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I like monsters

25 Aug

KISS has announced that they will release an album of all new songs sometime next year (2012) titled “Monster“.

KISS...still the hottest band in the world!

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always liked monsters.

When I watched the Disney cartoon “Peter Pan” as a child, for example, I didn’t care for Peter Pan or any of his friends. They were too “regular”.
Unlike Peter Pan with his pansy outfit and little knife, Captain Hook had a sword and a sharp hook instead of a hand.
(Admittedly though, Peter Pan could fly, which would be fun and Hook didn’t dress much better than Peter Pan.)
Captain Hook was the first movie character that frightened me…and even at that young age I enjoyed being frightened a bit.

Who cares about a practical prosthetic when you can have one that puts the fear of god in people?!

When I was a bit older, I saw Star Wars for the first time.  I was only seven years old when the first movie in the series was released, so I was a bit too young to fully understand the story.  But I still  enjoyed it a lot.  Especially when “Darth Vader” made his entrance!
Luke Skywalker was the hero…but Darth Vader stole every scene in was in.

The "Dark Side"

And of course I’ve always like the “traditional” monsters…Frankenstein’s Monster, The Werewolf, and Dracula.

And when I came to Japan, I learned about 妖怪 (Japanese monsters).

"Ge-ge-ge Kitaro" is Japanese cartoon inspired by traditional Japanese monster and ghost stories.

Even my favorite superhero character has always been “The Incredible Hulk“. He’s anger-incarnate. A huge pissed-off monster! The coolest of the superheroes.

Hulk will smash even Superman

Even the music I listen to reflects my interest in monsters.
I like heavy metal music. There’s a reason that the soundtracks to many horror movies are full of heavy metal music…heavy metal is to music as horror is to movies.

If you’re not interested in heavy metal, you may not know that that genre of music is further divided into sub-genres.
The sub-genre of metal music that I like the most is “Shock Rock“. It’s just as visual as it is musical. Shock Rock artist—such as KISS, W.A.S.P., Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and Lordi—often look like monsters.

Alice Cooper

Anyways, as I mentioned at the top of this post, KISS will be releasing a new album soon.  The last time they they released a new album was about two years ago…it was titled “Sonic Boom“.

As I mentioned, KISS‘s new album will be titled “Monster“.  It’s an excellent album title…I can’t believe they haven’t used it before!

So far only five song titles have been confirmed by the band.  They are: “Hell Or Hallelujah”, “Born To Be A Sinner”, “Out Of This World”, “Are You Ready?”, and “Wall Of Sound”.

I’m looking forward to getting this album.

五百羅漢

29 May

Today we went to a special, temporary exhibit at the 「江戸東京博物館」 (“Edo-Tokyo Museum“) titled 「五百羅漢」 (“Five Hundred Buddhist Saints“).

Originally scheduled to be 2011 Mar 15 - May 29...it was postponed due to the Sendai Earthquake---the exhibit's dates are now 2011 April 29 - July 3.

This exhibit has paintings by the Japanese artist Kano Kazunobu depicting scenes from stories about the “500 Saints of Buddhism”.

I’m not familiar with these stories because I’m not a follower of Buddhism (or any other religion). And I’d say that very few Japanese people know about these stories either.
Buddhism came to Japan from China (which got it from India) and it’s traditions were “Japan-ized” and incorporated with traditions from Japan’s native “religion”, Shinto.
Even though parts of both religions are traditions in Japan (for example, “Shinto” or “Christian”-style weddings, and “Buddhist”-style funerals), almost no Japanese person actually believes in religious doctrine.

Even though I don’t know about the religious stories, like most of the other people at the exhibit, I was interested in the history and artistic value of these paintings that were drawn about 200 years ago (and most were destroyed in the Allied bombings of Japan during World War II).

The "saints" healing animals.

The "saints" saving people from "Hell".

If you want to see these paintings, they’ll be exhibited until 2011 July 3rd.

Mother Nature wants to be sure we haven’t forgotten who’s boss

11 Apr

花見 (“Cherry Blossom Viewing“) is a centuries-old Japanese tradition. Every spring, Japanese people have a picnic with friends and family under the 桜 (Cherry Blossom) trees.

Japanese people have always loved the pink Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), as can be seen in many things in Japan such as haiku poems, ukiyoe (woodblock prints), paintings, Sakura-flavored snacks, tea and 日本酒 (Japanese sake rice-wine).

I wrote a post last year explaining a bit about Japan’s love of 桜 (Sakura flowers) and 花見 (“Cherry-Blossom Viewing”).

Basically, the Sakura are beautiful and fragile and they are in bloom for only a short time before they fall to the ground in a way that looks like beautiful, gentle pink snowfall…it’s called 「桜吹雪」 (“Sakura-fubuki” (Sakura snowfall)).
They symbolize the beauty, fragility and brevity of life itself.

But this year, due to the disaster last month, the Japanese government has asked people to use 自粛 (self-restraint) this “Cherry Blossom Viewing” season.

Does it seem odd to you that the government would ask that of people in Japan?
I have heard that many people from other countries were surprised to learn that the Japanese government would request people to refrain from Cherry Blossom Viewing or at least to do it quietly and reverently this year.

But in Japan we have no problem with such a request. In fact, even if the government hadn’t asked, most people in Japan probably would have done so anyways.
In many cases 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing) leads people to drink excessively and sometimes become a bit loud. But this year, so soon after the huge disaster in the 東北地方 (Tohoku Region) and with so many up there still trying to recover from it, no one is in the mood to celebrate.
Many people are electing to skip Cherry Blossom Viewing this year, and those who are doing it this year are doing so quietly and with more reflection.

Today my wife and I went to a temple with a small lunch to enjoy a quiet 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing).
Here are some photos that I took:

Some junior high school students walking to school. The school year has just begun in Japan.

Can you see the Sakura petals falling in 桜吹雪 ("Sakura snowfall")?

Many Sakura petals on the ground.

Back of 大仏 (Buddah)

Not long after we returned home, our house shook pretty hard from a big aftershock that was a 振動 5 (Level 5 of the Japanese earthquake scale (with goes to “7″))! It was a 振動 6 (level 6 (out of 7)) at it’s epi-center in the Sendai area! It was then that I realized today is the one-month anniversary of the 2011 March 11 Sendai Earthquake!

Did you know that catfish cause earthquakes?

20 Mar

About nine months ago I wrote a post about a Japanese folklore character called a “Kappa” which is meant to scare children from playing to close to bodies of water where they may drown.

Signs in Japan warning children to stay away from a river or lake almost always have a picture of a Kappa.

But there is another folklore character that is found in warning signs in Japan today. The 鯰 (catfish).

Long ago in Japan it was said that earthquakes were caused by a giant sleeping catfish who lived under the ground when it woke up and began it thrash around.

 

A 浮世絵 (woodblock print) of a god stopping the catfish from causing an earthquake.

So, in Japan today, even though no one actually believes that earthquakes are caused by catfish, signs for earthquake evacuation shelters, earthquake evacuation routes and earthquake safety usually have a picture of a catfish.

 

A roadsign in Japan for an earthquake emergency road.

 

It says: "It's an earthquake! We support you and your families safety with earthquake evacuation"

Even though no one believes the folklore legend about the giant catfish underground causing earthquakes, many people do believe that catfish act peculiar just before an earthquake strikes…and this is where the folklore story may have originated from.

Japan’s first train station

10 Feb

Outside of the JR新橋駅 (JR Shinbashi train station) in Tokyo there is a steam locomotive.

This is because Shinbashi Station was the first train station in Japan. It was built in 1872 and at that time trains were powered by steam.

The steam locomotive is outside of JR新橋駅 (JR Shinbashi train station) but that’s not where the first station stood. It’s near the same site…but not exactly.

A ukiyoe painting of the first train station in Japan by Hiroshige

In April 2003 a replica of the original Shinbashi Station was built as a monument and also as a small museum of the history of Japan’s rail service.

It’s called 「旧新橋停車場」 (“Former Shinbashi Train Depot”).

We went there last Sunday because the 「旧新橋停車場」 (“Former Shinbashi Train Depot” (or “Old Shinbashi Station”)) is currently exhibiting photos taken of Tokyo decades ago by Koyo Ishibashi.

Click here to read a post that I wrote about that exhibition.

 

「旧新橋停車場」 ("Old Shinbashi Station")

It’s an interesting place to see if you’re in Tokyo. Admission is free and if you go before 2011 March 21 you can see Mr. Ishikawa’s excellent photos there too.

After we left 「旧新橋停車場」 (“Old Shinbashi Station”) we walked around the 新橋 (Shinbashi) area of Tokyo.

Tokyo utilizes all space available...restaurants and shops can often be found under train overpasses. This one has a street sign telling cars that the clearance of this narrow road is 2.1 meters

More restaurants under the train overpass

I've never eaten at the "Budweiser Carnaval", but supposedly the waitresses there wear tight "Budweiser" mini-dresses.

Claude Monet art exhibit in Tokyo

10 Jan

I’m not an expert on art by any means.

My tastes might be considered “low brow”.
I listen to heavy metal music, my favorite TV shows aren’t really educational or anything, and I don’t see the appeal of “over-rated” movies such as “Lost In Translation“, “Forrest Gump” and “The Lord Of The Rings“…those movies were all boring to me.
The movies I like are more exciting.

