Jake Adelstein's Blog

July 5, 2015

Wake up: Hamsters Aren’t Cute; They’re Homicidal Misandrist Cannibals


For some people in Japan, fondness for the rear ends of hamsters have been around for a while, but it was only until recently that the world discovered that there are Facebook pages, Twitter account, and even published photobooks of hamster asses that people go “ooh” and “aww” over. The trend, “hamuketsu,” is a mash-up of the words “hamster” and “ketsu,” which means “ass.”


These hamsters aren's so cute when they're eating their children or the female kills and devours her mate.

These hamsters aren’s so cute when they’re eating their children or the female kills and devours her mate.


Screenshot 2015-07-06 13.10.55


In the last few years, a succession of picture books dedicated to hamster ass have been published with titles such as Hamuketsu , Hamuketsu so Cute that you will Faint in Agony, and Original Hamuketsu . If you want to read more about—or view—some hamster ass, you can even purchase a book in English.


While some people in Japan want to lay their eyes on a piece of what they think is cute hamster ass, little do they know the origin  of these creatures. For Jewish biologist, Israel Aharoni, taking these creatures from the hills of Aleppo, Syria and bringing them back to laboratories was a difficult task in which he almost failed at. As soon as he placed them in a box to take them back to Jerusalem, the mother started to devour her children.


“I saw the [mother] hamster harden her heart and sever with ugly cruelty the head of the pup that approached her most closely,” Aharoni wrote in his memoirs.


He made it back to Israel with nine out of the eleven hamsters surviving. At the lab, five of the creatures chewed their way through the wooden cage and escaped, never to be found. Then there were four—until the large remaining male hamster devoured a female. Desperate to save the remaining three, Aharoni’s colleague, separated the hamsters temporarily. He then prepared a cage, and inside placed a female hamster and her brother. The brother then chased around his sister. Putting it nicely in Aharoni’s colleague’s words, God “nudged a single wheel of the uncountable wheels of nature—and a miracle happened.”


But really, what happened was that the brother raped his sister, and from that incestuous union spawned millions of hamsters that now populate cages around the world and pose for ass pictures.


You know what’s cute Prairie Voles. They’re loving monogamous rodents. As noted in the article,  What Rodents Tell Us About Why Humans Love. Check out this excerpt. Notice the casual reference to the vile hamster.


Astonished, he took his findings to Sue Carter, a colleague at the University of Illinois who was working on hamster endocrinology. Female hamsters routinely slaughter and eat their sexual partners. “That’s what I thought was normal,” Carter recalls. She was unprepared for the voles’ attachment to their partners, or what turned out to be long-lasting and passionate mating sessions (“We had to put them on time-lapse video. No one could sit there for 40 hours!”).







Next time, you’re fawning over a cute hamster butt, look closely and you may notice the blood stained hairs that are probably the trace evidence of their cannibalized lover or children after passing through their digestive system into a smelly pile of hamster shit.
Cute, my ass!
Screenshot 2015-07-06 13.10.55





 


 


 


 

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Published on July 05, 2015 21:13 • 2 views

July 4, 2015

The Japanese government is moving forward with plans to scrap humanities programs from public universities by withholding funds from “non-performing” universities and research centers engaged in activities that subversively undermine the profit-generating imperatives of a burgeoning, neoliberal fascist state.   Shusuke Murai of the Japan Times cites various government sources on this latest scheme to transform public institutions from centers of intellectual activity into taxpayer funded vocational training centers for corporate employers.

You don’t need advanced studies to decipher the latest Imperial proclamation being issued from Nagatacho.  In fact, it’s better to discourage genuine literacy altogether in order to prevent some uppity serf from reading into the implications of the Abe government’s latest assault on the democratic institutions that don’t advance the cause of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party or its feudal “reforms”.  This time,  America’s shadow puppet PM is warning national universities that they won’t receive crucial subsidies unless they scrap their unproductive, money-wasting humanities programs entirely.  If you want “to build a system to produce human resources that match the needs of society by grasping accurately changes in industrial structure and employment needs, you’re not going to accomplish any of the above with the current system that favors “theoretical” mumbo-jumbo above more “practical” concerns of industry.   Roughly translated: Less thinking in the brains and more elbow grease!  And off the record, of course: Chew on that, you bespectacled, pointy-headed sociology major!  Here’s a “three-pronged economic growth strategy” for your indolent, non-productive life – one for each orifice.

