Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Taikokan (太鼓館) the Drum Museum in Asakusa

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On our second trip to Japan, in October 2010, we spent the second week of the holiday in Tokyo. The week was a pretty wet one. One day in particular, it was raining pretty hard when we got up, so we decided to swap our day-trip to Kawaguchiko to see Fuji-san for a day of popping in and out of museums.

We were staying in Asakusa, and not far from Ryokan Toukaisou there was a drum museum. The Taikokan is located on an upper floor of the Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten Co headquarters in Asakusa. The building isn’t very obvious, but we knew from the local map that it was on a street corner two blocks down the main street from where we were staying.

We went into the building. It was very confusing. The ground floor is a souvenir shop and salesroom for drums and drumming accessories. There were all kinds of things on display, from hachimaki and happi coats worn by the mikoshi teams during the Sanja Matsuri, to drumsticks and all shapes and sizes of drum.

We went to the sales counter and negotiated ourselves a ticket to the museum. We were directed towards the lift and told to get off at the third floor, where someone would meet us and we could look around the collection of over 300 drums from around the world.

On exiting the lift, we found ourselves alone. We gazed around, reading the various signs telling us which drums we could hit, and that we couldn’t take photographs, and then a very flustered woman appeared (as if from nowhere, but in exactly the opposite state of composure to Mr Ben’s shopkeeper). She apologised profusely, and then launched into a bossy run through of all the things we’d just read on the signs. Then she said, “You have a camera? I can take one picture – ONE PICTURE!” We nodded, and she said something half in English and half in Japanese, neither of which was comprehensible to either of us, so we just said, “あー、そうです。” This seemed to satisfy her, and she left us to wander around at our leisure.

The first thing we noted was that there were a LOT of drums. The museum occupies a single floor, and the drums are crammed in, arranged in a higgledy piggledy fashion. It was hard to take it all in, and we wandered around in a sort of a daze. We were a bit tentative about hitting any of the drums at first, but once we’d done a few and the tiny woman hadn’t rematerialised to scold us, we grew bolder.

There was some interesting information on the labels about the rituals associated with the drums from African and Asian countries, where drums have more meaning in social events than they do in Europe. I liked the water drums, which are hollow tubes taken into rivers and pounded through the water so that they make a glooping sound. There was also a drum carved to look like an alligator, which was used in a coming of age ritual where 17 year old boys receive tattoos and carvings all over their bodies to show that they have become men. Ouch!

After a good long while wandering around, having a go on some drums, learning about others, we prepared to leave. At the door, the tiny woman pounced on us again. In spite of what she had said earlier, she insisted on us having TWO photographs taken of us pretending to play the largest Japanese taiko drums. At the top of this post is the best of her two efforts. And that one has been run through Photoshop to try to take some of the grain out and reduce the motion blur.

We thanked her for taking the photos and tried to leave again, but she stopped us with a display of postcards and told us to pick ONLY ONE each as a souvenir. It was a lot of pressure. Then she told us to go downstairs in the elevator and then back up to the second floor by the stairs, so that we could look at the drums shown on our postcards in the showroom. We tried to, but somehow we ended up in a storage area rather than the showroom, so we scuttled back downstairs to the ground floor and bought some souvenirs instead.

It was definitely an experience. If you’re interested in drums, it’s worth a visit, and if you are on holiday with young children it’s a definite. The entry fee was 300円 for an adult when we visited, although a comment from a couple of years ago on Trip Advisor suggests that it has gone up to 500円 now. I’d say it was worth the money. The tiny scolding woman was good entertainment, too!

Goryo Shrine, Kyoto (Kami Goryo Jinja/上御霊神社)

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In May 2015, we were staying in a machiya in the East of Kyoto and were thinking of things we hadn’t done in Kyoto before. My husband has long wanted to visit a flea market at a temple. The only time we’ve sort of done this before is when we went to Kitano Tenmangu, where a very small flea market was being held among the food stalls and plastic tat aimed at children.

I read up on shrines in Kyoto that hold regular markets, and discovered that Kami Goryo Jinja in the north of the city had a monthly market that fell while we were in Kyoto. I wish that the information I’d found had included this site, because then I would have known that the flea market isn’t held in May!

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Instead, the 18th May is the date of the shrine matsuri, which is one of the oldest continuously held matsuri in Japan. The shrine has a long history, dating back to 794. It was built on the site of a former Buddhist temple which had served the local population as a family temple until the imperial court moved from Nara to Kyoto and Emperor Kammu ordered that a Shinto shrine be established on the site. Kammu dedicated the shrine to eight spirits of people who had died violently, and Kami Goryo Jinja became the guardian shrine of the Imperial Palace. The role of the shrine became one of protection, with the kami driving away vengeful spirits which threatened the safety of the capital.

