Sunday, April 30, 2017

Weekend (2.17 - 2.19): Drink & Draw in Shimokita and ob at Kaikai Kiki

After the original plan to see ob at Kaikai Kiki turned into a random girls' day out adventure to here, there, and everywhere, I asked Rejon to go with me before it ended because she's free Friday afternoons. And it was sooo worth it; we had the nicest afternoon imaginable. But then, I always have a good time with Rejon, even when we spend three hours hulling a bowl of soybeans, or a random stranger strikes me for touching his tarp on the side of the road, or she's been living in a sick mask for 11 weeks because she was born underwater and her body is inherently incompatible with dry air.



These are all stills from the mesmerising video montage being projected, which as you can see is just one of ob's wide-eyed, melancholic waifs a la Margaret Keane slow-mo running across pretty scenery to a relaxed and simple but bittersweet score.

This painting and the next are very large in person, and they may not look like much as cell phone pictures, but they're definitely not amateurish as I originally thought they might be.

This one was especially impressive in person because of its soft edges that seamlessly blend on and in forever. Even when one of these paintings depicts a clear day it's always with a cool colour palate and soft edges that create a dreamy mist or haze. The dappled, almost marbled effect is also a marvel of skillful blending.

This one was my favourite because the girl actually has some expression showing through, like "Please don't go," or something. There's more detail in everything, and then there's this fucking cat who's having none of it lol.

What I had been especially eager to see before the exhibition ended was the live painting.

ob and her assistant/friend/not sure because we didn't want to bother them and they seemed kind of tired painted all the surfaces of this glorious room-within-a-room and made it look like a soft and glorious - if emotionless - cotton candy dream.

The other interesting thing about the installation room was that, for some reason, it was a really run-down, old-fashioned shed type thing that looked like it got dragged in from an abandoned lot. Maybe the gallery reuses it, maybe it was made of whatever material could be found, maybe ob likes the sharp contrast. I don't know! Why didn't I ask when I had the chance?!


After that very satisfying exhibition we had an even more satisfying lunch, 
if you can believe it, at the glorious Captain Cook.

We were both feeling fucking fancy and it was pretty late for lunch, so we both went for cocktails, which took something like ten minutes each to make for their actual, real-life mixologist ("Damn, he like, went to school for this"). Mine is Captain Cook's Pimms, which is not only delicious but an excellently-priced fruit salad for Tokyo, tbqh. 

And my burger. Ohhh, my burger. It is a vegetarian cheeseburger on a homemade gluten-free cheese bun, and those funny sticks are chickpea fries, of all the crazy and unbelievably tasty things, with diced tomatoes, onions, olives, and herbs for dipping. I had forgotten how badly I need to eat this again. I'm not even hungry and have no reason to be but now I'm staring longingly at my screen.

Rejon had the shepherd's pie, or mini cottage pie rather,  and the... Velvet Rouge maybe?
Grape juice, lychee liqueur and creme de cassis? God it was good.

The next day I had something of an appointment and a date with Makiko of FiD (and how great is it that Encyclopaedia Metallum is using that excellent Kaala photoshoot pic), because I wanted to ask her interesting questions to get to know her and what she likes and hoped that I'd have enough at the end to write an article about her.

When I say "an article", I don't mean a post on this here seldom-read personal blog: I mean for our friends' project called Kaala, which organises, informs about, and promotes extreme underground music not only in Tokyo but in Japan as a whole. Nothing like this existed before and Matt, Jharrod, Aaron, Chris, and now Jordan and Audrey have all worked pretty hard to make it happen. They do everything from having an increasingly popular weekly podcast to building relationships with bands and booking their own shows to transporting and selling canned craft beer to raise funds.

Before he went back home to the States, and the last time I saw him (last September at Moonstep; the A/C was broken and it was like a sweaty jungle in here), Matt drunkenly explained to me that he'd sat down with a New York Times correspondent here in Tokyo because he'd caught their interest in what he knows about local bands and then proceeded to make himself sound like more or less of a sexist jerk, reaffirming what another female frontwoman I talked to later said about the metal and punk scenes here (and everywhere) being annoying and childish boys' clubs. 

So I was like, "oh wow, that's pretty bad" and he was like "yes" and then he was like, well, okay, I was thinking that I can't talk or write about women in the scene without sounding like an asshole and making them sound like a novelty like everyone else does, so someone else should do it. It would make a lot more sense of a woman in the scene did it. 
Maybe you could do it?

I agreed and decided to start with what is probably my favourite band here. The unofficial task didn't seem farfetched or anything because I've always gravitated toward female-fronted bands anyway. This article and sort-of interview took me absolutely forever to write, though, because as much as I love the uniquely theatrical funeral doom outfit that is Begräbnis, their frontwoman Fumika rarely ventures out into daylight and admitted freely that she is "terrible at making friends". 
The process of talking with her online and giving her all the time she needed (they were touring Japan and Taiwan at one point, too) to consider and answer my questions ended up taking three months, and all my best coaxing and noncommittal invitations to meet, even where she lives in Saitama, were glazed over. It's not like she has any obligation to legit be my friend or anything, but you know, I like her and I think she likes me well enough and I had kind of hoped we could talk more.

Anyway, Makiko was next on the list, and I only got to talk to her for a few minutes at Eros Revenant but she is just the loveliest person and agreed to meet me the following weekend, because we had been trying to match schedules since November and we both wanted to just nail it down. Thus, a Saturday plan was born! Here I'll talk about the details of that day, and save the interesting stuff I learned about her and her music for later.

I'd been avoiding Shimokita because it always seemed like it was hipstery to the point of
being obnoxious and trite, but you know, I was wrong. And Tokyo needs more chill anyway.


This brilliant street artist's name can best be Romanised as "Shachihoco Fuckin' Babies", 
sometimes seen abbreviated as "SFB". He seems to be friends and pretty frequent collaborators 
with Juicy Fatz, who might be the most prolific sticker artist in Tokyo and who is a woman (!), 
and is also responsible for what I call the 「サンリオジイサン」 ("Sanriojiisan" or "Sanrio grandpa") old man Hello Kitty stickers.


Makiko and I met at the popular and hippie-dippy Cafe Stay Happy, and ironically enough, we were not able to stay happy for more than a second or two after coming in the door. She had called and reserved their largest table because she and Audrey (who joined us about an hour later, she'd had a brunch to go to with two kilos of homemade hummus lol) also liked my idea of having a drink & draw session. Well - the owner informed me as soon as he found the reservation - they were having a miniature gem and mineral show, so there was not a lot of seating space available, so please just sit on the unfinished wooden floor here in the little loft space with this traditional Japanese floor table and kotatsu, or under-the-table heater, which was exactly what I had wanted to avoid. I said something about "well, this is why we made a reservation", and he apologised halfheartedly and went on his way.

When Makiko got there we looked over the drink and dessert options, but when we told the guy we "just wanted something sweet", he was like, oh, you're not going to order food? Makiko was like, uhhh. And then he said something about, well, you know, two people at a table and everything, should order lunch. So we did.

As you can see above she had a little melt with a side salad, and I got their vegan curry.
This was also the first time, I think, that I brought my new camera out in Tokyo intending
to take some decent pictures. This food setting, man. Almost makes that obnoxious cafe
owner worth it.

There was also an overpriced and under-matchaed soy latte involved


Audrey had chosen Stay Happy, and when she arrived I'm afraid I kind of bombarded her with updates about how we'd had pretty good food but a pretty shitty experience right when she got there and of course she felt pretty badly about it. She lives nearby, does the Shimokita thing a lot and definitely likes the place, and we decided that the owner's strange manner might have something to do with his having dropped too much acid in the 70's.

But okay, enough about that place and what was just one in a long string of vegan Japanese curries that continues to sustain me and my Instagram to this very day. The unequivocal highlight of the cafe was this brilliant revelation that Makiko is likely moving to Portland with her American boyfriend but hates hippies and until that day knew nothing whatsoever of the massively hipstery Portlandia phenomenon. Almost did a spit-take. The lead up to it was brilliant; after she came in and sat down she commented on how, you know, all this meditation and chakras and incense and stuff is okay, to each their own, but all in all hippies are pretty bullshit and she thinks they're annoying. I mean, before she told me about Portland, just because of our surroundings, we discussed it in detail.

Then she's like, oh no, why, are there a lot of hippies in Portland?

Laughing forever.

I also had to tell Audrey about that almost as soon as she came in, and she nearly did a spit take too. Poor Makiko, having no idea that life was steering her into such a perfect trap. She looked a combination of incredulous, terrified and disgusted under her chill exterior and triumphantly-arched brows, so I added that Cascadia is glorious and beautiful and very Wolves in the Throne Room-y and that there would be plenty of things to enjoy. Later that night or the next day I sent her a couple of Portlandia videos, including the essential Dream of the 90's music video one, and she was like, "Okay, now I'm really scared". x'D

Next we went to a popular bar called Mother that I'd been wanting to see, 
which is very much like a Hobbit hole in the best possible way.



Look at the huge, heavy, naturally-shaped wooden tables and chairs!


Ah, but, alas, it was too dark, narrow, and uneven to draw much of anything at Mother.

It was heckin neat and Makiko really enjoyed the whisky Audrey recommended before
she had to leave, though; she'd really overbooked herself and made tons of plans that day!

We asked Audrey to recommend a place that was both brightly-lit and cheap, so that we 
might actually do some doodling, before bidding her a fond farewell as she rushed to finish 
the vegan cupcakes she'd made for her guest appearance on the Kaala podcast. This adorable 
cafe was perfect. I forget what it's called, something Italian; Venezia or Piazza or something?

Makiko's was the best. Audrey and I couldn't finish ours, but - and I'm not ashamed to admit that I fangirl her for this - Makiko does these little ones in a little notebook that she shares regularly, and they're so great. She mostly doodles cute little fluffy monsters in awkward situations.

Even if the drawing and logistic aspects of this day didn't really turn out, I hung out and talked with Makiko for a full 8 hours I think, and it was great. We had a really nice time and I hope I can see her again soon for the Buffy marathon we're supposed to have at Audrey's place!

Also, fun fact: there's a guy in Shimokita who has a collection of manga and reads it out loud to passersby who select their favourites, complete with different voices and sound effects. It's that kind of hipster neighbourhood. But you know what? This is wonderful and the world needs more people like him.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Świnoujście Plaża

After Christmas and before New Year's Eve (okay, on the 29th, I checked) Hannes, both our moms and I went on a little day trip over the border to Poland.


Hannes' and Nico's moms often drive over to Świnosjście (or Swinemünde in German, because this is pretty hard to say) for inexpensive spa treatments and, honestly, inexpensive everything else, too. 

A two-hour drive due east from Rostock takes you from silky smooth roads like the one pictured above to developing world-quality ones that are all crumbly and full of potholes. It's not hard to imagine people swinging over for things like cartons of cigarettes and who-knows-what-else, kind of like how Americans swing down to Mexico for cheap generic Oxycontin and Botox, but less tragic. And without the ever-present threat of imminent physical violence or even death by execution-style gunshot to the head.

The instantaneously worsening road quality is one of the stereotypes Germans have about Poland, apparently, but at least at this particular spot, it literally does change as soon as you cross the line.

Hannes insists that Poland is a former Soviet Bloc state success story, and I certainly haven't read enough to throw in my two cents on the topic, but all things considered, it's not surprising that a lot of Poles feel a little bitter about how much better the former GDR is doing in comparison. 
It's kind of hilarious to me that western Germans, in turn, are doing even better than the people I know in Germany and are sometimes snooty and superior about it, because even people who "just" went through vocational training or who didn't do anything beyond high school at all got a much better education than you probably can for free anywhere in the States, and theirs is the highest quality of life I've ever seen. I can only imagine how well Danes and Swedes do for themselves, and how many people would weep at the sight or taste of what they might consider mediocre.

And when the wall did come down and Germany was officially reunified, on Hannes' third birthday, he and his parents and everybody else to the right of the line were something like refugees, traveling across it to Berlin in order to collect their 100 marks per head from the federal government ("Welcome money" that anyone who'd previously gotten permission to go into West Germany also received before, though it was less) to help them transition, because they weren't even using the same currency.

First thing's first: coffee time.
These Baltic folks are major coffee-and-cake-time people, it's pretty great.


My mom was having a nice time even though I was being snappy and short-tempered
while figuring out my new camera ;>_>

Oooh, but look at the texture! The texture, Duke, the texture!

Goddamn it, this is such a handsome angle, too. Sigh

I had a baked potato with sour cream and fresh dill with a side of grilled veggies for, I don't know, 6 or 7 bucks.You literally can't even get stuff like this in Japan, especially not in this size.

The center of town was pretty quiet, though there were a fair number of people about; the remnants of the Christmas market were still up and everyone was just having kind of a slow relaxed grey day, meandering about.

Very nearly bought something from this ceramics vendor and can't wait to accumulate so much glorious handmare earthenware vessels and other shit from Eastern Europe once I have a place to put them.



A few of these are from my mom's iPhone.

Just kids in a human-sized bouncy snowglobe, no big deal haha

This church was the most prominent one in the centre of town, so we wandered over to it to see inside and take a few pictures.

Naturally my mom took one of the nice little shrine they have to Pope John Paul II (who was Polish, yes), a well-known and -loved figure in her side of my family.


Just to the left of the large, heavy wooden doors was this very Eastern Orthodox prayer nook.

And, much like the churches in Rostock and probably Hamburg and all the other Hanseatic and Hanseatic-adjacent cities, there were large old models of ships hanging from the ceiling.


This doughnut's name is Malina.
For real though everything looked so good, and was so cheap. 3.50 Zloty is 88 cents, USD.

Anke picked up some new workout shorts for Marco in a funny little shopping area that reminded me of the old, run-down, and immigrant-heavy areas of Phoenix, like around Christown Mall.

But, again, by American standards, Poland is very safe. And charming!


Oh right, of course - I almost forgot the manhole covers. 
New manhole cover equals new city, that's the rule.

Also they use hieroglyphics to depict children at play lol

Would you want the world's perkiest boobs if it meant giving up your arms?
Wait, what is the moral of this story?

Just past a novelty galleon-like wooden ship that houses a restaurant something that probably belongs to NATO was visible across the harbour.



Street art ahoy! 
Just these two things, though. I didn't really see any slaps or other stencils or anything.

Another church, this one even more imposing from the outside in a brick gothic style different from that of northern Germany.

The insides of these ones are pretty ornate and colourful, too, which is also different from the often simple, primitive, and Medieval style of those in Germany, which I think are much more like museums than functioning places of worship. That's part of what makes them so pleasant. 

After a leisurely walk around we decided to go down to the water.
These dried fish are pretty gnarly-looking, huh?

It looks just like Rügen, Germany's largest island (and probably nearby Usedom as well), with calm, viney, leaf-littered forest all the way down.

And a weirdly festive and fragrant (seriously, like with incense or something) little public bathroom house surrounded by kitschy witch decorations?

Then there was another weird combination of things we didn't expect 
once we did get down to the water: beach swans.

-flap flap-

-waddle waddle-

They surfed, too. It was a little ridiculous.

I guess feeding them is a thing, and chasing them like this one obnoxious little kid
does in the video, because they really didn't seem to care. Anke and I were hoping they'd
attack him, but they were just like, eh, just far enough back to the water that he stops.



The local novelty bus

An older open-air painter in front of a wide open and desolate amphitheatre.

Ah! And a Hanseatic merchant vessel with the Rostock emblem on it sculpted out of sand.

This is another of my mom's pics and it isn't the cafe we went to to finish off the afternoon, but there are a whole string of cute little themed ones like this on the boardwalk to choose from, though "little" is the key word; they're mostly very tiny and made for sitting in front of rather than inside.. of.

Hot mulled fruit wine, coffee, and cake time? Aw yiss.
But I was still stuffed from lunch and didn't have any. 
Okay, I had a bite. I mean look at it though, how could I not?

The drive back was a peaceful and sleepy one with a beautiful sunset.
Both our moms' driving keeps both of us on the edges of our seats with anxiety, but Hannes is in his driving as in everything else: calm, confident, and steady. 

All in all it was a nice little day out and I can't wait to see more of Poland.