Friday, 28 November 2014

My experience with NHK cool Japan

In the last two weeks, I've had students coming up to me from all 5 of the high schools I teach at referencing "zip", a morning TV show here in Japan. Why have they been doing this? Because I was on it.

This all started about 8 months ago, when my dear pal Freddie suggested I should apply to be on the NHK show Cool Japan. So I found some time and sent in an application form.

About 4/3 months ago, I was invited to attend an interview for the show. This was pretty exciting, so I travelled down to Tokyo one evening after school (something I hadn't done yet on a week night). In my interview, which was based in a small, basement meeting room in Roppongi, there was me and two Americans. We sat around a table discussing Japan-life related topics for an hour. As there were only three of us, I was able to talk quite a lot, being nervous, I actually spoke way too much, which is a bad habit I really need to kick.

I had arrived with loads of topics ready to talk about, hoping they would ask some broad questions; unfortunately, they had already decided on 2 rather mundane topics. These were "Japan at night", which is pretty difficult as Japan is pretty much dead at night.... and "men's fashion", which, being a woman, isn't something I have too much of an opinion about. Anyway, I thought it had gone OK, not great, not terrible.

After 2/3 months and not hearing anything, I assumed I hadn't been chosen. This was until about 3 weeks ago, when I received an email asking for my availability. I replied pretty quickly and was invited to attend a "location shoot" that weekend.

The day of the big shoot was on a Saturday (the 13th November). I woke up early and took an express train down to Tokyo. I took the super expensive high speed train, as their email said I would be paid 10,000 yen (which I think was total bullshit as I was given nothing in the end). I arrived at Harajuku early, in order to meet the translator whose name I've already forgotten....hmmm....maybe it was Jin?

I really didn't know what to expect on the day. I was told nothing about the shoot, only what time to get there, and that I would be finished around 6. To my surprise, the other foreigner who was selected for the shoot was one of the Americans from my interview; a guy called Sergio, a fellow JET based in Saitama.

We asked the translator about the shoot, and he claimed to know nothing, only where to go, and that he would be translating for the day. I did think it was kind of odd that he wasn't given more information, but I just went along with it.

We were herded into a mini-van and driven for 45 minutes to Yokohama with the director and camera crew of 3 with us. In the van, the director explained that we would be tasting some Japanese dessert food, and asked us about what we had tried so far. I faked excitement, as Japanese dessert food is the worst part of Japanese food, but I was still excited to be filmed whilst eating it.

When we arrived we were told to wait in the van for 20 minutes, whilst the camera crew went to set up. When they came back, they attached microphones to us, and started to lead us to the  location. On the way, the director received a phone call, supposedly from the people at the "sweet shop", claiming that they weren't ready yet, and that we would need to wait for a further hour and a half. By this point it was around lunch, and we happened to be passing by a big ramen museum. The director apologised, and said that we should go to the museum and have lunch whilst we wait, he also gave us 1000 yen each for our meals.

The ramen museum had 3 floors of small ramen restaurants, it was rather large, so we were asked to pick a restaurant from the bottom floor, that way they would be able to find us when they needed us. Fine, whatever. I didn't really feel like hanging out in the basement of a ramen museum, as it happened to be a very nice day outside and I had been excitedly waiting the filming from early that morning... but I guess its tv, so you just pretend to be cool with everything, bow and say yes, and be thankful for anything and everything.

On the floor we were told to stay, there were around 7 or 8 shops. Half of them had large queues, and half had no queues at all. Neither of us were that bothered about which restaurant we went to, as we weren't expecting to be fed. As I was feeling nervous, I had lost my appetite and hadn't been able to eat up to that point, so I really didn't mind. Sergio suggested we try one of the restaurants with a large queue, as they probably have the better ramen. We looked around, and almost started lining up, until I changed my mind. I told Sergio that I really didn't care about what type of ramen I ate as I wasn't that hungry, and if we were going to be filmed trying Japanese dessert food, I would prefer to eat quickly and give myself some time to become a little hungry again, rather than eat cake on a full stomach. He agreed with my point of view, and we picked an empty restaurant.
 If you are wondering why I am delving into such detail over something as mundane as picking a restaurant, be assured, this is all relevant.

Half way through our mediocre ramen lunch, we looked up and saw the director and translator filming us with a small handcam. They were waving and smiling and asking about our meals, "why did you pick this restaurant?".... ..."umm, there was no queue..munch munch splutter, slurp"... god, what a moronic response. Although little did we know we were playing right into their hands.

when we finished our meals, the translator came to tell us we were ready and should head upstairs when we were done. When we got to the top of the stairs, the film crew was set up, and they were recording us. The translator explained that the whole shoot had been a trick. It was all an experiment testing the stereotype that Japanese people love to queue (which they do, and very patiently too) , they wanted to see if a couple of foreigners would do the same. So they had been filming us the whole time, to see which restaurant we would pick.

