Category Archives: CULTURE

STRAM – All Happy

Among the steady drip-drip of young, well-dressed Japanese bands with a vaguely post-punk aesthetic, Stram are interesting at least for the particular niche of old UK indie sounds they recall. Where a lot of their contemporaries, for better or worse, settle for a sonic universe that doesn’t deviate too far from a sort of eternal imaginary Joy Division, Stram’s debut album (recorded by Ryo Shibuya from Klan Aileen) takes you on an entertainingly camp tour through their glam cabaret, with Yutaro Kaneko’s vocals reaching for the melodramatic whine of Suede’s Brett Anderson on second track What Dream Does Idiot See? and other moments in the album recalling the oddball indie meanderings of bands like Mansun or British Sea Power, the gothic drapery of The Horrors, the circus bounce of half-remembered next big things like The Zutons. All of which makes All Happy a joyously messy album that frequently flirts with questionable taste and a constant uncertainty as to just how seriously the band are taking all this glam camp (glamping?) nonsense — for all the fun they seem to be having, they are also constantly a whisker of self-importance away from turning into Muse. Be that as it may, this album — in all its scuzzy, operatic theatricality — is a gift in gloomy times.

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No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners! Book Review

I first arrived in Japan in 1998 to start my working career after graduating from university in Australia with a business degree. Japan was a vastly different place then to what it is now, and I was lucky to catch the very tail-end of the golden boom period. I was one of the few foreigners living in my small city in central Japan, and I can tell you that I had a lot of unique and interesting experiences as one of the only westerners in my area, but that is a story for another day.

Joe Palermo the writer of No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners arrived even earlier than I did, but we share many of the same Japan experiences and Japan stories.

The Book’s Content

No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners is a short, easy to read 87-page book full of interesting Japan experiences from the perspective of a foreigner living in Japan in the 1980s.

Many of the stereotypes of a foreigner in Japan from the 1980s still, unfortunately, remain today, such as “Wow! You can speak Japanese. How are you able to do that? ” and “Your chopstick skills are amazing for a non-Japanese!”

Here is a little from the book and the author.

“A young Japanese woman was running through Tokyo station screaming “Save me! Save me!” There was a Japanese man chasing her and closing in. He grabbed her wrist and caught her about 10 feet in front of me. The woman was still yelling “Save me! Save Me!” but the Japanese people in the crowded station ignored her, not wanting to get involved. This is the beginning of just one of the stories from my experience living in Japan in the 1980’s, where I had moved right after graduating university. It was still rare to see …continue reading


A Forgotten Secret to Enjoying Life

Gintama quote about the inner child

I started playing Dragon Quest VIII recently and my mind went “Oh, hey. Now I’ll get those Gintama jokes about the series.” And then I read something about why children should be allowed to wonder. And then I remember this quote above.

One of the things I hate about being an adult is all the self-doubt being pushed onto you in order to make sure you’re “competitive” enough to be qualified in the eyes of many. While I’m glad that I can take responsibility for some things as an adult, there’s stuff I realized over time. You know what’s great about being a child? You ask a lot of questions about how/why/what. I don’t think we appreciate that at all. As adults, we get told not to ask too many questions because things have to be a certain way for the world to work. I remember one financial investment commercial featuring a father and a son. The father was talking about making plans that sound like full of risk and the son asks why. The father gave some reasons and the child drops a question bomb that makes the father begin to second-guess his financial planning.

To this day, I still ask a lot of questions about life because of what I’ve been through, the experiences I hear from others, etc. Although I’m considered old, I hold onto the child inside me very much. That’s how I’ve been able to cope despite my circumstances. I’m so glad I didn’t forsake my own innocence to become a complete cynic. It’s so easy to fall down that path and children are forced to relinquish their innocence when they get groomed into the adult collective. We’re all still children deep down inside, but with a ton of responsibilities that we’re not …continue reading


kikoenaifuriwoshita – fall into a coma

Hailing from Aomori in northeastern Japan, Kikoenaifuriwoshita trade in a sort of wistfully melodic post-pop, blending electronic elements — a beat here, a loop there — with the organic and acoustic. The instrumental third track Suisō represents the softer edge of that approach, with chiming reverberations of soft rock guitar wandering over a simple programmed beat, incorporating a looping piano after a while, then synth as the band continue to add layers. Around that core approach, the band bring in vocals for the song Dancehall no Ame, a cover of Tokyo-based underground singer-songwriter Kenichi Fumoto, while the closing Hoshi ga Shizumu throws an eerie cast on the group’s prog-tinted musical daydreams, stripping away the easy listening soft focus musical elements and letting the effects-drenched textures rise to the surface.

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Mai Mao – Three directions

Bassist Shizuo Uchida and guitarist Kyosuke Terada are commonly seen faces in the anarchic Tokyo experimental scene, each of them wandering a jittery yet fluid path between projects and one-off collaborations that trend heavy on the free improvisation. And that’s what you get with Mai Mao, recorded at underground-leaning Tokyo live venue Kagurane in early 2020, just as the pandemic state of emergency was falling over the city. In Three Directions, the duo create, and proceed to explore, a sparse, spacious sonic landscape of glistening, sharp edges, depthless yawning crevasses and uneasy creatures of shadows. The 18-minute track also comes in the form of a video by Yutsuki Suyama, whose liquid drop painting throws another eerie dimension on the music’s ghostly explorations.

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