Posts Tagged 'ibaraki'

Behold Omitama

I learned that Ogawa-machi, Japan, the small bucolic town I lived in for two years in the mid-90s is no more. It was more of a collection of rice fields punctuated by the odd house and/or strip of vending machines. There was all of two convenience marts there when I moved there and three when I left. The whole place smelled like onions and, being poor and rural, was a hotbed for the uyoku. There was a strip of businesses down two intersecting streets — most of which were mom and pop stores that eyed me suspiciously on the rare times popped in. To be fair, there were two notable things about Ogawa: a natto museum, which illustrated the history and many varieties of natto in flashy multi-media displays (though sadly, the gift shop didn’t sell T-shirts); and Hyakuri air base, where on a few occasions I went to teach English.

So what happened to Ogawa? It was absorbed into a new franken-berg, combining adjacent towns, Minori-machi and Tamari-mura. Behold, Omitama City. If your Japanese is rusty, the English version can be seen here. Here’s a map of it in relation to the rest of Ibaraki prefecture.

Why the switch? It seems that they are converting Hyakuri from being a strictly military base into the rather unimaginatively titled Ibaraki Airport. The idea is that it will be Tokyo’s third string air hub after Narita and Haneda with domestic flights to places like Naha, Sapporo and Fukuoka. Whether this will work or not, who knows. But the sleepy backwater where I lived is going to quickly change.

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Tokyo — You Can’t Go Home Again

Omotesando circa 1974I’m in Tokyo now watching a TV show with some Japanese starlet in Peruvian jungle suffering through a meal of turtle penis.

Every time I go to Tokyo there is some new building or development being thrown up. The other day I dropped by Roppongi Hills — a shiny new complex with a huge movie theater, a sundry of overpriced shops and an impressive collection of bad public art. This being summer vacation, the place was packed with family’s and young couples snapping photos with their cell phones left and right. The place looked like it would be more a home in West LA and I soon left feeling like I had seen the place before. Instead I sought out some of the bars where I danced all night in when I lived in Ibaraki eight years ago. My favorite bar had since been turned into a Starbucks. Tokyo has been wrecked and built up so many times, and each new building is more ridiculous and inhuman that the last, giving the place increasingly a feel of a dystopian sci-fi flick, that part of me simply wants to say: build more. Make Tokyo more gigantic and bizarre. But then yesterday, while R and I were looking for an over-priced macrobiotic restaurant along Omotesanto — Tokyo’s answer to the Champs Elysee — we noticed that the famed Dojunkai Apartment complex had been demolished. The Dojunkai apartments was one of first examples of Bauhaus architecture in Japan which somehow survived the 1923 Kanto earthquake and US Air force in 1945. They were elegant and gave the whole area a certain charm. In its place I sure they’re going to throw up some shiny glass box featuring another fuckin’ Starbucks.

Speaking of times gone by, the other day I ventured up to Ibaraki for the day. I first went to Tsuchiura, located on the far finger of Lake Kasumigaura. It was where my friend Ted lived and where I frequently went to escape from the tedium of Ogawa machi — small farming berg where I was placed. The place was more depressing than when I visited two years ago. The shopping mall where Ted and I bought used CDs and drank beer was a ghost town and all of the old department stores have gone belly up. There is a new department store monstrosity that opened up about five years back across from the train station. My friend Yuki predicted that it would go belly up too in a couple of years. Yuki and I spent most of the day catching up over okonomiyaki at one of the few stores still open in that shopping mall.

I told her about working at BIG and R and we talked about our mutual distaste for George W. Bush. She told me about her dumb job and her cat Godzilla who is getting on in years. We gossiped about mutual friends. One is working in a wedding salon as a hairdresser and another has expanded to an alarming girth. Yuki also told me about a dream she had in which she was along with Ted helping me move from my apartment in LA, which was literally on the beach. When the moving guys showed up they brought out a vast array of exotic vacuum machines to clean my house. I was apparently wildly fascinated by them and kept pestering the moving guys with questions. Eventually, they mentioned that they had a vacuum cleaner shaped like a dog. After repeatedly pleading with them, they grudgingly brought the thing out of their van. It was only a beat up plastic toy dog and clearly in no way a vacuum cleaner. I was very disappointed. It was good talking to Yuki. The more my Japanese improves the more I realize that I actually have something to talk about with her, which I’ve sadly learned isn’t always the case.

Speaking of that, for dinner I jogged up to Mito where I briefly saw Ikuko, an ex-girlfriend of mine. I met her at the used-clothing shop she opened up two years ago. The store itself is roughly the size of my bathroom in LA but the location was pretty good and her wares were cool if pricey. She introduced me to her ferret-faced boyfriend who scowled at me for twenty minutes as she closed up shop and then hopped in his Jeep Cherokee and left. We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant that her brother opened, talked about old times and R and ferret-face, and then I grabbed the last train back to Tokyo, which for some reason is at the appalling early time of 9:30pm. On the way back, the train stopped for an hour at the station closest to Ogawa-machi. Something was messed up because of the heavy rain and freakishly cold weather the area is experiencing. Across from me sat a young mother who passed the time staring into her cell phone and whacking her spastic child who was terrorizing the train car.

Anyway, it’s only a few days before my grudging return to the US of A whereupon I’m going to have to find a job fast or move into a cardboard box.

Kumamoto — Shooting, Editing, and Drinking with Models.