They filmed our "shock" reactions, and asked us a couple of questions, then told us we were done for the day, so actually the whole thing wrapped up rather early. Not knowing what to do for the rest of the day, and feeling rather disappointed, I took the train to Shibuya.

I was disappointed because it felt as though the whole experience was over before it began. Sort of like queuing up for a ride at disney for hours, finally getting to the end of the line, and then being told the queue was the ride, and now its over. I managed to talk about it a little bit with Sergio afterwards, we both hoped to have a decent amount of "exposure", something we could look forward to watching on tv. Something about the way things worked out made me feel like a mug. I spent a lot of time and money dedicated to trying to get on Cool Japan, and I'm not sure if it was really worth it. Somehow I doubt I'll be asked to participate again.

So what happened with Zip? Well, afterwards  I had messaged everyone in my very small base of Tokyo friends to see if anyone was free to hang out; the thought of heading back up to Ibaraki after the disappointing shoot seemed way too crappy to fathom. I managed to get hold of Taka, who said he could spare a few hours. I took the train to Shibuya and hung around the big famous crossing waiting for him.
As I waited outside of Starbucks, just in range to access their free wifi, I was approached by another Japanese television station. A woman asked  (in japanese) if I spoke Japanese, I answered " a little", she was delighted and asked if I could do a TV interview. I happened to be dressed and ready for it, what a coincidence. In the interview, I was asked a few questions about Japanese pop stars, none of which I heard of, I was also asked a question about Benedict Cumberbatch, which I didn't really understand.... and a couple more questions in Japanese too difficult for my incredibly basic comprehension... and we left it there. I assumed that I had given them nothing they could use as I hadn't heard of anything they were referencing, but apparently I was wrong in this assumption.

Probably a few seconds from this interview was on TV early last Tuesday morning (Ive looked into it, and can't find the clip)...... it wasn't much, but enough for some of my students to have caught it and make me feel a little I feel pretty good.

Was it worth going all the way down to Tokyo for one quick lousy tv shoot? no. But it was certainly worth it for two!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Forest Adventure Park Tsukuba

I for sure have been sportsing it up hard.

Last week I signed up for a 10k marathon, which will be in January. On Friday after school I played Futsal with the boys (really wish another girl would join) .... I feel way too much of a 'lad'.

On Saturday I woke up early to drive down to Tsukuba with Mac and Randy. The three of us did a forest adventure course, well, actually 4 courses. They were aerial courses build through high trees on the base of Tsukuba mountain, consisting of various ladders, bridges, swings, nets, trapezes and zip lines. I would not recommend this to anyone with a fear of heights. Here is the link.

Luckily Randy took a bunch of pictures, so here you go;

With the safety guide dudes;

And this was followed by Kaiten Zushi and pirikura. Here I am with two of my favourite gay people;

Good god what a bad hair day;

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Halloween halloween halloween and Kamakura

I met Tiffani and Robbie on the platform of the TY line in Shibuya. All three of us wearing our costumes ready for the night. I had eaten a kebab so was full and sobour. They had been drinking and had no dinner, so were drunk and hungry. Whatever state, place or time, I love my Ibaraki crew.

Halloween in Shibuya on a Friday night was a ridiculous time and place to be. I managed to meet up with a very old friend, and by old friend, I mean someone I haven't seen since I was around 8 years old. Amy-Jo, who managed to track me down via the internet. She's really awesome, and it was nice to meet her friends. Good to make new (or old sort of) friends/contacts in London for when I return. I guess... right?

We went to a club called Unit, where Masaaki (aka Anchorsong) was playing a gig.. I actually just realised I will be going back to the same club this weekend for a Fat Freddys Drop gig... hmm. Anywho, it was free entry for those wearing a costume. We left shortly after Masaaki's set, after getting a call from Robbie about the craziness in Shibuya. We took a cab down there, and wondered around the night admiring all the costumes.

At Macdonalds at 3 in the morning, I bumped into another old friend I hadn't seen in a long time. Ben Stuart-Smith from Mill Hill School. We had a nice little catch up chat. It turned out he had flown into Tokyo only a few hours prior, so was probably having a massive head-fuck let alone bumping into me. What a mad coincidence. I had actually been getting a little sad that I never bump into anyone I know in Tokyo. I know that sounds like a tall-order, but its such a famous city, and so full of tourists, it felt inevitable.

In our massive group of my friends mixed with all of Ben's, we found one of the clubs remaining still open, I think Club Asia, a very cheesy club where I've only been once before for a crappy foam party. Man what a waste of money.

