Recent

Gig review: Miyavi – We Are The Others final date in Tokyo, May 16th 2015

While I am by no means a big Miyavi fan, I know of him. A friend interviewed him a few months ago, and was super-excited to be doing so, and I saw his appearance on Ellen when he began his real, concerted efforts to crack America. I became vaguely aware of him as a visual-kei artist and have remained vaguely aware of him as he reinvented himself as an idiosyncratic rocker with a peculiar guitar technique. Knowing he’s pretty huge here, I would never have forked out the high ticket prices to go and see him, but I got free tickets through a friend, and I was very happy to go and experience what I knew was a very popular live act in his home territory. He may divide his time between here and the States and heavily hint that he’s every bit as popular in America as he his here, but that’s all image. He’ll fill a decent venue with J-rock fans, but remains very niche and I doubt even most rock fans in America are familiar with him. Anyway, we got into the cavernous venue, Coast, after enduring the fair-but-mostly-frustrating-and-meaningless Japanese gig venue entry system, which involves going inside in order of ticket number. I immediately saw that the place had a superb sound system, and will be very happy if I get to play on a stage like that at some point. Got a spot around the middle with my friends and waited for the absurdly early kick-off time. He started playing at around 6:30pm with no support act. It feels very odd to come out of a gig at around 9. Miyavi plays with just one other musician onstage, a very ordinary yet strangely loveable drummer called Bobo. It seems that at some point recently, Miyavi tried using a female keyboard player/DJ – as, after all, there’s quite a bit of playback in his lives, as well as extensive use of looping pedals – but anecdotally, it seems the crowds didn’t take to her much and she was nowhere to be seen at Coast. Though this two-musician dynamic, especially with a drummer who keeps things very basic complementing a virtuosic drummer, is the most obvious point of reference, it is not only for that reason that I say the band I was most reminded of was The White Stripes. There are many other similarities – a heavy influence from the blues, a very crunchy guitar sound, poppy hooks with a hard rock sound, and most of all this air of striving for authenticity. Both Miyavi and Jack White are trying very hard to convince their audience that they are very authentic musicians, that they suffer for their art and wring guitar squeals deep from their souls, but have to struggle against the elements of their songwriting that come over as artificial – the times they need backing tracks because one guitar doesn’t make a big enough sound, the times they’re getting the desired effect (like Miyavi’s extensive use of a pedal that made his guitar sound like a theramin) through very clinical digital manipulation and their often trite lyrics. Yet both have flashes of real brilliance where they are absolutely convincing, and Miyavi has the considerable advantage of being naturally likeable. And I think that’s why I enjoyed this gig more than either time I saw The White Stripes, even with something of a feeling of having seen it all before. Amusingly, the crowd tried very, very hard in the first two songs – there was a lot of pogoing, fist-pumping and the sort of crush in the middle I associate with festivals. A couple of poor girls were even helped out having collapsed. And then on the third song, as if a switch had been flipped, it all stopped. Everyone relaxed, decided they had their place and stopped shoving. Jumping up and down was strictly in place and perfectly comfortable. Apart from one fan-favourite song that involved lots more pogoing, the gig was then very calm. It was almost cute, but slightly strange. Still, I got an excellent spot with an excellent view despite by terrible ticket number, and as I was in front of a guy my height, I didn’t feel bad about blocking the view of the numerous tiny Japanese girls in the crowd, most of whom must have been able to see little more than somebody’s shouldblades for the entire gig. Miyavi is obviously an experienced and clever musician. His setlist flowed extremely well. He began with raucous numbers to get the crowd pumped up, sustained that for a while as he showed off his guitar skills, and then switched to an acoustic for some slow, heartfelt numbers – through which Bobo sat perfectly still, watching politely. This was probably the highlight for me, and if I implied earlier that guitar loops take away authenticity, here they were fluid and delicate and gave a coffee-shop mood to a huge stadium gig. Neither voice nor guitar were perfect, but that added to the feeling of seeing a piece of genuine and heartfelt expression. Japanese live music can often be too clean, precise and clinical, and Miyavi was in danger of that at times, but here he pitched it exactly right. Miyavi has obviously opened his mind to blues musicians and recent, tortured vocalists – yes, especially Jack White – and taken that on board without being derivative. This segued neatly into his most obvious gimmick, using a guitar like a bass for fast-paced slapped riffs. He’d been doing it during the opening songs but did far more Dick Dale-style alternate picking, and on the acoustic it really stood out. Soon he switched over to his electric again, and most of the last part of the set was fun, singalong anthems. Oh, and at some point he stripped down to a wife-beater to reveal his muscular arms and tattoos, which obviously had great appeal with a considerable part of the audience and is an undeniable element in his success – but then, that’s nothing to be ashamed of in the world of music. After his first encore song, Miyavi stopped to talk with the audience – either padding in a short set or the real philosophical crux of his tour, depending how cynical you feel. He had a bizarre message around his album and tour title – ‘We Are the Others’, which was very much like being part of the Life of Brian sketch – Brian: You are all individuals! Crowd (in unison): Yes! We are all individuals! He started out by singling out people who had come from around the world. ‘Put your hands up if you came from over another country. Where are you from?’ ‘Hong Kong!’ ‘How about you?’ ‘America!’ From this, he tried to make a point about exclusion and being othered by talking about being picked on as a half-Korean boy in a Japanese school. This is in the past, now, though, he claimed. Now we are in an international society and nobody needs to be ostracised or left out. He has ‘made it’ in the USA, so the world is a global place now. So Japanese people, please don’t feel I’m abandoning you for something better and keep buying my records and coming to my gigs, okay? Yet at the same time he wanted to celebrate individuals and people who stand out – the ‘Others’. But we are all the others, he said. Everyone is special! There was of course not a shred of irony here, or acknowledgement of the contradiction. When everyone is special, the term ‘special’ loses its meaning. In a way, it was horribly patronising. ‘Large mass of people, I stand up here above you, knowing you all worship me, to tell you that you are special like me!’ It was very much having a cake and eating it. But after all, it was a rock gig, and the audience is going to lap up anything that sounds vaguely positive, including if it’s delivered in another language. I liked him more when he was picking on poor Bobo, and blaming him for not touring more around the world. But oh well, rock stars are allowed to have a bit of bullshit in the encore of their solo gig. And the final song and singalong reprise of his anthemic ‘We Are the Others’ song left the crowd in no doubt that this was just a fun, straightforward bit of rock ’n’ roll.

Tokyo travels: Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa

Yesterday, I enjoyed a trip to Sensou-ji, the large and beautiful temple complex in Asakusa, for the first day of Sanja Matsuri. Sanja Matsuri is a festival essentially honouring the founders of the temple, based around three portable shrines. The festival begins with a parade, which is what I was there to see - and film! Check out my vlog on the matter! I should probably have shaved, though...!  

Vlog: Harajuku Kawaii and a metal gig.

 
Worst boyband ever

Worst boyband ever

Ahaha, today I went shopping for new clothes, and when I tried on all the new stuff I've bought in Japan and took photos, I realised I could put them together into one image. Now it appears I’ve formed a boy band made up of me, me, me and me. Everyday me, kodona-ish me, host-y me and punky me. I think I like my host-y self best, overall! I no longer feel so much like a fashion phoney, though I would still have to run away if someone asked me who made the clothes. They were cheap and second-hand and I didn’t check! On a related note, on Sunday I went to Harajuku to take part in a fashion-based event, Harajuku Kawaii. Which I followed up with a metal gig! Here's my vlog about it:  

Announcement: Three-Book Deal

I’ve been waiting what seems like forever for the official announcement, but it’s out now!
Announcement

Some gloomy photo, haha!

Yes, I’m thrilled to let everybody know that my first novel, Master Diplexito and Mr. Scant, is going to be published in the US by Carolrhoda. This is incredibly exciting for me and I am absolutely thrilled that they wanted not only my little story, but two sequels as well. What a brilliant start to Golden Week for me! I am really looking forward to working closely with Greg to get the book as good as it possibly can be. Launch day seems a very long way off, but I feel like I’ll be in a state of constant excitement until then!

