Friday, December 31, 2010

Tokyo See: Countdown at Zojoji Temple

What do you know? Another year has come to an end, and we are staring into the open jaws of 2011. (Yes, I am "drama" in that way.) I have never had a thing for celebrating new years, the parties and the squashing with a zillion other people to do the countdown, preferring to idle away in the comforts of my home, or even better, snore through the momentous crossing of one year to another. However, although I am very much a homebody, I can still do the occasional hard partying. Samurai T, on the other hand, is a veritable hermit compared to me. He ABHORS crowds, and gets immensely grouchy every time I dragged him to places with swarms of humans, e.g. Chinatown during Chinese New Year's Eve. So yes, we always have very boring plans for spending New Year's Eve. 

The countdown digital time board outside Zojoji Temple

An exception was when we were spending our last night in Tokyo on New Year's Eve in 2008. Since this was the first time we were celebrating the New Year overseas, I was very keen on participating a countdown event in Tokyo, and had already identified the annual party at Zojoji Temple (which is just next to Tokyo Tower) as the "To-Go" event that evening. But prior to that, we already had quite a fruitful and exhausting day at Kamakura (read post here), followed by a most fabulous dinner at an expensive restaurant on top of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel (I still salivate over the memory of the yummy beef steak). It was freezing cold outside, we were warm and happy in our splendid hotel room watching TV, and as usual Samurai T was NOT keen to get outdoors again. But I persevered. When will we ever be in Tokyo for New Year's Eve ever again? I argued. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thankfully, I won the day. And at 11.20pm, we roused our weary bodies and bravely subjected ourselves to the biting cold and took the JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho Station, and from there we walked about 10 minutes to Zojoji Temple. We made it there with barely 10 minutes to spare before midnight and there were already TENS of thousands of people at the Zojoji Temple compound which was romantically lighted up by traditional lanterns and we could only stand near the entrance. It was madness. But one positive thing was that we could keep warm with all the jostling bodies around us.

Main entrance of Zojoji Temple. It was so crowded people were spilling out onto the streets.

We were right at the end. There was a sea of people in front of us. Trying to capture the releasing of balloons at midnight.

The lighted up Tokyo Tower nearby. I wish I had a better camera then. :P

(A quick note on Zojoji Temple: It is built in 1393 and is the main temple of the Buddhist Jodo sect in the Kanto area. There is a Tokugawa mausoleum on its grounds and the crests of the Tokugawa family still decorates the temple buildings. The western New Year also coincides with the Japanese New Year (the Japanese New Year used to follow the Chinese until the Meiji Restoration), making it doubly important for the Japanese people and the reason why many countdown events are held in key temples and shrines around the country.)

As a result of my impeccable timing, we did not have to wait in the crowd for long (and before Samurai T's face could turn blacker) before we counted down to 2009. But because there were so many people, even the counting down was not unanimous - the people at the front probably welcomed the new year before those at the back (us included) did. But the atmosphere was electric, probably not as crazy as it would be at Times Square in New York, but fun nevertheless. At the side, Tokyo Tower erupted in a burst of lights and there were loud cheers and singing from revellers.

"Happy now?" Samurai T asked me when we finally disentangled ourselves from the still celebrating crowd. Yeah, short as the whole affair was, I was happy. After taking a few quick pictures of the surrounding area and the Tokyo Tower, we rapidly made our way back to the train station to avoid the human crush later on. And less than 1 and a half hours after we left the hotel, we were back in its cosy embrace (thank God Shinagawa Prince was quite near Zojoji Temple). http://www.holidaycityjapan.com/shinagawa-prince-tokyo/index.htm

Two years on, as we await 2011 tonight, we are likely to go back to the familiar routine of watching movie reruns on TV. Nevertheless, the most important thing is not HOW one spends New Year's Eve, but Who one spends it with. And I am never happier spending it with my stick-in-the-mud, boring-as-a-plank Samurai T, snuggling together on the sofa and munching unhealthy chips.

I hereby wish all readers a glorious 2011. And the wish for myself is that I hope this blog will hit 20,000 unique visitors this time next year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tokidoki (Sometimes), It May Not be Japanese.....

...... no matter how much it looks like it.

But I made that mistake with Tokidoki, a lifestyle brand that has the cutest and most iconic characters. I still remember the first time I encountered the world of Tokidoki a number of years ago, when I was attracted to a line of LeSportsac bags featuring Tokidoki characters (a collaboration between the two brands). Although I did not buy a bag in the end, the memory of these bags stuck with me for a very long time (my relationship with bags are long and tumultuous.) From then on, I was certain Tokidoki was a Japanese brand - it has a Japanese name, Japanese inspired characters (I especially loved the Cactus Friends and Skeletrino and Skeletrina) ... I did not need to be convinced further.

And since these were cartoons, and I was too OLD to be obsessive about cartoons (a key factor why I did not get the LeSportsac bag despite loving the look), I also did not do the usual "search the Internet for more information" thing, and carried my illusion (delusion?) until 2010 when I was volunteering at the Singapore Toys, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC) that I realised to my great embarrassment that the creater was an Italian artist, Simone Legno from Rome!!!

