Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sayonara TOKYO

Here are the people I'll miss most in this living theater of a place some call TOKYO.



I met him and REI (both of HATOS) a night they had a show in Fukuoka. From that original contact came a friendship that's likely to last a long time. He's a philosopher when he talks, about life and what it all means, and music, and history, and Tokyo, and New York, and drugs, and tobacco. His idols are DJ Krush and Portishead. He samples all kinds when he DJs, from traditional Indian folk dance, to John Paul Jones' bass, to James Brown's drums. Look out for his debut album on HATOS' label soon.

He turned 23 the other night. We took a bunch of tequila shots together––fitting, considering he's going to Mexico soon. He speaks Turkish from studying it and living in Turkey for a year, performs experimental noise on his own and with his band, and knows all music. The Tokyo kid that makes you wish you could've grown up in that city, surrounded by all that stimulation.

I met him outside of a convenience store on a dirty Shibuya alleyway back in February. Since then, he's accompanied me on my perusals of Tokyo in the spring and now the summer. He's down for anything at any time. His name means circle. He shows up in spaces when it's absolutely necessary and might carry a weapon. He has an auspicious air about him–he seems to have friends in bars and clubs across the vast city–and always wears the same clothes. I have a feeling I will run into him again someday, probably on an unmarked side street in a busy city.

She's barely 20 and has already had 2 photo exhibitions in Tokyo. She knows all indie rock and studies Portuguese.

If you're a regular on the party scene in Tokyo then there's a good chance you've run into her. The few times I was with her, not only did she get free entrance into discerning clubs, but she knew tons of people there. She's 24 and feels her party days are over, and wants to write a book and get married.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Goodbye, Fukuoka

Tuesday I said bye to this great city, and even greater group of friends. I will really miss these people...

The event organizer and manager of Kieth Flack, the best club in Fukuoka. If anyone knows the musical pulse of the city, it's her–whether live thrash-punk, gay-pink-girl dance parties, house and techno nights, German DJs...she's there and smiling. She's one of the coolest girls I've ever met.

Along with YUJI, this DJ/record collector/event organizer/soul and funk expert knows more than you ever will about 60s and 70s American beat music. And he's Japanese. He works at Keith Flack with JUNKO.

He's–and I'm not kidding–one of the world's experts on old funk and soul. Something of an icon among record collectors on ebay, he learned English by listening to Isaac Hayes, Texas funk, and Ike and Tina. And his family's curry company makes some scrumptious chicken and beef curry.

He's in his kitchen, with a Texas shirt that he habitually wears. His yatai, or street food stand, has some of the best ramen in Fukuoka (a city famous all over Japan for the stuff). Yaki ramen/soba, Korean style beef, stir fried vegetables...This was my favorite place to eat in Japan.

Her family owns Ikiko brand of mugi shochu, a popular Japanese whiskey. She was born on a small island off the coast of Nagasaki. She surfs and cooks. Need I say more?

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hiroshi Sugimoto, "Union City Drive-In" 1993

NY Times article on "Rearming Japan." Watch the video. What do kamikazes have to do with museums that pay homage to WWII ships? Or North Korea, or history teaching in Japanese schools (in which pupils are not told of the raping and pillaging of colonial Japan)? It's ridiculous how 4 or 5 separate issues can be lumped together as a conspiracy by right wing organizations to change the constitution.Abe and other conservatives of the LDP want capable military with North Korea and China barking next door. The chances of getting it are slim. And, even more so, is the possibility of escalating nationalism. Just 1 in 3 Japanese sees the need to change the constitution at all.

Noaya Hatakeyama, "Mori Building" (Tokyo)

MegaCities exhibition at the Tate.

Vice article, "Inside Pyongyang"

I wish I had a website like this one.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tosu at night, Hido style

Here is my take on my city, Tosu. I took these with photographer Todd Hido's style in mind (see other posts for his photos).

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Szarkowski's legacy

John Szarkowski, MOMA chief for decades, dead at 81. The NY Times obit.

