Thursday, January 31, 2008

My new gig in Osaka

My whole life I've wanted to emigrate to the States, then why did I go to Japan instead? That's right, because of my Japanese boyfriend and for some weird reason I wanted to be closer to him. Unfortunately, the schools in the Osaka area were all fully supplied with foreign teachers by the time they hired me. I wasn’t patient enough to wait for one to open up, so I opted for the next best thing: a job in the Nagoya area.
So far the job has been good, I’ve met some great friends in this area and I’ve basically been enjoying myself here for 8 months. I do get to see my boyfriend on a much more frequent basis now, but it’s still not quite what I had in mind. Usually we see each other twice a month and some months we even manage to see each other just once or even less! Basically we’ve still got the long-distance-thing going on, but it's still a huge improvement from what it used to be.
So when they offered to renew my contract for another year, I told them that I’d rather transfer to the Osaka region. Transferring wasn’t as easy as it sounds, it was even a little risky. My current school is associated with the 'Central Japan Head Office' and the schools in the Osaka region fall under the 'Kansai Head Office', and apparently they are separate companies. In order to avoid a breach of contract here in Central, I had to reject my renewal before I could even apply for a new job in Kansai. Hence, if Kansai wasn’t going to hire me, I’d end up jobless and on a plane back to Europe.
But the 3-hour-interview in Osaka went very well, I even had a lot of fun doing a full 50-minute-lesson demonstration at the interview, and a week later they called to tell me they’d be happy to have me join the Kansai team. They didn’t have any job openings yet (why is the Kansai region so damn popular?), but I told them that this time I would be very patient, even if it meant being jobless for a period of time in between Inuyama and the new school. This was all in the beginning of December.
Today, they got back to me! And they found me a school! The new school is in Senri Chuo station (which also houses a Starbucks, thank you very much!) and it is a 20-minute-subway-ride away from Umeda, the heart of Osaka. On the subway map below, Umeda can be found in the big yellow circle, follow the red Midosuji line up to the pink circle to see that this line eventually leads to Senri Chuo.
The teacher whom I’m going to replace lives in Tsukamoto (green circle), and therefore it will most likely be my new place of residence too. So to get to work I’ll have to take the JR (Japanese Rail) and transfer to the Midosuji subway line at Umeda or Shin-Osaka, every day. Now, traveling to work means a 2-minute-bike-ride, but at Senri Chuo I’ll have to face a 33-minute-commute (oneway) everyday. But, who cares because if you’ll look closely at the blue circle on the map, you’ll see that Amagasaki is only two stops away (in other words: just 5 minutes) on the JR from Tsukamoto! And who lives in Amagasaki? That’s right my dear boyfriend Yasu! So, I’m pretty stoked about my new position in Kansai! They want me to consider the job for about a week before I say yes, but I’d be immensely stupid to say no to this!
My last day in Inuyama is May 24th, and training in Osaka starts on June 7th. So there’s just a period of two weeks where I’ll be jobless and homeless. Initially, I thought that period was going to last longer, so I was planning to go home and do some jumping around at Bon Jovi concerts in Amsterdam and London, but I guess that’s not going to happen because by then I’ll have started my new job already. But I’m still planning on spending my in-between-time at home (I just can’t stop flying back to Europe whenever I have some vacation days), and hey I might just be able to squeeze in one tiny concert in Frankfurt, Germany ;).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bon Jovi karaoke

Kumiko was sitting (or rather dancing) two seats to the left from me during the Bon Jovi concert in Nagoya, and after the concert I found out that she lives in Inuyama too, about two blocks from my apartment. We went back to Inuyama together had some dinner at Shirokiya and decided we should do some Bon Jovi karaoke soon. And today, we did!

Last week I’d gone to some karaoke place in Komaki with Maiko, which was really good, but Kumiko knew a better one around the corner: Shidax. And it was totally awesome! First of all it was really cheap, we karaoke-ed for about 5 hours with unlimited drinks and it only costs us ¥1,700 each! And their karaoke machines were the best I’ve encountered thus far, with English options, colorful displays and loads of Bon Jovi songs.

Our mission for the day: sing all the Bon Jovi songs in the machine. There were more than 60 different Bon Jovi songs in that machine (they also had another brand machine in other rooms with more than 120 Bon Jovi songs, but that’s for another time), and we sang all of them. In the beginning we picked some of our favorites, but soon we actually started singing them A to Z. But in the end, we were running out of time, so in the last hour we could only sing one chorus and one verse of each ‘leftover’ song. Which means we’ll have to go back to do it right. And we’re going back, next month. Only this time we’ll arrive at 11:00 (when Shidax opens) and we’ll have 9 hours (the ¥1,700 deal ends at 20:00) to try and sing all Bon Jovi songs in that machine properly.

When you’re reading this you’ll probably think that we are crazy and when you see the list of songs we sang below, it will just confirm that thought… Well, maybe we are! All, I can tell you that karaoke is beyond awesome and enormously addicting! I had so much fun and it provided me with so much euphoric energy, that I can’t wait to return to Shidax and start our Bon Jovi karaoke marathon! And I hope some day there will be a machine that’ll literally have all Bon Jovi songs in there, but then we might have to camp out in a karaoke room, because that might take a couple of days. And of course we stopped at a Purikura booth before we headed home ;).


