Tuesday, 31 July 2007

和食 Japanese Cuisine

This time I want to tell you some of the secrets of the Japanese Cuisine.

大切 Important

Good Food is really important to the people here. You can find many facts that argue in favor of this. For example television. If you zap through Japanese TV-channels you will most likely find several of them broadcasting about food. In fact there is a whole channel devoted to food and shopping channels are also mostly about selling food.
Secondly if you ask Japanese people, male and female, for their hobbies, not few of them will answer "eating". On the other hand will Japanese people immediately ask you: "What do you think about the Japanese Cuisine?" and when they tell you about travels to different places and countries, they will always first talk about food.

選別 Selection

Don't be mistaken and think Japanese Cuisine is only about rice and 寿司 (Sushi), it has by far the largest selection of food, I have ever seen within one country. If you for example go the top floors of shopping malls, you will most likely find about 10 - 15 restaurants, each selling different kinds of meals.

伝統 Tradition

Of course there are also several traditional or popular meals, that you will find anywhere across the country, such as for example

そば Soba (buckwheat noodles)
うどん Udon (thick noodles)
天ぷら Tmnpura (fried fish and vegetables)
天丼 Tendon (Tempura in a bowl with rice)
寿司 Sushi (raw fish)
カレー Curry
納豆 Nattou (fermented soy beans)
焼き鳥 焼肉 grill your food on your own place (the first ones says birds, but nowadays means fish, and the second one meat. But don't worry you can also get lots of vegetables)
しゃぶしゃぶ Japanese version of hot pot, boil your food in pots containing different 'soups' at your place
オムライス rice in an omelet like wrapper around rice
お好み焼き Okonomiyaki mix stuff you like together with some floor and make a big pancake out of it
お握り Onigiri rice balls wrapped with nori (seaweed) having some filling in the middle

But even these have no strict way of serving them, and you will find it different at each restaurant. In general however the two most important parts of the Japanese Cuisine are rice and fish. For the fish I can't tell you much, since me being vegetarian (菜食主義者) , I don't eat animals, but the rice nowadays bears some problems. At work we have a doctor for the whole building, which you can go to for asking questions and examinations, if you feel up to it. Having had this offer, I didn't say no and went to him. The doctor explained me the problem of Japanese rice:

ご飯 Rice

After WW2 white rice was something really precious and special, because it was a lot of work polishing the rice until it gets white. Today having machines and living in one of the most powerful economies of the world, it is no longer difficult. That might be the reason why today you get white rice everywhere and only white rice. Now the crucial point is, the doctor explained, that by polishing the rice until it gets white, the rice looses all the nutrition and vitamins. The positive side is for people desiring to loose weight, it doesn't give your body anything, so it doesn't make you thick. On the other hand, you can't live of it. For most people it is no huge problem, since they get most of what their body needs from fish. But for vegetarians and vegans, it is a problem. And still for the others it is no good either, since they easily could live much more healthy eating real rice.
This is really said, considering how much the Japanese love and value their rice. If they'd only return to the way they used to eat their rice before and right after WW2, it would be so much better for everyone...
So the doctor's advice for me was to eat more potatoes (which are really huge in Japan) and to get real natural rice from a natural store. And in fact I am planning to prepare some 玄米 (natural rice) for me everyday and take it with me in an お弁当 (~lunch) box. ;)

日本人は狂っている These Japanese Are Crazy

Oh yeah they are. For example I will tell you about 'German version' meals. They are very easy to prepare: You take any meal you like, e.g. Italian pasta, pizza or even Japanese meals like カレー or うどん and ... put a sausage on top. Voila you got yourself a German meal. Also really popular is German pizza with sausages on top.
But even apart from country version meals, you find really crazy stuff mostly in the same fashion. The standard recipe is to take a good old traditional meal and put a random amount of things on it (no matter how disgusting it may look afterwards). Apart from sausages you often find meals with a random burger on top.
They don't even stop before deserts. I've seen several parfaits which are mostly a big glass stuffed with random single deserts, like ice cream, yogurt, waffles, cereals , etc. All in one glass just stuffed together... Luckily for this one, and the one with the hamburger on top, I got pictures (see below).
Apart from this you will very often find japanized versions of meals. カレー Curry for example is completely unlike British or Inidan curry having been optimized to Japanese taste.

