December 29, 2006

Followup to "More Becky on Japanese TV"

This is a follow up to a previous post of mine about a Japanese drama I've been watching.

I finished watching "Anna-san no Omame" the other day, and in general thought it was ok. The show has a very exaggerated comedic style, and can't really be taken very seriously, but is fun for what it is. I didn't like the ending much; an absurd setup to keep Lilly living with Kyousuke and Anna.

There were some memorable episodes. The "lighting strike switches Lilly and Kyosuke's bodies" was memorable, if horribly cliched. There was another episode where Lilly faced down some Yakuza people, saving Kyosuke from them, of course in a situation that she forced him (inadvertently) into in the first place. The final wedding episode was sort of annoying. I was working while I had it playing in the background, but overall it seems like the entire thing was a charade set up by Lilly's father to see if Kyousuke would come to try to stop the wedding. Ridiculous and not even in a funny way.

Still, Lilly's catchphrases and mannerisms are amusing, and I enjoyed that, despite going into things thinking they would just wear on me. Eventually you really start to wonder how she will mis-interpret things, and look forward to that. Strange.

Next up on my J-drama list is "Sailor-fuku to Kikanjyuu" or "The school girl and the Machine Gun" - a kind of comedy (I think?) about a school girl that becomes the head of her families Yakuza clan.

By the way, if you don't know about it already, d-addicts.com is an excellent place to go for your Japanese (or Korean or Chinese) Television downloading needs. I usually grab the Japanese language releases, which are up the day after airing and then watch a complete run after they have all aired. Often, the fans there will subtitle series that they like. It is a very useful site for people interested in learning, or at least listening to, Japanese.

December 26, 2006

Christmas Colonel Sanders / The Japanese concept of a traditional Christmas

In Japan for Christmas, it is "traditional" to have Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve. I was out in front of a store a day or two before Christmas. As I was waiting for the bus KFC started to smell better and better. I went in to see if I could get something to snack on, but it turns out that after 1:30pm on the 23rd they weren't serving customers anymore: they were only giving out take-home orders to people who had made reservations in advance!

Ever since I tried to get some Kentucky Fried Chicken, I've really been jonesing for some of the Christmas-y food. I'm going to try and go get some soon. It is very strange to me, but the "traditional" concept of Christmas in Japan comes from a commercially successful marketing campaign. I don't know the history behind this - shockingly, neither does Wikipedia, but from what I've learned from talking to Japanese people here, Kentucky Fried Chicken has always been the traditional food for Christmas. I believe that this is attributable to a great marketing campaign on the part of KFC, and the Japanese peoples' readiness to accept that Americans love fried food. At my friend's Christmas party just a few days ago, people were very surprised when I said that almost nobody had KFC on Christmas or Christmas Eve. Over at What Japan Thinks there is an article about foods that Japanese people most want to eat at a Christmas party. Fried Chicken tops the list.

Even more amusing is the prevalent belief that Christmas Cake is ubiquitous in America. Sure, some people have Fruit Cakes, but they are generally not well liked, and certainly not something that people go out of their way to order and get for Christmas Eve. At my friend's Christmas Party there was Christmas Cake as well, a nice light cream cake with white frosting and some strawberries. The cakes in general are light with strawberries and some cream. You also have to generally order these things in advance, from all the posters that I saw. There are probably places that will sell the without orders as well, but I saw a lot of posters for ordering Christmas Cake during the month of December.

Christmas overall is quite interesting here, since the population is only about 1% Christian in Japan, most people don't know that Christmas is a religious holiday. The lights, the big fat man in a red suit, and traditional food (fried chicken and cake) all make for a great holiday. It is a nice time to go shopping, always fun to do, and to have parties before the end of the year parties and new year parties. Parties are always a good thing. Mostly though, it is interesting to see the Japanese idea of the Western holiday. Oddly enough, as time goes on, I think the American concept of Christmas becomes more and more like the hyper-commercialized version seen in Japan. There are big differences though. In Japan, Christmas Eve is the main event, and it is a couples event. While I have read that presents are usually exchanged, I believe it to be primarily only between lovers who are the main focus of Christmas Eve. None of my friends exchanged any gifts. Christmas itself is not really observed, in fact, I had a meeting on Christmas and most places were open for business as usual. So the Japanese have imported what they think of as the important parts of Christmas, going out with a significant other, buying things (mostly for yourself than for others) and eating cake. They happily ignore, or more correctly, do not recognize, the other aspects which are from our point of view more important. It is a very interesting lens through which to look at our own culture.

