Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Japanese TV

Japanese TV is, as this blog has mentioned numerous times over the past couple of years, very much a mixed bag. Much of it is dross, a load of old ladies fawning over soup, some travel shows revolving around food, some poor domestic sporting events. But occasionally a little bit of cream surfaces. The other night was no exception, and I can safely say that it was the best thing I've seen for a long time.

The premise was simple - take a gaggle of TV "personalities", dress them like giant condoms, place them at the end of a long catwalk with a vat of green water behind them and send a giant fibreglass board with a shape cut out of it flying down and hope that the hapless TV stars have the quickness of mind to assume the shape of the hole with their bodies else be walloped into the drink. Here they are, in all their non-glory.

Following the formula that you'd expect, the early shapes were very simple and the boards moved relatively slowly. The "personalities" got a bit cocky here, which is what made the next stages so much sweeter. The shapes got progressively more difficult, and the boards faster, until it turned into a watery farce. There was too much to show everything here, so I'm afraid you'll have to settle for a top 5 (alas, for some reason I can't seem to post that many photos on this entry, so only number 5 will have one)...

Coming in at number 5, a moment from the show before it even got going - the rather cute girl on the left is looking decidedly chipper, considering that just a moment before the host next to her had tried to wrap a large plastic chain around her neck, knocking her to the floor as he did so. As if that wasn't strange enough, a few moments after this photo was taken, she was again attacked, this time with a long length of black masking tape, which was duly slapped onto her unsuspecting face by her mischievious co-presenter...

At number 4, the shocked, hand hidden face of the only girl on the team, clearly embarrassed after misjudging a very straightforward standing pose to be smacked backwards into the water, to the chortles of her companions.

At number 3, a very decent attempt at a handstand pose, which, considering the circumstances and the fact that the board was moving rather rapidly now, was impressive. Unfortunately for the contestant, he left one of his legs hanging and got a hefty crack on his knee for good measure.

At number 2, a hillariously woeful attempt at a lying pose in which the contestant is off by a good foot. His reward was to be royally whacked across his left side and left thrashing in the green drink.

And at number 1, a very bizarre moment in which one of the competitiors, who chose to wear country and western style arm tassles on his wetsuit, smugly poses as the hole passes him, only to find that his said tassles got caught up in the board and dragged him backwards into the water. The moment when he realised that his posturing and grin were in vain was a treasure, and sadly only hinted at in this photo.

And that was it really. It was over as soon as it had started, and it was back to a travel style show in which women opened their eyes wide and mumbled "oishiii!" with their mouths full as if they had never eaten the much eaten food in their lives, and men opened their eyes wide and mumbled "umai!" with their mouths full as if they were ever going to say anything else.

The trouble with Japanese TV is that the good stuff is so few and far between, and not advertised so much, that you can only really watch it if you happen to stumble upon it. I have seen some cracking stuff in my near 3 years in Nippon, but I can't help wondering about the stuff that I missed...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

In the year 1995...

Here are the friends that shared my halcyon highschool days, from 1991 to 1996... from left to right back row first, we have James Diamond, my closest friend and a literary genius, able to conjure stories and images as a young teen that shook students and teachers alike. Next we have James Young, a musical genius who taught himself to play guitar in a few months, and went on to write scores of wonderful, resonant songs before his 17th birthday. Next we have Luke Andrews, a Scientific genius, who knew and still knows pretty much all there is to know about Science and famously used to score 130% on tests and quizzes by correcting the teachers. Front row next, and we have Ian Drakard, an electronics genius, who was a literal wizard with a soldering iron and a circuit board, and famously built an enormous stack bass amplifier called Dweezil back in 1997. And finally we have me, complete with ridiculous glasses, and sadly none of the genius with which I was surrounded at highschool.

