Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bye-bye, Japan! See you next time!!

Yes, I'm back in the USA! And feeling so, so much better than I did when I left. I'm very glad I went on my vacation, even though the timing was not so great and I had to keep my expenses down… I feel quite refreshed and happy. I would love to share some pictures with you!

My first day I went shopping in Harajuku and Shibuya, just to get my bearings. I went to Tower Records and had fun poking around all the listening stations. I got some great new bands!!




I really miss being able to go to the record store and just stumble across new (to me) bands. I mean digital downloads are great but it's just not the same as having that physical, tangible connection to a record. Cover art, lyrics booklet, just feeling like you OWN it.

No wonder Japan surpassed America to become the largest music market in the world last year. THEY CARE ABOUT MUSIC IN JAPAN. We really, really don't here… Music is nothing back background noise. Download for $.99 and then delete when the next hit comes along. 

Do you know what's amazing is that Japan has managed to sustain careers of mid-level artists. The same folks who have been pushed out of the industry in the USA. And those careers last a long time. 

I was super out of it that first day and tripped over a curb. You can see I had to stop and bandage up my knee and ankle. Thankfully my injury wasn't nearly as bad as last year's broken, bloody toe but it was still gross.

Classy Meiji Jinja selfie!

My Harajuku skirt! The sales clerk was happy to try out his English on me. It was cute! My rule is to speak Japanese unless people want to English me and then I will English them because I know it's fun to try out your language skills and I'm always happy to encourage people to try! I want to leave a good impression of Americans! So many of us are such awful travelers. I mean, I actually saw Westerners just taking photos of high school girls in Harajuku like the girls were tourist attractions and not actual, real girls going about their daily business. I mean, COME ON! Ugh.

This was also the night I visited my beloved UFO Club! I saw a fan-fucking-tastic punk act called Gloptin and you should all check him out because he's AWESOME!

Halfway through his set he thew out all these drumsticks and pots and pans into the crowd and yelled, "LET'S ALL DRUM TOGETHER" and so I banged on this frying pan SO HARD that my ears hurt the next day even though I'd been wearing earplugs. Heh.

Hanging out in tourist hell in Shitamachi. I felt I needed to go at least once but ugh. Too many tourists.

Hanazono Jinja in Shinjuku! I happened by there on a day of a festival! The atmosphere was really buzzing. Lots of good food on sticks I'm unfortunately still not up to eating and carnival games.

And a kabuki performance.

(Note: These gates are tiny and I am tall.)

Nezu-Jinja! I've wanted to see this since I saw this gorgeous photo shoot of 河合郁人 and 橋本良亮 from A.B.C-Z:

I may have mentioned but I have a theory about "sacred space" that goes something like… I love visiting places that have a meaningful connection to me. Whether it's personal or artistic. There is something magical about visiting a place my favorite band had a gorgeous photo shoot or where a movie I loved was filmed. In short, I'd rather visit an ordinary street that featured in a movie that was important to me-- i.e. when I visited London and saw where the opening bit of "A Hard Day's Night" was shot-- than see the most famous tourist sites in the world.

Funny story, though. I ended up getting extremely lost once I got off the subway at the Nezu stop. I followed the signs for the shrine but ended up turned around on the opposite side of the main street. Just as I was giving up hope of ever finding it, a cat wandered by and demanded my attention. I looked over and… the cat was directly under a map!! And I found my way!! All thanks to this very friendly cat. ありがとう、猫ちゃん! 

"Todai" aka Tokyo University! It's very close to Nezu-Jinja and the campus was gorgeous.

Japan really is a nation of animal lovers. On the grounds of Tokyo University is a statue of Hachiko, the dog who waited faithfully at the train station for his master to return home… long after his master had passed away. I might have cried a little.

Dinner at an all you can eat dessert buffet.

I scored a vintage Matchy '45!

Speaking of "sacred spaces," my friend and I went on a day trip to Gunma Prefecture to visit Castle Lockheart!

Castle Lockheart was originally the Scottish "Castle Lockhart," purchased by a Japanese businessman and brought over to Japan during the Bubble Era of the 1980s and turned into a high fantasy wedding-princess daydream castle!

These little red hearts are everywhere!! Visitors hang them up to proclaim their love.

With A.B.C-Z shirt and vintage 2008 ふみきゅん uchiwa because...

We were here, obviously, because it's where our favorite A.B.C-Z shot their video for "Never My Love" (yes, a cover of the Association song).

My delicious meal of beer and fish and chips with heart shaped tartar sauce! ROMANTIC!

CASTLE LOCKHEART! You can rent princess dresses to wear around and photograph yourself in. There were many, many women doing this. It was adorable!


This is where A.B.C-Z found the "magic" key to unlock the secret of romance in their video!

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has also been there! 

On Monday I headed to Osaka! Wearing a shirt I got in Harajuku!

