More Max Danger: The Continuing Adventures of an Expat in Tokyo

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Sparking a revolution at peoples feet, his canvas was the broadest of all as he brought colour and imagination to the streets of Japan. Not believing in the old adage of out of sight, out of mind , Kameda decided that if the people couldn't be brought to the sewer system, the sewer system should be brought to them. And so he removed their handcuffs and raised the humble manhole cover to an art form.

Allowing towns and municipalities to design their own creations, providing for localised patterns to which people could relate, he sparked a revolution that adorns the streets of Japan today. Defining simple safety guidelines and then getting out of the way, he created a totally new genre in art, something the common man could relate to. And so today, the patterns must provide grip for motorcycles in the wet and the covers must remain firmly in place despite the efforts of the worst of typhoons, but apart from that, the only limit is the imagination.

And what an imagination. So next time you're looking for an art gallery or cultural museum, look to your feet. You might just find you're standing on it. And Yasutake Kameda would probably be happy you appreciate his work. Labels: drainspotting , Japan , manhole. And so, each to their own, but as I walk around Daikanyama, a quiet, village like suburb of Tokyo, I often pass a home where the owner is clearly devoted to their roses.

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The flowers adorn the garden in front of the house and at this time of year, being in full bloom, make an incredibly refreshing backdrop to the concrete and asphalt that is the signature style of many major cities in this day and age. This particular house though is a private home. I stroll along this street almost daily, being on the way to T-Site, the perfect in-city space to walk my dogs, and have never come across the family. Neither tending the roses nor simply around and about. The house is very well kept but the family remains quietly private, keeping themselves to themselves, as is often the norm in Japan.

And then yesterday there was a little sign, in Japanese, on a chair outside their garage. The door was open and the note was an invitation for people to walk through to the hidden rose garden beyond. And what a breath-taking garden. Itself larger than the area of many free standing homes, it was a vast array of all types of roses, every one in what must be their prime before the summer.


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Each was labelled with not just the name of the flower but their origin and the year they were planted, some dating back nearly fifty years. The high walls were all but invisible behind the blooms and the whole experience was one of a clear devotion to a lifetime's passion. But it wasn't the flowers that struck me so much as that, in this day and age of isolation, keeping our heads down to our smartphones and preferring to believe the world around us doesn't exist, how incredibly kind of this family to share their secret garden with the strangers walking by.

Even if it is just for a day. And yes, I really like what they have done with their hanging baskets. Labels: roses , secret garden , Tokyo.

Few Japanese music artists, or even popular songs, gain significant international attention. The language barriers, both in the lyrics and those endemically ingrained within the structure of the music industry itself, ensure a near impenetrable barrier for musicians to breakout to the wider world. A number have tried but with limited success. Even Seiko Matsuda, the eternal idol of Japanese pop, creator of nearly fifty studio albums and over eighty singles, has only scratched the surface of the US market despite a valiant campaign in the English language.

Today, most people outside Japan think of the shamisen and elegant geisha staring dreamily into the distance when they imagine Japanese music. And even then it is probably confused with traditional styles from China. But one song did crack the Great Wall of Japanese Music.


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The song is about the desperation of lost love but is an abstract concept referring to a lost, but dearly cherished belief, as much as the loss of a lover. In fact, it was written in the student frustration of the US military presence in Japan and the perceived loss of national identity. The title translates as "While I walk around I look up" the implication being so that the narrators tears cannot fall to the ground. And then some genius changed its name to "Sukiyaki" in English; as the phrase goes, that's the same as re-titling Imagine as Cup Noodle. It's a beautiful song with absolutely nothing to do with the English lyric versions to come.

Those were simply made up. Although he neither wrote the music nor the lyrics, the song was made famous by the inspiring interpretation of Sakamoto Kyu in the early 's. Still a teenager when he laid down the recording, the success led to over thirteen million copies being sold worldwide and chart appearances across Europe as well as that 1 spot in America. In-flight failure of the rear pressure bulkhead took the aircraft from the skies along with the lives of all but four of those onboard in the worst single-plane accident in aviation history.

And Kyu Sakamoto was gone. You have to wonder though, maybe now he's finally walking around looking down instead of up, smiling that so many people still sing his music and some maybe even sharing his thoughts. Labels: Japan , kyu sakamoto , music , sukiyaki.

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Wednesday, May 13, The law is an ass! Compare and Contrast Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, an English satirical magazine, updated the phrase in whilst standing on the steps of the Court having just lost his case, saying "If that's justice, then I am a banana". Simple, it is defined to be the opinion of the man on the Clapham Omnibus stay with me , someone considered to be a rational and intelligent person who would take a rational and reasonable decision. So the question arises, would Japan benefit or not from the opinions of the man on the Clapham omnibus?

Hunky Dory and the Streets of Yokosuka. Recorded in , it marked the foundation of Bowie's commercial, rock based direction that was to be his signature for the next decade to come.

But where does the phrase Hunky Dory , meaning something along the lines of "I'm ok, everything's good", actually come from? Well, etymology is rarely an exact science, but the answer to this is the reason I'm writing about it in a blog on Japan. Post , during MacArthur's administration of Japan, the separate US forces established bases in various locations around Tokyo and across the country.

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MacArthur, careful to replace war veterans with young recruits as quickly as possible to avoid potential conflicts, allocated existing Japanese military facilities to the different branches based on availability and suitability. And back to Hunky-Dory , or rather Honcho-Dori A sailor, having enjoyed a night on the town, would be safe if he could find Honcho-Dori. He just had to follow the route back to his ship. And so over time the phrase was adapted to include "hunky", an old American word for "safe", in place of Honcho and Hunky-Dory was born.

And whatever the origins, it really is an incredible album. But whether David Bowie has ever walked the streets of Yokosuka at night, I'm afraid I really don't know. Tuesday, May 12, Kinkan - A miracle cure for mosquito bites. Growing up in Europe I soon became used to mosquitoes. Annoying but no big deal. Indeed, that high pitch buzzing was more of a problem than the bite itself when you're relaxing of an evening.

We all seem to have an auto-defence mechanism whereby you slap yourself as the bug flies past. Doesn't stop the insect but it's more than amusing for everyone else around you. And then I came to Japan. Mosquitoes here are a different ball game altogether. They fly around with small cars splattered on the front. Much more potent that the European variety, I swear they use hyperdemic syringes and take an entire armful of blood with every snack.

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