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.