Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rascally Raccoons

Tonight, while out on our balcony, I saw a raccoon dog, called tanuki (狸) over here, crossing the road 20 metres above the ground on an electricity cable... in the middle of Tokyo.

This isn't the first time. I also saw one around the corner a few months back, though most of my Japanese mates poo-hoo the thought since we live just 15 minutes by train from Shibuya. Others say tanuki do in fact live here in the city because it's warmer and there's more food, and I'm pretty sure I know what I saw.

For me these are the coolest critters, when you grow up (like I did) back in Australia with possums and their guttural noises, though I know raccoons are just as disregarded by many North Americans.

Still, they're better than squirrels. Having been bitten by a particularly cute squirrel in Central Park, one that looked like a hand-puppet but was actually an evil little tyrant, I think I have a good grasp on the comparison.

Here in Japan the local raccoon dog is historically regarded a little differently. For starters the wild tanuki has disproportionately large testicles, a feature that has inspired humorous exaggeration in artistic depictions.

In old stories (and some more recent brethren) they're reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.

For starters there's the yarn "Kachi-kachi Yama" which features a tanuki that wallops an old lady and then serves up her to the unsuspecting husband as soup.

To get a good feel of the raccoon in Japanese culture, check out Seijun Suzuki's whimsical musical Princess Raccoon (オペレッタ狸御殿, 2005) or the Studio Ghibli anime Pom Poko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ, 1994).

I picked up my copy of the latter from Madman in Australia.

Ahhhh, the little rascals.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tobacco-Stained Book Launch

Well, we actually did go through it with on Friday, and truth is I'm still recovering as we went right through from 6:00pm to 6:30am.

It was bloody brilliant, too.

Aside from the novel launch per se, we had screenings of The Maltese Falcon and The Third Man interspersed with anime gems like Tokyo Marble Chocolate and Mamoru Oshii's Tachiguish-Retsuden; heck, we even showed The Karate Kid.

And the music - from DJ Wada, Ko Kimura, Jin Hiyama (pictured), Eri Makino, Cut Bit Motorz, Toshiyuki Yasuda, Devin Wine and Paul McQuade - was sublime.

More please... once I recover.

Friday, March 25, 2011

TSMG: the published tome!

One hefty element of happiness is... getting the printed, bound and published version of your novel for the very first time in your mitts!!!

They're here - ZOUNDS!!!!

Talk about insanely cool timing, since we're doing the Tokyo launch party for the novel tonight at the Pink Cow in Shibuya (see post below). Up to this point we were thinking it'd be a paperless affair (weird for a book launch party, I know), but the gods - whomsoever they may be, and regardless of whether or not the blighters actually exist - have been kind.

The biggest ever possible thanks to Kristopher, Bob and everyone else at Another Sky Press for their tireless work, belief and madly cool assistance on this beastie - it's their baby as much as is mine. And cheers to family and mates for all their support and encouragement over the years it took to finish off the yarn.

Here's the back cover, with the barcode - and we even have a darn-tootin' ISBN number! x

I think I'm still a little bit in shock, really - so I'll stop gabbling here and sit down with a strong coffee to pore over one of the copies I have beside me.

If you're interested in checking out more about the novel, head on over to the Tobacco-Stained Another Sky site (just click the highlighted bit).

WOW. Bliss.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tobacco-Stained Party, Tokyo 東京 25/3

These are strange times here, for all too obvious reasons - and sometimes it feels like we’re collectively treading water awaiting the next Big Thing to transpire. Meanwhile the reactors still belch scary looking clouds and we get shaken by dozens of aftershocks everyday.

I know this cuts a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but a high percentage of events and parties have been cancelled here in Tokyo, and attendance is lower than usual at the places that're still open.

A lot of the DJ/producers I know are spending most of their time at home, creating tunes – or putting together worthy benefit compilations, like the ones coming out through Shin Nishimura’s Plus Tokyo label and another called Kibou that’s being put together by Japanophile DJ Hi-Shock through his Elektrax label – which features contributions from a wad of Japan’s finest techno bods.

It’s been mad timing for my new novel to come out; teaches me to write a yarn that’s been described as “post-apocalyptic noir.”

I’m supposed to have the Tokyo book launch this Friday 25th March (in other words tomorrow) at the Pink Cow in Shibuya, but the postal service is all screwed up so there's a big chance I won’t be getting the books themselves in time from the U.S.

