April 13, 2008

Enka is a type of Japanese folk or country-style pop music usually sung by middle age salary men at karaoke bars in Japan.

Imagine my surprise to arrive in a Japan gripped by this enka-warbling American-born hip-hop-styled singer:

I like the hip-hop backing dancers the best!


日本国 – Tsukiji

April 12, 2008

On the advice of the guide book, we got up at 5:30am one morning to make a visit Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, and what great advice it was. Although there is a wholesale fruit and vegetable market attached, the main attraction is the fish and seafood market. It’s not an “official” tourist attraction, but there’s nothing to stop visitors mingling with the early morning bustle of the wholesale auctions (whole tunas can go for up to ¥1,000,000) or walking amongst the hundreds of small stalls were workers divide, prepare and sell smaller lots.

In stark contrast to the vast majority of the rest of well-organised, efficient and tidy Tokyo, Tsukiji is reminiscent of a shanty town, a myrid of small shacks and lean-tos under a large, low-rise warehouse roof. This, and the fact you can wonder unhindered amongst the traders, is the charm of the market. I can’t help thinking this will be lost entirely when the market is relocated to a brand new proposed sight on a reclaimed island south east of the current location, probably by 2012. The metropolitan government wants to reclaim the existing location for redevelopment as part of its bid to host to the 2016 Olympics – the proposed larger new site will no doubt be characteristically better organised, efficient and tidy, but its raised “viewing gallerys” designed to segregate tourist and trader will lead to a sanitised experience. If you’re in Tokyo before it moves, catch the old market whilst you still can.

Update: According to the economist, from April 1st new viewing restrictions have come into force at the existing site.

We almost accidentally stumbled upon the Tokyo International Forum on the first day proper of the trip, after walking around the largely underwhelming public areas of the Imperial Palace Gardens.

I’m getting increasingly interested in architecture and had purchased a couple of books on Japanese architecture before leaving for Tokyo. Opened in 1996, the forum was designed by the Uruguay-born American Viñoly. Its boat-shaped main complex is an impressive earthquake-resistant elliptical glass megatruss. Inside, the main concourse is flanked by wood paneling 4 stories tall, unbroken by windows or doorways save one main walkway, in stark contrast to the vast amount of glass opposing it.

The quality of the materials was breathtaking and its hard to picture the complex as already 10 years old – I’m sure it looks as good as the day it was completed.


March 20, 2007

More pictures

March 18, 2007

Some wildlife:

Pesky ´gators

March 17, 2007

I´ve discovered that we also have to contend with alligators whilst we surf. We´re really close to an river estuary, and when tide is high (and food in the river low) the gators will swim out to sea to look for snacks. Great.

Apparently they don´t like waves much, (so are unlikely to be out with the surfers) but it´s still one more thing to look out for, along with sharks, jelly fish, stingrays (remember Steve Irwin?) and rocks, of which I fell foul yesterday and opened up my knee!


March 15, 2007

I have nasty sunburn – ouch! So, instead of surfing yesterday, we decided to rent an infeasibly small 4×4 and drive at quite frankly ridiculous speeds across dirt and rock roads and go for a bit of an explore.

We soon encountered a random retired french-canadian sailor who now owns a beach hut bar-cafe on the beach. Having initially enquired as to whether or not we could purchase a bottle of water (being around noon), we were told we could only have rum. We managed to barter him down to a couple of beers.

Following a brief off-road safari in the national park, we were back on the dirt roads. Costa Rican driving is interesting (perhaps not quite as interesting as driving in Mexico). For example, if there is someone in front of you, and you´re both waiting to overtake a wood truck/tractor/fire engine, quite often the car in front will overtake, and then stay on the left (i.e. wrong) hand side of the road, and wave you to overtake him on the inside. And quite often when there is clearly someone coming the other way. It´s also not unusual for people to drive on the wrong side of the road for no good reason at all.

The other thing that gets me is the travelling dogs. The amount I´ve seen, all tiny, running down the side of the road, or over bridges, when there´s clearly been no habitation for a good few kms, is incredible. It´s like they´re on a mission. You´ll beep the horn, they´ll look over their shoulders, and then move to the side like slow moving traffic. It´s like the blummin´ littlest hobo society or something…