I’ve been asked by someone in Japan to write something on Tokyo Story about yaeba in order to enlighten people outside of Japan. Indeed, I had no clue what it meant, but I’ve seen it first hand here on the streets and subways of Tokyo. Yaeba means ‘crooked teeth’, but usually refers to a movement in Japan, of guys who like yaeba girls. The classic yaeba crooked smile is supposedly a genetic trait of Okinawans mainly, and manifests itself as large, misshapen teeth or as a ‘double tooth’, where two canine teeth grow one in front of the other. Sometimes canine teeth are pushed forwards due to an overcrowded gum line and give the girl a feline look – which is supposedly where the attraction for yaeba fans comes from. It’s supposed to be charming or cute to certain Japanese guys. There are a good few celebrities with yaeba in Japan, but rather than have it fixed at a dentist, they keep it and show it off as an asset. People in the west think it’s strange, as it’s desirable to have perfect teeth there – but it’s different here. As usual.
Before I returned home to the UK for christmas, I went shopping in my neighbourhood of Kotobuki for Christmas presents. My neighbourhood is famous for, amongst other things, toy companies and toyshops. You can see the famous Bandai HQ from my balcony. As it was, most of the presents I bought turned out to be Japanese toys. The best thing I bought turned out to be a Kendama, which is a traditional Japanese ball and string game with a body of wood shaped like a hammer on which you can balance the ball on 3 points, as well as a spike on top, which you can also get the ball onto (if you’re extremely good). You start with the ball hanging on the length of string and then you jerk it up and catch it on one of the cups on the hammer. You can then flick it up again and rotate the hammer to switch to a different cup, then the spike and so on. You can make up your own combinations, and even balance the ball on other parts of the hammer, like the angle of the cross formed by the intersecting pieces of wood. Modern kendama experts have gone even further than this, and switch between holding the ball and catching the hammer to visa versa and so on – even doing tricks where you swing the ball and hammer simultaneously like nunchaku, then catch the ball or hammer in differnet ways. So now I’m in training to become a more competent Kendama slinger. Check out the pros on YouTube.
I picked up this useful issue of computer arts magazine before boarding my flight back to Tokyo. The insights into Japanese graphic design style are slightly rudimentary, but it’s got some good techniques and inspirational material inside. Also, Shane Lester from W+K Tokyo gets a mention as do several other foreigners working in the metropolis right now.
Big thanks to the team at Cerego for offering the services of their amazing social learning platform, iKnow. Everything is totally free, and the site blew me away! I’ve only tried one lesson, so I haven’t properly explored all the features of the site, but I have an account set up, and it’s monitoring my learning progress! The lesson I tried was delivered in the form of an interactive Flash movie. You can tell that a huge amount of work has gone into this project, especially the approach to teaching, which is designed by some boffins in-house.
Basically, if you’re learning Japanese, or some other foreign language I recommend it. It’s far-and-away the best thing available of its kind. Disclaimer: I don’t know what other languages are available at present. It does seem to be aimed mostly at people learning Japanese right now…
UPDATE: If you check my account, you will notice I took a lesson for dummies. For anyone thinking I should be a lot more accomplished at Japanese considering the amount of time I’ve been over here, I am. I was just testing it out. I’m super busy with an interactive project of my own right now, but will be doing a proper lesson on iKnow pretty soon. If you join, look me up!
If you are on facebook, allow me to direct you to the group Nobody Sleeps Like the Japanese Do. For foreigners in Tokyo, it’s common knowledge the Japanese people can and do sleep anywhere and everywhere. Here is photographic proof of just how awesome the Japanese ability to kip actually is. I was amazed when I first arrived here. I came to the conclusion that they don’t get enough sleep during the night due to work or staying up late after work, and so they supplement their sleep with power-naps throughout the day. It should be noted that in some cases, the people in these photos are just drunk.
This is a pretty funny clip via Japan Probe, that shows a section from the Japanese show TV Champion, where mascots from all over Japan take part in a battle for supremacy. In this round, they go head to head in a soccer match to the death.
There’s yet another Flash microsite for Uniqlo up on the .com site (where I believe all the Japanese content has now moved following their global expansion), and it’s amazing as always (from a production point-of-view). It’s called ‘Uniqlo Try’ and deals with their line of bra tops! I’m not entirely sure if I’m exploiting all of the sites features at the moment, as I just navigate through the different women trying to find any that are remotely attractive. They’re talking about how they feel about bra tops, how often they would wear one, etc. Interesting.
I made it down to Ginza Graphic Gallery on Saturday afternoon and it was a real treat. Although there were a few pieces that I felt didn’t warrant being there (specifically a few photographic ads for Shiseido and one for Jack Daniels which was just a photo of Mickey Rourke and little else), there was some really original stuff on display along with some stunning Japanese package design. On the way out I pondered buying a set of 3 prints by a Japanese designer I forget the name of now. They would have looked great on my wall, but since I move out in T-minus 3 days, I want to assess my new living space before I start decking it out (actually I’m staying somewhere on a temporary basis for a month before renting another apartment – pics will follow).
Also, I’m snowed at the moment, but I’ll soon be uploading some photos of the annual fireworks display in Asakusa from Saturday night which were awesome. I was dog-tired after Saturday though: tramping around Ginza, then doing the same in Asakusa. Strictly standing room only and no mistake.
Izakaya are a highlight of living in Japan. We went to one the other day and the food was nice, and not really that expensive. We had a boat-load of Sashimi to start with and beers, followed by Tempura. Then a woman came into the private room you get for your group, and showed us the freshest fish they had in stock. They were laid out on a tray made from woven straw and each fish had a small wooden sign with the name written on it. We couldn’t read the names so we just chose a good looking one and asked to have it poached in some sort of soup. You can ask to have it prepared in a few ways, like stir-fry or grilled. When it came it was the nicest fish I’d ever had but wasn’t big enough for everyone to share really. In Japan it’s customary to eat the soft part of the fish’s eye (avoiding eating the eyeball), so I did and it was horrible, but it’s supposed to be good for the brain so I washed it down with beer. We chased this with posh Sake which you drink from a glass placed in a small open top box (like a square cup), and the Sake is made to overflow the glass and run into the cup around it. This means that when you start to drink you have to leave the glass on the table and drink the first bit out from there. Then, after, you use the contents of the square box to top the glass up.
We also ordered Udon and squid ink risotto and maybe something else, I can’t remember. Came to about £70 for three people.
When it comes to Japanese fast food, there are so many restaurants you could mention, but the two that stand out as the most ubiquitous and the most iconic, are Matsuya and Yoshinoya. I go to both often, Matsuya more than Yoshi’s I would say, but only because Matsuya is closer to where I live. Both restaurants mainly serve Donburi (a bowl of rice with food on top), which often include thinly sliced pork or beef, wakame (seaweed), kim chee (korean spiced cabbage), and sometimes a (very) soft poached egg.
Personally, I love this kind of Donburi, and you can get one for between £2 – £3. Not only does this make it cheaper than a UK fast food restaurant (like McDonalds or Burger King), but also a million times healthier. You could probably eat this stuff for every meal, Supersize Me-style, and not suffer too badly from it, and have a good time doing it!
Writing this has got me in the mood for Donburi, so I’m going to finish up here and then go to the Naka-Okachimachi branch tout de suite!