I met the man himself, the absolute sweetest man possible, while ferrying Mori Chack around (see my post on Mori Chack here.) Apparently, the real story is, Simone (yeah we are on first name basis - he is just so super friendly!) like moi, is highly inspired by Japan and its culture, and hence he created the world of Tokidoki which has become a leading fashion trend since it was launched in 2005 from its Los Angeles base. Although it is not a Japanese brand (yes, "F" for general knowledge), Tokidoki has collaborated with several major Japanese companies like Sanrio for Hallo Kitty, ASICS for Onitsuka Tiger, Fujitsu etc on cross-over products.

So what was a helpless, miserably paid volunteer like moi to do? Faced with a charming and humble Italian man, to-die-for cute Japanese inpired cartoons, I of course capitulated and went on a massive buying spree of Tokidoki products (nevermind about the old and obsessive part). I bought a limited SingPost edition jigsaw puzzle-cum-stamp collection, several T-shirts for myself and Samurai T and a Tokidoki bag. (Mind you, this is on top of my Gloomy and Tofu-Oyako purchases!!) Talk about lack of self-control. THANKS, FRIEND (yes, you, the one who dragged me into this sorry affair in the first place.)

On the bright side I am pleased to announce I have just completed the 500-piece puzzle with Samurai T in a single day (that lazy bugger only contributed to one third of the puzzle), which I intend to frame up soon.

(P.S I file this post under J-Pop because it is also considered part of Japanese culture - I think.)

A pic with Simone Legno with my Tokidoki bag purchase. That poor man just finished one and a half hours of  a signing session for fans, and yet he willingly agreed to a photo with me.

The completed jigsaw puzzle. I have a severe backache because of this, plus wonky knees from squatting down too much. 

The special tin box in which the puzzle and stamps came in. Check out the Singapore Merlion and the various Singapore road signs. Cool!

A close up of Simone's drawing of a Cactus Friend and his signature. For keepsake!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Blessed Christmas to One and All

The Fat One would like to send her warmest greetings to all her readers this Christmas. But as we party the nights (and days) away, remember what is exactly the true story behind all these festive lights and glitter (and presents, of course). We come together to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Christian or not, it is good to know what you are celebrating about, and where this season of giving originates (no, not from retailers), since Christ gave himself up to the world first. To fellow Christians, enjoy this blessed day with your loved ones. To everyone else, Merry Holidays!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

EXILE-D!!! (To a Land of Cool Men)

(After bragging about how busy I was, suddenly I am producing 3 posts in as many days. Reason being Samurai T is down with gastric flu, so I am stuck at home with nothing better to do - hence I blog.)

My girlfriends, especially those from my so-called "Japanese Gang" (they are all as crazy or crazier about Japan than I am), are an evil lot. As if I do not have enough distractions on my hands, one girlfriend sneakily "lent" me her SMAP VCDs (See my previous rant here). Now another one has practically thrown me a thumb drive filled with 300++ AWESOME songs from SMAP, Arashi and EXILE. Let me leave Arashi for another post at a later date, and concentrate on EXILE, since this dear friend has kindly raved about them and shown me a couple of their cool MTVs during a rocking karaoke session earlier this week.

EXILE - The Metrosexual Band. Most posters show 7 of them but the current band has 14 members.

If SMAP was kawaii and energetic (let's not get distracted by HOT Takuya), EXILE oozes cool, spiffy moustaches and rippling tanned bods. (Yes I am shallow so I am talking about their appearances first, boy bands are formed for WOMEN like me, ok?!) If SMAP is the Japanese equivalent of New Kids on the Block (but with a significantly longer life span), then EXILE would be like NSYNC meets Boyz II Men (which is probably not coincidental since lead vocalist Atsushi is known to be a fan of Boyz II Men.) So music-wise, EXILE rocks an R&B sound with very hypnotic beats, and yes, they sing MUCH better than SMAP. Lead singers Atsushi and Takahiro have very smooth developed vocals well suited for these type of songs. But like SMAP with their "$10" song, EXILE also has the curse of "what-the-hell kind of song title is that?" with "Choo-choo Train", but trust me, it sounds WAY better than you can imagine.

The history of EXILE is quite complicated. In a nutshell it is two boy bands becoming one, when 7-member band J-Soul Brothers joined existing 7-member EXILE in March 2009 to become the 14-member group it is today. An aside: I don't understand why bands have to become so big, and don't even get me started about girl band AKB48 which is even bigger than my school choir. Another aside: I just read in the papers today that New Kids on the Block has teamed up with Back Street Boys for a series of concerts and are now known as NKOTBSB!!! They are obviously taking their cue from the Japanese.

All 14 buggers in one picture

Back to EXILE. In short, they are huge in Japan, as a 7-member band or 14-member band. They are multiple award winners and have sold MILLIONS of albums. Not surprising, considering their too-cool-for-school songs and the men don't look half bad too. I particularly found the "Ti Amo" and "Your Eyes Only" drop-dead sexy.   And their "Holy Night A Capella" blew me away - a heavenly blending of manly voices, much better than anything from Boyz II Men. Other favourites which have lodged permanently on my must-play list includes "I Believe" and "Futatsu no Kuchibiru". At this point I am still unearthing new treasures, so maybe I will have another update post about it in the future.

Gratuitous naked pic of lead singer, Atsushi, to thank my friend for introducing EXILE to me.

The other lead singer, Takahiro, who is probably the only pretty boy in EXILE. But Takuya is still prettier, no??

So conclusion? Thank you, girlfriend (you know who you are). Poor Samurai now has more competition for my attention!

I have uploaded one of their steamy MTVs for your viewing pleasure (and in line with our Christmas mood). Have fun squealing in private.

Christmas (カリスマス) in Japan

What do you know? My absolute favourite holiday of the year - the birthday of Jesus - is drawing near. To my eternal regret, I will not be able to visit my beloved adopted country for the holiday season this year (since I already took my mandatory year end trip to the island of Formosa). I have such fond memories of my 2008 and 2009 visits which were filled with so much Christmas spirit that I would like to reminisce a little in this post.

A residential street light up in Kobe

Which is weird considering that anything from 84% to 96% (according to Wikipedia) of the population are practitioners of the Shinto and Buddhist religions. But I suppose one can argue that Christmas has become such a commercialised holiday everywhere in the world (but not to ME!) that it is no surprise that my Japanese relatives, living at the heart of Commercial City, will embrace the season of ringing retail tills with open arms.

Glittering trees outside the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in 2008 - looked like they were dressed up in diamonds.

Whatever their motivation, the Japanese do not do anything in halves. While in Singapore we have synchronised (and normally blah) light-ups of the main shopping districts, in Japan we have individual and often quirky light ups and the quaintest decorations at hotels, shopping centres, train stations, residential streets etc. Although I have not personally experienced them, I have watched on television how small Japanese towns come together to build a wonderland of lights and snow for the festive season. (Something on my list of Japan "to-dos" for the future.)

A very beary Christmas at Takashimaya at Kyoto's Shijo shopping street.

Of course, weather plays a big part as well. It is difficult to feel very "Christmas-sy" in Singapore when one is sweltering under the tropical heat, but in Japan, where the air is cold and crisp (or freezing depending on where you are), and I am bundled under layers of clothes, I never felt the Christmas spirit more. Hopefully I will be back in Japan next winter, fingers crossed! And in the meantime......

みなさん、マリカリスマス。Merry Christmas Everyone, and God Bless!

2009 Christmas decorations at Namba Parks, one of the high end shopping malls in Osaka.

Stunning lights - the ground seemed scattered with stars, and I was transported to another world. 

A gigantic musical Christmas tree at the Kyoto JR station. Instead of Christmas songs, they were playing "Say Yes" by Chage and Aska!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fat Geisha is a TechnoPhobe

Some of my secret admirers may have noticed a few changes to this blog's layout, and that is because the Fat One is experimenting how best to present her writing and the other various side elements. Oh, all right - I am trying to put in more ads to try and monetize the blog without irritating anyone - guilty as charged.

Since moi's web expertise is practically non-existent, she has been surfing the great Internet for tips. I just chanced upon this SUPER website (www.dannychoo.com) which is like THE web mecca on Japanese culture with like a MILLION visitors. And he had a great article on how we should live our life to the fullest and pursue our greatest passion, and if it is blogging why should we be ashamed trying to make money out of our passion? And reading his personal journey to turn his life-long interest on Japanese culture into a big sustaining business today is just so inspiring! If I could achieve a tenth of what he had, I would be happy!

To do so however would be a serious test on my technical abilities. Using templates provided by Blogger is one thing (since it is quite idiot-proof), but to do anything more fanciful sends my head into a spin. I have tried reading some helpful informative sites on website design with all that technical jargon and my brain shuts down immediately. Give me languages to study any day, Ancient Latin also can!! - I am SO NOT a science person. You can throw a "Web Design for Dummies" to me and I would probably go into epileptic fits at the first sentence.

But I must, MUST try to overcome this phobia if I am to turn this blog into something worthy. I have got to convince myself that an old dog can learn new tricks! Anyway, this rambling post is to warn readers not to be too taken aback by any layout changes over the next couple of weeks. Fat Geisha's still here!

P.S. I welcome all suggestions on how to better improve the look of this blog. Thanks in advance!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are You GLOOMY?

(I must apologise to my secret admirers for the lack of blog activity this month because I am in such a holiday mood and my social schedule is packed. Also, one must blame the Samurai for hogging my laptop playing his make-believe Nobunaga's Ambition game - yep it's school holidays.)