First two days in Japan: how the best-laid plans go awry

20150403 I’m in Japan, and settled, and quite pleased with myself. On the other hand, just about everything that could go wrong did indeed go wrong, and pretty much all of it was thanks to the those crazy French and all their strikes! This is the second time in a year I’ve been held up badly because of French strikes, the last time meaning we spent the night on a train in Gare de l’Est.  In fairness, it was a sleeper train so not uncomfortable! I’d planned out my first day in Japan so well. I’d even made a video I was going to edit with all the bits I was going to film once I arrived at 10:50 the next day. Yeahhhh...that wasn’t to be. The sinking feeling began when we sat on the runway at London City Airport for a good half-hour after takeoff time. The first leg of our journey was to Rome, and I only had an hour to make my connection as it was, so I wasn’t too happy. Eventually, the pilot came on the tannoy and told us that as we were meant to be flying over French airspace, the French air traffic control strike meant we weren’t going anywhere. Urgh! There were some pleasant assurances from the copilot that they’d know various flights were delayed in Rome, so they’d probably hold ours. They didn’t, of course. By the time we landed, our flight to Tokyo had already gone. It was just me and a Japanese guy at the counter after that. At first they wanted us to just go to a hotel and get the plane 24 hours later. Then they suggested we could go via Shanghai and arrive at 9:30pm. Eventually, two counters and numerous phone calls later, Turkish Airlines agreed to take us via Istanbul to arrive in Narita at 6:30. Well, an 8-hour delay was a whole lot better than a 24-hour one, and there was a chance my estate agent would stay a little late for me, so we agreed for that one. Our bags would be transferred, they said, and we just had to hang around. Of course, that meant most of my plans for my first day were out of the window, and there were a couple of things I really wanted to get done before Friday, so things became a big rush. At the Turkish Airlines counter, they told us they’d confirm our bags had been transferred when we got on the plane. So after chatting with the guy in the same position as me for a bit, we went our separate ways with about four hours to kill until our flight that evening. Had a few Euros so got a snack. Not fine Italian cuisine, but welcome nonetheless. 20150410 01 When the plane to Istanbul came, I asked about my bag. When the attendant began with ‘Actually...’ my heart sank. Yeah – Alitalia hadn’t sent our baggage over. But there was still 20 minutes until the deadline!   Silver lining #1!! Okay, let’s inject some positivity! On the plus side, the food on Turkish airlines is really good! Plus there was a good selection of films even on a relatively short hop. I watched Whiplash: have written a review here.   Being in Istanbul without having planned it was pretty weird, but I was just glad to be on my way. I’d emailed my estate agent to ask if the office was open a little later today, but at that point it was about 1am in Japan so I couldn’t get a response. Still, there’s a lot to see in Istanbul airport, so even if I couldn’t buy anything, it wasn’t unpleasant. 20150410 02 The final, longest leg of the flight was over to Tokyo. There was a fellow Brit on the seats in front, so I chatted with him quite a bit before watching Nightcrawler. My thoughts on that are here. I was going to watch more films – I usually watch around 5 on long-haul journeys – but it struck me that if I was unlikely to have my luggage in Tokyo, I wouldn’t be able to put my heavy hand luggage inside it to wheel along, so it would probably be better to finish The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and leave the book behind. It’s quite a thick book so better not to have to carry it!   Silver lining #2!! While the plane from Rome was crowded, the connecting flight from Istanbul was very late, local time (1am) and relatively empty. I got a whole row to myself, and so did all the people around me!   