2012 on your radio

Listen_bannerQuite a toll was taken on modern society's beliefs this year when we learned that the Mayans hadn't predicted the end of the world. Scientists and philosophers alike are still reeling from the realization - returning to drawing boards the world over to find out exactly where their calculations and ideologies went wrong. Here in Japan, we were no less shocked at the Mayan inaccuracies as the rest of the world. If the Mayans had predicted one of the most uninspired and mediocre years in J-pop history they would have been spot on.

AKBGranted we've had some pretty sparse years since Morning Musume first graced the Kohaku stage a decade ago. This year the scene wallows in particular mediocrity offering up AKB 48 and Exile as the nation's top grossing girl and boy toy groups. If I have to watch the members of AKB fake tears of joy one more time, I'm going to kill my TV. The most frightening part is that AKB mastermind Akimoto Yasushi announced that he had written like 300 songs for the mini-idols.

We were treated to a catchy drop from Perfume somewhere about mid-year but it quickly got lost in the swirl of dust left by Johnny Kitagawa and his crap-load of talentless androgynous boy bands. Ikimono Gakkari, however delivered a dim ray of hope with this year's NHK Olympics anthem in their classic J-pop sound... or is it safer to say ELT's classic J-pop sound.

urlPrincess Princess, the Gogos/Bangles knock-off from the 80's resurfaced this year looking more like soccer moms than pop divas. Still their limited tour to earn money for the victims of the Tohoku Earthquake was admirable and the more they play the tighter they get. They say that they're finished after this tour, but I wouldn't mind a bit if they tried to rehash their boppy eighties sound for one more hit in 2013... just for old times sake.

KPPKyary Pamyu Pamyu has a name that would separate the men from the boys in any spelling bee, but, as an act, she has a little something going on. At least enough to excite anime otakus the world over. She's nothing if not unique, and certainly the kind of "Cool Japan" that is easily marketable abroad. . Her fashion and dancing is as remarkable as her music, and may be the key to her success. Her catchy lyrics run along the lines of "candy, candy, candy, girls love, chewing chewing chewing..." etc., so you can plainly see the universal appeal. All this while strutting onstage like a CG character in hand-me-downs from the Queen of Diamonds.

YuiYui, Japan's original root rocker guitar girl, announced that she's planning to take yet another break. Her double CD release this year was nothing more than a compilation of her greatest hits, well worth purchasing if you don't have any Yui in your collection, but showing a lag in creativity. Who can blame her. You can actually see the disgust in her eyes, as she is forced to perform next to these cheerleader infested, one-sex-fits-all J-pop/k-pop groups with short skirts, dimples, blow waves... and no soul.

In the Xmas Style

live_banner_1Japan and Christmas have always had a good relationship, based principally on a mutual misunderstanding. There's not much in the way of Christianity in Japan, but that hasn't stopped them from adopting the holiday and making it their own. The trouble is Japan really didn't need another family oriented holiday where everyone gets together, cooks special food and gives gifts. So Christmas had to become something else - something strictly imported.

santaFlowerAside from the few Christian churches in Japan, (The population is one percent Christian) you won't run into many statues of babies wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. You won't find the likeness of Mary and Joseph in the stable or three wandering kings bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh (What is myrrh anyway, and what is a baby gonna do with it?)

Christmas in Japan is another thing altogether. First off the spelling is different. Xmas or X-mas is the preferred way, effectively deleting Christ from the holiday. Xmas is a time for Santa to show up in department stores, in advertising on TV, or even riding motorcycles through the streets--often accompanied by sexy Miss Santas in short Santa skirts. It's a time to eat Xmas cake, a white layer cake painstakingly topped with perfectly placed strawberries and whipped cream. But you'd better reserve yours early, because you'll never be able to find it on Xmas Eve. For some, Xmas is a time to decorate your house or business with lights. Although the preferred light colors in Nagoya are blue and white, so there may be a Jewish connection I haven't yet stumbled onto.

Xmas Eve in Japan is a time for lovers and Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC is open late Xmas Eve, but unless you ordered early, you'll probably be stuck with kara-age fried chicken from the local market... and although it might taste better, it's just not that cool on a date.

IMG_1539Xmas isn't for families so much as for family making. Young couples, not satisfied with KFC, fill the reservation lists of the local high end restaurants who offer prix fixe at elevated prices. From there the youngsters, and often not so youngsters, wander to the nearest love hotel where reservations are not necessary and hourly rates are possible. Those who've not yet settled on a partner can be found hunting in the clubs, ready to supply those same hotels with a second wave of business. Of course the high end couples opt for the Hilton, Marriott or other pricy alternatives, but the end result is pretty much the same...

There are some who celebrate at home. Santa is a more common visitor in homes than he was only a few years back, but he only visits the kids whose parents think hamburgers are not foreign food. The rest have to wait for New Years to receive their gifts--little envelopes with large denomination bills inside.

Xmas Day is not a holiday in Japan, so the masses trudge off to work as usual, but for the glow left in their cheeks from the night before. Just like the office Christmas party in the U.S., you can always see how well the night went by how much of the red in their cheeks is glow, and how much is left over Xmas spirits. And so I say Merry Xmas to all and to all a good night.

Driver’s License

live_banner_1Last month I got my Japanese driver's license. This is no insignificant feat. Better souls than I have tried and failed. For in Japan the privilege to drive is only afforded the patient, the wealthy and, it's been said, the attractive in short skirts. I wasn't about to shave my legs, so I was banking on the patient.

The somber halls of the Hirabari Drivers License Testing Center

The somber halls of the Hirabari Drivers License Testing Center

Driving in Japan is, above all, an exercise in space conservation. Most of the side streets in any size Japanese city or town are really just sidewalks with shoulders. That means a driver in Japan has to figure out how to squeeze a giant 4 door chunk of metal with alloy wheels a hood ornament down a paved trails that make alleys in the U.S. seem like soccer fields. Sounds easy so far? Sure, but there's a complication. Most of these roads are designated two-way. Which means, in a city with a population as large as Nagoya, that someone is very likely to meet you coming the other way.

I know, I've already talked about this in a previous post. But that was before I needed to convert my U.S. license to a Japanese one. Now all of this has a whole new twist.

I've been driving for a long time. The year I got my first driver's license the Flock of Seagulls was on top of the charts, and Ronnie Reagan still had a vague recollection of his first name. So I consider myself an experienced driver. But the staff at the Hirabari Driver's License Testing Site weren't convinced. In fact they seemed to have no idea who the Flock of Seagulls were. So I had to show them I knew what I was doing behind the wheel.

On my first driving test attempt the proctor was a woman. My wife insisted I take off my wedding ring and tousle my hair in a sort of stylish playboy fop, but at my age tousling just leads to accelerated hair loss, so I opted to keep the ring on my finger, and just pretend to be nervous. I was nervous so I didn't have to pretend much. I failed anyway, because it seemed I was creeping into the other lane when performing lane changes. (I thought that was the point) and stopping too close to the white stop line painted on the pavement. The Flock of Seagulls never came up in conversation, in large part due to the fact that there was no conversation. I rescheduled the test for the next month. I should've gone with the tousle.
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