Friday, 31 August 2007

Jelly Shots

Go on, admit it. You’ve read the title and think this is going to be another story about some ridiculous bar challenge in Tokyo ending with either: a free t-shirt; a 7am finish; and/or a bout of memory loss.

Well for a change you’d be wrong – I’m actually talking about these:

These are packets of what I can best describe as half set jelly (apparently) containing either multi-vitamin, multi-mineral, protein, fibre or energy supplements. I have absolutely no idea of how useful these things actually are but I am a big fan of the multi-vitamin one (multi-mineral on the other hand is to be avoided – tastes a bit like Parma Violets).

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Airline rankings

Over the next couple of years I reckon I’ll be on a good few airlines round the world – to date I’ve made five long haul fights on four different airlines. So today is the first in an occasional series where I’ll rank the airlines based on my experiences (you might find it useful sometime if faced with a choice between them):
  1. Quantus – can’t fault them at all: food wasn’t bad; loads of films to choose from (starting whenever you want); and nearly flat seats;
  2. JAL – nothing spectacularly wrong but the food wasn’t great and the chairs didn’t go flat;
  3. BA – on the way to the UK I only got one meal and the films were absolutely awful. On the way back the new film system (with a huge selection and start when you want option) kept tuning itself off and only worked for half the passengers (which included me at least). Good seats though;
  4. ANA – those of you with a long memory will remember that they had me for £600 before I’d even got on the flight. That aside the food wasn't great and the chairs didn’t go flat.

So at the moment my clear winner is Quantus – we’ll return to this in the future.

Meant to post this yesterday but so what. Those of you who saw me last week probably heard me rant about the band which I am currently playing almost exclusively on my ipod – New Young Pony Club. You’ll find a couple of their album tracks here.

Evidence...

...as can be seen in my new desktop picture:

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

UK visit

I hadn’t been planning on returning to the UK so soon after leaving but when someone else is picking up the tab for business class flights there and back there really isn’t any excuse for missing a wedding of an old friend.

Being August I thought I wouldn’t need a jacket – how wrong I was. As most of you know London hasn't had a Summer and it was pelting down on both Wednesday and Thursday - I had to borrow a jacket and umbrella from my host. Two closing time finishes in BdM in Greenwich and a long lunch in LKH and it was off to Scotland.

In stark contrast to London, Edinburgh had absolutely stunning weather (for Edinburgh anyway) – see evidence below. This was more what I had expected from August in the UK. Anyway, the point of this trip was to attend my friends wedding in Hawick and he got a fairly nice day for it - no rain anyway.

A 12.30pm wedding where I left the reception at 12.30am makes for a long day...

Monday, 20 August 2007

Bits ‘n’ Pieces

Last post for a week as I’m off back to the UK for a wedding – but most of you will get some stories in person rather than via this site. Anyway, here are a few bits and pieces to finish off this chapter.

The night before Summer Sonic I went to see Japan v Asian Barbarians which was a team made up of best players from places such as Kazakhstan, Korea, China, India and Sri-Lanka (disappointingly it wasn’t Lux) among others. Decent crowd of about 10,000 turned up for the game:

At the end of 80 minutes Japan had scored eleven tries to one to run out convincing winners 69-10. Japan scored 5 tries in the first half to take a 31-10 lead into the break. The second half was more of the same with Japan scoring a further 6 tries while keeping their own line intact.

Next up, for those of you who thought all my whining about the heat here was a bit much apparently last week Japan recorded its highest temperature on record – 40.9ÂșC. Stick most people in that kind of heat with no shade or wind and they’ll struggle.

Lastly, I found out last week that one of our Japanese translators studied at Edinburgh University and had actually been there when I was doing my first year (1994/95). Probably explains why she can understand me better than most people here (including the Yanks).

Anyway, come back next Wednesday where we’ll pick this story up.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Hama-rikyu Gardens

So those of you with a good memory might recall that a couple of months ago I posted a picture of the view from my hotel window – just across the road from are the Hama-rikyu gardens.

I decided that I would leave visiting these gardens until I had a hangover which put me off doing any serious exploring in Tokyo. Of course generally with hangovers here I’ve found I don’t even want to leave my room so visiting the gardens required a hangover in the range been “wow, I survived that without too much damage” and total incapacitation. Step forward Saturday.

The creation of the Hama-rikyu gardens began in 1654 in the time of the 4th Tokugawa Shogun and were completed at the time of the 11th shogun. Inside the gardens are two “kamoba” or duck hunting sites which were built in 1778 and 1791 – apparently duck blinds were used to observe the ducks and feed them grain:

When they came close enough they were caught using nets - doesn't sound like a particularly effective plan but this went on from 1778 to around 1944 so must have worked occasionally at least. In one corner of the park I found this:

Believe it or not this is memorial to the ducks.

Anyway, here are a couple of other pictures from the gardens:

Friday, 17 August 2007

Summer Sonic (Part 5) – Sweepings Up

So if you’ve read all this weeks posts you can probably understand why on Monday morning I was about 6kg lighter than on Friday – this despite drinking about 2 bottles of water per hour the whole time I was at Summer Sonic (and no beer at all – yes you did read that correctly). Surprisingly I didn’t look like a lobster/beetroot/radish after the weekend (as everyone I've spoken to on e-mail has suggested) although here I am after being caught by the hose after the Bloc Party set:

Best performance of the weekend was Kasabian who were amazing – they almost qualify for the “I would go and see them in an outdoor stadium” class which currently only includes U2 and Muse. Probably second best was LCD Soundsystem who were also great and a lot of fun. A few individual songs that stick in my mind were “Pioneer to the Falls” which Interpol opened with which was epic, “Helicopter” by Bloc Party which the crowd went (completely) mental to and “Empire” by Kasabian which is a monster of a track live.

The only change I would have made to my schedule would have been to dumped the Arctic Monkeys who were very average (although they did have to follow Kasabian) and go to see The Offspring instead (but then again I’d never seen the Arctic Monkeys before so a bit Catch 22 really). All in all a fantastic weekend. Hope you’re not all bored with hearing about the same thing all week.

One last bit of news from Summer Sonic, there was a large meteor shower over Japan this weekend and a shooting star was visible above the stadium between Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys – I happened to be looking up at the right time.

Last thing is an announcement which most of you probably know anyway. I’m gonna be back in the UK for a few days in a couple of weeks, so here’s my rough plan for my two nights in London if you’re around for a beer in the evening:

- Wednesday 22nd I’m planning on looking into SE10 for the evening; and

- Thursday 23rd will more likely be Crown in Blackheath.

After that I’m off up to Scotland on Friday for a wedding in Hawick on Saturday before flying back to Tokyo on Monday.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Summer Sonic (Part 4) – Back to the sun

So all the rest of my planned viewing for the day was on the Main Stage (in the Sun): The Fratellis; Bloc Party; Manic Street Preachers; Kasabian; and Arctic Monkeys. Almost 7 hours worth - settle in folks this could be a long one.

After my problems from Saturday morning I decided that discretion was a good option and that I’d grab a seat in the shade in a Stand for a while. A band called Rooney was finishing up when I arrived and as the standing area wasn’t too busy I thought I’d watch The Fratellis from the Stand and make my way down for Bloc Party. Unfortunately, within 10 minutes that plan had to be revised as the standing area was filling up fast. So I was back into the direct Sun (via a stall to stock up with water bottles).

The crowd absolutely exploded for the Fratellis:

“Henrietta”, “Baby Fratteli” and Chelsea Dagger” being the songs that stood out. I survived the Sun this time and had a plan by the time Bloc Party were due up – I moved back up to the front of the stage which was the only place where there was any shade from the Sun. Of course the downside of this plan was that I was at the front and got hosed again.

Bloc Party were excellent although there new stuff really isn’t a patch on their songs from “Silent Alarm” like “Banquet” and “She’s Hearing Voices”:

At the end of Bloc Party virtually the entire crowd (including me) did one. I needed a water refill in time for Kasabian who were the only band left I really wanted to see. I actually made it back in time to see all of the Manics as well:

Thankfully, almost all their set was from the “Everything Must Go” and earlier albums as they’ve been average at best since then (which was 10 years ago). This brings me to the performance of the day which came from Kasabian – they just get better every time I see them and Tom Meighan is a cracking front man. They kicked off at 6.10pm and by the time they finished the Sun had (thankfully) gone down:

I’m still not entirely convinced by the second album but then again it is being compared to one of my favourites which features “Processed Beats”, “Club Foot” and “Cutt Off”. Still, “Stuntman” and “Last Trip” stood out well from the second album.

After their fantastic performance it was time for the final act of the weekend, The Arctic Monkeys. Now, I’m not biggest Arctic Monkeys fan and they weren’t a patch on Kasabian – Alex Turner just has no personality and spends about 10 seconds tuning his guitar between each song saying nothing to the crowd. Still, “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” was fun:

So that brings me to the end of my weekend and I’d survived 7 hours at the Main Stage from Rooney to the Arctic Monkeys. Last day on Summer Sonic tomorrow where I’ll brain dump anything I’ve missed from the last few days and be announcing my own touring schedule for the UK for a couple of weeks from now.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Summer Sonic (Part 3) – Early Sunday start

I was up and running early on Sunday to get out to Chiba by 10am. I hadn’t had a chance to walk round the rest of the festival site on Saturday and wanted to explore before my first band of the day.

First up, the Beach Stage, I wasn’t planning on seeing any bands here (Jose Gonzalez and The Holloways were on but clashed with Bloc Party so that wasn’t happening). It was seriously hot again and there was no shade on the beach so it was literally a walk through:

Another area I hadn’t explored was the Oasis area which turned out to be a serious dance music stage (not the stuff I was listening to on Saturday but the crap repetitive stuff). As this was outdoors there were also a number of guys with water guns on the stage to keep the crowd cool (these were more a water mist spray than the full hosing that was being delivered on the main stage):

But back to the real music, I still had some time to kill before the first band I wanted to see so I wandered along past the Mountain, Dance and Sonic stages before I settled on The Draytones for half an hour – not too bad but nothing special.

This took me to almost 12pm when Reverend and the Makers were due on the Island Stage. Probably only a couple of hundred people here at most so the majority were missing out as Reverend and the Makers were damn good:

Also, bonus points to the lead singer who had made the effort to learn a good few Japanese phrases to use – most bands had one or two words at most.

Next up was a walk to the other end of the building for Hadouken! which was in all honesty just a time filler. The best description I can give is a “kiddie” punk band – having said that there were probably about 4,000 people there which was a hell of a lot more than had been at Reverend and the Makers, that was just wrong.

So having put it off as long as possible it was time to brave the Main Stage (and the Sun) again…which is where we’ll pick up tomorrow.

Summer Sonic (Part 2) – Saturday in the shade

As we left our hero yesterday he was valiantly struggling to overcome his ethnic background to be able to stand in the sun for more than half an hour without passing out. We now return you to Summer Sonic 2007…

Having somewhat recovered from my experiences at the main stage we headed swiftly towards the aircraft hanger type building which housed four of the six stages at Summer Sonic. Upon entry it was with great relief that I discovered that the temperature inside these venues was much more manageable and, more importantly, I was able to hide from my nemesis (the Sun people, keep up). For comparison, each stage was about the same size as the floor space in Earls Court (I guess about 5,000 people to each stage area) and there were similar sized areas between each stage where every type of food and drink you could think of was on sale.