料理屋 Restaurants

Of course there are also many chains in Japan, but they are still outnumbered by little private owned restaurants. This adds to the broad selection of individual food, I mentioned above. Even though in Germany, we also have many many private restaurants they mainly serve the same meals. Here the key to the broad selection is that each restaurant specializes in one kind of food. It gets even nicer, when you leave the 'downtown' area and follow streets in any directions, because on the side you might find countless even smaller restaurants, which are mostly only one or two extra rooms in the house of a family or an old couple, which also serve food. Family business ;).
Although the prices go as far up as 6.000 円 per person (~45 Euro), they go as far down as 300 円 (~ 2 Euro). So it is really really common to eat in restaurants and instant food is still really uncommon, except for instant noodle soups. Although because of these partly cheap prices, it is in fact sometimes more expensive to cook by yourself.

日本にいる菜食主義者 A Vegetarian In Japan

Well I must admit that it is not as easy as I though, living in Japan as a vegetarian. I had set my hopes on a a rich variation on processed Tofu and soy beans in general. Alas such things apparently only exist outside of Japan. Here you can only get standard raw Tofu and nothing else. Even in restaurants it is hard to find vegetarian things. Most times I was lucky, either we had the freedom to take a restaurant, which had at least one vegetarian meal or I or some friend could explain the waiter, that it'd be nice if they could prepare some meal for me without meat and fish. This usually works in private restaurants and sometimes even in chains, which really cook by themselves. However in others, naturally, it doesn't.
I even encountered one waitress, which happened to never have heard the Japanese word for vegetarian (菜食主義者) before and could not figure out what it means, or for that what I mean, when I tried to explain it...
Another problem is that even if they know the word, they seem unable to grasp the concept of vegetarianism. So even after I explained that I cannot eat fish and meat, they still will give you a salad with bacon cubes inside. Of course reasoning as far as "this soup is made with soup stock, so it does contain fish" is too much for them. If you ask e.g. if Miso soup does contain fish, they will say no, although the it uses fish soup stock. This happens to me almost every time, I enter a restaurant and makes eating out with friends really tough for a vegetarian (and for the friends).

僧寺料理 Temple Food

Weeeee! Recently I have heard that there are places, where you can get vegetarian meals out of the believe not to harm or kill life. That is because in Japan, even if small now, in the past Buddhism had a major influence on the people. And deeply rooted in Buddhism is a deep respect for any kind of life, which encourages vegetarianism. So in open Buddhist temples apparently you can really get vegetarian food.

食事の委細 More On The Dishes

A common Japanese meal: Miso Soup, Tea, Rice, pickles + something

オムライス Omuraisu

オムライス, rice wrapped in a kind of omelet. And well for no reason at all, a burger on top ouwhah.


here's one of the parfaits I spoke about. Just take a couple of deserts and stick them together in a glass.

お好み焼き Okonomiyaki

Step 1: mix and mingle

Step 2: distribute it on your table plate

Step 3: bake it just like a pancake

You get Okonomiyaki in a bowl with all kinds of delicious stuff you like most, so no problem to get vegetarian ones. Than you put that stuff on a plate, that is actually your table and make it similar to a pancake. Finally you eat it topped with a delicious sauce and/or mayonnaise.

お握り Onigiri

Manu and me eating お握り in 川越 (Kawagoe)

お握り is usually in a triangle form with some or more のり (nori) as wrapper

in supermarkets and konbinis you always get completely wrapped up お握り

お握り (Onigiri) is a traditional Japanese dish. It can easily be taken on a journey or as a お弁当 (Obentou) for dinner to work/school. It basically consists of Japanese rice formed in the shape of a triangle and usually has nori as a wrapper. Sometimes you get it with filling in the rice.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

武道 Budo

Since your humble servant and reporter from the land of the dragon (龍) desires to unveil all the aspects resp. mysteries of this ancient lands to you, this time he went into Japanese Budo (武道), Martial Arts.

