Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Cool Biz and clothing for the modern Japanese gent

Posted 25 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Style, Tokyo, Work

I received an email from the HR department this morning to announce the beginning of Cool Biz. This means that male employees can forego neckties for the next three months, while office air conditioners are turned up to 28°C to reduce running costs (and ultimately help the environment).

Cool Biz is a fantastic idea: it means fewer sweaty old men on the streets and a considerable reduction in the amount of CO2 that power stations pump out. It also has the knock-on effect of producing more than a few comedy moments as bamboozled salarymen adjust to the brave new world of dressing in a smart-casual manner. Their plight is worsened by the prime minister, who is legally obliged to dress like an extra from Magnum, P.I. all summer long:

Of course, not all salarymen dress like aliens trying to blend into a middle-class American family circa 1985. A quick peruse of magazine racks in local bookshops reveals a bewildering variety of style-related magazines for the modern gent.

Leon

Middle-aged chaps who are looking to add a bit of edge to their look should turn to Leon. The key phrase here is choiwaru oyaji, which (sort of) translates as “bad-but-cool old guy”. Put simply, Leon is for forty- and fifty-something lady-killing dandies who want to look like they’ve just stepped out of a Milanese cafe. Check out those white jeans! Gaze in dumbstruck awe at those medallions!

Men's Ex

Slightly younger fellows should take a gander at Men’s Ex, which has considerably fewer photos of George Clooney wannabies with twenty-something women. It’s fairly conservative in its recommendations, leaning more towards classic business attire and the preppy look than its Italian-inspired rival.

Men's Ex Maintenance Guide

There is also a phenomenal number of one-off magazines – called mooks (magazine+book=mook) – which cover all kinds of style-related issues. Men’s Ex recently produced a guide to looking after and tailoring clothes which is proving very popular in this current economic climate of belt-tightening. Its article on how to properly clean leather shoes came in very handy after I got caught in a nasty downpour:

Cleaning shoes

The Shirt and Tie

Another big-selling mook is this one on shirts. It contains all you need to know about the humble dress shirt and tie, including a dizzying array of ways to tie neckties…

How to tie your tie

… and a handy guide for coordinating shirts with ties and suits:

Coordinating, for t' men, like

If you’re expecting well-written, thought provoking articles on a par with GQ or Esquire in these magazines then you’re in for a shock. The line between advertising and editorial is virtually nonexistent. In fact they are, pretty much, 200-page advertorials. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, per se: they do have some very interesting content, and some sections – especially those on maintenance – go into absolutely staggering detail.

Pre-packed supermarket prawns: alive and kicking (literally) in Japan

Posted 21 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Food, Japan, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Tokyo, Video

Fresh seafood is, as you would expect, easy to come by in Japan. In fact, pre-packed prawns are sometimes so fresh that you might end up debating whether to put them in a frying pan or an aquarium:

(Postscript: Unfortunately Terry et al didn’t live long, happy lives. They were simply too delish for their own good.)

Japan-related Links of the Week: 15 May 2010

Posted 14 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Japan, Japanese Politics, Links of the Week, News, Only in Japan, Tokyo

A roundup of some of the best Japan-related stories from this week:

Gross public debt has edged up to 200 per cent of GDP. Net debt, at 100 per cent of GDP, is still in acutely dangerous territory.

Japan in risky territory: Things could turn ugly fast
The Times (Leo Lewis)

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Japanese driving schools are offering more than instruction behind the wheel, with Hawaiian massage and lessons in BMWs among the services available to compete for a dwindling number of potential students.

Japan driving schools rev up with BMWs, manicures
Reuters (Chris Gallagher)

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Japanese companies have long had a reputation of being unfriendly to women, especially mothers. That image was reinforced recently by the World Economic Forum, which downgraded Japan in its Gender Gap Report from 98th of 130 countries in 2008 to 101st out of 134 countries in 2009.

Japan sinks (even) lower on gender discrimination report
The Christian Science Monitor (Gavin Blair)

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“[Yukio Hatoyama’s] shirt comes from the ’80s or ’90s. His ideas and philosophy are old. Japan is facing a crisis and we can’t overcome it with a prime minister like this.”

Japan’s prime minister under fire for fashion choices
CNN (Kyung Lah)

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“If you’re eating dolphin meat, you’re eating poison, and if you’re eating a lot of dolphin meat, you’re eating a lot of poison.”

