Thursday, February 13, 2020

Favorite Japan-Related Memoirs

As part of my recent (or not-so-recent, anymore?) rekindled interest in Japanese language and culture, I've been reading a bunch of Japan-related memoirs. Here are some of my favorites:

Lost in Tokyo: A Year of Sex, Sushi, and Suicide in the Real Japan
The story of a British dude who becomes a teacher in Japan, it's alternately hilarious (in a very British-sense-of-humor kind of way) and poignant (in a very traditionally Japanese kind of way). The quality of the writing itself isn't exactly top-notch, but still, this is a total page-turner nonetheless.

Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries
Another story about a Westerner (this time, from the Southern U.S.) who moves to Japan and becomes a teacher, this, too, was a fun and fast read. The humor comes not only from the fish-out-of-water angle, but also because I think Japan's culture and society are just inherently amusing in the same way that cats are, like where they are so eccentrically awesome that you can't help but to shake your head and chuckle.

Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo
This time, a whole family (husband, wife, daughter) moves to Japan for a month, not to teach, but to experience what I assume to be an incredible, amazing food culture (I haven't been to Japan in thirty years, but it was good then, so I figure it's still good now). Will make you laugh, and also hungry.

Across Tokyo
Look, ma, no subtitle! Anyway, this one chronicles the journey of two Western transplants (they're from the U.S., but have been living in Japan for many years now) who "urban hike" from one end of Tokyo to the other, a span of distance that is much longer than you might think. Like all the previous books mentioned in this post, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Not One Shrine: Two Food Writers Devour Tokyo
Back to the subtitles, I see. Seriously, people, what's up with that? Is it some kind of nonfiction style rule that I don't know about? (Come to think of it, my friend Melissa Hart's recent nonfiction book Better With Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens has what is probably the longest subtitle in literary history. Check it out, though, it's terrific.) Anyway, this one is from the same guy who moved to Japan with his family for a month in Pretty Good Number One, only this time he's joined by his chef-friend and podcast co-host (who is the same person) as they go on a food crawl throughout Tokyo.

So yeah, if you're interested in Japan and enjoy some light, fun reading, I highly recommend all five of these books mentioned above. I'm also on the lookout for more, so if you know of any, let me know!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Laurelhurst Album Release & Farewell Show

For those of you in the Portland/Vancouver area, there's a really cool show happening this Saturday. Here's everything you need to know in one picture:
Well, not everything, I guess. Like, why is this Laurelhurst's last show? For the answer to that, check out episode 16 (appropriately titled "Laurelhurst") of the Second Player Speaks podcast here.

I've known the guys in Laurelhurst for over five years now and have shared the stage with them on many memorable occasions, such as:

- the CD release party for Second Player Score's first album, Fortress Storm Attack

- a show at Shanahan's Pub where I did a drunken half-dance/half-mosh kind of thing

- Anarchy Radio's 3rd birthday party in Oak Grove

- The launch party for Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire

Looking forward to one more time! Laurelhurst rocks, as does the rest of the bill, so come check it out (for those of you - like me - who might not be able to read the smaller print on the picture above, here are the details again):

Saturday, February 8
Twilight Cafe
1420 SE Powell Blvd (where there is a parking lot!)
Portland, OR
7pm, 21 and over
$8 advance tickets at kingbanana.net
$10 at the door

Thursday, January 30, 2020

What Is "Nerdpunk," Anyway?

Some of you may have noticed the term "nerdpunk" used in connection with my various (mostly band-related) activities, like on social media, this blog, or even in newspaper articles.
But what is nerdpunk, anyway? Is it a sound, like grunge, or metal? Well, if you Google "nerdpunk," what you get are mostly references to "geek rock," which, according to Wikipedia, is "a musical subgenre derived from alternative rock within the nerd music group...characterized by the standard instruments of rock music often combined with electronic and unusual instruments, references to geek culture and specialized, yet often mundane, interests, and an element of humor." The Wikipedia article goes on to say that "nerd punk is a fusion of nerd music and punk rock. It shares the characteristics of geek rock with the fast-paced songs, hard-edged melodies, and singing styles of punk" and cites the Portland, OR(!)-based band Thundering Asteroids! (2009-2016) as an example.

Okay, fair enough. But in my opinion, the label "nerdpunk" goes way beyond that. To me, it represents not only a musical sound or subgenre but also an entire lifestyle, an ethos. It embodies not only the desire to consume or create pop culture as a means of entertainment, but also the inspiration to nurture and develop projects, movements, and messages of your own that give back as much joy as you've received from the creations of others. It's a symbol of an independent, entrepreneurial DIY spirit motivated by a desire to make the world a more positive place through the things that we love and that bring us together, including art, stories, music (and beer, for those of us who are of age).

