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48groups pilgrimage January 19, 2014

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On my most recent Japan trip I visited Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. Seeing as that’s three out of the four 48 Groups locations, I couldn’t very well do that and not stop by hallowed ground, right? Here follows impressions and directions to sating your AKB/SKE/NMB thirst while on the move in Japan. (more…)

Perfume city Tokyo January 2, 2014

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Perfume でした。#prfm

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The last year or so has been, without a doubt, the best 13 months of my life. Capping off what can only be described as ‘Perfume year‘ was the holy grail: a pilgrimage to see the group in the motherland of Japan. 

The date: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The location: Tokyo Dome – the capital’s legendary baseball stadium and one of the biggest venues in the country. Perfume played here once before in 2010, but this time returned for 2 days, part of a 4-date ‘4th Tour in Dome’ that including a couple of nights previous in Osaka’s Kyocera Dome. 

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:) #prfm

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Yet it was Tokyo that was the ‘homecoming’ of sorts, and the one that most international fans decided was the one to gather for (probably in no small part due to the coinciding Christmas holidays). Thanks to the World PTA fan club, for the first time we had a relatively easy way to purchase tickets to a Japanese concert. It was a lottery, but though many of us worried, practically all got tickets (and for those that didn’t, most of us had spares). I was lucky enough to draw a pair for both nights and booked my flight right away. (more…)

BBC please, we’re Japanese October 24, 2013

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Female wota, where art thou? Not in the BBC doc that’s for sure.

Over the last week or so there have been a number of articles about Japan, its declining population and, as one of the reasons for that, the Japanese people’s attitudes to sex. These are linked to a BBC documentary, ‘No sex please, we’re Japanese‘ that aired tonight (if you’re in the UK or *coughproxycough* watch it on iPlayer here). While I’m always pleased to see coverage of Japan on our flagship broadcaster, the way some of this has been handled by the crew left me somewhat bemused and despairing.

It’s not that the programme itself is bad on the whole. On the contrary, it makes an effort to cover many of the important points in the topic, such as the changing attitudes of men and women, Japan’s economy, the problems caused by an ageing population and the Japanese attitude to immigration. Particularly in the second half, it offers some thoughtful and interesting insights, visiting a prison for over 60s, an immigrant Philippino nurse, a Japanese-American economist, and some eye-catchingly desolate ghost-towns in rural areas long abandoned due to changing industries and the migration of young people seeking work. There’s certainly enough to make a viewer think and catch a good glimpse of the perfect storm that’s approaching Japan – one every bit as worrying to the government as the constant threat of natural disasters.

Yet, such good work is almost (almost) completely undone by some lazy foreigner-in-Japan and sweeping ‘look at the freaks!’ reporting. When making serious and considered narration, the script and presenter Anita Rani’s delivery is fine. But when she’s out and about the attempts at ‘fun colour’ are just plain annoying and, frankly, rather offensive. At the lighter end of the scale, remarks like “I think we’d all agree Japanese babies are the cutest” and prancing about with retired cheerleaders can be forgiven for silly gaijin naiveté. I can even forgive the pseudo-Lost In Translation music an imagery at the end. But the implicit disdain of otaku culture in the Akihabara sections I cannot. Obviously, I take issue as someone who identifies with that community, but the programme makes no effort to dial down its judgemental tone when meeting a couple of Love+ fans, contrasting completely the more objective tone adopted when later discussing immigration or the economy. It’s all very well to see these bits as light colour, but front-loading the programme with these throwaway sections – and literally blaming otaku culture – or rather male otaku – for the declining birthrate (even going so far as to say that the ‘silly Japanese should just pull their finger out, grow up and start making babies for the sake of the nation’ – not in those exact words, but almost in those exact words) is a bit of a step too far. Who are you as visiting Westerners to offer such an opinion?

I don’t expect the whole programme to focus on otaku for the sake of balance, but it wouldn’t have taken much to film some of the female wota clearly in evidence in Akiba itself and much more in force in Otome Alley in Ikebukuro. Admittedly the majority of Japanese otaku are indeed male, but that’s to ignore the significant number that are female. Where were the yaoi lovers in this segment? And where was the coverage of ‘herbivore’ men and parasite singles? Or Japanese womens’ attitudes to men (at least covered in this article The Guardian and even the Huffington Post, even if the latter blew one survey’s results completely out of proportion). The BBC team did at least have a few minutes on Japanese career women, though this was rushed in order to segue into Japan’s lack of family allowances.

Overall, the programme, and the coverage around it, has been interesting and brought this issue – and Japan – into the UK media spotlight this week. I just find it disappointing that some good work on a good subject ended up tainted by some lazy point-the-finger reporting.

A week in Tokyo August 28, 2013

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Harajuku signage

Back in June, I had a “short, relaxing break” in Tokyo. This was my fifth time in Japan, my fourth in Tokyo, having stuck entirely to Kansai and Kyushu on my last trip. Seeing the Japanese capital again after 4 years, it’s interesting how much has changed – and not changed – both in the city and myself.

On the one hand, nothing much has changed. This is still the same Tokyo I’ve found my way around several times before. Convenience stores and vending machines still sell my favourite bottled green tea. I still know the Yamanote line like the back of my hand. Suica is still the way to travel, Ueno station in rush hour is still a nightmare. My favourite haunts of Ikebukuro, Shibuya and Akihabara remain largely the same. And unlike much of the western world, there are still physical record stores you can browse CDs and DVDs in. On the other hand, it’s amazing how much can change in 4 years, like the entire Radio Kaikan building being demolished or the Japanese population finally embracing the smartphone revolution.

