Uyoku Protest

On our way to a much nicer type of Japanese tradition, we ran into some local uyoku demo.

I know I should be a little more annoyed at the continuing existence of these subhuman leeches, but I nearly felt bad for them:

A few dozens sexually-frustrated ojisans (plus one very angry lady on the microphone), matched at least 3 to 1 by a cordon of (very nervous) police officers and easily outshined by the crowd of energetic counter-protesters in the public… Most of whom were young-enough to still be in university in a few years, when the Dai-nippon grandpas finally get sent to retirement homes (presumably staffed mainly by immigrant Asian workers. Oh, sweet, delicious, irony).

It took moving away to Tokyo (being back on my semi-regular weekend trip to Kyoto), to finally get to see a traditional dance show at Kaburenjo. With the extra awesome bonus of hanging out backstage and watching Tomi-san (who invited us) get ready.

These days, presumably to make up for the shutting down of US panda-cams, the World has taken a keen interest in the reproduction problems of the Japanese people.

The last wave started with a cheap click-baiting article in the Guardian, who really, by now, should know better than publish poorly-researched articles about made-up Japanese “trends”. On par with its gratuitously sensationalising title, the article gleefully mixed miscellaneous unconnected research data with completely random anecdotal stuff. Using the thin pretense of studying Japan’s problematic demographics, to go on a fact-finding mission with a Japanese dominatrix turned sex coach: because prurient article on the wacky sexual habits of the Japanese sell so much better than boring age pyramid charts and the like.

In response to this new milestone in paid-by-the-click pseudo-journalism, a few marginally better-written articles popped up, somehow attempting to reframe the discussion into something approaching fact-based reporting. While a whole lot more just piled on, presumably in hope of getting some of that sweet sweet internet buzz. Finally, some journalists pointed out the glaringly racist undercurrent running through the whole thing (not that orientalism is a new thing), charitably overlooking gross journalistic incompetence as the key ingredient to that potent mix of offensive stupidity.

In the lesser spheres of non-retributed publishing, every Japan-related blog or forum has contributed its fair share of anecdotal comments ranging from the Reddit-topping hilariously inept armchair pop-psy take on it1Extra irony points for having started in the psychology subforum of Reddit, where people are hard at work dispelling any notion that it might be an actual science. to the ubiquitous (and no less silly) counter-argument: “These articles must be wrong, because I know lots of Japanese who are having lots of sex. (wink wink nudge nudge)“.

Some Japanese blogger came very close to summarising my exact thoughts on the subject, in a few neat statistical plots2I know: not exactly gonna sway the masses against the appeal of “Queen Ai, professional Japanese dominatrix” and Guardian in-house resident statistics expert.. But it still missed some fundamental issues I have with this joke of a news trend, so I thought I’d give it my own try:

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They thought it defeated.

Its hideous shapeless mass: buried and gone forever. Its death the prelude to an everlasting era of warm happiness and sunny days.

But the beast was merely bidding its time and has finally returned.

Stronger than ever, steeped in the blood and hopes of the thousand brave men it has devoured whole, its bone-shivering ululating howls fill the space…

From the deepest, darkest, recesses of the Winter storage closet, the kotatsu is calling.

Out: laptop, dress shirts, research papers…

In: BBQ, swimsuit, sunscreen…

So long Sapporo, Hello Okinawa!

Through a combination of lack of time, opportunity, resources and general indifference driven by a complete absence of necessity, I managed to make it to my mid-twenties without having ever held a proper driving licence, or learnt to drive a car for that matter. By then, I was living in Japan, where the prospect of going through the entire process in Japanese made the task even more daunting. A few months ago, I finally went for it. And while I realise it is quite a narrow target demographics, I figured I’d document my experience for the benefit of other foreigners looking to get a driving licence in Japan.

Note: This here is about getting a full-fledged Japanese licence from scratch, not converting an existing foreign licence, which is a considerably shorter and easier process: most European licences only require some certified translation and a bit of paperwork, US (and a few other countries) will require you to take a very basic written and driving test on a course (somewhat similar to the process described below, but much, much, easier). The conversion test from a foreign licence is well-documented elsewhere on the Net, although you might find a few useful applicable tidbits in my recount below.

What you need, in a nutshell

  • Time: lotsa. By far the biggest annoyance with the process is having to take the time off for the tests. Lessons (if you need them) can often be conducted outside of office hours, but you will need at the very least 5 work half-days for the tests and CPR practice course (more if you need to retake any).
  • Money: lotsa. No surprise there. Depending on all sorts of factors, you could theoretically manage on about ¥30k (if you are already a near-perfect driver who does not need any practice). More realistically, your wallet will be ¥300k lighter by the end (give or take, depending on your skills and success at exams).
  • Japanese abilities: surprisingly not so essential. There are English-speaking private instructors (see below) and the written tests can be taken in English. Provided you understand enough Japanese to follow very basic driving instructions during the test (“Turn right at the second light”, “Stop the car on the left” etc.) and do not mind being completely lost during the many pre-test explanation lectures (mostly stuff that could be guessed with enough common sense or the help of a personal instructor), you will manage.

Main steps to obtaining your licence

Buckle up, it’s a bumpy ride:
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I am not sure what is the proper Summer equivalent term to ‘hibernation’, but I am fairly certain that is what our cats are currently attempting.

Taicoclub 2013

Another year, another TaicoClub. Still as awesome as ever (in fact, quite likely the best mid-size music fest in Japan these days).

This year too, you can find a much more adequate write-up of the event by James on the TimeOut page. I’ll pitch in with my own trainspotter rant nonetheless (focussing on the music and leaving the personal antics and class A felonies tastefully out of the scope of this post).

Shortly after pitching our tent, we spent our first couple hours regrouping and chilling to the increasingly awesome mix of beats of one Kubota Takeshi (first time I saw him): liberal doses of latin beats (some Cumbia here, some Salsa there), eventually turning even more eclectic (transitioning from some unknown vintage latin beats to the Dropkick Murphys onto the Négresses Vertes. No kidding).

Unfortunately, the disco-nap that came next made us miss a large part of Colin Stetson‘s indescribably awesome performance. Possibly some of the most moving 20 minutes of non-stop sax vibrato I have ever heard.

Clammbon @ Taicoclub 2013 Next was clammbon, which I assume was formed by locking a hundred Japanese indie jazz-folk artists in a pitch-dark basement with a bunch of rabid ferrets and selecting the three last survivors still wearing a smile while keeping their quirky jazzy singing at whisper level the whole time. I mean it in a good way.

Diamond Version, on the other hand, was closer to what the non-surviving members of such a selection process might have sounded like, mid-mauling and attempting to defend themselves with a broken neon light (at least those last 10 minutes of their show we managed to catch).

Tycho was very beautiful. And also a bit soporific for a 10pm show (but that’s definitely a standard feature of TaicoClub programming). Meanwhile, Travis Stewart was performing at his first of many appearances during the night: first solo, as Machinedrum (seen last year), a couple hours later as a half of JETS (which I hear was awesome, in an old-school rave kinda way, and am very bummed on missing for sleep-related reasons) and finally, I can only presume, as Ricardo Villalobos, wearing a very convincing rubber mask (which would explain the intense sweating). He was last seen regulating traffic at the festival’s exit gate.

More than the fact that TaicoClub booked Japan’s most commercial techno act of the 90s (contrast with the rest of the line-up), what surprised me most about 電気グルーヴ was how absolutely all friends and acquaintances were openly keen on checking them out (considering how much scorn is usually heaped upon them by the more dedicated dance heads, let alone indie electronic fans). The show certainly delivered in cheesiness and (much welcome) easily-danceable beats. Pierre Taki, in his usual Mardi Gras top hat, pacing the stage and emceeing, while Takkyu Ishino manned the machines. Let’s not kid ourselves: for all the cheap beats and past-freshness singing, it was tough not to get a few goosebumps and launch into some maniacal dancing when the first turbocharged beats of Reaktion started filling the place (and somewhere in the back of my mind, the annoying music geek was wondering if the titular German-accented sample might have been lifted from Kraftwerk‘s Tour de France album, by any chance1Not, according to a very cursory google search.).

A short walk and a stage change later, the lyrics had gone from infantile to post-adolescent, with Of Montreal‘s brand of hormonal pop rock. A good energetic set, even though the band somehow mistook the Japanese alpine hippy setting of Taicoclub’s upper stage with Glastonbury, mid-90s-brit-pop era. The former probably not the best place for witty banter (in English) or for crowd surfing.

Camping in Style Would have loved to go listen to Magda up close, but had to do with the soothing hardcore techno bass at a distance, from the comfort of our tent, getting the rest we needed to restart fresh and early in the morning. Not quite early enough to catch more than the closing notes of XXYYXX, but still too early to miss Ricardo entirely.

Like every year, Ricardo Villalobos prompted much anticipation among Taicoclub regulars eager to know 1) how many more people had been added to his entourage since the previous year and 2) how much colombian dust had found its way into his system by the time he’d start his set. The unsurprising answer to both being: a fucking lot indeed.

With about half-a-dozen hangers-on loitering in the back of the admittedly vast and empty stage, up from a consistent 2-3 last year, there is a serious risk that next year will see more people behind than in front of the DJ. My best guess is that if you happen to be anywhere within close distance of Ricardo on the night he leaves for Japan, you get to share his business class seat ticket and sit on his laps. That or each of these people has a crucial role in the logistics of his performance (poodle trainer, line tester…).

Also much like last year, his set was at best mediocre (and barely mixed), with a few rare touches of brilliance: yes, it is 2013 and I danced to some vague progressive remix of KLF‘s What Time is Love2FUCK me, this song is 25 year old. Twenty five years. This song is not only of legal drinking age, but it has two kids and lives in the suburbs.. That aside, Ricardo would occasionally dive and disappear behind the decks table, apparently looking for something and unaware that his record bags were sitting on the table behind him. This was obviously making him quite cross, because he would reappear each time a little more tense at the jaw and a lot sweatier at the brows.

I’m told he came back as the “surprise guest” (schedule read “???”) for the last slot on that stage an hour later. That man works way too much, if you ask me.

Charla ready to go home Other Taicoclub alumni Nick the Record closed the weekend in perfect fashion. I wish I could remember more specifics of his (very eclectic) set, other than it was awesome, funky and full of love, but sleep deprivation (among other things) claimed these last few hours and clarity is retrospectively lacking.

A few hours of train and train stations later, everybody was back on their respective side of the Kan (sai and tō) and a much longed for shower was had. That should conclude this year’s outdoor festival season: no Fuji Rock and most definitely no Summer Sonic here (hmn, maybe Nagisa?). Next camping will be at the beach and under the stars of Okinawa. Feel free to come and bring your boombox.