In other words, the nation’s “wealth creators” have figured out a cost-saving measure to fill entry level positions in their white collar sweatshops with a workforce already trained by the nation’s public universities, which, if Abe and Co. get their way will “conduct more practical vocational education that better anticipates the needs of society”.  Having already checked one item off their wish list of government acquiescence to their demands in the form of a recently passed labor bill in the Lower House that gives companies carte blanche to hire temporary workers without ever having to hire them full-time, corporate Japan now seeks further de-regulation of itself and harsher oversight for the public institutions that are “failing” to meet its needs.

And just what are those needs for a newly re-minted aggressor nation poised to reassert declining American power in the face of a Chinese “threat”?  According to the Finance Ministry, which studies this sort of thing, but without books, knowledge or insight, Japan has a severe shortage of venture capitalists and lawyers well-versed in intellectual copyrights.  Never mind its ancient traditions of skilled and disciplined artisans, its cutting edge innovations in engineering and electronics, or even its poised and sophisticated service industry workers, a dearth of “dynamic” developers and other bullshit-based, bottom feeders is what it takes to drive an economy forward and advance a nation’s interests. Never mind, either, that it’s the US’s interests we are advancing here.  Japan’s “nationalist” rulers believe in essence, that in order to rouse the nation out of its unpatriotic complacency, it first needs to rid itself of its pesky tendencies towards pacifism and perfection, and instead, harness its brain trust to ensure that American entertainment behemoths are not cheated out of royalties.

Why squander precious resources better used to enrich shareholders when you can get the taxpayer to foot the bill for training up “industrious” workers while they attend one of the 90 already partially privatized institutions of higher learning put on notice to divest themselves of the non-performing assets among their faculties, staff and student bodies?   After all, literature and philosophy and all that other mind-expanding, brow-furrowing rot isn’t going to produce a “shovel-ready” chain gang to dig the nation further into a ditch and install its vast network of brain drains.  Nor is it going to recall any historical antecedents of wartime hubris when its constitutionally unrestrained military forces venture into other US-occupied countries to counter China’s diplomacy-based inroads towards procuring the resources necessary for a super-power with a GDP that has quietly overtaken both Japan and the US.

Emperor-in-Chief Abe and his Ministry of Finance cohorts have, in effect, declared war on critical thinking to produce a malleable, non-questioning work force of vocational trainees who will submit to their neo-Imperial masters upon entering their places of employment in paper hats and construction helmets. They will compete with cheap foreign labor for part-time, temporary work and won’t shun uncompensated overtime or workplace harassment.  Ideally, they will perform unpaid internships until retirement, at which time they will join thousands of other feral senior citizens without full pensions for coveted spots to lay down a sheet of cardboard in the nation’s parks. The more affluent ones will venture boldly, pedigree in hand, into McStart-Up businesses where largely useless phone apps are developed by contract workers “skilled” in taking orders from some jargon-spewing MBA, who just happens to be the son of an Abe crony.

Meanwhile, Abe Inc. will get its monolithic fascist stadiums, and costly non-essential infrastructure built in time for the Olympics without the interference of business-hating, egg-headed aesthetes.  With more enhanced measures of stifling opposition to nuclear power and US bases in Okinawa, the government’s latest mandate to transform an already compliant citizenry into a “servant race” will prove in the end, a race to the bottom.

by Jennifer Matsui
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Published on July 04, 2015 23:14 • 2 views

June 30, 2015

“Damn those wily hateful Koreans for actually understanding their own language—and why are they watching our TV?!!”–


One would imagine those were the thoughts going through the minds of Fuji Television executives after getting caught ‘mishandling’ the subtitles in interviews done with Korean citizens that made it appear as if the individuals hated Japan.


.


