Monthly Archives: December 2009


My brother reserved our seats on the Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Kyoto in the evening, but we found ourselves with time to kill before then.

After two full days of walking, neither of us seemed all to keen to maximize our time in Osaka.

My brother had asked me repeatedly what I wanted to see in Osaka, and I had no clue aside from the Dotonbori. By the time we got back to Hiroshima, I was too tired to add anything else to the Osaka excursion, except for the Umeda Sky Building.

So we decided to set out relatively late — 9 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. — and we wouldn’t stay out later than 4 p.m.

The Osaka excursion would be the big shopping day, where we would visit Tower Records, the primary reason for my heading to Japan in the first place.

I held back pretty much all year, not buying anything through the mail, knowing full well I could just get them in one fell swoop. And the trip to Osaka would take care of it.

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"If a city was dreaming … then the city is asleep. And I do not fear cities sleeping …. Sleeping cities are tame and harmless things. What I fear … is that one day the cities will waken. That one day the cities will rise."

World’s End, Neil Gaiman

I wanted to mention something about cities having their own character, and I thought of that dialogue in The Sandman. Cities are living things — they have their own character, shaped by the people inhabiting them, by the events happening within them, by the geography surrounding them.

Austin couldn’t be mistaken for Dallas, even though both are located in Texas. New York City couldn’t be mistaken for Honolulu. Hell, Honolulu couldn’t even be mistaken for Kahului.

The cities I visited in Japan are no different. Kyoto reminded me of Honolulu. Tokyo reminded me of New York City or Los Angeles. Osaka — definitely Austin.

Hiroshima is world-renowned for one of the most shocking events in human history. But what else could be said about the city? In terms to its size relative to the likes of Kyoto, Tokyo or Osaka, Hiroshima would be … Galveston, Round Rock, Oakland.

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The flight from Honolulu to the Osaka-Kansai airport lasts roughly nine hours. When you’re stuck on a plane for that long, service matters, something Japan Airlines understands.

My brother and I sat in an emergency exit row with a pair of flight attendants seated across from us during take-off. When the two ladies bowed to the cabin before take-off, I had a sense this flight may actually be … nice.

They served food. They served drinks. They even handed out hot towels toward the end of the flight. Flights from the Mainland to Honolulu offered that level of service once upon a time but not anymore. I actually managed to begin and finish Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink on that flight.

A co-worker would later tell me Japan Airlines isn’t doing well financially, and that level of service is pretty anachronistic. But the Japanese market demands it, and I was glad for it.

Little things really tickled me. The video for the emergency procedures was completely animated, and they broadcast the take-off and landing on the video screen. In fact, all the seats in the main cabin included video monitors, allowing you to choose your own in-flight movie, headphones included.

It was nice to travel back in time for a spell.

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(Ed. note: This entry is cross-posted from my Vox site and was published on Nov. 26, 2009. I planned on writing more entries about the trip there, but I think I’ll do that here. I’ll cross-post there later.)

It’s done.

The trip that has caused so much ambivalence has been completed. I can now say I’ve been to Japan. And yes, I would like to return.

I really only wanted to go there to shop, and shop I did. I didn’t want to go with inflated expectations. Too many people think Hawaiʻi is all grass huts and hula skirts, not realizing Honolulu is a major city like any other city on the Mainland.

I had some notion of what the topography of Japan would look like from media — music videos, anime — but I kept my mind open about everything else. And I’m glad I did.

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The Holidailies Audio Guide to

Shiina Ringo? fra-foa? Cocco? NUMBER GIRL? Are they for real?

Why, yes, Holidailies reader, they are. If you regularly spend your Saturday late nights watching [adult swim], you’ve probably encountered some ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Hajime Chitose, ORANGE RANGE or L’Arc~en~Ciel. Popular music from Japan is not an unknown quantity here in the US, but it’s not anything you would encounter on a Clear Channel playlist either.

And while there are sites catering to worldwide audiences of Hamasaki Ayumi, tends to focus on bands that, even in Japan, may not get a widespread audience. And there is room for Utada Hikaru as well.

If the last five days of entries seemed like a whole lot of music geek posturing, well … you’d be right. I don’t hang onto Pitchfork’s every word. I’m not out to outdo Fluxblog, Stereogum or Arjan Writes. I listen to what I like, and I write about what I’m listening to.

And most of that stuff is sung in Nihongo.

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John Adams: Hallelujah Junction

John Adams is a smart guy.

The New England-raised, California-based composer played clarinet concertos when he was a teenager. He tried to study ancient Greek while at Harvard in order to read the classics in their original language. (He didn’t get far.) He’s composed operas about Richard Nixon and the development of the atomic bomb.

No ghost writer is listed on the cover of his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, and given the college-level writing style, none was needed. (His blog is great as well. I really hope Marcel Proost is real.)

As such, Adams can’t help but come across as the smart guy he is, and when he’s relating stories about the creation of his biggest works, he’s entirely engaging.

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Mukai Shuutoku produces SuiseiNoboAz debut album

ZAZEN BOYS’ mastermind Mukai Shuutoku produced and mixed the debut album of newcomers SuiseiNoboAz, reports SuiseiNoboAz formed in 2007, performing steadily and gaining enough of a reputation to land a spot on the ROOKIE-A-GO-GO stage at the Fuji Rock Festival. The band recorded its 10-track self-titled debut, slated for release on Jan. 20, 2010, at Mukai’s Matsuri Studio.

SuiseiNoboAz’s Myspace page contains excerpts from the album, and the band shares quite an affinity with ZAZEN BOYS. The tracks certainly have that Matsuri Studio sound. (It’s in the drums.)

Favorite edition decade: 2000-2009, Nos. 10-1

As I said before, it was easier to pin down the ranking of the first half of this list than the last half. The placements on this upper tier are fairly solid, and given the cop out of making a "favorite" list instead of a "best" list, I don’t have to make subject judgments about merit. I like these albums in this order because, well, I like these album in this order.

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