Posts Tagged 'kumamoto'



Kumamoto –TV and ¥100 Shops

I just spent the last two or so hours watching Japanese TV. One program featured a segment that pulled drunken salarymen off the street after the bars closed and put them in a sort of ad hoc quiz show. At one point an announcer drilled a fat guy who had downed eight beers that night about the origin of turmeric. The fat guy retorted that his house burned down a few days before and he didn’t have a place to sleep.

On the news, the big story was that family of four in Fukuoka was mysterious murdered and their bodies were dumped in the ocean. The other big story was that soccer player and Sting impersonator David Beckham stopped by Japan to shoot a commercial where he was beset upon by half the female population of Tokyo. The announcers all clucked about how cool he looked and about how much then looked forward to watching his commercial. The other day, on an Entertainment Tonight like show I saw a PR puff piece about a Canon digital camera commercial that was in production. It strikes me as depressingly inevitable that there would be hype about something that is supposed to hype something else.

Today was another low-key sort of day. The highpoint was probably going to a massive ¥100 (85 cents) shop. I when there to pick up a Japanese style notebook so I could practice Kanji but they sold everything there: Potato chips, photo albums, underwear, plush toys, Halloween masks, ashtrays, cocktail glasses, electrical cords, Japanese-English dictionaries, soda and (Japan being Japan) cheesecake DVDs all for ¥100.

Then R and I went to a Starbucks knockoff downtown (there are, by the way, three — count ’em three — Starbucks in a two block radius of downtown) where I read an article about the parallels between the Iraq war and Frank Herbert’s Dune in the latest issue of The Believer. As I looked up from my magazine, I realized that every single table in the shop was populated with women in their early 30s who were either studying English or composing email messages on their cell phones.

Kumamoto — First Days

It’s a lazy Saturday morning here in Kumamoto. I’m sitting on a tatami mat next to a shoji screen. It’s hot and cloyingly humid and the smell of soumen is emanating from the kitchen. It would all feel very Japanese if it weren’t for the sound of lion roars and monkey squeals. R’s house abuts the Kumamoto zoo.

Anyway, I started work at a small production company that in spite of (or perhaps because of) its size is called BIG. It’s located on two floors of a narrow office building adjacent from the Kumamoto city central police station, which looks less like an example of municipal architecture and more like it ought to be ferrying Darth Vader to the Death Star. Down the street is a store called “Sweet Camel” which advertises that it sells “Jeans for Aggressive Women.” On Thursday, the day I started working at BIG, a typhoon blew in from the Sea of China. My boss, Horita san, who looks vaguely like Beat Takeshi and who worked on the set of Kurosawa Akira‘s Ran when it was shot near Kumamoto, seemed eager to show me off to his business associates. As I struggled to follow one guy, who was discussing in heavily accented Japanese his plans to hire the handicapped, I became increasingly worried that the building would blow over from the gusts of wind. The floor shook, the windows rattled and stuff (hopefully not asbestos) rained down from the tiles above. And everyone largely ignored the whole thing. I tried to look attentive, by staring at the guy’s lips and not at the trees branches, bits of garage and small children flying past the window.

Beautiful People — RIP

Well, it’s the end of an era. The other day, I lit a few candles, places some fake flowers a few polaroids around my computer, bought some champagne and invited a few friends over. Yes, I was holding a funeral of sorts for all the footage of my thesis film Beautiful People, which with a few mouse clicks, I flushed from my hard drives. 100 gigs now gone and my film, now completely finished after a year and half’s worth of labor and way too much money, is on a half dozen mini DVs, 2 DV-CAM masters, and 1 DigiBeta tape. A certain poignancy lingered in the air for a moment, but then when drank some of the cheap champagne and watched Jackie Chan‘s Police Story.

In other news, I’m going back to Japan for a few months to be with R in Kumamoto and work in a production house there. Stay tuned to this blog for more ranting, complaining, and witty cultural insights.

Spring Break ’03 Part 4 – Last Day in Kumamoto

Hello all. We made it to Tokyo and I’m now sitting in R’s brother’s humble pad located in Kita-senju, which is the northeast corner of this sprawling city. In spite of the crowds, the cramped living conditions, and the cost, I really like Tokyo.

The day before yesterday, R and I meandered around the shopping district of Kumamoto. Compared to Tokyo, Kumamoto has a relaxed — R would say lackadaisical — pace and an artsy-craftsy sort of favor. Or at least that was the case in the shopping district, which featured boutique after boutique featuring Indian wrap-around skirts, hemp bracelets, and a variety of hipster updates of traditional Japanese crafts. Kumamoto also boasts a thick accent roughly equivalent to a Scottish burr, which R and Yo-chan (R’s brother delight in teaching me).

For lunch, R’s mom took us to a really good soba restaurant (soba being a specialty there) set in a beautiful old house complete with a courtyard garden. There’s probably not a single nail in this building, R’s mom commented. Then she took us to a nearby antique shop/coffee shop/ two-hundred plus year old tavern located right on one of the canals that rib the city. The antique collection was impressive — featuring a lot of European stained glass for some reason — but the building was out of this world. In the old days, customers arrived to the place by the canal. The dock and boarding room were still beautifully in tact. Why aren’t more old buildings preserved like this in Japan?

