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Monday, 14 August 2017

Naka-Meguro

On his recent visit to Japan, my dad left us with his fancy Nikon camera. I am so grateful, as I have wanted a good camera to capture my time here since I arrived. 

I am still learning how to use it. A few Sunday's ago, I joined my friend Motoko for lunch in Naka-Meguro. I decided to get there a bit earlier so I could walk around the neighborhood and practice using the camera. 

I was hoping to capture a typical Tokyo neighborhood. These pictures are definitely over-exposed. It would seem that the images might be coming up a little darker on the camera viewer. This is good to know for future reference. I could easily touch these up a bit, but I somehow don't think its worth it.





















Sunday afternoon jam:

Matt turns 28

Chichibu, Saitama


Forest Adventure Park




Post-Onsen:


Dinner at Sanagi's Vietnamese fusion restaurant in Shinjuku:









Misty

I have found the creeping sense of uncertainty to characterize periods of my life.

Finally now, certain aspects of my world are falling into place. Things feel more solid and sure than they were this time last year, and even more so than they were two years ago.

But I still get waves of emptiness that I cannot ignore, a sense of unfulfillment. I don't know if there will ever be one exact lifestyle that I would feel satisfied with forever. I am flaky, impatient and easily-bored. These are horrible traits, but true of my character. Maybe this lack of satisfaction is a permanent part of who I am.

In weekdays, in routine, I fantasize about the future. I thrive off change and excitement. I get bummed out by feeling stuck in Tokyo. That and reading the news. I worry about the future of our planet. The current political climate is highly disappointing. In humanity, there is so much possibility, innovation and hope, yet the wider system seems to be perpetually broken with unsolvable symptomatic problems.

So maybe I'll find a way to contribute to the greater good. Choose a cause, and become an advocate for positive change. Find a job in government, or in a worthwhile organisation, impact future policy decisions. Or perhaps I should follow my passion? Pursue music, learn to DJ properly, invest time in Tokyo's music scene, become a liaison between artists in London and Tokyo. Or go back to what I studied at university, anthropology, pursue further studies into culture and people, social research, ethnography. Wait a minute, you're wasting time with all this wondering... get back to studying Japanese and being patient. Maintain your hobbies, your hula-hoops tricks are getting rusty and you haven't picked up the ukelele in over a month. Back to square one. Thin yourself out until you're a master of nothing and a could-have-been of all. This is getting really boring.

We are preparing to move back to London. That's where life will start. We're still in the trial and error stage.

On weekends, things are different. I can relax, enjoy Tokyo and Japan. After all, I'm still here somehow.

I carry my bike up these stairs by our house every morning (well, apart from when it rains).
















Making it all worthwhile



Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Ibaraki Leavers party 2016

As I write this, it's a Sunday morning and I'm at a waffle cafe with Rachel.

Rachel has just finished her two years on the JET programme having taken over from Hannah, who was also a good friend of mine during my time in Ibaraki.
Yamagatamachi sure picks them well.
When we were out last night with some of my friends meeting rachel for the first time, I made it my prerogative to quote her entire speech to them which I had witnessed two weeks prior at the leavers party.
Why? Because it was one of the most intense fantastic heartfelt speeches I have ever witnessed in the flesh. Anyone who meets rachel in Japan should be aware of how much love and respect the people of Ibaraki have for her. But this post isn't about Rachel (ごめんね). This is about the legendary leavers party. Ok.. one more point about Rachel, she did all the catering for the party and the food was delicious. 
Side note (when was I ever to the point?), the night before the leavers was the annual Drunken Duck Yamagata beach party in Hitachinaka. That's my old town for anyone keeping track. The same usual crowd were there...all the locals I've grown to love over the past few years. I must say that their company is always a pleasure.
Good god this is getting soppy. It usually does when I'm a little hungover. It's the baking hot summer and apart from the abundance of mosquito bites..some of which have inevitably gone horribly wrong with infection, it really is my favourite time of year in Japan.
The Yamagata beach party kicks it all off. Crazy reggae bands,  pole dancers, skinny dipping in the ocean, bucket mojitos and Robbie in his typical fashion taking over the music with the same playlist we've heard oh so many times. Not hating...just stating.
The next day I drove with lolo and Robbie to the leavers party. Not just one cabin in the woods...but 5. An all day and night party, the most incredible speeches, food, Robbie sorting a deal with Hitachi Nest for kegs, mad love, best friends for life, more futons then you can shake a twig at and me taking a page out of Rileys book with intermittent cupboard naps.
The next day we rode a slide. .. don't ask and I drove robbies car back to mito, which was an excellent opportunity to reflect on so much that has happened in the past few years.  That boy...who knows.
All in all.... it fit the bill.

Fuji Rock Festival 2017 Part 3: Sat-Sun



OK – I’m bored of writing, so this is gonna get really brief. 

Saturday: rain, rain, rain. The Fin. Ooh yes. Onsen.. ooooooohhh yea! 

By this point Matt had left and given me his rain ensemble after mine had failed me.

AMAZING was:
THE LEMON TWIGS. Hooray. I’ll actually say that we drank two tall boy 9% strong zeros each whilst watching the Avalanches play in the rain, before heading to the Lemon Twigs. This successfully ensured we are maximum hyperactive mode during their performance and were able to match the energy coming off the stage. They were definitely the highlight of the day.

Afterwards we watched Cornelius which some friends had recommended. Actually, I did listen to some of their stuff beforehand and found it pleasant. In reality: BOOOORIIINGGG. They looked half asleep. Wow. 

After we were almost put into a coma by Cornelius (yes I understand the history of this band and why people are pretending they’re a big deal)… we decided to catch Temples in red Marquee. I can only describe them as being 60% of what the Lemon Twigs were in every way. Apart from physical members and number of instruments.

Aphex Twin was really amazing though… even though I can only ever take so much at one time. We jumped into the mosh pit and got our crazy on. VJ was superb and there was an amazing light show. The torrential rain somehow enhanced the whole performace, as though it had all been planned. If there was going to be torrential rainfall during one of the mainstage performances, then Aphex Twin was certainly the correct choice. 

We then got stuck in insane traffic trying to get to LCD Soundsystem, which was ok. I mean… its LCD Soundsystem, are they ever anything better than the place between good and OK? Songs: good. Presence: OK. Overall performance: somewhere between good and OK. Evaluation: complete.

Sunday summary to come, but first some pictures from Motoko:






LASTLY – geez – SUNDAY. 

Guess what? The weather behaved itself for the most-part. Last mention of the weather - I promise.

Real Estate in the morning were very chill, loved it, thanks guys nice job! We followed them with Jet at the mainstage, which was nostalgic and a very stereotypical festival rock band performance of a rock band. Seriously speaking, If I could sum up the universal expectation of a live performance of a rock band at a music festival, then yeah, there you go: it’s Jet. 

Ku-san (my trusted Japanese teacher) joined us and we had a ball. Bonobo were also incredible, great live show. After being a fan for many years, I was thrilled to see him play live. He also sat in front of us during Bjork which was cool… but I didn’t go speak to him, wasn't feeling it. 

On our way to Bonobo, Chez pointed out a kitsune themed café and told Ku-san that she really wanted a kitsune mask. (this is relevant later).


Chez got bored of Bonobo and then went to watch Lorde, which was sweet in a Sabrina the Teenage Witch kind of way. I caught most of it after Bonobo, but also decided to get food to avoid the mad rush. Also, as with Sabrina, I can only take so much of 14 year old entertainment as someone who is nearly 30 at this point.

Anyway, I’m just gonna get onto the main thing. BJORK. She was AMAZING. Seriously – I was so overwhelmed I could hardly stand, let alone applaud. I could hardly move. I just melted into my chair and loved every moment of it. She was the best. I had been wanting to watch her play live for most of my life, and finally got to see her. That was a huge life checklist and I’m so happy about it. She was everything I wanted her to be and more. Love you Bjork, thanks for existing!

We were on such a high following Bjork, that on the way to catch the last hour of Major Laser we stopped at the Kitsune booth and they gave us a Kitsune mask for FREE! Well, they persuaded us to buy sake in exchange, which was delicious and was the catalyst that descended the night into debauchery and mayhem, so it was in every sense worth it. I told you I would get back to the kitsune stall!

Major Laser was so hyper, so fun and so ridiculous – it was a really great way of exuding all of the excitement and joy that Bjork had filled us with. We danced the only way you can to Major Laser – shaking our booties in an over-the-top manner. Both their live set and Bjork's featured fireworks and insanity.

Following Major Laser, we re-grouped with Motoko and her large crew of Aussie mates at the mainstage for an awesome Elvis cover act with a big band. We danced in a huge circle with about 30 people and initiated a bar mitzvah style circle dance where everyone holds hands and then runs in and out of the middle of the circle simultaneously.



We then exploded all over the festival site – Red Marquee, Crystal Palace, live Bike Show with 7 motorbikers riding in a small sphere, Rookie-a-Go-Go, I befriended a bartender who gave me sweet yuzu sour deals and sake was flying left, right and center.
I accidently found my way into a secret DJ booth and befriended some Colombians. I finally made my way to my tent after 5. Passed out for 2 hours before being woken by the sun.
Monday getting back was a mess. My voice was gone and direct eye-contact became painful. I went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 7.30am the following morning ready for work. I came into my office in a sleepy mood and was then greeted by a big black cockroach running around by my desk. That certainly work me up out of my festival spirit and back into the reality of daily routine mundanity.
More pictures:


END

My Fuji Rock 2017 Playlist on Spotify:

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Fuji Rock Festival 2017 Part 2: Friday



On Friday morning, the first official day of the festival, we went in a group of 7 up the Dragondola – the 20-minute mountain gondola that gives you a view of the entire festival site -  up to the Day Dreaming and Silent Breeze area.

On the Dragondola

At the Day Dreaming and Silent Breeze stage

The first act I wanted to catch that day was Rag-N-Bones Man. A rapper/singer from Brighton, UK with an incredible soul voice. He was a very satisfying and enjoyable opening act. We watched him at the mainstage, the Green Stage, where we parked our chairs for the day and chilled out. We also caught some of the Radwimps - a J-pop band who did the soundtrack for the 君の名は film. I thought it would be crap, but it was actually a good performance and I'm kind of glad to have been able to see some live J-pop that didn't make me want to throw up.


As Matt only had a one-day pass, we figured we would spend the day exploring and trying to see as much of the site as possible. We made it all the way to the Field of Heaven, before an intense downpour struck. I started freaking out a little, as I thought that would be it for the remainder of our time there – but luckily it passed and we were able to watch Father John Misty in peace (and love). He put on a great set, and I was glad to have discovered his music a few months prior to watching his live performance. The guy was charming, talented and highly entertaining. I don’t usually care much for lyrics, but I certainly have time to listen to his. His honest insights are really refreshing.

The main problem for Friday was the insane scheduling with QOTSA and Gorillaz. I had been anticipating this issue for weeks beforehand. As my favourite band of all time, it was imperative for me to be there to support QOTSA. However, I had seen them before, and knew that Gorillaz on the mainstage would be an unmissable show.  Chez had decided to go to the Green Stage beforehand, relax and check out The XX. Matt hung back with me to get a good spot for the opening of QOTSA at the White Stage. 

Catfish and the Bottlemen were playing the White Stage first, I was curious to hear their music as some of the people in our group had made a point to leave Father John Misty early to catch their full set. It didn't take long for me and Matt to agree that they were completely awful, and their music was way too rubbish to stand through, so with time to kill, we sat by the river and had some beers and a giggle.
We bumped into the band of Rag-N-Bones man and were able to complement their uplifting performance that we had seen earlier that day. It feels good to give a compliment where deserved.  
We also irritated some snobby Americans in an incident over some nori at a ramen booth, but its not worth delving into.

When QOTSA came on, I cried – naturally – and danced and sang like a crazy person for the start of their set, and then after around 40 minutes or so we decided to make a B-line for the Green Stage. We had anticipated getting stuck in crowds for a very long time, so we were diligent in working our way through to the Gorillaz.

Amazingly, we only missed a small portion of their set and had moved between the two stages within record timing (about 5 minutes I’d say). We found our seats easily and joined Chez and the others in watching a really amazing show. They played all the old hits and some new ones. I didn’t really dig the new album when I gave it a try a few weeks ago – but watching the tracks played live lead me to reevaluate my opinion. Each song was done really well, as expected, a great choir, musicians and visuals. The Gorillaz live is everything you would hope it to be and I’m glad I saw them. Damon Albarn was full of energy and was a superb front man, he had a great command over the crowd and really hyped us all up. He, in particular, really exceeded my expectation. 

Still…. I felt that I could have caught a little more of QOTSA. I thought I was satisfied in the moment, but upon reflection I wish I had stayed for a couple more tracks.  I felt bad that the crowd was thinning during QOTSA’s set. I can’t believe how poorly the scheduling was. How can they overlap two major acts like that?

Getting back to The XX, apparently they were terrible. Their two performers were making arrogant higher-than-god remarks to the audience in between songs. Nothing insulting, just pure cockiness. They came off as “assholes”, according to live witnesses. As for myself, I wasn’t really fussed to see The XX, I never have been, and found their new album to be a bit “meh”. I’ll also state that I am a fan of the solo stuff Jamie XX has put out so far. In contrast, I love Blur and the Gorillaz, but really didn’t dig Damon Albarn’s solo album. You see, you just can never tell with these things.

Check out my Fuji Rock 2017 Playlist on Spotify: