Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Addiction: A List

I think I've mentioned in the past that Book-Off is a pretty awesome place. It's a very popular used book store chain. They have a section of books that are all 105 yen, both paperbacks and hardcovers, and then a slightly more expensive section for either newer books, more popular books or books in better condition (I think). For these paperbacks, it's about 250 to 350 yen, hardcovers 600 to 900 yen. The paperbacks are only a slightly better deal; the original price is usually like 500 to 700 yen anyway. The hardcovers are an amazing deal though, since they're usually about the same price in the US, around 2000 yen. Still, you might as well search for the paperback since they're more likely to have it for cheaper.

I've been in Japan for a month now, and I have accumulated a lot of books. Books that I don't necessarily need. Books I might not like or ever finish reading. And yet I can't help myself. For if they're putting these books in my face and selling them for slightly more than a dollar, how can I say no?

The point is, I think I have a slight addiction to Book-Off.

Here's what I've bought so far. In the Haruki Murakami section we have:
  1. 村上春樹、カンガルー日和
  2. 村上春樹、ふわふわ
  3. 村上春樹、羊男のクリスマス
  4. 村上春樹、村上朝日堂 
  5. 村上春樹、村上朝日堂はいほー!
  6. 村上春樹、村上朝日堂ジャーナルうずまき猫のみつけかた
  7. 村上春樹、 村上朝日堂はいかにして鍛えられたか
  8. 村上春樹、蛍・ 納屋を焼く、その他の短編
  9. 村上春樹、海辺のカフカ(上)
  10. 村上春樹、海辺のカフカ (下)
  11. 村上春樹、ノルウェイの森(上)
  12. 村上春樹、ノルウェイの森(下)
  13. 村上春樹+糸井重里、夢で合いましょう
In the authors/books suggested by others category:
  1. 雫井脩介、クローズド・ノート
  2. リリー・フランキー、東京トワー
  3. 伊坂幸太郎、グラスホッパ
In the because I wanted to category:
  1. 滝本竜彦、ネガティブハッピー・チェーンソーエッヂ
  2. 高橋源一郎、君が代は千代に八千代に
  3. 高橋源一郎、惑星P-13の秘密 
  4. 高橋源一郎、優雅で感傷的な日本野球
So yes. A lot of Murakami. I didn't even realize I had bought this much. It's kind of embarrassing... I don't really need a copy of Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore in Japanese, but again, when they come to a grand total of 420 yen, how do I say no...

Genichiro Takahashi is an author I'm currently fascinated with. The only novel he has in English is Sayonara Gangsters, but it was such a mind-blowingly cool read that I'm almost convinced he should be the next big Japanese author. I'm big into the post-modernism, but even by Murakami standards he's pretty f'ing out there. My next translation project for this site is one of his short stories, so be on the look out for that...

That first book in the others section with the long string of katakana is (for you non-speakers) comes out to "Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge". I picked it up because it's by the same author as the original Welcome to the NHK novel, which was quite an interesting read (and a lot darker than the anime adaptation, from what I recall). I once wrote a paper about hikikomori and other social issues in contemporary Japanese pop culture, and it was one of the books I referenced, so at one point in time I was quite familiar with it, but now I hardly remember much about it at all. Anyway, I'm pretty sure there's a movie version of this novel, and again, for a dollar, why not.

Kotaro Isaka is pretty huge right now. I've read a teeny tiny bit of 死神の制度, and I want to read more of it, but I picked this one up just because. My teacher actually recommended ゴールデン・スランバ, another book which was made into a movie recently, but I haven't found a copy at Book Off yet. The other two in the suggestions pile I don't know much about, except that they were also recommended by my Japanese teacher (who also recommended The Housekeeper of the Professor, which I am also a fan of). Would anyone out there recommend them?

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Bands You Should be Listening To" Volume 3: the telephones

Today's Subject: the telephones
Looking through the titles of all the songs that comprise the telephone's creative output, you may notice that the word "disco" comes up. A lot. I don't know if disco is quite the right word for describing the telephone's sound; you say disco and you think of that unique '70s sound, composed of not just a danceable beat and synthesizers, which the telephones admittedly have plenty of, but oftentimes brass and orchestral backings as well. There's no denying that the telephones make pop music, but it's pop music with a healthy dose of punk attitude, humor, and an overwhelming need to get your ass on the dance floor (another important phrase in the telephones vocabulary).

They also make amazing music videos.

Where to Start: See that Youtube video right above? I personally would recommend the EP from which that music video comes from, the Love&DISCO E.P. (you guessed it). I may just be an EP kind of guy; I think there is something in my pop-culture-lovin' nature that responds to shorter, tighter pieces of pure craft than something with more (in my mind, sometimes unnecessary) volume. For me, the perfect sized novel is roughly 200 to 250 pages (for example, Sputnik Sweetheart, my all-time favorite), and some of the best TV shows are the ones that get out (or are forced out) before the creative well runs dry (i.e. Freaks and Geeks). But I digress.

I think the other place to start is where I started, their first full-length Japan. "Sick Rocks" is what started it all for me anyway. Dance Floor Monsters, their second full length and their first on a major record label (to which I say "Sell-outs!", to which I actually I mean, "Good for you, the telephones; you deserve the resources to expand your audience. Just don't let The Man change you too much." Hmm, this might be my longest aside yet!), is a solid album, certainly not a bad one, but maybe not my favorite, besides the infectious singles. Speaking of which, here's their newest, which comes off the brand-new Oh my telephones!!! ep that just came out a not even a week ago. I literally can't stop playing this song.

How to Get A Hold of 'Em: It's your lucky day! The US iTunes Music Store has both Japan and the Love&DISCO EP for download. They also have an exclusive live bundle for sale, but I wouldn't recommend it at all. I'm not sure what live show they taped it from, but it has terrible sound quality and is generally just not worth the four bucks when you're otherwise not getting anything new.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

成田太鼓祭り (The Narita Drum Festival)

Last Saturday, I went to the Narita Drum Festival. It was awesome.

But, don't take my word for it. I have proof.

See? Dragons, drums, and (masked, shirtless) dudes. Awesome.

The Narita Taiko Masturi is one of (if not the) biggest Taiko events in all of Japan. It takes place in (duh) Narita, which you may recall is the city with the giant airport outside of Tokyo. It was about an hour, maybe forty-five minute trip from Nishi-funabashi Station. Basically it's just tons of performances all day by tons of different professional and amateur groups. Also, the temple(s) on Narita-san is (are) gorgeous.

True story: to preserve the history of the site, they keep all the old main-temple buildings when they decide that they need a new, bigger one. So to keep the structure in tact, they tie up the buildings with giant ropes and physically pull it (as in, with lots of human beings) to a new location. That's bad-ass.
Not only are the temple grounds huge (my pictures can't give a good depiction of the scale, unfortunately), it was the first time in the three weeks that I've been living in Japan that I had seen real nature. Look, a waterfall! 

Again, awesome.

Also, if you ever find yourself in Narita, be sure to get some eel. Narita is famous for it. And it is oh so delicious.
Anyway, taiko is the Japanese word for drums in general, so technically this might be better described as the 和太鼓 festival, the Japanese Drum festival. Taiko drums range in size, but they're most famous for the big-ass ones, like in the arcade game. Like this one:
(I wish I could get a closer shot, but I was far away and don't have the best camera. Still, you can see that this drum is MUCH larger than that guy.)

Taiko drum performances are really amazing to experience. It's not just about the music; it's about the performance: the bombast, the power, the choreography (yes, choreography). Even this amateur group, on one of the many smaller stages at two in the afternoon, blew my mind. Thank God I had the foresight to actually tape these performances and not just take pictures. Quality's not the best, unfortunately, I could only take it on my little digital camera:

Narita Drum Festival from wednesdayafternoonpicnic on Vimeo.

I enjoyed this festival so much that I decided to try and join a local taiko group. Apparently beginners (and foreigners) are welcome. My first practice is a three-hour session Saturday afternoon. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


"Sardines" by Haruki Murakami




Hey ump!
What game are you even watching?
For chrissakes, I ate a can of sardines yesterday, 
and even I could do better than you!

[From the collaborative collection 夢で会いましょう、1986, Kodansha.]

Review: Yoko Ogawa's Hotel Iris

I redirect you to Three Percent, which is hosting my formal review of Hotel Iris, the latest novel by Yoko Ogawa to be published by Picador and translated by Stephen Snyder, which I promised a while ago in my Recently Read Round-up post.

I didn't like the book all that much, but I will definitely continue to be on the look-out for anything Yoko Ogawa can get published state-side.

For those of you who just can't get enough of my stylish wit and elegant prose, you can see all my other contributions to Three Percent (various book reviews mostly) here and here (one of my reviews is tagged under a slightly different version of my name).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Murakami the Poet

Another one of the myriad Haruki Murakami books I have purchased recently is 夢で合いましょう, or, Let's Meet in a Dream, a collaborative collection of myriad belle lettres he wrote along with essayist/noted video game creator Shigesato Itoi. (You can even check out some sample translations at Yomuka!)

The most interesting thing about 夢で合いましょう, however, is the inclusion of some pieces of writing by Mr. Murakami that...well, they're poems.

They belong to what Murakami dubs the "Yakult Swallows Poetry Anthology" (the Yakult Swallows being a Japanese baseball team). Their titles imply a sense of varying topics. But they are mostly basball related. For example:



 Oil Sardine

Hey referee!
What were your eyes following,
I ate a can of sardines yesterday, but
even I was more preferable than you!

Like I said, poetry isn't really my bag, but even I know that translating poetry is an especially difficult thing to do. And the above poetry (my own) is just bad. Translation in poetry is less about the words and more about the meaning... the sound and the ideas. Poetry is about the feelings than the actual text. And language is so entwined in culture and history, going word for word is going to produce, to put it bluntly, shit poetry.  Even when trying to keep it as close to the original as possible, there are phrases that just don't translate literally.  So I say, if it's poetry, go crazy. Think outside the box. Poetry is one of the ultimate expressions of creativity. Being constrained by language goes against everything that poetry stands for.

I'm no poet, but this is what I would do.


Hey ref!
What game are you even watching?
For chrissakes, I ate a can of sardines yesterday, 
and even I could do better than you!

I am not one to judge to the quality of Murakami's poetry (I imagine anyone with a passing interest in verse would tell Murakami to stick to fiction), but at least they're pretty amusing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Amazing Engrish Vol 1.

Now that I'm in Japan, I get to see first hand the kind of crazy bad English that sweeps the Land of the Rising Sun. It is literally EVERYWHERE. Even the internet, with all it's various Engrish-related sites, cannot hope to document every piece of poor English littered on almost every advertisement and piece of clothing. Here are some of the better ones that I've come across.

This first batch is all from the same t-shirt section of my local Aeon department store.

TENNESSEE: Contract to further enhance MEASURE
If I worry, go to Africa. Because I know my small.
Enjoy travel: A dream makes evolution, Desire famine, Play with dreams, Love famine
When there is guidance of emergency evacuation, please take shelter quickly in the course which is shown in a figure.
 Those Who Wish [moving in] Need to Inform to Following.
(I guess this is less Engrish than Flenchish, a term I just made up that combines bad English and French. For another case of Flenchish, see:)

(To be fair, this is less Engrish than some punk with a can of spray paint who didn't pay any attention in school... I think just to the right of this it says FUCK ME. It's like he thought that writing in English will make the police think it was some punk gaijin and not him.)
Life is Delicious! Eat & Joy!
(So close. It could almost be a pun.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Tokyo International Anime Fair

Yep. I went to there. I'm not all that much into anime anymore, but how many chances do you get in your life to go something like this? So that's how my new friends and I spent our first Saturday in Japan. And boy what a spectacle.

The event takes place at Tokyo Big Sight, which is a pretty huge convention hall (the Makuhari Messe in Chiba is also huge, but the shapes are so different it's hard to tell which one is bigger). It's a pretty big event, this TAF. I have about fifteen photos just of the lines.

Yes that's our line right in front of us, and a bigger mass of lines in the far left corner.

After about fifteen minutes waiting in line, that mess of people formed behind us. This was at maybe 9:45 am, fifteen minutes before it opened up. However, we probably waited in line only about an hour overall. They really got us into the building quickly. I read on the site later that over 50,000 people attended the fair that Saturday.

The fair itself clearly was very expensive to run (although the tickets were only 1000 yen), but very much not like a con in the states. There was almost no cosplay, except the cosplayers hired by the companies. I guess it's because this event is more of a trade show than a con, and I guess the days before the public comes in it's all business people and meetings. Still, there was tons of crazyness going on, with basically every domestic animation studio as well as a few international ones trying to pimp their latest shows and DVDs to buy. There was also booths by animation trade schools trying to get more students, and (which I thought was really cool) a booth that showed off the work of some seriously skilled amateur high school animators.

Most of the animation studio booths were just big signs and videos for new series, but a couple places had little events for the guests to do. At the Tezuka animation studio, they had little pictures you could color and attach to rubber bands so it spins around (I have no idea what to call them), and when you finished, you got a prize!

It's a folder! (That's too small to fit most sized papers...) I basically spent most of my time collecting various ads, magazines, postcards, and various other free things. Detective Boy Conan peeps had a stamp-scavenger hunt that some of my friends did, but I don't know what the prize was because I don't know if they were successful in the end...

Other events included voice actress interview type things. And also a show that was cosplay dancing thing promoting some magical girl show except that all the people wore these creepy anime-style masks that made them much scarier than actual human beings and nowhere near looking like they were anime characters come to life. It was grotesque, but unfortunately when I tried to take a picture a staff member yelled "ダメ!" at me. Then they left the stage before I could try again. Here's a giant Kon mascot instead.

I actually thought I had more pictures than I do, and none that really exhibit how large and crazy the event was, but here are some of the highlights.

Big-ass Gundam statue. I think it said 1/10 scale.

Star Wars?? Get out of here! (Unless you are of course promoting the Clone Wars cartoon. Which is what I thought, except there were no ads or videos for it anywhere near him.)
Booth/trailer for the live-action movie version of  the anime move The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which is one of my absolute favorite films of all time, animated or otherwise, Japanese or American. Needless to say, this version looks underwhelming to me.

Anpanman! Balloon was probably 30 feet tall at least. Huge.

No idea what this scary thing is.
New Trigun movie coming out. Which is odd, since it's so old. But it's one of those series I watched early in my formative anime-lovin' youth, so it piqued my interest.
Giant Totoro balloon. I think we'll end on that note.