Later, after eating at an Indian themed coffee shop, which seemed to be a center for the local Kumamoto peace movement, we went back to the hotel where I was treated to a reality TV show where a team of young (18-20 yr old) hostesses talked shit about a team of older (28-30) hostesses. A cat-fight ensued in a wrestling ring and the loser of the match suffered the indignity of getting pied. It’s only a matter of time before FOX starts airing its own version.

Spring Break ’03 Part 3: Massage Chairs

I actually thought about vegging out here with the massage chairs (as alluded to in my previous entry), but something about the private massage chair stalls and the rack of pornographic comic books gave me the creeps. Instead, R and I went to the local electronics store and vegged out there. Unfortunately, amid the mechanical kneading and prodding, we did something to our backs. Both of us woke up stiff and in pain. Fortunately, R’s mother — whose something of a health fiend — had already scheduled appointments at her favorite shiatsu masseuse. He told me I have a slight twist in my lower spine and that’s the cause of my frequent lumbar consternation. I can’t say I’m 100 percent but after being pushed and bended for a half-hour while listening to “Groove Is In The Heart” at least I can get up from a chair without grimacing.

R and I spent most of yesterday and today with her mom. Last night, she took us out to what I guess could be described as a Country Buffet for the Macrobiotic set, featuring all you can eat brown rice, pickled daikon, and udon noodles. I must say that I’m getting along famously with R’s family, which is a refreshing change from the past. Previous encounters with the parents of previous girlfriends gave me the distinct impression that they viewed me about as favorably as, say, soiled diapers.

Yesterday, R bought me a pair of Levis with look quite fetching on me. Clearly this style is only sold in Japan because the largest waist size for this make is a 33. After years of being banished to the young mens section for having a waist size smaller than a 38, it’s nice to be on the larger end of the girth spectrum. I also bought a hair gel called “Nudy” which promised that “I will never want to buy another product again.” I purchased it thinking that if it lived up to its promise, it might rid me forever of my compulsive consumerism and save me thousands of dollars a year. I’m hopeful.

In other news, Michael Moore’s Oscar award rant is big news here. His gleefully hectoring “Shame on you, Mr. Bush,” looped ad nauseum.

Well, tomorrow R and I are off to Tokyo. More news later…

Spring Break Part ’03 Part 2: Chimpy

Hello all. I’m back in my computer geek mini-resort of a cyber-bar. I just realized that this place features free lattes, free razors in the bathroom and for an additional fee massage chairs. I’m half expecting to find a sauna and a hot tub combo somewhere around here.

First a few observations…

1) The Japanese really hate our beloved president, Chimpy McCokespoon. This is subtlely evident in the pictures the media selects to represent him. One pic, which served as a backdrop for a round table of talking heads, featured Bush with his mouth wide open, his beady eyes pushed together under a furroughed brow and his ape-like finger waggling at the camera, making him look both dim and bullying. Another pic for a similar talk show, featured a picture of Bush looking like a colicky baby just after a bowel movement.

2) Daihatsu has released a box shaped car inexplicably named “Naked.”

And now for the travel log…

The day for yesterday, R’s dad took me and R to his favorite sushi joint and proceeded to fill me with more raw fish than Shamu consumes in a week. We seemed to hit it off. He embarrassed R to no end by peppering his conversation with English like “I’m sorry,” “This is sushi” and the like. Yesterday, we went to Mount Aso which is not only the highest peak in Kyushu but also the largest volcanic crater in the world (or so I’m told). It belched up green fumes of sulphur which I heard usually smells much worse than it did. Then we went to Kumamoto’s castle, which was featured in Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. The outside was quite impressive though the inside was remodeled to look something like a Stalinist era library. Later that night, we were met by R’s mom — who was suffering from an ugly cold — and we went to the famed Iron Chief loser’s restaurant located in the basement of the Kumamoto Castle Hotel. The dinner was a bit uneven I did have some of the best squid I ever had there. Light, fluffy and not in the slightest chewy.

Anyway for the rest of today, I’m going to forget about the Oscars and the War and maybe veggie out in front of the computer while being kneaded by a massage chair…

Spring Break ’03 Part 1: Kumamoto

Hello all. I’m fighting a wave of jet-lag related stupor in an Internet cafe in Kumamoto, which sports not only wall-to-wall computers and free green tea, but also racks of comic books, DVDs and a CDs to rent and burn. It’s sort of a home away from home for the computer geek on the go…

Anyway, in spite of the Bush’s evil little war, I managed to get here in one piece. I flew out on Varig — Brazil’s national airline. The company seems to operate on a distinctly latin sense of time because the plane arrived two hours late into Narita and no one seemed particularly bothered or concerned by this. I had to catch a flight from Haneda — Tokyo’s domestic airport — located a good 60 km away. After racing through customs, I was about to board my shuttle when Morimoto from the Iron Chef strode by– sporting a baseball cap and a sumo wrestler’s swagger. I arrived with less than a hour to spare at Haneda, which little did I know, suffered from a massive computer crash that morning. The place reminded me of a train station in India — total chaos. Somehow, I managed get on my flight near a toddler who spent the entire two hour flight screaming and puking.

When I met at the airport by R and her father, I was told that on Sunday we all would go out to a restaurant whose owner famously lost on the Iron Chef. Already this trip is baring the twin themes of panic and the Iron Chef. Stay tuned to see how this plays out…


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