By some strange alignment of the stars last week, I was roped (forced, begged, whatever) by an old friend to help out at his company's convention - the Singapore Toys, Games and Comics Convention 2010. As a volunteer (i.e. almost free labour), I was supposed to be a liaison officer to one of its overseas guests invited to attend the convention. As my friend knew about my deep abiding love for Japan, he tagged me to a Japanese graphic designer, Mori Chack.

Those in the know would of course be raving about how lucky I was and how famous the man is. Unfortunately, although like most women who love all things kawaii, I have zero inkling who he was. According to the bio I was given prior to his arrival, he was the inventor of a man-eating grizzly bear character known as GLOOMY BEAR, from his own Chax product line (www.chax.cc). Visiting his website is an eye-opener, as Mori-san considers himself a comic satirist, commenting on social ills and human's penchance for animal cruelty. At first glance, GLOOMY looks like an adorable pink bear, much like those cute teddies that saturate today's market. Look closer and you will discover that GLOOMY often had bloody nails, and blood drooling down his mouth. GLOOMY is often seen ripping up his long-suffering boy-owner known as PITY. Little wonder all his toys are rated 15+ and above. Children will probably not understand the concept of a killer bear, and the reasoning behind fashioning such a bear.

GLOOMY plushies. Don't they look cute? Until you notice the blood coming out of the mouth and staining its claws. 

More GLOOMY merchandise. By the end of the convention I was a converted fan.

The man behind such a violent character is surprisingly soft spoken and gentle. In fact, he looks totally different from his picture on his website. I was expecting a golden haired, surly grunge rocker, and he turned up looking like a curly black long haired, gentle but cool rocker. Almost disastrously, the man spoke no English, and since my Japanese was NOWHERE near fluent, we were like chicken and duck trying to communicate. Thankfully, a translator later appeared to our mutual relief. Whether it was a result of the language barrier, or his innate personality, Mori-san was the epitome of Japanese politeness and a most soft-spoken man. I only heard him breaking out into loud guffaws once, during his recorded interview with ANIMAX. For someone who had crazed fans rushing to line up for his signature everyday during the convention, he seems remarkably unaffected, and obliged fan requests for pictures, etc. (Although his minders limited the number of items to be signed - which makes it all the more valuable?!)

At one of the STGCC signing sessions. His translator, Kumi-san by his side. 

Drawing a sketch of GLOOMY for a fan. An absolute eye-opener. Master in action! 

A light-hearted moment during his interview with ANIMAX.

Initially, I bought a 10th Anniversary GLOOMY-TOFU OYAKO (from DevilRobots) toy as a sort of keepsake to remember my stint with Mori Chack. However, the more I got to see him in action (from following him around the convention for 2 full days), and the more I looked at GLOOMY, the more intrigued I became. In the end, besides the anniversary toy (SGD22!), I got myself GLOOMY plastic files and GLOOMY phone accessories, gathered my courage up to ask Mori-san privately for a photo and also to sign on my GLOOMY toy. I vow to support all his products in the future. I was eyeing the GLOOMY T-shirts he was wearing during the convention but unfortunately those were not on sale there.

GLOOMY Ichiban!

The 10th Anniversary GLOOMY-TOFU OYAKO toy I bought. 

Check out his signature - a GLOOMY drawing on the tummy! 

Once in a lifetime collectible. GLOOMY wins the bloody battle!


Gloomy Bear In The Box Women's Blue T-Shirt (Small)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Impressions: Taiwan - A Canine Loving Nation

Whenever and wherever I travel, I have a habit of taking pictures of the local dogs that I come across. They act as memory markers of the places I have visited, like "Oh, the place where we saw the big curly haired dog!" If you are not aware of it by now, I am genetically wired to be crazy about dogs. CRAZY.

Now, I have been to a number of dog-loving countries including Thailand, Greece and of course my beloved adopted country of Japan. However, Taiwan trumps them all in the doggie-craze stakes. And that was my very first, and likely, deepest impression of the country - not the street food, the friendly polite people, the gorgeous scenery, but the number of dogs EVERYWHERE. 

The fattest Jack Russell I had ever seen - in Jiufen, Taiwan.

Regardless of where I turn, I see dogs. Mongrels roaming the streets (but likely owned or fed by someone), and the most adorable miniature toy breeds (dressed in winter wear ok!) in the loving arms of locals. Whether they are rich or poor, they are all dog owners. Almost every single night market stall I visited has a dog roaming about or sniffing at your feet begging for food (who cares about hygiene?!); you can also find dogs in proper restaurants (outside of course), and temples and tourist sites are doggie havens. For the first time in my life, I stopped taking photos of the dogs I met because there were just too many. I would not be surprised if the dog population in Taiwan is about the same as the human population. Taiwan's fertility is the pits, anyway.

Super cute doggie at a night market stall in Kaoshiung.

