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I noticed a lot of people seemed to be writing very short stories with the tag #twnovel on twitter, and after my ex-classmate did one and encouraged me to give it a go I drew a few ideas together.

I wrote this for twitter originally, but made a few edits since. As you can see its really short, but for me this was an experiment of playing with words and language.

お月の光下に、タバコを吸いながら、彼氏に「無理だ」と言っている女性。「私なら、無理だって」 女性の独り言を続く。「浮気できないのよ。何で信じてくれない?」 男性はしとしとと言う「見たよ、彼と」。急にタバコを吸い終わり、出て行った。タバコのように愛が消えてしまう.

I wrote a second one… again, its just playing with language and grammar constructs at this stage.

青空だ。フワフワな曇がのらりくらり集まり、煙になる。あたしは横たえる間に、何も動かないし、何も話しなし、脳が過剰に働いている。一週間前からは、試しに寝ない事にした。そしたら、見える色すべてが鮮やかに映りだした。高められた意識、そして感覚が研ぎすまされていく。あたしの横には、芝生の上に昨日の新聞がある。その上に置かれたグラスカップの中の水から見える言葉たちは、屈折していた。意味が変換されてしまうんだ。

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Utada Hikaru at the O2 Academy in Angel, 11th-12th Feb 2010 ★★★


The other day I was fortunate enough to see Utada Hikaru live at the O2 academy in Angel. Just how fortunate depends on your perspective of course, so for those who have never heard of her, a little background. She is a very famous Japanese singer who holds the title of best-selling single and album of all time in Japan with the ballad ‘First Love’. Three of her Japanese studio albums in the list of Top 10 best-selling albums ever in Japan (#1, #4, #8) and six overall of her albums (two English-language and one compilation) charting within the 275 Best-Selling Japanese albums list. Utada has had fourteen number-one singles on the Oricon Singles chart, with two notable record achievements for a female solo or group artist: five million-sellers and four in the Top 100 All-Time Best-selling Singles. Although she is relatively unknown here in the UK, with over 50 million albums sold worldwide, she is the equal of Britney Spears in popularity there; the kind of household name that even Mums and Dads would know. So, kind of a big deal really.

This was her first ever UK concert, and I suppose the organisers, not realising the amount of fans she actually has here, decided to play it safe by booking one night at the Angel O2 academy which has a capacity of around 800. The show sold out in hours. They later added an extra date on thursday, again, a sell out.

Seeing such a well-known star in such a small venue was a real privilege, although I’m sure it was a step down for someone who could easily fill the biggest stadiums on her home turf. The intimacy of the gig was definitely one of the strengths of the concert, and after opening with “On and On” there was some good banter between Utada and the crowd. She joked about how she would like to move to London and her penchant for rainy weather.

The point of this tour was to promote her new album “This is the One”, the third English Language album she has produced (the other five are all in Japanese) and I respect that, but most of the people who were there seemed to be Japanese, or at least Japanese speakers. Unless you have some sort of interest in J-Pop then there is no way you would know about her. (That should tell you about the demographics of the crowd. With so many nerds and weebos there, I thought I was in Akihabara all over again…)

There seemed to be a clash of interests – on the one hand, people like me who know and love her older stuff like, “Final Distance”, and “Colours”, or even songs off her most recent Japanese album with songs like “Prisoner of Love” and “Flavour of Life” were to be disappointed with a set constructed almost entirely around her new album “This is the one” and her other, less well-known and less promoted, English language recordings. On the other hand, she needed to promote her new record. The problem was that there was an mis-assumption that people in Britain and America would prefer to hear her English stuff and not Japanese songs.

Of course the aforementioned “First Love”, “Automatic”, and “Sakura Drops” all made appearances to my great relief, but for me there seemed to too many forgettable tracks as filler and not so much killer.

On the up-side, she really does have a beautiful voice, and the soulfullness really came through on the Bjork-esque “Passion”, and the heartfelt “Stay Gold” and “Come Back to me”. “You make me want to be a man” and “Poppin'” sounded ten times better live than on record even as a couple of my least favourite tracks.  “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” was another highlight,

Over the 10 years she has been around, she has developed her own unique style and her ability to pull off different styles such as the funked up “Automatic” and she even managed to hold her own while doing a rather unexpected cover of Placebo’s “The Bitter End”. What I had expected to come off as tinny-electronically engineered pop really came alive with the aid of the backing band.