Tests show residents in dolphin-hunting village in ‘The Cove’ have elevated mercury levels
The Los Angeles Times (Jay Alabaster)

Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara

Posted 22 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Books, Entertainment, Gaming, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Technology, Tokyo, Travel


Having lived in Tokyo for over five years I should really know all there is to know about the place. But I don’t, and the place I probably know the least about is Akihabara. This once shabby district, which is five minutes from Tokyo station, has a global reputation for being the ultimate otaku paradise. While on the campaign trail former Japanese prime minister Taro Aso, a self-confessed manga geek, famously said ‘Tadaima!’ (‘I’m home!’) upon arriving in the area.

Akiba, as it’s also known, has become something of a tourist hotspot in recent years. A number of travel agents now offer guided tours that take in the delights of maid cafes, anime stores, used computer game markets and monster tentacle porn tryouts (probably). If, however, the thought of a tour bus full of other people (bleurgh!) is too much for you, White Rabbit Press’s Tokyo Realtime series might be right up your street.

Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara consists of a CD, a map and a glossy little photo booklet. The CD contains an audio tour of Akihabara. To start the tour, find your way to the starting point on the map, hit “play” on your iPod/iPhone/iWhatever and away you go.

Bonus points are awarded for the map: it’s plastic, so you don’t have to worry about it disintegrating into a soggy mess on rainy days.

The audio tour includes interviews with well-known otaku, such as Danny Choo (also known as the Tokyo Stormtrooper) and Morikawa Kaichiro. Morikawa, an expert on Akihabara, is a professor at Meiji University and the author of several books, including “Learning from Akihabara”.

At the time of writing I have yet to properly put the guide through its paces, but as I’ve got some time off work next week I might cast my inhibitions aside, don my tourist hat, string a camera round my neck and get stuck in.

You can buy Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara here. Tokyo Realtime: Kabukicho is also available, though unfortunately it doesn’t contain any interviews with Nigerian bouncers, Russian hostesses or love-hotel owners. It does, however, have an interview with a rope-bondage artist.

Tokyo Realtime: Behind the scenes audio tours

The Collective Noun Challenge – Japan Edition

Posted 15 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Tokyo

English has a fantastic array of collective nouns. Here are some of my favourites:

  • a shrewdness of apes
  • a paddling of ducks
  • a superfluity of nuns
  • an unkindness of ravens
  • a murmuration of starlings
  • an observance of hermits
  • a labour of moles
  • a kindle of kittens
  • a business of ferrets
  • a piteousness of doves
  • a richesse or martens

Great, aren’t they? They’re much better than a group of this or a bunch of that. It’s a shame that nobody bothers to invent new ones these days. So, here’s a little challenge for you:

Can you think of interesting collective nouns for the following Japanese words?

  • otaku
  • salarymen
  • OLs (Office Ladies)
  • tarento

Tokyo Nightlife: The Golden Gai

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Tokyo, Travel

Western television reports about Tokyo tend to focus on the ultra-modern. There will, almost without exception, be shots of Shibuya’s Hachiko crossing (above), kids dressed in epileptic-fit inducing outfits and random commuter trains zipping past a neon background. A few finishing touches are applied (the occasional fancy edit and pumping electronic backing track – preferably by Orbital) and Bob’s your uncle, Toe-key-oh!

Of course, there’s more to Tokyo than techno-wallabies, Akihabara uber-nerds, passive-aggressive identikit salarymen and whale-smoking, dolphin-slapping karaoke hostess bars. Before the Americans bombed the living daylights out of it Tokyo was an intriguing mix of ramshackle streets and wooden buildings; buildings that even then struggled to hold out against the changes that modernisation brought to the country. After the war, a few Soweto-like areas that weren’t burned to cinders became hotspots for black market trading and lady-related sauciness. Shinjuku’s ‘Golden Gai’ was one of them.

Despite the whippet-like pace of change in other entertainment districts the Golden Gai has managed to retain a sense of its old-world charm. The area is home to some 150 bars stacked on and around each other in higgledy-piggledy fashion, linked together by a grid of tiny footpaths and claustrophobic alleyways. In the 1970s it became a popular hangout for artists, writers, musicians and let’s-have-a-revolution-oh-feck-it-I’ll-kill-myself intellectual Yukio Mishima. These days you’ll find it populated by an eclectic mix of old regulars, twenty- and thirty-something white-collar workers and random tourists who read about it in a Lonely Planet travel guide.

Finding a decent bar in the Golden Gai is like a game of Russian roulette, only without the spattering of brains on the wall (Tip: do it on the beach and let the crabs clean up). A lot of places are filled with regulars who like to keep things… well…regular. For this reason you’ll find that most bars charge a fee – typically around JPY1000 – just for the exalted privilege of entering. It’s the kind of twattish bag-of-wank practice that makes bar-hopping a bit of a non-starter, but if you’re feeling flush and fancy something different then forget about the price and get stuck in. After all, you only live once… apart from my mate Cecil: he’s on his fourth life. The government know about it, but it’s all kept very hush-hush.

If you really do need to reign in the expenses then it’s Imperative (yep, with a capital “I”) that you apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:

  1. Stick your head through a promising-looking door.
  2. Ask the barman/barmaid how much it’ll cost you to drink there.
  3. Scan the bar and weigh up the clientele. Do they look like the kind of people you want to drink with? (Remember: these bars are the size of a garden shed, and conversation is INEVITABLE.) Is there the possibility of something interesting happening? Kabuki theatre performed by a cete of impeccably-groomed badgers, for example?
  4. Apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:
    Cost ≤ Entertainment Value = Enter the bar (c≤ev=e)
    Cost > Entertainment Value = Leg it (c>ev=l)
  5. If you’re with your mates you’ll have to pool your calculations and put it to a vote. (Adopt first-past-the-post voting methods: don’t try to seek consensus on the issue, otherwise you’ll end up walking around for hours on end.)

Finding the Golden Gai is as easy as slipping on a wet bathroom floor and smashing your head open. Come out of Shinjuku station’s Kabukicho Exit and walk straight down (and I mean down as in the street that slopes slightly downwards) until you get to Yasukuni Dori. You’ll know you’re on Yasukuni Dori when you see this:


View Untitled in a larger map

Head up Yasukuni Dori for about five minutes. Both sides of the street are packed with shops and restaurants. After a few minutes you’ll spot a Mr Donuts (a cafe, not an actual man that looks like a doughnut) on the left-hand side. To the right of Mr Donuts is a small footpath shrouded by trees and the homeless. This, laydees and gentlemice, is the gateway to the Golden Gai. Only the penitent man will pass, so don’t forget to kneel when you hear the buzzing of circular saws coming out of the walls. Here it is on a map:


View Golden Gai, Shinjuku in a larger map

The best time to visit the Golden Gai is Friday or Saturday nights, preferably after 10pm, and after you’ve already had a few drinkypoos. If you’re thinking about getting a late-night train back to your home/hotel, forget it: accept the fact that you’ll be out until 5am (when the first trains start running) or paying for a taxi and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.

The Food Obsession

Posted 11 Mar 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Food, Only in Japan, TV, Tokyo

Japanese TV programmes tend to fall into two broad categories: 1. celebrities eating food and 2. everything else. Usually you can find, at any time of day, at least one celeb-food show on the air. The perplexing thing is that most of these programmes are not cookery shows in the Jamie Olliver sense of the word (ie, they don’t teach you anything about how to cook), rather they involve people standing around in an insanely-coloured studio stuffing their faces. Invariably, the food is declared to be “oishii” (delicious), and the celebrities spend the next ten minutes prattling on about the time their mum made the same thing, or when they went to Osaka and saw locals putting mayonnaise (shock horror!) on the food in question.

Admittedly, now and then some TV shows do actually have celebrities eating in proper restaurants, but I really don’t care to watch them noisily slurp an enormous bowl of greasy ramen in a random Yokohaman restaurant. “What am I getting out of this experience?” I say to myself. Apart from the knowledge that that particular celebrity likes eating katsudon, or whatever, and what the food looks like, it offers me nothing. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a restaurant because I’ve seen so-and-so eating there on TV, in fact it works more as deterrent: the place would be so busy that I’d have to queue up for an hour just to get through the front door. If I’m going to eat out, I’ll either wander around and explore a few places by myself, or search online for a reasoned opinion that stretches to more than just “umai!”

Perhaps the one decent food programme I’ve seen while in Japan is, unsurprisingly, not Japanese. It’s called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and you can watch it on the Discovery Channel. Bourdain is not only a trained chef; he is also a witty, down-to-earth host who travels the world in search of new experiences. The idea is that yes, food can be nice, but it can also be bloody awful. Food is used more as a means to exploring the people, places and culture of wildly different places, rather than an end in itself. And that’s the way food programmes on TV should be.

Akebono’s Gleeful Journey

Posted 12 Feb 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Advertising in Japan, Entertainment, News, Only in Japan, TV, Tokyo, Video


Akebono has had many fine achievements during his forty years on earth: becoming the first foreign sumo wrestler to achieve the rank of yokozuna, winning eleven top division titles, and, err… managing to win one fight out of twelve in his career as a K-1 fighter.

