Where’s your head at?

I almost had an “After Hours” kind of Friday night. Well, maybe not as crazy, but it could have headed somewhere. Had I been 10 years younger, not so tired from the work week, and a little more adventurous, maybe it would have happened. Instead, I just had a good night.

Friday I got to see the Basement Jaxx at a smallish venue in Shin-Kiba (Tokyo), Japan. Basement Jaxx are basically made up of two guys, Simon and Felix, and a lot of guests. They are primarily electronic, but their live shows are far more. I’ve seen Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, and Paul Oakenfold among others “in concert” before and found their shows really boring. Are you supposed to dance or look at the stage? I prefer to keep the DJs hidden and not the center of attention. Let the music speak for itself and let the audience concentrate on the important thing – dancing like mad and losing yourself to your friends, your significant other, and / or those you are trying to hook up with. I don’t need Mr. Oakenfold pointing at his greatness (himself) as he gets ready to twist another knob. Hey, I really respect what DJs do, but watching them manipulate consoles isn’t really a performance worthy of watching.

But, oh my, the Basement Jaxx are different. They had two percussionists, a trumpet player, three female vocalists (and one was a dancer too), a male vocalists, and a rapper. I small little entourage. They rocked the house, that’s for sure. Tomo didn’t have to be on the front row either (Yay!!!!) so we got to bop to the music without making new friends all around us. He wanted to see the full show, since he had seen them up close the night before.

Studio Coast, Basement Jaxx concert

We watched the show from our elevated position and bounced the whole night long. Last year, Tomo worked with the Basement Jaxx for a few days in Tokyo and had become friends with the tour manager. So, that meant special invitations to the after party as well!

It's nice to be connected

Yippee!

Tomo brought them 3 bottles of Moet & Chandon because it was the final night of the tour that had been going on for the last year and a half. Wow, that’s one way to keep up a friendship. The tour manager brought us one of the bottles, and in the meantime Tomo’s friend (and my acquaintance) Taka and his friend Okinawa-jin (I forgot his name), and another guy tagged Yama-chan joined us. This is where the After Hours-ness of it kind of started. Yama-chan was rather harmless, but somehow got back to the party even though he wasn’t with our group yet knew Okinawa-jin so I think there might have been some pass passages. Yama-chan had an interesting pompadour, and reminded me a little of El Vez, or John Leguizamo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. He had one of those unfortunate mustaches that try too hard but would be better shaved off. Hey, he’s Japanese.

Yama-chan was immediately recognized by some of the performers because there wasn’t anyone else like him in the audience. In typical Japanese venue fashion, there was a strict curfew so it was announced that the after party was moving to a club in Shibuya. And the After Hours adventure began. We managed to down a bottle of champagne, and Okinawa-jin pocketed a couple of gratis Red Bulls. Yama-chan had his plastic cup with beer in hand and we noisily made our way to the subway to meet up with the Jaxx party at the club. We must have been a motley looking crew, one guy in his suit after work, two normally dressed concert-goers, Elvez, and the white guy.

We thought we might actually beat the Jaxx crew because we were going by subway and that’s usually pretty efficient. The party was at Seco and apparently Simon and Felix were going to DJ for a while. When we got there, it was very confusing. There was already a party going on, and apparently it was some school reunion. Except these folks didn’t look old enough to be out of school. Maybe a junior high school reunion for college kids? Not sure. There were some young hipsters there so maybe it was some fashion school reunion. We sat there for a little bit and I felt really old and out of place and then Yama-chan started working the crowd. We were all getting hungry so we decided to go get some food and give the Jaxx some time to show up.

Of course, it was raining off and on, and now it was about 11:00 pm in Shibuya trying to find an open restaurant that wasn’t too crowded. Our first stop was a ramen place, but it was too busy. We went up one floor to another ramen place, but apparently they specialize in the stinkiest ramen imaginable and we couldn’t even make it to the top of the floor before being driven away by the smell. Oh, and by this time, another one of Taka’s friends, Onna-san (a woman who’s name I have forgotten), joined us. Now we were six.

We were able to find a place to eat and after waiting a while, ate and then went back to the club. We went back to the club, but it was still only the kids. We got the scoop that yes, indeed, the Basement Jaxx after party was supposed to be here but the other party won’t leave. And then two boys started DJing at the club! Oh my.