THE LIST
  1. Complicated
  2. You Give Love A Bad Name
  3. Have A Nice Day
  4. Livin’ On A Prayer
  5. I Am
  6. Undivided
  7. We’ve Got It Goin’ On
  8. Damned
  9. If That’s What It Takes
  10. The Distance
  11. All I Want Is Everything
  12. Always
  13. Bad Medicine
  14. Bed Of Roses
  15. Bells Of Freedom
  16. Bitter Wine
  17. Blaze Of Glory
  18. Born To Be My Baby
  19. Bounce
  20. Diamond Ring
  21. Dirty Little Secret
  22. Everyday
  23. Hearts Breaking Even
  24. Hey God
  25. I’d Die For You
  26. I’ll Be There For You
  27. Sleep When I’m Dead
  28. In And Out Of Love
  29. In These Arms
  30. (It’s Hard) Letting You Go
  31. It’s My Life
  32. I Want To Be Loved
  33. Just Older
  34. Keep The Faith
  35. Last Cigarette
  36. Last Man Standing
  37. Lay Your Hands On Me
  38. Lie To Me
  39. Living In Sin
  40. Lost Highway
  41. Miracle
  42. My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms
  43. Never Say Goodbye
  44. Next 100 Years
  45. Novocaine
  46. One Wild Night
  47. Real Life
  48. Runaway
  49. She Don’t Know Me
  50. Someday I’ll Be Saturdaynight
  51. Something For The Pain
  52. Something To Believe In
  53. Story Of My Life
  54. Thank You For Loving Me
  55. These Days
  56. These Open Arms
  57. This Ain’t A Love Song
  58. Tokyo Road
  59. Unbreakable
  60. Wanted Dead Or Alive
  61. We’ve Got It Goin’ On (one more time)
  62. Who Says You Can’t Go Home
  63. Wild In The Streets
  64. Want To Make A Memory
  65. You Give Love A Bad Name (one more time)
  66. Complicated (one more time)

More pictures

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Entertaining myself Japanese-style

Last week Sunday, it was time to catch up with Maiko, which I hadn’t seen for quite a while with my traveling home and my jumping up and down in Nagoya & Tokyo Dome. She picked me up in her mother’s bright blue car and kept warning me that she’s a dangerous driver, and that she sometimes had to verify with her friends which pedal was gas and which one was brake. Well, I’m still alive and I didn’t have too many heart attacks that day while occupying the passenger seat, so I guess her driving was good enough. Well, convincing enough for a Japanese examiner to grant her the right to drive, so who am I to judge her? Besides I was just happy to be driving around instead of taking the Meitetsu again. I think she scared herself more than she scared me.

Watch out everybody, Maiko behind the wheel!

We stopped by her house, which neighbors Inuyama castle and she gave me the grand tour through her parent’s four storey house. Her bedroom was bigger than my entire apartment… just a little bit jealous here (or maybe a whole lot). After the tour her wonderfully crazy mother decided to feed us. I was still full from breakfast an hour earlier, but the omerice she prepared for us looked so cute and lovely that I decided to be polite and eat it all, except for the soup of course (I detest all kinds of soup, especially miso-soup). I met both Maiko’s parents (I forgot to eternalize her father with my camera) and they are both crazy, like Maiko and myself! I felt right at home!

Maiko's mommy and her omerice, notice the heart of ketchup

After that we headed for some place entertainment place in Komaki, called Korona World. They basically had every kind of Japanese entertainment, an internet cafĂ©, pachinko, a movie theater, a casino, a spa, karaoke, restaurants, coin games of all sorts, and of course purikura. We got us some coins and started entertaining ourselves with computer games, we especially enjoyed racing in the life-size cars, maybe because now we could be dangerous as hell and drive right into walls without physically hurting ourselves? And playing enlarged Mario Kart even made me want to buy a Nintendo, even though I’ve never really been a big fan of computer games (except for Tetris of course, which I totally adore).

I felt like a regular Shaka Zulu while hitting these drums

During one of her ‘dangerous’ drives

Purikura fun at the touchscreen booth

Pachinko is immensely popular in Japan, people empty their wallets into those machines and they get to adjust some knob a little in order to increase the chances of their metal balls landing in some ‘tulip with holes’ (as one of my students described it to me). Once balls end up in the tulips the number gets multiplied by 4 or something and they all start bouncing out of the machine. Many people have stacks of baskets full with those metal balls, and I was told that they get to sell them back to the Pachinko parlor for about half of what they paid for it, pretty pricey exchange rate if you ask me. Apparently it’s very hard to make any kind of profit, and if you do you’re looking at a profit of about ¥3,000, which is about 30 bucks. It’s easier to get rich from the slot machines, or rather it is easier to get poor from the jackpot-less (except when the machine has a built-in slot machine) game that is Pachinko. And nobody in there seems to enjoy themselves, I mean it does seem to be a pretty boring game, but luckily the video screen in the middle will keep the gamblers entertained while the machine eats their metal balls. The parlor wasn’t a pleasant place to hang out though, not just because of the low-hanging haze of cigarette smoke, but mostly because of the noise that was so loud that after just 5 minutes of being in there my ears already started to ring. Apparently, the gamblers solve this problem by putting a metal Pachinko ball in each ear…

Pretending to be a die-hard Pachinko addict

Another place where one can go deaf is a karaoke room, especially when I’m singing! This karaoke place actually the real Bon Jovi on the screen singing the same songs as the amateur singer. Normally they play some irrelevant Japanese movie in the background, so I’m always totally focused on the words, but when Bon Jovi unexpectantly appeared on the screen they got all of my attention! Can’t wait to go to karaoke again, especially at this place.

Singing with Jon

Late at night, Maiko and I drove back to Inuyama to pick up Yasu, whom I hadn’t seen since our vacation in the Netherlands so that was a happy reunion. The next day we decided to go on a long bike ride through Inuyama and more. It is fun to discover other parts of Inuyama, besides the way from my apartment to AEON. Yasu’s bike was quite crappy and the air was escaping rapidly from his front tire, so we didn’t really have time to stop at places to take pictures, which is a shame because especially the Kiso river looked impressive. We ended up in Fuso at a big shopping mall named Aeon (totally unrelated to my AEON) and discovered Eiden, a big electronics store where you can try out all the cool stuff. Like horseback riding machines for exercise and massage chairs for relaxation. After an hour in the very enjoyable chairs Yasu told me that the sign said you’re only allowed to stay in the massage area for a maximum of 15 minutes. But hey I’m just a stupid foreigner and don’t read Japanese, and the other chairs were all occupied by Japanese people who, I guess, couldn’t read Japanese either.

Yasu riding a mechanical and partly invisible horse

The two massage chairs I tried, if I were rich and my apartment wasn't the size of a shoebox, I'd buy the black one

The rest of the day we spent lounging in coffee shops, at first in German-looking Komeda’s in Inuyama, which was nice but didn’t have a huge variety in coffee like our all-time favorite: Starbucks. But surprise surprise when we entered the Aeon mall in Fuso, we were greeted by a bright white and green mermaid sign! Needless to say, I was very excited to discover a Starbucks within bikeable reach.

The German looking exterior of Komeda's

But I’m not sure I’ll go there again, because it gets dark really early here, and the ride back was extremely dark and scary (traffic-wise, as in is the driver of that car going to see me or drive over me). We were lucky that the moon was full that night, but that light made it all seem unreal like a video game. Which made me feel all powerful like the day before at Mario Kart, but I quickly reminded myself that riding in the dark without out light with crappy bicycles on a narrow sandy path, with on one side the cars driving by like maniacs (blinding us with their lights) and the edge of a rather high and steep hill on the other side. We survived, but the front tire on the bike Yasu was using didn’t, it died completely before we got back to Inuyama station. So we left the bike in the bike shed behind AEON, where we got it from in the morning, in the same condition as we found it in, before Yasu pumped fresh air into that tire. So I guess our biking adventures are over, we’ll have to do it by foot next time, unless Yasu really doesn’t mind running while I bike ;)!

More pictures

Purikura

Japan is vending-machine heaven, you can buy a huge variety of products from vending machines, and you can find the machines everywhere (within a hundred meters from my apartment there are at least 9). My favorite vending machine is the coin-operated photo sticker booth called ‘Purikura’, which is a shortened form of ‘purinto kurabu’, the Japanese pronunciation of Print Club.

The Purikura is a machine that lets you design and print out stickers with photos of your face on them. The concept was invented in 1994-1995 by 30-year-old woman, who thought about how neat it would be to have a small photo sticker with your picture on it. Back then you could just choose a background, have one picture taken and get a sheet with 16 of the same stickers. But of course it was still wildly popular with young people, especially among junior-high-school and high-school girls. I read that nowadays school girls may spend up to 2,000 yen per day for these stickers.

Ten years later, when I first visited Japan, I was introduced to a much more advanced version of the original machine. The booth was huge, like a tiny house, so even a whole group of people can enter it to get their picture taken together. The Purikura let us pose for perhaps even up to ten exposures, and we could manually change the background by pulling on the curtains behind us. Once the pictures had been taken we could select the pictures that we wished to keep and customize them using a touch screen. The screen displayed a vast array of options such as virtual stamps, borders, and pens that could be superimposed on the photographs. The time to play around with all these options was kind of limited though, but it was fun. After all that we could chose the number and size of the pictures to be printed, and the pictures were printed out on a glossy full-color 4 X 6 inch sheet to be cut up and divided among us. And the machine sent our favorite picture to Yasu’s keitai.

Last weekend, more than 3 years after my first Purikura experience, I did it again, twice! On Sunday with Maiko in Komaki and on Monday with Yasu in Fuso. And in the last 3 years they’ve become even more advanced. Some common options now include the ability to alter lighting and back drops digitally (and I read that the newest versions offer features such as fans and blue screen effects) and the virtual stamps, borders, and superimposing pens were complemented with pictures, clip art, colorful backdrops, and much more. And by now the amount and the size of the pictures sent to your keitai has increased, as you can see!

Maiko being a girl was very experienced with this kind of thing and we had no problems, but when I tried it with Yasu things were a little bit too fast for us. By the time Yasu had translated what the machine told us to choose from, the machine’s patience was up and it did the choosing for us! So we ended up with a picture where I had my eyes closed (besides the one with us kissing), oh well. But my inexperience just presents me with an excuse to practice, because it’s just great Japanese entertainment!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Supersonic sightseeing in Tokyo

We arrived in Tokyo on Sunday and we were leaving on Tuesday morning. We’d planned to do some sightseeing during the day and attend the Bon Jovi shows at night. But once we got to Tokyo we found out that the concerts started at the insanely early time of 17:00! And I had to pickup my fanclub tickets a couple of hours before the show, which meant I had to be back at the Tokyo Dome around 14:00 on both days. Well, seeing as we arrived after 12:00 on Sunday there wasn’t much time for us to go roam about an unknown cosmopolitan, so we decided to chill in the Tokyo Dome vicinity. After the concert, it was simply too cold to voluntarily be outside so we hung out in the hotel bar instead. But we didn’t come all the way to Tokyo to not see anything in this huge city, so we decided to get up (uncharacteristically) early on Monday and play tourist for a couple of hours in Tokyo.
First of all, I really wanted to see the huge crossing they show at the end of the movie ‘Lost in Translation’. I thought that crossing was somewhere in Shibuya, but I couldn’t find it in my travel guide, but it did say something about Tokyo’s busiest crossing being in Ginza, and that description really fit the crossing in the movie. So out first stop was the yon-chome crossing, which is Ginza’s main intersection. When we arrived there, it seemed eerily deserted, especially when your travel guide tells you it’s one of the world’s busiest crossings. It was so empty that we were wondering if we were in the right place, but then we turned around and we were facing the San’ai building. So yeah, we were on that 'busy' crossing alright. Some friendly guy handing out free maps of the area told us that it was so empty because it was early and a national holiday (coming-of-age-day), which is why there were hardly any people about, yet. Well, it was for the better because I never really enjoy being stuck in a Japanese crowd.

The glass building named San'ai

Lou and Kirstin on Ginza's 4-chome crossing

Even when I imagined a couple of thousand extra Japanese people on the street this somehow this didn’t seem to be the place where Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray said goodbye to each other. And it turns out it wasn’t, because a little research on the almighty internet told me that it was actually the Shibuya scramble crossing, where they filmed the last scene. Shibuya is where we just got off the train to take a picture in the station and then immediately got on the next train again. You really have to prioritize when you have limited time, and my travel guide told us that Shibuya didn’t have anything to offer that we might find interesting.

Well, we were wrong! Not only is the crossing there, which according to Wikipedia is the busiest in the world, hence busier than the one in Ginza, hmm maybe I should ditch my travel guide? It is also the location of the busiest Starbucks of the world (It would have been fun to drink a Caramel Macchiato there, probably after having stood in line for at least an hour, in true Japanese-style. But hey, we got to sip some coffee at the very first Starbucks in Japan ever in Ginza, so that rocked too! And the line was very minimal there, I mean with the neighborhood being nearly deserted and all.

First ever Starbucks in Japan

But when one departs on a supersonic sightseeing tour through Tokyo one has to accept not to be able to see everything, so we settled for just a little of everything, like Shibuya train station! And we still saw plenty of interesting stuff in quiet Ginza on Monday morning. Like a girl all dressed up in a traditional old-style Japanese kimono having a chat on her contemporary high-tech Japanese keitai (cell phone), an interesting mix of typically Japanese things. Later that day we saw hundreds of girls like her sporting kimonos and keitais at the same time (it had something to do with the holiday), but this is the only picture I have:

Also Japanese dogs are very special, especially this weird specimen we saw crossing the yon-chome crossing in Ginza with his owner. When he walked he looked like a hunched-over Yeti or something and Kristin thought the dog was so freaky that she couldn’t sleep at night, because images of the dog kept flashing in front of her eyes. I didn’t think it was as much scary as it was fascinating, so I wanted to take some pictures of it. But how do you take pictures without the owner feeling weird about it? You just loudly exclaim ‘kawai’ (cute) and point at the dog before you raise your camera, so that the owner feels flattered and even makes his dog pose for the picture. Mission accomplished:

Another place in Tokyo which was just briefly visited by us was the Akihabara Electronics District. It sounded interesting in the travel guide, where it was described as a place where you can buy anything electric from Christmas tree lights to the latest chip, and it certainly looked like that was very true, but once you get there and you’ve seen the 30 shops in the first street you’re kind of over it already, and we didn’t feel compelled to turn the corner at the end of the street, and instead we turned back and caught the next train out of Akihabara.

One of too many electronic stores in Akihabara

Next was Tokyo Tower. With our hopping on and off train after train while traveling up and down Tokyo, we found ourselves very happy with our earlier purchased day pass for the JR trains. When we got to the station nearest to Tokyo Tower, we found out that the walk there was about 20 minutes, so we decided not to go up Tokyo Tower to enjoy the view. Not that we were in a lazy mood or anything, but going there and back to the station would at least take 40 minutes and going up the observation deck and checking out the view would at least be another 20 minutes, and we just didn’t have an hour to spare for just one sight. We still wanted to see a lot more of Tokyo and we had just about 2 hours left to do it in, so we just took a quick walk into the Tower’s direction, took some pictures and headed back for the next train.

In Japan you can find massageplaces everywhere! But this one looked especially interesting! I wonder if it hurts as much as the neck-shoulder-back massage I got at the hotel later that night.

Our last stop was Harajuku. The ultimately hip place to be in Tokyo when you’re young, well we’re still (kind of) young, so we headed to Harajuku. I had my camera ready the entire to snap some shots of weirdly dressed teens, which I had seen hundreds of pictures of online and in travel guides, but I guess it was just still too early for them. They probably all started to get dressed by the time we headed back to the Tokyo Dome, or something. Still, Harajuku was interesting and it seemed to contain all the people we had missed at the crossing in Ginza.

We mainly walked Takeshita-dori, a street with dozens (but it seemed like hundreds) of shops selling a loads of weird clothes, which had big signs telling us tourist that we weren’t allowed to take pictures… oops:

Honestly, I hadn’t seen the signs before I took the picture, but if I had I probably would have still taken the picture, because not being allowed to do it makes it only more desirable.

Harajuku browsing

We did some browsing around and a little shopping, I got some perfume and birthday gifts for people back at home. But we got over it really quickly and decided to go back to the hotel. So all in all we spend about 4 hours roaming about the streets of Tokyo with a JR day pass and an outdated travel guide, but we were satisfied with the amount of sightseeing we did in such a short amount of time! To quote Kristin: “We pimped the shit out of Tokyo!”