On a June 5th broadcast, Fuji Television subtitled a Korean woman as saying, apartheid—as a model for Japanese immigration policy.

The hits keep on coming.


Note: We at Japan Subculture Research Center apologise in advance for any possible mistranslation of the Fuji apology over their mistranslations/editing mistakes. Our contributors include Koreans, Jews, Japanese, Half-Japanese, A Quarter Chinese, and Women. All the types of people that would normally be segregated in the ideal apartheid world tacitly sanctioned by the Fuji-Sankei group. With few ethnically pure Japanese on staff, we regret if our attempts to translate the apology into English fail to meet the high professional standards of Fuji Television. お詫びします。


 


 

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Published on June 30, 2015 13:18 • 5 views

June 27, 2015

Recently, the FCCJ has been a revolving door for leaders of the various governmental parties, all of whom want to explain their varying stances on the proposal for a new collective self defense policy. On Tuesday, the speaker was Japan Communist Party chairman Kazuo Shii, who in many ways expressed more pacifist sentiments than Natsuo Yamaguchi did for the New Komeito, which is supposed to be centered around pacifism and Buddhist teachings. Whereas Komeito and Abe might have given up on the democratic, capitalist nation Japan has been building towards since WWII, Shii pointed to the past to imply that Abe and the supporters need to acknowledge they lost the war and move on.


The war that Japan's leaders want to forget haunts the nation.

The war that Japan’s leaders want to forget haunts the nation.


“This is an administration that does not feel remorse about the war, and because of that it feels the need to destroy article nine and is intent on being able to deploy forces to anywhere in the world. This is a development that I think poses danger not only for Asia but the world.”


In particular, Shii took issue with Abe explaining their involvement with allies and their conflicts by fighting “from the back” as opposed to the front lines. Shii and many officials against the legislation think this is much too vague of an explanation, and that it could likely be a way for Abe to inch Japan closer to being able to declare war (even though Abe’s cabinet and political scholars cannot name any countries that could potentially threaten Japan).


Still, Shii acknowledged that the Communist Party is not totally in favor of eliminating the forces that do protect Japan:


“We would like to dissolve the US Japan security pact and change it to an amity alliance, however it is not our intention to dissolve our self defense forces after making this alliance.”


In his speech which was like a monologue, Shii referenced how Abe has admitted to not reading the Potsdam Declaration, and because of that claims he doesn’t truly understand why being remorseful for Japan’s “aggressive” stance during the war will help him give up with this proposed law to increase the country’s military capabilities. Following a meeting on Monday, the Diet extended the current session for 95 days, the longest in Japan’s history. While there may be a few arguments in Abe’s favor for the proposed law, Shii did a good job of explaining why Abe’s cabinet is most likely still upset about losing the war, and is essentially going down a bad road to engaging in unwise military decisions in an attempt to claim Japan’s superiority over the U.S. The JCP, along with several other groups opposing the law met recently and assured one another they would be firm on their stance that Abe’s proposed law is not the right direction to be taking.


“All the Abe administration talks about is military matters,” Shii said. “We got the sense that they have no Democratic vision at all. What is most dangerous is that the attitude they’re taking says if you have a military problem you solve it in a military way.”


The Potsdam Declaration were the terms of Japan’s surrender. They specifically state:





stern
 justice
 shall
 be
 meted
 out
 to
 all
 war
 criminals,
 including
 those
 who
 have
 visited
 cruelties
 upon
 our
 prisoners.
 The
 Japanese
 Government
 shall
 remove
 all
 obstacles
 to t
he
 revival
 and
 strengthening
 of
  democratic 
tendencies  
among
 the
 Japanese
 people.
 Freedom
 of
 speech,
 of
 religion,
 and
 of
 thought,
 as
 well
 as
 respect
 for
 the
 fundamental 
human
rights 
shall
 be 
established.


Japan agreed to those terms. The Abe government seems to find that highly disagreeable.

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Published on June 27, 2015 09:06 • 3 views

A few weeks ago, the hard-working staff of Japan Subculture Research Center (JSRC) had their first New Year’s Mixology (Cocktail) Party (新年会). One of the attendees, sometimes writer Mio Takeshita, introduced  us to an Australian classic cocktail: The Quick Fuck.