We went outside and noticed some others that we had seen at the original venue afterparty next door in a restaurant. I pulled the, “I’m a gaijin like you so I can appeal to you like a fish out of water” camaraderie with the foreigner at the table and he simply said, “They are eating upstairs.” Oh, OK, so the party was upstairs. At this point, a friend of Yama-chan had met up with us. I’ll call him Staring-chan (for reasons to come later). And now we were seven!

The club is part of a kind of group of businesses in the building called Shibuya Universal Society and they were in the RESPEKT restaurant. So up we went and it was clear that everyone was starting to chill and just hang out on the last night of their tour. And now the seven of us were just kind of hanging out on the fringes. We said, “Hello” to the tour manager and then grabbed some tables. Of course, I think we all felt obliged to order something, so the money continued to fly out of our wallets. We just kind of sat on the outside looking in, and Staring-chan just kept staring at me. Why? Hmmm, it must be my dashing good looks. Or maybe he was thinking, “What is that gaijin doing with this group?” Who knows.

The party was starting to break up, so we decided to go. But Tomo, sensing the time, managed to get Simon to sign his Basement Jaxx CD that he had brought along. Felix was on his way out. Tomo followed after him but found out that indeed he WAS going downstairs finally to the after party. Of course, many of the folks were very tired because of the tour, so a lot were going back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes to the tour manager and headed BACK down for the party.

We we got there, the party was raging on, with the two boys still spinning the tunes. So here was a pretty darn good famous DJ act in a club with some Japanese students controlling the house. I’m sure the kids had NO idea who these guys were. But my favorite part was when Tomo went up to Felix, and Felix was just boppin’ his head, really enjoying the music, not saying anything like, “What is this crap?” He looked to be having a good time. As we both noted today, he just loves music. Tomo got him to sign the CD cover and then we decided to leave.

Tomo has a professional relationship with these guys, and I think he wanted to get out of there before the growing entourage got too sloppy. He warned Taka and Okinawa-jin to watch Yama-chan and then we headed out. Of course, we missed the last train so we had to take a taxi back. Another 30 bucks gone.

Apparently Taka also posted on mixi (a Japanese Facebook-like service) at 1:47 am that the Basement Jaxx were playing a gig at the club. I wonder if any more folks came because of that?

The night had a bit of a, ”Where’s Fluffy?” feel as well from “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist“. Maybe love blossomed along the way for some folks, maybe it didn’t. I wasn’t there to witness that. But I had a good time and was still able to get some sleep.

Tsunami, Marathon, and A&F

Today has been a strange day. I was in Tokyo, and today started out by a look outside this morning to see rain mixed with snow. What? It is almost March, and it hasn’t been that cold, so it was really odd to see that it was actually kind of snowing. Not much of course, and mostly rain, but clearly there were snow flakes in the mix.
 

Tsunami

We learned of the earthquake in Chile yesterday, and at this point when I am writing this I doubt anyone really understands the extend of damage or loss of life. I’m actually sitting on the shinkansen for the first draft of this as well, so I’m not particularly wired except through my iPhone.

Last night, I checked the Japan Meteorological Association webpage to look for any tsunami warnings. With such a big earthquake, it was clear to me that there would be some sort of tsunami. The reports were saying that warnings were issued for the whole Pacific region, yet nothing was showing up on the Japanese sites.

When I woke up this morning, the situation had changed. As a resident of the Eastern Pacific and Western Pacific, with domiciles in both locations, I have a bit of a reason to care. My condo in LA is far closer to the beach than my apartment in Nagoya, but the tsunami would have to rise over a REALLY big hill before it found my house. In Nagoya, I am a long way away from water. So I personally do not expect to be impacted but I still care. As a matter of fact, a friend of my was in Thailand for the Boxing Day tsunami as I think I’ve mentioned before. Also, a colleague of mine quit work and she and her husband and children are sailing around Mexico and I worried about her as well. She’s OK, but they definitely went out to sea to ride out the waves and their marina was impacted.

Tomo flipped on the TV to watch the Olympics and saw that there was a tsunami warning. I then went to the JMA website and saw the same.

Tsunami Warning

The Japanese television coverage is interesting, and I took a few snaps of the TV screen. Of course, they had the roving reporters at various sea side locations to do on the scene reporting. The tsunami was hours away from hitting, so the reporting was mostly looking at preparation. It is not unlike hurricane or snow storm reporting in the US, where there is as much anticipation of the event as there is the event itself.

Tsunami - on the scene

I was too slow on the draw with my camera as my small digital camera was buried away in my bag and my iPhone camera menu selections were to deep to catch the picture of the reporter in his hard hat reporting on the preparation. Hard hats are extremely popular as safety devices here. We have hard hats at work in case of earthquakes and other falling objects. So when you see the B and C movies from Japan with everyone running around with their hardhats on it is real folks.

The anchors don’t have to wear hard hats, but their treatment of the ensuing tsunami is very serious. And of course, they’ve got the typical graphics overlay showing the warning area.

Tsunami newscast

Interestingly, as I was heading back to Nagoya, there was an alert on the Yamanote Line that train service on one line had been suspended due to “waves.” Once in Tokyo Station, there was a sign describing the closure and station personnel ready to assist travelers trying to reach their destination.

Tsunami impact to trains

Tsunami impact to trains

… it is now several hours since I started writing the blog on the train. It seems that we are still under a warning, and there actually has been some damage by a 1.20 meter tsunami. Let’s hope the worst is over.
 

Marathon

While we were out about town, we discovered the Tokyo Marathon was crossing our path. Literally. I snapped a few iPhone pictures as we also discovered we were at halfway!

The Tokyo Marathon

The Tokyo Marathon

 

The course was splitting Ginza into different areas. There was a particularly difficult scene as Ginza 4-Chome as runners make a turn towards Asakusa and other runners are returning from Asakusa and sort of in the last bits at about 34 km. Now, I’m sure the “last bits” is a bit of an overstatement for one who has never run a marathon, but definitely at the intersection it was especially difficult to watch. Those just making the turn were really struggling, and the pack was thin. This was about the 22 km mark. Those returning actually looked a lot fresher, had a good pace, and were moving along.

The Tokyo Marathon

 
Abercrombie

As we were walking away from the marathon we stumbled across the new Abercrombie & Fitch in Ginza. This was quite the anticipated opening in Japan. A&F is popular here. We had some Japanese greeters at the door, decked out in a little winter gear. They utter English phrases at you when you go in, but that’s about it. I don’t think that the management staff will be too pleased with the picture I happened to snap. Talk about the imperfect moment? Which makes it perfect for me. I just wish I had gotten the store name in the frame. It sure looked that way on my phone!

A&F Tokyo, model caught in a yawn

We walked in and there was the typical bare-chested model in the entryway. I am always embarrassed for them. It was a little cold, so he had a jacket on. The inside was SO dark, and the cologne SO strong. We started stumbling up the stairs, got to the first floor, decided it was too stinky, too dark, and too loud and promptly left the building. I fear I am showing my age by whining about A&F. But Tomo didn’t like it either and he is still part of their demographic.

Olympic Spirit

I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics today. I missed the procession of the athletes because I was a lazy bum and slept really, really, really late. I needed to, as I didn’t get much rest during the week. Of course, I think the world is saddened by the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili. I have refused to watch any footage of his crash, but it seems all outlets are quite keen to show it.
2010 Vancouver Olympics Source: Associated Press

I joined when Ryan Adams Bryan Adams cut me like a knife. I was happy that the sound was messed up for his performance. Not because I wish him anything thing bad, I just don’t really like his songs. As soon as any English commentary would start, it would immediately be covered by simultaneous translation in Japanese. Luckily I discovered espn.com was doing a running chat commentary so in between their snarky comments, I was able to get an idea of what was going on.

In general, I found the opening ceremonies a little boring. I was fascinated by the lighting though, and how they were able to accomplish the effects on the floor of the stadium. That was most impressive.

I found it intriguing that Donald Sutherland, Bobby Orr, Anne Murray, and Jacques Villenueve were part of the ceremony, carrying the Olympic flag with an astronaut, an 81 year old former gold medalist, Terry Fox’s mother, and a military guy. The highlights for me were the performances of the opera singer Measha Brueggergosman and k.d. lang. Wow, that was a fantastic performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I’ve already purchased it on iTunes. It brought tears to my eyes. Kudos to the organizing committee, in a show featuring diversity of the country, to put a suit-wearing rather butch out lesbian in such a spotlight! Apparently she gets more grief for being a vegetarian.

k.d. lang performs at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Photo credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

I could not find any pictures of the Celtic group that fiddled and tap-danced their squishy tattooed bodies for what seemed like 30 minutes. That was probably the low point of the ceremony for me.

So now it is time for the Japanese coverage of the Olympic games. This is the third Olympics for me in Japan. I was here in 2004 and 2008 for the Summer Games. We get the “up close and personal” approach as well, with basically the hopes of the entire country on the shoulders of just a few people. I think that is one reason why you see so many emotional Japanese athletes. While American athletes represent their country, I’ve got to think they are really doing what they are doing for their own glory. But Japanese athletes must really feel the pressure of the whole country on them. During the summer games, Kitajima was a big focus. I’m glad he won the gold.

This year, there is the 15 year old women’s speed skater, Miho Takagi, the women’s mogul skier, Aiko Uemura, the men’s figure skater Daisuke Takahashi, and women’s figure skaters Mao Asada and Miki Ando that I know about already. I’m sure there are more. So we’ll get focused coverage on those events and spotty coverage of others. And even though snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo may challenge for a medal, it seems he’s taking full snowboarder attitude lessons from the Americans. Dude.

‘‘I don’t feel any different. For me the Olympics is just another snowboarding event. It’s no big deal,’’ Kokubo said.

‘‘I am concerned with my own my performance and nothing else,’’ said Kokubo.

From Japan Today

And, importantly, this year’s Japanese NHK Olympic song is sung by L’arc En Ciel. In 2004 it was Yuzu. I think it might have been Mr. Children for 2008.

Kishoan ryokan

I’ve been paralyzed most the day, unable to really try to accomplish anything. I’ve looked at my MacBook Pro and checked the same web pages for updates. I’ve looked at my Mac Pro monitor and checked my access logs, downloaded k.d. lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I watched the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. But I have, to this point, been too lethargic to do anything other than sit and expect to be entertained. So I did what every good, uninspired, lonely person does in Japan. I packed up my Japanese homework, my laptop, and relocated to Starbucks. So now I am listen to Sigur Ros on my iTouch, have my iPhone for internet access in case I need a quick Facebook fix, and I’m typing away on my MacBook Pro. At all times a walking advertisement for all things Apple, glad that I have a friend working there and happy to be supporting a company who’s stock I own. Go Apple! [I’d like to add that the two people near me also have iPhones. Whoever thought they would be a big failure in Japan was definitely wrong.]

Anyway, so the change in scenery was supposed to focus me on working on my blog. The past few weeks have been grueling. I’m on a cycle now where I’ve got major deadlines every two weeks and towards the end of the two week period I have late night and early morning teleconferences, and average about 4 hours of sleep. Plus, my usual work does not go away either. It is not sustainable, and I hope that our team is improving after each event so that we can minimize the crazy schedule. Now I am in a situation where I am working a lot and I’ve reached my maximum allowable vacation hours, so either I take the vacation or a lose it. Nothing worse than losing vacation. Every time I try to take a day off to not lose the vacation, I work so many hours that I can simply flex my time and make up for the hours missed.

Last week, in an attempt to use some vacation hours, and also to get away, Tomo and I went to Kishoan ryokan at Asama Onsen in Matsumoto-shi, Nagano Prefecture. Actually we had planned to take a longer trip to Bali over this time period. However, we determined after multiple web searches, investigations, deliberations, and discussions that the ratio of travel time to relaxation time to Bali was just too high. The trip might end up being more stressful than relaxing. What’s the point in that? We both were in the mood for an onsen as well, and a little pampering. So instead, we decided an evening at a ryokan at an onsen might be a somewhat cheaper, more relaxing experience.

Tomo did some scouting, and decided that we should go to Kishoan Ryokan in Matsumoto. One of my requirements was to go someplace wintery and ideally with snow so we could get the full rotenburo (outdoor hot spring bath) experience. Basically, just the opposite of our proposed trip to Bali. Oh well. We chose Kishoan because it was from the Hoshino resort group. Dedicated readers of this blog may recall a trip to Hoshinoya in Karuizawa in 2008.

We wandered around Matsumoto-shi for a little bit prior to going to the onsen. I had been to Matsumoto previously, visiting the city on a Monday with my friend Kentaro Tanaka. I remember a Monday because the famous watch museum was closed. Tomo researched soba restaurants and we had some delicious soba for lunch, both cold and hot. The cold was actually better than the hot.

Matsumoto soba

Cold soba

 

Matsumoto soba

Tempura soba.
 
 

After lunch we made our way to the hotel.

Kishoan onsen

Entrance to Kishoan Ryokan
 

The ryokan was very much a modern ryokan. It was built about 10 years ago and purchased by the Hoshino resort group about 3 or 4 years ago. Still, the layout was very traditional. Our room was rather big, the main room was about 12 jo (jo is a counter for tatami mats … so our room consisted of 12 tatami mats). It also had a little sitting area next to the windows, and had floor to ceiling windows with a few of the northern alps. There was a hint of snow in Matsumoto, but certainly not the snow cover we passed through on the way there. The room must have been designed for more people, because it had two toilets, and another smaller tatami room. I didn’t take any pictures of the interior because I couldn’t really get a good angle and it would have looked rather boring. A tatami is a rush covered straw mat The tatami were nice, pretty fresh so they had a nice aroma and very soft. Perfect for lounging on.

Our private outdoor bath

Our room’s private rotenburo – hot spring bath on a balcony attached to the shower room.
 

At a ryokan, you change in to traditional 浴衣 (ゆかた – yukata – an unlined cotton kimono for loungewear or sleepwear). I have a picture that Tomo took of me decked out in my yukata, socks, and a jacket. I HATE the picture though, because I am standing underneath a cold fluorescent light and all the gray hairs reflect and the brown disappears. Yes, I DO have “natural” highlights but I am not as gray as I look in this picture. I am sharing for the purposes of reportage, although my vanity definitely makes me want to delete this picture forever.

I am not this gray

An old, white man standing in Japanese yukata.
 

Socks

Detail, socks.
 

Detail of the yukata

Detail, yukata.
 

We settled pretty quickly into the room and then decided for a visit to the onsen. I think I’ve described the onsen experience before. I’d take pictures, but that’s probably not very cool. As it turns out though, I could have, since for most of the time we were the only people in the public baths. We had a nice soak, and I was able to melt away a lot of the stress I had been feeling up to that point. We enjoyed a regular bath, a whirlpoolish bath, a large rotenburo, and a steam bath. I really enjoyed the steam bath – I’ve never had one before.

After more than an hour in the onsen, we were wrinkling and it was time to move on. The room had no internet, and there were “two chairs” in the lobby that were able to access a wireless connection, so I went to one of the chairs and wrapped up some work I had to do. Sad, I know, but I was committed to finishing something over the weekend.

A big part of the ryokan experience is what should hopefully be a fantastic meal. Many times the meal is brought to your room. In this ryokan, they actually have individual dining rooms where you take your meal.

First floor map

Map of dining rooms centered around a pool / waterfall.
 

View from the dining room in the morning

Morning view from our dining room.
 

I enjoy good food, although I am not a foodie. I’m not going to go into excruciating detail over each course. I do have some pictures though, and I will share some of them. It was nice of them to print a menu of the 10 course meal.

The menu

My personalized menu in English. Yummmm.
 

Appetizers

Our appetizers.
 

Sashimi

Pumpkin soup

Followed by sashimi and pumpkin soup. The pumpkin soup was my favorite dish of the entire meal. It was so delicious.
 

Salmon cake

The salmon cake was not my favorite dish.
 

Coated scallops

The scallops were very nice, covered with potato flakes and peanuts.
 

Meat and soba

Our meat and soba were served together. Three cuts of beef, and a different sauce chosen to complement each cut.
 

Dessert

Followed by dessert. No, there is not a fine layer of chocolate sauce. The dish is transparent and the dark table is showing through and looks like chocolate.
 

In the morning, we took a late breakfast. Japanese breakfasts are a lot different than western breakfasts. Our room was set up for our 9:30 am arrival.

Dining room in the morning

Our dining room.
 

Do I ever smile?

Looking a little less gray.
 

A luxurious Japanese breakfast

Breakfast detail, first plates. Pickles, salad, wasabi squid, congee, rice.
 

Fried fish for breakfast

Fried fish for breakfast!
 

We wrapped up the morning with a visit to the onsen again. They have two different bath areas, and switch them between men and women. So today’s bath for men was yesterday’s bath for women. A good idea. This bath had a bigger rotenburo, but also had a relaxation room where the room was heated to just about body temperature. They had large tiled chaise lounges that were also heated. You just sat back and relaxed. I could have stayed in that room all day. Unfortunately, checkout was approaching and it was time to head back to reality. Tomo boarded his train to Tokyo, I headed on my train to Nagoya, pulled out the BlechBerry, and dove back into reality.

New headers added

I had a friend visiting a couple of weekends ago. We wandered around Nagoya on a crisp winter day. I was able to get some nice photographs, and turned some of them into new headers. The headers appear randomly, so who knows which one you will get. I have 29 headers now!
 

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