Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Disappointed with Star Wars The Last Jedi

It's this time of the year again. A new Star Wars movie was released last weekend and of course I was at the multiplex to see it.
Not on the opening night, mind you. From what I read about this sequel, I had a feeling it wasn't going to be worth the trouble of taking off from work early and schlepping all the way to the other side of town in pre-Christmas mall traffic. Yes, it's Christmas shopping season in Japan, too. What did you think?

Instead of Friday night, we went on Sunday after lunch (Korean food at the mall is not all that bad, it turns out).

In case you are curious about how much movie tickets cost in Japan, here's your answer - 1 800 yen per person on a normal day. Sunday was a normal day.

The theater was packed. And by "packed" I mean, every single seat was occupied, including the really shitty ones on both sides. We were lucky, I pre-ordered on the internet and we got the center right behind the disabled section. I could stretch my legs. My knee is killing me. I should really get it looked at by a sports doctor, or something.

Anyway... About Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I didn't like it.

You see, I'm an old-timer. I grew up on the original trilogy. The first time I ever went to the movies as a child was to see Episode IV. Yep, that's how old I am. I remember crying when Luke was hanging on for dear life in The Empire Strikes Back. I cringed at the Ewoks in The Return of the Jedi. I thought Han Solo was the coolest dude in the whole universe. The princess was an ass-kicking fighter, donut hair and all. Darth Vader was the ultimate, THE ULTIMATE bad guy. And Luke? ... He was Luke. Skywalker, damn it!

The prequels were such pieces of utter shite that I quite successfully managed to erase them from both short and long term memory.

And then came The Force Awakens, and the side story of Rogue One.
And then... the long awaited The Last Jedi.

Of course we all know that the title is a lie. There will be more Jedi, more films, more movie tickets to sell, more dollars to be made. We're not that naive.

Stupid title notwithstanding, the whole movie was just that. Stupid.

Instead of Star Wars we get "Beauty and the Beast" in space.  It's classic Disney. The bad guy falls for the good girl. Some nonsense about blue milk. Instead of Ewoks or Jar Jar, we get Porgs. Leia floating through space and somehow managing to stay alive. And a bunch of other nonsensical stuff that served no other purpose, except to make the movie suitably long. 

So, was there anything good about the movie?

Kylo and his girlfriend fighting. On the same side.

And I bought another Star Wars cup to add to my collection. Made in Japan, exclusively for the Japanese market.

It joins the previous cup from The Force Awakens.

So, that is another reason why I will see Episode IX when it is released - to complete my cup collection.

I didn't bother with any other official merchandise.

I will not be re-watching The Last Jedi. For 1 800 yen I can get 3 (three) soy dark mocha chip frappuccinos. And this time, the frappuccinos win.

In other news, I'll be spending my winter break on planet Scarif. And I'm not even a big Rogue One fan. Though in all fairness, even sans Luke it was still infinitely better than The Last Jedi.

PS. Yes, it's time to resuscitate this blog.

Stay tuned...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Owl Cafe Ikefukuro

Yes, an owl cafe. Because cat cafes are so last decade.

Let's make a few things absolutely clear.

1. I'm not a Harry Potter fan. The books put me to sleep so effectively that I nearly drowned in the bathtub when reading one while having a soak. The movies I found so incredibly boring that I actually took a nap in the movie theater. And then again at home when we tried watching another installment on DVD.

I didn't even know that Harry Potter had a pet owl, or somesuch. I only found out last weekend.

And if I hadn't visited Ikefukuro, I'd still be living in blissful ignorance.

2. I don't like zoos. I don't like petting zoos either. And I think that circuses that use animals should be closed immediately and their owners taken out back and put in the cages. And made to do tricks for the amusement of the masses.

3. I am not a vegetarian, but in my own hypocritical way I love animals. I believe that all animals deserve to live comfortably and be treated with dignity and respect.

4. Only domesticated animals should be kept as pets.

5. Owls are bloody damn cute.

So now that you know where I stand, you may be wondering what the hell was I doing at the owl cafe in Ikebukuro last Saturday?

And to be honest, I am wondering the exact same thing right now.

I guess I had to satisfy my morbid curiosity and make sure I'd be sufficiently depressed for weeks afterwards.

The name of the cafe, which by the way is not a cafe at all but a petting zoo in disguise, is Ikefukuro.
It's located in Ikebukuro in Tokyo. And "fukurou" means "owl" in Japanese.
So, Ike + fukuro? Get it?