A funny incident occurred while I was walking with the family at some night market and I saw a lot of young couples with baby strollers walking down the crowded streets (The night markets are forever crowded). I was thinking, "Who in the right mind would bring babies to such crowded places? It is noisy, hot and uncomfortable." Out of curiosity, I wanted to check out a cute baby and all I saw was fur. Those were dogs in strollers, not babies!!! In fact, most of the strollers contain dogs, not humans. And I did mention Taiwan's abysmal fertility rate - and we know the reason why. The hilarious thing is that I just read in the papers this morning that Singapore is also seeing a trend of dog owners buying pet strollers, and yes, our birth rates are sucky too.

Temple dog at Hengchun. Well fed and playful mongrel. The Taiwanese do not discriminate.

I chanced upon a row of pet shops in Taiwan and they all have just about the cutest puppies on display. According to a fellow dog lover who has been to Taiwan, the prices of a pure bred puppy is cheap too - one can get a Huskie pup for less than SGD400 (here it can go up to over SGD1,000). Little wonder why the Taiwanese are buying dogs like no tomorrow. I wonder if the country experienced high rates of dog abandonment, but I doubt so since everyone seems to love the canines to death.

Strangely enough, I only came across ONE street cat during my 8 days in Taiwan. Although I saw kittens for sale at the pet shops, I suspect our feline friends do not receive as much love as their canine counterparts.

A different Labrador from the one which chased me. :D 

But I am happy. They were the highlight of my trip (yes, I am weird, I know). I had so much fun playing with the doggies it was insane. A Labrador puppy was so enamoured by me that he ended up chewing my dress and refusing to let go, and kept on chasing me and pulling my dress (thank God it did not tear - hooray for wool!). I needed a few men to "rescue" me (Samurai was nowhere in sight) although all the pup wanted to do was to play, but sorry buddy, I had to rush to the toilet. Later our tour guide told me that it was an "auspicious and prosperous sign" for a dog to chase after me, and I must buy lottery since I would strike. I guess I should be off to Singapore Pools' now. :D

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fat Geisha Returns

Beloved secret admirers, the Fat One is back! Thankfully, methinks I have not gained an ounce since I suffered from gastric pains for 2 straight days from over oily Taiwanese food. Really, where is my sashimi and tonkatsu when I need them?!

There are good things and bad things on this trip, but you would have to wait a little while longer to read about my Taiwan adventures because I AM EXHAUSTED. Going around the whole Formosa island in 8 days is no joke, let me tell you. On the coach for anything from 3 to 6 hours a day travelling mostly on winding mountain roads really kills.

Not to mention I haven't done my Japanese shukudai and my class is today!! Argh........

So later, alligator.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fat Geisha Goes on Holiday!

明日家族とTaiwanへいきます。来週の日曜日にかえります。

Dear readers, I will going on a family holiday to Taiwan tomorrow morning and will return only next Sunday evening. So this will be my last post for November. Don't miss me too much in the meantime. Since Taiwan is a former Japanese colony, I will hopefully be able to share some interesting travel tales and tips with you upon my return. I know for sure that I will be eating non-stop during my trip, and probably come back an even FATTER geisha, God Forbid!!!!

Until next month, take good care of yourselves and have fun!

Friday, November 26, 2010

What is so Great about SMAP?

Latest promo pic for their aborted 2010 Shanghai concert

I am probably going to get stoned by SMAP fanatics just for the heading alone. But I beg you to read the whole post before doing anything drastic.

As I am typing this, I am watching a series of SMAP performances that my best friend was kind enough to lend me from her most private and valuable stash of SMAP VCDs/DVDs, all in the name of er-hem, improving my Japanese. For as long as I have known her, she has been crazy about SMAP, and I couldn't really understand why, because when I was young(er) I was very "Westernised" and preferred "ang-moh" boybands like *cough* New Kids on the Block *cough*.

Other than Takuya Kimura, the only thing I know about SMAP is that they are a VERY FAMOUS pop group that sings and they have a variety show known as SMAPxSMAP. Due to a lack of English sub-versions on the Internet (and prior to my learning the language), I have only watched a few VERY FUNNY snippets, where they cook and do all sorts of crazy skits including some hilarious parodies.

A quick history on SMAP (from Wikipedia): Originally made up of 6 members, SMAP now consisted of Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura (of course), Tsuyoshi Kusanagi (the one caught naked in public recently), Goro Inagaki and Shingo Katori. SMAP stands for SPORTS, MUSIC, ASSEMBLE, PEOPLE. (Huh??) They were formed in 1988 (!) but officially debuted in 1991. They literally grew up with a generation of Japanese, more or less, which explains the record number of obasans in their fan base.

Now, back to the VCDs I am watching. These are from the late 1990s and early 2000s. One of them contains their musical performances from various TV shows and concerts. And I cannot stop laughing (not maliciously, mind you). This is the NUMBER ONE pop group in Japan for goodness knows how long? They really cannot sing! Definitely nowhere near the league of ANZENCHITAI. As they belted out their SUPER cheesy bubblegum pop songs with gusto, they went out of tune a few times and their voices cracked in several places. Before you throw eggs at me, let me add that SMAP is no worse than the other boy bands around the world. It was just that for all the craziness they inspired, I was expecting MORE. But I guess one cannot really explain craziness stemming from hormonal reactions.

Especially when Takuya winks at the camera, or expose an ab or a nipple (this man LOVES to show off his chest), who the hell cares whether they can sing or not, right? You can sing to me all night long, baby!!!

But despite their lack of singing chops, they more than made up with their incredibly sleek dance moves and oozed charisma in SPADES. It tickles me greatly as I watch them schmooze around the stage in their droopy bell-bottom pants (one of their costumes looked to be inspired by "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves"). And their songs! OMG their songs!! My eyes literally popped out as I listened to a song titled "$10"!!!?! "You are my dynamite?" By this time I am already rolling on the floor.

Finally I understand what gets the fans all hot and bothered (besides Takuya's hot looks), and loyal after all these years (SMAP debuted when Takuya was a scrawny teenager - see pics below). Definitely not their singing, but that irrepressible exuberance that spills over each time they perform. My friend says it best when she says SMAP is not afraid to laugh at themselves (check out Shingo Katori's many cross-dressing incarnations, and any group that dares sing a song titled "$10" is definitely insane). Indeed, like overgrown boys, they make me feel silly and happy, and very very young. I guess this is the true SMAP magic.

Here are some VERY INTERESTING photos and a video I found on the Internet - for your enjoyment only. In the meantime, I will be watching those old SMAP VCDs.



Snippets from one of their latest concerts, including the infamous "$10" song. Look at the number of obasans screaming. And Takuya flashing his bod!!! Drool.

WTH - I was searching for pics and found this. When SMAP still had 6 members. Takuya looked like 12???!

Since Takuya was so adept at flashing himself at concerts, I tried googling for some sexy photos and ended up with this. Please do not arrest me for child porn. According to the blog I took it from, they were only 15!!!! 

Enough of young 'uns. This is from their show Bistro SMAP. Chef Takuya can cook me anytime!

Enough said. SMAP Ichiban!


Smap Vol.II Smap Best Selection

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Birthday to My Beloved Samurai T!


Today is a very special day. It is the birthday of my most beloved Samurai T, who has changed my life forever since entering the world 37 years ago. I would have been a very different woman if it were not for him - probably less contented, less confident, and definitely less happy! Marriage to him brought unprecedented peace and stability to my life. He has been with me through thick and thin, endured all my short-comings, stood by me in the worst of times.

I don't think I have said enough how much I love him. It will never be enough to express my gratitude for him being in my life. You are my one true miracle from God. Happy Birthday, my dearest Samurai. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My First Japanese Composition aka A Day in the Life of Fat Geisha

After almost 5 months of studying, I have finally achieved a level of language competency which allows me to write a kindergarten-type composition in proper Japanese. And I am most pleased to share it with my readers. (Never mind if you don't understand; just pretend it is the most wonderful masterpiece ever written.)

Fat Geisha さんの1にち

わらしわきょうのあさ8時におきました。それからパンとミルクおべました。9時から11時までネトノゲムおしました。午後12時にひるご飯お食べました。1時から3時までにほんごお勉強しました。4時にともだちにありした。映画お見ました。レスターラン出番ご飯おたべました。ジュースおのみました。9時にうちへかえりました。テレビおみました。それからほんの読みました。12時にねました。

Translation:
A Day in the life of Fat Geisha

Yesterday morning, I woke up at 8AM. Then I had bread and milk for breakfast. Between 9AM - 11AM, I surfed the Internet. At noon I ate my lunch. From 1PM-3PM I studied my Japanese. At 4PM I met my friends and we went to watch a movie. We ate dinner at a restaurant and drank juice. I went home at 9PM and watched television, and read a book afterwards. I slept at 12 midnight.

*****************

What a sense of achievement! So proud of myself!

P.S. I don't quite understand the use of the Japanese keyboard. Changes to KANJI for some words but not others. There is also no alternate お which I can use. (If there is a native Japanese reading this, please give me some advice.) Well, this has been fun anyway. I need to work much harder from now onwards, as it is getting more difficult!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Applause! We have hit 1,000 Unique Visitors!

Clap, clap. Thank you all for your support and encouragement. Particularly to friends out there who have been throwing constructive comments and praises to my way - makes me want to blog better and more interesting stuff. What started out as a simple platform to share my travel experiences to Japan with some friends who are going there for the first time this year has turned out to be much, MUCH more. But I thank those friends because  it brings me back to my first true love - writing. Long-time buddies will probably remember the "novels" I had written in secondary school to entertain them. And all those scraps of paper flying around class with my short stories and "emo" poems. There weren't such a thing as "blogs" then, nor Facebook, nor Twitter. Everything was painstakingly written down.

Of course, having 1,000 visitors to this website is practically "nothing" when compared to the tens of thousands of hits PER DAY enjoyed by top bloggers in this country and around the world. Nevertheless I am very grateful to be given an outlet to entertain friends and strangers as well as vent my thoughts and emotions, which are constantly churning inside my head, desperately trying to get out.