According to Ms. Takeshita, Wikipedia, and a drunk Australian pole-dancer, a Quick Fuck is a layered shot made from one part coffee liqueur such Kahlua or Tia Maria, one part cold Midori liqueur (melon liquor) and one part Baileys Irish Cream.


Ideally, “The Baileys is poured off the back of a bar spoon so it “floats” on top of the Kahlua in a shot glass. Then slowly layer the Midori on top of the Baileys. Note that Baileys does not have to be used; any type of Irish Cream will do.”


As you might guess, “The Quick Fuck” is a wonderful drink to order and know because it opens the door for a never ending series of lewd jokes. “Hey, baby, what are you having tonight? I feel like A Quick Fuck.” 


“Hey bartender, I’ll have a quick fuck.” etc. Please feel free to send in your own bad jokes with the cocktail.


The only problem we had in making the drinks is that the JSRC HQ liquor cabinet has no Midori liquer. As a graduate of a one day SF Mixology seminar (ahem), I can only say that Midori liquer is almost as much as an abomination as Peppermint Schnapps. I suppose it could be palatable.


But then I had an idea. Why not substitute Suntory’s delicious (sort) green tea liqueur Japone for the Midori? So we tried it. The slightly bittersweet Matcha (抹茶/thick green tea) taste went perfectly with the Kahlua and Bailey’s. After a long discussion of three minutes, we dubbed the new concoction: ザ抹茶ベターファック ( Matcha Betta Fakku) or in English: The Matcha Better Fuck.  


It should be served straight-up

Standard Shot Glass

Commonly used ingredients. (Preferably chill all the bottles in advance)

one part green tea liquor (preferably Suntory Japone)

one part Kahlua or any coffee liqueur

one part Baileys Irish Cream

Preparation is easy.


Pour Japone into a shot glass. Add the Kahlua. Add the Bailey’s. Stir it up with no finesse. Meditate on the beauty found in the transience of existence say “Banzai” and drink it down. Cheers!


 


 


 

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Published on June 27, 2015 01:49 • 2 views

June 22, 2015

Pole Dance Lessons Lu Nagata Sensei - 02

Out of the pages of a magazine, the Tanqueray woman herself, and founder of Pole Dance Tokyo, Lu Nagata,  was our pole dance teacher for a night.


Pole Dance Lessons Lu Nagata Sensei - 33 - Version 2


DSC03049 DSC03050 Pole Dancing in Tokyo sounds like another terrible sex-laden non-fiction narrative by a foreigner about living in Japan, but since 2007, it has gradually become one socially accepted and amazing way to stay in shape in this city.


Whenever that lewd friend of yours sees a freestanding pole in a restaurant or bar, they will most likely associate it with the shadier variety of pole dancing that’s more recognized by the public. However, in a similar way that e-sports are becoming more recognized as a legitimate athletic activity, pole dancing is quickly developing a more professional and respected aura around it as an art form.


Pole dancing originated not from the American burlesque bars where it got its sexual connotation, but from the Indian sport of mallakhamb, in which gymnasts stack on top of one another against a tall wooden pole while posing. In the 1920s, this sport was altered to be used in magic shows and soon became popular on cruises and in circus shows. After moving to bars and combining it with burlesque dance, a downward spiral began that essentially removed any artistic respect pole dancing once had.


But beginning in 2006, this all began to change as pole dancing started gaining popularity in dance studios. In 2008, Ania Przeplasko founded the International Pole Dance Championships which were held in Manila, but already two of these competitions have been held in Tokyo, now seen as the pole dancing mecca. Part of the reason why its become so popular here recently is due to dancer and teacher Lu Nagata, who founded the Pole Dance Tokyo studio in 2007. She and Anna Przeplasko are long-time friends who helped popularise pole-dancing as a sport, an art, and a fitness regime in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Asia. Lu also choreographed and wrote a dance retelling of the Japanese literary classic The Tale Of Genji (源氏物語).


