Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End of Year Top 10 Guff - 2011


I know a lot of people decry these things, and most of us are worn out by the concept by the time the clock hits 11:59pm on December 31st, wherever in the world you may reside. Here in Japan we get there way earlier than North America or Europe, but a couple of hours behind Australia, so over all we're pretty fortunate.

Funnily enough I just stumbled across an old one I did at the end of 2009 (here), so it's interesting - or p'raps not - to compare and contrast.

Anyway, things Japanese again take precedence since that's the subject this unruly blog is supposed to relate to, and I live in Tokyo; however, I have other interests (I'm a music journalist, a hack DJ/producer, and this year I published my first novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat), so I'm going to throw a few more things into the mix.


If 2011 in Japan was a movie, we’d probably find it far-fetched fodder.

This year we’ve had multiple earthquakes including a doozie that hit the 9.0 mark back in March – and thereby triggered huge tsunami that overcame concrete tsunami walls and carried about houses like they were made of tin foil. Around 20,000 people died.

We’ve experienced typhoons that killed hundreds more and created mudslides that destroyed villages. Then there’s been the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, radiation in the food supply and radioactive hotspots in Tokyo, revolving door government ministers, and hints of possible future economic meltdown.

The trouble is that this has been the reality, not some movie pushed through by Toho. In comparison, the movie and telly industry this year in Japan quite simply pales.

It’s been an eventful year in other ways as well.

In July we lost Sakyo Komatsu, author of the novel Japan Sinks – to natural causes at age 80 rather than in any great disaster – and manga artist Kei Aoyama died far too young at the age of 32 in October. Last February Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi, better known as Tura Satana of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), passed away.


Contrary to Internet rumours, however, neither Satoshi Tajiri (the creator of Pokémon) nor Masashi Kishimoto (creator of Naruto) passed away at all.

The spate of scuttlebutt that followed hot on the heels of the March 11 tsunami included one that Hello Kitty creator Yuko Shimizu was also a victim. Again – not true.
And as rather spiteful Twittering has proved false, we do get to see beyond the general sense of doom, gloom and mayhem that’s prevailed here this year. Things are still happening, and creators like Tajiri, Kishimoto and Shimuzu are still alive and operating - even if I'm not the biggest fan of their stuff.

I doubt that the disasters this year affected the downward slide that anime has suffered over the past few years.

While studios such as Production I.G, Bones and Madhouse are still producing the goods – if on a more subdued level – others like Studio Ghibli appear to be on the wane. There are still anime gems to be found on TV here (even if I struggled with a Top 5 list) and the occasional big screen feature movie, but there’s been no imaginative smash hit like Spirited Away or Summer Wars since, well, Summer Wars in 2009.

That said, my mates at Madman Entertainment in Australia released the English language version of Summer Wars earlier this year, and if you haven't indulged yet, you should.


Meanwhile Production I.G has hardly been asleep at the wheel. Earlier this year they released a brilliant mini-feature anime called Drawer Hobs (Tansuwarashi in Japanese) that’s doing the international film festival circuit instead right now. What it lacks in the action quotient the story more than makes up for with a playful sense of humour and a refreshing, quirky and whimsical look at contemporary life in Tokyo – disasters be damned.

Director Kazuchika Kise has credits that include the two Patlabor movies helmed by Mamoru Oshii, along with Oshii’s more famous Ghost in the Shell and Innocence. Kise was also involved in the production of Blood: The Last Vampire, Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai, and all the xxxHOLiC animated adaptations.

Another I.G offering also doing the film festival merry-go-round is A Letter to Momo, a hands-on creation by Hiroyuki Okiura (he also handled the script and storyboarding).

Regular readers of this rambling blog might connect the dots: Okiura directed the fantastic action anime Jin-Roh – The Wolf Brigade (1998). This latest baby took seven years to finish, and anime production masters involved include Masahi Ando (Spirited Away), Takeshi Honda (Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance), Hiroyuki Aoyama (Summer Wars), and Hiroshi Ono (Kiki's Delivery Service).

I.G’s Blood-C was easily the best animated thing on TV this year, although it was almost equaled by the resurgent studio Bones in October with the debut of Un-Go, directed by Seiji Mizushima (Fullmetal Alchemist).


Not only did I publish my own novel this year, but I got right back into the swing of reading as well - probably to start with to help save on electricity after all the nuclear reactors were switched off around the country.

While I dug out old faves like Raymond Chandler, Kristopher Young, Dashiell Hammett, Haruki Murakami, Joseph Heller, Philip K. Dick, Ryu Murakami, James Ellroy and Yasunari Kawabata, I also got to explore the terrain of some newer cats like Kristopher Young, Steve Mosby, Molly Gaudry, Guy Salvidge, Urban Waite, Shuichi Yoshida, Tony Black, Allan Guthrie, Grant Jerkins, Justin Nicholes, Josh Stallings, Marcus Zusak, Nigel Bird, Paul D. Brazill, Gordon Highland, Heath Lowrance and Yuko Matsumoto. There were some great reads tucked away on trains here in Tokyo over the past twelves months; thanks to all of these people for keeping me inspired and/or marginally sane.

I'm currently about 120 pages into my next novel, titled One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, and fingers crossed it pans out reasonably well in 2012.

The reception to Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was bloody brilliant, thanks in large part to fellow bloggers Elizabeth A. White, Marcus Baumgart, Jacob @ Drying Ink, Tony Pacitti @ Forces Of Geek, and Guy Salvidge @ Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. Thanks for the other sweet reviews, too, from Verbicide, SF Book Reviews, Farrago, Amber, Jody, Gordon, Jessica, Colin, Jane and M. L. Sawyer. Some of these are here.

I also have to thank my publishers, Another Sky Press, for making the dream-thing come true, as well as every single person who's bothered to read the wayward tome. Ta, mates!


Music-wise, I still adore my electronic/leftfield techno stuff, and there were some amazing slabs of vinyl from Slidebar in Germany including a new one, Behind Moisture Crack, with Cristian Vogel, Bill Youngman, Tobias Schmidt (and me - shhh), and the latest outing from Neil Landstrumm. I also had the absolute privilege of remixing Detroit legends Aux 88 - alongside Gez Varley from LFO - on the Black Tokyo Remix Sessions 2 12-inch.

Elektrax in Sydney is continuing to do amazing things under the helm of the very talented and prolific DJ Hi-Shock (the Lucy remix of Ground Loop's Ampersand was one of my tracks of the year). Sebastian Bayne is doing a great job running IF? Records - well, he did release my latest Little Nobody album Hard Foiled, plus an EP (Linoleum Actress) with remixes by himself, and the great Justin Robertson and Paul Birken - plus there's great stuff from Seb himself, Enclave, Mike Holmes, etc.

Hats off to my mate Shinji Tokida who runs Plaza In Crowd here in Japan, for releasing the Commix CD of my stuff, remixed by the likes of Shin Nishimura, DJ Wada, Mijk van Dijk, Dave Tarrida, James Ruskin, Luke's Anger, Dave Angel, Justin Berkovi, Ben Pest, etc.


Finally, rounding out a crazy year in too many respects, Auricular Records in the USA got out my most recent release. Titled From the Back of the Fridge, they say it's "A retrospective/archival collection of the works of Andrez Bergen. Packaged in a futuristic resealable silver bag. Features a 30-page full color book spanning almost 14 years of the musical career of Andrez as he passes through his many incarnations as DJ, producer, author and family man. The book is a colorful collection of art, photos, adventures, and insights accompanied by enlightening text bits by Andrez himself. Also included with this package is a 2 disc collection of audio, remixes, and videos."

It's also only $25. Go figure.

Anyway, enough self-indulgent waffling! I tacked on some inane year-end Top 5 lists for you to sink your teeth into, but most of all... happy new year!!


TOP 5 ANIME MOVIES 2011

1. Drawer Hobs (d. Kazuchika Kise)
2. Macross Frontier – Sayonara no Tsubasa (d. Shoji Kawamori)
3. A Letter to Momo (d. Hiroyuki Okiura)
4. Broken Blade: Bastions of Sorrow (d. Tetsuro Amino)
5. Doraemon: Nobita and the New Steel Troops – Angel Wings (d. Yukiyo Teramoto)



TOP 5 TV ANIME 2011

1. Blood-C (Production I.G)
2. Un-Go (Bones)
3. Suite PreCure♪ (Toei)
4. Usagi Drop (Production I.G)
5. No. 6 (Bones)


TOP 5 JAPANESE LIVE ACTION MOVIES 2011

1. The Detective is in the Bar (d. Hajime Hashimoto)
2. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (d. Takashi Miike)
3. Once in a Blue Moon (d. Koki Mitani)
4. Karate-Robo Zaborgar (d. Noboru Iguchi)
5. Tormented (d. Takashi Shimizu)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Odd Bedfellows on a Plate


If you grew up in the 1960s or ‘70s you’d probably remember a kids’ book by Dr. Seuss titled One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Alternatively, if you’re a child of the ‘90s you may recall an episode of The Simpsons titled “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”.

It’s the episode in which Bart Simpson and family make a visit to a new sushi bar called The Happy Sumo, and Homer demands fugu while the chef is out canoodling Edna Krabappel on the backseat of her car.


Cue assistant chef’s stressful splicing and dicing of the deflating delicacy.

For those who may have missed this cartoon, fugu is the Japanese name for blowfish or pufferfish of the Tetraodontidae family, the majority of which have extremely high levels of a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin in their ovaries, liver, intestines, gonads and skin.

The Encyclopædia Britannica has labeled fugu the second most-poisonous vertebrate in the world and there is no antidote to the poison – a fact that doesn’t seem to faze Japanese consumers, however, since some 10,000 tons are eaten here each year.

When I first arrived in Japan in 2001 I really had no choice but to play Homer Simpson and indulge in the expensive dish, which can cost anywhere between ¥4,000 (US$50) and ¥20,000 (US$250) depending upon the restaurant, the quality of the serving, the size, and the kind of dish.

The most common way to have fugu is sashimi-style, sliced exceptionally thin and raw and served with a special dipping sauce called ponzu (a canny blend of citrus juice and soy sauce). Each piece is almost transparent and the texture softer than most other fish. The impression is that it discreetly dissolves in your mouth.

The delicacy is also deep fried or conjured up in a nabe (hot pot), and often combined with fugu hirezake: Toasted fugu fin served in hot sake. It smells a wee bit fishy, but has quite the celebratory kick to it.


You can usually tell the fugu eateries by the huge storefront tanks full of the fish: Swimming, carousing, looking a little the worse-for-wear, and occasionally floating listlessly upside down.

The allusion of those bottom-up types runs a little close to home when it comes to fugu.

Both in fiction and reality the fish has had a huge impact on the culture of this country and fugu is quite often lauded in traditional haiku. While its price sets the dish up as the foodstuff of kings (but not the emperor, who is not allowed to partake), many Japanese office workers with big annual bonuses aspire to tuck into the marine delight.

Even so there is a hint of the morbid and fatalistic involved. Fugu, while outrageously priced, could be viewed as the Russian roulette of the wining and dining set – and mortality is, after all, the great leveler.

YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT TASTY FUGU, ALONG WITH HACHINOKO (BEE LARVAE) AND INAGO (LOCUSTS) IN THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE @ FORCES OF GEEK.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Smile Precure!


Well, it was bound to happen - Toei does it around February every year, and this will be the ninth time in succession.

I'm talking up the Precure anime, which I'll admit to having watched every Sunday morning with my daughter Cocoa for over two years now (her excuse is she's just turned six; I'm not sure what mine happens to be).

Every February Toei, the anime production house behind the series, revamps the cast and crew and reimagines the series.

In 2010 the best series screened - HeartCatch Precure, which was, in fact, my choice of anime series of the year for 2010 (something difficult to swallow since it's a shojo girls' show aimed at little kids) - and this year Suite Precure♪ has struggled to hang onto the coattails of its predecessor but isn't doing so badly now that characters Beat and Muse have jumped into the fray.

Anyway, the new line-up has just been announced, along with the customary annual name-change.

2012 will see Smile Precure! (スマイルプリキュア) hit the screens, replacing Suite Precure♪. The character designs do look cute, while still not in the same league as Yoshihiko Umakoshi's designs for HeartCatch Precure.

Well, as with all things Precure, only time will tell. And what else do I want to do every Sunday morning anyway?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Flawed Mountain Goat


Just got a GREAT review from Marcus Baumgart @ The Flawed Mind. Here's a taste:

"Andrez offers us one imagined future for Melbourne, and it has to be said that things don’t look so good. The dystopian Melbourne of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, pitched at some distance into the future, has the unique distinction of being the only city left in the world. Unfortunately, things are not going terribly well in terms of civil liberties, the political climate or the environment. In fact, things are comprehensively fucked up on all fronts, and the portrait painted is of an overcrowded, polluted metropolis groaning under the control of a government vested in corporate interests and busy herding non-conformists and misfits into extramural death camps styled as ‘hospitals’.

"Despite this undeniable grimness, the novel is also pretty amusing, and it mines the noir vein with gay abandon, to use an old-fashioned phrase. Andrez wears his pop-culture influences on his sleeve, and the result is a compote that mashes up a plethora of fictional frameworks into a believable, seamless whole. Readers who know Melbourne will enjoy seeing the geography of the city rezoned and remapped, polarised by the presence of a dome over the CBD that shelters the wealthy elite. And god help you if you find yourself in Richmond, which Bergen transforms into a demilitarised wasteland; Abbotsford and other inner suburbs don’t fare much better.

"I for one appreciate someone taking the time to imagine an Australia of the future, as it is a welcome change to the ubiquitous North American setting of much popular fiction, and science fiction. Nevertheless, that wouldn’t be enough to recommend it. Happily, TSMG is also a ripping yarn in the best dystopian, gumshoe tradition.

"Oh, and on a final note, you will thoroughly enjoy the company of the protagonist, Floyd Maquina – he is ruggedly handsome and generally ruined; witty, self destructive and self-effacing with his air of gracious defeat..."

You can check out more at Marcus' website.

We have a swag of other review and interviews up at the Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat website HERE.

Personally speaking, this is wunderbar encouragement since I'm currently in the middle of writing the next novel, which goes under the acting title of One Hundred Years of Vicissitude. More about that shortly, or you can check out the Facebook page (I got in early) here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Genji: Modish Millennium Man?


As outlined here a couple of entries back, I recently slunk back to Tokyo after three of the most über-intensive days’ traveling in my life, down in the grand old capital city of Kyoto.

Despite a decade living in the newer capital (Tokyo) I'd never actually been to Kyoto before - as inexcusable as that sounds—and it was one of the best jaunts I’ve had in recent years.

At the same time I’d also started to attack a new novel, which has the current title of One Hundred Years of Vicissitude. This is, I stress, the interim title only and - yes - it is partially a cheeky reference to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (shhh), though the main character in the novel is a centenarian and there’s a lot of change going on. If I get a letter from Señor Márquez or his lawyers I’ll probably consider also changing the name of the bugger.

Concurrently in my other job (teaching English) I’ve been yacking with a lot with students and friends about a famous 1,000-year-old Japanese tome called The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari), and have been itching to run something about it with my mates at Forces of Geek.

Anyway, as they conspire to do, these various things got together and chewed out my brain a bit, resulting in a novel that’s shaping up - in the early stages at least; I’m only up to page 67 - as partially an inane travelogue.

I’ll probably shaft some of the passages, ditch others, find a ghostwriter, and rewrite the remainder. By the way the ghostwriter reference is a pun since a dead man narrates the story. One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is possibly going to be a five percent sequel/prequel of my other novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat - and 95 percent something else entirely.


At the moment, in the existing manuscript, this is a section/riff that gets across the whole background of The Tale of Genji so I thought I’d snatch that and share it with you, instead of writing up a fresh article from a journalistic perspective.

To be honest I also hope you don’t mind plodding through to uncover the historical morsels. This is barely edited and unnaturally long-winded stuff at times, plus I’ll probably toss out some of the dialogue/asides if I end up using it in the novel - at all.

If curious and/or at all interested, you can read more @ FOG.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tokyo Disneyland: Rodents Galore


You might know Disneyland. Then again, it's possible you may not.

The keys to this particular magic kingdom have been handed into the care of an organization of amalgamated Japanese companies best known under the alias of the Oriental Land Company (or just plain OLC), which originally contacted the Walt Disney Company in the 1960s with plans for an amusement park - but were knocked back.

The company reapplied a decade later, and this time succeeded in arranging a licensing contract.

Tokyo Disneyland opened to the general public on April 15th, 1983, and has developed into the most frequently-visited theme park in the world – with over 17 million visitors a year.

Now, with over 45 rides covering an area of 115 acres, Tokyo Disneyland continues to experience larger crowds by the day - aside from a few weeks after the March 11 earthquake, which damaged some of the carparking area - to the point that there’s barely room to breathe, let alone stroll, and queues of up to three hours are often the norm on weekends and public holidays. Right now they have the whole Hallowe'en thing happening there and it's an extremely popular time of year.

One time in October three years ago we were forced to queue for over two hours for one of the older school, more humdrum rides - Snow White's Adventures.


Tokyo Disneyland is pretty much modeled on L.A. Disneyland, except for one important omission – there’s no Matterhorn - while the Haunted Mansion here is located in Fantasyland and has the same facade as the one in Walt Disney World in Florida.

There are also attractions unique to Japan’s visitors: the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour, which features Disney villains, and Pooh's Hunny Hunt - which is a surreal and hilarious spin-out of a ride that just begs to be experienced.

And where else will you experience swash-buckling Pirates of the Caribbean rabble-rousing and carousing... in gruff jidaigeki-style Japanese voices?

If all this isn’t enough, right next door is Tokyo Disneyland Resort's second mega-attraction: Tokyo DisneySea, opened in 2001, and boasting its own array of rides, shows, dining, and so on – including Journey To the Center of the Earth, Sinbad's Storybook Voyage in the faux Arabian Coast area, Storm Rider, Ariel's Kingdom, and the Indiana Jones Temple of the Crystal Skull ride.

And, dammit, as much as I despise Mickey and I don't want to dig the place, it's downright fun.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kyoto 京都



I just got back from three rather intensive days in the grand old city of Kyoto.

In fact I skipped out on a rather legendary contemporary music festival (Labyrinth) to douse myself in some old school culture down in the former capital. Why? Well, even after a decade living in Tokyo I'd never actually been to Kyoto (crazy and inexcusable, I know).

I'd always wanted to spend more than a week down there to really experience it, but a group of my favourite students decided to take matters into their own hands - and treated me to three of the best days' traveling that I've had in years.

There was, of course, Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺 The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, above left), also known as Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺 Deer Garden Temple). You've probably seen the postcards of this baby, or you may even have read Yukio Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion ...or you might've just glimpsed the photo in the desktop picture art of Apple's OS X computer operating system (shh!).

Anyway, it's a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto established back in the 14th century.
The current Golden Pavilion, however, was built far more recently (1955) since the original was burned down by a mad arsonist monk in 1950 - the subject of Mishima's novel.

That doesn't stop the place being so damned stunning, however.


Aside from 13 other temples and shrines, plus assorted rock gardens and Nijo Castle, we also took time out to investigate Gion (祇園) on Saturday, around dusk.

Gion is of course the home of maiko, geisha, ochaya (tea houses), kaiseki (multi-course dinner restaurants) and okiya (geisha/maiko lodging houses). Plus a swarm of tourists like me soaking up the atmosphere and trying to spy a maiko (an apprentice geisha, the flashier ones).

I took more than 250 photos on the trip, and sorry to share just two of 'em - but, then again, I don't want to bore you senseless with my own happy snaps. Make sure you get over to Kyoto to take your own. The city is brilliant.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not-so-Oblivion Island


Production I.G's first 3D-CGI feature film Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror has received a slew of recognition thus far as Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Prizes, Jury Recommended Work in the Animation Division of the 13th Japan Media Arts Festival (2009), the Nippon Cinema Award at the Nippon Connection Film Festival (Germany), the Visual Technology Award for the animation section of the 9th annual Video Technology Awards, the Digital Content Grand Prix 2010 - DCAJ Chairman Prize, Feature Films Competition Special Jury Prize at SICAF 2010 (South Korea), the Jury Special Mention at Fantasia 2010 (Canada), Jury First Mention at Expotoons 2010 (Argentina), and Jury's Special Mention at the 18th Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film 2011 (Germany).

Now add the Gold Kite for the Best Feature Animation Film for Young People and the Signis Argentina Jury Special Mention at the 10th annual International Film Festival "Nueva Mirada" for Children and Youth, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from September 1 to 7, 2011.

Otherwise known here in Japan as Hottarake no Shima - Haruka to Maho no Kagami (ホッタラケの島 〜遥と魔法の鏡〜), you can check out the official website here.

Great news for I.G, the people behind the Ghost in the Shell franchise.

The animation direction is by none other than Naoyoshi Shiotani (the director of the South Korean SICAF 2008 Grand Prize-winning Tokyo Marble Chocolate) and it's directed by Shinsuke Sato, the writer/director of Princess Blade (2001).

To fully appreciate the controlled, irreverent madness here you'll need to brush up on your basic knowledge of Inari shrines - plus a re-reading of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and re-screenings of Spirited Away, Toy Story, The Empire Strikes Back and the Rankin/Bass-produced 1964 stop motion version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Here's a taster:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Prima donna plastic-fantastica?



Licca-chan (リカちゃん) was born on May 3, 1967 to Orie Kayama, a Japanese fashion designer, and Pierre Miramonde, a French musician. Her papa Pierre apparently liked his wife's family name (Kayama) so much that he adopted it as his own surname.

Licca’s favorite books are Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess – both extremely popular girls’ titles in Japan and themselves made into anime series. As it turns out, Licca-chan not also loves dogs, eating Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and reading the manga series of Doraemon, but also likes cross-dressing and role-playing. 



For instance there's Choro Q Licca, aka Race Queen Licca (who has her own racing car) and quite a few Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival) Licca-chans worth up to ¥289,000 (US $3,750).

Then there’s bridal Licca, Chukyo Women's University High School Licca-chan, fast-food chain Mosburger Licca, the über-tanned Loco Neo Licca, Super Doll Knight Licca, and rollerskating Licca-chan; back in the ‘90s there was even Street Licca – who was a DJ in pink Converse runners carrying a très cool Rough Trade record bag – as well as a special ice-skating Licca for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. And in 2001 a pregnant adult version of Licca-chan was introduced to coincide with the birth of Aiko, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako.

Here's the original 1967 commercial:



YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT LICCA-CHAN @ FORCES OF GEEK.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Melbourne book launch of TSMG


So I'm now back in Tokyo, after a two week sojourn in Melbourne - the more prominent Melbourne in Australia rather than its silly namesake in Florida, which is 32 years younger. I get parochial about this because the Melbourne in Australia is my hometown, and also the setting for my novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

I went down this time not only to rendezvous with friends and family, nor just to soak in the sights, sounds, smells and brilliant foodstuffs that the city does indeed boast. Because the novel was only recently published, it was high-time I did a book launch there; any excuse to have a party, and all that jazz. Anyway, we ended up doing the propaganda jaunt at a superb 1853 blue-stone abode in the city called Miss Libertine on Wednesday 10th August, and the turn-out was brilliant.


Suitably enough it was also pissing down with rain that evening.

I got in early to cut my teeth with some beer; I also cut up wads of cheese and a smoked sausage that, in Australia, we call cabana (suitably kitsch old school '70s art exhibition style, and far cheaper than serving up sushi!) plus we had salt and vinegar chips and chocolate teddy bears since they appear in the novel.

There were hiccups - the three-hour background score I'd put together, which included musical influences, soundtracks from appropriate films, my own hack Little Nobody muzak and some self-indulgent ditties, failed to fire-up. We also had technical problems with the DVD projector so we couldn't screen most of what I wanted to show. I skipped out on doing a book-reading - a part of me thought that a wee bit too pretentious in the circumstances - so I opted to opening myself up to an informal Q&A instead.


The only problem was that between the hob-knob of the occasion and scrawling inane messages on copies of the book, I had to remember names, catch up with mates and family members who showed up, and generally remind myself to make time for a sip or two of ale squeezed in between gas-bagging - so the Q&A fell on the back-burner a bit.

But management at the venue were wunderbar (thanks, Bo!), the vibe was fantastic, I had a couple of great happy-snappers (in particular Jason Maher) and no minor problems seemed to matter anyway.

Massive thanks to everyone who showed up and thereby created the vibe I talked up a sentence back - you all rock. While I'll admit to having been a bit stressed before the event, during and especially after I had a ball.

That's Melbourne (Australia) for you.

I forgot how much I missed the place, even now - a decade after I left - and it just seems to improve with age. I think anybody who bothers to read this blog (hello? Anybody?) might've noticed I like to talk up fine wines, and there're some nice drops to be found in Australia. So the image of Melbourne aging away in a dank cellar - since I love my vintage stuff - is actually a positive one.

