Worshipping idols

I walking through Akihabara (Electric Town) on a lovely Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and in between all the electronics shops was an open area where big crowds were gathered. And this is why they were there:

This, I believe, is my first idoru (Japanese idol) sighting. Legend has it that they are carefully groomed (or manufactured) from a young age to try to become mega-pop stars – which may or may not happen, of course. She wasn’t the only one on this day – there were about 4 or 5 dotted around the area, all belting their songs out. I get the impression that the performers here were trying to make their mark and start their careers.

And what sort of people would perhaps be interested in such a performance?

Yes, there’s a certain demographic slant there – I didn’t see too many women watching these shows. I think about 1 in 2 of the guys watching had a camera or digicam too, and were intensely taking snaps. There were also some photographers doing the rounds, loaded up with professional-looking gear and looking very serious about what they were doing.

But isn’t it kind of strange for me to talk about that when I, myself, was walking around with a decent enough camera? Well, I’m glad you asked, it’s a funny story actualloh my god what’s that amazing thing over there?!

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A gastronomic bouquet

My life goals rapidly dwindle. I am now a proud eater of tempura leaves:

I am relieved to say that the chef did not hold back on the leaf this time.

However, this was only to be topped by a lovely floral accompaniment:

I thought this was okay, but there was a little too much hibiscus and not enough frangipani for my taste, if you know what I mean.

The Shilling and The Yen

It would be somewhat gauche for a huge Hollywood star to be the public face of a big budget ad campaign about mobile phones in the US. Solution: be the public face of a big budget ad campaign about mobile phones in Japan.

Softbank are one of the largest mobile phone companies in Japan, and you can’t turn many corners without running into those dead, dead eyes on a billboard or on an electronics shop display stand.

She kind of looks like she’s been treated with Smilex, actually.

Of course, Cameron Diaz is only the latest in a very long line of American celebrities ready to convert their dignity into hard currency in Japan. Notable examples are Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis, and hugely popular still is Brad Pitt, whose mug is on many “glamour” items like designer jeans and Omega watches.

But don’t take my word for it – see it for yourself. I suggest – no, demand – that you start here. Then, given that he now runs the 5th largest economy in the world, sit back and have a long think about the world that we live in.

A festivus for the rest of us

Last weekend in Tokyo was the annual Kanda Matsuri (Japanese festival). It’s quite the occasion! Everyone turns up in their “team” colours carrying portable, ornate shrines known as mikoshi. Like this:

As it moves down the street, everyone chants and moves together in time to carry the mikoshi down the street. There’s a lot of energy and effort, and the atmosphere is electric.

Of course, such a spectacle makes it extremely popular:

The procession moves through Akihabara (geek heaven) until it arrives at its final destination shrine. When you arrive, there’s lots of food stalls, games and trinkets you can buy, as well as some excellent entertainment you can enjoy with the other 50 thousand people there. I didn’t count them all, but I may not be kidding.
Check out some more photos at the gallery or better yet, the swanky new slideshow viewer.

Update: I actually went to the Kanda Matsuri, not the Sanja Matsuri.

They play what now where?

Well, this weekend brought something not even remotely on the radar of my Japan “todo” list – a rugby union match! I had no idea, but it turns out it’s quite popular here in Japan. The match up was the Japanese “Cherry Blossoms” vs the “Classic” All Blacks:

I was pretty stoked to find out who was playing, since I had never seen the All Blacks play before. Actually, slight correction – I had never seen the Classic All Blacks play. And before I got all huffy about not getting the real deal, Jonah Lomu and Carlos Spencer were playing – the only two All Black players I actually know, so that actually worked out quite well.

The vibe of the game was very different – a lot more reserved than the Australian Rugby League and Union games I’ve been to. A lot less alcohol, a lot less shouting, no booing, and far more polite clapping. It was all very refreshing actually, and everyone seemed to be having a lovely afternoon with some perfect weather.

In line with most expectations, Japan got rolled, but I think they acquitted themselves quite well in spite of the 6-36 scoreline. And no-one went home empty handed, at least – I got lots of shots of the game which you can see at the gallery.

A bicycle built for me

So, I officially have wheels in Tokyo now! This is how I roll as of last weekend:

Selecting a bike to buy in Japan an easy decision to make. Every standard bicycle has exactly the same features – the only decisions you have to make are the colour and whether or not you want gears. There’s not even men’s and women’s models – there’s only one basic frame type.

The key word you’d use to describe most bikes here is “functional”: no frills, and everything you need to make it useful day-to-day comes with it.

Most usefully – a light, which makes a slightly eerie whirring noise when you turn it on:

I love this ingenious ring lock. Slide your key down the left hand side to open the lock, and it stays there when you’re riding. When you park your bike, slide the ring to lock the spokes, remove the key and you’re all set. Here, you can see it locked:

Also standard are a big front basket (not just for girls, really!) and a rear carrier, as well as a very sturdy “triangular” style stand. All that, and it only cost 8000 yen (AUD $80) to boot!

Actually, there was one small problem buying a bike. I almost felt obligated to buy this bike too:

The people’s transport, indeed.