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Things didn’t work out so well with the kami, as the 15th century Onin war started in the forest around the shrine, and the shrine itself was burned to the ground during the decade long battle. (We’d learnt a little about the Onin war as a result of our visit to Ginkakuji.)

A century later, the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi rebuilt the shrine. Under the Shogunate, Kami Goryo Jinja ceased to be the guardian shrine of the Imperial Palace and reverted to being a family shrine, protecting the local population.

The matsuri has been held at the shrine since 863, and features three mikoshi, a variety of ox carts, taiko drummers, dragon dancers and local children dressed in Heian era costume. The spectacle more than made up for the lack of a flea market!

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We arrived just as things were getting started. Small trucks and wagons were parked up in the street in front of the shrine entrance. Among the wagons was a beautiful ox cart. A couple of men were inspecting the cart to make sure it was ready for the procession.

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The man on the right noticed us taking photographs and walked over to chat. One thing we learned about the Kami Goryo Jinja matsuri is that the local people are incredibly proud of the festival, and were pleased to see tourists visiting. We had a short conversation in Japanese about what was going on, and he gave us some advice on where to stand to see the mikoshi pass by once they left the shrine precincts. We thanked him and then made our way into the shrine, because we could hear flutes and bells, so thought something must be happening.

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How right we were! The purification ceremony was just beginning, and we joined the local people in watching as the shrine priests waved a willow wand over the mikoshi and then offered sake, mochi, fish, vegetables and fruit to the kami in their temporary homes.

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The ceremony was beautiful to watch, executed with solemnity and grace. It felt like a privilege to be there, witnessing it. We only saw three other Western visitors, which interested me because the shrine is located not far from Kyoto University. When we’ve wandered briefly around the Demachiyanaga area, we’ve noticed a reasonable number of Western students, but perhaps they don’t live in the area near the shrine.

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After the blessings and offerings, the shrine carriers started to prepare. They were dressed in dazzling white happi coats. Among the crew for one of the mikoshi was a Western man. What an honour to have become such a part of the community around the shrine that he was part of a mikoshi crew! I think he’s on one of the videos I recorded, but I didn’t get a photograph of him, unfortunately.

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Around the other side of the shrine to where we were standing, musicians sat and accompanied the ceremony.

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I always think that traditional Japanese music has an eerie melancholy about it. It fitted well with the ceremony, somehow.

Also standing around the shrine, watching the mikoshi crews get ready, were children dressed in Heian era costumes. The head priest passed through the crowd with his willow wand and blessed the children.

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Less benign were the dragon dancers who snapped their mouths and threatened to bit the heads off the children. One small boy burst into tears at their antics, but the two young ladies dressed in red took the abuse stoically!

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At one point, while I was wandering around, I got a little too close to the ropes that would be used to tie the mikoshi to their carrying poles. One of the mikoshi crew warned me not to step too close. When I stepped back and said, “はい、わかりました,” (yes, I’ve understood what you’ve told me) he nodded back to me and gruffly said, “ごめん”. Judging by the expression on his face, I think he meant that he was sorry that he had scolded me!

Suddenly the mikoshi were ready, and with a lot of call and response, the mikoshi crews put on a great performance of bouncing the portable shrines off the main shrine platform and out into the street. The mikoshi are decorated with bells, so there was a lovely jingling to the movement, and this mixed with the shouts of the men as they bounced the shrines on their poles. It was amazing to see.

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The mikoshi were carried out through the East gate, so we headed back through the South gate to the spot pointed out to us by the ox cart checker earlier that morning. He was right about it being a good place. We saw the ox arrive and be harnessed to the cart, then a parade of costumed people, followed by the first mikoshi, which was put onto its wagon right in front of us. That was a precision operation, getting it to sit right.

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I really loved this matsuri. It felt cosier than the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa that we stumbled upon during our honeymoon. As we left the streets around the shrine and started to walk towards the river, looking for the vegan restaurant Mamezen, we could hear the procession making its way along the streets that encircle the shrine. As we crossed a bridge over the river, a man cycling the opposite way shouted over his shoulder to us, “祭り、祭り!” (matsuri, matsuri!) and gestured at the parade behind us. “はい、見ました、凄いです!” I replied. (Yes, we saw it, it’s amazing!) He seemed to be satisfied with that response, and cycled on his way. How lovely, though, that he was so proud of his local festival that he stopped some random strangers he thought might be missing out and urged them to turn back.

If you’re in Kyoto on the 18th of May, any year, then this matsuri is definitely worth a look. We took the Karasuma line on the Kyoto subway to Kuramaguchi station, then walked through back streets to reach the shrine. The circular flat fare 201 bus will drop you off at the Karasuma Imadegawa subway station as well, and you walk north from there. 楽しんで下さいね! (Enjoy!)

Unexpected enjoyment in Osaka – featuring Free Flight Brass Band

I have documented on this blog my difficult relationship with Osaka. Last time we stayed for a couple of days, and I vowed that I wouldn’t go back again. I wasn’t true to my word, though, because at the end of our sixth trip we had an overnight stay back at the Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka. Purely for convenience, you understand, as we were flying home out of Kansai International Airport early in the morning.

We ended up having a good time. It helped that the day was hot and sunny. We were too early to check in at the hotel, so we dropped off our luggage and headed out into the Osaka sunshine.

We headed up the road to Naniwa and sat in the sun next to the river, eating buns we’d bought at Shinshindo on our way out from Kyoto Station, drinking huge cans of CC lemon bought at the vending machine on our way from Blue Tengu to Kyoto Station, and watching the synchronised setting up of a Texas BBQ.

A pleasure boat sailed by as we lounged on the steps of Minatomachi River Place (湊町リバープレイス) and the tour guide had everyone waving to us, so we waved back. Then we walked up to Shinsaibashi, taking photographs of graffiti and stickered vending machines and interesting signs and buildings along the way.

It was such a beautiful day, and I could feel myself warming to Osaka. We made our way to Tokyu Hands to buy some presents for our cat from the pet department, then headed back to the hotel to check in. We went back via one of the shopping arcades, which was just like Market Street in Manchester on a Saturday afternoon. Tired and hot, I could feel my dislike of Osaka returning!

Checked in at the hotel, we had a bit of a rest and a cool down in our room on the 29th floor. The view was staggering, even in the slight haze of a hot day.

Refreshed, we set out again, looking at shops and wandering through an area full of the Japanese equivalent of Shoreditch Hipsters before heading to the Namba branch of the Yukari okonomiyaki chain for tea.

It was as good as the okonomiyaki we’d had at the branch in Ohatsutenjin Dori, near Umeda station. We also had a salad of shredded daikon, carrot and cucumber with a plum sauce, which tasted amazing.

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We had a good wander round Namba after eating. Namba is a surprisingly rum area. After drifting around the covered shopping streets, where we saw a couple of interestingly named shops, we somehow ended up in the red light district.

Feeling like it was time to move onto pastures new, away from the seedy gents crawling the streets of Namba for sex, we headed back up to Dotonbori where I was determined to buy a Portuguese egg tart from Lord Stow’s Bakery.

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It was so delicious that I wished I’d bought two!

We wandered around aimlessly some more, seeing where our legs took us, taking in the sights and sounds, and drifted towards a plaza outside the Takamashiya department store, where taxis were congregating, waiting to pick up fares. Various bands and singers were also performing, and one of the taxi drivers was clicking his fingers along with a folky indie band.

Right in front of the Takamashiya was an R’n’B singer. Modern R’n’B not being our thing, we quickly walked past and were rewarded around the corner by a jazz brass ensemble in the New Orleans mode.

We stood and listened for a while, and then my husband spotted that they were selling CDs. He waited for a break in their playing and then approached one of the band members to buy a CD from him. The band are called Free Flight Brass Band, and you can follow them on Facebook. We bought a copy of their second CD, Take Off, which is really good. Six tracks of upbeat brassy jazz.

It would have been good to stay out later, but we had an early start for the airport in the morning, so we decided to head back to our hotel. We passed a live music venue with lots of posters around its entranceway. Quite a few of the bands looked interesting.

Maybe I’ve been approaching Osaka all wrong, using it as a stop off for the airport and only exploring it in daylight. Maybe, if we stay again, we should do more night time things there, see a few bands, hit a few bars. Maybe that way I’ll understand Osaka better. In just one evening, I’d had a better time in Osaka than I had on previous visits!

When we got back to the hotel, there was a sliver of red moon hanging in the sky over the city. It looked like something out of a Murakami novel, and I went to bed not hating Osaka any more.

Record Shopping in Japan

This is not going to be an exhaustive post. It’s certainly not a definitive guide to how to buy records in Japan. There are other sites with better overviews of the many record stores that operate in Japan. One that Mr Hicks and I refer to is the Record Stores blog at blog.cdandlp.com which focuses on Tokyo (a lot of the links below are to pages on this site).

This post is about record shops we’ve been to. Mr Hicks likes a good record shop. I don’t mind one, but I’m less of a browser than my other half. I like to know what I’m looking for, if you take my meaning.

Although record prices in Japan are higher than they are in the UK, if you’re a fan of Japanese music, then saving space in your luggage to stock up on CDs and vinyl makes sense when you take into account how much more expensive it is to import records from Japan to the UK using online record stores.

The first record shop we went to in Japan was a branch of Tower Records up Inokashira Dori (take exit 6-2 from Shibuya station). It was an eye opener to how Japanese record stores promote music, with not just listening posts but video displays as well. These are two of the displays that I was taken with in 2009.

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We’ve been to Tower Records in Hiroshima as well, where I misunderstood their special offer pricing and caused a bit of embarrassment at the till. Based on how offers work in British record stores, and not being able to understand the array of kanji explaining the offer on the stickers, I thought I was buying 3 CDs for 1500円. We pooled our purchases and blanched when the total came to more than 16,000円. It turned out that the offer was 500円 off the price of each CD when you bought 3 or more. It took the assistant on the till calling his manager, whose English was better than his (his English was still better than my Japanese), to explain to me patiently, and with an unnecessary amount of apologising, what the deal actually was. By the time we sorted it all out and they realised that we were still going to buy the albums (£120 in person with no shipping was still cheaper than ordering online and paying import duty), she was laughing and gave me a voucher that would get me 300円 off any purchase of 3000円 or over, but only in the Hiroshima branch of Tower Records. The voucher is firmly stuck into my holiday journal.

My husband also managed to find some music in the Giga store next to Hiroshima Station, but I didn’t venture up to the second floor with him. He bought something for a friend that cost him a few pounds but would have cost closer to £20 if he’d bought it online. So taking a look in megastores like Giga and Book Off can sometimes be worth it.

Records can be found in the most unexpected of places, as well. Back in 2010, as we were wandering between Kinkakuji and Ryoanji, we came across a small antique shop where my husband picked up a couple of original Gundam soundtracks for 1000円 each.

The first truly Japanese record shop we went to was Jet Set in Kyoto. The store is located on Kawaramachi Dori on the east side of Kyoto, opposite the Royal Hotel. You can have a little explore on Google maps if you put its location details into the search box. I liked this record shop very much. We have been to the Shimokitazawa branch in Tokyo as well, which is a lot smaller and harder to find. Both have listening posts and staff recommendations and do tie-ins to things like Record Store Day and international music festivals. I’ve bought some good stuff from both branches purely because I was able to listen to tracks in the store.

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Round the corner from the Kyoto branch of Jet Set we found a curious vinyl shop that seemed to specialise in 80s post punk and new wave, although my husband remembers it as a Hip Hop shop. Maybe it’s like the shop in Mr Benn and caters to whatever musical genre is in your head as you walk through the door. If I hadn’t been so conscious of luggage weight limits, I could have stocked up on rare and relatively cheap New Order records! It was a pretty small shop and I didn’t feel comfortable taking photographs. The shop is called Vinyl7 and it’s located on Aneyakoji Dori at the Kawaramachi Dori end. We headed south from Jet Set, on the hunt for Art Rock No.1, but got side-tracked by the sign for Vinyl7, so Art Rock No.1 was never gained!

We tried to find Parallax records instead, which the internet reliably informed us shared a basement with Cafe Independants on Sanjo Dori and Gokomachi Dori in the 1928 Building. When we got there, however, there was no record shop to be found. Only the delightful Cafe Independants where we later returned for food.

The Shimokitazawa branch of Jet Set is a short stroll away from a branch of Yellow Pop. Again, I didn’t take any photographs because it was very cramped, even though the page on cdandlp.com says it’s spacious! It has a good range of stock, from J-Pop to Jazz to Hip Hop and beyond, and we had a good old mooch through the CDs and vinyl. I came away empty handed but Mr. Hicks picked a couple of things up that are hard to find at home.

There a loads of record stores in Shimokitazawa, which is a hip area to the west of Tokyo, but we only managed to go into Jet Set and Yellow Pop. Next time we’re in Tokyo, we’re heading that way again, but doing it right. Only record shops, and only after the best part of the day is gone, because Shimokita is a late hours kind of place, full of live music venues. Our first venture out that way was too early in the day!

Similarly, there are loads of records stores in Shibuya. I can’t remember the names of half the little independent and second hand stores we wandered around at the back of the big Tokyu Hands store, but if you find yourself on a series of steep, narrow streets and you see the graffiti in the image below (assuming it hasn’t been painted over/replaced in the time that has passed since I took the photo in 2009), you’ll know you’re in the right area! I recall going in one that specialised in reggae, another that was all about dance music and record decks, and another that was full of pre-loved jazz records.