Okay, so things may have gone a bit downhill after sumo, but when you’ve reached the highest echelons of one of the most famous sports in the world it’s always going to be hard to go one better. But recently the big man has roared back into the limelight thanks to a series of adverts for Fox’s latest smash hit comedy/drama thingy, Glee.

Words can’t really do the adverts justice. All you need to know is that they involve a lot of Akebono singing and dancing. The song? ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey – nothing could be more appropriate.

Check it out for yourself:


You can catch the rest of Akebono’s adverts on YouTube or one of the many Fox-related channels on Japan’s satellite TV network, Sky PerfecTV.

Penguin Pilferer Foiled by Sharp-eyed Security

Posted 28 Jan 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, News, Only in Japan

Bear faced cheek

A young Fukuokan pet shop owner has been arrested in Nagasaki for attempting to steal a penguin from a zoo.

Employees at Nagasaki Bio Park in Saikai became suspicious of young Akira Honda’s (24) activities after he became cagey when security guards offered to store his rather large suitcase. Further inspection revealed that the suitcase did, in fact, contain a somewhat perturbed Humboldt penguin.

Police were considering moving the penguin to Britain as part of a witness protection scheme, but had to scrap the plan when it was revealed that the feathered fish-feaster was afraid of Wales.

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

Posted 11 Jan 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Travel

Continuing with our birthday tradition of spending a night in a fancy Tokyo hotel (see last year’s post on The Peninsula), this weekend my better half and myself stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in Nihonbashi.

Rooms are very spacious. Starting from 50m2:

The bed is a decent size:

As is the TV (a 42 incher). You can watch both Wowow and Star Channel movies in full HD, which is ace:

If it’s your birthday the hotel provides a free bowl of strawberries, which is nice. You can see the bathroom through the vertical blinds in the background. The bathroom mirror is on rails so you can move it out of the way when you want to see Tokyo from the bath:

The bathroom itself has a solid granite sink:

All the knobs and handles are polished to within an inch of their lives:

The bath is a solid granite affair. Easily big enough for two:

I filled our bath with hydrochloric acid. It cleans the pores, deep down (to the bone):

The toilet is, as you would expect, a high-tech Toto super-loo:

Features abound:

The shower has a selection of free stuff by Aromatherapy Associates. My wife assures me that their stuff is the business:

Back in the bedroom, we have a yoga mat and brolly in the cupboard:

More views of the room. Wifey can be seen sat on the sofa, exasperated by my photo-taking antics:

Rooms come fully-loaded with booze:

Snacks:

More booze:

And, erm, stationery:

Oh and you also get a pair of yukata’s and fan for poncing about the room in, feeling all imbued with the spirit of the samurai and all that guff:

We thought “Bollocks to it!” and ordered a room-service breakfast:

Green tea pancakes with maple syrup. Very nice:

And an omelette with assorted fried bits and bobs:

Finally, the view. Our room was on the 30th floor, which is the lowest. Bizarrely, the front desk is on the 38th floor, which means to get outside you have to take one lift from the 30th to the 38th floor, then get in another lift that takes you to the ground floor. Our room was facing east, towards Asakusa. There were a few cranes in the way as they’re building something next door:

Construction of Tokyo Sky Tree is well and truly in progress. The finished article will be 634 metres tall, falling some way behind the awesome Burj Khalifa:

The sumo joint:

Looking left:

Looking right:

The same view at night reveals a fancy ferris wheel:

And some very bright crane lights:

Oh and one more thing before we wrap this little photo tour up. The customer toilets on the 38th floor have a “pee on the plebs” feature which I had to take a video of (I don’t normally take videos in toilets, you understand, but this one was special):

All in all, the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is a top-class hotel with a fantastic view, and I highly recommend it.


View Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo in a larger map

Live webcams around Tokyo

Posted 23 Dec 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Technology, Tokyo, Video

Want to see what’s going on in Tokyo right this very minute? Here’s a selection of some of the best live webcams. All of the cameras are running in real time (none of that “updates every ten seconds” nonsense), and you can control them yourself. Just click on the images below and away you go.

Shibuya (Hachiko):

sibich.tv hachiko camera

Shibuya (outside Tower Records):
tower records

Shibuya (Parco):
parco

Shinjuku Station:

shinjuku

Roppongi Hills & Tokyo Tower:
roppongi

Ueno:
ueno

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