More pictures

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lining up in Tokyo

So about two weeks ago I went to Tokyo (for the first time ever) to attend two more Bon Jovi concerts. Kristin came along to Tokyo because she’d never been there before either and she wanted to see Bon Jovi as well. So she bought one of my leftover concert tickets and I sold the other one to an Italian girl who read about my ticket surplus on this blog. On Sunday morning we got the Shinkansen out of Nagoya all the way to Tokyo, for the very first time! It’s twice as expensive as going to Osaka (which makes sense because the trip takes about twice the amount of time it takes to get to Osaka) but when Bon Jovi is concerned money matters less somehow. Second expensive decision I made for the weekend was to stay in the Tokyo Dome Hotel, because it was convenient (it’s right next to the Dome as the name implies), and I was sick of my tiny freezer that Japanese people call an apartment and the hotel’s rooms looked so good online…and they were truly excellent!

The Tokyo Dome Hotel

My room was on the 16th floor, which is just awesome when you’re afraid of heights and the hotel only has those glass elevators on the outside of the building, like most Japanese skyscrapers I’ve encountered so far. But the view from my room was extensive, and sure it’s true the skylines of most Japanese cities look pretty much the same, but it’s still neat to be able to look over that many buildings from your bed! And after a concert I had a nice view of the herds of people still standing in extremely long lines for Bon Jovi some merchandise.

View of Tokyo from my room

As a foreigner in Japan I’ve found that the Japanese people love to line up for about anything. Maybe I’m too impatient to wait in line, I don’t know, but whenever I see a dozens of people in line, I tend to not want whatever is on the other end of the line anymore. But enormous lines do not seem to scare the Japanese at all, they join the line without hesitation and patiently wait for their turn at who knows what. Let's provide an example. The hotel elevators were extremely slow, I've actually spent 15 minutes waiting for an elevator on my floor once, but there was nothing I could do but fume (the stairs were only for emergencies). Well, after the concerts huge packs of people would flock back to their hotel rooms, creating long, really long lines for the already slow elevators. Everybody was waiting patiently in line, well not Kristin and me! We took the escalator to a floor down, where nobody was waiting. This way we were already in the elevator cab when it opened to let the people in the front of the line enter! Sneaky yes, but it saved us a lot of time. I couldn't understand why nobody else was doing it...
It was also incomprehensible to me why people would voluntarily stand in line outside of the Tokyo Dome shivering in the ice cold and trying to keep hold of their bags, hats, scarves and glasses in the extremely strong gusts of winds, just to be able to buy some overpriced Bon Jovi merchandise. And the line seriously was really, really long, just look at this picture I took from my hotel room before the concert on Sunday.

The line started at the green circle, where you first got to enjoy the amusement park style of lining up, going back and forth in kind of a metal maze taking forever to get from the entrance to exit. Then the line follows the yellow arrow all the way down to the bottom of my picture where the line goes out of frame at the red dot, where it continues a couple of tens of meters out of view from my camera and then curves back at the foot of the hotel and comes back into view at the other red dot. Then the line goes to the left and out of view again near the blue dot, and that’s not the end of it yet! But that is almost where the displays of merchandise started, so people could start browsing for what to buy once they finally got to the merchandise booth about 20 minutes later. I remember looking at the ‘crowd’ (perhaps 15 to 20 people) in front of the merchandise stall in Nagoya and already feeling deterred from even taking a closer look at the merchandise… Well, I guess that’s just Dutch impatience.
And the next day we stumbled upon an even more perplexing line: the one at the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop in some underground mall in Ginza. I’d heard about the long lines at Krispy Kreme in Tokyo some years ago, stories about people waiting for 2 to 3 hours to buy some donuts, but it always sounded like some urban legend or something. Even when Moe told me that she had spent a large part of her day off in Tokyo to wait for the privilege of buying 6 of those sticky donuts (if I had to wait for 3 hours I would buy a truckload of them not just 6), it still sounded too weird to be true. I mean the donuts aren’t even that great, I wouldn’t even stand in line for 5 minutes to get one. Anyway, the line at a small underground Krispy Kreme shop looks like this at like 9:30 in the morning:

The Krispy Kreme store in Ginza, Tokyo

It was hard to take a picture of the whole line with the shop because of the angle of the hallway, but as you can see they even had security to keep the line in place and at the end of the line (out of view) there was even some of that amusement park style of lining up going on! All for some donuts. But at least these people weren’t freezing and the Krispy Kreme people were handing out free donuts to the waiters to keep them happy. So what do you do when you want to eat a Krispy Kreme donut in Tokyo? You join the line in front of the shop, and just wait until they hand out the free donuts, which is apparently really common so you won’t have to wait that long. Or get up really early because the store opens at 7:30, but I can’t promise there won’t be a line then either, I mean come on this is Japan!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'm cold

Lately it has been so cold in my apartment that I’ve started referring to it as my ‘freezer’. And even though I’ve wanted to blog about Tokyo and other stuff I’ve been up to recently it’s very unpleasant to type with frozen fish sticks for fingers. Last weekend I bought a new heater for my freezer, because the one I have just didn’t do the trick. The clerk at the store recommended the one I got and said it was the most powerful and it could easily and quickly warm up a shoebox sized apartment. And sure it’s nice and warm when you sit right in front of the heater, but even this super-special-carbon-heater doesn’t stand a chance to the cold in my freezer. So I might just have to accept that my insulation-lacking apartment, lined with big single glass windows on two walls (corner apartment), is just impossible to heat up to a remotely comfortable temperature. I just don’t know what’s worse, shivering while wearing at least 7 layers in my winter-freezer or nearly passing out in my summer-sauna which is impossible to cool down even though the AC is blasting 24/7?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Help me choose which Jon Bon Jovi!

Every month of the 2008 tour, the fanclub is choosing the best concert picture taken during concerts held in that month, and the winner gets their winning picture framed and signed by Jon Bon Jovi. Even though I couldn’t take pictures like I had hoped during the Japanese tour, I’d still like to submit a picture to that photo contest.. I mean the competition for Japanese concerts can’t be that stiff, except of course for those German girls with huge zoom lenses… And probably people are allowed to take pictures in Australia and New Zealand (these concerts are also in January), so people will probably be sending in loads of cool photos from those shows. But hey if you don’t try at all, you’ll certainly lose, right? I just can’t decide which picture I like best. The one the top left is Jon and his ‘mini-me’ and his mini-jukebox in Nagoya, and the one on the bottom right shows Jon on the big screen during ‘Raise Your Hands’ and someone’s raised hand in Tokyo. So any feedback will be very much appreciated! Please let me know which you like better, the mini-me picture or the raised hand picture.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bon Jovi in Tokyo ~ Tokyo Dome (January 14, 2008)

Tonight holds a new record: the highest number of failed pictures I have ever taken at a Bon Jovi concert! So I got over the whole being-afraid-to-take-pictures thing with the printout about the photo contest in my pocket and my fanclub membership card around my neck. Which I never even needed because as it turned out I was seated behind a rather tall guy who not only blocked my view of Richie but also the security’s view of me and my camera. My seat was located somewhere in between Jon and Hugh and just 5 rows from the stage (probably the best seat of all 3 nights), so the distance from the stage wasn’t really a problem either.

'Raise Your Hands '

So how did I manage to royally screw up about 95% of my pictures? Well, it seems that when I selected my cute new tiny white camera in the store, I forgot to ask about it’s ability to take pictures of Jon, Richie and the rest in action in the dark (well, it’s hard in Japanese). Tonight, through the lens of my camera, the band members had glaring white skin, and the big video screen had a nasty brown glow about it. I tried and tried and tried, but almost all the pictures seemed to contain fuzzy balls of light with clothes on. I did manage a small number of half-decent-looking ones, but halfway I just gave up. Besides the battery of my camera was almost empty (that’s what you get when you spend the whole morning taking pictures all over Tokyo), and I wanted to save the last of it to record Bon Jovi waving goodbye to the audience. Anyway, I should seriously consider getting a new camera if I’m going to any Bon Jovi shows in Europe, because mine is seriously inadequate. I did manage to record some short videos tonight, just so that I would have something to share on here, and they communicate the atmosphere of the show better than pictures anyway.

'Any Other Day' this time without the Tokyo Dome ceiling

So tonight’s show was broadcasted live on Tokyo’s WOWOW TV channel, and it was noticeable in the band’s attitude. I mean they did totally fine during the other 2 shows, but it seemed like they were extra perky and eager tonight. It was also noticeable by the assload of cameras present, for every camera that Bon Jovi always uses to fill up the big screen there seemed to be 2 extra TV cameras present. Jon asked us all to smile pretty for our mamas, because we were on live TV, and even though my mama wasn’t watching I still smiled for him. I couldn’t record this show because I don’t have this channel at home (neither does Yasu in Amagasaki), but I gave the very friendly Tokyoite next to me some money so she’s going to send me a copy on DVD, I only wish I hadn’t lost her business card, so I hope she contacts me to ask me for my address.

The show started with interviews with the 4 band members on the big screen. Unfortunately, the questions were all written in Japanese, and even though the band answered in English I still had to work hard to get a clue about what was going on. Bon Jovi broke some records in Japan, and I heard them mention it during the other concerts too, but like I said I never got the whole message. But later in the show Jon was so friendly to give us the information one more time (I guess he was very proud): Bon Jovi has had more #1 hits in Japan than the Beatles, and with this 14th tour in Japan they have played more stadiums in Japan than any other international band, they’ve even surpassed The Rolling Stones. So he thanked all the Japanese fans for their support and in particular ‘Mr. Udo’ (Japanese promoter I guess).

'I'd Die For You'

During one song, not sure which one it was, but I somehow think it might have been ‘The Story Of My Life’, Jon got right into Richie and David’s face like he was telling them what to do, at least that’s what the pictures look like. But in real life it actually looked very sweet and intimate, especially when Richie and Jon leaned their foreheads against each other looking each other right in the eyes while singing. If either of them did that to me I wouldn’t be able to continue singing like that, then again I never could sing like that anyway.

Jon telling Richie what to do

Jon telling David what to do

Tico always does his own thing and never gets told what to do

When Jon introduced the band during ‘Any Other Day’ again, he forgot all about Hugh and Tico again, and this time he even forgot to mention that he forgot them. At the start of ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ Jon and Richie like to countdown in Jon’s microphone together, which for some reason is something I really enjoy. Probably because they never seem to get it right immediately and their being all clumsy about it is just cute. And after ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ when Jon started singing ‘Dancing In The Streets’ Richie seemed genuinely surprised by what Jon was singing. Like Jon was enjoying himself so much with the ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ medley that he couldn’t help himself and add something extra to the mix on the spur of a moment. But this band is so good that they picked up on it instantly. Or it could just be that Richie had just put a new stick of chewing gum into his mouth and that it tasted like green tea or sushi or something.

'Make A Memory '

Some other things I noticed was that Richie has a new guitar belt with the Lost Highway logo on it. And at the end of Bad Medicine he likes to loudly imitate the sound of a horse (I think he did it at all 3 concerts) it must be something that songs brings out in him. Also Tico’s drum set has see-through versions of the Bon Jovi heart with the dagger through it and it keeps lighting up in different colors: very pretty. Jon stores his extra guitar picks on the bottom of his black ‘AP95’ (I’ve always wondered what that stands for) guitar. And when he changed during ‘These Days’ he put on the same grey shirt as last night (it must have buy-1-get-2 sale at the Uniqlo around the corner or something). Plus, I can’t believe I never noticed before that Jon’s maracas, which he always uses during Keep The Faith, are actually stuck together in some way. I am no longer that impressed by his ability to throw them high into the air and catch them together.

'Born To Be My Baby'

The stadium wasn’t nearly as full as last night, there weren’t even any people on the second floor and during the first Tokyo show that whole floor was full with dancing fans. Yet when Jon told the audience there was only one reason he came here tonight: “I need to hear 40,000 people scream” the screaming was insane (even though the bleachers seemed half-empty). Man, Tokyo can scream! The crowd was really lively and almost all the girls seemed to be copying Jon’s arm movements without noticing it themselves, so it kind of looked like synchronized swimming with arms in the air.

So basically it was another good show, although I am sad that the really rare songs that I’ve seen pop up at old Japanese set lists didn’t pop during these 3 concerts. Honestly, I was hoping against hope they might play ‘Always’ live, I think I’ve been hoping that ever since I started attending Bon Jovi shows in 1996. And they did it last tour in Osaka: I was so jealous! Perhaps they’ll do something special in Osaka again, without me.

Bye bye Bon Jovi, hope to see you in Europe!

It was fun to do some concerts in Japan and see how it’s done here, but I prefer the European concert experience. First of all, you’re not restricted to your seats or your memory, because you can just walk around in the pit and take pictures so you’ll never forget. But what bothers me the most was that here it feels like going to a movie: you arrive just before it starts and it’s boring until the it actually starts and when it’s over you want to leave as soon as possible, because it’s boring again. In Europe it’s a two-day (we usually arrive the day before) experience per concert, with constant excitement in the air and the whole day feels like its building up to something huge (which of course it is) and it all feels like a big party, and it’s still exciting to hang around a bit after the show. So I’m really hoping to make it to those concerts in Amsterdam and London this year!

The Tokyo Dome from my hotelroom: still emptying after the concert

So after the concert Kristin (she attended last night’s concert) and I still had the whole evening to spend in Tokyo, because before this weekend we had no idea the shows would end so early otherwise we would have booked a Shinkansen home tonight of course. So we kind of chilled in the hotel for a bit (got my first head-neck-shoulder massage and it hurt like hell) and then started looking around for a good place to eat in the hotel. We decided to go for yakiniku (Korean BBQ) because Kristin had never done that before.
When we entered the restaurant, the waitress immediately motioned us to come and said something like “oh yes, here you are”, apparently she was expecting us? Of course this made totally no sense to us, but we were happy to be allowed inside because last night all restaurants refused us because we showed up to late and we ended up eating some snacks in the hotel bar. She ushered us away from a perfectly good booth for two people (where we figured we were heading) and instead lead us into some back room, where they was just one long table with 8 chairs, and 3 of them were already filled with Americans. Kristin initially thought that they just liked to put all the (loud) foreigners together in the back or something, but the other 3 looked quite puzzled and one guy asked “So who are these girls?”.
When more people came in and they all seemed to know each other, we realized that the waitress had put us into a private party room and when we came she just thought we were part of that group. Kristin made a remark, like it seems we’re crashing your party and perhaps we should leave, but the others insisted that it was no problem, as long as we didn’t sneak out and leave them with our bill (damn it was like he read my mind). Normally I would have been really weirded out, but by then I had already recognized most of the strangers as Bon Jovi crew so I was quite happy to stay! Especially the guy that handed out the fanclub tickets in Nagoya was very friendly and had some funny stories about Japan to share. And one of them was bummed out because he lost his camera today, or more precisely he lent his camera to Jon and Jon lost it! Poor guy. Anyway it was interesting way to end my Japanese tour, having yakiniku while listening to some stories about the band and the tour.
SETLIST
01. Lost Highway 02. Bad Name 03. Raise Your Hands 04. Runaway 05. The Radio Saved My Life Tonight 06. This Is The Story Of My Life 07. In These Arms 08. I'd Die For You 09. Make A Memory 10. Whole Lot Of Leavin' 11. Born To Be My Baby 12. Any Other Day 13. We've Got It Goin' On 14. It's My Life 15. Bad Medicine / Shout 16. These Days (Richie) 17. Someday I'll Be Saturday Night 18. Keep The Faith 19. Sleep When I'm Dead / Jumpin' Jack Flash / Dancing In The Streets 20. Who Says You Can't Go Home 21. Livin’ On A Prayer 22. Have A Nice Day 23. Wanted Dead Or Alive 24. I Love This Town 25. Captain Crash And The Beauty Queen From Mars

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bon Jovi in Tokyo ~ Tokyo Dome (January 13, 2008)

Tonight holds the record for the least amount of pictures I have ever taken at a Bon Jovi show, the show in Nagoya was the first record holder, but tonight totally shattered Nagoya’s record! The amount of security angrily (at least that is how their faces looked) scanning the crowd was triple the amount in Nagoya, and I could see a security guy’s face every which way I looked, which meant they could also see mine and therefore also see my camera if I held it in front of my face. So that was quite frustrating!!

Already frustrated ;)

After initially giving up on taking pictures, I spotted two German girls (they had flags that’s how I knew) blatantly taking pictures with a huge zoom right next to a security guard! I wondered if they were some kind of VIPs, but they seemed to have the same thing around their necks as yours truly: just a fanclub membership card. I was fascinated by them and my desire to take pictures flared up again! But I was too scared to be kicked out, so I only took very few really crappy pictures (as you can see displayed in this review).
So right after the show ended (unfortunately just after their bow yet again), I hurried over to the German girls and asked them how they managed to take pictures all night without being escorted out. And they told me they were confronted by about 4 to 5 security fanatics at once and they just explained about the contest (they brought a printout) and showed their fanclub membership card, which admittedly does look pretty impressive this year. I’m not sure how hard they had to fight the security, but what is important is that they won! Ow, I love European stubbornness! And these sweet girls actually gave me their printout, so tomorrow it’s picture time at Tokyo Dome for Lou!

Jon abruptly moving from left to right repeatedly just before 'Shout'
So before I discovered the Germans, I was only thinking about how on earth I was going to take some pictures and it was way too distracting, so I decided to just enjoy the show and forget about taking pictures. And that was a new experience in itself, I feel I paid way more attention to the band tonight and I especially enjoyed the lyrics and the emotions that come with it like in ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Have A Nice Day’. I’ve never enjoyed them as much as I did today, and even though I have no voice I sang (or produced some kind of hoarse sound) at the top of my lungs again. And they made me really emotional, and during Richie’s These Days I even felt two tears rolling down my face! He sings it so differently and sooooooo beautifully! I filmed it in Nagoya (where it was awesome too, but I enjoyed it less because of the filming) and I’m going to share it with you here now (even though the sound quality is kind of crappy) because you just have to hear how awe-inspiring it is when Richie sings ‘These Days’:

Richie singing ‘These Days’ in Nagoya (NOT Tokyo, even though this is a Tokyo review)

At the fanclub-ticket-pick-up-place I found out that the show today was going to start even more insanely early than in it did in Nagoya: at 17:00! By that time many gates still need to be opened at European concerts! And it was all over not long after 19:00… Unimaginable, but it’s true! Also, the stage was a little bit more donned up today, but still it was pretty boring. They added part of the stage they had in Canada, but honestly I didn’t do much for me. No blow-up dolls, no fake circus, no huge arms, no elevator, no huge satellite discs, no huge walls of colorful lights, no nothing! And yet again no onstage/sidestage fanpits!

Picture taken after the show, while we are all patiently waiting to leave the Dome
My seat today was slightly worse than Friday but still good. I was not in the middle front section but in the one next to it on the left and two rows further down. So that would be about 10 rows from Jon. I was seated right behind two rows of VIPs, the two rows that actually stayed empty in Nagoya (and I mean the entire concert, two completely empty rows in a front section), I guess there aren't any important people in Nagoya... Initially I didn’t feel happy about sitting behind a bunch of important people that are just there to put in a appearance and don’t really care about the band and basically just stare at the stage the entire show. But as it turned out the VIPs were really a source of joy for me. They were mostly older Japanese men, and even though they couldn’t sing the lyrics, they were going at it for sure! Shaking their bodies, arms in the air waving on the beat (after enjoying it so much during Raise Your Hands it seemed like they couldn’t stop it), quickly learning the chorus lyrics and excitedly singing along near the end of the show! Go VIPs go! These important people had a great night and actually seemed to thoroughly enjoy every second of the show! As did the entire audience by they way compared to the Nagoyan audience anyway, they’re still no Europeans though ;). I especially love it when the whole crowd sings ‘Livin On A Prayer’ (when Jon shuts up so you can hear the audience) and you can actually hear their Japanese accent super clearly! It’s just so cute.

So I observed a lot more tonight than usual and these were my findings: instead of back rubbing with the violinist during ‘Who Says You Can’t Go Home’, Richie was actually ass rubbing with her tonight. And they weren’t very subtle and their asses were even doing a little dance together, and when they were done Richie looked mighty proud of himself. After a small solo on the side stage, apparently he needed to get back to his spot quickly to play with his ‘foot-machine’ and he actually ran back, which looked kind of funny. He also tried to throw a guitar pick into the audience on his right and missed (it kind of flew backwards)! So he tried again and kind of succeeded, it didn’t go far.
Jon told us he was in kind of those moods today and that he didn’t feel fit to lead Bon Jovi anywhere tonight, as he tried to introduce his fellow band members and totally forgot about Tico and Hugh. Then Jon, Hugh and Bobby Bandiera tried to simultaneously move their instrument’s necks to the songs beat, two times it looked kind of impressive but after that they failed horribly and decided to laugh at themselves instead. And according to Jon this was the band 80th show in Japan, and then he dedicated 'I Love This Town’ to Tokyo.

Bye bye Bon Jovi, see you tomorrow!
‘Any Other Day’ is my favorite song of the album and I was so happy they played it tonight that I tried my very best to take a sneaky movie of it. But I basically failed, in the beginning of my very short movie you can see Jon on the screen singing that awesome show, and the rest of it I’m basically trying to show you the beauty of the Tokyo Dome ceiling. I was trying to hide my filming too much and had no clue my lens was pointing up instead of to the stage :o… Well, at least you can hear part of the song, although the sound isn’t that good, but it was still part of this awesome show in Tokyo! So here you go:

'Any Other Day' and the Tokyo Dome ceiling

Also filmed a short part of ‘We’ve Got It Goin’ On’ because it’s so impressive live, but I lost my guts again and turned the camera off way too quickly:

Blink and you miss it, short movie of 'We've Got It Goin' On'

SETLIST
01. Lost Highway 02. You Give Love A Bad Name 03. Raise Your Hands 04. Runaway 05. The Radio Saved My Life Tonight 06. This Is The Story Of My Life 07. In These Arms 08. Make A Memory 09. Whole Lot Of Leavin' 10. Born To Be My Baby 11. Any Other Day 12. We've Got It Goin' On 13. It's My Life 14. Bad Medicine / Shout 15. These Days (Richie) 16. Keep The Faith 17. Sleep When I'm Dead 18. Who Says You Can't Go Home 19. Livin’ On A Prayer 20. Have A Nice Day 21. Wanted Dead Or Alive 22. I Love This Town 23. Captain Crash And The Beauty Queen From Mars