So yes, while nerdpunk may be a musical sound (Nerf Herder?) and/or style (Devo?), it's also a film school student who created a to-be cult classic out of an autocorrected word on his phone, or your former co-worker who started their own successful brewery from scratch, or a tech entrepreneur who went from running a job-creating nonprofit to running for president. It's, as Kyle Stevens of the geek rock band Kirby Krackle (who we met at a Comic-Con some years back) has said, "anything we are really passionate about."

That, to me, is #nerdpunk.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Second Player Speaks

Hard to believe, but the podcast that my band recently started up is now already four months old!
We just released our 17th episode this week, and overall it's been going along well. So far, we've talked about everything from pizza to the Matrix to what makes a good band name, all the while sampling some delicious beers from breweries around the world (just like Second Player Score itself, this podcast originated as a good excuse to drink beer, as well as to record sounds that we had been already making anyway). We've also had some really cool guests, including our friends Stab in the Dark, Old Cross, The Fauxriginals, Matt Danger, and Laurelhurst.

If you haven't checked it out yet, our basic format - loosely adhered to - is a thirty-ish-minute episode divided into three segments: music, pop culture, and craft beer. If, like us, you're a fan of any or all of those things, take a listen and see what you think. It just might be a cool way to pass the time while you commute to work, walk the dog, or whatever. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Breaker, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, or right here.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part Four

Welcome ("youkoso") to another in what is now undoubtedly going to be an ongoing series of posts detailing my Japanese-language-learning journey.
If you recall from Part Three, at the time I was seriously considering signing up for a continuing education course at the local community college called "Conversational Japanese II" (there was no "I", but fortunately I knew all the prerequisite words and phrases listed in the course description). Well, shortly thereafter, I stopped considering and actually registered. I was pretty excited about it, because while learning Japanese on my own has been fun, I was really looking forward to practicing and developing my skills with other living creatures besides my cats, who, to their credit, are pretty nonjudgmental when I mess up (which reduces the stress level), but does nothing for my actual learning.

Unfortunately, I was just notified that the class has been cancelled due to low enrollment. That leaves me to continue practicing with my cats for at least a little while longer. Some of our more common conversations go something like this:

Boots: meow meow meow meow
Me: Doushita, Buutsu? ("What's up, Boots?")
Boots: meow meow meow meow
Me: Daijoubu? ("Are you okay"?)
Boots: meow meow meow meow

or, when Mittens starts chewing on a plastic grocery bag:

Me: Oi, neko - yamero! Rejibukuro tabenaide yo! ("Hey, cat - stop! Don't eat the plastic grocery bag!")
Mittens: *ignores me and continues chewing*

So, yeah, hopefully I'll be able to find some other alternative fairly soon*. My learning journey has been going on in earnest for well over a year now, and while I've made progress, I do feel like I'm at a bit of a plateau. Let's take stock of what I know at the moment:

- I can read all the hiragana and katakana (Japanese syllabary) characters
- I can write in hiragana, but my katakana is still a little rusty
- I know maybe around 50 kanji (those complex logographic) characters. In contrast, my daughter knows about 280 (most native Japanese speakers know ~2000 of them).
- My vocabulary is probably around 500 words or so (most native Japanese speakers' vocabulary is around 10,000 words)

To my credit, I did manage to decipher a random ad that I saw on a Japanese-language website that said, in hiragana/katakana/kanji, "Honto ni, eigo na no, kore?" ("Is this really English?") It helped that there was a contextual clue (below that sentence were a bunch of English slang words like "gonna" and "juwanna"), but still, I was pretty proud of myself.

Anyway, stay tuned for Part Five...

* and I just might have, details to come

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Anime Roundup: Exclamation Mark Edition

I've noticed that a lot of anime shows have titles that end in either one, two, or even three exclamation marks. There are a few articles floating around the Internet that claim to have one explanation or another for this phenomenon; I've read some of them and, for the most part, they seem pretty tongue-in-cheek to me. I think the creators of these shows (and the manga that they're based on) are just trying to inject a sense of excitement into the whole deal, kind of like the content-naming equivalent of a street vendor shouting at passerby to get their attention. Anyway, purely by coincidence, I've been watching a few of these lately, such as:

K-On!
This just might be my new favorite anime of all time. A slice-of-life comedy about a group of high school girls who form a band but hardly ever practice, it's funny, lighthearted, and a great portrayal of the beauty and power of friendship (even though the characters hardly practice, they hang out with each other so much and share such a strong bond that when they actually do play a show, they sound fantastic together). Just a few of the things that I love about it include:

- It's sweet but not saccharine; cute but not nauseatingly so

- It aces the Bechdel test over 99.9999% of its entire runtime, the only rare exceptions being when the girls bug their teacher/faculty advisor about her love life (or, more accurately, lack thereof). Yes, it's set at an all-girl school, but even so, the characters are too busy with their studies, music, and other aspects of everyday life to think about dating. Very refreshing.

- The musical instruments are drawn with precise and accurate detail, and when the characters play them, most of the time their hand movements actually look like they're playing what they're supposed to be playing. As a musician, I really appreciate this.

- Speaking of music, the songs from this show are AMAZING. All of them. I mean, I know I've said that most anime shows have great theme songs, but these go way beyond that. Which, I suppose, would make sense for a show about a band. The songs are so good (and popular), the show even pulled a cool meta maneuver and had the voice actors for the main characters take a crash course in their respective instruments and put on an arena-packing live concert.

Two seasons and a feature-length movie based on the show are available, but trust me, that ain't enough. Seriously, I could just watch this thing endlessly. But I suppose, like Stereopony, all good things must eventually come to an end, and maybe that's what makes them even better.

Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions!
At first, you might think this is one of those animes about several cute teenage girls who all inexplicably like the same boring dude (yes, that's a subgenre), but thankfully, it's actually a delightful young-adult rom-com-ish show about a boy who is trying to put his "chunibyo" (basically, a state of mind where you really believe that you have special powers) past behind and a girl who is still stuck in that phase. It's humorous, adorable, and very touching at times - especially during the lead-up to the end of season one. I love love love how it portrays the characters' imaginary magical battles as something real before it cuts to the actual action where all they're doing is clashing umbrellas with soup ladles. Or ARE THEY??

P.S. I'm still in my chunibyo phase, thank you very much.

Maid-Sama!
Another rom-com-ish show, this one is about a high school girl who is a heavy-handed class president by day and a waitress at a maid cafe - a totally family-friendly establishment, for those of you who don't know - by night. I've noticed that a lot of manga and anime have premises that employ a similar "contrast" setup, like Saiki K. (a boy with psychic powers who just wants to be an ordinary kid), One Punch Man (a superhero so powerful that he becomes bored with his life), The Devil Is a Part-Timer (Satan comes to Earth and finds himself having to flip burgers to make ends meet), and more. It's a pretty effective formula, if you ask me.

Haikyuu!!
This show's title gets two exclamation points!! I guess maybe because simply calling it "Haikyuu" ("Volleyball") sounds too boring otherwise? Or maybe because nobody actually calls volleyball "Haikyuu" in Japan (apparently, it's called "ba-re-bo-ru")? Who knows. Anyway, the basic idea is that there's a high school boy who really loves volleyball but is shorter than your average player so he makes up for it with grit and determination (and some serious NBA-level hops). It goes further than that, of course, introducing new teammates and highlighting the ensuing high school-haikyuu-high jinks (insert groan here) as our hero's team attempts to climb up through the ranks and win a championship. If you like volleyball and/or sports movies, this is for you.

Cells At Work!
If I told you that this was a show about anthropomorphic cells living and working within a gigantic city that is supposed to be a human body, you might think it was some kind of educational program geared toward young kids (or maybe a Japanese adaptation of Osmosis Jones). Turns out, it is pretty educational - the scientific factoids are (apparently) mostly accurate - and platelets are represented by cute little children, but then when, say, the white blood cells have to battle an infecting virus, it erupts into these vicious bloody fight scenes that would seem more at home in a Quentin Tarantino film, creating a massive sense of cognitive dissonance. Needless to say, it's a lot of fun.

Anyway, there are a LOT more exclamation-mark-titled shows (Angel Beats! Food Wars! Durarara!!), but we'll save those for a future roundup post. In the meantime, should I change the name of the Joel Suzuki series from "Joel Suzuki" to "Joel Suzuki!!"? Uh, no.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Spam Curry (And A Volume Five Status Update)

Another in what could possibly become an ongoing series of Spam-recipe posts (or not). For my Spicy Asian Fusion Garlic Spam-Ghetti recipe, go here.
One thing about watching anime is that, for some reason, whenever the characters are eating something, no matter what it is, it always looks so good. Whether it's a ten-course gourmet meal or a burger with fries, it never fails to make me hungry, even if I've just eaten.

Curry, being a popular dish in Japan, is no exception. After watching the Curry of Life episodes of Naruto (as well as numerous other examples), I just had to make some curry of my own. However, not wanting to take the time to make it from scratch, I simply went out and picked up a packet of S&B Japanese-style curry sauce for $2.99 from my neighborhood Fred Meyer. It fit the bill nicely enough, especially after I added the Hawaiian staple of diced, fried Spam to the mix and poured it all over a plate of steaming hot white rice.

So I guess this doesn't really qualify as a recipe as such, since really, all you have to do is follow the directions on the curry packet along with knowing how to cook rice (and fry Spam). Basically, it was just an excuse for me to talk about anime and post a picture of my dinner. I would recommend trying the whole watch-the-show-and-then-eat-the-food thing sometime, though - it's actually pretty fun and satisfying.

Oh, and the draft of Joel Suzuki, Volume Five has been sent off to my editor for a first round, story-level edit. It should come back before the end of the month, at which point the real work (i.e., rewriting and revising) will begin.

Happy New Year!