The Sonic Stage was our first port of call where The Stranglers, a band which started in 1974 (i.e. well before I was born), were due up. They were pretty damn good and I’d forgotten how many good tracks they have (“Golden Brown”, “No More Heroes” and “Always the Sun” for example).

Next up on the Sonic Stage was Interpol, THE band I wanted to see over the weekend. I’d be lying if I said they were amazing and the best band of the weekend but they were damn good none the less and it was great to see what has undoubtedly been the most played band on my ipod.

You’ll notice the quality of the pictures reduced today I’m afraid, no cameras were allowed and the security guards were spending there whole time stopping anyone with a camera from taking any pics. Anyway, after Interpol we split with my colleagues heading off to see the end of MXPX (via the “Wild Turkey” bar) and I headed off to the Dance Stage for the rest of the day arriving in time to see the end of CSS:

Can’t say I’m a big fan but they were better than the last time I saw them. Next up was LCD Soundsystem with what I reckon was the best gig of the day. They were bloody excellent. Only weird thing was about 20 minutes in when the crowd, which had been happily dancing away, suddenly surged forward and half of Tokyo blindsided me and sent me flying about 10 yards towards the stage – no idea where that come from but they were mental from then on in.

The Dance Stage had been the busiest of the day and by the time Klaxons came on it packed. Considering how active the crowd had been for the relatively down tempo LCD Soundsystem, “Atlantis to Interzone” was always going to be nearing riot status – and it (and pretty much every other Klaxons tune) was:

You can just about see that the lead singer was in a wheelchair (apparently he broke his leg in two places after leaping from the stage at a gig in Angouleme on Saturday July 21).

As the Klaxons left so did most of the crowd and by the time Maximo Park arrived the crowd was about a third of the size it had been. Paul Smith was on top form and we watched the first half of their show (which included “Apply Some Pressure”) before heading off to catch the end of Travis. I’ve said for a few years now that Travis are the best live band I’ve seen and they still lay claim to that. They just sound so different live to on their records and I’ve never seen a band which seems to enjoy playing live as much. They also play the crowd really well.

That took me to 9.15pm and the end of the day. There was the option to stay the night there as the Dance Stage was going all night with DJ sets from, among others, Peter Hook and The Avalanches. If Scotland hadn’t been playing Ireland with a 10.30pm kick off then I may had had a go…

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Summer Sonic (Part 1) – Saturday in the sun

It should be illegal to allow Scottish blokes who don’t like the sun to stand in 38°C direct sunlight and severe humidity. In actual fact, rather than being illegal it was actively encouraged by the organisers of Summer Sonic by putting Editors on the main stage at midday.

We had arrived in time to catch the end of Ok Go (after some confusion as to where to get our wristbands):

After Ok Go we made our way to the front where we were immediately drenched by the organisers attempts to cool off the crowd with hoses. So by the start of Editors I was soaked (which initially had seemed a good idea) and directly in the sun:

Half an hour into the 40 minute set I was struggling badly as the humidity (which is always high anyway) was ridiculous in the area which had been hosed. As “Bullets” started I was pretty much done and was concentrating in staying upright rather than jumping around singing – by the end of the song my hands and legs were tingling and I was making my exit to the side to sit/collapse for the final song in the set.

Bear in mind this was less than an hour after I’d arrived…an escape back outside the stadium was required and away from the sun. Three bottles of water later (one over my head) and half an hour in the shade and I felt sufficiently recovered to move onto my next band and thankfully the remainder of my day was due to be inside.

We’ll pick up from there tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Summer Sonic this weekend

One day to go! C’mon!

