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Posts Tagged ‘akihabara’

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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Sorry for such a long absence!

The last month and a bit has been very busy with a fantastic 10 day visit from my parents, never ending mountains of work, and a trip up to Niigata for a weekend of snowboarding!

Seeing my parents was a really nice break and we managed to cram a lot of travel into a short period of time, visiting places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara, as well as Nagoya! Its interesting to see Japan through their eyes since it was their first visit. Some of the things I take for granted here or have become used to are actually really strange when you think about it – like the lack of fresh vegetables in my diet, vending machines which serve anything from a meal to beer to hot drinks in cans and cold tea in bottles, crows which are the size of a semi-detached in Harlow, and how can I forget the crunchy bean bag “rice pillows”!

I think my favourite place we went to was Kobe due to its small size and the friendliness of everybody I spoke to.

Throughout the trip we stayed in a mix of normal western hotels and Japanese style ryokan with tatami mat floors and futon. We visited a whole variety of places from the ancient mossy zen temples of 8th century Japan in Kyoto and Nara to the more modern style of Kobe and a glimpse at sprawling and gittering futuristic-tecnology-centric Tokyo (Shibuya, Akihabara, Ginza etc).

Other stuff:

Snowboarding was absolutely fantastic! I loved every minute of it. I had never done it before, but I guess all that practise at surfing on the tube back home helped because I got pretty good pretty quickly. Rumi taught us the basics and before lunchtime we were hitting up the Intermediate level slopes! Its just as well I’m fearless when it comes to stuff like that because it meant that hurtling down the slopes at what feels like 1000 mph without having fully grasped the concept of braking or mastering basic steering was a lot more fun! The snow was abundant and beautiful, and such good quality. Luckily the 9 hour bus journey was worth it – going an extra couple hours north of the highly popular Nagano resort meant that the slopes were virtually deserted and the snow hadn’t become compacted into ice. I lost my phone the first morning and I thought that it was buh-bye (either destroyed by water damage from melting snow, or buried under fresh snow that fell later that day, or stolen) but this is Japan. I found it the next day – someone had handed it in! What a miracle. All in all it was an amazing weekend. I didn’t break anything, although the proceeding few days had me in a world of pain, the likes of which I haven’t experienced for a very long time!

The workload this term is much more than I anticipated, with business Japanese taking up a lot of my time (learning how to use honorifics in the workplace is essentially learning a whole new set of verbs for all the basic actions and their respective conjugated forms… fun.) On the flip side we went to the Asahi Newspaper office in Nagoya to see “a real Japanese work place in action” and although I only got the bare minimum of what the tour guide was saying it was an interesting experience, plus  we got a bunch of cool freebies.

Taking my first ever foreign policy class this term has also been a challenge – it is absolutely fascinating and the teacher makes it interesting, but its pretty hardcore for a newbie like myself having to start from scratch! The learning curve is steep but I prefer it that way. I’m finding out all sorts of things about Japan and its politics that I should probably have known before; for example, Japan is still technically at war with Russia having never signed the peace treaty at the end of WW2! (Its all to do with the fact that the land border of the northern territories is still disputed.

Ikebana and Sumie (black ink painting) are still my”escape classes” and I love having them as a creative outlet. Last Friday in sumie we were practising all the different types of brush-stokes we have learnt so far and the main task was to create out own new brushstroke. As he was walking around and checking our work he saw the one I had designed and said that he had never seen one like it before – that it was highly original and should be called “Shepheard Stroke”! He then proceeded to show the rest of the class and use it as an example of what you can do with different types of pressure and water/ink balance. So I felt really chuffed about that!

I’m doing English Conversation with a few pupils on the side to earn a little bit of extra money which is working really well for me. The exchange rate is so bad right now that earning yen is far more lucrative than it used to be, and so a fairly standard fee of 3000 yen suddenly has  increased in value from about £15 to a mighty £25! Even though its only occasional, its actually quite fun and once you have the materials its really easy.

A final thought; My theory of Umbrella Karma. Sometimes you lose your umbrella or it gets borrowed/stolen. Other times you may have to “borrow” from other people. Its a never ending cycle trying to stay in balance. There is also a black hole where all the lost umbrellas go – umbrellas left in shops, bars clubs. It is also an indisputable fact that umbrellas are able to grow legs and walk. Possibly towards said black hole.

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For me, New Years Eve is never really a big deal. There’s usually a house party or something going on somewhere, but I tend to avoid the clubs and bars because of the hiked up prices and unnecessary drunkenness. This year however, seeing that I was in a different country I figured I’d give something new a try, which meant going to the biggest club in Japan – AgeHa, Tokyo.

I took the night bus there which seems like a really really good idea on paper; its about half the price of the bullet trains and sure it takes a while but you can sleep on the way right? Wrong! After leaving Nagoya at 11pm I arrived 6 1/2 hours later in Shinjuku after barely more than an hours sleep! (c.f. the shinkansen takes a mere 1 hour 40 mins. Guess which way I went home!)

After a shower and quick breakfast at my friend Chiyonos house (which could be more appropriately described as a palace) we all headed off to Akihabara. Akihabara, or Akiba as it is know to the locals, is the electronics centre of Japan, the world and possibly the universe. It has everything technology can think up, all the latest video games, cameras, robots, you name it. It is the stereotypical “futuristic japan” that is bursting with flashing lights, sounds, and short acne-ridden unmarried men wearing glasses.

We got kaitenzushi for lunch (that’s conveyor belt sushi for the uninitiated) before shopping and heading off to a maid cafe for an afternoon cup of tea. Even though I had heard a fair bit about Maid Cafes, I was so unprepared for what I saw! The maids welcome you with the most ridiculous language, and call you “My most honoured master/mistress”and serve you almost like they are your slaves! But its all good natured and fun, and the key point is that it is unbelievably CUTE. There should be a word in English to describe this kind of cutesy overload that makes you feel as if you have eaten too much candyfloss. All I can say is, if you get the chance GO, simply because there is nowhere else in the world that you can have an experience like this. I got a Polaroid taken with one of the maids as a souvenir and they drew on it and made it all cute!

萌え萌え!

After that we checked out the fashions down Harajuku way, before going on to Shibuya. Disappointingly I never seem to see many “harajuku girls”, such as those seen in Shoichi Aoki’s street magazine Fruits which has been documenting trends since 1996. But I always keep my eye out for this iconic style of haphazard fashion. I have a special interest in it because it really bucks the trend against social conformity:

Fruits

AgeHa for NYE was amazing. I was expecting it to be good but it totally blew us all away. The music was perfect (Osawa Shinichi/Dexpistols/Emma) , the crowd was fun and up for a good time, there were performances from a crazy MC and Diva (apparently both famous) pole dancers dressed as geisha, rope dancers and I got to fulfil one personal lifetime ambition which was to dance around in gold and silver confetti to electro music. I couldn’t have wanted anything more except perhaps a new pair of feet for the morning after – we danced non-stop from 9.30 till 4.30am!

The next day we paid a visit to the shrine as is customary on New Years Day, but we didn’t bargain for quite how busy the Meiji-jingu shrine was going to get! We had to wait over an hour and a half to get in because of the several thousand other people who went to pay their respects, make a wish and get their fortune told!

All in all it was a jam-packed 48hrs but I have just about caught up on sleep again!

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