Also, I really like Fried Chicken and Cake. So I think I'm staying here for a while. Small Christmas lists also help out the wallet too.

December 23, 2006

No force on Earth can stop one hundred Santas!!

Today, Saturday Dec. 23rd, there was a Santarchy gathering in Shibuya. Since it is close by, I decided to stop by and check it out. I've got plans already - I'm heading to my friend Watanabe's place this afternoon for a Christmas party, so I couldn't join in on the Shibuya Santa fun, but I did think it would be worth it to snap a few pictures.

Maybe next year I'll try to join in.

Since I went all the way to Shibuya, I stopped by the Shibuya Game Kaikan for a few games of SF2. There was someone playing Hyper SF2 Anniversary Edition, so I joined in with my Zangief. I took the first game against his Ken, then two more matches against his Ryu. He beat me, and then I tried again with Zangief, but he put the machine on speed 1. Speed 1. I haven't played this game so slowly for ages. It was impossible. Well, I had two more 50 yen pieces, so I switched into Ryu mode. We played soooo slowly. It was close. It could go either way, but I lost. One more game with Ryu, one more close loss. It was soooo slooooow. We were pretty evenly matched, although he probably plays many more characters than I do. I only play Zangief well, along with some reasonable Ryu and THawk impersonations. Still, it was pretty fun. Overall I think I won about as many as I lost, so not too bad.

Also, I saw all the Santas.

December 19, 2006

More Becky on Japanese TV

It has been a long time since I've posted (is anyone even watching?) because work has been just killer lately. This past month I spent a crazy amount of time working on a system to do automatic opinion analysis for the NTCIR Opinion Analysis Pilot Task. I submitted my results yesterday, and I can probably drop back down to regular work week hours now.

So today, for the first time in ages, I came home before 10 and started watching some TV that I've been downloading. First up is a Japanese show that I was interested in. The main reason is because of the actress Becky, about whom I have written before. She's the main actress in the show Anna-san's Omame, which has a bit of a suggestive title. While it can mean "Anna's bean", it can also mean clitoris.

Anyway, the story is about Anna, a nice normal woman dating a nice normal guy, and Anna's friend, Riri, who misunderstands almost everything. She is convinced that Anna's boyfriend is in love with her, and hilarity ensues. Or, in this case, not so much hilarity.

I do like that they don't make a big deal about Becky's being half cauacasian, but maybe that is something particular to Becky. Most of the caucasian or foreign acting talent in Japan are treated as a special case of having this particular unusual ability - being able to speak Japanese. I think with Becky, the Japanese are happy to use her in a role where they explicitly do not bring attention to her being half in a kind of intentional blindness. She still does get some crazy roles though, such as this one where she always makes outrageous misunderstandings. Her catchphrases in this show (so far I'm up to episode two) are annoying, especially ending everything with みたい〜なぁぁ〜, but it is very easy to understand, so I'll probably leave it on while I check email and do light work. I can't always do that with Japanese TV (especially the news!) because I have to concentrate.

I've downloaded one or two other current series as well, so I'll comment on them later if I ever get through this drama.

December 3, 2006

Sightseeing in Kyoto

December is a tremendously busy month for me, so I'm glad that I got to spend a few hours relaxing in Kyoto while I was there for a conference. I spent a few hours on Wednesday night to go to see Kiyomizudera (or try the official Kiyomizudera site), my favorite temple. Because of the Kouyou (紅葉, the short time in fall when the trees sport red leaves, or other colors too as the case may be) the temple was lit up at night for special viewing. This special night-service was ending in a few days, so when I went (with Yukawa Aya, a nice librarian I met at the International Conference on Asian Digital Libraries) it was very crowded, but still quite nice. The views were just spectacular. I tried taking a few pictures, but my simple point-and-click camera doesn't deal very well in low light conditions. Using nearby railings and things for some stability, I took a few long-exposure shots that turned out fairly nicely I think. You can see them (and many other pictures) from the Temples in Tokyo and Kyoto photo set on Flickr.com. After walking around Kiyomizudera, we walked to Gion and I had a nice eel dinner -- beats my cooking any day easy.

Before coming home on Thursday I also made some time to visit two major sites: Kinkakuji and Nijyou Castle. I have been to Kinkakuji numerous times, but have never taken any good pictures, so this time I went to buy some gifts for family, and to take pictures. I am absolutely positive that every single picture I took has been taken better a million times before, but now I have my own pictures, and I can use them as I wish without worrying about copyright issues. Isn't it strange that we have to worry about copyright issues for pictures of places that are thousands of years old?

My trip to Kinkakuji was relatively uneventful, except I started to notice the throngs of school kids running around town. Every year schools take field trips to places in Japan, and Kyoto is a very popular destination because they teachers can give students some sort of questions or workbooks to fill out on temples, helping them to learn history. I'm sure that it does the students good as well, but they probably just enjoy being away from home for the first time for a few nights and spending time with friends. I ran into many groups of school kids (usually middle school aged or younger, maybe early high school, I have a tough time telling) and first started to notice them at Kinkauji. Previous to that, it was either dark, or I was at a conference all day.

Nijyou Castle was quite nice. I had never been there before, and thought it would be fun to look around. They have a large garden that is very nice, and have a tour of the castle interior. It is a very different kind of castle than the European stereotypical castle. In a way, I could see how it was very impressive - large, and with a very nice landscaped view - but you could see how a common person (or noble at least) could aspire to and achieve a similar sort of residence. When walking around barefoot through the place, I noticed how the floor squeeked as you walked around. Of course, some of that is due to age, but I also recall hearing (who knows from where) that castles and such were intentionally squeeky so it is hard for assassins (Ninjas!) to sneak around. That's probably a (dis) urban legend though.

The last thing I did in Kyoto was visit the newly-opened Kyoto International Manga Museum. That was a very different sort of Kyoto activity, and if you are interested in Manga, I highly recommend it. If you don't know Japanese though, expect to spend a lot of time not reading things.

December 1, 2006

Kyoto International Manga Museum Opens

I happened to be in Kyoto this November from the 27th until the 30th to attend the 2006 International Conference on Asian Digital Libraries. One of the presentations was a brief introduction to the recently opened Kyoto International Manga Museum, which I decided to visit in a few hours I had prior to returning to Tokyo. I've put together a few notes on the museum that might be of interest to foreigners who might like to visit. I myself have a bit of an interest in Manga, and it was recommended by Maureen Donovan, who manages Ohio State's Manga Collection.

read more (2355 words)

November 30, 2006

November 29, 2006

November 28, 2006

November 27, 2006

November 12, 2006

Lucky Number Sleven

I also watched Lucky Number Sleven over the weekend. It was pretty good! In the style of "The Usual Suspects", an interesting movie with a high-powered cast.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Jarvis Cocker!?

So this is a strange one. On the weekend I do a lot of work from home, programming, some stuff for fun (some programming on side-projects, translating manga so I don't forget how to like, read Japanese) and so on. I like to play bad movies when I'm doing this. So, I finally got around to checking out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend.

Now, in all honesty, I do not like Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books, but I did watch the first movie. I didn't like it. The main problem I had with it was that it didn't seem like Harry Potter himself did anything at all to merit being thought of as such a wonderful, great magician. As far as I could tell, Harry got by entirely because of gifts from his family and friends. He didn't seem to have any amazing courage or great ideas in the face of danger, and just seemed to go along with things as they developed.

The third movie seemed to be more of the same. I can't think of a single instance where he did anything of his own merit. He got into this 3-wizards competition because someone put his name in there. He won the dragon challenge because he was told to use his skill of flying, and in the end just kind of bobbled around and got through by luck. He didn't seem to have a plan at all. He found out how to open that egg because someone told him, and found out how to turn into a mer-man because of someone else as well. The only good points he showed is that he was willing to put his friends ahead of himself, but since he's just a shy guy anyway, that isn't really too surprising.

Even worse, it doesn't look like there are good role models in this movie either. I'm really surprised at how stereotyped and traditional the women are portrayed as in the movie. Also, how come it seems like none of these students know what is happening? If this school has been around for so long, and has a winter dance ever year, and that wizard competition thing, shouldn't they have known about it?

Anyway, I didn't really pay much attention to the movie until the dance. Because then I could swear that I heard Pulp, famous for Common People, a most excellent song, singing. Well, not really Pulp, but Jarvis Cocker for sure. After looking around, I found out that indeed, it was him! He got together with a pretty high-powered group, called The Weird Sisters, to sing three songs for the soundtrack. I've got to try to hunt those down.