Not through lack of trying by Kristopher and Christine @ Another Sky Press, but, as I say, our timing has been a wee bit out-of-whack with nature.

I'm still praying to an empty mead hall of Norse gods that UPS will be able to get the books out of Japanese customs - where they've been since Monday - and here into my lap in time. Hell, if not for the party itself, I just want to hold and stroke the beastie that's taken so much time of my life to complete!

Anyway, after much soul-searching, mood-swings, flip-flopping and so on, we’re doing the launch party, regardless of earthquakes and/or radiation levels.


Tokyo Alleyways

One of the things I love about this city, but which are increasingly difficult to track down intact, are the aged alleys in older parts of town.

These are the vanishing places in which Taisho-era (1912-26) or early Showa period (1926-89) wooden buildings lean in disarray, and you actually feel like you've been transported back to one of Yasujiro Ozu’s or Akira Kurosawa's domestic dramas from the 1950s.

About a year and a half ago in this wayward blog I got cantankerous about the disappearing old buildings in the area of Tokyo (Okusawa) that surrounds our apartment - more about that here.

I also waxed a wee bit pessimistic over at Forces of Geek on a similar theme.

Don't get me wrong; I completely understand progress and change and I embrace it in many ways.

I'm also often knocked out by a lot of the contemporary architecture going up in Ginza, Harajuku and Odaiba.

I just hate to see this historical aspect disappear - some of these alleyways and the abodes within are absolutely mesmerizing.

Today I visited one of these rare gems in Ōokayama (大岡山駅), about 15 minutes' walk from our place.

In much of the surrounding area there're new apartment buildings, but some of the shops and houses sandwiched in between are classic vintage numbers - including this alley.

Tuckedjust around the corner is also a gorgeous little inari shrine.

It's cheap thrills like this that make my world go round.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Currently Conflicting Faces of Tokyo

Strange times here in this city, for all too obvious reasons.

Today the weather was beautiful and I went to work in Shinjuku; really weirdly everything felt as it normally should.

But on the way home I dropped by Shibuya. If anyone has ever been there - or just watched Lost in Translation - they'd know about the big video screens outside the Hachiko Exit of the JR Station.

Tonight they were switched off, as one way to save on electricity, and the place was... well, darker than usual; more like a regular city elsewhere. Which may be a good thing, really, when you seriously think about the environment, but Shibuya just isn't the same without 'em.

I also dropped into the local Tokyu supermarket near my place, to find less food (and beer) than has been the norm over the past few days. There were absolutely no eggs as you can see from this happy snap, and I'm not sure whether they'd been commandeered to send up north to help the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami, or because eggs actually usually come from those areas.

No official "get-out-of-Tokyo" warning from the Australian government yet, although they have recommended that people leave "at their own expense" (a nice, penny-pinching way to look at things - thanks, mates!) and I'm trying to do this crazy balancing act of attempting to to keep a close eye on things from various angles both local and international.

Honestly? I do think the foreign press is over-blowing events and occasionally indulging in just plain sensationalism. Some of the stories about the atmosphere and situation here are just miles wide of the mark.

It's nowhere near desperate, at least in Tokyo.

People are going on with their lives and are quick to share a smile, and there's a stunning senses of camaraderie that prevails. My respect for these people has increased ten-fold over the past week.

That said, I also don't quite believe all that the Japanese government and media is announcing to be is the big picture either... As I say, I'm trying to balance it all and draw the line somewhere in the middle.

But I feel a sense of obligation to a place that's been an amazing home over the past 10 years and given me so much, so I don't just want to run out of here without doing my minor bit to help first, whatever it may be.

One way I'm trying to do that is by aiding and abetting a couple of techno labels with benefit compilations they're putting together - one from Elektrax in Australia and the other from Plus Tokyo. These guys are doing grand things, and should be roundly applauded for their efforts.

And the situation does seem to be on the mend at the moment, which is a relief, and a good sense of humour and a touch of optimism helps to clear the shoals.

Then again, this morning when I first woke up I was parched and indulged in a sizable glass of tap water; straight after I switched on the computer and found a big headline that declared that radiation had infiltrated the Tokyo water supply - just before reading the fine-print that the level itself was negligible and within safety standards. Ye gods.

Which brings me to the conflicting face thing mentioned in the header to this waffle.

I also dropped in tonight for a couple of drinks with mates at a bar in Shinjuku, and the vibe there was just plain uplifting - people chatting, sharing yarns, laughing and living. You'd never even know there was a disaster or three on the edge of our doorstep, and this is not to say that they're zoning out on the problems at hand.

