One of the best parts about Japan are the festivals. There are so many festivals happening year round, and most of them are specific to the local community. They are a great opportunity to observe local talent and interesting traditions. There might be a parade, ancient palanquins, or even music and elaborate costumes. One thing is for certain, there will always be delicious food, and lots of people.
The Kikusui Matsuri at Futaarayama was a beautiful collaboration of an intense cacophony of instruments, and pageantry. There were many people dressed in traditional garb, and some prepared for a purification ceremony. I wandered around, lost in a world I've never known. I found the surroundings nearly overwhelming, and deeply satisfying but some people appeared distracted. There were some stares. They don't see a lot of non-Japanese people and I felt like a moving display, open to interpretation and hushed curiosity.
I didn't mind though. I was too busy admiring the intricately decorated horen or letting the ritual sounds thunder through my heart. There was something so spiritual, so wondrous that I couldn't help but become entirely enraptured.
I visited the local shrine often, since that's where all the events seemed to take place. I missed a lot of events actually, due to work conflicts, but I feel lucky to have witnessed a few, like Oshougatsu. The New Year's Day Festival started late December 31, and became unbelievably crowded before midnight. People were out drinking and partying in the square. I couldn't believe it. I could barely maneuver through the crowd - not a normal sight in the small city. They were lined up to visit the shrine and hopefully attain good fortune for the year. What surprised me the most was everyone counted down to midnight in English! It made everything feel so surreal.
Soon after New Year's Day, there was a parade of fire fighters, performers, martial artists, and even children. At the end, a long line of fire trucks drove past slowly. In the meantime, they maintained regular traffic in all the other lanes. I was astonished. A parade of this size and importance was still not enough to shut down part of a main street. Trust the Japanese to put efficiency and politeness at the top of their priorities, wouldn't want to bother people too much with an annual parade.
I visited Ueno Park in April during the finals days of hanami. Most of the sakura (cherry blossom) petals were gone, but it was still beautiful. Ueno has a zoo, a couple national museums and even a "lake". I walked around the park, visited the museum, ate small octopus on a stick and even had the opportunity to get in a swan boat with a friend for funsies. I enjoyed it!
During Golden Week, on Kodomo no Hi, there was a concert in front of the shrine. It featured several different bands, playing varying degrees of rock. Some bands were more metal, and others were more pop. The best part about the concert was the amount of people dressed up in some form of cosplay. I loved seeing such creativity and imagination sprung to life on the people around me. Most of them were college students, taking the opportunity to celebrate. Some were middle aged men simply enjoying the spectacle of wearing a skirt out in public. I ended up buying an album and tweeting about the event - I really did enjoy the music.
I saw so many festivals. One of my favourites featured a small market in a rural town. It barely covered a block, and was dappled with tents covering handmade crafts, and unique novelties. I saw old Astro Boy manga, a gold leaf ashtray from France, jade necklaces, baskets, food vendors and even a booth to make your own pin or keychain. I bought myself a figurine of komainu - which surprised the locals. I also bought some handmade jewellry, and designed a keychain alongside a 5 year old girl. All the meanwhile, I could feel everyone's eyes on me. I listened to elderly singers strain to hit the right pitch over the speakers, while pedestrians stared relentlessly. In fact, as soon as I started browsing, a man with a camera began to follow me. He wanted to know where I was from and if he could take a picture. I told him it was fine and he took a couple. Then some of the vendors wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing there. They were surprised by the presence of a foreigner to their little town (minutes away from a major tourist destination). Everyone had to ask. I thought it was sweet and enjoyed their curiosity. Although, the man with the camera kept following me and taking photos...guess I granted him the right to be my temporary paparazzi. It was sort of funny, and I think of those moments fondly. The sun shining brightly, the wind tousling my hair, and meeting some of the nicest (and most curious) people in Japan.
Compared to larger festivals within the city - the people kept to themselves and seemed too shy to approach me. Sort of an odd juxtaposition. All-in-all, Japanese festivals are entertaining and enriching. They're an excellent chance for anyone to become involved in the culture, and take part in something bigger.
When one thinks of Japan, one might immediately think of fantastical and unbelievable things. What's more fantastical than a robot? Japan is home of the robots. Whether you're thinking of Honda's Asimo - the helpful, soccer playing robot or Softbank's Pepper - a robot capable of recognizing human emotions. Japan is on the frontier of robotics, and perhaps the most beautiful example so far lives in Shinjuku - a ward in Tokyo, Japan. Amidst the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, there is a little underground room where robots and dancers bring magic to life.
Robot Restaurant (ロボットレズトラン) can be found just a short walk from the station. A stroll down a narrow pedestrian filled street alerts you to unusual products and arcades. Then you can't help but notice the very unusually coloured letters written in English and Katakana, "Robot Restaurant". There's a small entrance on the street and there are men in black armed with clipboards.