Overall, it was a very slick production, even if Utada did seem a little tired from all the touring. I would have given it 5 stars if she had paid homage to her Japanese records a little more, but that is just personal preference, it was never advertised as a “Greatest Hits tour”. She really was a good performer and it was great to see and hear her talent in the flesh. I, for one, really hope she comes back to London in the future.

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These days it is becoming more and more common for talent to be sourced on the internet from sites like YouTube, and so hearing about a young girl making it “big in Japan” from her video fame online is not really surprising at all. In fact, it is almost natural when you consider who she is, what she looks like, the demographics of her audience, and the fact that this is Japan – a legendary country where fame is achievable by almost anyone.

So along comes Beckii Cruel (ベッキ・クルーエル)also known as Rebecca Flint, a 14-year-old from the Isle of Man. You may have read about her in The Guardian, or seen one of her videos online.

It’s really hard for me to restrain myself and not go on a rant here – there are so many things wrong with her and her fame that I find it rather upsetting. Mainly that her videos make me want to stab myself in the eye out of rage: does she not realise WHO is watching her or WHY she is famous?

Take a look at the demographics. It is a video watched mainly by men in the 25-40 age groups as you can see from it being shown at a Conference in Akihabara (the Mecca for Geeks and Nerds around the world). She is 14 both in age and appearance. Unfortunately jailbait sells, and that is exactly what she is.

She is just one of hundreds of girls who do para-para dancing and upload it to YouTube. That is all she is: a girl dancing around her bedroom. It helps that she is slim, slightly awkward, young and has slight anime features. I say “slight” because in reality, that’s all they are – especially compared to someone like the genuinely cute (and ridiculously annoying) Magibon, pronounced “Maggie-bon”, another star of the tube whose silent videos and cute features became a meme in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong – being talentless is not a crime, and in fact it has probably provided just as much entertainment pound for pound than from the professionals. In fact, isn’t that the reason that shows like the X-factor or Britain’s got talent are so popular? Something in our human nature loves failure – its like watching a car crash; you know you shouldn’t stare, but you do because, well, it’s there. The difference is that Beckii Cruel is not extraordinarily beautiful or talented, and in reality she isn’t even that entertaining, unless of course you are a middle-aged pervert who wishes he could get a girlfriend who looked even slightly like her. There is nothing starwars-kid-embarrasingly-hilarious about her, nor is she doing anything that hasn’t been done a million times before.

Putting my prejudice to one side however, her new found fame is undeniable. So I will let her have her moment of glory, because that is all it will be. I just find it strange that out of all the wierd and wonderful videos online, hers got picked out as something special. I am certain in 10 years time she will reflect on her rise to fame as something a little bit shameful. Warming the hearts of paedophiles and perverts is really nothing to be proud of.

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Back Home

Well, I’m back home now, so thats why its been a while. Just thought I would sign off with a final post.

Overall I had the most amazing time in Japan, and I really wish I didnt have tohave come back to Britain, but 4th year is looming now so its onwards and upwards! I really appreciate a lot of the things I missed while I was away, and I feel like I am seeing Britain in a whole new light. Its like being a tourist, but you know everything you need to – very strange. The wierdest thing was not being the only white person around, not being in the minority. Supermarkets are huge, and overstocked, overwhelming. So much meat and so many fresh vegetables! Everything comes in such large quantities. People are more out-going, strangers talk to each other more. The air smells different here. London is busy but comfortingly the same as when I left. Its somehow a lot noisier here than I remember – ambulances, mobile phones, people yelling and shouting at all hours. I also realised how unstylish and badly dressed we are as a nation though; we just don’t care about our appearance. People are much more slapdash about a lot of things, they drop litter, they can’t be bothered to recycle waste, restaurants pile greasy food up on a plate with no thought, people wander untidily… so many things seem disorganised or sloppy. But perhaps I am being too harsh. I love my country, it is my home and it always will be. Its just interesting to see things from a different perspective.

Hopefully I will return to Japan next summer, and maybe one day I will live and work there if the opportunity arises! Who knows. So until next time…

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Golden week was a really good opportunity to have a proper break, catch up on sleep and do a few fun things. Its a fantastic idea having a week of national holidays back to back, but unfortunately this means that everywhere you go, prices are doubled and everywhere is crowded. Interestingly, Japanese people love domestic tourism, so even at “touristy spots”, places of interest or natural beauty I often find myself the only white person there.I really would have liked to have gone to Okinawa or at least Kyuushuu, but it would have cost me so much more than I could have afforded so I stayed around Nagoya with a few day trips, and plenty of trips to onsen to relax!

Ise Jingu

Ise Shrine is where one of the main gods is supposedly enshrined, and it is also the setting for part of the Japan myth (a bit bonkers). It is a collection of lots of small shrines which you can wander freely around, and Ami, Yasu and I decided to go on a daytrip there as it is pretty famous. However, as one shrine looks much like another, we spent most of the time going around the surrounding “town”. All the buildings look old-fashioned, with the signs written in the pre-war style (kanji which are read from right to left instead of the now conventional left to right) and even modern banks and the post office are made to blend in!

It was absolutely fabulous to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. There are all kinds of shops selling souvenirs, toys, clothes, and amazing food. Essentially it was as all good days out should be – very chilled out and constructed around eating lots of local specialities and yummy food. We had the finest steak grilled on a stick, semi-frozen cucumbers on sticks, Ise style udon noodles (, freshly caught whelks, melty-cheese filled deep-fried giant crab stick things, plus, shaved ice covered in syrup of freshly pulped strawberries.

We also got to see live taiko drummers which were fantastic!

Ninja Town

I also went for a mini road trip with Yasu and went to Ninja-mura, to see an actual ninja house filled with trap-doors, revolving panels, hidden passages, hidden upper floors, hiding places and doors/windows with special locks that only those in the know can operate. After that we went to the most amazing playground which is called ninja town. Its built like a mini village and ninja training ground – I would have loved to gone as a kid but that didnt stop me trying out the assualt course as an adult!

They even had costumes for you to rent so you could look and feel the part! We went on the zip-wire, climbed over a roof, crossed a pond using ninja floats, and paid a visit to the ninja-star throwing gallery. Even though the stars weren’t particularly sharp I got the impression that even in a semi blunt condition they could still inflict a lot of damage!

Shiga

During that same road trip, we were already in Shiga, so I took the chance to go back to where it all started, the Wilsons house in Ono. Since it was almost exactly 4 years after I left, I wasn’t sure if I could find my way there, but as soon as we got to the local station I instantly remembered the way that I used to bike home everyday! Unfortunately they werent in, but I left a note and maybe I will get to see them another time. Still it was really fun going back to where I used to live. Not much has changed at all! Its still exactly as I remember it!

I also got to see the replica of the inside of Nobunaga’s castle (important Japanese historical figure) and went around the attached archealogical museum – since there was no English I really had no idea what I was looking at though!

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This week is a very welcome week off whilst the University entrance exams are undertaken by scores of terrified looking High School students from all over Nagoya. I was unfortunate enough to be walking the wrong way back to the dormitory on Monday afternoon just after 5pm faced with a stream of about 500 students, some talking and laughing, others looking petrified from fear. Unlike the UK, you take an entrance exam directly with the university; it is said to be the most stressful part of Japanese childrens lives. After you get into your chosen university the work is relatively easy, you have free time, you can wear what you want, you can dye your hair etc and jobs are won on the university you go/went to rather than your degree, so getting into the right place is pretty much the most important thing. To pass these exams, kids got to after-school “cram-schools” from the end of school till 9-10pm most evenings during the week!

Anyway, we get the week off which is fantastic as I have time to recover from all that party planning! Luckily everything went perfectly the other night; people liked our goody bags (5000 yen vouchers redeemable at a local hairdressers, free food/drinks vouchers, chocolates, hair wax, shampoo etc) the red carpet, the prizes – concert tickets, hair straighteners, clothes etc – and everyone said how professional it was. Judging from everybody’s photos on Facebook, it looks like everybody had a good time! People are already asking when the next one is… Between George and I we know most of Nagoya so we are thinking of making it bigger – maybe 300 people!

We even made enough profit to pay for a thankyou slap-up meal at Outback Steakhouse for our closest friends who helped with the party preparations – currently still full of delicious ribs!! That place is a saving grace – although I still can’t believe that the finest fillet steak comes chopped up in little chunks just because Japanese people can’t use knives and forks! And whilst fish/eggs/horse meat/everything comes raw in Japan, steak comes medium rare even if you ask for it to be still moo-ing. Still I’m not going to complain, as where else can I get such decadent Gaijin Fodder?

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Japan takes a rather unusual perspective on the world and its interesting to see the rest of the world through the eyes of Japanese people. For one, everything seems a million miles away. Events in America, Europe, Iraq all seem to occur in another parallel universe. Yet, even the American election and inauguration of Obama have had a huge impact over here.

At an izakaya (pub) last night I became aware of the full impact when talking to three Japanese about the inauguration. None of them spoke any English other than very basis words such as “hello” and “thank you” etc. But all three of them knew the words from his acceptance speech – “Yes We Can”.

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