Who knows what will happen down the road, and how this blog will evolve? I look forward to finding out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Most Faithful Dog in History - Hachiko

Hachiko continues to wait for his master at Shibuya Station till this day

As one emerges out of the bustling Shibuya train station in Tokyo (from the Hachiko Exit or Hachiko-guchi), the first sight that greets you is a life size bronze statue of an Akita dog, stoic and gleaming under the sun, like a guardian watching over the thousands who choose to meet everyday at the square where it stands. Across the statue on the station wall, colourful motifs of a playful Akita dog bring cheer even on the most dreary day.

Akita dog motifs on the station wall

Unless you have been living in a hole, or absolutely hate animals, you would probably have heard the touching story of Hachiko who, following the sudden death of his master, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno in 1925, continued to wait faithfully at the Shibuya Station everyday at the SAME time for the next 10 years until his death in 1935. It is all the more astonishing when one realises that Hachiko had only been with Ueno for two years before his passing. This remarkable story of unwavering loyalty and friendship between man and hound has been made into several films including one by Hollywood starring Richard Gere (which I refused to watch since I KNOW it would turn me into a slobbering mess). I remembered watching the 1987 Japanese film as a child and the ending where Hachiko finally died and they showed his heavenly reunion with his master made me bawl hysterically.

This tale never fails to break my heart and bring me to tears (yes just thinking about it makes me teary) when I thought about how the dog would sit there day after day waiting fruitlessly for a beloved friend who would never return.  On our very first trip to Tokyo, I insisted to Samurai T that we had to make a pilgrimage trip to Shibuya, not for shopping at Shibuya 109 (honestly that was a "by the way" thing), but to pay our respects to Hachiko. His stuffed and mounted remains are now at the National Science Museum in Ueno, which was unfortunately closed during our visit.

 A rare photo of Hachiko, in his later years

Hachiko with train station staff a year before he died

I lost my beloved dog of 15 years to old age a few months ago. Till now, I could still feel his presence around me on many occasions. Sometimes I thought I could smell him, and could literally feel him in my arms. But I would prefer the dog to go before me rather than the other way around. The pain may be hard to bear, but at least as humans we understand that they are gone. Dogs, intelligent as they are, are unlikely to comprehend loss, and will feel traumatised and abandoned. I am glad though that Hachiko had friends at the train station who would feed and accompany him, but even they could not replace the master who never came home again.

See you in doggie heaven, Waggie

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Bus Transportation System of Kyoto

The Fat Geisha needs to lose weight, but she is too lazy to get off her butt to exercise. She REALLY hates to exercise - all that sweat, URGH! She has been controlling her food intake to no avail, no thanks to the cursed low metabolism of old age. To exacerbate the situation, blogging is such a fattening activity, since all one does is SIT and type. Of course I can try sitting without a chair, like a cute Japanese ad I once saw, so this is what I am doing right now - let's see how many calories I lose, or if my legs will collapse before I finish this post.

Back to serious business. I have mentioned a while ago that I would discuss a little about the bus transportation system of Kyoto, since unlike other Japanese cities, the best way to travel around from site to site is via the good old bus, and not the ubiquitious trains.

Do NOT be fooled by the maps you have downloaded online which makes Kyoto look like a small walk-able city, where sites are near to one another. LIES, all lies!!! I was sure fooled - "Wah, Kyoto City is in grid formation, and the places are all located in close proximity, so it will be a piece of cake to navigate around!" I have never walked SOOOO much in my life, and got lost a couple of times too, despite my super navigational skills. (Yes, it was a good way to lose weight, but I was just SO freaking tired at the end of everyday.) So, get it into your head - Kyoto is a VERY BIG CITY.

Now, if you are kiasu (means "scared to lose" in Singaporean speak) like us, and would like to cover as much ground as possible in one day since Kyoto is literally overflowing with treasures, then I highly recommend that you purchase the all-you-can-travel one day Kyoto City Bus Pass, which cost only 500 Yen (SGD 8). This is a steal when taking into consideration that each bus ride on the city bus cost you 220 Yen PER RIDE, regardless of the distance. During our stay, we could take up to 6 bus rides a day, so you can do the math. If we were tired we would take the bus even if it was one or two stops away without worrying about extra costs. In addition, the distance between certain stops could be REALLY FAR, like a 30 to 45 minute walk. :P

The buses are all numbered and there are about a hundred buses (I think) piling different routes. Depending on where you are and your final destination, you may need to make transfers. Hence the first thing to do upon your arrival in Kyoto is to grab the bus guide which will list down the routes and bus numbers, and even the bus stops of each route. The main bus terminal is at Kyoto JR Station, and you can choose to start your journey there if you prefer.

