Monday, 30 August 2010

AudioPal Shiratori

In my last post I mentioned that the needle on the turntable I'd bought was broke, and while I'd bought a cheap cartridge and needle to tide me over, I still intended to get a new needle (Shure N97xE) for the original cartridge (Shure M97 x), as it's a decent piece of kit. After hearing about a shop called AudioPal Shiratori from the guy who runs Sasaki Records I decided to give it a shot. After work on Friday evening I ventured out towards where the shop was, having only glanced at a Google Map a couple of days previously. The shop is pretty small and is hidden in amongst a patch of trees and foliage, which is in turn is hidden within an industrial estate full of car maintenance shops.

I stepped inside and a middle-aged man poked his head around the corner. Luckily he didn't have the usual look of shock/despair on his face that normally greets a foreigner when he enters a shop in the middle of nowhere. I proceeded to show him the cartridge and told him the needle was broke, upon which he went behind the counter to look at some book or other. I'd noticed that I was standing on a mat in the doorway and there were a few pairs of Japanese slippers that looked like they were for customers to use. You often take off your shoes and wear slippers like these in eating establishments, but I'd never done so in a normal shop. To make sure what they were for I asked the guy, to which he asked me if it was too much hassle, to which I replied it wasn't. So with my slippers on he beckoned me through his workshop and to a room in the back which housed a selection of vintage record players, amps and speakers. He found one needle and tried it out, playing some jazz record on a really nice turntable. The whole place felt like his house. The rooms were carpeted and all the products were stacked on shelves, like books or picture frames. The slippers only added to the homely vibe.

The needle fit the cartridge, but there was some distortion to the sound. He went back to search for another needle while I browsed his collection of hardware. Luckily, the new needle sounded great, but I asked to hear it on a rock record, as I don't listen to jazz. He had a quick flick through his records but realised there was no rock, only jazz or classical. After having a discussion during which he told me he used to listen to rock when he was younger, he eventually managed to find a The Beatles picture disc which had never been played before - I think that was the closest we were going to get. Whilst the needle wasn't a N97xE, as the original had been, it was Shure, and we both agreed it sounded fine. The man then cleaned the needle up with some special fluid, and recommended I buy some. He also recommended I get a brush to clean my records with. This guy was obviously an audiophile, or a good salesman. The needle had been quite a bit cheaper than I'd expected so I decided to take his sage advice.

After purchasing the goods I complemented him on what a great shop he had, to which he replied I should come back again at some point and listen to some records. I removed the slippers, put my trainers back on and left the shop, nestled in between all those trees. What a guy.

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Friday, 27 August 2010

Smartphones in Japan

So this week I changed the phone I bought at the weekend (dynapocket T-01B). Despite it being a smartphone, it was shockingly bad value for money. It lacked many of the features even Japan's most basic phones have (like TV and infra-red ability), the features it did have worked poorly, it was physically bulky, heavy and glitchy, the Windows interface was poor and, worst of all, the battery life was terrible. Using it I just found myself wanting a phone like the one I had 2 years ago - something basic and cheap that just did the job. So I went back to Docomo and swapped it for a Black docomo STYLE series L-03B. Straight away it was far easier to use, and having a friend who works at Docomo meant I didn't have to pay a massive cancellation fee. So I've now got a generally better, longer lasting, less bulky phone for a lot less money. Sweet.

If you're in Japan it's kinda pointless having a smartphone. All phones come with email built in, which means smartphones are only useful if you wanna browse the internet or use specific apps a lot. But even then, normal phones have internet access. I thought the smartphone would be useful while I wait for internet at my apartment, and I thought the GPS function would be useful for finding my way around the city. And although those features worked well, they guzzled battery like nobody's business, and the poor quality of the phone as a whole outweighed them. In my opinion, normal Japanese phones are much more useful and economical than smartphones, and are way ahead of Western phones in general.

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Monday, 23 August 2010

Beach Party

So this weekend I managed to get a phone and a record player/amp/speakers. Here's a picture, taken on my phone.


