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October 2005

hand-painted billboards

October 30, 2005


Taking a short-cut through one of Naha’s labyrinthine covered markets, I passed a small shop that had been set up temporarily as a cinema. It was surrounded by a couple of dozen hand-painted billboards for old Japanese films, including one of my favourites, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (用心棒, above — whose plot, incidentally, was the basis for the (also very good) Sergio Leone / Clint Eastwood western A Fistful of Dollars).

The billboards were in such immaculate condition that it was hard to believe they were decades old – and in fact, it turns out they weren’t. I asked the man running the place where he got them, and it turns out that a friend of his painted seventy or so over the last year! It’s really nice to know that the art of movie-poster–painting is still alive and well.

Another movie poster
... and another

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warped shisa

a peculiar shisa

Walking past an art college yesterday, I noticed that a rock that was sitting on the grass in front had a strange twisted mouth on it. When I looked closer I realised that it wasn’t a rock after all, but a weird, warped shisa dog.

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an impossible feat

October 28, 2005

superhero me

Some things:

  1. In the week before Tokyo, on returning to the island for taiko practice, I finally had the opportunity to dress up as a superhero. It was the annual triathlon, and so I – along with four others – had the important job of dressing as a superhero and giving people high-fives as they got off the boat.
  2. My new job has been going fine so far.
  3. Lately, the thing I have been waking up in a cold sweat about is that I appear to have agreed to participate in NaNoWriMo — or ‘National Novel-Writing Month’. Which means writing a 50,000 word novel in one month, the idea being to stop pretending that you might write something perfect one day, and just get on with writing something imperfect-but-actual. Which I think is a nice idea, but there is another part of my brain that balks at the prospect of spending a month writing a pile of complete balls. Still, it should be an interesting experiment, and I’m hoping the fact that a couple of friends are doing it as well will make it a fun one too. And I am explicitly reserving the right to bail out and cut my losses if the first 10,000 words I write turn out to be utter, utter rubbish.

So… is anyone else up for writing a novel?

Incidentally, part of the reason I want to do this is because I’ve been wanting to make some music under a tight time-constraint for a long time, and I think this could be a nice (though in almost every way scarier) dry run (the music thing will wait until I get back to the UK). This idea was partly inspired by reading the Crap Art Manifesto of a certain Mr. Tom 7 (who makes both free fonts and free music software that I sometimes use, and which I was shocked one day to discover were the work of the same person). Tom 7’s idea of an ‘Album-A-Day‘ is possibly taking things a bit too far in terms of quantity over quality (although it’s something I’d like to try one day too), but I think an Album-in-a-Month (NaNoWriMo style) would be a pretty exciting thing to try…

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two things

October 22, 2005

I have two pieces of news:

(1) We didn’t win the taiko contest. But I’ve come away feeling more excited not just about taiko but about Japan generally, for reasons that I will explain later because, more pressingly:

(2) I have a new job in Naha, and so I’ll now be staying on in Okinawa until March. Just as I was thinking that crossing Mongolia / Siberia in November might not be as good an idea as it seemed in the sweaty heat of Okinawa’s summer, and feeling that actually a few more months in Okinawa would be quite nice, a job turned up. I started on Thursday, at a junior high school in the city. It’s about eight times the size of the island school I taught at before, but the teachers seem like a nice enough bunch and my work hours are shorter than before, so I’m hoping it should be a reasonably pleasant way to spend the winter before heading back across a Mongolia that is thawing rather than freezing.

…I want to say more about the taiko contest, but Tokyo followed by job-and-flat-acquisition and all the moving that goes with that mean that if I don’t go to sleep now I will probably die.

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the eleventh hour

October 16, 2005

I’m writing this on a coin-operated internet computer in the lobby of a vast, glossy, cultureless international hotel skyscraper in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It’s twenty to one in the morning and in exactly eleven hours’ time I will step onto the stage at the Tokyo International Japanese Taiko Contest. Which is crazy. All things considered, I should probably be a lot more terrified than I am. I’m looking forward to it, but there is also a small prayer that I don’t screw up in some gut-wrenchingly audible or visible fashion fluttering about inside my mind.

I have no idea what our chances are, because I have no idea what the other bands will be like, and I’m not inclined to make predictions about this kind of thing anyway. All I will say is that if this was a movie then we’d surely have to win: last week, in our hour of need, the drummer from a big 70’s Japanese rock band turned up on our island like a large, black-clad, poodle-haircutted angel and dispensed rhythm-wisdoms and encouragement. Along with the ridiculous chain of coincidence that took me from seeing the band by chance in a London street four years ago to finding myself living next door to Mr. K, the head of the group, in Okinawa two years later, it would just make such a good story if we won…

I must now go to sleep, but please consider touching some wooden objects, stroking your lucky rabbit paw, shouting some sort of an oath, or any other such thing that might in some way help. Thank you.

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shuri castle

October 6, 2005

Shuri Castle

With only a few days left in Naha, most of my time lately has been taken up with (1) failing to pack, and (2) taiko practice. The reason for (2) is the still-hard-to-believe fact that I will now be playing in the Tokyo International Taiko Contest in ten days’ time. On Saturday I will be going back to my island for one final week of solid taiko practice, and thence to Tokyo, and thence… I don’t know — my plans have been going wonky lately. Probably China, if plan A still be the plan.

Last night I went up the hill to Shuri Castle — once the seat of the Ryukyu kings, before Okinawa was finally swallowed completely by Japan. Almost entirely destroyed in World War II, but painstakingly reconstructed, the castle is beautifully lit at night and sits on a hill with a great view across Naha to the Kerama islands. It also looks very like a scaled-down version of Beijing’s Forbidden City — an indication I guess of how much closer old Okinawan culture was to China than Japan. (Incidentally, the picture above is one of the gatehouses — not the castle itself. I just liked the way the light came out in this one).

I’ve been to the castle several times before, but never at night. Night is a good time for castles.


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