this has taught me is not to buy any more drums, or other big and heavy stuff. More guitars? Hmm.. I got to send two more of those back home sometime.. :'(