So between Nightcrawler, getting quite a lot of sleep (so much easier when you can stretch out over a row) and reading, the time passed quite pleasantly, and I finished the book about half an hour before landing. Review here! Upon arrival in Narita, passport control was quiet but still took a while as I was getting my Resident’s Card, which has in the last few years replaced the far better-named ‘Alien Registration Card’. By the time I got to the luggage carousels, all the flight’s bags had appeared, and as expected, mine was not there. Filled in a lost luggage form, which took quite a long time, and then just missed the Keisei Airliner. Well, to get to Nishi-Shinjuku, the Narita Express is probably a bit faster anyway, so I paid the extra 1,000-odd yen and headed there. It was already around 9:15 by the time I got to the estate agent’s. But the lovely lady there had stayed late just for me. I was so grateful! The boss was there too – and even gave me some green tea to drink. What a brilliant place! If you ever need to rent a place in Tokyo, I highly recommend Asumirai – especially as they can sort out rental from outside the country, which is a rarity. There were numerous forms to fill in, and I got to use my chop (my seal, which is Chinese and made of jade and which I’ve had since I was small, and serves as a hanko here), which was quite a thrill! I hope I get to stamp lots of other things. I need to get an ink pad, actually...Anyway, everything was explained and I got my key. But I didn’t go straight to my new home – instead I went to meet some friends on their last night in Tokyo!     Silver lining #3!! If they hadn’t lost my bag, I would have had to go to my apartment first to drop off my large suitcase. I would also have had to take it across Tokyo on the train, and lug it up several flights of stairs. Knowing as I do that it has been found and will be delivered to me, this was relatively convenient!   Met my friends in Akihabara, much later by then than I’d hoped, but we went for a quick drink and some beer – I got sushi, of course, because what else is so perfect for a first meal in Japan? They’d had a blast, and I met Coji who I’d been chatting with online and who is here for a year as well, so that’s another ally to do fun stuff with! Was great seeing Luke and Sai as well, and good to be welcomed by familiar faces at the start of this new adventure! Got the last train home and went to Donki for some essentials, like toilet roll and a light. The estate agent had warned me that there were no lights in the flat, but it was only the main ceiling light that didn’t work – the others did. Went to Bic Camera but it was closed, so grabbed a futon from Don Quixote and lugged it back to my flat, which actually isn’t that rare – I’ve seen a couple of people doing the same since. My sleeping patterns were still on UK time, so I wandered Shinjuku until about 4am. Kabukichou is a great place to people-watch. There are so many beautiful guys and girls in the entertainment business there, going about their strange twilight lives where appearance matters above all else! I’ll do a blog about them one day. I have to say, I’m fascinated. The next day there was a lot to do, as I had after all planned things for Friday but had the things I’d originally wanted to do on Thursday as well! First, though, I had to wait for a man to come to switch on my gas so that I could have hot water. This was the first test of my Japanese, and not knowing how to say ‘hob’, the conversation that followed was pretty confusing:   Guy: Can I ask, do you have a gas hob or an electric one? Me: Yes, I just need gas, I already have electricity. Guy: So it's gas? Can I take a quick look? Me: Please. Guy: (Looks at electric hob) This is electric. Me: Oh I see! Sorry. Guy: Can you come outside for a moment so I can show you what to do if you smell a gas leak? Me: Uhhhh (stands there awkwardly before finally getting it and awkwardly putting shoes on)   So that knocked my confidence just a little bit! But I had plenty to do so soldiered on. Next was the ward office, where within two weeks a new resident has to register their address and get health insurance. I could have left this, but a job I had lined up had a deadline of that day for sending bank details (which in the event was flexible, but I couldn’t know that), and I couldn’t get a bank account without registering with the ward. So that’s what I did. After that, it was off to the bank itself. I went to the Roppongi branch because they advertised English-speaking staff, and it was good to see Roppongi Hills. Had a Matcha Frappucino but hadn’t charged my laptop so didn’t stay long, and instead went back to Shin-Okubo to explore Koreatown and get some more basic furniture from Don Quixote. Sadly, I couldn’t go to the gig I wanted to because the tickets had sold out by the time I arrived, but jetlag began to set in anyway...and I’d only slept for one hour! That was my first day alone in Japan...and it’s been hectic but wonderful since then. I feel very content here and have been having a lot of fun. Long may it continue!