It was awesome, in that sublimely effortless Tokyo kind of way. It's experiences like this that remind me of what's so special about this place and why it will overcome the current travails.

But don't worry - I've got somewhat nifty plans to self-extract at the slightest whiff of (more) danger... even if the Australian government niggles about the cost of an airfare.

Yikes!! xx

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kuhonbutsu Temple

There's nothing like a disaster - or an ongoing rash of 'em - to make you appreciate what you have and where you are.

In my case where I am is Tokyo, and this is one of my fave temples, a sprawling and (mostly) unknown treasure called Kuhonbutsu Temple (九品仏浄真寺), located near the appropriately named Kohonbutsu Station, two stops from us on the Oimachi Line.

It's about 20 minutes from Shibuya, but there's a world of distance between the two places.

Kuhonbutsu is also sandwiched between Futako-Tamagawa — rated the fourth most popular place to raise children in Tokyo — and Jiyugaoka... the fourth most preferable place to live single, footloose and fancy-free.

Aside from this odd sense of spiritual displacement on either side, that which sets this consecrated turf apart from the other local shrines and temples in this city is the sheer size and spaciousness of the sanctuary, as well as three wonderfully renovated, historic main halls that house a set of nine massive statues of Buddha, captured for posterity in subtly different poses.

These affectations are s'posed to have some special meaning, though I haven't any idea quite what these may be and haven't bothered to check the significance out online.

It's like Madonna, circa 1989, if she were tastefully cast in bronze.

According to the brochure Kuhonbutsu Temple was constructed several hundred years ago on the grounds of the old Okusawa Castle, and sections of these aged foundations can still be discovered if you look hard enough.

The stand-out is the photogenic bell tower (sho-ro), built in 1708, roofed in copper and adorned by a huge clapper that was cast in honour of the two great bodhisattvas (Kannon and Seishi) - fittingly designated a national cultural treasure.

I went here again two days ago, just to breathe in the silence and tranquility away from the non-stop newscasts about aftershocks and radiation, and it was genuinely moving. Funny that. I'm normally so easily moved.

Man, I love this city.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Ado About Japan


Unless you’ve had your head buried deep inside some sandbox in a place a million miles from the nearest social network or wireless connection, you’d already know precisely what I’m leading into - or if you'd bothered to read the entry immediately beneath.

So let's get straight into it.

On Friday March 11th, at around 2:45pm local time, the east coast of Japan was hit by an earthquake that tipped the scale at around 8.9 – 9.0 on the Charles Richter magnitude charts.

I’ve since learned that we survived the fourth or fifth biggest earthquake in recorded history, and the worst ever in Japan – which is one of the world's most seismically active places.

But Tokyo was lucky compared with other places in this country just north of our city, like Miyagi Prefecture.

Straight after the earthquake there were tsunami waves of up to ten metres (33 feet) that struck the Pacific coast north of Tokyo, ploughing inland up to a dozen kilometres – sweeping away the towns and cities along the way.

The footage has been so surreal: That tsunami rapidly filling the streets of the city of Kesennuma as people watched (and filmed) from atop hills; cars and air-conditioning units bobbing and floating by, followed by houses that started moving and weaving between overturned boats; the aftermath with ships and trucks on top of highways and houses. It was like looking at The Day After Tomorrow rolled up into Dante's Inferno.

But the sad truth is that it isn’t surreal at all. This is no dream. It’s been neither fiction nor the unrealistic segment of a disaster movie – it's cold, hard reality.

Somewhere around 10,000 people have been killed, though no-one knows the true extent of the fatalities even now – at the time of writing this – seven days after that initial disaster. Our thoughts go out to all the people affected.

But I say “initial” disaster, because we’ve since suffered aftershocks numbering in the hundreds and varying in intensity depending on the area. The other night night in Shizuoka, near Mt. Fuji, there was another earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4.

I got woken up by an aftershock at 5:00am yesterday morning - rattling doors and shaking bed. When we went to the supermarket almost half the shelves were empty as people are stocking up in case of another emergency.

And yesterday my daughter and wife flew down south to join the in-laws in Fukuoka.

It makes me far happier to know they're safe(r) - especially since there are the melting-down nuclear reactors at Fukushima, 170 miles north of Tokyo.

These babies were initially damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, and are currently out-of-control, spewing forth radioactive particles that are being felt as far south as, well, here in Tokyo.