Stray cat glaring at me for interrupting bath time on the grounds of Osaka Castle. Apparently there are quite a few stray cats who live there.

Osaka Castle!

The moat!

Poster about all the stray cats!

One of Japan's many convenient drinks vending machines. I liked this one on the Osaka Castle grounds for the helpful English explanations. I had a "Salty & Fruity" lychee flavored water. Yum!

I got sunburnt. Osaka!


For those who don't know, the all-female Takarazuka Theater Troupe was established just over a hundred years ago outside of Osaka. The idea was to create a theater troupe to perform plays that women wanted to see… and who knows what women want to see?! WOMEN! 

The women train for a few years at the special school before officially joining the troupe and many go on to have great careers as boss older lady actresses after their time with Takarazuka. For example, please check out one of my favorites, the OG Maya Miki top star in the 1990s, playing bass and singing "Smoke on the Water." There is a special kind of confidence these women have. The kind that can only come from not having to play second fiddle to ANY man, ever, in their careers.

The musical I saw was called "1789" and starred Ryuu Masaki as "Ronan," a village boy swept up in the French Revolution. You can see a short preview here. (My fave is Miya Rurika, who played the villain. You can see her with the bottle of poison.)

The view from my seat in the theater.

I had no idea what to expect from the performance but, simply put, I was blown away. The sheer power of these women on stage was incredible. I want to write something specifically about it but will probably wait until after I get the DVD of the performance (already pre-ordered!!) to do so. 

But I will say this. I ended up seated next to an old school fan (for 30 years!!) who really helped me out with theater protocol-- i.e. she told me when it was okay to take a picture of the stage. We chatted a little during intermission and I told her that it was impossible to see such a production in America and she asked about Broadway and… I'll be honest, I don't think Broadway in ANY WAY is as fabulous as Takarazuka for the same reason that a real masala film is so much more fabulous than a Hollywood popcorn flick. And this is why: 1) Takarazuka, unlike Broadway, is all about the connection with the audience. These ladies have trained their entire careers to dazzle us, and dazzle us they do. Whenever I've seen a Broadway show, the focus has been more on technical skill and/or the PERFORMER where in Takarazuka, they are technically skilled BUT those skills are a means to an end… the end of delighting the (mostly female) audience.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense.

I'm still jet lagged, please forgive.

The other thing is that America has long been in thrall to "authentic" blah blah blah and Takarazuka is authentic but it's authentically show business, which means every production ends with something called "The Finale," a huge dance number featuring a chorus line and a giant staircase and feathered suits and shan-shans. It is spectacular and I now firmly believe every musical needs to end this way.

The lead "otokoyaku" takes the final, final bow of the Finale and I was moved to tears by the force of it all. To see a woman standing there, so confident, so powerful, so wonderfully accepting of all of our applause… not even the slightest hint of self-depreciation or false modesty. It was incredible.

Women do know what women want to see, after all.

The lobby leading out to the gift shop. The photos along the top are of the actresses…

Outside the theater...

Along the "Hana no Michi" or Flower Road… it leads to the Osuma Tezuka museum!

The Phoenix! An image from one of his most famous works!

The flower road sign.

The Museum!

The Phoenix statue!

Outside were cement "hand/foot prints" from his famous characters. This was the one for the Phoenix.

The bathroom tiles inside the Museum were SO CUTE! Astroboy wants us to make sure we didn't leave anything behind!

There was a reading library of EVERY Tezuka manga ever!! I found a copy of the long out-of-print ファウスト or "Faust", based on the famous German story of… Faust. I'd been wanting to read it since my fave ふみきゅん had starred in the musical adaptation that I will never be able to see unless they release a DVD. (Note: PLEASE RELEASE A DVD.)

Tired but happy coming home from Takarazuka! I don't need to revisit Osaka but I will definitely plan my next visit around a Takarazuka production. I need to see those ladies perform again.

My goodies from the Takarazuka Theater. Like I said, I was really blown away. I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did… I mean I expected to enjoy myself but I'd always been indifferent to Broadway and Broadway musicals. I suppose I should have known better… my lack of engagement is not with the "musical" form but with the way it's done in the US.

Some photos of morning time Namba, where I stayed in Osaka. It's a nighttime district but I didn't want to whip out my camera in the middle of everybody having fun at night so… having some photos on my way to the train station. I stayed right by the AKB theater.

The view from my hotel in Fukuoka. I'd really, really like to.

Fukuoka! I was staying in the Kawabata section of town.

I'd come to see one of my fave bands Gesu no Kiwami Otome. They were playing out by Yahoo Dome at Zepp Fukuoka. I was nervous about finding my way but, as it turned out, I shouldn't have been. You see, J SOUL BROTHERS were playing at Yahoo Dome proper so all I had to do was follow the sea of blue shirts!

