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Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

Q: What is Para-Para?

A: It is a style of dancing which is very popular amongst young people in Japan.

YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS VIDEO TO UNDERSTAND!

OR THIS ONE

I went to my first para-para club the other day and it was interesting to see such a cult part of Japanese culture live and kicking. If I compare it to line-dancing, then it I’m sure it would give you completely the wrong idea about what it is – there are no badly dressed, cowboy hat wearing middle-aged folk here, this is where the young and the stylish come to show off their arm-waving skills in strict routines set to euro-beat/trance/techno music.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of geeks here too. Para-para is not something you can just rock up to a club and “do”; you have to study hard and learn the moves. As a result there are a large proportion of “otaku” who study daily (probably) to perfect routines, and once they know them they go to a para-para club to show what they can do. Normally “Gyaru” (the really girly girls with tonnes of makeup, short skirts and perfectly curled hair) and “otaku” (geeks with no dress-sense, bowl haircuts and a curry based diet) never mix together under any circumstances, but this is perhaps the main exception to that rule!

My friend Mina took me. She is actually an instructor back in Texas, and its because of this style of dancing that she came to like Japan in the first place! She knows a good 300 or so routines, no mean feat if you ask me. Although the moves all look kind of similar, and there is a lot of repetition, naturally every song is different.

At the club itself, everyone dances in lines and the most experienced dance on the stage to remind everyone of the moves. Occasionally the DJ pulls out a record from the early 90’s which nobody knows and at that moment, there is usually one geek who will know it, and that is their moment to shine!

After a while the music really got to me though so I don’t think I will be trying to pick it up anytime soon, but then again its always fun to try things out so who knows! Let me know what you think of the two videos!

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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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Toyota factory tour

Yesterday afternoon the CJS office arranged a trip for students to go around the Toyota factory and museum which was really interesting. We saw all the “dancing robots” doing welding, and it was like something out of star wars or the matrix, or that Picasso advert where the robot goes crazy and starts painting the car all over! The most amazing thing is that now 97% of the manufacturing process is done by robots/machines, and they can produce almost 1000 cars a day. The museum was pretty good too, but what I found most interesting is how they developed the hybrid cars by using nature as inspiration. They studied a particular bird which can fly high over Mt Everest purely by using thermals and very little effort on its own part, and from that they developed the concept of a hybrid car which is much more environmentally friendly. They also showed what they hope cars will be like in the future – environmentally friendly, affordable, and able to react and respond to other cars/objects to minimise collisions. The tour ended with a performance by the a robot which can play the trumpet – and pretty realistically as well! Certainly better than I could!

Ive been struggling to find time for myself  this last week as every free moment I have is filled up instantly with preparation for classes, homework, trips to the bank and trips to the ward office! Ive finally got my Foreigner Card and have sorted out money now, but since the bank is only open Mon-Friday 9-3 and classes finish at 5 most days, its hard to find time to go there!

Ive been meeting a lot of really cool Japanese people at uni, but sometimes I feel intimidated by how smartly everyone dresses for uni. Whilst SOAS adopts the “wear whatever you can find on the floor which hasn’t been covered in mud from the last protest you were at or isn’t being used as a towel” approach to dressing, Japan takes dressing for classes much more seriously. All the girls wear heels and jewelery, and the boys are all so stylish; its unbelievable. SOAS people should clean up their act! 😉

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