The place is about a 10 minute walk from the station. You gather, every hour on the hour, in front of this Lawson:

Next to this sign:

You make your booking on the internet (via email) and once your reservation is confirmed, you get the details of this designated pickup place.

Bookings are done in hourly slots. One hour on a weekday costs 1400 yen. One hour on a weekend or a public holiday will set you back 1600 yen. The price includes 1 bottled drink. This place is a "cafe" only in the name. There is no food or drink service.

Payments are cash only and are collected half way through your hourly slot. If you post something on social media using this hashtag #ikefukurocafe, you are eligible for a 100 yen discount.

You can get all the relevant info on the cafe's website - Ikefukuro Owl Cafe in Ikebukuro.

So anyway, you are waiting by the sign, and when it's time, a staffer appears with a booking list, calls out the names and leads you to the tiniest elevator ever. Seriously, this elevator is big enough for 4 skinny people packed very tightly together, or one oversized guest.

And then it's just playtime for you and the owls, and for everybody else who booked the same time slot.

There are big owls there:

And small owls:

Yes, poop happens, be prepared. Wet wipes are available for your convenience, but consider yourself warned. And it seems that the smaller the owl, the bigger the poop.

And now let me get depressed for a long, sad while...

I understand these are not wild animals. I understand they were bred in captivity and would die from starvation if they were released into the wilderness.

I understand they were meant to be pets. And they are treated as pets. In a petting zoo. Because, let's not kid ourselves, this is exactly what this place is.

A petting zoo full of captive birds of prey.

Owls are not easy pets to handle. They need lots of space. They need to stretch their wings and get sufficient exercise to stay healthy and happy.

Owl pet experts say that an owl needs enough space to flap its wings at least 5 times when flying around. Otherwise there is a very high risk of developing chest infections. Owls that don't have sufficient exercise get depressed and develop a multitude of health problems.

I have tried to ask one of the staffers if these owls get a chance to fly around and act like birds once in a while. She looked at me like she didn't quite understand my question, but answered "yes" anyway, just in case.

I looked on their website to see if there is any information about what these owls do and where they are kept when they are not working. Unsurprisingly, there isn't any.

If these poor owls spend their entire time in that tiny "cafe", I feel so sad and so sorry for them. If it was me, I'd rather chew my leg off and bleed to death than live like that.

Yes, they are bloody damn cute.

But it was still a heartbreaking experience.

The petting zoo, pardon me, the cafe, also sells owl related merchandise. I didn't buy any, and now I am glad that I didn't. I might be a hypocrite (because even captive owls are cute), but I'm not a total idiot.

I asked if they had this for sale:

Luckily they didn't. Phew! Otherwise, I'm sure I would have gotten one.

To sum it up, would I recommend going there?
If your conscience can handle it, then yes, by all means - visit.

The staffers looked well trained in handling the owls and clearly cared about the birds very much,

The birds were pretty tame and very well behaved (apart from an occasional shit here and there).

And did I mention they were also bloody damn cute as well?

Here you can see where the cafe is located:

Hint - it's the green sign in the window.

Now... in more pressing news...
I'm out of Lindt balls. How did that happen????

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I saw Star Wars - The Force Awakens

Friday was Star Wars Day.

I wanted to skip work entirely, but as that wasn't possible, I planned to get the heck out of there early. Well, turned out that wasn't possible either. I had to sit on my ass until the clock said I could leave. I got out of there so fast as if the building was on fire and after feeding my furry fluffy, I drove to Interpark like a maniac.

On the way there I was listening to the radio. Radio Berry had a special correspondent at the movie theater doing a live report. Yes, the movie is going to start in less than 1 hour, he said. Let's talk to the people who are waiting to see it, he said.

And so on... All the way to Interpark.

I got my tickets last month. The minute they went on sale I was ready with my credit card furiously punching in the numbers. The system hang up on me several times before I finally managed to select my seats. By then the bestests seats were already all gone. Took less than 3 minutes. Damn. People were fast!

I don't blame them though. The first show on the first day! If I wanted to be there, surely, hundreds of others felt the same.

Our tickets were ok. Not where I would normally choose to sit, but right next to it.

You see, normally I am the kind of person who loves spoilers. I read spoilers of new releases, I ask to be told what happens during a movie, if a person I'm watching it with already knows the story... I've been known to storm out of the movie theater, because one time the jerk I was with refused to tell me what happens next. That is the surest way to infuriate me during a movie...

But... This time, I skipped all that. I don't know how I survived.
I wanted to see this movie with virgin eyes.
Because Star Wars...

