Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Kyoto again 16 October, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:10 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

On the 14th of last April – rapidly fading into the mists of prehistory – Daihachi Ryodan made another excursion to Kyoto, this time to play at a live house called Negaposi, in the centre of town near Marutamachi station. It turned out to be a pretty good place – the acoustics are just right and the owner, who clearly loves music, has got the PA system set up nicely and mixes the sound with care. The atmosphere is friendly too, and the audience were appreciative – a good time was had by all. We’ll be playing there again in January so if you’re in the Kyoto area please drop in! There’ll be some info on the Daihachi Ryodan website as we get a bit closer.

Spending most of my time in Nagoya, I get a feeling of foreignness visiting another of Japan’s major cities. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but in Kyoto you’re in Kansai and looking out of the car window something is a bit different somehow. Tokyo is different again, almost like going abroad. Of course one of the great features of Kansai culture is the food – before the gig we munch some kushi age. This is all kinds of things, battered, breadcrumbed and deep-fried. Quite tasty and even things like shrimp and steak are still only ¥80 a stick or so. (I think they make their profit on the beer, which, while not that expensive, comes in smallish mugs.) After the concert we drop in at an okonomiyaki place. It’s excellent, and inexpensive, just as we hoped. Finally crash out at about 3:00 in a business hotel, and make our leisurely way back to Nagoya the next day.

Inspired, the following week I looked up how to make okonomiyaki and was surprised to find that for the authentic taste the main ingredient should not be flour but grated yam, along with egg, shredded cabbage, dried shrimps, pickled ginger, tempura scraps etc, with just a little flour to help bind it all together. That weekend I had a go and it turned out not too bad, though obviously the professionals still have an edge…


Kitemiteya きてみてや 29 April, 2012

Filed under: city,food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:40 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is the kind of place that Japan excels at. Just a counter with room for 6~7 people, and a bit of tatami at the back with a couple more tables. One guy, Ina-chan, runs the whole place – serving drinks (though beers from the fridge are self-service) and the snacks that are obligatory when drinking in Japan – squid with spinach, noodle salad, mackerel stewed in soy sauce… and because Ina-chan’s from near Osaka you can also get good Kansai style okonomi-yaki (the negi-yaki’s especially good) and yaki-soba which will fill you up if you’re hungry. In Britain you’re lucky to get a couple of crisps or peanuts but here you can easily have your whole evening meal down at the pub if you want. There’s a kind of fuzzy area between eating out and drinking out which I thoroughly enjoy exploring.

Here at Kitemiteya anybody’s welcome, but most of the people at the counter are regulars, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know somebody. Lately he’s taken to putting the TV on more often, to show off the shiny new wide-screen digital picture, and because he’s a Hanshin Tigers (baseball) fan, but Ina-chan’s got a music background and the sounds he puts on tend to be choice – usually some Japanese artist you’ve never heard of because they’re outside the music industry machine. Prices are really cheap too, especially the food which is generally in the ¥300~¥400 region. Add to all that the fact that it’s just a two-minute walk from where we live and you’ll see why Kitemiteya’s been our regular place for some years.

Musicians tend to drop in quite often, and the other day this guy we know brought in a friend who’d just finished playing a concert. He had this instrument case with him and asked if we’d like to hear a bit – well, sure, we said and he takes out this Mongolian horse-head fiddle thing and starts playing it. It sounds pretty good, and then he gets into this Mongolian “throat singing”. Gosh. I don’t know if you’ve heard any, but it’s very strange, a bit like playing a Jew’s harp with your voice. Till then I’d only heard it on CDs or the radio but at a distance of 1 metre it’s very impressive. I was ready for more, but it was getting late and we had to leave. I don’t know how often you’d get to hear Mongolian Throat Singing down at the local back in the UK.

When I came to Japan 36 years ago you’d be able to call Kitemiteya a typical Japanese bar, but it’s really not easy to make any sort of living doing this these days. People can no longer afford the sort of prices an owner would have to charge to make a proper living from it, and drink instead at chain pubs with food that comes out of factories. These little street-corner drinking places are becoming quite scarce, along with the local sushi-shops. Inachan just seems to get by somehow… anyway, long may he continue!

A few pics:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Daihachi Ryodan – really 30 years? 14 May, 2010

Filed under: music — johnraff @ 2:38 pm
Tags: , ,

第8旅団 Daihachi Ryodan. When I first met these guys it was a band playing on a street corner in Nagoya in 1980: wild-looking people playing some kind of one-chord dirge with atonal guitar, sort of rock beat and incomprehensible off-key lyrics. I knew immediately that this was the band I wanted to play in…

Thirty years on, (although there was a 10 year break in the middle) we now use three or four chords – sometimes more – and like to think we’ve improved in various other ways, but basically it’s still the same band. Stardom is still just round the corner, but meanwhile we’re plugging away playing mostly original stuff with somewhat odd arrangements. I like to call it “latin-jazz-rock-reggae-psychedelic-enka-punk” but who cares?

If you’re in Nagoya on Sunday 16th May, come and check us out at Tokuzo!


Kyoto 4 November, 2009

Filed under: music,places,Uncategorized — johnraff @ 2:57 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Last week there was no farm report because the band went to Kyoto for a gig. We left early but didn’t hit the traffic jams expected on a 1000yen highway Sunday and arrived with several hours in hand, so walked around a bit. I don’t need to tell you about all Kyoto’s fantastically beautiful temples and shrines, but most of the town itself is somewhat unremarkable; the central shopping streets could be anywhere in Japan – not a patch on Paris, for example. The joke runs that while the Americans refrained from obliterating Kyoto in the war, the Japanese did the job for them afterwards.

Even so it’s not an unpleasant town; the North, where our lodging house was, has some fairly quiet tree-lined streets – and lots of bicycles. Every corner seemed to have a bicycle shop of some kind. They must be the best way to get around – Kyoto’s narrow streets, like Tokyo’s, make for some grim traffic jams. Here in Nagoya they made a fresh start after the war with a new grid layout of /wide/ streets, appropriate for an economy heavily dependent on Toyota Motors…

The “live house” where we played, Taku Taku, is a really nice place in a big old wooden building with beautiful warm accoustics. (They do have noise problems though, being right in the middle of a residential area, so it all has to stop at 9:00 on the dot.) Our previous gig there was nearly 30 (yes thirty) years ago! It took them that long to get over it, but finally we were allowed to play again, and this time it went OK I think. During the intervening period they seem to have had some quite famous people playing, so I really wondered what we were doing there, but the audience were great. Sometimes it seems as if Daihachi Ryodan might be more suited to Kansai than Nagoya!


Farmlog 21st September 2009 23 September, 2009

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:49 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Yes it’s Autumn for real, all the rice in nearby paddy fields is golden and some has already been harvested, and all kinds of wild nuts and berries are ripening up so the wild population can get through the coming (probably mild) winter. Not quite as cold as last week and dinner under the stars with the Milky Way visible, a bottle of wine and some Spanish guitar music softly accompanying the insect chorus was quite pleasant… (I recommend “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Narciso Yepes.)

  • We used to have 5 chestnut trees behind the house, but insects and a typhoon got most of them; we planted another though, and the nuts are ripening now. Last year the monkeys came and ate them, but we got some on Monday – you can cook them with milk and sugar, then mash for a nice dessert, and chestnut rice is good too.
  • higanbana coming up everywhere. A beautiful red flower that blooms exactly at the Buddhist higan period. There’s nothing to be seen through the summer – the leaves only appear briefly in the spring, I don’t know how it manages.
  • On our way back home through the village we passed a folorn tai yaki van. As it was a public holiday he must have thought children visiting from the city might get their grandparents to buy some, but didn’t seem to be doing much business.
  • Min 13°C, max: I don’t know because we left early to get back to Nagoya where Daihachi Ryodan were due to play at a festival, but at 12:00 it was 25°C.

…er, as I was saying… 3 June, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — johnraff @ 1:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

There are millions of blogs out there on the Wonderful World Wide Web; every day a few thousand of them presumably just quietly fade away so you couldn’t be blamed for thinking the same thing had happened to this one. Not so much laziness, or lack of things I wanted to mention, but the fact that every time I switched on the computer there seemed to be something else I wanted to do first, and in a flash it was time to switch off and do some work in the so-called Real World. Anyway, what’s happened in the two months since the last posting?

  • Spring arrived! It always seems to take you by surprise, but comes as if someone had turned a switch and suddenly, starting with the justly famous Japanese cherry blossom, there are flowers everywhere. Our country place, on a sunny April afternoon, can be like a corner of paradise.
  • I upgraded my computer’s operating system – Ubuntu Linux if you’re interested. Still an ongoing process – this isn’t a Linux Blog and I won’t bore you with the details – but the Perfect Computer is one of those never-attained goals I suppose. Still, anyone who feels like escaping from Microsoft and would like to try Linux, Ubuntu’s not a bad place to start.
  • The band went to Osaka to play at the Haru Ichi Ban festival again. This is a really nice friendly event and apart from the rain that hit the last two days (not us, luckily) everyone seemed to be having a great time. There were maybe fewer big names than last year ( except Daihachi Ryodan of course ) – actually this seems to be something of a Kansai event; Tokyo people know nothing about it…

Well, a bit of a catchup. The next post will be sooner – promise!


out demons out 3 February, 2009

Filed under: customs,music — johnraff @ 2:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Anyone remember the Edgar Broughton Band? Back at university it seemed like they’d be there at any festival, event or concert with those Beefheart vocals and wild distorted guitar. I hated them at the time, them and another bad penny, the Third Ear Band who went in for interminable atonal wailings. (Subsequently changed my mind completely about them, and probably would have liked the Broughtons too if I’d heard them a couple of years later.)