And I don’t feel comfortable eating in “four star” fancy restaurants…I prefer a simple 「居酒屋」 (Japanese izakaya “blue collar” type restaurant).

Even though I may be a “simple man” I can appreciate art sometimes.
I have never attended an opera or even a musical on stage, but I have watched 歌舞伎 (Kabuki) plays and sometimes I go to art exhibits at museums.

I have seen a number of 浮世絵 (Ukiyoe Japanese woodblock prints) exhibits…and yesterday, my wife and I went to 渋谷 (Shibuya, Tokyo) to see the 「モネとジヴェルニーの画家たち」 (“Claude Monet and the Giverny Artists”) exhibit.

It’s at the “Bunkamura Museum” in Shibuya, Tokyo until 2011 February 17th.

I learned that Claude Monet moved to a tiny French village called Giverny and painted the natural views that he saw there. And his work inspired many artists from other countries, but the vast majority were Americans, to go to Giverny and set up an “artist colony” there to learn from Monet.

Also, Monet was inspired by Japanese art (other famous Western artists, including Vincent Van Gogh, were too) and he had a collection of Japanese Ukiyoe prints.

Monet's painting of his wife in Japanese kimono.

Monet's painting of his garden in Giverny, France.

Monet's painting of a hay stack.

 

Are you interested in art? Monet? Ukiyoe?
How about your taste in food, movies, music, etc?

History timeline

21 Nov

By no ways a complete list, but here is a timeline of some highlights of world history.

Japan-related dates are written in red.

  • 1281: Mongolia was conquering most of Asia. As the Mongolian Navy was heading to Japan to invade, a giant typhoon sunk their entire fleet. Thus saving Japan.
    That typhoon was called 「神風」 (“Kamikaze“), which means “Divine Wind“, in Japan.The World War 2 Kamikaze pilots were named after this typhoon.
  • 1346: The Black Plague started and eventually killed nearly half of Europe’s population.
  • 1492: Christopher Columbus lands in America. But he believed he was in India and called the inhabitants “Indians“.
  • 1603: 「江戸時代」 (The “Edo Period“) begins in Japan.
  • 1680: The 将軍 (Shougun), Tsunayoshi, loved dogs and enacted a number of laws protecting dogs and making harming them a criminal offense.He is therefore often called “The Dog Shogun”.
  • 1776: America declares it’s independence from England.
  • 1789: French Revolution began.
  • 1804: Napoleon became the Emperor of France.
  • 1854: U.S. Naval Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open to trade with the West.At first Japan resisted and the island of Odaiba was built in Tokyo Bay to defend Japan from the American forces. But Perry’s fleet of black ships were too intimidating and Japan enacted law to allow trade with the West in general and America in particular.The resulting influx of American goods and culture sparked Japan’s “Westernization”.

An Ukiyoe portrait of Cmdr. Perry. His name is written as 「ぺルリ」 ("Peruri") because that's what it sounded like to the Japanese when Perry said his name with his American accent.

  • 1859: Charles Darwin published his book “The Origin Of Species“.
  • 1861: The U.S. Civil War began.
  • 1868: 「明治時代」 (The “Meiji Period“) started in Japan. This was a period of modernization.
  • 1876: Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone.
  • 1904: The Russia-Japan War began. Russia underestimated Japan and lost the war.
  • 1905: Albert Einstein published his “Theory Of Relativity” (E=MC?)
  • 1912: The “unsinkable” RMS Titanic sunk.
  • 1914 – 1918: World War 1.
  • 1937: The zeppelin Hindenberg exploded over the U.S. state of New Jersey.
  • 1939 – 1945: World War 2.
  • 1941 December 7: Japan attacked the U.S. Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
  • 1945 August 6: America dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of 広島 (Hiroshima).
  • 1945 August 9: America dropped a second atomic bomb on Japan. This time on the city of 長崎 (Nagasaki).
  • 1961: Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin became the first man in space, starting the “Space Race” to the moon between America and Russia.
  • 1964: Tokyo, Japan hosted the Summer Olympics. The first Olympic games hosted in an Asian city.
  • 1969: U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first (and so far, only) man to walk on the moon.
  • 1972: Sapporo, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics.
  • 1990 October 17: I (“Tokyo Five”) came to Japan.
  • 1995 January 17: 「阪神淡路大震災」 (Hanshin-awajidai-shinsai), (“The Kobe Earthquake“) destroyed the city of 神戸 (Kobe, Japan).

    A collapsed overpass after the Kobe Earthquake; 1995 January.