This past week has been a little too close to home, and I say that not just because I currently live in Tokyo. The quakes and shakes this time were real, not cheap FX on celluloid with high-definition surround sound.

It’s eerily like the plot in Sakyo Komatsu’s novel Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) – I saw both the spin-off movies made in 1973 and 2006 – but defies the page or the artificial image of a viewfinder.

Real people have died, and thousands of other bona fide human beings have lost loved ones and friends. They’re destitute, lacking basic provisions, and braving up to zero-degree temperatures up north.

This is going to take a long time to clean up and forget.

And while the Japanese people here have been astoundingly resolute – not here the looting and general mayhem on the streets you see in other lesser disasters elsewhere in the world – it's a mind-numbing situation and an emotionally debilitating one to see this country and these people go through all of this.

In the meantime the best thing to do as hang onto the coattails of a sense of humour about it all – and gaze somewhat wistfully at the Japanese kanji "kibou", which means “hope”.

Which brings me full circle to some untimely, self-indulgent navel-gazing... but I guess that's what blogs are all about, especially ones like this which have only a couple of entries anyway.

Amidst all this madness I'm releasing my novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which is coming out through Another Sky Press in the U.S. on 31 March.

As previously mentioned here it's a sci-fi/noir tome that's set in Melbourne, Australia, but mostly rewritten here in Tokyo and heavily influenced by my 10 years in Japan.

I'm going to stop with the hype right now. It tastes wrong. If you're interested at all in checking out the novel, fantastic - thank you. If not, that's cool too - but please think in some way about how, in whatever small or seemingly inconsequential way, you can assist Japan. It all helps.

Rant out.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan Quakes

OK, so I've seen my fair share of Japanese disaster flicks; in fact I'm a fair bit of a fan.

I loved Godzilla movies when I was a kid - the way in which he walloped little balsa-wood versions of Tokyo and Osaka - and I still DJ out the awesome theme song to Mothra (モスラ, 1961), written by Yuji Koseki and sung by The Peanuts.

But yesterday was a little too close to home, and I say that not just because I currently live in Tokyo. The quakes and shakes this time were real, not cheap FX on celluloid with high-definition surround sound.

Just before 3:00pm yesterday I was with my five-year-old daughter at her music class, in a building several storeys high; that's when the first quake hit - and it was the worst tremor I've felt in the 10 years I've been living in Tokyo.

The place was literally bouncing and rocking like a small boat in a very big storm. Women were sheltering their kids and diving under tables, but the staff handled it all with aplomb, handing out blankets and helmets as we went through another couple of big aftershocks.

Thank god my wife was OK too and we all got home safely.

My mate Devin tells me we just survived the fifth biggest earthquake in recorded history. Zounds. This doesn't make any of the sights and signs on the news easier, however.

From the 24-hour televised images we're seeing of Miyagi, it's like The Day After Tomorrow rolled up in Dante's Inferno.

Awful stuff.

Friday, March 4, 2011

On the Printing Press Thingy

Well, the novel is done.

After a couple of years of slugging it out, nutting it out, pulling ideas from our collective buttocks, head-butting grammatical rules, ditching my beloved semi-colons and ironing out my wayward non-standard dialogue tags, it's done.

Big, big thanks to Kristopher, Bob, Christine, Justin and everyone else at Another Sky Press, along with Scott Campbell on art duties.

The next announcement on this blog will be the one that it's now available; we're just awaiting the test-pressing of the finished tome, but in the meantime if you're curious you can check out more and/or pre-order here.

Strangely enough I haven't had a chance to enjoy this moment.

Instead I've been sick as a dog since the very next day after we wrapped the project, with some weird virus/flu/bronchitis collaboration that's completely knocked me out and I've been woozie for a week and sleeping most days. Here's a picture, left, of what the über-bug might (or might not) look like up close and personal.

I like the star on it. Looks like Captain America's shield.

I know I pushed myself way too hard over the past couple of weeks (or should that read years?) with the novel, plus I had a huge story on sake that I was writing at the same time, a swag of techno industry interviews I'd stupidly committed myself to doing, an anime subtitles project, plus some music EP/album stuff... so this is prob'ly just desserts.

Likely my body is saying sod off.

Oh yeah, and I had an odd, rather feverish dream last night that a talking octopus was my pet, it called me "papa", and was otherwise downright cool. I made it a house in my kitchen blender (sans blades, of course!), and I don't think I can eat octopus sushi again for a bit.