We're not talking dusty, damp and archaic, though there's plenty of gorgeous Victorian architecture to be found in this city with its fair share of mold. Melbourne has a comparatively short history but has hung on to a lot of that, while at the same time developing new twists and turns as it goes.

But I think being away gave me the detachment necessary to set my novel in a post-apocalyptic Melbourne in which the proverbial shit has hit the fan.


Anyway, a couple of days ago I left again, going straight from around 6°C in the early morning in Melbourne to 36°C and humid here in Tokyo - nice and sizzling in the sun; steaming in the shade.

And I'm buggered, but it's brilliant to be with the girls again. And missing Melbourne already - what a city.

Now I just need time to recuperate.

Photos by Jason Maher & Andrez Bergen. You can check out more happy-snaps at the TSMG website.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tsukiji: Big Fish out of Water


Stats have it that there’re almost a hundred centralized wholesale markets in 56 cities across Japan: 50-odd for fish, 19 for flowers, and 10 for meat. Tsukiji, here in Tokyo, is the heftiest of the lot; in fact it’s the biggest fish market in the world. Remember the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the U.S. government stores the Ark of the Covenant at the warehouse that stretches off into the horizon, without apparent end?

Tsukiji (東京都中央卸売市場) is just like that.

Also known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market and as “Tokyo’s Kitchen” - or more simply Tsukijishijo in Japanese - it everyday handles somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000 to 2,900 metric tons of seafood, dabbling in over 400 varieties of aquatic vertebrate, crustaceans and cephalopods (this includes 300 kg slabs of tuna).

Employed to oversee the whole circus are around 65,000 people. This in effect makes Tsukiji the largest fish graveyard on the globe, as well as one of the bigger wholesale food markets in general.

It’s located near Ginza, just a quickie stroll from Tsukijishijo Station on the Toei Oedo Line or via the Hibiya Line’s Tsukiji Station.


Inside the market they have auctions in the wee hours, and the best time to be there is around 5:30am - though don’t wear your best footwear as parts of the place are awash in fish blood and hosed-down produce. It’s not really for the light-of-heart or vaguely animal rights-conscious, let alone people on the cusp of vegetarianism for ethical reasons, as you’re going to see a lot of sea creature carcasses, guts, squirming eels, and very big live craps tied in shoddy Gordian knots.

But you also get to witness people practicing their slice-and-dice techniques on both frozen and fresh tuna and swordfish, using intimidating sword-like shivs of their own that’re over a metre in length - just steer clear of the gas-powered go-carts and the guys lugging around huge blocks of ice, as they’re even more dangerous.

Set up early on in the 17th century by shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, this sprawling hub was originally a more humble affair located near Nihonbashi Bridge, not far from the current Tokyo Station.


But after the general destruction of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, the market was shifted to reclaimed land in the Tsukiji area - right next to a small Shinto shrine called Namiyoke Inari-jinja, built on the water’s edge of Tokyo Bay (before land was reclaimed from the sea to eventually house the market) in the mid 17th century.

Inari is apparently quite the chipper deity in Japan, with around 32,000 shrines (over a third of Shinto shrines in this country) dedicated to the Japanese kami of fertility, rice, agriculture, industry, worldly success - and foxes.

Thus the shrines are usually decked out with not only vermilion-coloured torii-gates, but also a bunch of statues of kitsune (foxes) who may or may not be messy eaters since they have bibs tied round their necks.

Namiyoke Inari-jinja itself also goes for much dragon and lion iconography, since the original attempts at land reclamation, commenced in the 17th century by the Tokugawa government, were often washed away in storms. When success was actually achieved, people celebrated by lugging round dragon floats - symbolizing control of the clouds - and a huge shishi lion’s head, renowned for its oddly calming roar that was probably aimed at virulent nature itself.


After the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market was relocated next door, Namiyoke Inari-jinja became the unofficial guardian shrine of the marketplace, and it’s dotted with memorial plaques and statuettes donated by several of the market’s trade groups.

In June every year, the shrine plays host to the rather wild Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri festival (see video below) which harks back to the original purpose of Namiyoke - lions, dragons, and all - and in turn underscores the more recent relationship with the neighbours, as many of the market’s traders are those people sweating under the mikoshi.



But Tsukiji isn’t just festivals, shrines and fish.

It was the star of the 2008 film Tsukiji Uogashi Sandaime (築地魚河岸三代目, also known as Third Generation Tsukiji Fish Market Man or The Taste of Fish), directed by Shingo Matsubara of Ultraman: Tiga fame, and based on a 2000s manga series by Masaharu Nabeshima and Mitsuo Hashimoto; then again, the story here centers on a businessman who quits his high-flying bank job to work for his father-in-law at the fish market.

Tokyo’s Kitchen also pops up in the ‘90s manga version of Shota no Sushi (将太の寿司, Shota’s Sushi or King of Sushi) by Daisuke Terasawa, and - while I’m unsure if it appears in the live-action spin-off that played on Fuji TV in 1996 - I have it on good advice that the market features in Haikei, Chichiue-sama (拝啓、父上様), a.k.a. Dear Father, starring Kazunari Ninomiya (Letters from Iwo Jima, and the voice of Kuro in Tekkonkinkreet), which was broadcast on the same channel 11 years later.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Japan Sinks author Komatsu passes on


Just found out that the great Sakyo Komatsu, author of the novel Japan Sinks (日本沈没 Nihon Chinbotsu) passed away on 26 July, at the venerable age of 80.

"Japan Sinks" might fittingly apply to this country itself in 2011 with the slew of disasters since March. Five years ago it was adapted as a fairly mediocre SFX/romance yarn starring Tsuyoshi Kusanagi (from J-pop group SMAP) and Kou Shibasaki (Battle Royale, 47 Ronin) in which - racked by earthquakes, firestorms and volcanoes - Japan is slowly sinking into the sea.

Much better was the 1973 version (also called Tidal Wave) directed by Shiro Moritani, starring Keiju Kobayashi (Samurai Assassin) and Kunihiro Fujioka (the first Kamen Rider), along with a soundtrack by Masaru Satō - who scored the Akira Kurosawa films Throne of Blood, The Bad Sleep Well, Yojimbo and Sanjuro.

Komatsu even makes a cameo at the beginning of the movie.

Less renowned in the West is the entity alternately known as Sayonara Jupiter (さよならジュピター) or Bye Bye Jupiter - a novel he adapted himself for the somewhat ill-conceived trilingual 1984 Toho movie directed by Koji Hashimoto (Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn).