At first he accompanied another trainee to a 柔術 (Jujitsu) class, since this guy was already practicing the art for 10 years in France. The class is held in the city we live, Atsugi 厚木, in a huge sports center right next to the station. It wasn't really was I expected, but of course you can practice everywhere. However because of the place the fees were pretty expensive: 10.000 Yen a month (~ 80 Euro).
Since we didn't pay the month immediately we were only allowed to watch. At the beginning the 選手 (senshu, it means someone practicing sports) just did rope hopping for over half an hour. Then they practiced some kicks with partners and finally they went into sparring and light sparring. In the latter two, especially the last one, they mainly tried to grab the others legs, make him fall down and sit on him to make him unable to move.
When they started Sebastien, the French trainee, was a bit disappointed, because he thought they were all below his level, but in the end stronger 選手 appeared and he decided to join. For a beginner like me however, he advised me not to join, since the class was not fit for beginners in his opinion. So I declined.

But I didn't give up. I wanted at least to try 武道, preferably something more traditional Japanese, and something that pays less focus on body strength and attacking. And indeed I was lucky, since Sebastien told me, that there was another trainee practicing some ancient Japanese 武道, he's never heard of. The other trainee he mentioned was Daniel from Sweden, and he has been practicing 武神館 武道 体術 (bujinkan budou taijutsu) for a couple of years. Alas because it is not as big and popular than 柔術 the nearest classes are about 2 hours per train away. Nevertheless I wanted to see and feel it, so I joined him and his friend Eliza from Canada for their Saturday training trip, where they travel across the country to attend classes at two different 道場 (doujou). Getting the train at 7 am on Saturday was no problem for me, since I usually get up early. Do I arrived somewhat after 9 am in 取手 (Toride) in 茨城県 (Ibarakiken). We met up and took the Toy Bus (a community bus, decorated by children) out of the city. In 取手 we already met some of the other 選手, which joined us in the bus. After a traffic jam we arrived a bit late at the 道場. However this was not such a great problem, because our 先生 (sensei = teacher, master) was already in the bus with us all the time, and I didn't notice. That might have been due to the fact, that he was Canadian. In spite of this fact, he was a real 武道 先生 and teached a lot of advanced Japanese guys in perfectly fluent Japanese. Luckily he sometimes repeated something in English, however the others told me, that this was not common. I was allowed to join the class immediately and could practice with the others. The lessons included mainly strategies what to do, when you are attacked by a knife or a big stick. The interesting stuff about it was, that you didn't need any force to evade and disarm your opponent. But more about that later.
Then we went back to 取手 station and took trains further into the country. After a short meal on the way, we arrived at another more traditional 道場. We were a bit early, so I could watch the opposite 道場. Were people were training the art of swords. All the swords were sharpened and they attacked and cut through bamboo tubes stuck on a pale. It was a bit terrifying, but interesting to watch.
Then our class started. The majority of our class were foreigners from all over the world, so this time, though the 先生 was a real Japanese master 猛者, he spoke mainly in English. Again the training was not focused on strength, but rather how to redirect the attackers strength against him. It was really impressive! With a slight knowledge about balance, it is so easy to make an attacking opponent fall over and tick him to the ground. Since this is rather uncommon, I always tried to achieve the desired goal with a bit of force and always noticed how easy it was for my partner to use this force to nail me down or to theoretically hurt me really bad. The trick in 武神館武道体術 is to not use force at all and to easily control you opponent and his balance with your movements redirecting his force.
What's nice about it is, that this kind of idea is open to anyone: female, male, old and young. And indeed. In contrast to the 柔術 class many girls and women were attending this class. What's also nice about it is, that on the one hand, you can profit your whole life from the training, because it is rather a feeling about balance and redirecting force, than harsh training and gathering power. So it's easier to remember than fixed patterns and more natural to apply. On the other hand there is no upward top you can reach, you can always grow and become better your whole life being like floating water or rubber in the end: Never withstanding malicious intent by force, but rather avoid, bend to it and let it snap back to itself.

It was really a wonderful experience, despite of the fact that the weather was somewhat above 30 degrees Celsius and the 道場 had no air conditioning. But I didn't mind, I found myself able to easily enjoy any kind of weather :). What's also really nice, is that both 先生 only wanted 1000 Yen for their classes, that's about 7 Euro and not much in/for Japan. Also you could voluntarily pay that money, less or more, after the class. That shows, that they do it to teach the idea, the feeling and their love for it, rather than to earn money.

The only downside about doing it regularly is that even if the classes are fairly priced, you have to pay for all the trains in beneath. So I don't think I'll be able to do it every Saturday. On the other hand I want to use my weekends to experience and learn about Japan. But if I have no plans for a Saturday, I think I'd love to join then again, rather than to stay at home idling.

Your apprentice of 武道
天下無敵 mika-chan

Thank you Daniel and Liza for introducing me to this way of life and taking me with you, as well as taking care of me!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

秋葉原 (Akihabara)

I've only been here for four weeks and I already have been twice in 秋葉原 (), a part of Tokyo known or almost exclusively for all kind of Electronics, Anime, Manga and Video Games.

On 秋葉原駅 (Akihabara station) it is even referred to as the Electric Town. And that couldn't be more true. Imagine a whole city. Imagine electric stores you have seen in your life by now. Replace 90% of the cities houses with those stores and add above each store several other stores and do the same for underneath the earth and you might slowly get the idea. Of course there is also an inhabited area in Akihabra, but you need to walk really long in a straight line to find it ^^.

The cool thing about 秋葉原 is that, beneath big electronic stores like the ones known from anywhere around Europe and America (though they carry other names) there are countless of small ones. Many of those are run by their owners themselves. Others offer repair services and not a few offer stuff they assembled themselves. Also you can find anything electronic there the world of humans has ever produced!
Starting from some small old shops, which still sell vinyl player and ancient tube radios up to stores which exclusively offer the world's fastest processor, that happened to came out, just when I was last there. For the processor something between 100 - 500 people stood in lines in front of several stores, which started selling it by 10 pm.
Then you can find passages, which are specialized in selling you raw material. Everything you need to build your own electric device from scratch for prices next to free.
The same counts for computers. Since I was searching for a Laptop, I could have taken Laptop models between 1.000 Yen and 400.000 Yen (~ 7 Euro - 2800 Euro). Alas I have made a wrong decision, but more to that later. Also I found a store which sold self assembled Laptops, assembled mostly from parts of other Laptops, and sold them with Suse Linux. (I should have taken one of those...)

the letters read: Retro Games

Well and as I said the town is also about Computer Games. Every Game ever produced for a console and most PC/Computer Games can be found there for a very cheap price. Looking for a lesser known Game Boy Game? Searching the Neo Geo and Games for it?  秋葉原 is definitely your place to go! But the same counts if you are interested in recent consoles and Games. Nowhere on Earth will you get them as cheap as here (e.g. Nintendo Wii new 20.000 Yen ~ 150 Euro, if you take the shop as Internet Provider it becomes 5.000 Yen ~ 38 Euro, if you accept second hand about 10.000 Yen ~ 75 Euro).
Of course it is especially fun to just go and look through all the countless game shops. There are even shops specialized in "Retro Games".

Last but not least, 秋葉原 is the place in Tokyo for Anime and Manga. There are also countless stores for it, like the famous Square/Enix store or the Anime center with wonderful and cheap merchandising (I got myself an Ohmu for a keyring from Nausicaae) and of course Mangakissas (漫画喫茶), that's a cafe where you sit between big shelves filled with Manga and are allowed to read as much as you can and as long as you want!
There is, however, a downside to this. Young girls are forced to wear Maiden Cosplay to distribute flyers of shops and other stuff. But the worst are Maiden Cafes and Maiden Hostess Cafes. These are cafes where young girls in maiden cosplay serve you your drinks and are supposed to flirt with you and make you compliments and stuff. Its like prostitution without sex, and apparently many Japanese guys go to such Cafes and many Japanese girls agree into this soft prostitution, because they think they need designer bags, shoes and stuff like this. It's really sad.