I spent the days walking around my favourite parts of the city, doing the things I love and, unlike previous travel-rushed trips, just experiencing life as a Tokyo-ite. (more…)

Souzou: outsider art from Japan March 30, 2013

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Untitled (2013-03-26 21:20:53)

It’s not often (read: NEVER) that anything in my workplace crosses over with my love of all things Japan. So when my colleagues at Wellcome Collection told me that they were bringing a Japanese exhibition over I got very excited. What I actually saw when the exhibition opened this week blew my mind.  (more…)

Kirishima National Park August 14, 2011

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Kirishima is a pretty area of parkland about 40 mins drive north of Kagoshima in Kyushu. It’s part of the ‘Kirishima-Yaku’ National park that includes the island of Yakushima and forms one of the biggest national parks in Japan. It’s also considered “one of the finest volcanic hikes in Japan”, at least according to my Lonely Planet guide, and was used as a location for the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice (thank you Wikipedia). (more…)

Japan trip 2011 July 3, 2011

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Kirishima-jingu torii

A few weeks ago I returned from my fourth trip to Japan. As usual, the time passed quickly and joyfully with just over two weeks passing by in a flash. In some ways, it was the usual whirlwind of a trip, but in many other ways, it was a different change of pace.

(I’ll drop in a few pics throughout the post, but as always there’s a rather extensive set on my Flickr. And just to warn you, this is a long post).

What do I remember from this trip to Japan? As usual it’s a hazy, jet-lagged mix of convenience stores, vending machines, shop assistants shouting “Irashaimaseeeeeee!!”, new friends, old friends, good food, PET-bottled drinks, 100 yen coins and being tired and excited all day every day. It’s the greatest experience of my life (again) and only reinforces how this is, without a doubt, my favourite place on earth.  (more…)

も一度日本にくる May 3, 2011

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Where I'm going, sort of, only without the forest princess, and the wolves, and the weird spirits. Ahem.

Its been almost two years since I last had a proper holiday. So having finally got some time and money, where else would I go but to the motherland. The fact that it’s also the last place I went on holiday is besides the point….

This time the itinerary is a little different. My original intention was to go north to Hokkaido, but recent events upended that plan. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know the recovery effort for the earthquake and tsunami is ongoing, with aftershocks still being felt.

(I’d like to point out, I’m not in the least bit worried about the Fukushima nuclear situation. Yes, the plant is still in danger, but there really is no danger from radiation unless you’re planning to go right to the area directly around the plant (and even then I believe they still have a 30km exclusion zone in place). It’s a conversation for another time, but the danger really has been exaggerated, or at least misunderstood. It’s largely the result of our human tendency to be alarmist and the difficulty in communicating jargon terms to the public. As someone who works with scientists and science reporters, I’m not in the least worried about visiting Japan.)  (more…)

‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami July 7, 2010

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Murakami What I Talk About When I Talk About Running cover

I like Murakami’s fiction, but I also like his non-fiction. Underground was an unexpectedly brilliant take on the Tokyo Gas Attacks and, as I previously wrote, an interesting form of journalism.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running isn’t quite as polished as that. It’s a collection of random thoughts and essays loosely strung together by a narrative about Murakami’s training.

Sometimes he’ll stick with the standard narrative — his training for the New York Marathon — but he’ll veer off wildly in between that as he tells you what he thinks, well, while he’s running.

For Murakami fans like myself, this is brilliant. What we like about the author is his view of the world, his opinions, his perspectives. Murakami touches on almost everything, from his career change to writing, to his childhood, love, music, different world cultures as he’s experienced them. Sometimes this will be matter of fact, but interesting takes on life in Hawaii or Boston. Other times he’ll flirt a little with climate change scepticism. And on occasion he’ll say something really insightful, like his approach to writing, how it makes him feel, or what, to him, is really important about life.

It’s beautifully written (and translated) but not especially well structured. He says he didn’t intend to write a proper book, hence the slightly odd ending of a disappointing New York marathon and a couple of chapters on the triathlon, which offers more of a traditional uplifting (in a sense) finish.

It’s the usual philosophical/existential/slightly ponderous, a little morose, mostly matter-of-fact Murakami that we loves, and short enough that its shortcomings don’t annoy or distract too much.

And yes, it did kind of make me want to run more. Although I will never be that motivated!

An audience with Danny Choo April 14, 2010

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Culture, Japan, Net, Personal.
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Danny Choo in London

Danny Choo in London. Credit: Flickr/Dougal Wallace

On Tuesday night one of my heroes came to town. Given the nature of this blog, the name Danny Choo will be familiar to many of you — anime/collectibles/J-culture blogger extraordinaire, creator of dannychoo.com — one of the foremost otaku community sites on the internet. Oh yeah, and his Dad makes nice shoes apparently :P

In the four years since I started reading his site, I’ve grown to admire Danny for several reasons: 1) He’s a British-born Malaysian Chinese, like me; 2) He developed an obsession with Japanese stuff in his late teens, like me; 3) He is living his dream — running his own company and living and working in Japan; 4) He is 100% genuine, open and honest about who he is and what he likes (which has contributed somewhat to his achieving No. 3). And lest anyone forget, the man has a job where he gets sent the latest gadgets, figures and collectibles… for work! How many of us dare to dream that is even possible???

Danny returned to the UK for the first time in five years this week and gave a talk at his old University, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (which just happens to be five minutes from where I work). So on a sunny spring day, me and about 80 other fans, alumni and interested parties crammed into an underground lecture theatre to hear him speak about ‘Creative Industries in Japan‘. (more…)