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Posts Tagged ‘japan’

This is a modern English language translation of Kajii Motojirō’s short story “Lemon” that I undertook. It is a story about a man who has fallen on hard times, but despite it all he retains his ability to find beauty in the most unusual places. In particular, he chances to find a lemon which is indescribably perfect, and the very act of holding it soothes him inexplicably. The protagonist’s final action of leaving this lemon on a pile of books in Maruzen (a high-quality book and stationary store) was so unusual and inspiring that it triggered a series of similar incidents amongst students who read this short story and wanted to replicate this subversive act of defiance. This story is a classic and is widely used in school textbooks in Japan.

It was quite a challenge to translate as it does not lend itself to the English language particularly easily. His style is poetic, and highly impressionistic, leaving much to the readers’ interpretation. I have done my best to keep it as faithful to the original as possible, and convey the highly sensory aspects of it as concisely as possible.

「檸檬」 梶井基次郎。小説のオンラインバージョンはこちらへ:  LINK TO JAPANESE VERSION OF THE TEXT ONLINE (opens in a new window)
This took me many hours to translate; please respect the time and energy I spent in translating this by NOT posting this on your site OR messageboard WITHOUT A LINK AND CREDIT. Thanks!

こちらの英訳は、非常に時間がかかりました。というわけで、是非読んで、他のブログやメッセージボードにポストしてもよろしいですが、こちらのサイトにリンクしていただいたら、とてもうれしいです。

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It’s true – everyone is a gaijin (outsider) somewhere! No matter where you go, there will always be somewhere where you don’t quite fit in. So always be nice to foreigners – one day it might be you.

I stumbled across this video the other day and it made me laugh. A lot. This is how the British are viewed through Japanese eyes.

My brother quickly responded by sharing this video, how we view Japan.

At least we can laugh about our differences!

This video captures the awkwardness of Japanese interacting with gaijin…

And finally a rather tongue in cheek look at “racism” in tokyo…

This one made me laugh, particularly because it sums up how sometimes gaijin in Japan make themselves the victims of racism stares… and if you will wear a Pikachu suit in a starbucks… well you bring it on yourself!

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A common question I get asked is, “Where can I get good ramen in London?”

Well, I’ve been trying to do some research (results below). Unfortunately the short answer is that nowhere and noone does ramen like they do in Japan. There are places which do serve “ramen” but inevitably the stock or ingredients are different and I am yet to find somewhere which gets it spot on.

The main problem with Japanese food outside of Japan, particularly in London is the structure of the menus and the belief that restaurants should and can work in the same way ours do – a menu filled with variety, something for everyone. Whilst this may work with Izakaya style eateries, one thing I noted in Japan is how most restaurants specialise in a particular area. Apart from standard side dishes like miso soup, sushi-ya’s serve sushi and nothing else.  Yakitori places serve nothing but variations on yakitori.

Naturally it follows that if you want to eat good ramen, you go to the place where they have perfected the stock, make nothing but ramen, and make so many batches everyday that they have the art of noodles down to a T. Unfortunately, ramen in the UK all-too-often amounts to little more than instant noodles with some sad-looking spinach on top.

I have been gradually trying out places and asking Japanese friends in the hunt for the best ramen around, and here are a few suggestions. (Please note that  the ♥ rating is purely on the quality of the ramen and not on other dishes!)

♥♥♥♥♥ Okawari, China Town (Leicester Sq.) – the Char-shui ramen is really tasty here. The soup was made with chicken stock, so its not 100% authentic, but its not too salty, comes with bamboo shoots, beansprouts and sea weed and a very generous portion of delicious char-shui (barbeque-style) pork. At only £4.50 off the lunchtime menu this is one of the cheapest and best places to go. I like the atmosphere here too; you get unlimited free green tea and generally I have always had satisfactory service. The rest of the menu has many other good dishes on it including bento boxes, tempura, gyoza, sushi etc.  As somewhere which hits the spot in between super-cheap and fine dining, this place comes recommended.