I got the phone from a Docomo shop near my house after being introduced to someone who works there, and I got the record player, amp and speakers for a reasonable price from a place called 2nd Street which sells loads of second hand stuff.  I also picked up a video player from there.  There seems to be a lot of 'recycle shops' like 2nd Street round here.  Can't remember there ever being that many in Kobe, but it's great, and makes finding retro stuff for my apartment easy.  There was just one problem with the turntable - the needle was broken.  But luckily there's a great record shop that's really close to my apartment, so I went down there and had a chat with the owner.  He had a look at the cartridge and broken needle and then flicked through all his old catalogues but couldn't find any listing for a replacement needle.  In the end he sold me a cheaper cartridge and needle which I'm using now, but we ended up having a long chat about vinyl and he showed me some of the originals he has for sale; he keeps them in special locked boxes behind the counter.  He had an original In the Court of the Crimson King and when I expressed interest he said there was already a buyer.  But he also has an original pressing of Roxy Music's self-titled debut which I'm gonna have a think about.  It was expensive but he said he'd knock a bit off the price for me.

That was Saturday, then on Sunday we went back to Sunset Beach, the place I mentioned in my last post, for a barbecue.  That was a lot of fun, and I took a few pictures.  The place was packed when we arrived as there was some beach football tournament on, then as soon as that ended most people went home.




Apparently you can go camping on that island if you're willing to swim all the way there from the mainland.

The camera on my phone isn't amazing, but it's good to finally have something to take pictures with, and to call people on. And I have a laptop coming in the post, so now I just need to secure a bike and some internet.

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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Got my gaijin card

Things are going good, even if it is pretty hard to do anything without internet, a laptop, a phone or a bike. To get any of those things I've needed either a bank account, my gaijin card or money. Fortunately I managed to sort a bank account on Tuesday, I got my gaijin card today and I get paid tomorrow. So things should get a little easier from now on. The first few weeks are always rough, it was like that last time when I went to Kobe.

Using Facebook all the JETs in the area have managed to stay in touch though and we've met up a couple of times already. The 5-hour karaoke sesh on Tuesday was a laugh, and there's a BBQ down at the beach tomorrow. I'm glad to be in Aomori City, as that's where all the events seem to be taking place.

Work is pretty slow at the moment. I've been mainly preparing for a presentation on the UK I'm making at the end of the month, and having a lot of time on my hands has meant I've created a pretty sweet PowerPoint presentation. I might even upload it on here at some point - it's that good. The guys at work have been helping me settle in in Aomori though; yesterday one of the office guys took me on a quick sightseeing tour of the north-east of Aomori City. He showed me the aquarium, some ancient ruins that are a pretty big deal here, this giant Buddha statue (although we could only see his head from the car park) and a place called Sunset Beach, which I definitely wanna return to before summer's over. It's an idyllic little area of the coast with a sand beach, a boat rental business and a handful of eateries.

Catch ya later.

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Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Eagle Has Landed

Aomori City is amazing. These last few days have been amazing. Everything went perfectly to plan and I'm settling in to my new life here. I'm currently sat in a manga cafe about a 20-minute walk from my apartment. The screen here is bigger than my apartment, and I'm just sending out some messages to family and friends to let everyone know how it's all going. Here's a bit of a teaser of what I got up to in the last week: arrived in Tokyo, stayed at a sweet hotel in Shinjuku, met tons of other JETs from all over the world (including Joe from Joe In Japan), ate french fries for breakfast, showed some karaoke virgins how to party, went to various eating/drinking establishments including Mister Donut and a Hub, took a plane to Aomori, arrived at work, ate Pizza Hut at a work party, settled into my new apartment, had an article written about me in the local paper, experienced Aomori's hottest day in 11 years, took part in the Nebuta Festival... Needless to say, it's been an action packed week, but I've enjoyed every minute. Even the parts where I've nearly falled asleep at my desk 'cos of jet lag.

I want to get myself a camera ASAP so I can take pictures of everything here, and I need to get internet and a laptop sorted, but I have to wait for things like my alien registration and my wages to come through. Expect some cool updates soon though.

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