Photographer Ben Beech is, like me, a British ex-pat living in Tokyo. I first met him through his work photographing drum ’n' bass events. Although he’s not the only gaijin (foreigner) documenting Japanese haikyo spots (literally "abandoned place"), I really like his aesthetic and what he chooses to shoot. I was so taken by his work that I asked to use a photo from his Nichitsu mining town trip as the cover for my album, Nitriding Portrait. History and mystery are displayed in his work in equal measure, and many of the places he visits seem haunted, with their rotting possessions and furniture left behind.
Many people's image of Japan is of high rise buildings and the neon covered areas of Tokyo like Shibuya and Shinjuku, or the supposedly typical Japanese creepy kawaii, cosplay fashion of Harajuku and Akihabara, contrasted with the serene landscape and architecture of places like Kyoto. However, a not so well known side of Japan is the run down, bizarre, half arsed, tacky theme parks and resorts dotted around rural areas. The website for the Pyramid Onsen spa and art museum is a classic example of places like this, debunking the notion of Japan as futuristic. Their website also provides a good example of the many outdated and hideously designed Japanese sites that would get ridiculed offline in the West. And in the same vein, here's the official website for the Shinjuku passport office.
(Ramu's "Ai Ha Kokoro No Shigoto Desu")
This tune was a big influence for me and Chris Greenberg's (of Hong Kong In The 60s) Greeen Linez project. Ramu was a funk/fusion group that featured Momoko Kikuchi on vocals. This tune in particular, shows off the unique juxtaposition of heavy Minneapolis-style synth-funk with Kikuchi's daintily childlike vocals. On paper this shouldn't work, but it just sounds fantastic. There's also lots of totally nonsensical English in this tune (another hallmark of classic city pop), particularly the babytalk rap halfway through. It's become a staple part of my karaoke repertoire, and I'm proud to say that I am halfway through mastering both the Japanese, and incomprehensible English lyrics.
Akiyuki Nosaka and
The great Japanese film director Nagisa Oshima passed away at the age of 80 last January. As an internationally heralded artist and national treasure, the Japanese media was full of obituaries and footage of his funeral, particularly as many distinguished mourners were in attendance (one example is Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose theme to Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence was played during the director's funeral at the Tsukiji Honganji temple). I first came across the above footage when television programmes decided to use it to mark Oshima's death. It's taken from a 30th wedding anniversary party for Oshima in 1990. The speaker is singer, actor and writer Akiyuki Nosaka. Although he’s not a household name, the animated film adaptation of Nosaka's book Grave Of The Fireflies is critically acclaimed around the world. Nosaka, to his annoyance, was kept waiting to give his painstakingly prepared speech and after finally giving it, his intoxicated state and mixed emotions manifested into a punch thrown at Oshima. This clip is interesting for two reasons: firstly, it represents two heavyweights of Japanese culture reduced to animal nature. Secondly, my cynical side wonders why this was deemed an appropriate piece of footage to show at the time of Oshima's death. The only reason I can give is that due to Oshima's controversial portrayal of sex, pornography, crime, homo-eroticism in his films, the (highly regulated and often hypocritical) Japanese media felt it right to also show something that depicted Oshima in a not so perfect light. At first Oshima comes across as the victim, but on the other hand his retaliation and the back story (that he initially forgot to bring Nosaka on stage) isn't his finest hour. Still, I found the broadcast of this clip at the time of his death to be a little too chastising.
Gorge In is a digital label and collection of lo-fi, hardcore electronic noise artists whose common inspiration and visual aesthetic comes from an enthusiasm for mountaineering and hiking – two pursuits that I believe to be mutual.
James Hadfield vs Jim O'Rourke
For those that haven't read this, it's an excellent interview, essentially a conversation between two Tokyo-based ex-pats, journalist James Hadfield and music legend Jim O'Rourke. This is the fuller version of the interview, a very interesting read both for people who live here, and also for those overseas.