♥♥♥♥ Asa Kusa, Eversholt St. (Mornington Crescent) – As would be expected of my favourite Japanese restaurant in London, this place has vastly superior noodles. Udon comes with a soft poached egg, and is absolutely delicious. Don’t be fooled by the dingy interior and unlikely location, this place serves the best cheap Japanese food around (proved by the vast majority of Japanese patrons), and also gives fantastic service. It only opens in the evening and it is always packed out to the brim so booking is essential.

Ryo, Brewer Street (Piccadilly Cirus) – This was recommended to me as one of the better places to get ramen in London but I was pretty disappointed with their Miso Ramen. It consisted of the cheapest kind of soggy, overcooked instant noodles, and a broth which left much to be desired. Sure, it’s a  no frills kind of place, but considering how cheap ramen is to make, and how badly it was done here, I felt like I had wasted my money.

Ten Ten Tei, Brewer Street (Piccadilly Cirus) – Terrible food, terrible atmosphere, terrible service. Definitely one to avoid.

♥♥♥ Murasaki, Seven Dials (BRIGHTON) – Fabulous little restaurant, always had fantastic food here. Reasonably priced, friendly service, and if the food took a little longer than most other places it was only in the name of taste and presentation. All the chefs are Japanese, and they make the food as authentic as they can with the limitations of certain ingredients. The seafood miso ramen here is really rather good and hits the spot, although I am slightly disapproving of the use of sweetcorn as one of the toppings.


Other places that have ramen on the menu:

Eat Tokyo, Fitzrovia (Holborn)

Taro, Brewer Street (Piccadilly Cirus) – I would give this one a miss since I’ve had other food here and it wasn’t very good.

Ramen Seto, Kingly Street (Oxford Circus)

Misato, (Leicester Sq.) – Again, I haven’t ever eaten ramen here, but the rest of the menu was fairly mediocre (although they compensated by giving huge portions). so I wouldn’t hold out too much hope.

Tokyo Diner, China Town (Leicester Sq.)

If you know anywhere better or disagree, please feel free to comment!

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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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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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Just when I thought I had seen it all in Japan, I realised I have only been scraping the surface of bizarrity. (That isn’t a word but it sounds right somehow. My English ability has dropped to the level of a 6 year old.) I went for a mosey around the public library at Tsurumai Park the other day, and was more than a little surprised to see that there is a Sugakiya (ramen restaurant) inside. Not attached to the outside, but actually inside the library. I was thinking how amazing it would be if SOAS had something similar – during the exam period and 24hr opening a ramen restaurant in the library would be the perfect antidote to a hard nights revision!

But it gets even weirder than that. After a hunger fuelled stroll in search of a new and exciting restaurant, we found the perfect place that the producers of Hells Kitchen would probably commit acts of indecency in public places for Gordon Ramsey to sort out. A restaurant called “Mountain”, which specialises in interesting types of rice and spaghetti. Naturally, amongst the list of about 60 types of spaghetti (which actually turned out to be more like a noodle-pasta hybrid; best not to ask) you have standard sauces such as bolognese, carbonara and Japanese style flavours such as Mentaiko (spicy roe). What is surprising however, is seeing strawberry pasta make an appearance on the menu. Or kiwi pasta. Or banana pasta. There were a lot of very strange combinations – none of which sounded very appetising! I saw someone eating said strawberry pasta, and it seemed that it was the sauce and not the actually pasta which was strawberry flavoured. I must say it looked truly horrific. However the absolute worst item on the menu had to be the “Italian Tomato Parfait”. What part of  mixing ice cream and tomatoes seems like a good idea?! And what sort of person orders such a vomit inducing concoction?! Whats more, the portion sizes were bigger than American sizes, enough for 2 very hungry people or maybe even 3! After eating about a third I had to give it up to Michael who has the appetite of an mammoth. I would love to see Gordons reaction to the menu and restaurant…

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