But first, this evening Japan has a World Cup warm up game in Tokyo against an Asian Barbarians team. If I go to that then I should be able to have a quiet night and be able to get up in time to get out to the Summer Sonic venue which I think is about an hour away from the centre of Tokyo. My planned viewing over the weekend is as follows (with a few mp3 links for a few bands):

Saturday – OK Go (11:50am), Editors (12:40pm), The Stranglers (2:20pm), Interpol (3:35pm), LCD Soundsystem (5:10pm), Klaxons (6:25pm) and Maximo Park (7.45pm)

Sunday –Reverend and the Makers (12:00pm), Hadouken! (12:50pm), Enter Shikari (1:55pm), The Fratellis (2:30pm), Bloc Party (3:35pm), Manic Street Preachers (4.45pm), Kasabian (6:10pm) and Arctic Monkeys (7.45pm)

Damn this is gonna be good. As a bonus it looks like the gigs will be finished by 9pm so if I’m quick getting out on Saturday I might make it back to Tokyo in time to see the Scotland v Ireland game in a bar as the kick off isn’t until 10.30pm here.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Senso-Ji

On Sunday afternoon (having slept for most of the day) I went along to what is a most impressive looking Buddhist temple. The story goes that in 628 AD two fishermen found a golden image of Kannon in the Sumida-Gawa river and a temple was built to house it – this temple has grown to be the Senso-Ji (although it’s a secret whether the image of Kannon really is in there). Kannon apparently embodies compassion and is (apparently) one of the most widely worshiped divinities in Japan and mainland Asia:

From the tube station entry to the temple grounds is through the Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) with Fujin (God of Wind) on the right and Raijin (God of Thunder) on the left - you can just about see them in this picture:

An odd part of the temple grounds contained what I can best describe as a large smoking cauldron – apparently the smoke is said to bestow health visitors “bathe” in the smoke.

So there you go, two days of proof that I’m not spending all day everyday on the beers!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Meiji-Jingu

Right, to prove to Hutch that I don’t spend all day everyday here “on the lash”, for the next two days we’ll be covering the more cultural aspects of my weekend (so blame Hutch if you’d rather hear more drunken takes as it’ll be next week before we return to those at the earliest).

On Saturday (before heading to work at about 3.30pm) I visited what my guide book describes as “Tokyo’s, if not Japan’s, most splendid Shinto shrine”. Originally built in 1920 it was destroyed in WWII bombing before being rebuilt in 1958:

One of the things I’ve noticed at all the shrines and temples is an area where people write something on a piece of paper and attach it to a rack. Apparently this is the “Ema” where visitors write their wishes on these plates and leave them at the shrine in the hope that their wishes come true:

Shinto shrines are places of worship and the dwellings of the kami, the Shinto “gods” or “spirits”. Sacred objects of worship that represent the kami are stored in the innermost chamber of the shrine where they cannot be seen by anybody. As well as visiting shrines to pray for good fortune they are also visited during special events and many couples hold their weddings there – I walked into the middle of one on Saturday:

Right, class is dismissed for the day, same time tomorrow as we move onto a Buddhist temple.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Saturday Night

I went out at about 11.30pm to get to the bar in time to watch the England v Wales game…what a shambles that was. Wales thirds were rubbish but I wouldn’t be over confident if I was England. Farrell once again proved he’s no centre and I don’t remember the ball ever getting past him. Brian Ashton, someone held out as an expansive backs coach, seems to have reverted to 10 man rugby.

Anyway, back to more important things. After the game a couple of colleagues and I toured some of our more regular haunts: Propaganda, Paddy Foleys, Train Bar (there were shots involved here) and the cheese fest that is Motown II. Things become a bit more blurry from then on (although it was bright sunshine outside which means it was past 4.30am) and I have no idea where the next bar we were in was or how we ended up with a hookah pipe. Bit of an odd place but we were looking for more of a club than the lounge bar it seemed to be. That rolled us to about 7.30am and a reasonable (!) finishing time.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Breakfast

After almost three months I finally made it to breakfast in the hotel (although I still didn’t use one of my free breakfast tokens). Admittedly it wasn’t due to me getting out of bed in time – I was rolling back into the hotel at 8am after another night out in Tokyo and my colleague pointed out that breakfast was on so we wandered in. Not too sure what the couple of families trying to have a nice civil breakfast made of the two drunks as I’m pretty sure it would have been blatantly obvious that we’d been out all night.