Lu Nagata


Nagata, who recently obtained a masters degree in theatre from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, has quietly been attracting some of the country’s best pole dancers with her very professional studio. When the JSRC made a group visit for an introductory class taught by Nagata–sensei, there were several foreign champions there. Even male pole dancing competitions have become more common lately.


Still, it will likely be challenging to convince the public that pole dancing is cleaning up its act, so I’ll give a rundown of what my experience visiting Pole Dance Tokyo was like.


The first thing that might surprise you is that the studio located in Akasaka is a well-lit dance studio with about a dozen poles scattered throughout the room. There’s nothing sleazy or super sexy about it. It is stylish and clean. When we visited, Nagata was teaching a class of much more experienced pole dancers who were understandably surprised that a group of unfit reporters and their friends felt the desire to try pole dancing. Thanks to JSRC editor/founder Jake Adelstein who knows Nagata, we were able to set up a group lesson.


After stretching and some basic exercises in sensuality, Nagata took us through several moves such as spinning with legs around the pole, away from it, and holding ourselves up sideways with our arms (she claims you don’t need arm muscle strength but this one will most likely leave you sore). If you imagine having to swing your head toward the ground as your arms hold up your suspended body, that’s a bit what it was like. If you can execute the inverted pole stance (upside down), you’re in amazing shape. (Kids, don’t try this at home or on the local park swing set).


pole dancing2


Once we had these spin variations down (barely), and managing the challenges that come from the pole being too slippery, she had us put it all together for a choreographed routine. After putting on some quality Nicky Minaj music and switching on the multi-colored strobe lights, Nagata had the group go through several of the moves while also making sure to “maintain the sexiness” that is associated with pole dancing. Obviously, the more experienced dancers did much better than the others and especially one friend of a JSRC contributor who was reluctant to come. As pole dancing changes with the times, some twerking was also expected. Anaconda is the song most suited for doing it.


Sexy pose time but Jake isn't looking very sexy.

Strike a pose.


Sexy time pose. Jake is not being very sexy.

Sexy time pose. Jake is not being very sexy.


 


Was I embarrassed? A little bit, of course, but as an intern at Japan Subculture Research Center (JSRC), I didn’t have much of a choice.  I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Tokyo to try a visit for a lesson. Lu is often in London but all the teachers have a great reputation. In these lessons, it feels less like a dance class than it is an introduction to any quirky hobby like rock climbing or snowboarding (at least until the pop music and stage lights go on).


Funner than it looks.

Funner than it looks.


Jake Adelstein and Angela Kubo contributed to this article. Mostly by being really silly. 


 

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Published on June 22, 2015 11:25 • 6 views

June 19, 2015

Strange characters are not something new to Japan. Sanrio’s anthropomorphic egg, affectionately named “Gudetama” which literally translates to “Lazy Egg” in English is no exception. Gudetama’s cartoon is on in the mornings, and it only runs for about a minute and a half. Before the ending credits, the curtain closes on him and a group of kids say “itterasshai,” followed by a strange man in a full-body yellow suit dancing and wobbling around to the theme song. The character first appeared in 2013 and has been growing in popularity each years.


Gudetama also has many Japanese cultural references. He shows up in traditional Japanese dishes that contain egg. Examples include chuwanmushi, goya chanpuru, tamago-yaki, and and omu-rice. He shows his face when humans are about to eat him, similarly to the Mame-shiba character (a talking bean who has the face of a dog and tells the human a disturbing fact to make them lose their appetite and avoid getting eaten). The human is usually telling Gudetama “Gambatte” or “Do your best” and trying to motivate the lazy egg, who often responds with something like “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’m too tired.” Who would have thought that you could learn about Japanese culture from a complaining, complacent egg?


There is something surreal about Gudetama as well. No matter how many times he gets beaten, fried, poked, and eventually eaten, he reincarnates and returns to earth to spread his message of laziness, apathy, and occasionally having a good time. He’s the Buddha of eggs.


Due to the character’s popularity, a pop-up cafe has opened up in Solamachi, the shopping center under the Tokyo Sky Tree. It’s a very small space with bright yellow  walls decorated with Gudetama in his many different forms, doing what he does best: complaining.  The Gudetama Cafe features traditional Japanese egg dishes, takoyaki, musubi, and soda floats, all emblazoned with Gudetama’s distressed face on them.


float


I am quite adventurous when it comes to food, so I ordered the strangest item on the menu…the Gude-sen. The Gude-sen is a half boiled egg, bacon, cabbage, okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and aonori seaweed piled onto a giant senbei (rice cracker). There are instructions (complete with pictures) on how to eat the Gude-Sen.


I also ordered a coffee float, of course with gude-tama’s face on the ice cream.


The sandwich was big, messy and difficult to eat, due to the fact that it was sandwiched between two very thin rice crackers. As soon as i bit into it, the crackers broke into several pieces. Despite being extremely messy, it was delicious! It tasted like okonomiyaki (a Japanese pizza of sorts)! I want to say it tasted better than it looked, but actually it looked quite good. Gudetama’s face was made from an edible plastic-like film. I unknowingly removed it from my drink…but i realized halfway through eating my sandwich, that it was edible. At least, I hope it was edible.


egg 2


The coffee float was what I expected, but they added little mango pearls in the bottom. I noticed the pearls on the menu, but I thought they were meant for the fruit-flavored floats. I didn’t think they would add something mango-flavored to black coffee. Surprisingly, they didn’t affect the taste of the coffee at all, and they didn’t absorb the coffee flavor. I think the yellow mango pearls were supposed to look like little eggs or yolks.


The cafe is only open until the end of July, so go while you have a chance. You can pick up assorted Gudetama merchandise as well. And unlike the fictional character, the food you eat there won’t talk to you, so you can enjoy it to your heart’s content… unless you’re a vegan.


cafe front

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Published on June 19, 2015 00:37 • 7 views

June 18, 2015

Sure, Apple can claim they have the most popular and trendy smartphone, but do they sponsor festivals offering free food, ramune and games? (Editor’s note: Not yet). From June 16-20, the Android Company is holding a festival they’re calling “Matsuri with Android” at O-Yane Plaza in Roppongi Hills to endorse their various phones. Here are some of the main attractions at the festival:


Taico (太鼓) phone/drumming game

For anyone who’s played the taico arcade game that’s so hard to miss in Tokyo, you’ll enjoy this Android-ified version in which you take two Galaxy phones and bang on virtual drums as little symbols appear on a screen. What’s cool is every time you hit a beat correctly, a big wall of LED lights in front of you will glow in a rainbow-like explosion. Whoever hits the most correct notes and gets the high score will win a Nexus phone.


2015-06-17 16.34.10

Four contestants prepare to hit some virtual drums.


 


Virtual Android masks

Similar to those hip new Japanese photo booths that enlarge your eyes, the festival features a room that will have cameras scan your face and put a random android robot head on you. It’s pretty fun, but a little weird when you see random guys you don’t know trying to cram into the picture.


2015-06-17 16.41.49

A group watches their heads get Android-ed.


 


Food and drinks

If you download a specific Android app for your phone, you can go to several booths and get free cotton candy, yakitori and ramune (soda with a marble inside the top of the bottle that tastes like carbonated PEZ). Along with that is a café that sells custom green Android-themed lattes, fruit juice and cocktails (although the cocktail was pretty weak). It’s free and it’s fun. Imagine you’re at a matsuri (祭り)festival of future Japan and it’s quite fun. Even if you belong to the Cult of Mac.


2015-06-17 17.22.37

Try out a green late or cocktail at the Hills Cafe.


 

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Published on June 18, 2015 04:01 • 5 views

June 16, 2015

Japan has a knack for adapting foreign cultural genres. But once you get past the corny western-themed bars and pop boy bands, you’ll find that the country has taken once-respected American art forms such as jazz and animation and helped them regain their former glory. While some might argue that Japanese musicians can’t truly play jazz since they are so far removed from the African American community that developed the genre, they have—in similar fashion to Charlie Parker and Chick Corea—put their own spin on it through a Japanese lens. In the words of Miles Davis: “I don’t care if a dude is purple with green breath, as long as he can swing.”


In my freshman year at Oberlin College, I had to come up with a theme for my first radio show and decided without any prior knowledge to mix two of my biggest passions: jazz and anime. After finishing my semester DJing “Pacific Bebop” (a title that combines the robot-flick Pacific Rim and Cowboy Bebop,) I realized I had uncovered a number of hidden gems in this tiny category of anime shows with sophisticated jazz soundtracks. Here are a couple of the anime soundtracks that took center stage on “Pacific Bebop.”


Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon)

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 1.06.58 AM


 


 


 


 


 


 


For those who enjoy angsty drama-filled anime but also want to learn a bit about jazz, this is the show for you. Whereas Cowboy Bebop features the freeform, Afro-Bop side of jazz anime, “Kids on the Slope” is a much quieter show that focuses on fleshing out its main characters and ties in nicely with its jazz standard soundtrack.


Taking place in the 1960s in Kyushu, we are introduced to Kaoru, a timid high school student who becomes friends with a half-American bad-boy/drummer named Sentaro. After Sentaro takes Kaoru to the local jazz record store he hangs out in, the two begin bonding over their mutual love of music and soon form a jazz trio with the record shop owner on bass, Kaoru on piano and Sentaro on drums.


Produced by anime director and jazz-lover Shinichiro Watanabe, “Kids on the Slope” features live recordings by young Japanese stars Shun Ishiwaka (drums) and Takashi Matsunaga (piano). Not only is the music good, Watanabe insisted that the animators painstakingly animate each musician’s hand and arm motions so each key press or drum hit you see perfectly mimics the real thing. Some of the highlights from the show include a heart-melting rendition of “My Favorite Things” by the lone female character and a battle of the bands that symbolically pits the jazz duo’s unrecognized talents against a rock band (rock being the genre that essentially killed jazz’s status as a popular genre).


From a musical perspective, “Kids on the Slope” focuses mostly on standards and the hard bop subgenre that developed in the 1950s-60s. During this time, American jazz musicians had to tour the world due to the Beatles’ newfound popularity and added aspects of R&B and gospel into their songs. This meant places like Switzerland, France and Japan were exposed to jazz greats like John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Charles Mingus. The cover versions in the show do a great job at both honoring these past legends while also putting a new spin on each song.


Check out this culminating moment of the show when Kaoru and Sentaro perform a medley of three standards:




 


Cowboy Bebop

While “Kids on the Slope” represents the quieter, cafe appropriate side of the genre, “Cowboy Bebop” showcases the rambunctious and party-like aspects of jazz. Instead of handpicking musicians, composer Yoko Kanno brought in her big band Seatbelts to record the new music for the show. Just from listening to the intro song “Tank!” listeners are given a taste of what this sci-fi/western/jazz anime is all about.



Somewhat a Japanese version of Dirty Harry, “Bebop” focuses on the space bounty hunter Spike and his friends as they chase down the galaxy’s most notorious villains. Each fight scene is accompanied with either a modern or funky jazz tune, ranging from the more laid back “See You Space Cowboy” to speedy bop tunes such as “Rush.” While nowhere nearly realistic as “Kids on the Slope”, “Bebop” is excellent in that it translates jazz into this cool futuristic world. For me, the best thing about jazz is that when you’re listening to a legend like Cannonball Adderley, all you can think about is how cool he is and how badly you want to be like him. In “Bebop,” Kanno’s music really helps sell Spike as the badass cowboy we all want to be; especially when he’s flying through space and an echoing ballad accompanies his travels. Yoko Kanno also has done the music for the much loved sci-fi police series The Ghost In The Shell which inspired The Matrix. 


One thing in common with both of these shows is that Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno have both worked on them. Yoko Kanno composed and arranged the music for both shows, while Watanabe is the mastermind director who seems to always take on jazz-influenced anime. In Baltimore’s anime convention Otakon a couple years ago, I got the chance to interview Mr. Watanabe and ask him a bit about his interest in jazz.