I took the first train with Tiffani back to where we were staying in Koenji. A great little gem of a guest house she discovered, where I have decided to try base myself on any possible trips to Tokyo. Tiffani and I had booked two nights in a sweet little tatami room. I had arrived there on Friday before setting off into the night in order to check-in and set-up our futons. This seemed to be a good call as we were both completely shattered. I slept until Saturday afternoon. When I had woken Tiffani had already left to meet a friend. I spent a solemn day alone, wondering around Koenji, eating delicious street food and watching live music playing on street corners. All during a heavy rain which somehow complemented my exhausted mood.

Tiffani messaged me just as I was finishing a coffee and a small plate of falafels in a quaint vegan cafe I had wondered upon. We returned to our room for a final rest before meeting my friend Alice and her boyfriend for a nice quiet drink. After they left to catch their last train, we went to a Mexican restaurant for 2am nachos. Spending time with Americans is causing me to slowly develop an appetite for Mexican food. In fact, I notice a significant difference in my stomach size when I've spent time dining with my ex-pat American friends, and when I haven't.

On Sunday, Tiffani and I left our Koenji guest house to meet JJ in Yokohama station. The three of us spent a very fun and giggley day in Kamakura. JJ, who is slowly becoming one of my favourite people here, had just purchased a "selfie-stick" - a device used for taking egocentric photograpgs from an iphone - what a definitive item for the modern age.

We did some typical touristy things in Kamakura, including visiting the Kamakura daibutsu, and having an awesome soumen lunch (cue reference to my so many men joke) - a woman serves soumen noodles by shooting it in small bite-sized chunks down a piece of bamboo with running water, you have to grab the noodles with your chopsticks - pretty weird, but very fun experience. After Kamakura we grabbed some coco ichibanya curry in Yokohama and got some pirikura shots. We then made our way to JJs for a fun little sleepover.

On Monday I met up with Taka in Shibuya and had a nice day wondering around until I had to eventually get on my bus back up to Katsuta.

Thoughts on my new scalf head-wrap style?

this cute little guy;

We found a stand selling candied grapes;

Love to the big Buddha, aka.. Kamakura Daibutsu

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Drunken Duck Halloween party 2014

The Mito duck throws an excellent Halloween party. As with last year, they really went all out. Around 150 people (my guess) dress up in full costume, American style (meaning that a lot of effort is applied). The entire bar is decorated, and a marquee is erected to create more party room. The staff were absolutely wonderful, and a few friends showed up I didn't expect to see. All in all, it was a great night. There's something about being in costume that allows people to feel more confident,  come out of their comfort zone and be more friendly, which creates an awesome atmosphere and a really silly time.

Friday, 24 October 2014


At the Yokohama Oktoberfest I arranged to see some old friends from Bristol:

From the same masters course, Michi is now working at a pharmaceutical company up in Iwaki, Alice is working at the French embassy in Tokyo, and I..... well, I'm still doing what I consider to be "gap year stuff".... hmm. In fact from those I've kept in touch with from my masters, everyone seems to have "made it in their career" in some aspect or another. I really need to play catch-up. Anyway, no bitter feelings, I'm inspired and motivated by the hard work and success of my former peers:

How can you not love these people? I can't wait to see those I spent so many fun Bristolian nights with slowly ruling the world.

Murrays Halloween partay

Scottish Chris, who lives in Fujishiro, threw a great halloween house party last weekend. The cool thing about being in a group of people predominantly Japanese and American, is that people make a huge effort when it comes to costumes. Can you guess what everyone is?

Pictures all taken by Francesca:

Robbie decided to give me a mini birthday shout-out. I pretended to be embarrassed whist secretly loving the attention:

Everyone found this guy really annoying for various reasons:

Freddy turned up dressed as an Ebola researcher:

Hopefully more people will upload photos from this party which I can steal for my own personal memory bank, aka. this blog post.


My friends threw me a surprise birthday party. yay! Always wanted one, it was so nice. I spent the couple days before it trying to figure out if anything had been arranged because people were being unusually flakey in my attempt to make plans, but I didn't want to assume anything was being planned, as I could be setting myself up for a fall. everyone waited at Robbies flat whilst I went for dinner with Riley. We had planned to go to the Duck for a couple drinks, but first she wanted to go by his place to grab a much needed wig-cap for my Halloween costume, and then, surprise. We had some cake and a couple drinks at Robros, and then went down to the duck where there was more cake. So, all in all, a lot of cake was consumed. Ironically I never got the wig cap, so was unable to wear my orange wig at the Halloween party we went to the following night.

Thanks team! Wish there were more pictures: