Monday, December 15, 2008

Star Wars, You're Dead To Me

I've never been a dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fanatic of the type that knows the canonical ins and outs of every spaceship, outpost planet and extended universe novel, but the original trilogy does hold a special place in my heart. My mind goes white and my eyes crust over just thinking about the countless times I watched it on our old wood-cased Zenith TV.

The prequels I blissfully ignored and the Cartoon Network Clone Wars shorts I couldn't care less about, but something recently here in Japan caught my interest--caught it and made me stare into the abyss that must be George Lucas's soul. It seems Sankyo, a maker or pachinko machines, has been licensed to make a Star Wars cabinet. The commercials are incessant on TV and the kids at school mimic it like parrots. The ad campaign (and maybe the machines itself) is dubbed "Fever Star Wars", and, as if to demonstrate the power of media on young minds, many of my students no longer associate the word "fever" with sickness or a feeling of ill health, instead they think of gambling and Star Wars.

Sure, you're thinking, George Lucas has pimped out his intellectual property to crap products in the past including, but not nearly limited to, breakfast cereals and underoos, but the thing about pachinko that only someone living in Japan can understand is that when something is made into a slot machine it's the true signal that it has become irrelevant. You know what pachinko machine also just came out? Ghost! Yes, that one, with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore! Freakin' Ghost!

So thank you, George Lucas, Sankyo, Japan and the magnificent media juggernaut for crushing that aspect of my youth like an Ewok under the foot of an AT-AT. Now I can purge that sector of my brain and put it to use in my never-ending quest to beat Maia at Puyo Puyo.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Penetrating Deep Underground (That's What She Said)

Wow, as weekends go it was a pretty diggity darn good one. A bit of culture, a bit of mother nature--perfect balance in both.

As per most Fridays, I pointed the car towards Kitakyushu and hit the gas to see Maia, holder of our tickets for the Saturday concert of Polysics in Fukuoka. Now, usually when we head down to Fukuoka--no matter what the weather gurus say about sun and clear skies--the heavens turn black as pitch and it pours a torrent down. We've dubbed it the Fukuoka Curse and it's a very scary and real thing (seriously, about 80% of the time we head there), but this day was flawless regardless of the seasonable cold.

Now, I've only seen two major-ish Japanese acts, counting this one, live in concert, but it's enough to convince me that this is a nation of musical entertainers that can put on a hell of a show. Lead singer and band founder Hiroyuki Hayashi is absolutely manic on stage to the point where his trademark orange jumpsuit was a shade darker from sweat by only the fourth song. And his energy is infectious, too, with a virtual mosh pit starting up towards the front row. This isn't even metal and that shit's starting up! No offense to Fumi and Masashi, the current bass player and drummer, respectively, but Hiroyuki and Kayo on synthesisers completely stole the show. Kayo especially, who Maia and I dubbed "Rock-bot" because of her deadpan "I'm an android" stage persona and wide range of audial input to the show (while mostly a keyboard jockey, she has a second mic for robot vocals, works SFX dials and busts out a recorder at times!) was a complete hoot to watch. While there are plenty of clips of them on YouTube my favorites are here and here. While the first clip features Kayo's polished robot look and vocals and the second shows her playing a recorder, both give you an idea how madcap singer/guitarist Hiroyuki is while doing his thing.

With our ears thouroughly blown to hell we capped off the evening with great Indian food and Puyo Puyo (a.k.a. Digital Crack) in Tenjin. Good god, I love this city.

I discovered the "flower" setting on my camera today. Auto mode's for chumps!

Exchanging the hustle and bustle of Fukuoka for the boondocks, the next day we drove the ol' Cartrain to the southern reaches of Kitakyushu City, almost to the border of neighboring Yukuhashi, to visit the karst plateau of Hirodai. There's any number of places in California Hirodai reminds me of, but the closest analog I can think of is the Sierra Gold Country foothills, particularly where there had been water blast mining in the 19th century. Rocks and boulders are strewn about like the gods have been playing marbles with them on the vast undulations of tall grass. There are few trees to speak of. There are three caves on the plateau and we'd planned on visiting all of them only to find two closed for...well, we don't know because there were no business hours or much indication as to why they were closed in the first place. We did find supposedly "The World's Biggest Tire" outside one of them. Go figure.

World's Biggest Tire my arse...that title goes to Allen Park, MI. according to the intertubes.

The third, however, was open and quite awesome. Senbutsu Dokutsu, or "1000 Buddha Cave" is nearly a kilometer long and with half that done ankle deep in, well, magical water. Here's the deal: I've had a lingering, rather deep cut in my right foot's big toe since as far back as Gion in August and nothing has really healed it up properly until now. Mind you I walk and bike and chase kids around school on occassion, so my active life could have something to do with it, but I've tried wrapping it in gauze and antibiotic yada yada and cleaning it really well and nothing has worked. Yesterday I was limping along in pain the same way I've been limping along on and off for weeks. As we hiked around Hirodai I limped. As we entered the cave I limped. When we entered the water I limped for a bit...then the pain was gone. I thought it was just the fridgid water numbing my toe, but no, it's been painless ever since! What's more, the cut is properly scabbing up and closing. I have no explaination for it other than magic cave water.

There were lights in the cave all the way to the last hundred meters or so when you turn a corner and bang, nothing. We only had our meager cell phone lights from that point on. A great time to be sure!

Oh, I almost forgot, before our foray underground we ate some proper American-style, artery-clogging, dense-as-plutonium cheesecake at a cafe named "Annies". It's country-western motif was complete with hound dogs, copious pics of John Wayne, leather chaps and vests for sale and, of course, two (count 'em, two!) Confederate flags flying out front. If they're going to be having cheesecake this good, hell, let the South rise again, baby!

Howdy and welcome to Annies! Collect cheesecake on the right and your grey woolen coat and musket on the left.

PS: I forgot to mention that before the Polysics concernt Maia and I went to the Fukuoka Prefectural Art Museum on the last day of their M.C. Escher exhibit. While I enjoy his optical illusion trickery and clever use of interconnecting shapes, what I felt was the highlight were the early sketches of his wife, (I think) mother, still lifes and landscapes. These were original pencil and charcoal sketches, not the lithographs and block prints he later did. All in all, a fascinating exhibit.