Maiden, the single most popular costume among girls

As in the Tokyo Game Show 2007, there were a lot of perverts taking pictures of the flyer girls

Well finally the second time I went there to spend my first salary for a Laptop. I found several promising models and was finally deciding between one of the above mentioned self assembling Linux store and a huge Second Hand store.
Although the second store would not let me try my Linux Live CD with the Laptop to find out, what's really in it and although they would not grant me the right to return it within one week and were in general unfriendly (usually Japanese people are very polite and treat you as king/god when interested in buying something from their store) and although it contained a ATI card, I bought it :( and regret it now.
The ATI card promising 320 MB of Video Memory in fact only borrows the memory from the RAM, which of course makes the concept vain. In fact the card is so bad, that you can't even run ordinary 3D games like Cube without dropping all graphic options to a minimum and forget about newer ones.
It's not that I really need this, but for the money I spent, I would have liked to have it (100.000 Yen ~700 Euro). Since I have 3 years of warranty and a stupid Windows Vista with it and since it is all in Japanese, I thing about selling it on an auction page in Japan and going for the other store...

Windows Vista
Of course I used the second existing partition on the Laptop hard drive for Linux and use it ever since. However having the Chance to have one own's Windows Vista, I gave it a look. First thing I noticed it used up 25 GB of the Laptop hard drive. No further words to that. Second thing I noticed: Even when you only want to move a file from one place to another (without console) you are asked one time, if you want to move it, then the computer freezes and a Security Warning pops up that warns you that a file is being moved 0 a potential security risk - and if you confirm to this. This happens about anything you can possibly imagine doing on a windows os. Everything produces at least 2 pop ups and freezes and unfreezes the system for the warning, which takes some time. Of course you can find HowTos to switch that off, and HowTos to switch the consequences off (Red X in the right corner blinking and warning you of security risks, because you switched off the freezy warnings) etc. Wow, what a crap!
Second. Since it came in Japanese, I wanted to try switching the language to English or smth. After a whole lot of search, I found out that to switch the language of your Windows Vista version, you need to pay almost the same amount of money you paid for the first one. And of course you have to pay that for any language you desire. Expect you go for the ultra universal super mega edition which costs like thrice or four times as much and actually allows you to switch languages! Wow.
I don't want to speak of that Window's own CPU and RAM observation tool, tells you that if you move you mouse to fast on the screen or even move windows around, the CPU usage of the built in Celeron 3. smth (1.8 real Ghz) rises to near 100%.

Well and to rob Windows of its last arguments, for Linux I tried this time Ubuntu, since a friend at work gave me a Live CD (for trying it in 秋葉原). And the installation worked perfectly, afterwards even ATI card and Wifi card worked and all was very User friendly (too friendly for my taste, but you always have the option of using a console and see for yourself). What also was nice: If you want for example to open a movie file, Ubuntu offers to install any needed codec and lib and offers you a number of video players to choose one from - than installs everything and runs the movie in the player of your choice. The same counts for any filetype it can make out. Also if something does not work, it immediately offers a solution by installing further software or changing system settings and solved the problem for you. I was really impressed. No Windows OS I have ever seen is capable of amazing stuff like this, all Windows does is pop up a Help Window that is usually not related to the problem.
So if you want to leave Windows and try something new and are a bit afraid of Linux or want to convince a friend to Linux, which has no trust in his capabilities or want to install a Linux for you parents, go for Ubuntu. It is really easier to handle than Windows, and they will love it =)

Wishing you the best
(and currently trying to figure out how to use a Japanese auctions page)
your live reporter at the heat of action


One time I went, all the streets were closed for cars, that was pretty cool.

there was also some real cosplaying =D

Monday, 16 July 2007

金沢旅行 Journey To Kanazawa

From July 13th to July 16th I went together with three interns and a japanese friend to the capital of the 石川県 (Ishikawa Prefecture) namely 金沢 (Kanazawa). July the 16th despite being a Monday bared no working obligations to us, since it was a national holiday. Do not ask which holiday, since even several (even old) natives could not answer that question. Cite old Japanese lady: "Oh my these holidays keep changing so fast, there's no way you can keep up with what they are for". ;)

Nonetheless we took a night bus on Friday, the cheapest Japanese way of inter-prefecture traveling and arrived in 金沢 on Saturday. First we checked in our luggage, then we immediately began the 見物 (kenbutsu: Japanese word for exploring a city, ~sightseeing). What we have seen was:

The Ninja Temple (忍び寺)
In the midst of 石川's capital are many many temples, but this one struck us a especially interesting. The name was given to it only in recent times, formerly it was just the temple of whatever lord was in charge of the city. Though the name is apt, since it is spiked with traps, pitfalls, secret doors, secret passages and even secret floors. James Bond would had gotten envious had he lived in 17th century.
For example there was a couple of stairs leading to the entrance, which appeared as ordinary white stairs from the outside. Yet you once we stood underneath the stairs, we suddenly realized they were made out of paper, since the sunlight shone through them and enlightened the room. Now if you are armed with poles or pikes you can easily make use of this fine trap.
Also there was a well, which contains a hidden passage, according to legends leading directly to Kanazawa castle, but the passage is too old and dangerous now to find out...
Well apart from that every second wardrobe contained a secret passage into another room, so that intruders should get the idea after finding one or two....

Kanazawa Castle (金沢城)
Though not through the well hidden passage xD we went to the castle. It had fallen victim to a fire and was only rebuilt recently. Impressive though was that they used the ancient traditional way of crafting wood in a way, that it can not only hold structures like a huge castle, but also withstand earthquakes and the like. And all that without nails or other tools! This is the Japanese way of preserving history: Instead of preserving the structures, like Europeans do, Japanese rather preserve the ideas and rebuilt the structures every so often.

Samurai District (侍区)
The city has an old samurai district, which is still inhabited. Alas that is why, we could only look at the houses from the outside. An as you might imagine, the prosperous samurai build tall hedges around their property, as a kind of security and privacy matter.

Geisha District (芸者区)
Otherwise the geisha district was openly accessible, as it of course was built with this intent. No more geisha dwell there today, but the street and the houses are still marvelous. We also entered a museum like one and studied their instruments tools and the interior of the rooms of a geisha etablisement.

Kenrokuen (兼六園)
This huge garden is one of the most famous in whole Japan. Maybe that's why in spite of the rain many people were there. It would indeed be a quite place of inspiration and rest if it wasn't for all that people.

The next day, Sunday, we went to the neighboring town of 加賀 (Kaga), which is more Japanese countryside and was accordingly much smaller and less crowded with tourists.

City Festival (加賀祭)
We were really lucky, because we ran into an annual festival were performers from all around Japan come to 加賀 and perform on the street. It was really impressive, look at the pictures!

Onsen (温泉)
Well we did not really find a real hot spring, but at least a somewhat special bath house in so far that it used sea water. Japanese bath houses you enter completely naked, then you clean yourself and enter a really hot bad. Ours had 42 degrees. Afterwards you shower cold. We were pretty burned afterwards and our skin was all red!

The Sea (海)
In 加賀 we went also to the sea side, watched the sea and climbed around rocks close to the water. It was really nice! Afterwards we went along the shore until we found 加賀s fishers' haven.

Natadera (白山信仰の寺)
This was probably the most beautiful thing, we've seen on our trip. It's a kind of huge temple areal in the nature of 加賀. The natural landscape is wonderful and the temples are built within the mountain / rocks. If you climb up you them having tunnels into the mountains and paths and bridges to the other temples. Alas we had only a couple of minutes until the last bus left, so we could not really enjoy this awesome place. But if you ever come to 金沢 or 加賀, be sure to visit it!

Earthquake (地震)
On Monday morning, when we wanted to take our bus back to Atsugi, a man informed us, that the bus won't come, nor any other bus or train, since the neighboring prefecture Niigata 新潟 was hit by a terrible earthquake, which destroyed streets and rails. So we were stuck unable to escape from 金沢. After much asking, we found out that they were hardly trying to fix at least the rails for the shinkansen 新幹線 the Japanese high velocity train. So even if it was really expensive, we decided to go back by shinkansen, which eventually left at 17:00 o'clock. 新幹線 apart from being quick and expensive are really comfortable and you don't really feel the high velocity.

Thus ended my first real trip in Japan, which was hopefully not the last!
Tune in again for more exciting adventure.

Yours faithfully

The entrance to the Ninja-temple. Alas we were not allowed to take pictures inside.

Pictures of the wonderful wood temple at the end of our day in Kaga.

Kenrokuen, the famous garden of Kanazawa.
From left to right: Sebastien, Tor, me, Loic

And here's also Junko.

The Geisha district.

The interior of a Geisha house.

The big Toori in front of Kanazawa station.

Kanazawa Castle

The view from Kanazawa castle

Kaga seaside.

The festival in Kaga.

Since we had to wait, because of the earthquake, we went shopping in Kaga. Of course only in small and old shops.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

逗子砂浜パーティー (Zushi Beach Party)

At one of my first days, I asked Domi, whether he knew the Book: "Darum nerven Japaner" (eng. That`s why Japanese people are annoying), because I wanted to give due point to the chapter about Japanese bikes. Because what the book claims is true, all Japanese ride the same bike model in the same color with the same equipment. Since I got the bike of another intern, which left shortly after I arrived, I am also stuck with such a bike. But after having to search for my bike every day, though I always remembered where I put it, I was fed up. Now I got a nice black sticker at the back fender saying in huge red letters: "Expect Resistance".

Now I always find it easily. No other Japanese bike got sticker or anything else on it, due to conformity. But that is another story...

Anyway, his reply to my inquiry was: "Are you kidding me? Are you aware that the guy, who wrote the book works in just this very office and sitting over yonder!", said Domi pointing at the other end of the office. Since the book is very famous in Germany, especially with people having interests in Japan, you could say that I work together with a celebrity!
(Btw. Later I found out, that Domi still had not read the book, although he worked together with Christoph for quite a while!)

So it come that I got to know Christoph and he invited me to a beach party in 逗子 (Zushi), which lies on the other end (other shore) of 神奈川県 (Kanagawa). I didn't see a beach for many years, so I decided to tag along. Alas Christoph does not live in 厚木 (Atusgi), so I had to get there all by myself. Having only the name of the city and Christophs cell phone number, which I forgot at home.
Well for me the only way to find anything, no matter the equipment (maps, compass, GPS), being to ask people for directions every few meters anyway, I managed to get to 逗子. There I phoned another trainee, which luckily had Christoph's number. He told me to take a bus to some station and then look for the beach below a bridge. And so it came that for the second time I successfully reached a destination in Japan "all by myself" (and I had to change trains 3 times!).

So what can I tell you about the Japanese beach. Where we had the party, was pretty much like European beaches are. Some beach music "disco", where you could dance, various places to buy drinks, toilets, and well sand and the sea.
The weather was pretty nice and the beach was not crowded. Although I was a bit afraid at first, I had no problems with the fact that all of Christoph's friends were and spoke Japanese. I think it gets already easier talking in Japanese with every time I speak to people without the possibility to fall back to English. Later Pedro, the Portuguese trainee and Sharon his Chinese girlfriend, as well as some other foreigners I haven't met before joined the party and we got ourselves a truly warm, nice, colorful and happy group.

Later, when the sun went down, we made a 花火 (hanabi = fire flowers = fireworks). It was really wonderful, and there were some pretty cool things in the packages like a tank, which first shot sparks and then starting spinning around like a U.F.O. (未確認飛行物体).

After that we left that place and looked for a beach "bar". We took a bus and walked for a while, since it was not to be reached very easily. The bar reminded me of my image of Jamaica and was really nice. Only wood, no fancy design, lanterns, every very simplistic and "natural". When I inquired about it, they explained me, that during the phase of huge economic growth at every beach in Japan huge fancy western buildings with much electronic and lights were built and the traditional pre-touristic Japanese way of enjoying the beach was all but forgotten abandoned. However after the Bubble Economy had burst apart, people finally began to realize that you don't need much to enjoy the beach together with your friends. And that was when places like this one, were (re)built. Alas I had made no pictures, so suffice my description above. In the middle of the bar has a tree, were many little paper sheets hang around, in all forms and colors. And all around the bar were pens and paper sheets to write something one. They explained, that people write their wishes down and hand them up hoping they may come true.
Browsing through some of them I found

people wishing for a girl/boyfriend,
wishing that their boy/girlfriend would marry them,
striving for world domination,
desiring to be more pretty and/or less fat,
hoping they will pass the entrance exam,
wishing health to everyone and their family,
world peace and love,
no more wars,
to get drunk tonight,
that something wonderful will happen to them tonight
and many more.

Of course I also hung up a wish, but I will not tell you what I wished for ;)

And thus ended another day in Japan, and took a Taxi back to 逗子駅 station and then the train back to 厚木 and dreamed of the peoples wishes coming true and of nights on the beach only lit by the stars and the fire of torches....

dreaming for you

Monday, 2 July 2007

Music: Live Houses

The first weekend I spent in Japan, the previous German guy, Dominik, was still around. We had only really few time together, but he used it to introduce me to a very cool thing about Japanese music culture: the Live House.

What I missed most in Erlangen was place for small independent local and worldwide bands to perform, without having to pay anything. A place where there is no "proprietor", which wants to sell you his drinks and does not allow you to bring your own. Which might even have security guards or such shit watching your every step, when trying to dance to music. A small place, where not many fit in, building a small , cozy and easy get to know new cool people environment.

In Passau there is such a place, it is called ZAKK, Zentrum fuer Ambulante Kultur und Kommunikation (center for ambulant culture and communication) and I dearly love it.

In Japan/Tokyo I have found no place like the ZAKK until now, but Domi introduced me in cultural thing which at least fits the music and band prerequisites I just counted up. They are called Live Houses.

A Live House usually is a small dirty place with some band equipment in the middle of a town (Tokyo consists of several towns). In our case that was 池袋 (Ikebukuro). This houses or more rooms are rent by bands for a whole day. The rent for that single day is coped for by a small entrance fee. In our case six bands performed and we had to pay 1.000 ¥en, which is approx. 7 Euro (Ok for six bands I think). Since Domi, like so many of my friends, is into Death Metal, this evening only Death Metal bands performed. Well the last one the "Dead Coffins" actually were a Doom Metal band, a r e a l s l o w o n e .
Their predecessors were called SS Orc and made some real nice music. Don't worry, they have no connection whatsoever to German Nazi ideology, they just found the name funny.

Yeah and as I said earlier, we were allowed to bring our own drinks and food, although there was a girl selling some drinks right in the house as well. And in the room were no more than maybe 30 people, which made it easy to get to know others. Especially if you are foreigner, since usually foreign "tourists" don't end up in places like this.

I am really sad that Domi had to leave so early, and I hope this one experience is enough for me to find Live Houses myself. I'd love to experience (like in see, hear, feel, sing and smell x) ) Japanese Punk (Rock) music. As with almost every musical; genre, Japanese love to make their own branch, like in J-Pop, J-Metal, etc. and that's why there is J-Core like in Japanese Hardcore. Apart from that I'd like to try softer Metal, like symphonic or epic Metal. A well and everything else apart from the mainstream. ;p

your little head banging punk