Anyway every year I get reminded of Edgar Broughton’s anthem “Out Demons Out”; today is Setsubun, the coldest time of the year which, as everything contains the seed of its opposite, means the beginning of Spring. You’re supposed to throw beans around the house shouting “Demons out,  luck in”  or something. (Demons, or oni represent evil influences, generally, and have horns just like the Western variety.)  I wonder how many people actually do it now – maybe another generation and most of these customs will have died out…

You can check out Edgar Broughton’s rendering of “Out Demons Out” here – real 60s stuff! I keep meaning to have a go with Daihachi Ryodan but it will have to wait till we have a gig at the beginning of February some year. (Probably noone would enjoy it but me anyway.)


Where you’re coming from 31 January, 2009

Filed under: music — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
Tags: ,

An Indian guy, now based in the US, comes into Raffles’ sometimes (he likes Malaysian food), and the other day when he was here I put on some old Bollywood music, thinking he might enjoy the nostalgia. “EEH – didn’t expect to be hearing this sh*t here in Japan!!” was the sort of reaction I got.

Hmm… I guess that music has quite different resonances for us. For me, apart from enjoying the technical level and imaginative arrangements, those sounds are redolent of the India I visited some 30 years ago before coming to Japan. Even earlier, some of you might remember the head shops of the 60s/70s with their burning incense, Indian god posters and Indian music in the background. India was cool in those days – and still is, for me at least.

For my customer, though, it was the stuff that was on the radio all the time when he was a kid – nerdy, worn-out, definitely uncool. As if someone had been enthusing to me about Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Perry Como; sure that stuff’s OK, but…


Osaka revisited 8 October, 2008

Filed under: music,places — johnraff @ 2:11 am
Tags: , , ,

Last week we went back to Osaka for another Daihachi Ryodan gig. The last time was the Haru Ichiban festival in a beautiful Spring park, but this one was at a funky place called Rain Dogs in the Umeda “entertainment district” – a zone of cheap eating and drinking places, interspersed with various disreputable-looking establishments offering some kind of “service”… Very much an Asian city scene packed with neon signs, strolling customers, hustlers,sounds, smells… and much bigger than any equivalent in Nagoya. Osaka is big – with 6 million people, and then Kobe and Kyoto close by, this is an urban conglomeration to rival Tokyo/Yokohama.The Osaka expressway is quite something – this maze of overhead highways snakes to and fro between high-rise buildings just like something out of the comics that were around when I was a kid. The difference between that view of the future and the reality it’s turned out to be is that the people in those pictures looked happy and relaxed as their futuristic vehicles flew here and there – now everyone’s late for a meeting or something and stressed out. Why do we have to spend so much of our time going from one place to another these days?

Topping the bill at Rain Dogs was Noboru Abe and the Magic Animals  (I wish I’d thought of that name!) who were really good, in an odd sort of way. No spectacular solos or anything, but an original groove and interesting vocals. One of those bands that creates their own world. I suppose they’re a sort of cult band – they don’t even have a web page. Abe san is a dai sempai who in 1998 was hanging out with Mickey Hart when I was just starting College, and one of the moving spirits behind the Haruichiban festival.

Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and district) is kindof cool these days and you can hear kansai ben on NHK where before it was all standard Japanese, a bit like the increase in regional English on the BBC. Osaka is sometimes compared with Birmingham in the UK, but the people remind me more of Londoners – quick talkers, great sense of humour (Osaka’s the centre of manzai ), on the lookout for a quick profit but friendly and kind. They make good audiences too, and Daihachi’s performance went over quite well I think. A nice outing.


Weekend Sunshine! 21 September, 2008

Filed under: music — johnraff @ 2:23 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Listening this morning to “Weekend Sunshine” I got all nostalgic listening to early Pink Floyd, grooved on Malians Rokia Traore and Issa Bagayogo… finished off with Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell… If you live in Japan and don’t know this NHK FM radio programme you’re in for a treat. Check out this week’s playlist. Of course the DJ Peter Barakan is a fellow UK citizen, about my age  and arrived in Japan about the same time, so I suppose it’s not so odd there’s some musical affinity, but when I discovered this programme two or three years ago Japan was a better place to live.

Saturday morning 7:15 to 9:00 is not a time I’m usually too active, so I use our video recorder to record it. They have built-in timers, usually hi-fi sound these days (in fact these days everyone except us has got a dvd recorder) and you just have to connect an fm tuner to a “line in” socket at the back somewhere. (I’m sure the same would work with a dvd recorder.)  Anyway there’s a good quality sound recording on the  video cassette and I can copy stuff I like onto an audio cassette (yes we’re pretty retro round here) or maybe some day I’ll figure out how to get it into the computer as an mp3 file or something. Anyway, it’s great music.

With online stores and illicit downloads from the web radio programmes might seem a bit outdated but I still think there’s a place for a DJ who can turn you on to things you might not have found otherwise. I’ve discovered so many excellent musicians thanks to Peter Barakan’s show. Keep up the good work!

While on the subject, another NHK FM programme I like is Masakazu Kitanaka’s World Music Time. A bit variable, but sometimes you get a great collection of sounds from some country you knew little about.


%d bloggers like this: