Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas Day and Power Rangers

I was working at our Shinsaibashi school on the 25th, and when I finished me and another teacher decided to go and grab a couple of drinks.  The same as always, Christmas Day in Japan had passed with little fanfare so we wanted to try and bring ourselves a bit of Christmas cheer, and as we're both poor, we decided on Saizeriya, mainly for their 100 yen glasses of wine.  We ordered a bit of food as well and chatted nostalgically. We're both British and always enjoy a chinwag about the good old days. Mighty Max, Power Rangers etc.

I've been reading about Power Rangers quite a bit lately after a podcast I listen to had an interview with Bulk and Skull.  On the podcast they talked about a lot of the backstage stuff that went on during the filming of the show, and Bulk mentioned his interesting theory about how Japan's popular culture is so wacky because of the atomic bombs dropped on it during the Second World War.

When I was a kid, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was pretty much my favourite thing. I wasn't really allowed to watch it by my parents because of its violent content, but that made me love it even more. I had the figures, the comics, and I remember my friend had the game for the Mega Drive - a Power Rangers beat 'em up was literally the best game when you were a kid in the 90s.

Thinking back, Power Rangers may have helped shape a lot of my interests and tendencies. Maybe Power Rangers is one of the reasons I'm so interested in American culture, blazing, overdriven rock music (the theme was my favourite song as a kid, and I remember it being released on cassette), and maybe even my interest in Japan came from Power Rangers somehow. Back then no kid knew that a lot of the show's footage was taken from Super Sentai, but it's pretty much common knowledge now. I read recently that the US version of the show was so popular that its creator, Haim Saban commissioned the Japanese production company to make even more footage especially for use in the US show. Also, one of my most vivid childhood memories is Jason, Zach and Trini leaving the show during the second series - I was distraught. Recently I read that they were written out because they demanded wages which the studio wasn't prepared to pay... 

Power Rangers is a phenomenon that's still going strong to this day, and so is Super Sentai - I often see promotions and advertisements for the show here in Japan - but Mighty Morphin was the first and best series of the whole franchise and one of the greatest things about growing up in the 90s. 

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Monday, 24 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas

It's been a good last few days. Friday and Saturday were pretty intense as I worked two full days in Akashi, but Saturday night we went for a few beers in Juso then Umeda. We were planning to go to a mate's house party in the day on Sunday, so we scheduled band practice for Sunday morning. That was probably a bad idea cos it took a while for some members of the band to recover from the night before, and we only practised for about an hour in the end. After practice I went home and slept, and then in the evening we went to Shinsaibashi as our friend who works at a bar was selling homemade sausages. The sausages came in the form of hot dogs with onion and pepper relish, and it was the probably the best thing I've eaten since coming to Japan. After the sausages we continued to drink in Shinsaibashi and headed home around five. I'd ridden my bike there, so we got a taxi back and I put my bike in the boot. It didn't quite fit but the taxi driver was fine with it.

Tonight I went for dinner at my friend's parents' house. The family is Japanese but they put on a massive Christmas feast, including roast chicken, Kobe beef steak and a British style pudding with custard. I ate and drank a lot - at one point I had four different drinks on the table - and then we went to karaoke. It was a really great night. This is the one time of the year when I want to go home and enjoy the Christmas season, but tonight's feast was a really good way to celebrate Christmas in Japan. it's important to have something to celebrate at the end of the year, and to have a time when everyone takes stock and stops to appreciate family and friends. As I said in the last post, in Japan Christmas isn't usually that much of a big deal; yeah, they have New Year but it's not quite as big of an occasion as Christmas in the UK. 

I guess it's times like this when I think about all my mates, and how I can't see the vast majority of them this Christmas. With the kind of life I lead I'm always changing my residence and circumstances, and while it's fun I'm constantly making new friends and then moving away from them. At some point in the future I wouldn't mind a bit more stability in that regard.

I'm working over the next four days, including tomorrow, but next week I have the whole week off. I'm trying to save money, so I don't have any trips or anything planned, but I want to study a lot of Spanish. There's also quite a few TV shows I want to work my way through. In fact, lately there's so much art I want to consume. TV shows, movies, music, podcasts... Maybe too much. There's not enough time in the day, so it's good to have a big block of free time. With the internet we have access to pretty much anything we want to watch/listen to these days. It's crazy if you think about it.  There's also too many things I want to pursue/learn about. I'm a pretty inquisitive person, so it's hard to narrow down my interests and focus on the important things. 

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas in Japan

Saturday was my school's Christmas party. Me and my (ex-)housemate were asked by the boss to dress up as Playboy bunnies - apparently it's a yearly tradition. We obliged, but I think most of the students were freaked out more than anything. After the party we went around Osaka still dressed as bunnies and had a pretty good night. Surprisingly, no decent photos have surfaced on Facebook yet...

I say my ex-housemate as he's now moved out into his girlfriend's place just across town.

Practice for my Ramones cover band on Sunday went well, and now we have just about enough songs to start planning for a gig.

I just finished reading Dave Mustaine of Megadeth's autobiography - Mustaine: A Life in Metal. It's a good read as he has a pretty interesting life story, eventually finding faith as a Christian. But it didn't really match up to Slash's autobiography, which I'd read just before. Slash's was much more well written, and his stories were more extreme, so it was pretty hard to top. And more importantly, he wrote a lot about the development of Guns N' Roses' songs and albums. I was looking forward to something similar and learning about the writing of Megadeth's albums, but for some reason Mustaine didn't spend much time on this, and I think the book suffers as a whole for it. Next up I have Lemmy's and David Lee Roth's autobiographies to read. Reading these books makes me wanna start writing music again...

