Monday, May 30, 2011

Demise of a Classic Old Tokyo Manor

Two evenings ago I was walking home in the rain from Jiyugaoka Station, and spotted about 10 fire engines, a horde of people, and a huge billow of smoke that drifted up into the sky in spite of heavy rain from an approaching typhoon.

The sad fact was that a classic Taishō period (1912-26) mansion was up in flames, and the firefighters were struggling with a huge blaze that consumed a wonderful, historic wooden building.

Today I went back to see the outcome.

The photo (right) was taken just over the front gate, where a wheelchair was disturbingly left and police tape wound across the entrance. The destruction is pretty intense - the whole building is a skeleton now, with the refuse of burned telephone books, kimono, furniture, a TV, and even a coveted old reel-to-reel tape player parked on the small roof above where the front door used to be.

For Okusawa, a generally wealthy area, this is an incredibly big space. And sadly it was probably the largest old house I'd seen in Tokyo - till now.

This is the way the place was 18 months ago.

The trees surrounding the huge property made it difficult to get a decent shot from the street; I always intended to climb the wall (discreetly!) and get a couple of good photos. Now, sadly, it's too late.

I just hope the people got out of there safely.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Yamataka Eye 山塚アイ of Boredoms

With scraggly hair and a raucous character, Tetsuro Yamatsuka (left) is not the best candidate to hustle home and greet sheltered parents.

Despite Yamatsuka’s predilection towards changing his DJ and production names, he’s best known as Yamataka Eye, and as a member of Boredoms - one of the greatest noise rock bands in a country equally renowned for Melt-Banana and Merzbow.

Formed between 1982-1986 and likely inspired by The Birthday Party and Einstürzende Neubauten, Boredoms have rotated their membership while keeping Yamatsuka in the role of front man.

Known for his atypical vocal workouts and post-production prowess, Yamatsuka was a pivotal player in the band’s most enduring album, Pop Tatari (1993), which still stands strong 18 years on.

Beyond Boredoms, Yamatsuka also recorded an EP with Sonic Youth (1993’s TV Shit), worked with Bill Laswell’s band Praxis, John Zorn’s Naked City and released two brilliant live LPs in 1995 with experimental composer Yoshihide Otomo (under the underplayed alias of MC Hellshit & DJ Carhouse).

Thrown together in disseminated ways, Yamatsuka is a rock kami unto himself—hair awry and all.

** Excerpt (my hack bit) from a Metropolis magazine article dedicated to Japanese rock gods, published yesterday - hit HERE for more.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kuramae 蔵前: Downtown Tokyo

I thought it was prime time to get off my self-indulgent corporate head-butting now that I've let off a bit of steam and come to understand these things are little more than storms in teacups in the grand scheme of things. ;)

Anyway, the other day I was in the Kuramae (蔵前) district of downtown Tokyo, conveniently packing my camera, and took some happy-snaps of what is quite an inspiring older area of this city.

It's located on the west bank of the Sumida River, near Asakusa, and apparently used to be the site of the government rice granaries in the Edo period; it's still to this day a warehouse/wholesale area and there're some amazing old buildings to be found.

The area offers up a great view of the almost-finished Tokyo Sky Tree, and it turns out that, up until 1984, this was also the home of post-war sumo - namely the Kuramae Kokugikan (蔵前国技館), a building erected by the Japan Sumo Association in 1950 since the previous, bomb-damaged Kokugikan had been taken over by occupying Allied forces after World War 2.

Tournaments were held in Kuramae until September 1984, and in January 1985 the new Ryōgoku Kokugikan was opened nearby.

Kuramae still has a few interesting toy shops, smaller shrines and temples, some signposted in English, and a number of smaller shops that look unchanged since the Edo era (1603-1867) selling everything from cleaning materials to sumo-related goods.

And then there are the exceptionally old school toy shops and the book shop pictured here (see top of page).

Kuramae Station (蔵前駅) is a subway station on the Toei Asakusa Line and the Toei Ōedo Line, in case you feel like checking it out when/if you come here.

I happen to teach at a kindergarten in Kuramae on Mondays, so on this occasion wandered around a bit post-lessons.

Ace. I loved the snakes-in-a-box (right), and the area is an absolute treat.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Facebook: Inauthentic Name - Temporary Block

Yesterday, when I tried to log-in to Facebook, I realized I couldn't - for one of the first times in almost four years online with this social network thingy.

When I do try to log-in, I get a very interesting message.

It comes up with the enticing headline "Inauthentic Name - Temporary Block", then tells me in finer print that "Unfortunately, the name you entered was not approved by our system. Please wait 10 minutes and then try again." Having waited 15 minutes (that extra five as a buffer), I followed this sage advice, and got the same message again - this time with the warning that "Please note that if your next attempt is also unsuccessful, your account may be disabled."

I then waded through the maze that is Facebook Help, and finally discovered a portal via which to contact them, explaining that this is my real name, and not in fact inauthentic as the system now seems to believe.

I received this automated response: "Your account has been temporarily suspended because your profile does not list your real name. Facebook requires all members to provide their real first and last names."

Which is weird, because my name is Andrez Bergen, and that's the moniker I use on Facebook.

I don't remember having to provide legal proof or ID in order to first join Facebook three or four years ago, so I tested the waters on this and just went and signed up under an alias - and, hey presto! No problem. Easy as cooking boiled eggs.

Also, if they're so strict about real names being used, how come there are so many completely obvious aliases allowed on Facebook for DJs and band members? So, I read the automated email further and it says:

"Nicknames can be used, but only if they are a variation on your real first or last name, such as 'Bob' instead of 'Robert'. Which is, I guess, what 'Andrez' is - a nickname variant of 'Andrew' from when I was a teenager that I've adopted on a permanent professional basis in journalism, music and for my novel. I also have it on all my business cards - copies of which I sent through to Facebook.

This morning a real person, Pat, wrote back from Facebook but in no less automated a manner. She didn't address me personally, and added that "the only way we will be able to verify ownership of this account is if you reply to this email with an attached color image of your government-issued photo identification confirming your full name and date of birth. Rest assured that we will permanently delete your ID card from our servers once we have used it to verify the authenticity of your account."

Which prompted me to contact the Australian Embassy here in Tokyo - who strongly recommended against my sending any photo of my passport to anyone on the Internet due to concerns of fraud. I'd agree with that.

So I've contacted Facebook once again, advising this and again sending copies of my business cards to show that 'Andrez Bergen' is no sham moniker. It would be great to understand why I'm suddenly, without warning, being forced to prove my identity after more than three years on Facebook, and even when I do try to do so they decline to believe me.

All of this probably sounds like a complete waste of time (it does to me!), but I use this account not only in relation to my journalism work and for networking in business, but with friends and family on the other side of the world - who'll be even more unnecessarily worried on top of the ongoing concerns about earthquakes and the nuclear problems at Fukushima power plant.

Start from scratch with a new account?

Sounds tempting, but I put so much effort and time into the existing one, and when there's a cause to fight against a pig-headed bureaucracy, I can't help myself. No doubt I'll lose, but I'll go down fighting in an equally pig-headed manner! ;)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Production I.G slides out Drawer Hobs

I’ve also had a great relationship with Production I.G over the past six years or so thanks, chiefly, to Francesco Prandoni at the International Operations division.

We’d done stuff together before on Tokyo Marble Chocolate and Mamoru Oshii’s Assault Girls, and two months ago, just before the earthquake kicked this country in the stomach, I had the absolute pleasure of working again with Francesco on the English subtitles for a brand new anime feature from Production I.G.

It’s called Drawer Hobs (Tansuwarashi たんすわらし in Japanese), and what it lacks in the action/mecha 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 this city – giving even more clarity post-tremblor.

Plus it has a range of oddbod kids that reside in a chest of drawers and do such offbeat chores as checking earthquake safety (ironic), cooking up feasts, drinking beer, and wild girls’ makeovers.

But the power here is not just in the visual content or the surreal nature of the yarn – both of which are superb, by the way. It’s the real people involved here who take the venture into lofty territory.

You can read more about I.G's plans for world domination @ Forces Of Geek.

DRAWER HOBS © 2011 Kazuchika Kise/Production I.G/Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tobacco-Stained & Out There

Well, the novel is now out - in fact it has been for a month now - and slowly starting to garner the occasional review like the one at Forces Of Geek.

My publishers are currently putting together the digital versions for iPad and Kindle (stay tuned), but in the meantime the classic old school paperback - sorry, trees! - is up on Amazon UK, Amazon USA, Amazon Canada, Amazon Japan, and Alibris.

Even better, you can order direct from my cool cat publishers Another Sky Press, where the price for the paperback is much cheaper ($4.74 plus postage), and you also get bonus glossy bookmarks (see above) featuring the cover artwork on both sides.

If you feel like it, while online @ Another Sky you can contribute more so that the publisher, the cover artist (Scott Campbell) and I actually make some dosh in the long run.

The funky postcard is not yet available except here in Japan, but I'm working on it, and eventually hope to achieve world domination with bumper stickers, a Scout patch and iPad apps... even if I don't have one of those darn tootin' gadgets yet myself.

Bah; humbug.