 

Recofan in the BEAMS building in Shibuya is a huge store, with CDs on shelves and albums in bins and boxes across the floor. It gets cosy in there, trying to navigate your way around the aisles and find space to browse. I got a few bargains in the used section, as well as a couple of new releases, and Mr. Hicks stocked up on Japanese Techno in this shop.

Beyond Shibuya, we’ve been to a couple of record shops in Ikebukuro. Disk Union is one we’ve been to a couple of times and had success in. It’s easy to find, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the main JR station. We’ve tended to take the back stairs to the fourth floor of the building, because waiting for the lift takes forever.

 

I’d also like to visit Coconuts Disk and Hashodo Koshoten in Ikebukuro. They’re still firmly on the list, as we ran out of time on our most recent trip.

Osaka’s Den Den Town has a decent array of second hand record stores. My husband picked up some hard-to-find-in-the-UK Zazen Boys CDs at one. A lot of them look anonymous, or are disguised as DVD shops, so you have to keep your eyes peeled and have the spirit of nothing ventured nothing gained. We didn’t brave Amerika Mura, where there are apparently record shops galore in the winding streets and alleyways. As Osaka and I don’t really get along, it’s unlikely that Mr. Hicks is likely to get a chance to explore this area, either!

 

Village Vanguard is a good bet for music. CDs are often played in the store as you shop, and there are small listening posts in surprising places. We’ve been to branches in Kyoto, Odaiba (DiverCity) and Aomori. The stores are worth visiting even if you’re not looking for music, as they are eclectic in the extreme.

We found a surprising music shop (I think it was called Record Store Pax) on the third floor of the Narita Bookstore in Aomori as well. It’s on Shinmachi Dori, just up from Hakko Dori, should you ever find yourself in Aomori.

So there we have my scattershot round up of places we have looked for and bought records in Japan.

Our Second Visit to Hiroshima (広島)

Last year we realised our wish to stay in Hiroshima for a few days, inspired by our day trip during our honeymoon. As I mentioned in my post about meeting a Hibakusha, we stayed at the World Friendship Center, west of the city centre, in a quiet residential area.

The Center is lovely, tucked away down a side street, next to the Tenmagawa river. Our room was simple, with two futon laid out on the floor and a small balcony. We were in the main building, where there was a lounge area for guests to read books about the effects of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima, or sit and chat with the volunteer Directors, Larry and Jo-Ann, or each other. After we had arrived and unpacked, we were invited by Larry to add a push pin to the map on the wall, to show where we had travelled from. The map was very full of pins and it was hard to squeeze ours on there. Larry talked about possibly getting another map, or a series of maps.

Breakfast is provided, but no other meals. Both Jo-Ann and Larry were very helpful in recommending places for us to eat. Larry had a passion for local delicacy okonomiyaki and recommended the bar on the corner up the street from the center as being vegetarian friendly.

We had most of the afternoon still ahead of us when we arrived, and Larry loaned us the Center’s copy of the guide book used by the organisation’s volunteer guides so that we could do a self-guided tour around the Peace Memorial Park. We had visited the park on our visit in 2009, but having the guide book made such a difference. The book provided lots of background information, and I wish that I’d been able to buy a copy.

As well as seeing familiar monuments such as the Memorial Cenotaph, where a register of names of everyone who has died as a result of the A-Bomb is kept, with new names added every year, the Peace Flame that will burn until all nuclear weapons have been destroyed, and the Children’s Memorial to Sadako Sasaki, we also found monuments that we had missed before.

Peace Flame

Memorial Cenotaph

Children’s Memorial

The most interesting one for me was the memorial to the children who had been mobilised to do war work, because there were not enough adults, and had been killed by the bomb while working. We hadn’t met Komeyoshi Kiyoko-san yet, but she was a mobilised student who survived. It was sobering to think that Japanese people’s loyalty to the Emperor and the cause of war was so strong that even their children played a direct part in the war effort. Another reminder of how Japanese culture and society differs from my own.

 

Hiroshima presents itself as a city of peace, and understandably you can’t avoid the reminders of the effects of the atomic bomb on the city. While we were out shopping the next day, we came upon the Hiroshima branch of the Bank of Japan. Its exterior had survived the bomb blast because of the thickness of its stone walls, but the heat from the blast destroyed its mainly wood interior and killed everyone who was inside the building. The exterior looks completely unscathed. I found it quite surreal, especially when I read on the information panel that only a few days after the bomb was dropped, the residents of the city set up a temporary banking facility inside the building so that life could continue as normally as possible.

 

I enjoyed shopping in the city. It feels more laid back than Tokyo, and funkier than Kyoto. It has its own style, and the residents are very friendly. We were looking for a new vegan café, Shanti, on one of our shopping trips, trying to make sense of yet another Japanese map that skimps on street names and sense of scale, when an older lady walking past stopped to ask if we needed help. I pointed to the name of the café on the map, and she said that we were on the right street. All three of us looked up and down the street, trying to spot the café. Eventually, she took the map from me, dashed into a nearby shop and returned with directions. We thanked her and she went on her way. Unfortunately for us, we still couldn’t find the café! Luck, or kindness, was on our side, though, because the shop assistant that the lady had asked was watching from the doorway and saw us walk past the entrance to the café. He ran out, calling to us and pointing at the doorway. I am often grateful for small kindnesses when we are travelling in Japan!

The food in Shanti was delicious. I had the deli set, which was two omusubi (おむすび) rice balls, soup, salad, three dishes from the deli counter and a drink, all for 1000円. I chose the tofu hamburg steak, the bean salad and the veggies in miso, with hibiscus tea. It felt so good to be eating so much veg! And all of the produce used in the café is locally grown. Highly recommended, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or a meat eater.

 

A new place we visited on this trip was Shukkeien Garden. We went there after we had listened to Kiyoko-san’s story, and it was lovely to be somewhere so tranquil. The garden is beautiful. Originally built in the 1600s, it was destroyed by the atomic bomb. Its importance to the people of Hiroshima, though, led to the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education restoring it to its original form in 1951. It is designed as a stroll garden, and the features represent natural forms and scenic views in miniature. We had an hour before it was due to close for the day, and I could have spent a lot longer strolling around, sitting and contemplating the views.

 

Someone was having their wedding photographs taken while we were strolling round, as well – what a perfect location!

 

This visit we also went to the Peace Memorial Museum. I found this a very moving experience. The ground floor of the entrance building sets the context of the war and explains the lead up to Japan’s involvement, and the decisions made by the Allied powers in deciding where to drop the first atomic bombs. It was quite chilling to read the matter of fact logic behind the choices of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It doesn’t shy away from Japan’s actions in the war, and doesn’t take a nationalistic, Japanese position. The first floor explores the development of nuclear weapons and their effects. I found the way information was delivered very factual and balanced, almost impersonal, in the entrance building. The main building was something else, though, something very important. It consists of a long room full of the personal possessions of people killed by the bomb, either directly or a couple of days or even years later. These possessions are interspersed with pieces of buildings damaged by the blast, melted household goods, charred lunch boxes and, finally, a display of some of the paper cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki along with some of her belongings.

   

As you exit the final room, you emerge onto a long corridor that overlooks the Peace Memorial Park. There are benches where you can sit and reflect on what you’ve just seen, so we did. I found the last section of the museum quite hard. It made me sad for the people who had been killed or had lost loved ones, and angry that people don’t really understand how personal nuclear weapons are. One thing that really made me angry, though, was the attitude of some of the other visitors to the museum. At one point, a man called back to others in his party to come and look at some of the human remains that are on display, so that they could laugh at how gruesome they were. It disgusted me that someone could be so unaffected by what was around them, and could behave so childishly.

A happier experience was Organza, a café recommended to me by my friend Chloe. She had described it as crackers, and she wasn’t wrong. It’s part music venue, part café run by someone at the heart of Hiroshima’s underground music scene, and it is utterly bonkers. There are odd things all over the place. We had a sort of afternoon tea in a booth underneath a balcony that felt like we were in a captain’s cabin on an old ship. Around us were curiosities such as a stuffed owl, a stag’s head and an angel, and strange paintings of fish drinking wine.

 

If you’re in Hiroshima and fancy somewhere a bit off the wall, where you’ll hear good music and maybe catch a local band, then Organza could be the place for you.

Of course, no trip to Hiroshima is complete without a boat ride across the bay to Miyajima, but I’m saving that for another post. I’m ending my whirlwind tour of Hiroshima here. We were there for four days and we certainly packed a lot in. There are still areas that I would like to explore, out to the west of the city and further up the coast, but four days felt about right for Hiroshima itself.

Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人)

There’s a certain Japanese game with which I am a little obsessed. My obsession started on honeymoon when we visited Kabukicho, near Shinjuku. We were a little naïve and didn’t know anything about Kabukicho – we just stumbled upon it in our still slightly dazed by the wonder of it all state, and only realised later that it’s the largest ‘entertainment’/red light district in Tokyo. The main draw for us was the Taito Station where we could play on arcade games and keep out of the rain.

One of the games we encountered was Taiko no Tatsujin – or Drum Expert, a game made by Namco over various platforms. The arcade game consists of a video screen above a pair of taiko drums with sticks for two players to bash their hearts out to a variety of tunes. We played it once. I got light headed and giddy. I have loved it ever since. Even though that first time we played, I forgot to take my rings and bracelets off and ended up with blood blisters on my hands and bruises on my wrists.

This is the only picture of me with a taiko game, by the way. I have always been too busy playing to bother with taking photographs. And we have played many times on our subsequent trips to Japan.

Since that first time, we try to seek out Taito Stations wherever we go. Because we were crazy fools the first time we went to Japan, we used Kyoto as our main base and actually went on day trips to Tokyo. I know, I know. Our trip to Shinjuku was at the end of a day trip to the Ghibli Museum at Mitaka. We had a couple of days in Tokyo at the end of the trip, staying in Asakusa, which has its very own Taito Station. We did more drumming there, and on each of our subsequent stays in Asakusa.

We’ve drummed in Kyoto, in the entrance to an arcade on the covered part of Teramachi Dori. We’ve drummed in Hiroshima, in a small Taito Station that doesn’t appear on the official Taito Station website. We’ve yet to drum in Akihabara, but as that’s where we’re staying next trip, I’ve no doubt that we will. For some reason, even though we were staying in Namba last trip, we haven’t drummed in the Taito Station in Osaka.

Taiko no Tatsujin played in Taito Stations has introduced me to Kaela Kimura via the delightful Ring-A-Ding-Dong and to Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. Not to mention Orange Range and Arashi.

My obsession took further hold when I bought a second hand DS Lite while we were in Japan on honeymoon and a bunch of Taiko no Tatsujin games. Complete with miniature drumsticks! I love the DS games. I can’t play the Oni level, and I never have a clue what’s going on in the side games, but I can’t get enough of them. Before our next trip, I think I’m going to have to get a 3DS because a fourth DS game came out last year that you can only play on the 3DS.

As if to encourage me in my obsession, two years ago, my husband bought me a Taiko Manekko Don Don toy for my birthday.

Taiko Manekko Don Don

If I could justify it to myself, I’d get the Wii games too.

There’s a Taiko no Tatsujin channel on YouTube, and here’s a video from someone who can play at Oni level, so you can see what it’s about (they’re playing along to Cha-La Head Cha-La, which is one of my favourites):

And here’s a film showing the arcade version of the game:

You’re welcome!

 

Recent adventures in language

The subtitle to this post is “Understanding, Thinking and Speaking are not the same thing!”

On Friday night, kindly invited by my friend Neil, we shared a meal with the lads in A Page of Punk at New Samsi. It was bassist Tsutomu-san’s birthday (つとむさんのたんじょうびはでした). I’m quite shy about speaking another language, unless I’m in the relevant country and it’s a necessity. I have serious brain lag, where I know what I want to say in English, then spend ages translating it in my head, and then ages trying to remember how to form the words with my mouth. It’s slightly easier with French, because it’s a European language and I first learned it as a teenager. With Japanese I struggle. It’s a kind of stage fright, I suppose. There I am, claiming to know something of another language, and there are the native speakers waiting to hear what I’m going to produce. Time seems to slow down and my brain seems to freeze. On Friday night, though, I was lubricated by alcohol and fearless in the face of language barriers. By which I mean, I spoke a bit of Japanese, and it seemed to work.

It did make me realise, though, that only a month or so after finishing the AS level Japanese course, I have forgotten a lot. 多くのことを忘れてしまいました。I think I might need to do some revision if I’m going to carry on with the A2 course next month.

After the meal, as the rest of the party headed off into the night to thrill and delight Canal Street, Neil told us about a last minute free gig that the band were doing at Travelling Man comic shop on Dale Street in Manchester.

So on Sunday we headed into town for more joyous skater thrash punk. We paused to buy bread and onions (as you do on your way to a gig), and arrived to find around 50 people crammed into the shop to watch Well Wisher do a set. We browsed the manga and graphic novels and I picked up an English language copy of NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki (水木 しげる), which I’ve already started reading.

While we were browsing, Seto-san (せとさん) and Kado-san (かどさん) from the band spotted us and came over to say hello. I didn’t think they would remember us from Friday night, but they seemed genuinely pleased to see us. I managed to make myself say something to them in Japanese, which was greeted with splendid gasps of awe and wonder. They were so kind, because what I said was really basic!

Their reaction to my attempts to speak to them in their language made me think. We British can be so arrogant about language, expecting everyone to know English and generally refusing to learn anything of another language beyond the handful of phrases we might use on holiday. And when people from another country do speak to us in English, we often laugh at them or patronise them for their efforts – forgetting that our mother tongue is a bastard hybrid of celtic, romance and germanic languages that seems designed to trip you at every turn just as you feel you’re getting the hang of it.

Maybe if we made more of an effort to learn other people’s languages, we’d realise how hard it can be, and stop being so smug.

The gig was another blinder. If you’ve read my post about the Bay Horse gig, you’ll know how much I rate them. It has been a decade since I last fell so instantly for a band, and it was for similar reasons. If anything, at this performance they seemed more energised than before. They were a man down, but they didn’t let it affect them. The heat inside the shop was incredible and singer Chiaki-san (ちあきさん) lost most of his eye make-up pretty quickly. The crowd was really up for it, though, and the shop manager later described it as the best day of his life. There’s a review of the gig by Cath Aubergine on Manchester Music’s site.

 

 

Afterwards, cooling off outside, we chatted with Tsutomu-san about the band’s return to Japan the following morning and how they had enjoyed their week in the UK. Tsutomu-san is the only remaining original member of the band, and he described them as a family. Right there is why I love this band. They are a family, and they perform together for the joy of it.

As we left, we said goodbye and I wished them a safe flight. Kado-san demanded that I say it in Japanese. More brain freeze! I could remember the word for ‘plane, and I knew that I knew a phrase that means have a good trip, but nothing would come. Kado-san (who would make an excellent teacher, and who has a genuinely amazing grasp of English) slowly spelled out the words I should say: “Key – O – Tsu – Keh – Teh”. Ki wo tsukete (気をつけて) – take care.

About an hour later, when we were almost home, I remembered the phrase I’d been searching for. Yoi go ryokou (良いご旅行) – have a good trip. Only an hour late, then.

This is my frustration with language. If someone speaks Japanese to me, slowly enough, I can make a good fist of understanding it. If I need to write something in Japanese, it flows reasonably well (hiragana better than kanji). But if I’m expected to speak it, it all falls apart.

Perhaps I need to find someone Japanese living in Manchester who wants to improve their English and we can trade our respective skills.

1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 We Are A Page of Punk!

マンチエスターでは。二千十二年八月八日。「A PAGE OF PUNK」と言う日本のパンクバンドは着いた。

In my quest to discover a range of Japanese cultural experiences, last night I went to watch a Japanese punk band called A Page of Punk play at the Bay Horse on Thomas Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

Have you ever witnessed pure elation of expression? Have you ever seen anyone doing something just for the sheer hell of it and having a brilliant time in the process? When a friend told me that the band was going to be playing in Manchester, I never dreamed that this was what I would see. Exuberant joy at the pleasure of playing live music in another country to people who were loving it as much as the band.

Four bands played before them in the tiny downstairs room at the Bay Horse. We caught two of them: Pooch (whom I liked very much – they reminded me of the band Stinking Lizaveta from Philadelphia, but with added fun and surreal asides) and Pure Graft (also good, very energetic, hard core rock).

 

All the while these bands were playing, members of A Page of Punk were milling around or selling merchandise or grazing at the fruit and dip laden rider. One of the guitarists sold me a CD and a badge, telling me excitedly that they would be on next.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened. The sound check seemed normal – lots of shouting into mics and checking leads. The singer was sporting a 50s rocker look, all cheek bones and quiff and skinny jeans.

Then he disappeared and something seemed to happen to the fabric of existence. The band set off at break-neck speed and something golden and glittery appeared at the back of the room. It moved around the edges of the crowd and reappeared at the side of the stage. What a transformation! Black panda eyes and a gold lamé jacket had replaced the aviators and black shirt of earlier, and a banana was inexplicably clenched between his teeth.

A riot of noise and broken English ensued.

I have never watched such a physical band play before. There was no boundary between them and the crowd, with band members making forays out and the crowd building human pyramids of worship and devotion to them. At one point, the tiny rhythm guitarist was hoisted above the crowd, still playing, and ended up with his feet jammed up against the ceiling.

 

The songs crashed into one another, punctuated by the bass player telling us “We are shit! But, we are a band!” and other pearls of wisdom. The drummer looked as though he was going to keel over from exhaustion at any moment. And in among the frenetic playing of his bandmates, swirled the gold-clad singer.

 

At some point, he lost his trousers, revealing a tiny pair of silver lamé shorts.

I had no idea what was going on, but I loved it. The energy, the good humour and most of all the fast, joyous, thrashing music.

The bass player introduced a cover version: “We know Manchester. We know Oasis.” And then they played the fastest version of Don’t Look Back In Anger that I’ve ever heard.

One thing’s for sure – when we next go to Japan, we’ll be checking the listings to see if A Page of Punk is playing anywhere.

Have a listen. They’re on Soundcloud and there are videos on YouTube. You will never be the same again.