My transcript for my journalism masters came in the post today. I finally got to see all the grades I got for each module. It's funny how I spent so much time and energy studying for this and now I've basically forgotten about that whole year of my life and I'm not using my journalism skills now in any way. Part of that is probably because I'm in a different country, and my lives in Japan and the UK always seem quite disconnected. I was having a chat today actually with a co-worker who has a degree in journalism and he feels exactly the same way as me - he lost interest in journalism as he isn't prepared to kiss ass and climb the ladder as a journalist. 

These days at work I talk a lot about Christmas with the students, and I've learnt a lot about Japanese people's attitude towards Christmas. I don't know why they celebrate it to be honest. In fact, most of the older people in Japan don't really get behind Christmas as they don't view it a Japanese tradition, which it isn't. From what I can tell Christmas only really started to get popular here around the 1970s, and around this time KFC launched a big campaign which has left them forever associated with Christmas in Japan. It kinda makes sense - we eat turkey and they eat chicken - but it seems that any fast food will do these days, as a couple of students have said they always eat pizza on the 25th. Some other families seem to eat traditional Japanese dishes, such as nabe, but that kinda defeats the point of Christmas, as it's meant to be something special and different from the rest of the year. There's a big run-up with Christmas decorations and music everywhere, and every shop offering some kind of Christmas campaign, but then everyone works on the actual day and it feels like a letdown... Most Japanese people seem a bit confused by the whole thing to be honest, and none of them know the nativity story. 

Even New Year, which obviously has a much longer tradition in Japan, doesn't seem to be that special to the Japanese people. Basically all my students tell me they don't like osechi, the traditional New Years food, but they still eat it. I once ate it though, and it was probably the worst meal I've ever eaten, but I assumed Japanese people would enjoy it. I think Japanese people just don't really like holidays or special days - they have nothing else during the rest of the year, whereas we have Pancake Day, Easter,  Bonfire Night etc.

By the way, Japan just had a general election, in which the slightly more conservative party beat the the slightly less conservative party. It was a foregone conclusion though, so no-one really batted an eyelid about the whole thing.

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Footy on Awaji-shima

A couple of weeks ago I went to the foreigners football tournament on Awaji-shima. It happens twice a year and I'd played in the tournament two years ago. This year it was some of the same people but we had a better squad overall. We went down on the Saturday morning in a couple of rent-a-cars and played four games that day. We lost one, drew one and won two, which we were pleased with, and in the evening went to the onsen on Awaji to enjoy some group bonding.  

After relaxing in the onsen we headed over to the hotel, which was just as bad as it was two years ago. There were four beds in each room, when the rooms were clearly meant for two. Dinner was buffet-style, but each tray of food was consumed pretty fast by the hungry gaijin and the kitchen staff couldn't really keep up. In the evening there was a party in the dining room, but it reminded me of a school disco - we ducked out and went to make our own fun.

The next day we were knackered, and played a couple more games, but lost them both.  The weather was really hot to say it was late November though; I even got a sun tan. After our last game we left the pitches and grabbed some crappy ramen for lunch at a nearby service area, then drove back to Osaka. 

Despite the terrible hotel, it was a fun weekend. The next day I woke up still feeling knackered so I took the day off work. The Friday had been a national holiday, so I'd ended up having four days off work in total, which is rare.

During the last couple of weeks I've been studying Spanish, studying for my TEFL certificate - I've now passed the course - and trying to stop myself going out. I really need to save some money as I've decided I'll be moving to Chile in March next year. I have a job lined up teaching English at a university, so I'm preparing for that. However, this past Friday it was my housemate's birthday, so on Thursday night we went to drink and eat at 鳥貴族 (Torikizoku) in Juso, then ended up at karaoke until 5am.

Yesterday I was working at my company's Akashi school, which is the first time that's happened on a Saturday, so I said we should go out in Sannomiya. A group of us started the night off by eating and drinking at 意屋 (Kokoroya), then we moved on to Midnight Express, which is a cool Turkish bar. We had some Efes beer and a lamb kebab, which was a great combo, then stopped at a bar I can't remember the name of. There was an empty dance floor which we invaded, but as there was nothing happening there we ventured out into the cold to find a club. We settled on curvebar and it was a lot of fun actually. We stayed there for a couple of hours, and after leaving we stumbled across somewhere called International Bar Nasty House - it had a British flag on the sign outside so we decided to try it. The name actually rings a bell from wandering the streets of Sannomiya four years ago. In fact, enjoying the nightlife in Sannomiya after such a long time away is a strange feeling, especially as I hit the drink harder than I used to back then. 

After Nasty House our group split up and three of us headed to すき家 (Sukiya) for a late-night snack, where we sat next to a couple of Scottish guys who were carrying a box of biscuits with the Queen and Prince Philip on. Random. After that we got a taxi back to my mate's house as he lives in north Kobe. We played with his pet snake, then went to bed.

By the way, I've just read that last sentence back. It's not a euphemism haha. He does actually have a pet snake.

One of our group had heard that the Hobgoblin bar in Kobe does all-day breakfasts on a Sunday, so after waking up we headed back to Sannomiya, which was pretty busy because the Luminarie is now on show. 


We each ordered one of these bad boys and it was the perfect hangover food. After the lamb kebab last night it's almost like being back home.

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