I’ll tell you about Saturday night in tomorrows post…assuming that I can arrange the random memories I have into order and fill in a few blanks.

I've already mentioned this to a few of you on e-mail but I am 90% confident that I'll be back in the UK for a few days later this month. At the moment my itinerary should mean I am around in London in the evening on Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd before heading up to Scotland for the weekend on Friday. So I'll hopefully catch up with those of you in London on one of those nights.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Hotel TV and beyond

In the hotel I have 4½ TV stations in English: CNN, BBC World, Bloomberg, Movie Plus and Fox (which is about half dubbed and half subtitled). So not a great choice (although Movie Plus does show some good stuff).

However, I came up with a cunning plan a couple of weeks ago – well I say cunning plan but you might read this and think “well obviously you moron, I can’t believe it took you that long to think of that!”. YouTube, almost all TV shows make their way on their. For example, I’ve watched the entire 4th Series of Peep Show this week.

Anyway, not much in store this weekend as I'm working both days in preparation for having next weekend off to go to the Summer Sonic festival (check back to my May posts if you don't know what I'm talking about). So in the run up I'll post some links to sites where you can find some mp3s by the bands I'm planning on seeing.

First up is THE band I really want to see over the weekend, Interpol.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

'Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki'


Last day of the Ueno Park stuff - I don’t think I’ll even try and paraphrase this story. Next to this memorial in Ueno Park is the following inscription:

“On August 6, 1945, US forces dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and another on Nagasaki on August 9 the same year, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in an instant. Even now, many survivors are still suffering from the damage.

Sometime later, Tatsuo Yamamoto went to Hiroshima in search of his uncle, and found a flame of the atomic bomb burning in the ruins of his uncle’s house. He brought it back to Hoshino-mura, his hometown in Fukuoka prefecture. He kept it burning in his house as a memento of his uncle and an expression of his resentment. But years went by, the meaning of the flame turned into a symbol of his desire for abolition of nuclear weapons and for peace. Hosino-mura village build a torch and transferred the flame to it on August 6, 1968. It has been keeping the flame ever since as the flame for peace, with the support of the villagers.

‘The use of nuclear weapons will destroy the whole human race and civilization ... The elimination of nuclear weapons ... has become the most urgent and crucial for the very survival of the whole of humanity. There must never be another Hiroshima anywhere on earth. There must never be another Nagasaki anywhere on earth.’ (From the ‘Appeal from Hiroshima and Nagasaki’ issued in February 1985)

In 1988, a flame was taken from the torch and was merged with another flame lit by the friction of broken roofing tiles of Nagasaki. Along with 30 million signatures collected in support of the ‘Appeal from Hiroshima and Nagasaki,’ it was carried to the third Special Session of the UN General Assembly for Disarmament taking place in New York City.

In April the same year, members of “Shitamachi People Association” put forward an idea of lighting the flame at the precinct of Ueno Toshogu Shrine in Tokyo. Rev. Shozen Saga, the chief priest, warmly welcomed the proposal, and promised to set up a monument and work together to keep the flame burning.

In April 1989, an ‘Association for the Flame of Hiroshima & Nagasaki Lit at the Ueno Toshogu” was founded with the people of wide ranging people. Tens of thousands of people took part in the fund-raising for over one year and the construction of the monument was completed on July 21, 1990.

In commemoration of the 45th year of the A-bomb tragedies, a flame of Hiroshima was taken from Hoshino-mura and lit at the monument on August 6, and a flame of Nagasaki, generated by the friction of Nagasaki roofing tiles, was also added to the monument.

We, hereby pledge to keep burning the A-bomb flame, convinced that this monument should contribute to strengthening the worldwide people’s movement to abolish nuclear weapons and achieve peace, which is the most urgent task for the people across the borders.”