I'm quite fond of J Soul Brothers. If I'd known they were playing I might have tried to do one night of Gesu and one night of J Soul Brothers. (Check out their latest Mad Max-themed video featuring SLASH!)

The next day I went sightseeing in my Gesu No Kiwami Otome T-shirt!! The concert was really, really fun!! I ended up squished against the front stage and rocked harder than I had in years. Gesu are a fantastic live band. The interplay between the members is really nice to watch in person and they have a bit of a different vibe than their recordings. Ikoka on drums is vicious! But she's totally in sync with Kachou on bass and lead singer Enon. ChanMari on keys is in her own world, much more so than I expected. 

Enon was the shocker for me, though. Having only seen him on TV performances, where he was rather stiff, I wasn't expecting his stage presence to be so electric in front of the crowd. BUT HE WAS ELECTRIC. He took great delight in whipping us into a frenzy. The harder we pushed forward, the deeper he'd go. 

And he's got a really funny, dry sense of humor. Both nights I went he told the story of his taxi ride to the club with the world's most clueless driver who a) didn't know where Zepp Fukuoka was and then b) thought J Soul Brothers must be a baseball team of some sort. HAAA! And he also joked around about feeling out of place without a blue shirt and how the energy was so electric with the J Soul fans that he also felt like wandering into Yahoo Dome to see what was up.

Enjoy "Killer Ball" which was the encore both nights.

One thing I did learn was that as the only white person around it was important to establish I could, in fact, understand what people were saying, in order to avoid getting talked about while standing there.

Pre-gaming the second day at Hard Rock. I'd been dreaming about the veggie burger all day. LOL! The manager Honda-san came over to introduce himself as he was delighted to find that I liked Japanese music!

I wasn't supposed to buuutttt… the stage before the show! This was my view the second night. I stood towards the back so I could have room to dance more. It was fun being up front but I could barely move!

One of Fukuoka's famous shrines-- Kushida Jinja.

I got my fortune for 50 yen.

I'm moderately lucky but people find me arrogant. Well… 

I wandered into Tochoji Temple because I saw this sign:


Who am I to disobey?!

Photography wasn't allowed but the giant Buddha really was GIANT. As I was standing there looking at it, two aunties sort of sidled up to me and told me I could go inside the statue. I thought there must be some sort of communication error but, no, I did go inside the statue and inside was… HELL! Picture after picture of HELL!!!!

At the end of the hallway of Hell you're suddenly plunged into pitch blackness. The path twists and twists and as I stumbled forward, trying not to trip and fall (again!) the way grew light again and I was in heaven. I made a little offering to the Buddha and came out the other side feeling… transformed somehow. It was an incredible experience, grasping my way through the dark in the base of a giant statue of Buddha.

Uchiwa making supplies for the big event my last weekend… A.B.C-Z concerts!!!! 3 shows in 2 days!!!! NO SLEEP TIL TOKYO!

Back to Tower Records! Posing with A.B.C-Z!

Signed Gesu poster was on display!

And Tower had a standup of Enon-kun from Gesu dressed as a Tower employee. OBVIOUSLY I had to pose!

Completed uchiwas! At big concerts, fans will decorate these fans with different things. Either the name of a favorite band member or a request for an air kiss or anything really. The two on the left are my friend's for her fave member. The two on the right are a 河 for my favorite member and a request for a "ボルトー" or "bolt" which was a catchphrase from one of the songs from their last tour.




AHHHHHH!!!! A.B.C-Z!!!!!!!!

Golden Bomber sent them flowers! Not surprisingly, my two fave acts are great friends!

Post concert meal of Okonomiyaki! We were all laughing that a giant grill in the center of a table would never, ever fly in America because of the potential for lawsuits.

I wrote "A.B.C-Z" on mine in mayonnaise. Heh.

Soba! Pre-concert meal day 2!

Stealth concert selfie! I was so emotional… it really was an amazing couple of days. The connection between idol and fan is like nothing else. The closest I can get is between Hero and fan in Indian movies except you have many fewer chances to interact with your Hero in real life.

Post second day concerts with my "Bolt" uchiwa in front of Yoyogi. That is the face of a woman WHO ACTUALLY GOT "BOLTED" by one of the band. I was (an am!!) still in shock over it. Personal interaction with an idol is very, very rare. Especially when you are me and live in the USA.

And then with my 河 and a well-deserved post-concert beer at Shibuya station--as in the lyrics of ふみきゅん's song: 君を初めて見つけた 人混みであふれた渋谷駅 (I first found you in the overflowing crowds of Shibuya Station)

BYE-BYE, JAPAN! Wearing my A.B.C-Z hat home because there was no room in my suitcase.


Anonymous said...

Yay! Haven't had a chance to look at the videos yet, but food looks yummy, the locations look fascinating, and you look like you were having some seriously needed FUN. The story about the cat is very sweet. :)

eliza bennet said...

Glad that you had a great time and welcome back!

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