So, basically, I still don't like Harry Potter, but I was really surprised to see Jarvis Cocker in the soundtrack. Pretty funny!

November 6, 2006

Mystery Jets Concert

I'm going back and posting up quick notes on the concerts I've seen in the past few months. I haven't had the chance to see many shows, since they cost anywhere from 5,000円 to 6,500円 a show. There are cheaper concerts for lesser-known local acts, but I haven't had the time to get into that scene yet. My friend Risa had tickets to the Mystery Jets show on Monday, so we went. I wish I had written this up after the show, but I didn't so I don't have much to say except that it was a good show, very crowded, lots of energy, and lots of fun.

October 29, 2006

Video as an art medium

On Saturday I went to the Mori Art Museum with a friend and saw the Bill Viola exhibition. This was the first exhibition I went to that was entirely done in Video. I have to admit, I wasn't impressed.

I think video is a tough medium, because when it comes down to it, I do not think there is a shared consensus on how to interpret video as a medium for art. Culturally we have had a lot of experience with video as entertainment, and I think one would be hard pressed to argue for popular media as art, and especially as advertising. But museum art is a different creature.

You have to spend time to watch the entire loop. If the loops are long, this can really be tough, because you are doing a lot of standing around. Also, it seems like an imposition to walk in or out on the people that are already there viewing. So I think that just as a medium, it is tough in a museum setting. More than that though, I just had a really hard time interpreting what the artist means to say when I don't feel like I'm equipped with the social metaphors to understand his art. I mean, I could film some people's hands for an hour and slow it down.

Anyway, I still really like the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills and am looking forward to their next exhibition. I am glad that I've seen some video art, but as of now, it isn't one of my favorite mediums.

Of course, as I write this I'm watching "Scrubs", which is a form of video art. The deeper message is mostly "funny" with a dash of "serious topics", kind of like life.

October 25, 2006

Whale cutlets in the Cafeteria?!?

Today for lunch in the office cafeteria one of the set lunches was a fried cutlet thing. Usually (almost always) this is a pork fried cutlet option that comes with rice, some miso soup, a small salad, and some tofu. I assumed that is what it was today, but when I looked at the card, it said that it was whale cutlets. Whale? I was surprised. I'm pretty sure that, for the most part, whale hunting is outlawed. I know that of all the countries that do engage in whaling, Japan is one of the more prolific countries, but I was still quite surprised to see whale show up on a standard cafeteria lunch menu.

I just assumed that you could get whale in Japan, but that it was more of a specialty item, not something that shows up in cafeterias. It would be like a standard US cafeteria serving foie gras or something. Sure, you can get foie gras at specialty places, but you wouldn't expect it to show up somewhere completely regular.

Of course, I had to try it. Sadly, it was disappointing. I would have much preferred pork cutlets, and somehow the idea of eating whale just didn't sit well with me.

It did make a nice addition to a week in which I had already eaten something strange. Over the weekend, there was the 19th Annual Oyamadai Festival, a standard Japanese street fair kind of thing, with little stalls on the street side and so on. One of the places was for the local horse sashimi place. They had grilled horse on a stick for 100 yen, so I tried a piece. It actually tasted pretty good, but again I had a hard time with the concept of eating horse, so I don't really think it is something I will eat again. I'm certainly not ready to try raw horse, even though one of my French co-workers says it is just delicious. If I ever feel the need though, I do have a place within a three minute walk of my house that serves it.

Oh Japan, you are such a convenient country! You think of everything!

October 14, 2006

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

I woke up this morning at 6:39am thanks to a small earthquake. At least, I think it was small. It registered a 4 on the Japanese scale in Setagaya-ku, but I don't really know how that translates. In some of the earthquake materials I've read, a 4 is enough to possibly unstack your dishes and move things around on your shelves. My dishes made it through ok.

I like how within a minute or two of an earthquake, NHK will interrupt broadcasting and switch to "earthquake mode", where they read off affected areas and other information as comes in. Earthquake mode broadcasting only lasted about ten minutes, so you know it wasn't really a bad one.

October 10, 2006

Mirror Mask

This was a movie that I actually watched, over dinner after a long day coding. I was interested in this one because it is from Neil Gaiman, who I once saw open a Magnetic Fields concert with a reading, and the Jim Henson Creature Shop, which has done excellent work on all sorts of things, including geek favorite Farscape.

The visuals for this movie are excellent. The soundtrack and music is very well woven into things as well. The film is an adaptation of a children's story, but I have really been into media targeted at young adults lately. Garth Nix's Shade's Children, for example, is just an excellent book in that category. I still have fond memories of John Christopher's Tripods Trilogy from my youth.

The main character, a 14 or 15 year old girl named Helena, is going through a typical sort of thing in these movies: her mother is in the hospital and she dreams herself into a fantasy land to avoid the pain and guilt from their last argument. Or so I thought, but this one does turn out to be a bit different. Anyway, it was really a nice movie, not insulting in talking down to the audience, and really excellent imagination and visuals. I give it two fins up!

I'm not really sure how many fins fugu have, but it is probably somewhere between one and three.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Another movie I had on in the background while programming. An interesting film, headed up by George Clooney. I enjoyed it, but found the discussion on the wikipedia page to be pretty interesting also.

Capote

I do not remember exactly when, but while programming over the weekend I had Caopte running in the background. It was a really interesting movie. Breakfast at Tiffany's and perhaps In Cold Blood.

Also, the last time I was on a trans-continental flight, I watched Mission Impossible III, which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman as a creepy villian (and was easily the best part of the movie.)

Gallery Hopping in Tokyo

On Saturday I met up with my friend Fumie Hiratai and we went gallery hopping with another friend of hers. Fumie is a very good guide to the art scene in Tokyo. We met when she was working at NII, but she is an artist and was able to give up her job at NII to focus on art full time. She's been working on large paintings that end up in hotel lobbies and large corporations lately, I think.

We met up in Ginza, a very nice area of Tokyo that reminds me a lot of SoHo in more ways than one. Ginza is rife with art galleries, but similar to New York, the real avant-garde artists are pushed farther out as the rents go up, and like to retailate by moving to more and more inaccessible parts of the city. Fumie wanted to go to some more modern and independent galleries, so the first place we headed was the Inoue building in Kayabacho.

The Inoue building is very interesting. It is an older building situated on the Kamejima river. (The link to the map is courtesy of the Masataka Hayakawa Gallery, which I do not think that we entered. The building has these interesting "井" grillwork signatures on the exterior. The majority of the building is devoted to galleries, with at least three or four of them, and a very interesting bookstore that just opened the week we went there. The proprieter was a very congenial fellow that we spoke with at length.

We went to the Taguchi Fine Art Gallery for the Kim Taek-sang exhibition Hue of Time. In general, I liked the concept, but I didn't really think that it was great art, or anything that I would want to spend large amounts of money on to put up in my house. I do think I could do a fairly decent impression though if I took some time to find some nice ceramic tiles and some paints that I liked. It is an idea anyway.

After the Inoue gallery, we took a long walk over to a very interesting building over near the Sumida river. It was a converted factory space, butted up against an in-use factory of some kind. Floors 2 and 3 were devoted to some strange engineering offices. Floors 5, 6, and 7 are art spaces. There are a bunch of interesting galleries there, such as the Zenshi Gallery, the Shugo Arts Gallery, and the Tomio Koyama Gallery. For the most part, I wasn't inpired by the art that we saw, although I did in general like Ikemura Leiko's Pacific exhibition.

"Hello Kitty is an icon that doesn't stand for anything at all. Hello Kitty never has been, and never will be, anything. She's pure license; you can even get a Hello Kitty car! The branding thing is completely out of control, but it started as nothing and maintains its nothingness. It's not about the ego, and in that way it's very Japanese." (Tom Sachs, artist)
from QuotationReference.com
There was one piece that really struck me though. It was a work in the Tomio Koyama Gallery (which I found to be the most interesting) by Tom Sachs entitled Promental shit backwash psychosis (I think this is it - but the inscription that I remember does not show up.) The shocking, and thought-provoking, part of the piece was the inscription over the Burberry pattern and Hello Kitty (look Andy, I know how to use Wikipedia too!) image. I do not recall exactly, but it went something along the lines of
Chill out Japan, or you'll get nuked again.

It gave me pause and it is very interesting to think about the Hello Kitty brand (and concept!) shone against the light of the incredible popularity of Burberry and other brand goods here in Tokyo. In what ways have brand goods become an end-goal in themselves for some segment of the hyper-consumer population of Japan?

I did a lot of walking on Saturday, but it was very interesting to hit these smaller art galleries. I look forward to doing it again sometime.


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