“I don’t remember exactly how I met jazz, but I remember I walked into a record shop and I was listening to ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis,” he said. “It really inspired me, it really hit me, and I fell in love right then and I left the store with the record.”


Whereas American jazz musicians are always harping about returning to the roots of jazz in the form of blues and gospel, Japanese musicians seem more interested in paying reverence to the “cool” image created by guys like Miles Davis.  In both “Bebop” and “Kids on the Slope” there’s a visualization of the coolness of jazz that is rarely seen. Even though there are just a handful of anime jazz shows(including others such as Lupin III), I recommend everyone check these two out if you’re a jazz fan having difficulty getting into anime (or vice versa).


Here are a couple more jazz anime tunes you may enjoy:


Yuji Ohno- Love Theme, Lupin III



John Coltrane- My Favorite Things, Kids on the Slope



Seatbelts- Rush, Cowboy Bebop



 


 

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Published on June 16, 2015 21:53 • 7 views

June 11, 2015

From countless tsunami-related disasters to lopsided naval losses, the Ocean has been the setting for many of Japan’s darkest moments. It’s even been unkind to those who visit it with the best intentions.


Recently, Turkish world-record holding diver Sahika Ercumen has been visiting Japan to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the sinking of the Turkish frigate Ertugrul, which crashed off the coast of Kushimoto in 1890. After Ercumen and her team sailed out to the original crash site, they then dove to the bottom to examine the remains and leave a plaque stating Japan and Turkey’s joint sympathy for the 533 sailors who died during the crash.


Treating the event as a display of Japanese-Turkish camaraderie, many living in Kushimoto lined the streets waving Turkish flags to welcome Ercumen. Even princess Akiko of Mikasa attended the event.


After struggling to dive in the crash area’s rough conditions, Ercumen noted that braving the waves gave her a better sense of what the being on the sinking Ertugrul must have been like.


“We looked to the sea and we started understanding what they went through 125 years ago because the waves were so strong and I could barely fight against the current,” Ercumen said.


It certainly is saying something coming from Ercumen, who holds multiple world records in free diving amongst both men and women. In 2011, she made it into The Guiness Book of World Records for swimming underneath a sheet of ice for 110 meters while holding her breath.


At her presentation at the FCCJ on Tuesday, Ercumen lauded the Japanese people’s friendliness and the contributions Japan’s mostly female Ama divers have made to free diving.


“I’m impressed about traditional Japanese Ama divers, because that was really the start of free diving,” Ercumen said. “Japanese women divers have been diving for pearls and seaweed for 2,000 years in your tradition, so we would love to make some documentaries with them.”


Along with her love of diving and desire to commemorate the Turkish lives lost here, Ercumen is also visiting Japan to express her hope of protecting the ocean and its sea life. In Japan, a country where documentaries such as The Cove have been made to show how extreme some of the its fishing traditions can be, one would think she would come bearing a message of forewarning about the dangers of overfishing, right?


“Well this is an eco system,” Ercumen said. “I eat fish, I eat my friends. But, I mean, they eat plankton, so it’s part of the system … I’m most focused on protecting their playground. If we pollute the water, that’s a bigger issue to me than just eating one fish.”


Not only a world-class diver, Ercumen graduated as a certified Nutritionist from Baskent University and believes that the health benefits of eating fish must be considered when protecting the environment.


“I’m a nuitrition specialist, so maybe if I were just a free diver I would say something else,” Ercumen said. “There’s a protein found in fish called Omega 3, and people really need these things.”


Ercumen is visiting Japan for her first time, and says that after diving in Okinawa she would love to explore more of it, especially since Turkey lacks the diverse sea life of Japan.


“I’d love to dive with whales and sea mammals. We don’t have them in Turkey too much, so we never met with them. But in Japan my friends told me when they are diving they can hear the sounds of the whales.”


This more peaceful side of the ocean is something Japanese people are much less accustomed to. If people like Ercumen can promote competitive free diving amongst Japanese youth, maybe Japan can one day shake its image of being an insensitive slaughterer of sea mammals.


 

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Published on June 11, 2015 03:40 • 6 views