Like the trains, the buses run punctually like clock-work. I don't know how they do it, but at each bus stop, you will see the schedule of each bus on the information board to the MINUTE, and they will inevitably arrive at your bus stop at the stated time, not a minute early or late. (Like, why can't we do it in Singapore, hallo???) Their precision allows you to plan your time, so if you are at the bus stop too early, you can run to the nearest convenient store for a snack without worrying your bus will arrive earlier and zoom off before the scheduled time. How wonderful are the Japanese, you tell me!

All the buses are clean (as expected), with few seats which are invariably occupied by the old folks. One alights the bus by the rear and disembark at the front, where you either show your pass, or pay up your fare to the bus driver. For non-Japanese speakers worried about missing their stop, each bus has an automated broadcast system to announce each stop, and also a route display panel in the bus showing the stops. I also LOVE how environmentally conscious they are: the drivers will ALWAYS switch off the engines at traffic lights and bus stops, to avoid unnecessary gas emission. Are they great or what?!

The Kyoto buses are a good way to see the city. They may get confusing sometimes (especially when it comes to transfers) but they are reliable, affordable and fun. (And you get to improve your map reading skills after awhile.)

P.S. I sat back down on a real seat after the second paragraph.

Samurai T consulting the bus guide and the info board at a Kyoto Bus Station.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Flower Boys of Japan

Astonishing. Was it because my subject was on beautiful Japanese women that this site had the largest number of page views in a single day since its inception? I guess it attracted men to click on the link as well - hehe. So the old adage that "Sex Sells" still applies. After all, travel posts only attract serious travellers doing their research. Recently, Blogger included a new function that allows us to see very detailed traffic statistics to our websites. So now I know that I get visitors from countries like the US, Hong Kong, Japan and get this, Saudi Arabia. How cool is that?!

But I've got to be fair. Since I have done my part in raving about Japanese women, I must dedicate one post to the men as well. Despite my previous grouses about the lack of good looking men on the streets, we must not forget that Japan is the birthplace of the flower boys, a trend sparked off by the immensely popular shojo manga, Hana Yori Dango or Boys Over Flowers, which was later made into many live action dramas. Of course, the Japanese F4 were quickly trumped by their Taiwanese and Korean counterparts, who were, in all honesty, significantly hotter. But still, they were the trend-setters.

The Japanese F4

So what exactly are the traits of the "Flower Boy"? The following are my own opinions, so don't brick me if you disagree. 

1. Flower boys are generally metrosexual. Many look androgynous. More pretty than handsome.
2. Long wavy hair is almost always a must. Colour and highlights too. Hair that is often more beautiful than a lady's.
3. Often tall, lanky or skinny, and pale. Being tanned is not very in, as it destroys the skin texture. Kissable complexion.
4. Muscles are not necessary but will be good if the body is toned - but no bulk please!
5. Make-up is not evil - foundation is good, occasional eye liner is cool, some lip gloss or lip stick too (particularly for entertainers).
6. Die, die must be fashionable. Nothing is too loud. Can carry off leather pants or white pants and white shoes with panache.
7. Preferably rich - how else to sponsor such a major transformation?
8. And of course, oozing with x-factor and sex appeal. How else to attract girls (and sometimes guys??).

Note: There are of course a lot of half-past-six flower boys who fulfil only a smattering of the above criteria, and trust me, if you cannot carry the look, you will turn out DISGUSTING. But now let us look (and drool) at the successful flower boys.

Of course, the original flower boy I can think of is our beloved Takuya Kimura, who blossomed from a flower boy to a flower man.

Hallo Hottie! Delectable at all times

And then there is Hideaki Takizawa, who was at his hottest flower boy status at 17 in the show Majo No Jouken, but has since lost his glorious lustre with age. 

Such fresh meat then, but age is not so kind to him
(You can check out google if you want to see his recent pics)

Then we have Mokomichi Hayami - who is he, you ask?

THE ABSOLUTE BOYFRIEND
(Watch the show if you haven't already)

I am not too sure if he is considered a "flower boy", or maybe "flower uncle" is a better description, but what the hell I like him so I shall add him here as well, the wonderful, brilliant, and sexy Masaharu Fukuyama - Old but still hunky in every way.

And the obasan in me starts screaming......

The latest flower boy to emerge in recent years is Kazuya Kamenashi - who is the poster boy for the brooding, eye-liner-ed flower boy. Some say he is the new Takuya.

Ok, he is smiling here, but usually he's not. :D

I must reiterate again that I do not see successful flower boys floating around the streets of Japan. Rather, many "salarymen" uncle types and young punks trying to look hot but failed populated the places I went to.

On a separate note, my dear Samurai T is nothing like a "flower boy", which means that he also finds it difficult to buy clothes in Japan, where the fashion is funky to say the least. Of course there is also the question of size, since his shape is bulky, stocky (and sometimes fat - I think like a real Samurai from the old days) and un-flower boy-like. So the poor man is often relegated to haunting the aisles of Uniqlo, with its range of more sensible clothing.

And so ends my discussion on Japanese flower boys. Now time to get all my overworked hormones in check.