I was a little nervous at first, I always get a little nervous before a reservation - as though something is about to go horribly wrong. I went up to him and told him the name. We had to wait in line to confirm. Luckily, we were some of the first people for that show.
Waiting in line revealed a lot of tourists. Not surprisingly, some white people. When the time finally came, the velvet rope was moved and we purchased drink tickets. No one deals with any cash inside the restaurant - only tickets. Then we were informed that we had to go across the street to wait in the lounge on the something-th floor. We made a u-turn and walked out, following a staff member leading the way.
We walked into a shiny, mirror covered corridor and waited for our turn on the elevator up. The elevator was small and could only take a couple of people at a time. When it was our turn, we got in with a few other tourists and attempted to take as many people as possible. The elevator buttons wouldn't light up. Some people stepped off - no luck. A few more - there was a moment of uncertainty, but the buttons lit up and we went up to the lounge. The elevator itself was outfitted in decorative convex pexiglass bubbles. So far, things were seeming abstract.
Then we arrived, and oh, did we arrive. I was instantly agape. Everything was a beautiful hot mess of glass, gold and swirls. It was so over the top, it was brilliant. The walls were lined with flatscreens playing odd video footage of robots and warrior women, while the provided chairs nestled between rows of glass tables were giant golden snail shells, capable of turning 360. To top this amazing lounge off (besides the alcohol) was a band of musicians dressed like robots. So great!
We ventured underground to our destination and looked at our tickets. There are 3 rows of seats on either side of the room, and the seats are packed in tight. I felt very lucky to be in the first row and right in the middle. What great seats! Soon enough, the show began. They informed us of all the safety precautions - largely that we couldn't leave our seats until the intermission, and we needed to actively duck out of the way sometimes. I really liked that part. Audience participation at its finest. Look out for your own damn safety!
The lights dimmed to black, and two giant self moving stands of taiko drummers rolled out. As if in a duel, the teams of drummers began beating the skins intensely, filling the air with beautiful vibrations that hummed through my heart.
After the amazing drumming performances, pieces of a giant palanquin maneuvered out. Dancers climbed aboard and the magical contraption unfolded to transform into one giant stage. The dancers were mere inches away, and their beautifully synchronized routine was enthralling. I was completely in love with it all.
What next? Well, they took a moment during intermission to place heavy poles and after everyone returned to their seats, they added chains in front of the audience. We mused that it may have been placed to protect us from harm. Either way, it had the intended affect of creating an atmosphere for a story to unfold. The next thing I knew, they told us of a planet and its citizens at one with nature and in complete harmony...until the robot empire invades and disrupts their peace! So the people of the peaceful planet work together with nature to defeat the robot queen (think Rita Repulsa meets Queen Beryl). It's not long before dinosaurs team up with attractive women to beat back the evil robots.
Oh, and at the end they had a giant snake and spinning robot move around the room to a touching song. Then a pretend robot fight that appeared something akin to Rock 'em, Sock 'em robots. Yep.
After it was finished, I felt completely satisfied and more than that, I wished I had booked it every night. Shinjuku's Robot Restaurant was by far one of the greatest experiences I had in Japan. If I had to recommend for anyone to see just one thing in Tokyo, it would be the Robot Restaurant. No joke! I know it may seem ridiculous but it was unbelievable! Certainly underrated. So if you're in Japan, or if you're planning a trip to Japan - go online and find tickets to the Robot Restaurant. There are a couple of travel places that sell them - so you can purchase them in English. Go, enjoy and savour the experience for the rest of your life.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Today is the birthday of Peter Gene Hernandez aka Bruno Mars. He was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii by a family of musicians and today he is turning 28! Happy birthday Bruno Mars or Hau'oli la hanau (Hawaiian for "Happy Birthday" or literally, "Happy Glad Day"). In celebration of his birthday, I've decided to share some of my favourite Bruno Mars songs!
I am considering Korea as a possible destination for teaching ESL. The main reason I've thought about travelling there are the many invitations I've received from Korean women to visit their country. The girls I've known were so eager to share their culture with me. It was their warmth and compassion that instantly made me add Korea to my list of places to go.
I know that I haven't been updating as frequently as I should but due to present circumstances, I've been overwhelmed by a myriad of conflicts.
I thought as a courtesy for my readers and as a cathartic gesture for myself, I would share a little about what's going on in my life presently.
My relationship of over three years has ended. As I've mentioned before on a previous post, "If you love someone, you must let them go". I can say in all honesty that I will always love them but I can also say that we're not meant to be together. At first I had a hard time accepting it but I suppose that's rather normal. Eventually I realized that it was much better to be apart than together. A sad lesson to learn, I suppose but a necessary one. Everyone deserves to be happy, whatever that means. Sometimes that means you have to break up.
I feel lucky in a number of ways. One of them being that I don't hate them. I can truly say that my love for them is unconditional. I also feel lucky that they said what they did and ended things when they realized they didn't love me. I don't want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't love me. That would be doing a great injustice to both parties involved.
Now that I'm single again I can honestly say I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I have my wings back and I'm no longer trapped in a tiny cage. Despite admitting to a few close confidants and the pages of my diary that I was unhappy in my relationship and wanted to leave, I could never seem to admit those feelings to myself. I kept denying them. I wanted to believe I was happy because I loved them. Yet I think we all know that at some point those buried feelings will surface, again and again. I would just take it out in my diary. I looked back on things I'd previously written and I realized how tortured I felt. I never felt loved and perhaps that truly was the case.
If someone is unhappy with themselves, they'll never be happy with someone else. Love or no love, it's not going to make a difference. I desperately wanted to believe that if I loved hard enough that I could make someone happy but I forgot the key to happiness, "Only you can make you happy". Any effort on my part was sadly futile.
My relationship was like living in a barren, arctic wasteland. Every day I sat trapped in an icy cavern and I desperately tried to think of ways to manifest some warmth. I hoped that my own body heat would reverberate back to me, yet I was unaware of the many drafts that sucked out every last bit of heat and only made me colder. Sometimes the wind was so fierce that it howled through the small crevices and sounded like voices, then I didn't feel so alone. Over time, without my acknowledgement, the cavern's structure began to fail. One day the ceiling collapsed and exposed a bright, blue sky. I stared, uncertain. What was out there? I hesitated, comfortable with the familiar. At least I knew the cavern but I could not remember the sky. So I tried to stay. The entire cavern began to collapse around me, surrounding me with rubble. Some pieces hit me, bruising my tender body. Without another thought, I ran. I lifted my head towards the sky and raced for the only exit. I climbed furiously over remnants and finally reached the top. I closed my eyes and jumped. I expected my body to fall briefly before meeting an early demise. Yet I was lifted. Higher and higher, into the brilliant blue firmament and into the reaches of the sun. The warmth enveloped my body and suddenly my memory was restored. Flashes of a life long forgotten pressed on me. I forgot that I could just fly away. For a brief moment I looked down to the cavern. It had been completely destroyed. I had escaped with my life and I was grateful.
It seems these days all I listen to is Tegan & Sara. I bought their latest album, Heartthrob and was pleasantly surprised by their new sound. Their past albums have been typically somber and feature acoustic guitars. This time their music is filled with a neo-80's vibe and captures the essence of being in and out of love. I know it's quite a departure from their original sound but it's still Tegan & Sara, they're just evolving.
Without further ado, here are some of my favourite Tegan & Sara songs! With each music video I've included a few lyrics. The last song is from their latest album, Heartthrob.
In Canada and the United States our observances are based on Christian beliefs due to the beliefs of the colonists who settled here. Valentine's Day is no exception.
The origin of Valentine's Day is at best, spotty. It's allegedly based on a man named Valentinus who lived under the Roman empire. He was imprisoned for apparently performing weddings for Christians. At this particular time in history, the Roman empire was heavily against Christianity. Valentinus was executed but before he died he sent a note to a special girl that ended with, "from your Valentine".
To be honest, it all seems a little too convenient to be true. Especially since the story isn't agreed upon. There were quite a few men named Valentine around that particular time period and different churches across Europe claim ownership to Valentine relics. That's the thing about Christianity, in my opinion it appears to be less about fact and more about ideals of morality.
Regardless of the alleged origin, Valentine's Day has evolved from religious worship by some to a commercialized "Hallmark" holiday observed by many. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that every year 190 million valentines are sent. In the U.K. they spend around 1.3 billion pounds (over 2 billion dollars) on Valentine related gifts annually. It is without a doubt a very profitable holiday for greeting card companies.
This reason might be why many are disenchanted with observing Valentine's Day. Coupled with being single can also be disheartening. I would argue and I'm sure some people would agree, that Valentine's Day is not just about celebrating romantic love. When I was younger every year my parents bought me Valentine gifts to show their unconditional love. Apparently I'm not the only child who receives such gifts since half the valentines in the U.S. are delivered to family members, typically children.
Despite the commercialization of Valentine's Day, I appreciate celebrating a day of love. You don't have to purchase an expensive greeting card or the typical chocolates and what-not. You can do what you like! That's the beauty of it. There are no rules. You're not required to do exactly the same thing as everyone else. You can make the day special by celebrating however you like. If you're single you could do any number of things. You could celebrate your friendships or family. If you're particularly touchy about Valentine's Day and prefer to be alone, then why not make it a day appreciating yourself? Make your favourite meal, watch your favourite movie. I'll be honest, when I was single I paid no attention to it. It was just another day. Mind you, I haven't been single in awhile and I think I would spend it a little differently now.
It doesn't matter how you choose to celebrate the day or if you ignore it altogether. It's your choice. I just like the idea of celebrating love. Love is truly beautiful in all its forms. So take the opportunity to tell someone you love them.
I love you, my readers! Here's a painting I did just for you! Have a great Valentine's Day!
P.S. If you feel like giving some loving back, please fill out my brief 5 question survey by clicking on this link. (No worries, it's still on my site.)
Happy 39th birthday Jemaine Clement!
Jemaine is a terrific albeit underrated actor. I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate one of my all time favourite television shows (and musical groups), starring Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, Flight of the Conchords.
If you haven't watched Flight of the Conchords yet, you're missing out. This television series is absolutely hilarious with clever and irreverent moments. At first the music is a surprise but you inevitably end up falling in love with their folksy beats. I know I can't help singing, even long after I've watched an episode. They make songs about real life moments, making fun of the serious and dramatic.
Some of my favourite songs from their show are: "Not Crying", "Business Time", "Foux Du Fa Fa", "K.I.S.S.I.N.G./A Kiss Is Not A Contract", "Feminist Toothpaste", "Sugalumps", "You Don't Have To Be A Prostitute", "Hurt Feelings", "Too Many Dicks On the Dance Floor" and "Carol Brown". All of their songs are truly great especially since they're well timed and always hilarious.
Flight of the Conchords is the name of both the musical group and the television show. The group has been active since 1998, making appearances on shows to perform their original and amusing songs. In 2004 they had a BBC radio show and in 2007 they started a television show that ran 2 seasons.
Their fame was recognized when they made a cameo on The Simpsons in "Elementary School Musical" as two camp counselors. At first their life appears flattering until Lisa finds them living impoverished in "Sprooklyn" (homage to their show where they live in Brooklyn).
Jemaine's career was launched by his musical fame into new and interesting roles. For instance, he plays Kieran Vollard in Dinner for Schmucks. An artist in touch with his hedonistic and animal nature. His character poses a threat to Paul Rudd's romantic relationship due to his animal magnetism. It seems women just fall for him and he certainly doesn't hide his affections for them.
An even bigger surprise was Jemaine's role in Men in Black 3 as the villain, Boris the Animal. He does an absolutely superb job creating an aura of arrogance and infamy. I truly enjoyed this role. It was unexpected and well executed. It's such a stretch from his musical comedy that it was refreshing. If you haven't watched this movie yet, I would recommend it. It's definitely better than Men in Black 2.
Jemaine is not the only one making appearances on the silver screen. His musical partner, Bret has also made startling appearances. He plays a small part as an elf in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King. He must have made an impression since he's returned in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with a speaking role and name, Lindir. He is also scheduled to appear in The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.
I hope to see more of Jemaine and Bret in the future. They are comedic geniuses and terrific actors. I should mention, there are rumours of a Flight of the Conchords movie. I really hope it's true! For now, I leave you with "Foux Du Fa Fa".
The Metric Concert was absolutely brilliant! I'm very glad I bought tickets! The tickets I purchased were actually quite special, they were VIP tickets which meant I had to arrive early to pick up merchandise such as posters and t-shirts. I had the opportunity to purchase "Meet and Greet" tickets to meet Metric but I decided I wouldn't be comfortable doing that. I never want to meet someone I idolize, I think it would spoil it.
The opening band for Metric was another Canadian indie band from Toronto named Stars. They were quite interesting especially since they had to two vocalists, one male and one female. They would take turns singing or sometimes sing together. I quite enjoyed their music. I think they were an excellent choice to open for Metric. Later on Emily Haines made it clear that Stars were very close to her. It seems like they're all really good friends.
The concert featured a light show which was well timed and beautiful. What impressed me the most was the music. It actually sounded better live! I've been to quite a few concerts and typically the music is well...mediocre. Some artists are just not that great live but Metric, they were absolutely phenomenal. Especially Emily Haines. What a voice! What a spectacular voice! She can sing!
Near the end of the concert Metric left the stage and giant numbers began flashing starting at "120" and counting down. It was brilliant, it made everyone excited and count down the last 10 seconds. Then Metric came back out and played a few more songs. They finished on "Gimme Sympathy" to acoustic and her singing. People pulled out lighters and mobile phones, it was very sweet. The whole band was very touched, the song meant a lot to them.
All in all the concert was terrific. I had a great time and I'm happy I had the chance to see Metric live.
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