May 30, 2005
On my last trip to the mainland I bought a wide-angle lens for my new camera. The frustration I had in Tokyo after I bought the camera was that the lens I bought with it is perfect for taking pictures of people and their faces and the like, but when it comes to temples, waterfalls and skyscrapers I just couldn’t stand far enough away to get more than a corner in. Hence the need for a new lens. I think between the two, I’m probably quite well sorted for lenses.
Anyway, since buying the new lens the weather has been relentlessly grey and nondescript — until Sunday, when it (temporarily) brightened up & I took the opportunity to drive round the island with Y and a sixpack of cold beers, taking photos from beaches and hilltops. This photography lark is going to take a bit of practice — I did used to have an old SLR, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had anything much to do with all this f-stop and aperture priority jiggery-pokerey. Still, some of the pictures came out ok, and I’d recommend spending a sunny afternoon wandering around taking photos to anyone.
May 25, 2005
The weekend before last was a special event in which an artist who is my island’s most famous living child (he’s moderately famous throughout Japan) came and gave a group of about a hundred people a guided tour of the island’s secret places and history. In the evening was a big party at which the taiko group (including me) played. These pictures are from the rehearsal.
The artist mentioned above is most famous living person from this island, but only the second most famous person the island has produced. The most famous was born here about six hundred years ago, and became one of the most important kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom — as Okinawa still was back then, before it had been conquered by Japan. Next week there will be another, very special taiko performance to mark the transferral of the bones of one of his descendants into a special royal tombs on the side of one of the island’s hills. We start practicing (two new pieces!) tonight.
May 13, 2005
I met Andrew in a café in JR Ueno station, and we proceeded from there to wander around Tokyo for three days or so. We stayed in the Hotel New Koyo, which is almost certainly the cheapest hotel in Tokyo, at about 2700 Yen a night (about £13). It’s ok, too — it does the job. From that base, we spent several days wandering through Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa and Ginza. Although we did manage a day-trip north to see Nikko’s waterfall and temples, for the most part the touristy stuff we tried to do (going to museums, kabuki, etc) ended up falling through for obscure reasons. One afternoon, in an attempt to see at least one museum, we decided to seek out the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Shibuya — partly because it was the nearest museum to the café we were sitting in, partly because it sounded so far off the beaten track that we thought the Tourism God might overlook it and let us through. No luck: we found it to be apparently non-existent, or at least not where our map claimed it was.
But to be honest, the tourist stuff is never the bit that I enjoy the most anyway. We did a good job of the more important business of wandering around the streets and tunnels and walkways of Tokyo, and sitting in cafés and eating foods. We also visited one of my favourite places in the city (a place I now find is called “Piss Alley”): a couple of alleys of old ramshackle buildings tucked in the armpit of a railway bridge behind Shinjuku station, a pocket of the Tokyo of about five decades ago among the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, full of noodle shops and little bars, steam and smoke and the smell of things barbecuing, and so narrow and with so much cabling overhead that it almost feels as if you’re underground until you look up through the cables to huge and distant neon.
The photos were taking walking around the grounds of Asakusa Temple after an almost-perfect meal of okonomiyaki — savoury pancakes which you fry yourself on a hotplate set into the table, and then cover with lots of mayonaise, dried fish flakes and salty preserved ginger — and cold beer in a little restaurant nearby.
May 9, 2005
The first week of May in Japan contains four bank holidays, and is consequently known as ‘Golden Week’. I spent the week wandering around Tokyo and Okinawa with Andrew. I also bought a rather ass-kicking new digital SLR camera, so hopefully there should be more and better photos from now on…
Anyway, I’ll dig out some pictures from Golden Week soon, but the purpose of this post is to draw your attention to Andrew’s new website, seatunes.org. It contains a number of freely downloadable musics, including Four Songs by me! They were recorded in Edinburgh just before I left for Japan, and feature the excellent George G on djembe and (on one song) the awesome vocal harmonies of Jess B. I only had a single afternoon to record a slightly unfeasible number of songs, and so it’s not a flawless, studio-produced album. But I think they came out ok, especially with George & Jess’s splendid backing, and so rather than have them moulder forever on the cold dark surface of my hard-disk, I thought I would release them into the warm breezes of the superhighway. Of course, if anyone, having listened to them, were to have an opinion, I would love it if you were to open your mouth and spit it my way…
Also on seatunes is Other People’s Music, by The Unrecorded. It is unclassifiable, weapon-sharp electronic music that was made by Andrew and then honed in places with Jess’s vocal lasers. It’s a proper, well-crafted record as well, unlike my scratchy offerings. You should try it even if you hate my songs: it’s an entirely different type of helicopter altogether.