  • 1998: Nagano, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics.
  • 2001 September 11: Both of the World Trade Center in New York City, USA and The Pentagon in Washington D.C. are attacked by commercial airplanes hijacked by terrorists. Both of the towers in NYC were destroyed completely.
  • I know that I left out many important dates. Feel free to write any that you can think of in the comments section of this post.

    And did you witness any historic events?

    新版画

    3 Nov

    Today I went to the 「よみがえる浮世絵 -うるわしき大正新版画」特別展覧会 (Taisho-era Shin-hanga Ukiyo-e Prints Special Exhibit) at the 「江戸東京博物館」 (“Edo-Tokyo Museum“).

    DSCF5392

    I like Japanese 浮世絵 (Ukiyo-e woodblock print) art. I have a few posts about exhibits I’ve seen before (click here to read one I wrote almost exactly twelve months ago).

    But this exhibit was different.

    Traditional 浮世絵 (woodblock print) art was done from the 江戸時代 (Edo era (17th – mid 19th centuries)) until the 明治時代 (Meiji era (1868 – 1912 (Japan’s modernization period))).

    During the 明治時代 (Meiji era), traditional arts such as 浮世絵 (woodblock prints) began losing popularity because they were seen as dated and old-fashioned…and Japan was in a rush to “modernize” during this period.

    But, ironically, while Japanese people were losing interest in 浮世絵 (woodblock prints), they were becoming chic and popular in America and Europe during these years.

    So during Japan’s 大正時代 (Taisho era (1912 – 1926)) until the first half of the 昭和時代 (Showa era (1926 – 1989), a new, modern style of 浮世絵 (woodblock prints) emerged.
    They’re called 「新版画」 (“Shin-hanga“…or “New style prints”).

    Due to the popularity of 新版画 (Shin-hanga) in America and Europe during these years, many American and European artists came to Tokyo to learn the art of 新版画 (Shin-hanga) from the “masters”.
    So the exhibit that I went to today had art by Japanese 新版画 (Shin-hanga) artists…as well as Japanese-style Shin-hanga prints by American and European artists.
    It was very interesting!

    Unfortunately after World War II, Japanese society changed alot and now there are very few 浮世絵 (ukiyo-e) or 新版画 (shin-hanga) artists today.

    But there is good news, it seems that 新版画 (Shin-hanga) is currently becoming popular again both in Japan and overseas…so maybe more artists will study the craft and keep this tradition alive.

    「増上寺の雪」 ("Zojoji Temple in Snow") by Kawase Hasui (昭和28年 (1953))

    「増上寺の雪」 ("Zojoji Temple in Snow") by Kawase Hasui (昭和28年 (1953))

    shinhanga-tokyo_tower

    「東京タワー」 ("Tokyo Tower") by Kasamatsu Shiro (昭和34年 (1959))

    shinhanga-ryogoku_bashi

    「両国橋」 ("Ryogoku Bridge") by French artist Noel Nouet (昭和11年 (1936))

    写楽

    1 Sep

    Today I went to a 特別展 (special exhibit) at the 江戸東京博物館 (Edo-Tokyo Museum) titled: 「写楽幻の肉筆画」 (“SHARAKU and Other Hidden Japanese Masterworks from the Land of Narsicaa”).

    DSCF5273

    This is a collection of Japanese 浮世絵 (woodblock prints) and paintings that were collected by Greek art collectors (mostly the Greek Ambassador to Japan) about 100 years ago.

    It seems that records were not kept in Japan about the most of the pieces and even some of the artists. So, when Japanese art scholars learned of these pieces in an art museum in Greece they were very excited and arranged for an exhibit of the pieces back in their “home” (Japan).

    This 特別展 (special exhibit) ends next Sunday (2009 Sept 6).

    byoubu

    kiku

    uta1

    Woodblock prints like this were sometimes used to to decorate 扇子 (Japanese fans)

    Woodblock prints like this were sometimes used to to decorate 扇子 (Japanese fans)

    The 江戸東京博物館 (Edo-Tokyo Museum) is next to the 国技館 (Tokyo Sumo Arena).
    Here’s a sign advertising an upcoming Sumo tournament:

    DSCF5272

    Yokoso Japan!

    14 Jun

    「ようこそジャパン」 (Yokoso Japan!) means “Welcome to Japan!“, and is the Japan National Tourism Organization‘s official slogan of their campaign to attract foreign visitors to Japan.

    「Yokoso Japan!」 logo

    「Yokoso Japan!」 logo

    Here are some of their Yokoso Japan! campaign ads.

    Most of the scenes in this first one are of Tokyo (there are a few shots of Osaka, etc…but most of it is Tokyo):

    These show many parts of Japan:

    Do they make you want to visit this beautiful country?

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