Friday, December 24, 2010

The Zen of Japanese Karaoke Christmas Videos


Sean here. With seasons greetings. And a gift in the form of a list of the top five most awesome Japanese Karaoke Christmas Videos ever made. Merry Christmas.

In no particular order:

Christmas Song: Deck the Halls

Everyone having a fun, happy time at Christmas.

Japanese Karaoke Video Version:
Avante Garde group of high school students put on weird make up and viciously bully each other:

Christmas Song:
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Underdog story of reindeer with red nose finding redemption at head of Santa's sleigh.

Japanese Karaoke Video Version:
Hobo with really expensive looking haircut and Army Surplus store stuff wanders aimlessly around grassy area:

Christmas Song: Frosty The Snowman.

Kids put Magic hat on Snowman, causing him to come to life and play with kids. Much merriment had until he melts.

Japanese Karaoke Video Version:
Man getting yelled at by superiors at business meeting for not working hard enough (or something):

Christmas Song: Joy to the World.

Everyone being happy about the baby Jesus being born and all.

Japanese Karaoke Christmas Video Version:
Two co-workers give successful business presentation. Then have sultry affair with each other:

Christmas Song: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Savor the holiday moment because you might die in World War 2.

Japanese Karaoke Video Version:
Some dude cycles over to a municipal office of some sort. Chills:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas: Canal City and Ohori Koen Illuminated

Merry Christmas from Fukuoka.

Fukuoka has a lot of nice Christmas lights up these days. We had lunch at a great restaurant on the top floor of Canal City a couple weeks back which overlooked the ampitheatre, they've got a big white tree hanging there. Best seats in the house:
Kind of a nice tree, assuming its meant to be a tree:
They had some nice lights set up throughout. Candles:
Trees with loads of lights:
They've got them cascading over the vines like a waterfall:
And of course over the "canal" in Canal City:
Reindeer and snowballs floating by:
Yesterday we headed over to Ohori Koen to check out the lights on the lake there:
They had tens of thousands of lights set up on the islands in the lake. We went for a nice walk through them:The biggest tree was the most impressive:
The little ones were also nice and cute:
But the best in all Fukuoka is of course our little tree:
Ena got a Canadian advent calender at the mall. We've been opening it every day:
We've got loads of presents waiting to be opened:
Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

CD Junk Bin Diving: Fukuoka Style

I miss CDs.

I accumulated about 300 of them, mostly from used shops, between 1993 and 2001. They were an important part of my identity back then. I would proudly display them in my apartment on whatever shelf space I had. "Look everybody. CCR, Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Primal Scream, Pearl Jam. Not a Dance compilation album in sight. Please judge me based on these" was the message I put out to guests.

Then, abruptly, 2001 came along and I stopped buying CDs completely. Unlike most I didn't stop because of the ease of downloading, which I've never really taken to. I just reached a point where I had pretty much all the albums I wanted. And I didn't really like any new bands. So I vowed to arrest the development of my musical tastes. What existed in 2001 was what I liked. No need for anything else.

Of course the fact that CDs cost 20 times more than what they cost to produce also played a role in this decision.

Anyway, this all changed this afternoon for me as I was at Omocha Souko, the cathedral of crap that I love so. They had put out crate upon crate of used CDs at the exact right price point with which to coaxe me out of my self-imposed CD-purchasing exile: 10 yen (10 cents) each.
Seeing these crates really brought me back. It was 1996 again. An Ottawa winter. I had my geeky big-frame glasses and army haircut back. Flannel shirt and blue jeans. Wait, some of that stuff describes how I still look. Anyway, it brought me back. I used to love scouring used CD bins for good albums back then.

And I would again today: the day of the used CD sale.

I find it refreshing to discover that 14 years and 10,000 miles distant from the CD sales of Sean lore, the composition of bargain CD bins is more or less the same. There are a number of well represented genres inevitably to be found. They include such notables as:

Album of an 80s one hit wonder band that does not include their one hit:
Canadian white-guy rapper albums:
Album of 80s teen pop idol who we haven't heard from in a while:
Album of flamboyant 90s dance duo from London:
Album of Asian teen idol group with WAY too many members:
And Milli Vanilli:
It kind of brought a sentimental tear to my eye to see all these lovelies together again after such a long absence from my life.

It feels a bit different now than it did in the 90s though. Not a soul was to be seen expressing the slightest interest in them even at the price of 10 yen in the whole hour I spent there. If used CDs had existed during the golden age of Athens, their stories would undoubtedly have provided the classic playwrights with ample fodder for their epic tragedies . Euripides might have done something imaginative with them.

The ephemeral nature of success. Hubris. Parachute pants. Its all there.

Anyway, after about an hour of scouring the bins I made my way to the register with 140 yen ($1.40) worth of merchandise:
Note the dance compilation album in there, second row far right. Oh how times have changed.

Or not. On popping it in for a listen I discover it to be just awful. Aural pain. I may actually bring it back to the store and just toss it back into the bin.

Otherwise though, some relatively safe selections. There is an album of Japanese punk bands torturing out a tribute to Nirvana's catalogue in there. It is either trash or the greatest thing I have ever purchased. I can't decide.

Pat Benatar is serenading me as I type this. The sun sets on a cold Fukuoka December afternoon and all is well with the world again.


Thinking it would be wholly unimaginative of my not to buy at least one Japanese album, I grabbed this one:
Never heard of them, but the title of the single is "Kokudo Nigosen", the name of an old 2 lane highway running through the Kansai region that, coincidentally, I used to live on from 1999-2000.

Its a punk album. They know 2 chords. 2 more than I know, at least. Not much of a voice on the singer though.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Lunch with Fabio and Alessandra at the Naughty Book Store

Lunch today began innocently enough. I had just finished a meeting and two of my colleagues - Fabio and Alessandra - were wondering what to do for lunch.

"How about the place in Hakozaki we usually go to?" Fabio asked.

"Well, its probably packed at this time" I said, looking at my watch.

"How about the Pizza and Pasta place at Yume Town then?" Fabio replied.

"I don't feel like having Italian" chimed Alessandra.

We had reached an impasse.

Suddenly a thought occurred to me.

"Hey, I know. Why don't we go to Maxim City? They've got an Izakaya style restaurant on the second floor that I've been wanting to try."

Fabio and Alessandra had not heard of this place, but it sounded acceptable and so we donned our hats, clambered onto our bikes and pedaled off in the direction of Maxim City, with little knowledge of the hilarious hi-jinx that awaited us.

Maxim city (AKA Omocha Souko) is probably my favorite store in Fukuoka. Its a weird place. Outside they have a statue of a giant naked robot man:
Inside its basically a giant cavernous shrine of used crap. Toys, clothes, shoes, books, electronics, video games: you name it, they've got it. Cheap. I go there all the time and often come out with bags full of crap that I don't need but couldn't resist buying because it was so cheap. I love it. Impulse purchase paradise.

Its all decorated like a Showa-era town inside, which is kind of cool.

Fabio and Alessandra weren't familiar with the place. Fabio, looking wide-eyed at the immense shelves bursting with garbage nobody needs, had trouble trying to figure out who on earth would shop at such a place.

"Me." I offered helpfully. "I mean, look at this" I said, picking up a bag of random crap:
"These are just 100 yen each."

For those who don't know, 100 yen is a pretty good deal for a bag of crap.

"Lunch?" Alessandra asked.

"Oh, right. Upstairs we go."

The restaurant was located on the second floor, down a cute hallway decked out to look like an alleyway in an old town:
Lots of random old stuff placed here and there to give the place some atmosphere:
When we got to the end of the hall, I slapped my forehead and could just laugh at the sight that awaited us.

I hadn't actually been to this restaurant for lunch before, I had just seen signs for it in the past and thought it might be good. In retrospect though, now that I think about it, I haven't actually seen any of those signs in a few months.

Which is explained by what we saw at the end of the hallway:
A black curtain saying "No one under the age of 18 allowed" supplemented by the white, handwritten sign above which read "High school students are not allowed to enter this room."

Yup, the restaurant had been turned into an (AHEM) naughty book store.

Oh how we did laugh.

Laugh, that is, until I voiced an idea:

"Hey, this'll make a good blog entry, let me get some pictures."

At this Fabio and Alessandra, legal professionals in their respective home countries with reputations to uphold, expressed some concern.

"Don't take a photo of my in front of a place like this" Fabio exclaimed, running to get out of the frame of my shot.

"It'll be funny! I need some reaction shots from you guys to make the narrative in the post work. Make a face like you are angry at me." I said reassuringly, chasing them with my camera.

Sometimes this blog really does make me forget all sense of decorum.

Anyway, we left Maxim City (myself sans reaction shots) and went across the street to have lunch at a refreshingly family-oriented tempura restaurant. We had a good meal there. After getting home I did an oil painting from memory of Fabio and Alessandra enjoying their lunch:
And then we went back to campus to get back to our respective work.

On the way home I dropped back into Maxim City and picked up my obligatory 100 yen bag of crap:
I love that place. How could I NOT buy shit like this when it is that cheap? I mean, c'mon.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Commentary: Fukuoka's Religious Cults and Their Appalling Architectural Tastes

For a few months this summer I watched as week by week construction progressed on a new building on a busy street in Tenjin. It wasn't until the scaffolding came down a couple months ago that I realized what they were building: A temple for one of Fukuoka's most financially prosperous Religious Cults.
This is an odd group, founded in the 80s by a guy claiming he could speak to the dead and had conversations with Mozart, Jesus, Buddha, Confuscious and Muhammed who all told him one thing: "Japan is the world's greatest power and should ditch its Constitution, rearm and lead the world." (quoted from article by David McNeill).

Anyway, ignoring for the moment the bone-chilling political rhetoric and the fact that the organization may be nothing more than a giant money vacuum being used to drain its followers dry, what I really want to talk about is this bloody awful building they've inflicted on us.
This thing is almost too ugly to be worth mocking. Combining classical features done in cheap plastic siding with windows and interior decor a-la dentist office waiting room:
What kind of megalomaniac do you have to be to put "Mr. Burns - ian" stuff like this on the exterior of a building in a non-ironic way:
What is it with these bloody cult leaders? Do none of them have any taste at all? Gold-colored religious statuary is SO 1974.

I mean, c'mon, guys. Where is your sense of decency? The rest of us have to look at this ugly crap you build every day as we pass it by. Do you never stop to consider us little guys when you are"encouraging" your followers into spending thousands of dollars on gold-framed portraits of yourselves?

No, obviously you do not. Otherwise you wouldn't have put this:
On the facade of a building that I have to look at with my bare eyes every Saturday afternoon.


The ugly. It hurts. Make it stop.