Coffee and Huggbees

01 January, 2008

New Year's In Japan

New Year's is a magical time when cold weather turns to cloudy, windy, cold weather. Turns to raining, windy, cold weather. Turns to momentarily snowing, cold weather. Turns to freezing slush ice cold weather. Turns to pneumonia causing hypothermia inducing embodiment of wet and cold from the skies above--weather.

Waking up extremely late, I was faced with a decision: leave the warmth of my blanket to see what Japanese New Year's Day is all about, or stay inside the blanket, possibly migrating to the heated table, and play Ninja Turtles Arcade on MAME all day. Unfortunately, I chose the former.

With some reservation, though. I mean, after beating Ninja Turtles, what else can you do but face the world. With a walnut something or other bread thing and peanuts with something salty and crunchy and orange in my stomach, I layered the clothing on. Midway through the layering, I remembered that I still needed to shower. Delayer-shower-relayer.

It wasn't raining when I left, otherwise I would have brought along an umbrella. The news didn't say anything about rain either. The most accurate weather forecast is old women on the street. If you see them with umbrellas, you know it will rain. I was very observant during the walk to the station. If I saw one person with an umbrella, old lady or not, I would turn around and get mine.

No one was carrying one.

A short trip later I was at Atsuta Shrine, renowned for having the imperial sword, which no one is allowed to see. I hadn't gone with the intention of being the first foreigner to defile the sword by looking at it, but had packed my camera just incase.

Packing my camera is no easy task, either. As a masochist, I always have to make everything difficult. A simple point and shoot digital camera? Not for me. No no, I need a chunk of plastic and glass that ruins expensive 120 format film. That I have to tape up after loading, to make sure light doesn't get in. I like excuses to complain.

I follow the torrent of elderly and families to the shrine. We pass by some colorful stands selling festival foods, and I think to myself "I like the colors of the stands; I'll be sure to take some pictures on the way back."

We file into the shrine, where I'm greeted by clucking overhead. A chicken has flown(?) high into a tree, and everyone is flipping out. Pictures are being taken, police are standing nearby to make sure no one throws anything at it. It seems that it is one of the shrine chickens, but I didn't realize chickens could fly. Ofcourse my chicken-related experience has been limited to culinary and Zelda escapades. If playing video games all my childhood is any indication, you can grab on to the feet of a chicken and flutter down. But never up. Also, beware of hitting a chicken too many times with your sword. Maybe flying chickens are exactly what makes them special and why they are kept in the shrine.

The stream of elderly flows past the perched chicken and through the gates to the shrine. With soo many people, they only allow groups in waves to approach the shrine to toss their 5 yen pieces, pray, and then buy fortunes. While standing in a chest-high sea of gray hair, it begins to drizzle. Out of nowhere, every old lady has an umbrella. It's during this debate of where on their bodies they must hide umbrellas that we are allowed to approach the shrine. It's also during this time that the weather gods decide to spite me for not bringing an umbrella. I had saved several 5 yen pieces to toss into the shrine, as part of the custom, but as the rain steadily became heavier, and colder, I decided that Amaterasu really probably didn't need an extra 20 cents. Especially since as the sun goddess, she wasn't even making an appearance to warm me.

So that was New Year's in Japan. A shuffle back to the station in the cold and a short walk to Denny's for dinner.

Record Shopping In Japan

You've found yourself in Japan, and have discovered your love for vinyl records. Well, you're in the right place. Japan easily has more record shops than any place in the US I've been to. You just have to know where to look, and more importantly, what to look for.

-Probably the most important tip for record shopping in Japan is to learn kattakana. Even if you're looking for western bands, most of the stores will list the band name in the phonetic kattakana spelling on the label. For example, if you're looking for a Beck album, it will probably be listed under ベック. So unless you want to pull every record out and examine the cover to tell what band it is, I'd suggest spending some time and atleast learning kattakana. More importantly, you're a guest in another country, and the least you could do is make an effort to learn the language. Foreigners, with special emphasis on Americans, are notorious for being monolingual, and expect others to adapt to them and learn English. Even if it's just for a few weeks before your trip, learn the phonetic alphabets and a few phrases. It will not only help with finding records, but improves the impression you leave on others.

-The majority of western records you'll come across will be UK pressings, rather than US. While you will occasionally find a US pressing of a record, and even more rare is a Japanese pressing of a western band, the majority of records I've come across have been from the UK.

-I have never bought a used record from a Japanese record store and it not play perfectly. Do not be afraid to save some money and buy from a used store.

-It's very easy to just purchase bands that you know from your home country, and ignore the intimidating Japanese section. But why come home with only records from bands that everyone knows? Find some Japanese bands that you like, and try to see what you can find from them. Get to know shop owners or ask friends to suggest Japanese bands that might suit your taste.

-Record shops divide up their records into very specific genres. Tech House, Nu Jazz, Mondo Grosso, Post Rock, Abstract, etc. Plus respective genres for Japanese bands as well. If you can't find what you are looking for in one genre, try something similar. While the genres are specific, not everyone seems to consider bands a certain genre that I do. As a side note, a common labeling I've discovered is that anything labeled Rock/Pops, is almost always Journey and classic rock.

-Plan for a way to get your records home. I would not trust any records in my checked luggage, so plan for a small box that you can carry on the plane, or if you plan on buying a lot of records, invest in a metal record box.

-This may seem obvious, but if you plan on traveling around Japan, hold off on buying records until the end of your trip. Jumping on trains with luggage is hassle enough without worrying about crushing $400 worth of vinyl.

-Again, this is very obvious, but seriously think about what you want to purchase. Can you find the record in a store back home, or order it from ebay for a similar price? If so, just wait. There's no point in putting forth the effort of getting it back home when you can order it and have it waiting for you when you arrive.