I won't highlight Szarkowski's career. He was a curator many say directed photography as it's addressed and studied today. Instead, I'll give four pictures from four photographers who have Szarkowski to thank for introducing their work to the public.

1. Diane Arbus

D. Arbus, "Child with hand grenade"

2. Garry Winogrand
Garry Winogrand,"LA Sidewalk"

3. Lee Friedlander
Lee Friedlander, "Nashville, 1963"

4. William Eggleston
William Eggleston, from Los Alomos

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Rainy Friday

Photo by Raymond Depardon (magnum).

Do yourself a favor and read this New Yorker article on opium eradication in Afghanistan. They're just in it for the money.

Scary shit on Cheney. The guy is taking us down dark, dark alleys.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mt. Aso, the worlds largest...

It's somewhere that way, says my friend with semi-exposed ass. On Sunday a few of us drove to Kumamoto, the neighboring prefecture. The place is known for horse meat (sashimi, of course), and Mt. Aso, the world's largest caldera.
The volcanic opening itself was the most impressive sight. Surrounding the opening are jagged canyons, their violently-cut edges revealing distinct colors and layers of rock. A giant mass of blueish steam wafts near the opening, and when the wind blows strongly, you can catch a glimpse of the bubbling volcanic stew. It's not orange, but blue. It looked perfectly suitable for a afternoon bath.
On the descent I saw Japanese cows for the first time. They were getting fat on these luscious green acres. They had so much room for grazing. The beautiful bucolic farm setting came as a direct contrast to the farms I'm used to seeing in Texas. It reminded me of the book I'm currently reading, Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He would approve of the farms in Japan, no doubt. And now we know why beef cost so much here.

Now that I've been in Japan for nearly a year, I should be used to the cost of traveling. But I'm still shocked: to go 40km on a highway it cost us $20.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007


consumables, originally uploaded by Patrick -.

Consumer culture, SEAsian style.

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"Tuna Crisis" editorial...J-bashing resumes

A few months ago, we said bad boy! to Japan for the comfort women issue. More. The news told us that Abe, while visiting Washington, apologized to Bush (!!?!!) for ladies who were forced to work in brothels during WWII. Yes, that's Bush, who wasn't alive when the events took place. Now that journalists checked the facts and saw the Japanese government had apologized previously in 1994–and had been providing the women with finance reparations since then–the women are long forgotten.

Now the Western media, ever zealous to retard Japan, has started up the J-bashing engine once again. Next up: Japan, quit eating so much Tuna!

See the NY Times and IHT editorial here.

Japan's tuna crisis is grave for sushi chefs across Japan. They've been experimenting with alternative ingredients as tuna has become too expensive. But, as the edit. says, "we're not sympathetic." Japan's "rapacious overfishing" and "greedy fleets" are to blame of the downfall in Tuna.

Japan eats more fish than anyone else. The message is clear: put a cap on it. Never mind that fish is as essential to Japanese culture as shoes. Or that Japanese are historically pescatarians (it wasn't until the West came knocking over a century ago that beef entered the scene). Gloss over the fact that the true culprit for depleted stocks isn't Japan, but new entrants into the sushi craze like Russia and China.

This environmentally edged stance–tuna rationing to prevent extinction–comes ironically when paired next to the other issue currently rankling US-Japan relations. Toyota is on top, and the big three are livid. More. The cheap yen has contributed to Toyota's climb to the top in the American auto market. Or has it? Couldn't people could be turning to the Prius and other high m.p.g vehicles (which Toyota dominates) for the savings on gas? No, blame it on the yen.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

full of hot air in Hong Kong

3 days is too short for Hong Kong. Especially since the oppressive heat plus humidity requires half the day spent cooling down indoors. A friend had warned me about the heat. I wasn't ready. Upon finally finding my hotel, I was drenched in sweat. It was so humid that my camera lens would fog up each time I walked outside. On my last day there, I read an article in the South China Morning Post about billboards causing air pollution. The large ads that canvass many HK streets block air circulation, which suffocates the street with exhaust from street level restaurants. Walking down those stuffy streets on a Sunday afternoon––10 million HK-ers sweating it out with me––I had to duck into a 7/11 to escape the blasts of hot air. It was an outdoor sauna, with every smell and color in the spectrum assaulting all senses.

street level, billboards and hoards

It was a special time to be in HK. The newspapers and art galleries are devoting energy to the 10th year anniversary of the hand-over. In 1887, Britain signed a 99-year lease with China for control of HK. The tiny island's rise to financial prominence–beginning in the 70s with textiles and manufacturing–was under the auspices of English administration. Since 1997, HK has been governed, indirectly, by Beijing, yet remained–for the sake of business–liberal. "One country, two systems" is the catch-phrase of the unique system. As to how effective this system has been, attitudes range from sour to sweet, depending on who is asked. If it's good for business, if people continue to make obscene amounts of money, if the taxes stay low, most will not complain about not having direct elections. Activists would like to see politicians challenge China, to work toward a direct election system in HK and roll back Beijing's influence. However, HK is dependent on China's silent approval and economic muscle. No politician in their right mind would think to cross the Dragon.

The first day, after recovering from the sweaty walk to the hotel, I met with my friend Carli. We had met previously in Bangkok. She offered to be my guide slash translator while I was in HK. As always, traveling with a local is paramount. At dinner at a bustling, brightly-lit family restaurant, I would have been clueless as to what to order if she wasn't there. Over plates of mixed vegetables and plump scallops, succulent jumbo prawns with vermicelli, and thai-style rice, she laughed at a group of foreigners sitting nearby who were sharing a unsavory single plate of fried rice. Ha ha, they think that is "Chinese food," was the sentiment. To her, and most Chinese, the Chinese food eaten outside of China is watered-down crap. Chinese cuisine is as diverse you can imagine for a country its size. HK is unique because, unlike Beijing or Shanghai, there are large populations of people from all of China's provinces. So not just the Canton version–which is served in chinatowns in all corners of the earth–is represented. As were were leaving, the waiter taught me how to say thank you in Cantonese ("mm go SAI"). That was the only phrase I learned.

From dinner, we walked toward the spacious waterfront in Kowloon. It's the best spot to view the light show of Hong Kong's buildings, which sit across the harbor. A dazzling mix of neon, buzzing with money and energy. Yet silent. It was like looking onto a gigantic movie set that wasn't quite real. Nevertheless, it was something else, especially for a big city freak like me.
Light Show, Looking on HK

Our plan was to go to a few bars in the party district of HK, Lan Kwai Fong. It's a condensed (isn't everything in HK?) series of winding, hilly streets. Cossized bars are stuffed side by side, patrons and music spilling out into the street.

Apparently this is the place to get down in HK. I didn't get down. If the music blaring from the bars had been danceable–not cheese synth-house and brand-stamped hip hop for people who think Puff Daddy is talented–I still wouldn't have gotten loose. It was too old, tight, buttoned-up. Indeed, one feather-bowed club we approached had the sign, "no dancing aloud" hanging from the entrance. What?!! The message was clear: come to be seen and spend cash; not pull muscles and embarrass yourself on the dance floor.

Not surprisingly, most of the patrons in the streets were men. Dudes, tons of them, everywhere. In packs, drunkenly gripping each other at the shoulders; in pairs, overdressed and squeamish; alone, perched atop bar stools and gazing the passer-bys like out of commission watch dogs. The 9 to 1 guy to girl ratio was skewed more cruelly considering the maiden population took to fake tans and blonde mounds of hair spray. Loud, oversized–Dallas came to mind. After a few Carlsberg's, I was ready to head back to the hotel.

Getting back was a cinch, even though we were quite far from my hotel's neighborhood. That's a testament to the supremely organized transportation in HK. Cabs are cheap. The subway clean and easy. And best of all, there is a huge network of mini-buses that run all night. This should be mandatory in big cities where subways aren't 24 hours (this means you, Tokyo). For about $2, the minibus dumped me off at my hotel in record time. The cab would have been closer to $20 or $30.

Sunday was planned to be an introduction to dim sum with Carli and her friend Carol. In the morning I took the sleek metro to Central. I wanted to go to Victoria peak, the towering mountain from which you can see all of Hong Kong and the outer territories, and on a clear day, a little of Shenzen and China. I ran up, took a picture, pushed the families out of the way, and hopped back on the subway so I wouldn't be late for our dim sum.

dim sum with Carli and Carol

Carli took us to a restaurant in Mong Kok. Inside the banquet-style dining room, hoards of families snuggled around small wooden trays from which dim sum is served. It was my first dim sum experience. I will go back. The jasmine tea got me warmed up for the pork and cilantro dumplings, friend potato and carrot squares, cabbage with roasted garlic, seafood dumplings, and yes, chicken feet. The small dishes–each with distinct and intricate flavors–mixed into a concoction of greatness in my stomach.

The rest of the afternoon Carli and Carol went to karaoke. I went to the hotel pool. It was too hot and crowded to do anything outside. This means I missed my goals of hitting up a few art galleries. I missed...a lot. The heat was a lid, keeping me from venturing out. The trip wasn't a waste. At least I was satisfied with the culinary experience. I'm of the opinion that 80% of a culture is what/how it eats and how it parties. If that maxim is so, HK will fill you up. But you'll have a hard time getting down.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Tosu UDON project, pt. 1

A few weeks ago, I set out to find the best Udon in Tosu, the rural town in Japan where I live. There are 5 or so such shops in the Tosu area, not counting the chain franchises. Along the way, I made friends, heard stories of youth and travel, and found culture in the most unlikely places. Inside these shops–especially the older ones like Men Kichi and Kobai–an old piece of Japan has been preserved. Even the customers follow suit–guys with slicked-back gray hair, donning polyester sweaters, who drive up in full-bodied cruisers and slurp their way through a bowl of udon in a few minutes. A trip to Men Kichi for lunch sometimes feels like a step back to the 1970s, complete with small town mobsters and savvy salesmen.

I'll have more photos and reviews as soon as I make it to the 2 shops I haven't been to yet.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Yukio Mishima & love of death

I just finished The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima by Henry Scott Stokes. Here's what I think about it:

Having read about Mishima previously, what piqued my interest was his supremely un-Japanese character. A romantic imperialist, extremely well-versed in the Western thought from the Greeks to Goethe, who dreamed of the perfect death and ultimately killed himself. All because of an obsession with death and outdated samurai ethics. As Stokes tells it, there's much more to the story.

Mishima was an intrepid writer, spilling volumes upon volumes over his short life. He had a magnetic personality. Stokes says that Mishima captured a room's attention with cocksure charisma and endless anecdotes. In private, he passed around cigars like a money-drenched tycoon.

Before his adult years as an inexhaustible novelist cum robust body builder, Mishima was a precocious student. A prodigious author as a teenager, Mishima in his twenties seemed to be on track to win the first Nobel prize for Japan. At around 40 years, in the mid-60s, he took a strange political turn to the right, devoting his efforts to training a private army and lobbying for the revision of Japan's pacifist constitution.

In 1970, he took over the army headquarters in Tokyo and attempted what turned out to be a horribly unsuccessful coup. What followed was his infamous suicide by hara-kiri–a samurai-style of suicide in which a small knife is thrust into the abdomen, twice. Sadly, this single event is for what he's most memorable.

As an influence for his radical change, he often alluded to the Shinpuren Incident of 1877. The event has been interpreted as a show of Japanese fanaticism and irrationality. Many Japanese see it as a shaming incident. As Mishisma wrote, "It was a revolt led by stubborn, conservative, and chauvinistic former samurai. They hated all things Western, and regarded the new Meiji Government with hostility as an example of the Westernization of Japan. They even held white fans over their heads when they had to pass beneath electric lines, saying that the magic of the West was soiling them."

Stokes' words on Mishima:
"He was an imperialist, of course, but he was also a great deal more than that–a cold, self-obsessed creature given to fist of passion, a novelist, a playwright, a sportsman. He was a man with many sides to his character, and his imperialism cannot be regarded as central; Emperor-worship was only one facet of Yukio Mashima."

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