It’s noisy here in the Sumi residence in the morning. Around five or six in the morning, these mutant-sized crows start cackling at each other. Then some other bird — R told me the name in Japanese but I haven’t a clue what’s it called in English — starts making this weird whooping sound. And then the lions, tigers and bear in the adjacent zoo start roaring and growling. In response, the dogs in the neighborhood start barking. And finally, just as I begin to adjust to the rising noise level and return to a fitful sleep, the cicadas kick in. One of these bugs makes quite a racket; a swarm of them creates a deafening wail that is routinely used in Japanese movies to depict homicidal insanity. While half-asleep this morning, I had the distinct sense this insect cry was actually the sound of my own brain being grilled over a hibachi.

I guess such gruesome imagery is fitting cuz it’s wicked hot here. Yesterday, I managed to prod Miyazaki-san into helping me with a shoot of my own. Anyone familiar with my films Tokai or Beautiful People will probably gather what I was shooting this go around — static pictures of creepily banal architecture. It also gave me the chance to play with R’s sexy new Panasonic DVX-100. For those of you who don’t wax poetic about lines of resolution or image compression, I spare you the details. But the DVX-100 is a pretty cool camera.

Perhaps it was the omnipresent whine of the cicadas that reminded me of my own cooking brain or maybe it was the fact that the back of my neck had turned beet red but two hours into the shoot I went out and bought a ¥500 hat. I don’t wear many hats. I’m not a “hat person.” But I dig this hat. One could say that the hat makes me look remarkably like Jean-Luc Goddard during his cameo in Breathless. One could also that the hat makes me look uncannily like my grandfather Crow who wore a similar hat while gardening. Whatever, the hat protected my head and looked pretty good doing it.

The shoot itself proved to be less than successful, thanks to the heat coupled with some less than satisfactory light. Basically, Miyazaki and I shot for a couple hours then cooled off for a bit, usually at one of Kumamoto’s fine eating establishments. First we stopped by Mister Donuts (which was in an American-sized mall called You Me Town where incidentally I also bought my cool new hat); later we ate soba at a local noodle shop; then around three or so we ate at Mos Burger, which is probably the tastiest fast food joint I’ve ever eaten at; and then finally weary and sunburned, we ate yakiniku in one of Miyazaki favorite haunts which was packed full for some reason with spastic toddlers.

Basically, yakuniku is a platter of raw meat that you grill yourself. Miyazaki, who I think goes to this place something like every week, didn’t even look at the menu when he ordered for the two of us. Soon after, plate upon plate of meat arrived at our table, each more gruesome-looking than the last. When a plate full of raw tripe, intestines, kidneys, and livers arrived, I was dreading that next plate might have nothing but eyeballs and testicles. Though Miyazaki gently mocked my American culinary prudery, I was too tired to rise to the challenge. I stuck with the cuts of meat found on the exterior of the cow and ordered another beer as he merrily munched on charred tripe.

Anyway, most of the week was spent edited that promo for Yamaga. I managed to dredge up some taiko music that not only perfectly fit the length of the piece but also gave it a sense of drama and mystery. Once the timing was set, which took some doing, I had a blast trying out all these effects and techniques I’ve never had reason to use before. I’ll spare the grizzly details, but by Thursday I felt I had edited together a pretty hip little piece. Of course, on Friday after three days of editing, Oshima finally managed to get a hold of the TV station that was going to air the promo and was told that the promo had to be 42 seconds and not 45 as we were originally told. After uttering a number of curses in two languages, I rearranged some shots, tossed a few more and managed to pull something together that was pretty good but not as kick-ass as the 45-second directors cut.

You can see the director’s cut here:

Fortunately, the day ended with me pleasantly inebriated and chatting with models. Yamano-san, who was the cameraman for a shoot I was on in June, was throwing his famous annual summer festival party and all attendants were required to sport festival wear — either yukatas or happi coats. Oshima, who was the other representative for BIG, managed to dig up a shockingly gaudy happi for me to wear — it looked more like a soccer uniform than a piece of traditional Japanese garb. As we were driving to the party, she told me that Yamano’s wife was a hairdresser so I would be able rub elbows with both film and fashion related people. Basically, the beautiful people of Kumamoto, as such. Oshima and Yamano whisked me around and introduced me to lots people including a commercial director who lived in Australia and who spoke pretty good English, a film enthusiast with a moustache whose name I never really caught, and a pair of models named Misa and Maki. Unlike their American counterparts, these models weren’t tall, gaunt or hollow-cheeked. Instead, they looked like Japanese versions of the girl-next-door albeit with preternaturally good skin. They both thought it was cool that I lived in Los Angeles (compared to the blank stares I got when I said I was from Ohio eight years ago in Ibaraki) and they complained about modeling in Kyushu. I hoped that they would dish out about a seedy-side of Kumamoto filled with drugs, violence and red velour but sadly none was forth coming. Later, I talked to local TV reporter about New York City. She later proceeded to get rip-roarin’ drunk and talk on and on to Yamano-san’s wife about hair care tips. Of course, I was enjoying a bit of the drink myself. Eager to rid myself of the day’s stresses and annoyances, I made a beeline for the beer tap and made several return visits while stuffing myself with yakitori, grilled shrimp and edamame. Yamano soon started filling my glass with Shoju – a rice alcohol somewhere between sake and kerosene. Around midnight, when I spotted Oshima looking bored — she doesn’t drink because of migraines — I bayed the models and all farewell and went home in my happi coat.


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