Monday, 29 June 2015

Japanese Beach Culture

Celebrating the summer solstice last week, or 夏至 (Geshi) means that we have finally made it to what I consider to be the best time of year, the summer! 

Japanese summers truly are great. Think Matsuris (festivals), yukatas (summer kimonos), soumen (cold noodles) and macha (green tea) flavoured ice cream.  
Living in Hitachinaka, a small seaside town,  I have had the privilege of spending this season down at the beach for the past two years. Here's a few things that I've learnt about Japanese beach culture.

At the height of summer, when the beaches are crowded, the are certain things that stand out on a Japanese beach.

There is nothing casual about heading to the beach. If you think it is as simple as putting on a bikini, grabbing a towel and slipping on some flip flops then you are sadly mistaken.  A day at the beach is a meticulously planned event. Families turn up with wheel-barrows full of things. Tents, chairs, an array of garden furniture, massive ice boxes, 5 course meals,  games, toys and anything else that can be used to recreate the comfort and look of a living room, and of course all the products, accessories and make-up that can facilitate a bathroom.  There is nothing minimalist about enjoying nature.

One does not simply lie on the sand  -oh no. You might have noticed that people don't want to get tanned here. On a sunny day, it is very common to see women walking around with black umbrellas and long sleeves to avoid any exposure. This is no different on the beach. People bring special beach tents to lie underneath.  On a busy day, my local beach resembles a camping site.

Beach fashion
You are likely to see women getting on and off the trains in Tokyo wearing heels so stupidly high that they can barely walk. It is laughable and embarrassing as a woman to watch. This trend is actually more ridiculous given the context of the beach. Of course not everyone does it. Most people wear what I consider to be the most popular footwear in Japan - Crocs - or an even more ugly variation of them. However, and quite disappointingly, it is the norm for young women to wear high heels on the beach. This is accompanied with little-girl princess style bikinis. So much pink, so many frills.... what an eye-sore. Ok, sorry to get bitter... lets bring it back to a more positive note....

Sukiwari is an excellent Japanese beach game. The premise is simple:

1) Put a watermelon on a plastic bag or some tarpaulin (to catch the all the bits). Make sure not to place it close to where other people have set up their beach living rooms.

2) Blindfold a friend, give them a big stick, spin them around a couple of times, stand back and yell directions to where the watermelon is.

3) Tell them when to swing, and if they've succeeded you'll have a smashed watermelon to snack off.

We tried this for John's birthday last weekend at Ajigaura beach. On his first try, the stick snapped in half and the watermelon was barely scratched. On his second try, John successfully smashed open the watermelon and fun times were had all round.

Interesting fact; A smashed open watermelon looks a bit like human brains.

Well, that about sums it up!

If you get a chance to go to the beach in Japan this summer, then I strongly recommend it. It is a perfect chance to not only relax, soak up some sun and do all the other typical beachy stuff, but it is also a perfect place for people watching.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Techno is boring.

Riley and Zara are slowly infiltrating their way into the inner social circle of an up-and-coming Japanese Indie rock band. Let's call them band X.

Through pure blagging, charm and luck we managed to make a good impression as a friendly gaijin duo. After getting ourselves on the after-party guest-list for X's gig last night, we socialised our way through the ni-ji-kai (second party) and then onto the san-ji-kai (third party), which was effectively a free back-door entrance and a welcoming smile into one of Tokyo's swaggiest nightspots "UNIT".

My selfish thirst to seek out whatever cool underground shit Tokyo has to offer has only been marginally quenched. I am determined to get to the heart of it.

Indie rock is only one genre. As a teenager I thought it was the best; The Libertines, The Strokes, Razorlight, you name it, I pined for it. But not anymore. Band X are truly fantastic. As much as I love their music, I fear that their sound is stuck 10 years in past - in a static space of musical history if you will. I love it because it touches upon my musical memories of youth. It resonates with my nostalgia. But is this what I want? No, of course not, I want to get out of my comfort zone. I want to find the newest trends in Japanese music. I want to watch the conception, ride the musical movement wave into the future and be there to see new legends in the making.

Realistically though, this won't be able to happen until I move down to Tokyo proper. Get my head out of the dreaded countryside. But, mock my words,  IT WILL HAPPEN.

... or you know, probably won't...because I definitely won't have the time or money as a student to support a dream double life where I become the queen of the Tokyo underworld.

Friday, 19 June 2015


This comedy sketch of an American dude getting pissed off at how difficult and nonsensical learning Kanji is totalllllllllllllly trending in Japan right now.

On ethical consumption...

Ethical Food Consumption

When thinking about ethical food waste, many may recall being told to "think about the starving children in Africa" after failing to finish the food on their plate as a child. Whilst ethical concerns over the production and disposal of food is nothing new, there is a perpetual need for food and drink-based companies to restructure, reimagine and re-brand themselves to fit the trending ethical expectations of consumers.

In May, a law passed in France making it illegal for large supermarkets to dispose of edible food. Arash Derambarsh, the politician responsible for this policy, is hoping that other countries will follow suit. In reaction to the mounting social and governmental pressure food wastage campaigns have had on supermarkets, Tesco, the UK supermarket giant, has been quick to take action. In an effort to boost its public image and stay ahead of the conscious consumption game, Tesco has responded in two significant ways. In 2013, it took the bold move to start publishing its food wastage figures, pledging to take necessary steps to reduce these figures in the future. More recently, it has started a scheme, alongside food redistribution charity FairShare, to donate its surplus to local charities. These actions have not only boosted Tesco’s public image, but have also pressured competing supermarkets to follow in its path.

McDonald’s, a global brand name in the fast food industry, has been no exception to the conscious consumer culture. In fact, on numerous occasions it has been forced to re-brand in response to public opprobrium. In recent years, it has come under a lot of pressure to improve the quality of its food. This has not just been a case of needing to provide a more slimming, nutritional menu, which we saw following the release of documentary film Super-Size Me, but there has also been a shift focusing on the ethical sourcing of its ingredients. As a reaction to consumers’ growing interest in local food movements, Mcdonald’s launched their “What we’re made of” campaign in 2011, focusing on the farms and ranches where its food is made. The success of this campaign came not only from allowing people to get a clearer sense of where their food comes from, but also resonated with consumers by putting a face and story behind its suppliers.

A cultural shift towards conscious consumption has put increasing pressure on brands in the food and drinks industry to be transparent, conscientious and socially active in the way they source, produce, package and even dispose of their products. In order to maintain their reputations, both Tesco and McDonald’s have found intelligent ways to please ethically concerned consumers.  

Written by Zara Kletz  18/06/2015

A speech that moves people to tears, without much understanding of what I'm saying

Today was my last day at the special school where I teach 6 times a year. Although that may not sound like a lot, I really feel like I've formed a strong connection to the place.

It was very emotionally draining to say the least. I started the day by giving a Japanese speech to the entire school. As impressive or terrifying as that may sound, you should know that I poached it from the Ibaraki JET leavers guide. Before you judge me for being a total cheat, I did change and personalise certain parts...for example, I filled in the name of the school and which country I come from into the basically an original piece of writing. Well, at least this blog post is an original piece or writing.

Last night, I went to the local live house bar AKA. Stormy Mondays, where they let me practice my speech on stage with a microphone. It was supposed to be open-mic night, but sometimes nobody shows up, so they let talent-less people like me come on and fill the air.

When delivering my speech this morning, I understood what I was saying of course, it was fairly simple Japanese and the translation is given in the leavers guide. However, there is something in the Japanese turn of phrase where, even if I understand the meaning, I can't truly understand the emotional connection people make with the words. I guess this makes me an apathetic Japanese speaker. Doctors here should hire me to inform people when their loved ones have passed away.

There was also a part where I address the students with a question, which, for some reason I thought was rhetorical. However, there was an unexpected moment when the students answered me in unison with a  "haii". I never really wondered this before, but there might not be rhetorical questions in Japanese. Is that possibly a thing? I guess a quick Google search might answer my question, although sometimes its worth giving yourself a few moments to ponder. Also there are no such things as stupid questions. So there.

So, gifts were exchanged, I had a very nice surprise by the students who had prepared the most beautiful song accompanied by a piano just for me. It felt very surreal.. sitting on a chair and having 100 students singing just for you. Was it the best moment in my life? Quite possible. It was so hard not to cry... but I managed not to, I danced the robot dance right through to the end of the day. Its not that I don't want to cry in front of people, I do that all the time, seriously, ask the dudes at Stormy Mondays.... its just that, when I start crying, I find it very difficult to stop. Also I'm not an attractive crier, my face goes red and blotchy and it looks gross. I have pictures from today which I'll probably cherish for the rest of my life.

Here's the song the students sang to me today:

100 special kids singing this just for me. Now there's a beautiful thing.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Gaijinpot gold

Gaijinpot is a forum for foreigners living in Japan.

I've stumbled upon a great line of thread which started with one poster, who was pretty much looking for the same thing as me, a way to tap into the tokyo avant-garde music....but found this:

Given its all about 10 years old. I have just been informed by an anonymous source that no one has posted onto this forum in at least two years. Hmm.

Monday, 8 June 2015


My new Japanese music obsession is Tofubeats. Like The Fin., Tofubeats also comes from Kobe which annoyingly means that most of his gigs take place in Kansai.

Here is the video for his new single Stakeholder. Warning: I can't get this out of my head. I heard that if you sing a Madonna song it will cure a wormhole, but this track is so good, I'm happy to have it floating around in my head.

In case you were wondering, the dude in the video is Tofubeats.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Falling into the soundcloud

I just found a procrastination hole which I was much slower than everyone else to pick up on. It's like the time I didn't know what Reddit was...Although I still can't decide if I think Reddit is great or the biggest waste of time known to internet-man-kind.

Anyway, my new obsession, thanks to a constant stream of URL links being sent between me and my new music friend Mr. Huggins, is called "Soundcloud" have you heard of it? Of course you have!

And yes, in the past people have linked tunes to me over Soundcloud before, but I never took too much acknowledgement of it. This all changed when Yesterday, I actually made an account and now I 'follow' people like an active participant of the internet society I so strive to be a member of.

Hey internet rollercoaster, please don't leave me behind. I have a fully packed bag and am ready to go.

It turns out that despite having being subscribed to Spotify for over 3 years, safe in the supposed knowledge I was paying for the mind-opening music exploring platform that was making me relevant and "up to date with the kids"...Spotify is extremely limiting. There's not much on there if you want to discover anything slightly underground or unknown.

Soundcloud has everything on there.... its all there. ITS ALL THERE. Oh, there it is, Oh, yes, turns out its not just fallen behind the couch, its just there, on Soundcloud.