That outing is just plain bizarre, yet worth another ride into the imagination conjured up by one of Japan's more creative writers. As a tribute, here's something a wee bit oddball: the Russian-dubbed trailer for the 1973 version of Japan Sinks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Heavenly Spirits?


In the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, there’s an essential exchange between our globetrotting British spy (Sean Connery) and his Japanese counterpart Tiger Tanaka (played by Tetsuro Tanba but voiced by Robert Rietti).

This moment comes just after Bond is offered the rice-based alcoholic beverage sake, instead of his usual dry vodka martini. He surprises all when he graciously accepts, saying that he enjoys the Japanese drop – especially when it’s served at the ‘correct temperature’, 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The moment is something to drink in, and 98.4ºF would sound fair enough to most people since, in common Western perception, sake is doled up piping hot to wash down raw fish. But for those a tad more in the know about Japanese cuisine a rumour has circulated over the past 44 years that Bond got it wrong; that sake served at this temperature – 37ºC for those like me who are Fahrenheit inept – is invariably inferior in quality.

In truth that might have indeed been the case in the mid ‘60s, around the time of the making of You Only Live Twice, as many breweries fortified their product with distilled alcohol – a hangover from Second World War rice shortages. Serving it steaming helped mask any of the sharp or unbalanced flavours.

But in the intervening period brewers have been able to return to the prescribed method of naturally brewing pure rice sake, with no shoehorned artificial alcohol, to recreate mixes that are refined and pure enough to serve chilled.

Even so, we don’t need to take sides here.


Bond wasn’t wrong – and neither were the rumours. 98.4ºF isn’t exactly the ‘correct’ temperature for sake, but it’s perfect for Ozeki One Cup and some more expensive premium blends; the Japan Sake Brewers Association reports that this drink can be enjoyed anywhere within the range of 5ºC (41ºF) to 55ºC (131ºF), depending on the concoction.

Then there’s the Holy Grail of modern day nihonshu (which is what the Japanese tend to call sake).

Myouka Rangyoku (‘heavenly flower’) has been touted as the world’s best sake at urbansake.com and in the pages of The Japan Times newspaper – and like all chart-topping, divinely-inspired beverages this one comes with a healthy price tag: A 720 ml bottle retails upwards from ¥12,600 (about US$150).

“As a brewery, we do our utmost to create a truly great and perfect sake with Myouka Rangyoku – made according to a totally new concept, both as regards the flavour of the sake and the design of the bottle – and therefore we have been able to have a sizeable impact.”

So last year I was informed by Ad G. Blankestijn, the Director of Overseas Marketing and Sales at Daishichi Sake Brewing Co., Ltd., located in Fukushima, 230 km northeast of Tokyo.

Unfortunately this placed the brewery slap-bang in the middle of the massive March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and they're located 60 km from the ongoing nuclear reactor debacle at Fukushima Daiichi.


On their website they strive to be reassuring:

"The walls of the brewery consist of 25 cm thick concrete. In addition there are fire-resistant tiles and hollow concrete blocks, making a total of 32 cm of protection from the outside. The sake storage area has even thicker walls in order to keep the products cool. No radiation can penetrate these walls.

"When we heard about the nuclear problems on March 11, we have immediately stopped air conditioners and ventilators and covered the windows and air ducts in plastic sheets to keep the inside of the brewery and storage areas airtight.

"Sake brewing is almost finished and the accident has had no major influence on our activities. Products being shipped now are vintage 2008-2009 sakes, and 2010 for the plum sake. These products are completely free from any influence of the nuclear accident."

I haven't spoken to Blankestijn at the brewery since I interviewed him last year, but the nuclear crisis is in no way going to deter me from my aspiration to (one day) road-test this particular drop.

Even bottles matter to these people and theirs is a classic (see below); the brew itself has been dubbed ambrosial by critics far more canny than myself.

“Most exclusive sakes are made with a modern, simplified process, but ours has been made with the ‘Kimoto’ method, the most traditional, laborious and time-consuming way of brewing a handcrafted sake,” Blankestijn said.

“The result is that it tastes very pure while at the same time possessing much complexity and depth. In contrast to other exclusive sakes which have to be drunk relatively young, Myouka Rangyoku is very slowly matured, so that over the course of many years it ripens into a rich and beautiful sake that we do not sell every year; we only make it in good years when we can attain the highest level. And even then, we only make it in a limited quantity. Of course, we are happy with the very positive judgment of many sake specialists, as well as the fact that it is often selected by the Japanese government for important diplomatic events – such as at the G8 Summit in 2008 in Hokkaido.”

While it's kind of tricky to hope that the nuclear crisis gets nipped in the bud overnight when people like Prime Minister Naoto Kan mutter that it'll take somewhere in the vicinity of two decades to clean up, I have several fingers crossed that essential Japanese sake brewers like Daishichi can get back into the groove of their handicraft as soon as possible.

Only final final word needs to be uttered here. Kampai! 乾杯

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hot under the (shirt) collar


It's been baking in Tokyo over the past couple of weeks or so.

As I teach my students new adjectives to replace the just plain inadequate 'hot' (think roasting, cooking, etc), I'm enjoying the weather.

When I first came to Tokyo 10 summers ago, it was overcast, humid as heck and sticky. The kind of heat we're getting now, while it occasionally tumbles back into that Tokyo cliché, is more like that I remember from Australia: a blue sky, sizzling sun and high temperatures.

I other words I love it - except when I have to go to work, wearing a darn tootin' suit. Ack.

The problem may be that other people, not quite so fond of the scorched-earth temperatures and affected by the power shortages caused by the loss of power from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant (and others since shut down), will find it hard going and health concerns like heat stroke are already in play.

The Japanese government has appealed for people to save on electricity by raising the temperature settings on air conditioners to a minimum of 28°C.

Most people are also hesitant about heading off to the local beaches since there's that nuclear hazard still pumping away up north-east, and related "hot-spots" (of the radioactive rather than sun-related kind) popping up around the city.

Last summer went on record as Japan's hottest ever; now we have summer 2011 to look forward to. P'raps luckily I'll be whizzing down to Melbourne in August for a couple of weeks, to torture myself with a temperature about 30 degrees lower.

Then again, give me the sun, a t-shirt (sans witless collar) and shorts, plus a chilled beer in a park, and I'll be fine. Maybe an el cheapo wading pool to dip my feet in would just add to the attraction?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Captain Funk: Versions 2011


Before I came to Japan in 2001, I was already a bit obsessive/compulsive about Japanese electronic music - I loved Yellow Magic Orchestra's back-catalogue as well as that of Mo' Wax contributors Major Force West Productions and DJ Krush, not to mention techno-meisters like Fumiya Tanaka, Takkyu Ishino, Co-Fusion, DJ Shufflemaster and Captain Funk.

As it shaped up I've since become mates with some of these people, in particular DJ Wada from Co-Fusion and Captain Funk's Tatsuya Oe. Both guys graciously did remixes of a couple of my tracks - Wada renovated 'Compulsion', while Oe had a shot at 'Cocaine Speaking', both of which appear on a recent CD ('Commix') through Japanese label Fountain Music - and I'm a huge fan of both gents as much for their wunderbar temperament as their talents behind rack-mounted machines and music-making software.

Anyone who's bothered to peruse this wayward blog (and with a long memory to boot) may recall my piece on Star Trek's impact in Japan - or at least lack of same - back in 2009. Tatsuya was one of the contributors there, and in fact I often call on him for his two or three cents on different silly articles I do as he's always into it and forever patient.

Anyway, he just emailed me to let me know that he's doing likewise fine here in Tokyo despite the recent spate of shakes, and is is about to unleash his Captain Funk "Versions 2011″LP worldwide tomorrow (July 11th in case you don't have a calendar handy).

Tatsuya's style has come a long way since those '90s inroads I mentioned above, and he's become one of this city's most in-demand DJ/producers, so it's definitely worthwhile checking this baby out. You can find out more by heading to his website.


Meanwhile, for those far more adept at foreign languages than I am, here's the Japanese propaganda bomb:

Captain Funk の新作”Versions 2011″ が7月11日にリリースされることになりました。

収録内容はロック色の強い新曲”Endless Possibilities”に加えて、これまでのCaptain Funkのリリース楽曲を2011年版として大幅にアレンジ改訂した”I’ll be There”と”Just Wanna Get You Tonight”の2曲、そしてこの数年Ne-YoやPhonat, Kavinsky などのリミックスで注目が集まっているフランスのプロデューサーBestrack Production (http://www.myspace.com/bestrackprod) による”Piece of You”(原曲は米国Forver 21のプロモーションで使用)のリミックスの4曲になっています。

このリミックスも含めて、それぞれ新しいオリジナル楽曲と同等の「2011年最新バージョン集」としてお楽しみ頂けるのではないかと思います。

どの曲もいつも通りファットでブライトなサウンドに仕上がっていると思いますが、特に”Just Wanna Get You Tonight” 2011年バージョンは “Weekend (kissing, touching, tasting, loving)”の流れを汲む、夏らしくダンサブルなアレンジになっていますので、これからの季節に向けて是非チェックしてみて下さい。

(Reverbnation のCaptain Funk ページにて各楽曲の試聴サンプルをアップしました。そちらもご参照下さい。)

尚、今回のリリースは米国のディストリビューションを通じて、日本を含めた各国のiTunes, Amazon, Beatport その他のMP3ストア、Spotify, We7などのストリーミングサービスで世界同時配信されます。

Friday, July 8, 2011

Crow Castle in a Flap


Just a three-hour drive east of Shinjuku on the Keio Line Bus is Matsumoto, in the mountainous Nagano Prefecture.

This is the sister-city to Utah’s Salt Lake City and Nepal’s Kathmandu, and is one of the best places to try basashi (raw horse meat) and soba (buckwheat noodles).



The city itself is located on an open plain in the Japanese Alps, just over half an hour from the historic watermills at the nation’s largest wasabi farm – Daio at Azumino – where Akira Kurosawa in fact shot part of his epic movie about his own fitful Dreams (1990).

But the standout here is Matsumoto Castle (松本城), and it’s actually a genuine keep unlike the faux fort closer to Tokyo at Odawara.


Matsumoto Castle is a gorgeous and immaculately maintained building that dates back to the Sengoku (Warring States) era prior to the 17th century. It’s locally dubbed 'Karasu-Jo' (Crow Castle) because of the somewhat sinister black lines, but for me (I’ve visited twice) this is a stunning place that lives up to its confirmation as a National Treasure of Japan in 1952.

It’s one of only four castles in this country to receive the honour.

But 2011 hasn’t been kind to Japan.

Unless you’ve had your head buried deep inside one very big sandpit, you’d know all about the huge earthquake and follow-up tsunami on March 11, followed by worrying ripples in the economy and a continuing radioactive crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant 230km northeast of Tokyo.
We’ve had thousands of aftershocks and earthquakes across the country over the following four months, and one of these earthquakes – with a magnitude of 5.4 – rocked Nagano on Thursday June 30.

Aside from minor injuries to local residents – although I’m not sure if the people themselves would call broken bones trivial – the quake caused around ten large cracks in the inner walls of the main tower of Matsumoto Castle.

After 400 years successfully circumnavigating civil wars, neglect, deconstruction, renovation and tourism, let’s hope Karasu-Jo’s earthquake damage isn’t so serious and – like the rest of Japan – it makes a complete recovery.

(This is part of an article that appears on the Forces Of Geek site - you can read more of that yarn here.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Goat in the Sky


There's now an in-depth interview of my editor Kristopher Young and me - by the cool Martin Garrity - online @ Solarcide, regarding Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

Martin writes:

"TSMG is an odd sci-fi tale of corruption in a dystopian future, set in Melbourne, Australia. (Bergen is himself Australian, though he now lives in Japan) It features an immediately likeabe protagonist, Floyd Maquina, who is a government endorsed ‘seeker.’ Floyd’s job is to hunt the deviant menace that threatens the future of the last inhabited city on the planet. This could almost be a special edition, Vegemite-flavoured version of a certain Philip K. Dick story.

"But that ain’t even the half of it.

"TSMG is also homage to the golden age of film noir. It’s a cigar puffing, whiskey sipping, piano playing, bar lout, and the book may very well stir up memories of a black and white nature. Andrez makes a million and one references to movies (The Third Man and The Maltese Falcon, in particular, are heavily drawn on) and the settings are stuffed to the margins with inspiration from this classic era of cinema."

I actually really dug doing this interview; Martin was great to yack with and he asked some canny questions - and I really loved the head-to-head between he and Kristopher.

Anyway, you can read it if at all interested HERE.

Cheers, Martin! ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monitoring the Microsieverts


I'll be the first to admit it - I'd never even heard of microsieverts, and I grew up during the Cold War, until a couple of months ago when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant blew its lid post March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Given that I live in Tokyo, we're said to be far safer than residents in Fukushima itself, since we're 230km from the ongoing fiasco. Mostly I like to believe that, but it's tricky when you harbour some suspicions about TEPCO, the owners of the plant, and just how much information the Japanese government is giving out.

Things like bunnies born without ears, irradiated tea, and YouTube clips of Geiger counter readings in playgrounds in nearby Kashiwa, here in Tokyo, do cause you to fret just a wee bit. The only thing to do is to keep a baker's dozen of eyes on all sources of info - official and hysterical - and draw a line somewhere down the middle.

That and a lucky rabbit's foot will hopefully see things through. Right?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mutant Cherries (Japan)


When I was a kid I grew up on Marvel Comics from the '60s (sourced from my older step brother's horde) and the '70s, and via The X-Men - as well as the 1970 movie Beneath the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franciscus and Charlton Heston - I learned early that radiation causes mutation.

In the case of The X-Men the process granted them some pretty nifty powers; in Beneath the Planet of the Apes the mutants might've been able to read minds, but it seemed to me at the time that they were also bludgeoned with the ugly stick several times over.

Being a Cold War kid meant you seriously expected the end of the world to come from nuclear warfare (since there were something like seven missiles aimed at every major city in the world) and/or the radioactive aftermath.

Mother Nature was another matter entirely.

I grew up being wary of bushfire risks in Australia, and we once caught a Greyhound bus south from the Gold Coast with flames on either side of the highway, but I'm too young to remember it and my mum paints her own memory vivid.


And yet while the earthquake and tsunami here were scary tastes of nature at its most volatile, nothing really prepares you for big business gone incompetent.

These are two cherries we got in a batch as a gift yesterday from a friend.

They're sourced from the prefecture next to Fukushima, where the nuclear plant is still spewing radioactive stuff while the inept owners (TEPCO) blunder on and refuse to give clear details about very much at all - including accurate reading updates regarding the levels of caesium-137 et al that are slipping out and across the country.


The cherries are seriously deformed; it's like those three cherries on top of the TEPCO logo were sent back to DNA design school but dropped out too early.

I went cherry picking when I was 18 back in Australia and in a week of plucking the buggers I never came across anything like these. The Siamese ones are particularly striking, but my daughter says the other one, with a poking out appendage, has an eye.

Speaking of eyes, it all reminds me of the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons.

Worrisome? Hmmm. I'll get back to you on that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Perc Trax vs. Blank Records



Wunderbar news, this.

Two of my favourite Japanese DJ cum producers are getting together with a certain UK industrial/techno enfant terrible named Ali Wells - better known as Perc - here in Tokyo at Module on 24 June.

Ali runs the appropriately-named Perc Trax, which has been one of my preferred labels over the past few years, and I recently interviewed him for the Techno How? site.

The two Japanese guys are Jin Hiyama and his brother Go. Jin is a good mate of mine (he played at my book launch in March), and I interviewed Go a couple of months ago here.

This should be an absolutely brilliant gig; shame is that it shapes up I may not be in town to actually appreciate it...

Address: 150-0042東京都渋谷区宇田川町34-6M&IビルB1F/B2F
Cost: ¥3,000 on the door.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kanji Can-Can


I think it’s high time that I talked up kanji in this wayward blog.

While I’d like to assume that most people know precisely what I’m on about, I guess I should throw in a morsel for those people not so interested in things Japanese: In case you don’t know, kanji is the stuff you see on scrolls and painted in big black letters on banners – logographic Chinese characters used in the modern Japanese writing system.

Sometimes in movies you see people dabbing big brushes in ink and artily doing strokes across washi paper.

Kanji is grammatically flexible – it can twist itself into nouns and adjective and verb stems – and personally I have a delight/despair affair with the beasties. It’s a bugger to remember the thousands of characters and their various pronunciations, let alone acquire the talent to reproduce the multitude of lines.

To make things trickier, a single kanji may be used to write one or more different words, and deciding which one depends on context, intended meaning, use in compounds, and/or sentence location.

While I’ve loved the simpler Japanese katakana lettering since I was a kid (when I first saw neon Tokyo signage through the eyes of Cubby Broccoli’s film crew in the Sean Connery-James Bond flick You Only Live Twice), I’ve had a more cautious, developing relationship with kanji that probably started with Akira Kurosawa’s Ran in my early 20s.


So the funny thing is that kanji, not katakana, made such a big impact on the novel I published last month – which is based in Melbourne, Australia, not Tokyo, Japan.

The first completed treatise of what’s now known as Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was completed in 1992, while I was living in Richmond, an inner city suburb of Melbourne, and there was nothing Japanese about it whatsoever.

But when I moved to Tokyo in 2001, the seepage began to set in.

I wrote up a redux of the decade-old tome the following year – and thereafter again let it sit pretty, collecting dust, for the five years leading up to 2007. Then I did a major reboot, was accepted for publication through Another Sky Press in the U.S., and rewrites and editing took the better part of the next three years.

Somewhere along the line inserting kanji into the text became a big part.

As I mentioned, in 1992 there was none, not even mention of our protagonist Floyd's tattoo fuyu (‘winter’) – probably because I didn’t get it myself until 1994 in a particular winter of discontent; that’s something Floyd and I share, aside from drinks.

Likely the kanji settled itself in my brain 15 years later, after I’d watched in excess of a dozen Akira Kurosawa movies on the trot (all within one week) at the beginning of 2010.

While I do love Kurosawa and would readily volunteer myself to sit through this process another time round, there was a reason for my committed viewing: an article I was writing for Australian magazine Filmink to celebrate the centennial since the great man’s birth.


In Kurosawa films there’s occasionally kanji that dominates the screen all by itself – accompanied by a sparse, minimal score by a composer like Fumio Hayasaka or Toru Takemitsu – and it's powerful stuff even if you can’t understand what the devil it says.

So in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat I decided to do a Kurosawa and throw in meaningful kanji, some of which isn’t even explained in the text – meaning that anyone who scoots through this piece will have a wee bit more insight than anyone having read the book.

IF VAGUELY INSPIRED, YOU CAN READ MORE OF THIS ARTICLE @ FORCES OF GEEK.