But before the screening I stubbornly waited in line to get a special memorial book, only available on the first day. The women working behind the counter were so slow that if they were doing it any slower, they'd be going backwards.

People waiting in line were getting frustrated. The announcements over the speakers kept telling us to be in our seats before 6:30PM, because the movie was going to start promptly at 6:30, with no previews or ads.

We decided to separate, I stayed in my line, and my friend went over to the concession counter to get us popcorn. Suddenly she calls me on my cellphone all very excited asking if I wanted a special character drink cup.

Duh, what a stupid question, of course I wanted one.

She then proceeds to ask me which one I want. And then she gets a nervous breakdown trying to pronounce the characters' names. There are 4 cups, she says, but even with katakana (Japanese script used for foreign names) she can't manage it.

I ask for Kylo Ren. Or rather, for Kai Ro Ren to make it easy for her.

She was a great trooper and got the correct cup. Yay!

In the meantime I decide to get some souvenirs as well. Another mug cup, of course!

Here they are, both of my Star Wars cups:

The plastic drink cup came with a separate Kylo Ren character figure (not pictured).

We made it to our seats with literally 30 seconds to spare. But with drinks and a giant popcorn to share. What! Gotta watch Star Wars in style!

The white mug cup is made in Japan.

(There might be spoilers below, continue at your own risk).

So, the movie starts and I get this strange feeling in my stomach that I've seen it somewhere before...

  • Desert planet?

  • Droid carrying important information?

  • Precocious young person living on said desert planet longing to leave?

  • Leaving said desert planet on board the Millennium Falcon?

  • Bad dude in a black mask?

  • An evil figure guiding the dude in the black mask?

  • A huge "Death Star"-like weapon that vaporizes entire planets?

  • A bar filled with extra-terrestials?

  • The young person turns out to be really handy with the Force?

  • Another son?
Yep. It's all there.

If that sounds like a summary of Episode IV - A New Hope, that's correct.
The Force Awakens is basically A New Hope retold.

It's a good movie. That's for sure.
But is it a great movie? Nope.

We've all been there and done that and seen that. If you're longing for the old and the familiar, it's all there. Rehashed, retold, reheated and watered down for the young ones who didn't grow up on the original trilogy.

I did and I am disappointed.

But at least I got me a cute towel:

There are logic lapses so huge that you could fly the entire Resistance fleet through them.
The villains, the New Order, have the combined IQ of a stool sample. They are typical Disney cartoon bad guys, totally over the top and with absolutely zero substance. I can't believe that all those professional movie reviewers couldn't see that.

When you think about the original trilogy, when you mention the words "Star Wars", what immediately comes to your mind?
Darth Vader, that's who.

In Japanese "Dars" and "Darth" sound the same. Dark chocolate. Dark side. You know this was one snack tie-in just waiting to happen. (Dars is usual the name of this snack).

The guy had enough charisma for an entire galaxy of bad guys. Kylo Ren is an annoying pipsqueak in comparison.

And his henchmen? A band of amateurs.

With all their technology and resources, they still don't implant nano-tracking devices in prisoners or soldiers? C'mon, JJ Abrams, you can't be serious. That's Totalitarian Regimes 101.

Oh wait! But if they did, then the movie would have been over in about 15 minutes. I gotcha!

The inside of the premiere day memorial book:

The new wunderkind, Rey, who I'm pretty sure is going to turn out to be Luke's daughter in the next episode, is likable enough. But just enough. Her ability to be awesome at seemingly everything, from starship engines to using the Force is so Disney, it makes my stomach turn. If I wanted that, I'd watch Cinderella, or Beauty and the Beast, or something...

And what's up with her costume change at the end of the movie? All the way through she was wearing her old "desert plant garb", but at the end, she is sporting a sexy new outfit. With an obligatory low-cut V-neck to make sure that fanboys have something to masturbate to.

So yeah, that's my beef with Star Wars The Force Awakens.

Even before I saw it last Friday, I was already making plans to see it again in 3D in Tokyo. Now I'm not going to.
It's not worth it.

Now, if you excuse me, I have some snacks to eat:

And the original trilogy to watch one more time.

See ya!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kanuma Fall Festival 2015 - hair report

I made plans to go to my favorite matsuri (traditional Japanese festival) on Sunday. Of course that meant that on Sunday the weather was sucky and it rained. On Saturday it was nice. Today (Monday) it was sunny and warm. But Sunday? Rainy and windy and cold. Figures.

There was one good thing though. Thanks to the nasty weather, there were plenty of parking spaces available. Unheard of under normal conditions.

And that's how we found ourselves walking from Higashi Junior High School in Kanuma across the river to where the action was.
The river banks were still littered with the remnants of the last flood. Kanuma got it bad and it showed.

Kanuma Buttsuke Aki Matsuri is held on the second weekend in October and lasts 2 days.
Kanuma is the name of the city. Buttsuke is what they do during this festival, which is sort of crash the festival floats into each other. Aki means fall in Japanese. And matsuri is a Japanese festival.

I have written about this event on many occasions in the past, so go and look it up.
This year was same same but different.

What was new and different this year was the fact that as soon as the festival staff noticed me, the immediately ran over and handed me an English-language booklet.

"Be still my heart! Kanuma is really stepping up their game", I thought to myself.

The booklet, in that odd but charming English that is so characteristic to Japanese pamphlets, explained that Kanuma Buttsuke Fall Festival is trying to be recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (along with other yama-hoko-yatai float festivals in Japan, 32 in all). However, on the UNESCO site it is listed as 'Kanuma Imamiya Shrine Festival'. Technically correct, because the shrine is at the center of the festivities.

 Because car jacks are for amateurs

So the UNESCO bid explains the English and the uber-helpfulness and willingness to assist the foreign visitors. It felt almost strange at times, as if all the festival participants were told to be super nice and super "genki" when they see a foreigner. And considering that Kanumans are naturally very friendly and helpful, last Sunday it seemed as if they went slightly overboard with the "omotenashi" spirit. Or maybe it was just the alcohol.

Yes, there were 27 carved yatai (14 of them the real deal from the Edo era). Yes, there were traditional orchestras. Yes, there were festival stands and festival foods.

But that's standard at other float festivals, too.

Where Kanuma outshines all the competitors is the hair.

And with that, let's take a look at what's really important.
The Hair!

The ancients must be twisting in their graves, but two events are better than one, right? Happy Aki Matsuri Halloween, you folks!

And you're never too old for festival hair. This photo also shows you the dangers of poorly matched foundation.

More fancy braiding. Is it just me, or does it look painful to you, too?

Pretty tame compared to the girls in the previous photo. This is a standard issue Tochigi-style festival hair.

Now, this is Kanuma hair at its finest.

Feathers have made a comeback this season. And color coordinated fans.

And now you know why there were hairspray shortages in Tochigi last week.

On behalf of all Kanumans, please accept my sincerest apologies. We do care about the ozone layer. But we care about our festival (hair) more. Pass the hairspray, please.

Flowers are always a good accessory. But what to do if you're not a flower person?
Then you can stick a wooden something into your hair and call it a day:

But at least one person just couldn't be arsed:

So there you have it.
Kanuma Buttsuke Aki Matsuri deserves the UNESCO heritage status for the hair alone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Yasukuni on the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2

I had no plans to go to Yasukuni shrine this year. No plans at all.
August 15th was a Saturday and I wanted to stay home, sleep until noon and do nothing at all.
Read a book maybe.

And yet I went after all.


There is a group of ladies that likes to meet and visit shrines and temples and collect goshuin. Goshuin are red temple or shrine stamps that are stamped in a special book called goshuin-cho. You can also get them on loose pieces of paper, and you can make your own goshuin albums.
Usually, they cost anywhere from 300 yen to up to 500 or 600 per stamp.

And yes, you guessed it, that group that collects goshuins that's me and my friends. Most of us have two goshuin books, one for shrine (shinto) stamps, and one for temple (Buddhism) stamps. Yes, we are real goshuin otaku.
Sometimes we go crazy and do a stamp rally. We try to visit as many shrines and temples in one day as possible. And of course, we get our stamps.
Our record was 17 stamps in one day in Nikko. Man, that was painful.

People lining up to pray at Yasukuni shrine on August 15th, 2015.

You see, getting a stamp is just half the fun.

The real big deal is to get the stamp on a special day.
For example, at Toshogu in Nikko you'd want to get your stamp on the day of the Thousand Warrior March during the Toshogu Spring Festival.
Important dates, anniversaries of special events, and so on, are the ones you want to aim for to make your goshuin extra special.

So yes, at Yasukuni (the controversial shinto shrine in Tokyo) that date would be August 15th. The day marking the end of WW2 in the Pacific.
I got my shrine stamp last year on August 15th. I even bought a goshuin book at Yasukuni last year.

There are two designs of goshuin books available at Yasukuni shrine.

So why did I go again this year?
Because last year was the 69th anniversary. Not special enough.

Yep, the ladies insisted we had to go this year.
And so we went.

Taking the first train to Utsunomiya was painful. I almost missed it.
We wanted to catch the 5:59 train to Tokyo. We barely made it. Once on the train we slept like drooling zombies.

We got to Yasukuni right around 8:30AM. It wasn't that crowded. Not yet.

Some people (right wingers, I'm guessing) came dressed for the occasion. Well, almost. The boys, instead of shiny black dress shoes, were wearing less than shiny sneakers.

Some people came dressed in whatever:

While my friend got in line to pay her respects and pray for world peace, I got accosted by two journos.

There were plenty of press and TV people, as always. Waiting for some action, as always.

It all started innocently enough. They asked me where I was from. I told them.
They asked me if I knew what this place was. I told them.
And then they went on a fishing expedition, and just for shits and giggles I decided to play along.

You see, back in the days when the earth was still young, in a far distant land there was a girl whose job was to create fairy tales and make you believe whatever the company she worked for wanted you to believe. Welcome to the world of commercial advertising! We were the bullshit kings of the world. And as they say, it takes one to know one.

The journos were fishing and I let them. They had a story to file, and honestly, the morning at Yasukuni was very uneventful. And what a good journo does when there are no exciting events to report on? He creates one, of course.

They asked me if I knew why it was a special day at Yasukuni. I told them.
We chatted briefly about WW2. Seriously, don't lecture me on WW2. I can outWW2 you any day of the year and twice on V Day.

At 8:30AM it wasn't crowded at all.

They started to circle around the topic of why Yasukuni is controversial and wanted to know if I knew why. I told them that yes, I knew. Some of the dudes enshrined there were not exactly the paragons of virtue.
The journos felt they struck gold.
They shoved their mic in my face and proceeded to ask why *I* was there.
"For the same reason everyone else is here, except you, of course," I said.
And that is...? They wanted to know.

'To pray for world peace and the future of humanity," was my answer.

The journos were so disappointed you could literally see the air escaping from their lungs. Like a pair of deflating sex dolls.
They picked up their mics and cameras and quickly went in search of a more exciting interviewee with more news worthy answers. Not even a thank you. LOL.

Oh yes, I know what they wanted to hear.
They wanted to see me righteously foaming at the mouth at the attempts to revise history by the Japanese government, at the lack of sincere apologies, at the controversy of enshrined war criminals. The usual shiz and whiz that is a desperate journo's wet dream.

Press waiting for white doves to be released at Yasukuni shrine on August 15th, 2015.

Because just like in the world of commercial advertising where the bullshit makers create your world for you and then make you believe it's true, the reporters create their version of the news and serve it to you as factual facts. And if there is no news to report on?
Then, of course, you gotta make some. Simple as that. Your average journo has about as much "journalistic" integrity as Kim Kardashian. Except that she makes a lot more money than a sweaty guy toting a huge camera on a hot summer day.

And while I was at Yasukuni, I thought I might as well try my hand at the white dove thing.
Every year at 10AM a flock of white doves is released into the sky. Symbols of peace and all that.

The shinto priest giving instructions - say "arigato" as you release the bird you're holding.

Birds terrify me. They smell and they poop. But this year I was wearing my awesome Hello Kitty arm covers and thought "why not?" Only the tips of my fingers would be touching the feathery beast.

Girls be ambitious. I got my bird.


My friend got into the press line with her iPhone and channeled her inner paparazzi.

After the bird ceremony it started to get crowded. Really crowded.
When we were leaving the shrine the line to pray was stretching way past the wooden gates and spilling into the sandō.

The usual assortment of police vehicles was at the ready.

And even more people heading towards the shrine as we made our way to the subway station.

Same as last year. But as it was the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender, there were more cops, more press, and more people.

This sign on the way to the station caught my eye:

Instead of going directly to the subway stop, we took a small detour (nature was calling) and noticed a different kind of subway. The kind that made us hungry for BLTs.

And sitting at Subway and munching on our sandwiches we watched as the Metropolitan Police Department bomb squad guys and reinforcements arrived.

Some were quite good looking and I offered to go outside and ask if anyone was interested in dating my friends. But before I had a chance to play Yente, the cops marched off.

And that was our morning at Yasukuni shrine on August 15th, 2015.

And oh yeah, of course we got our stamps:

After that, we went to brave the crowds in Asakusa.