In March, for the first time in nigh on ten years we were reunited at an Indian restaurant in Norwich, and it was as if we were back in 1995, thinking 1995 thoughts, doing 1995 things... highschool may have long since gone, but really it's still there, everyday, in every way.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A weekend in Korea, November 2006

With mainland South Korea being closer to where I live in Kyushu than much of the rest of Japan, it was inevitable that I'd visit there someday. Well, fate afforded my wife and I a trip in the middle of November, so off we went, bound for Seoul, a city that was nothing short of impressive.

Opting for a very cheap package tour (that is, minibus to and from the airport with a rather flaccid obligatory stop off at an overpriced gift shop and forced lecture on kimchi), we found ourselves slap bang in the middle of one of the emerging cities of Asia. Having been dropped off at the hotel, we went for a wander and soon were tempted by the powerful tang of a street vendor selling spicy snacks... this was my first taste of Korean food, and it was as I expected - orange and spicy...

That evening, we met up with two of Yoko's friends and headed off to a yaki niku restaurant. Now yaki niku is very famous and popular in Japan, but it's a Korean meal really, and it turned out to be very different from what I was used to back in Kurume. First of all, the rice, salad and kimchi is free, and can be refilled as much as you like (within reason I surmise). Secondly, the set up of the hot plate...

It slants down to one side, and as the above photo somewhat shows, the kimchi is placed at the bottom of the slant, and all the meat and garlic and other things above it. The reason for this is that the juices of these other things all run down into the kimchi and make it very tasty. All in all, it was a fantastic feed, and much better than the yaki niku I've experienced in Japan.

When we went to leave the restaurant, I was delighted to find that you could help yourself to a machine coffee free of charge. Alan Partridge would have been so proud. Unfortunately, the evening turned sour, when, with my wife being led by her Korean chums, we marched through the city on the pretense of showing us some good places to buy souvenirs, whereas in fact we were just following the Korean girls around as they shopped for trinkets of their fancy. We walked for what seemed like hours, and, as is the husband's lament the world over, I was entirely forgotten, left to carry bags and stamp my feet outside in the freezing November night as shoes, jackets and baubles were sought. I came to the conclusion that shopping with girls, especially Korean girls, was boring and awful. I came to a few other conclusions during our trip, namely:

- the Koreans are pushier and more aggressive than the Japanese

- overy plastic surgery is quite common amongst young and old

- make up is a religion in Korea

Anyway, we headed back to the hotel, and on the way I managed to find some very cheap Korean beer (which tasted great) so all was not lost.

The next day proved to be a bit of an adventure for us, as we were on our own for the day in a city where neither of us could read anything or speak anything more than a few basic pleasantries. We opted for a typical touristy kind of day, first negotiating the very straight-forward subway system to visit the Royal Palace, and then on to a coffee shop to recharge before having lunch at a pretty famous spot. The speciality was "rice in a chicken's stomach in soup", or something along those lines, and is apparently very healthy and good for gaining stamina.

It was pretty good, and certainly something different, but to be perfectly honest it wasn't anything that special. The yaki niku the night before was far and away the better of the two. All that remained was for a spot of casual shopping (that is, having a gentle meander with a vague desire to buy ginger tea, but not really worrying if we didn't find anywhere suitable). The central part of Seoul reminded me a little of (don't laugh) Norwich city centre, though vastly bigger and better.

I am not a shopper, but even I can appreciate that Seoul is a virtual mecca for the commercially-minded. My mum would have been hard pressed to find enough hours in the day to take in all the handbags, shoes and accessories on display, and with prices markedly lower than those in Japan it's no wonder that Seoul is so popular.

We had to be up and off at 5.30am the next day, but that didn't stop us watching Payback on a cable tv channel in the hotel, nor me partaking in another bottle of fine beer, which was very much like Seoul as a whole - inexpensive, surprising and encouraging you to come back for more.

Questionable drink, questionable jackets...

Only in Japan could you find a drink in a machine that's called, in all innocence, Nob King...

... and it's reassuring to know that, even when wearing a rather rubbish jacket and preparing to go and hand out tissues in the mall, staff member Miwae has the presence of mind to pose for a photo... and within the hour, to use the pencil sharpener to tidy up her lip pencil...