A Day in Futenma & Ginowan

Futenma Shrine 普天満宮, standing at the main hall, looking back towards the torii and temizuya at the entrance.


Today was fantastic. Cooler, less oppressively hot & humid, than the last few days – or maybe it just felt more comfortable because I finally had the intelligence to go out in shorts, and my brand-new athletic-style sweat-wicking-away Ryûdai t-shirt.

At some point, I really should just hunker down and spend more of my days indoors, on campus, making actual progress on reading and research. But, for today, just one more day of exploring couldn’t hurt, right?

I walked into Ginowan, just across the freeway from here, and then caught a bus way up to the other end of the Futenma Marines base, going all the way up there solely to check out the Futenma Shrine, one of the Eight Shrines of Ryukyu, of which I have now visited six. Of course, I forgot to check out the associated temple, Jingû-ji, which is right next door. So I’ll have to go back.

The shrine itself is pretty nice – I’m assuming it’s been rebuilt or renovated quite recently, as everything looked quite clean and bright. There’s something just really striking and beautiful about such fresh wood, and those orange terracotta roof tiles. Just being amidst that space – sharing so many of the features of a mainland Japanese Shinto shrine, but blatantly distinctively Okinawan in style and aesthetic – is just a wonderful feeling. And it’s just a very photogenic space, I think, overall. I took photos from quite a number of viewpoints, each looking just excellent (we’ll see how they actually came out – my digital photos often tend to be lighter or darker or grainier or flatter or.. something.. than how I thought they looked at the time).

The cave at Futenma Shrine. Photo courtesy of Chinese Wikipedia. We were instructed not to take photos inside the sacred space, and so I respectfully refrained.

But Futenma Shrine is also special in another way – the sacred space it’s associated with is a cave. I wasn’t sure if they only offer tours at certain times, or if maybe it’s only open to those who are serious worshippers – if the latter were the case, I would certainly understand. I found a sign that seemed to indicate there was some kind of application process. But, I figured, no harm in asking – so I asked at the window where one buys protective charms (o-mamori) and the like, and the shrine priestess stationed there quickly and kindly gave me a very brief form to fill out (name, address, number of people in your group) and then escorted me and one other woman into the cave. I felt a little awkward, to be sure, as this other woman was clearly there as a true devotee, and I hope she didn’t feel I was invading her people’s sacred space, or being disrespectful simply by being myself – a tourist, an outsider. I was sure to bow down and close my eyes and take a moment to meditate, to give my respects to the deity.

I’m sorry that we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the cave, though I totally understand why that should be restricted in such a sacred space. The cave was quite small – or at least the part easily publicly accessible – and the ceiling only extended so far, opening up to the sky beyond a certain point. But it was really something. I don’t even know how to describe it. Just stalactites and stalagmites, a naturally mysterious, intriguing, serene, spiritual space, with a small shrine building nestled into the center of it, marking and enhancing the spiritual feeling of the space. I love seeking out these sites just for the architecture, for the history, for the aesthetic & cultural experience of being there, but every now and then it really does genuinely feel spiritually moving or powerful as well. I’m very glad I bothered to ask about visiting the cave, and I would encourage you to take a look as well should you ever be in the area.

Wooden bodies for building sanshin. More than any sanshin shop I’ve seen before, this guy really sells all the parts you need to make your own – something that I should think takes an incredible amount of skill and experience.

As it happened, just across the street from the shrine stands the Sanshin no Matsuda store, a fairly large and pretty cool shop where they carry everything from complete instruments and books of music to basically everything you could possibly need to repair an instrument – not just bridges and picks and tuning pegs and strings, but even down to the wooden bodies and frightening lengths of real python skin (imported from Thailand). I went in to check it out, knowing I likely wouldn’t buy anything – thankfully my instrument is in good working order, so I just don’t really have a need for strings or picks or anything right now, and I already have plenty of books of music. But the guy was nice enough to show me the shop a little – showing me how he uses serious machines to cut the rough shape of the sanshin out of a block of wood, but then carves the finer details, the subtle curves, by hand. Beautiful. Amazing. Someday, when I do need such things, maybe I’ll head back up to Futenma, and buy from him. (If you’re interested in seeing more photos of the process of making or repairing sanshin, check out Joseph Kamiya’s Tumblr. He’s in the process of studying that craft.)

The view from Futenma Shrine, back across the street. Sanshin no Matsuda on the left, and King Tacos on the right. This is pretty much what most of Ginowan looks like, in my experience thus far.

As per the plan, having taken the bus way up to Futenma, I was now going to take a leisurely walk back down – in comfortable weather, and with plenty of daylight left, it should take only an hour or so to get back to campus, which all things considered really isn’t that bad. Of course, in the end, it took far longer than that, but it was relaxed, and easy. I found a nice teishoku place for lunch – offering set meals (teishoku) of noodles and soup, or stir-fry (chanpuru) and rice and soup, and so forth. I went with the fu chanpuru, fu being basically a form of seitan (wheat gluten), baked to have a consistency sort of like chicken, sort of like bread… anyway, it’s good.

I also found a cool zakka shop, selling all kinds of random stuff from panda coffee mugs to wacky cookbooks, to wallets, keychains, bumper stickers, manga… I didn’t end up buying anything, but I loved seeing a fun, kooky store like that amongst the countless motorbike & car repair shops. I get it, that we’re not in the big city and everyone relies on bikes & cars, but, seriously, how can the economy support this many such shops? How many vehicles does each person own!?

Anyway, after much walking, I found myself back in the area of Ginowan I knew and remembered from my adventures two years ago – my first time in Ginowan, one of my first times outside of Naha, when I took the highway bus and the whole thing just felt like such an ordeal, traipsing out to this outer city… Now that I’m living just across the freeway from Ginowan, the whole thing feels quite different.

So friendly and welcoming…

Walking further and further down, passing by the fences of Futenma Air Base, I found it surprisingly quiet. No protest signs of any kind hanging on the fence, no protesters staked out outside the base. Maybe they’re all up in Henoko or Takae? I probably follow this stuff more closely than most, but even so, not closely enough to really know the precise ins and outs of why there would or wouldn’t be protests on a given day… Also saw (and heard! omg, so loud!) some military helicopters flying overhead, but that was about it. So quiet I neglected to even get any photos of the base, at all.

Eventually, I found my way to the Ginowan BookOff, and then to Books Jinon, what to the best of my knowledge is surely one of the best Okinawa specialty bookstores there is. I cannot count the times that I have searched for a book on kosho.or.jp (an excellent site for searching used bookstores across Japan, and ordering books from them online) and it came up that Books Jinon was the place that had a copy. On my previous trips to Okinawa, I was always based in Naha, and Ginowan just seemed so far away, so inconvenient. But, I now know that at least some parts of Ginowan are in extremely reasonable walking distance from Ryûdai campus, and also that there are regular public buses (e.g. the 98, between Ryûdai and Naha) which stop only a block or so away from the bookstore. Plus, they take orders online, so as long as you have a Japanese address to ship to, there’s little need to traipse out there.

I came in with a particular list of books I was looking for, and am quite happy with my haul for the day. Had to resist buying up so much more stuff – I’ve gotten to the point that I think I have a much more realistic gut feeling about knowing, understanding, how little I’ll ever get around to actually reading, and so that makes it a ton easier to resist buying all the things. But, there is still certainly a part of me that is tempted to buy and read just about anything about Okinawa, and Books Jinon has such a selection, oh my god. Conference proceedings volumes I’ve only ever seen after ordering them from multiple different institutions from Inter-Library Loan (ILL). Boxes and boxes of magazines and other sorts of obscure serials. Shelves upon shelves of thick volumes of local village, town, and city histories (for example, Nishihara Town History 西原町史, or Naha City History 那覇市史), of Complete Works of such-and-such prominent scholar (e.g. Ifa Fuyu zenshû or Nakahara Zenchû zenshû), and of published transcriptions of premodern documents, such as the Ryûkyû-koku shi-ryaku 琉球国志略 or Chûzan seikan 中山世鑑. Not to mention great numbers of museum exhibit catalogs, many of them rather slim volumes from rather small provincial museums. And what makes the whole thing all the more exciting and impressive is that, at least in my very limited experience (combined with what my far more experienced advisor has said), real brick-and-mortar specialty bookstores like these are growing scarce in Japan, as many shift to online-only, or disappear entirely. I was only in Kagoshima for a few days (two years ago), so I may be totally mistaken, but from what I found on Google, and what I found in person, there is maybe one local history / local culture specialty bookstore in Kagoshima City, and it’s really not all that great. Books Jinon stands out all the more so as a result.

The haul for the day.

Finally, I left the bookstore with my small but happy haul, and poked my head into a nearby florist to ask where I might find the nearest bus stop. Pardon me if I’m spoiled or whatever, too much of a city boy, but compared to trains, I really find buses to be a pain in the ass. A train station is easy to find, for the most part. And once you’re inside, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out which side you need to be on; or, if it isn’t, at least there are generally only two options. Red Line this way, or Red Line that way. Or, if you know you need to be on the Blue Line, then it’s the Blue Line. But buses – the bus stop could be anywhere in the general vicinity of the specified intersection or landmark, and for Okinawa at least, the bus stops and bus routes don’t come up on Google Maps. So you stand at the intersection, and look around, and wonder, does the bus stop on this side of the street, or around the corner? Does it stop right here by the intersection, or halfway down the block in that direction? Or the other direction? And then when you finally find the bus stop, you have to be sure that it’s not only going in the right direction, but that it’s also the right bus line. A train station might have only one or two or three lines (or, admittedly, quite a lot more if you’re in Shinjuku or something, but that’s a different story), but even a relatively quiet, isolated, place like Maehara Crossing in Ginowan, Okinawa, has one stop for the 25 and 56 to Toyosaki, a different stop for the 24, 27, 52, 61, or 110 going north or southwest, another stop somewhere else slightly down the road in some other direction to find the 97 and 98 back to the University of the Ryukyus (where I was trying to go)… and then when you finally find the right bus stop for the bus line you want, you inevitably realize you’re on the wrong side of the street. Hopefully you realize this before you see your bus, on the opposite side of the street, go past.

Anyway, I still kind of can’t believe it, but I asked inside this random little florist shop, and the customer buying flowers at the time said, “oh, how about I just give you a ride? It’s not that far.” Oh my god. So kind!! Of course, I hesitated at first – oh, no, no, that’s quite alright. Thanks so much, but I don’t want you to go out of your way… But, in the end, she was so kind, and drove me the short distance back to campus – we had a very nice conversation, and then she just dropped me off right at the entrance to campus. A fantastic way to end the day.

Except where indicated otherwise, all photos my own.

A Return to the Capital

A typical scene in Nishihara. Just walking along the side of the highway, no shops at all in the immediate vicinity except for auto repair and the like…

As I wrote in my last post, Nishihara is… a new experience for me. Quite scattered and disparate in its layout. Just walking around the neighborhood immediately off-campus to the south, Uehara, I think I’ve counted at least five hair salons (for whatever reason), at least five car places (dealerships, garages, auto repair, motorbike shops, etc.), one fast food joint, plenty of real estate or apartment management places, a bunch of other random establishments, and zero bookstores. Zero cute cafés. Zero welcoming-looking restaurants. No supermarket that I’m aware of. Certainly no big box electronics store (or even a small one). I’m not even sure I’ve seen a cellphone store at all, in this particular neighborhood. On one day I popped off campus, thinking I would find, just something, whatever, to eat for lunch, and just make it quick and come back to my room to do more work. I wandered around for literally at least 30-40 minutes, getting further and further from campus, finding absolutely zero places that looked inviting – or even open – before I finally found myself at a supermarket (and still no appealing-looking restaurants), way off in another part of town entirely.

Now, granted, I do think that once I get a bit more settled in, and start to get more familiar with what’s available on each side of campus, in each part of the area, I’ll feel a bit better about all of this. After four years in Santa Barbara, I’m finally starting to feel that there’s really enough variety of dining, and enough to see and do otherwise – almost.

In the streets of Naha’s Tsuboya neighborhood. One shop after another, each inviting, each providing goods or services of real interest, like in a normal town.

But, still, I imagine you can understand why it was a major breath of fresh air to take the bus down to Naha, the prefectural capital, the other day. A city I’m familiar with, with lots of familiar sights, and just a real city, filled with things to see and do, all the resources you could possibly want. I was glad to discover that the bus runs relatively frequently, goes at least kind of late into the night (until 9:30 or so – thankfully not 6:30 or 7 as I’d feared), and takes only about half an hour. Looks like I’ll be able to get down into the city relatively easily and often. Thank god. Even so, I think next time around, the next time I find myself in Okinawa on a fellowship or a postdoc position or a sabbatical or whatever, I think next time it’d be super great to be based at the Okinawa University of the Arts – right below the castle, right in the city (more or less). I’m sure Ryûdai will be fantastic, in all sorts of ways, in terms of students and faculty and the library, and hopefully in terms of arts and events too. But, oh boy, how awesome would it be to live right there in Shuri? Next time.

This time, I took the bus to Omoromachi, and if I remember correctly went first straight to the big electronics store – Yamada Denki – and picked up a five-meter-long ethernet cable, so I can finally use my computer (with internet connection) in bed. Relax while I simultaneously get shit done – shit like blogging; or, maybe, actual reading/research work. With no stores around that I had yet found near campus, none at all really outside of basic convenience stores, even something as simple as this took a real adventure to get. Then I was pointed by the Yamada Denki folks across the street to San-e, the big department store / shopping mall, where I was able to get a prepaid data SIM card. Still no voice function (which means no phone number – hopefully I won’t need to have a number to put down on forms or anything), but, I’m all set on data for the next month – thank god. One more thing down.

As it turns out, we /do/ have such things here in Nishihara, too, just not immediately near campus (so far as I’ve seen thus far) – I would later discover a San-e way down near the town hall (about a 45 min walk from campus), which though still pretty basic compared to what’s available in the totality of Naha City, is just sizable enough to provide for much of what I’d feared was only available in the city. Namely, things like prepaid data SIM cards.

The main lobby of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Clean, sleek, bright. I wish I could share with you photos of the actual galleries, but they don’t allow photos…

In any case, errands accomplished, I poked over to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Thought I was going to buy up some museum catalogs, maybe some other stuff. As it turns out, (1) the one catalog I was really looking for, from an exhibit only two years ago on Kumemura, is all sold out and gone, and (2) there weren’t really any exhibits up right now that I wanted to bother paying to see. So, I bought myself a little coin purse, to hold all the change that keeps otherwise falling through the holes in my pants pockets, and I moved along.

Before leaving the museum, though, I decided to go check out the rental galleries – outside of the paid areas of the museum, where groups or individuals can come in and rent out the space for their own use. The last time I was here, two years ago, these spaces were being used for an exhibition of college students’ artworks, from the Okinawa University of the Arts. Maybe like a BFA thesis / graduation show. I’m not 100% clear. This time, I happened to catch a one-day-only exhibition of Western Australian artists, organized by Peter Davidson. I feel like the name is really familiar – like maybe I’d come across his Okinawa work before already – but if I have, I still haven’t quite figured out why the name rang a bell. Maybe it’s just a really common name.

“Okinawa Study” by Peter Davidson. Image from Wild Swan Arts Group blog.

Spoke with Mr Davidson for a little while, and got to take a look at his paintings. They’re small, but wonderfully vivid and colorful. They really capture the richness of Okinawa, I think – the lush greenery, the orange of the roof tiles… It’s a shame that the photographs can’t capture the texture and vibrancy of these paintings. Makes them look so flat…

Skipping seeing any of the regular exhibits I’d have to pay for (and which I’ve already seen, and which they won’t let visitors photograph because they’re obnoxious jerks), I then went back to the monorail station and headed over to the Naha City Museum of History. I imagine I must have posted about this museum before – it’s a funny sort of place, very small, tucked away on the 4th floor of a shopping center in downtown Naha. But, despite its small publicly visible footprint, and small municipal sort of name (City Museum), the Naha City Museum actually holds numerous National Treasures in its collection, and is a major center of Historical activity, including not only extensive documentary archives & library, but also publications (e.g. city histories), and playing some major role in organizing the historical markers & explanatory plaques all around the city.

They have just two small gallery spaces, one where they show decorative arts, mainly – textiles, lacquerwares, and the like, often from royal collections, often including some National Treasures. I’ve seen the royal sword Chiyoganemaru in that space, and this time, they had a replica of the last surviving royal investiture crown on display. I was disappointed it was only a replica, but, what are you gonna do. In the other gallery, they started off with a bunch of various different things relating to the city’s history – maps and paintings of early modern Naha from the 19th century or so, and also a model of a section of downtown Naha as it looked in the 1930s. One of the few things in the gallery they explicitly said we could take pictures of.

And then, the rest of the gallery is what really rotates, thematically. Right now, 2016 is the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Basil Hall to Okinawa – his accounts of his journey remain one of the more canonical accounts in English. So, they had a very nice display detailing his trip, day by day, with copies of his journal, including the beautiful color illustrations, and so on and so forth.

Shuri Castle, lit up in the twilight.

Finally, after finding some food and poking around the Heiwa-dôri shopping arcade for a bit, I headed down to Shuri castle. I had been planning to get back to campus already by that point, as I was nervous about getting back after dark, and because I was already pretty tired, already feeling I’d had a long day. But, I saw a poster for a special Mid-Autumn Festival celebration at the castle, complete with lots of classical Ryukyuan dance and music, and this just wasn’t to be missed. So I steeled myself up, and lasted out the day, and finally headed down to the castle around 6pm, only to find that because of strong winds and potential of rain, the event had been canceled. Boo.

On the plus side, though, I’d never been to Shuri castle before so late at night. It was beautifully illuminated, and I managed to catch a few good photos. Plus, there were very few tourists around, inside the castle, so I got to get some closer photos than usual of things inside – and to just enjoy it and have a quieter, nicer. time of it, without so many crowds.

And then, when that was done, just very easily caught a bus back to campus. Great to know I can do that whenever, from now on. All in all, a really great day in the city. Looking forward to more such adventures – the next time there’s a concert or performance or museum exhibit, or whatever…

Except where indicated otherwise, all photos are my own.

First Days in Okinawa

Flew from Tokyo to Okinawa on Thursday, the 15th. My flight landed at 5:30 or so, and even though I didn’t wait long for my bags, nor wait long for a monorail train out of the airport, nor wait long for a bus to campus at the bus terminal, somehow in total I severely underestimated how long it would take to actually get out of the airport. So, I only finally got to campus around 8pm. But, I’m here now, and all is swell.

Right: Sunset over the Tsubogawa, in Naha.

Just taking the monorail out of the airport, being back in Okinawa put such a smile on my face. And the moon was so beautiful that night (even though it didn’t really come out in the photos)! I suppose that makes sense, given it was Moon-Watching Festival (月見, tsukimi, aka 十五夜, jûgoya), though I didn’t realize it at the time.

As I was saying in the previous post about seeing how Tokyo changes each time I come by, I quite enjoy seeing the same in Okinawa. In order to get out to the University of the Ryukyus campus, I had to take the monorail from the airport to the main Naha Bus Terminal, then catch a different bus.

(They do have buses that go straight from the airport to campus, but they stop all the way at the other end of campus, and I was told this might be easier, esp. with all my luggage. In the end, I think I might have been better off with the other option – just take a bus to the wrong end of campus, then suffer a short walk, or catch a cab… Still, I made it in the end!)

The Naha Bus Terminal at Asahibashi/Izumisaki, as it appeared in 2013. Not much to look at, but it was what it was.

As I got off the monorail at Asahibashi, though, something felt wrong. Then I realized what it was – they had torn down the entire bus terminal, for renovation!! I’m sorry I didn’t get any pictures of the construction (I still might, on a later day), but, yeah, it’s these small things – having been someone who saw the old one, and not someone who’s only familiar with the new one – that make me feel just that tiniest bit more “insider”, more experienced, more worldly/cosmopolitan, more well-traveled, in the extent of my familiarity/experience with Okinawa.

The 50 Year Anniversary Hall 50周年記念館 at Ryûdai.

Met up with my professor, who helped me get situated in the temporary lodgings – he had my key card, and all that. And then the next morning, we met up again to just get some paperwork stuff done. Had to pay for the hotel-like place I’m staying in now, and then also formally apply for a room in the International House (国際交流会館) next door, where I’ll be staying from October onward.

I then headed into town, in the hopes of getting some various things done – formally registering my residence with the town hall (町役場), so I could then have a formal address on my resident alien card (在留カード), so I could then open a bank account and get a cellphone plan. As it turns out, none of that was destined to happen – I need to wait until I’m actually living in the International House before I can claim that as my residence. I suppose it makes sense to some extent. And, I don’t know why, maybe I was just in a better mood myself, or maybe it’s because everyone here in Nishihara was so kind and understanding and authentically apologetic about it, but I’m not so worked up about it. I have a place to live, and a temporary cellphone plan that’ll last me through the end of the month, so I’m safe – nothing is going to run out on me, or leave me in the lurch, before October.

Most of the walk to the town office looked like this. Some beautiful views of Nakagusuku Bay at times, but mostly just greenery and walking along the side of a road, passing by small clusters of shops, just a few at a time, looking somewhat rundown and not entirely welcoming…

Anyway, the walk down to the Nishihara Town Office (西原町役場) was about 45 minutes from campus. A bit of a trek. My first time getting a feel for the town. We’ll see how things go as the year goes on, whether I discover some other part of town that’s different, but for now, it all just seems terribly disparate. If there is a dense, lively, walkable, town center, I haven’t found it yet. Which is weird for me; I’m a city boy, both by upbringing and by experience since then, and I’m just not used to this sort of thing. Even in small cities like Honolulu, Naha, and Kagoshima, it’s still a city – a whole complex grid of streets, one building after another, conglomerated into busy shopping districts or residential areas, or whatever, without these vast areas of just emptiness (unless they’re public parks or the like). Even in the town I grew up in, which is officially designated a “hamlet,” you’re not walking along freeways past fields or just empty natural spaces – you’re mostly walking past homes and shops, a thoroughly suburban environment. Even in Goleta, CA, a town which I constantly complain is comprised primarily of freeways, office parks, and strip malls, there are good sections of walkable shopping & residential areas, in Isla Vista and Old Town. I don’t mean to go on and on about this point for too long, but anyway it’s just interesting to me that as soon as you leave campus here in Nishihara, there’s like one fast food restaurant, and like a car dealership(?), and just not much of use immediately right there. Where’s the “college town” of bars, restaurants, cafés, shops? And, all along that 45 minute walk, I feel like I passed by very very few establishments of any interest. Which isn’t to say there weren’t establishments – it wasn’t all fields or pure void – but, whatever it was, it wasn’t anything that caught my eye at all as somewhere to check out. No cute cafés. No inviting-looking restaurants. No bookstores. Only one or two grocery stores. Certainly no big-box electronics store where I might hope to get a visitors’ SIM card plan (no address required), or a longer ethernet cable (can you believe there’s no wifi here? what?).

But, again, maybe it’ll just take some time before I settle in to a better appreciation of what’s around. I’m hoping to get a bicycle soon, so that’ll make exploring a lot easier. I hope. If there aren’t too many hills or freeways or whatever.

Cheesy, but, whatever.

After my unsuccessful trip to the town hall (I really do need to be living at the International House before I can get my address registered), I did at least order a hanko (a personal stamp) for the first time. I can’t wait to have my very own seal, so I can stamp documents all official-like, rather than signing by hand (Japanese bureaucracy generally prefers the seal). And, to my pleasant surprise, I checked with the bank, and they’re cool with me using whatever design I want – it doesn’t have to be my legal name (in English letters). So, while I’ve long thought about doing something with the character for “tiger” (虎 – since the Japanese word for “tiger,” tora, sounds like the first half of my name – Travis->Torabisu->Tora), in the end I’m just going to go with a hiragana version of my surname.

My hopes of getting anything real done dashed, I decided that at least while I’m down in town, I should maybe check out some historical sites. The one main one in the area, which Google Maps told me was amazingly close by – like a 10 min walk, maybe 15, from the town hall – is Uchima Udun, the ruins / former site of the 15th c. mansion of Kanamaru, lord of Uchima, who in 1469 staged a coup, overthrowing Ryukyu’s First Shô Dynasty and installing himself as the founder of the Second Shô Dynasty. As it was this Second Shô Dynasty which then continued down until the fall of the kingdom some 400 years later, Kanamaru (aka King Shô En) is a pretty major guy, and thus his mansion definitely something worth seeing.

I don’t know if it’s preparations to safeguard the site against the impending typhoon (Typhoon 1616 Malakas), or if it’s repairs from a previous recent event, or more normal (non-disaster-related) restoration / conservation efforts, but I was surprised and disappointed to find Uchima Udun all covered in construction fences, nets, tarps, and so forth. I guess in a certain way I feel kind of special to have gotten to see it in this unusual state. But, I’m definitely hoping that the work is completed soon enough, that I can go back and see it in a more proper, cleaned-up, visitable and photogenic state.

It then began raining. Pouring, really. So I dashed into a small community center that was right there. Thanks so much to the people hanging out in the Kadekaru Kôminkan that day, who welcomed me in. I don’t know if we have quite the same sort of institution in the States. A kôminkan is basically just a single space that I guess is free and open for people to hang out in, and to use for special events. A sort of open auditorium space, with a stage, folding tables and chairs so you can rearrange the room for whatever purpose, and then also a small kitchen, and that’s about it. Pictures and documents hanging on the walls relating to prominent local civic figures. And a small bookcase of books of local history. If these books weren’t available elsewhere (e.g. in the university library), it’d be kind of neat (if inconvenient) to get to work in such a space, and to feel like I’m using really local materials, getting a really local perspective…

Anyway, the rain stopped quite quickly, and though the people warned me otherwise, I decided to risk it and to head out on the walk back to campus. I got totally soaked. Through and through. But, while the walk was thoroughly unpleasant for a good 20 mins or so of it, all in all the 40-45 min walk back went quite quickly. Walking along the side of the highway was certainly less ideal than if this were a normal walkable town, with cafés and shops on every block, but, on the plus side it means I had a very direct way of walking back, that took me straight right to campus.

Anyway, that’s about it, I guess, for now. I ended up staying right around campus the following day – just sitting in the library getting some work done, and so forth. A nice, quiet, and fairly productive day. The university library is quite sleek and clean and new-looking, making for a very pleasant environment to study in. And they have a separate room set aside for Okinawan Studies, which makes me feel like I have my own special space, which is very cool. Even in this relatively small room, though, the extent of the books is kind of overwhelming. I want to read them all! But it would take multiple lifetimes.

A Few Days in Tokyo

Prior to flying to Okinawa to begin my research year in earnest, I had a few days in Tokyo, mainly organized around the need to go in to Japan Foundation headquarters in Yotsuya for a one-hour orientation meeting, to get situated with paperwork and so forth. But these few days were also a good opportunity to see the city a little bit, catch up with some friends, meet (however briefly) a whole bunch of other grad students currently doing their research years as well – many of whom are staying in Tokyo, but many others of whom, like myself, left within the next day or two for Okinawa, Fukuoka, or Sendai.

And, while in Tokyo, of course I squeezed in a bit of history wandering. I don’t know how the blog posts will go from here for the remainder of this year. I would really love to keep up with writing about every place I visit, every thing I do, to engage with these things not only in the moment but also by writing about them afterward, and thus thinking about them a bit more, and also feeling I’ve produced something that I’ve shared – feeling that I’m contributing in some small way to informing or entertaining others, the Internet; that I’m doing public history, maybe, in some small and amateurish way, if that’s not too grandiose a thing to say about my ramblings on this little blog. But, then, of course, on the other side, as much as I would like to do that, blogging is time-consuming, and I just don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up, while also devoting appropriate levels of attention to my research, which is what I’m really here for, and what I’m getting paid to focus on. So, we’ll see. In the meantime, though…

The entrance to the PARCO Museum, done up for its first ever exhibit, “STRIP!”

I arrived in Tokyo on Monday night, Sept 12. On Tuesday, I skimmed briefly through the first ever exhibit of the newly opened PARCO Museum, an art space located on the 7th floor of the PARCO department store in Ikebukuro. Their opening exhibit is of drawings by mangaka Anno Moyoco, who I know best from her Yoshiwara-themed series Sakuran, which was turned into a live-action movie in 2006, starring Tsuchiya Anna and with rocking music by Shiina Ringo. There is so much going on in Tokyo at any given time – it’s awfully tempting to immerse myself in that art world, to become (again) someone well familiar with the latest goings-on, who has been to the latest exhibits, and who has real thoughts on exhibit design, aesthetics and artistic choices of the artists themselves, and so on and so forth. But, boy, that is a whole other ‘me’ yet; I would need three of me, three clones, just to be all the different people I want to be – the Historian / grad student / researcher; the art historian, museumgoer, art world member; the history nerd visiting and blogging about obscure historical sites; the culture nerd attending and blogging about and getting involved in festivals and performances… Still, I’m excited to return to Tokyo in a few months and get involved in all that again.

I’m not sure I have too much to say about the Anno Moyoco exhibit. I’ve grown so detached and distant from the worlds of anime, manga, and pop culture otherwise in recent years… The exhibit design was pretty cool, with walls and curtains and other elements evocative of the worlds or aesthetics of each of Anno’s different manga. While I understand the arguments for letting art speak for itself, I think that immersive exhibits are a worthwhile, impactful, experience unto themselves, and artworks in their own rights. And this one did a great job of that.

Screw Hattori Hanzô. Who cares? Totally over-hyped weeaboo bait. This here is a memorial monument (kuyôtô) for Tokugawa Nobuyasu, son of the great Tokugawa Ieyasu; poor Nobuyasu gets no attention, no recognition at all, and why? Just because he died decades before he might have ever gotten the chance to succeed his father as shogun? Feh.

Poking around Yotsuya prior to my meeting at Japan Foundation, I found my way to the small local temple of Sainen-ji 西念寺, where I grabbed some photos of the grave of Hattori Hanzô (“ninja” retainer to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who is probably a pretty cool figure, but who has been blown far out of all proportion by sammyrai geeks), and of a memorial stone (kuyôtô) for Tokugawa Nobuyasu, a son of Ieyasu’s who gets majorly short shrift and is treated as merely a footnote – if that – in the vast majority of scholarship on Tokugawa Ieyasu or the shogunate. Granted, he died some twenty years before the founding of the shogunate, but, still, he’s still a person, a figure, who had at least some significance. Doesn’t really deserve to be relegated to the dustbin of history just because he didn’t survive to be more explicitly influential.

For anyone looking to visit these sites yourself, Hattori’s grave and Nobuyasu’s memorial stone are just around to the side of the main hall. As you enter the temple’s main plaza, just walk straight and a bit to the left. I was wandering around in the cemetery itself, trying to look around for them, and got chastised. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last – I do my utmost, of course, to be as respectful as possible towards the fact that it’s an actual cemetery, and I hope that people (Japanese mourners, temple staff) see that; the vast majority of the time, in my experience, people associated with the temple understand and appreciate that people like myself are interested in these historical spots, and they are almost always plenty willing to guide you to the right place. But, yeah, it’s a balancing act. Some temples have signs pointing you in the right direction; some don’t, and so you just try to be as respectful as possible while trying to find what it is you came there for.

I then took a very brief run through the Fire Department Museum, a surprisingly large (seven floors of exhibits?) museum, with free admission, that stands adjacent to the Yotsuya Fire Department. Didn’t really have time to engage properly, but just ran through taking photos of the displays on Edo period firefighting; I’ll come back to these at some point in the future and read the labels I photographed, and learn a tiny bit more about how Edo (Tokyo) functioned at that time. I really love museums like this, because they just have so much stuff, and they just put it all out so nonchalantly. Can you imagine ever seeing more than one or two or three Edo period firefighting-related objects on display at the same time at the Metropolitan Museum, or LACMA? Can you imagine actually learning anything of real volume, real extent and consequence, about early modern Japanese firefighting, at the Freer-Sackler or the Museum of Fine Arts? I know that for the average general American museumgoer this is all terribly obscure. But it’s not so exceptionally obscure, is it, really? You don’t have to be a super crazy deep “history of firefighting” nerd to be interested in this stuff – all you have to be is someone who’s heard of it and wants to learn more; someone with an interest in Japan, or in premodern societies more generally, curious about how fires were fought – for example – prior to the advent of modern techniques and technologies. All you need is to take it that one next step – from having ukiyo-e woodblock prints of firefighters because that’s “art”, and perhaps a fireman’s robe, because that’s “textile art,” and taking the next step to include a historical fire-fighting tool – even just one – so that museumgoers can learn something not just about the art and the artist and the aesthetics, but also about the subject matter itself. What was life like in Edo? How did the city work?

Following my Japan Foundation orientation, around 4pm, I then met up with some friends for happy hour (and what for me was a very late lunch, which is actually about the time I normally eat lunch) in Harajuku, followed by some brief clothes shopping adventures. I don’t know if I was just tired, or because I’ve just finished packing up my entire life back in California and thus am particularly keenly aware of how much shit I already own, or because for a change I know I’ll actually be back here for a many-months-long stay and so there’s no need to go crazy right now today, but somehow the whole Harajuku thing just wasn’t grabbing me that night. In a few months, after I’ve gotten a better sense of what clothes I do and don’t have, what styles I’m yearning for, and so forth, I’ll come back and I’ll buy all the things.

Wednesday saw more general random history wandering. I was meeting up with a friend in the Akasaka/Nagatachô neighborhood, so while I waited to get together with her, I found my way to the ruins of the Akasaka-mitsuke, the approach to the Akasaka Gate of Edo castle. Marky Star has a wonderfully thorough explanation about mitsuke and so forth here, so I won’t bother to rehash that. Still, it was neat to see some stonework surrounding a small former section of the castle moat, along with its associated bridge (Benkei-bashi) – to get some sense of what had once been there, much more so than if it were just a few stones and a marker saying “you can’t see anything at all, but just imagine…”

Adjacent to this is a massive, shiny, very new-looking residential+shopping complex, which we are told stands on the former grounds of the Kishû Tokugawa Kojimachi mansion. Here too, while there is less explicitly to be seen of anything surviving from that time (such as a gatehouse, for example), I was happy to see as many plaques and markers as I did, explaining even just a little bit the history of what once stood there. For a moment, I got mixed up and thought this was maybe the Kishû Tokugawa Akasaka mansion which in the Meiji period became the temporary imperial palace for a time, but later in the day we visited the far more famous Akasaka Palace, and I was reminded that that was built atop the former site of the Akasaka mansion I was thinking of – and so the one more immediately adjacent to Akasaka-mitsuke was a separate mansion.

Incidentally, directly across the street from the Akasaka-mitsuke ruins I could see (across the street, in the distance, behind serious gates) the official residences of the heads of the two Houses of the Japanese Diet (i.e. the two houses of parliament). Had I taken the time, I could have easily sought out the Diet Building, the Prime Minister’s residence, the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party, and so forth, all of which are clustered right around that neighborhood.

Instead, I poked around in a slightly different direction, walking left instead of right, or something to that effect, and happened upon a building associated with the Korean royal family, who in Japan’s Imperial period were incorporated into the Japanese European-style peerage/aristocracy, or kazoku. Not something I think the Japanese government or whoever are necessarily trying to hide, per se – that the last members of the Korean royal family were present and resident in Tokyo in the 1900s to 1940s – but just a corner of the international history that just doesn’t pop up so much on the Japan side (of course, this is quite prominent in Korean history); empire is one thing, but what happened to the royal family, as individuals, where they lived in Tokyo, and so forth, gets brushed aside in the face of the much more boldly and starkly obvious issues of Empire and imperialism and colonialism – political history and all of that. Still, I think it fascinating, the place of Koreans, Ryukyuans, Chinese, within Japanese culture and history.

What’s today known as the Classic House at Akasaka Prince, standing on one portion of the former site of that Kishû Tokugawa Kojimachi mansion, seems to be the restoration of a residence constructed in 1930 for the last Crown Prince of the Korean Kingdom; this 1930 building seems to have replaced one built in 1884 for Prince Kitashirakawa by Josiah Conder – arguably the most significant architect of the Meiji period, or at least the most widely featured in introductory Japanese Art History survey textbooks.

So, that was pretty cool. Meeting up with my friend, we then poked around Hie Shrine for just a bit – they were having a gagaku concert and some kind of festival procession the next day in conjunction with Mid-Autumn Festival and also the 300th anniversary of the accession of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune, all of which sounds quite exciting but I won’t be able to attend.

We then made our way to the Akasaka Palace – the more famous one, built in 1909 on the former grounds of the Kishû Tokugawa mansion which had been appropriated and modified to serve as a temporary imperial palace from 1873 to 1889. Whereas I imagine the 1870s-90s palace to have been largely unchanged from its architectural style, layout, construction, character as an Edo period daimyô residence – wooden construction, tatami mat flooring, shôji and fusuma screens for walls, ceramic tile roofing, and all the rest – the Akasaka Palace built in 1909, the one we know today, is a glory of Meiji architecture, in a Neo-Baroque style inspired by palaces of Germany, Austria, and France. Originally constructed as a residence for the Crown Prince, it has since the 1960s (if not much earlier? I’m not sure) been used to provide lodgings for top-level visiting foreign dignitaries, such as heads of state. Sadly, we failed to consult any public opening schedule or public tours application process ahead of time, and so were only able to see the palace from a distance, from outside the impressive gates. Kind of like visiting the White House. But that’s fine.

So, that’s it for Tokyo for now. Just a few scattered adventures, and now, off to Okinawa. I expect I’ll be doing a lot of exploring and adventuring in Okinawa – historical sites, traditional arts performances, museum exhibits – so, watch this space. Then, in the spring, I’ll be back in Tokyo, and the more mainstream Japanese adventures will continue.

The Beginning of a New Journey

Harajuku Crossing, looking ever different from how I saw it last time, two years ago.


Well, here we are. After many years of grad school, the first day of my “fieldwork year” of PhD dissertation research. This will vary considerably from person to person, and field to field, and so forth, depending on personal circumstances, funding, the character of one’s research topic, and so forth, but stereotypically, we PhD students typically spend a year or so, in the 4th or 5th year of our programs, to poke around in the archives, perform ethnographic interviews, and/or conduct research in some other fashion.

Arrived in Tokyo a few hours ago after a long but not-too-bad flight. I’m back in Japan for the first time in two years, and will be staying here for my longest stay yet: 11 months, divided between Okinawa and Tokyo. So, expect lots of upcoming posts about my exploration of historical sites, maybe museum exhibits, maybe research discoveries or experiences, and other such Japan-based adventures. Either that, or I’ll just get really busy, and won’t end up posting so much. We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, it’s just nice to be back. First impressions – feelings on that first night coming (back) to a place – can be really powerful, and really interesting. I’m not sure I have /too/ much to say tonight, but, just to record my feelings at the moment, before I get too settled in and start thinking differently about it again.

It’s nice to be back in Tokyo – and it’s nice in a very chill, relaxed kind of way. Maybe this is because I’m just so tired from my travels, and because it was already dark out by the time I even left the airport, but as of this moment right now, Tokyo just doesn’t hold the kind of excitement it once did for me, back when it was all so new, and when I was embarking on an adventure – undergrad study abroad – of a scale and type unlike anything I’d ever done before, traveling to a more exotic locale than anyone in my family had ever been, and thinking it just might be my one and only time in my life doing such a thing. Since then, I’ve been back here, what, six times? And it only feels more normal, more familiar, less exciting, each time. But that’s okay. It’s exciting in new ways. Where Tokyo was once (for me) a place to explore and discover, with brand new awesome wonders around every corner, now it’s a place to come back to – an excitement for the things I’ve missed. For sights and sounds and smells. And it’s become a place to keep up with – what’s changed since I was last here? I’ll check in with the latest museum exhibits, see what might be new in terms of famous major popular sites (e.g. train stations) that might have gotten remodeled or something… I’ll be heading to Harajuku tomorrow to meet up with some friends and to do some clothes shopping…

I think I’ll feel differently tomorrow, once it’s a fresh new day. Waking up in Tokyo, ready for a real new adventure.

In the meantime, a few things I learned tonight:

Yamato Transport Co., also known as Kuroneko (“the black cat”), one of the chief takkyûbin companies in the country. Photo from travel guide website GPA-Net.

1) While Japanese baggage delivery services are amazing, and super crazy convenient if you fit into certain normal circumstances (e.g. shipping your luggage from the airport to the hotel, so you don’t have to lug it on public transportation across the city..), as with so much in Japan’s wonderful world of services, if you don’t fit into such normal circumstances, you’re pretty much out of luck.

(I do want to be clear, though, that I’m not ragging on Japan specifically. It can certainly feel to an outsider like a particular flavor of sources of frustration, but I’ve had similar experiences in the UK, as well.)

My dorm in Okinawa won’t accept luggage deliveries, apparently, so that’s ugh number one. But, I figured (and several friends suggested) that it should be fine to have the bags shipped from Narita to Okinawa Airport, and I could just pick them up at the Okinawa airport on Thursday. Guess what? Nope. I don’t know if it’s because it’s too many days out, and they don’t want to have to hold (store) my bags at the other end, or if it’s the reverse, and they don’t want to have to guarantee that my bags will make it there by Thursday, but whatever the reason, they wouldn’t do it. Which leads me to point number 2:

Making your way through the crowds at Shinjuku Station; Ikebukuro isn’t much easier. Photo by Rizap Gym.

2) There’s nothing like awkwardly trying to wheel two wheelie suitcases (one of which keeps tipping sideways and refuses to just roll straight) through the second- or third-busiest train station in the world to make you feel like an obnoxious doofus.

Especially when most of the Japanese people coming out of the airport have normal real home addresses and thus can and did ship their bags home from the airport, leaving the foreigners looking like people who just don’t get it – don’t know how to do things in a smoother, more efficient, less obtrusive manner.

The Moto G I bought unlocked from Amazon a few months ago, and the packaging for the temporary SIM card I bought at the airport.

3) Similarly, with the cellphones. Thankfully, this is getting easier all the time. Now that we get our zairyû card (“temporary residency card”) at immigration at the airport, instead of having to apply through the city office for a “resident alien registration card” (gaikokujin tôrokushômeisho) and waiting weeks, that’s at least one step that’s so much easier. But, you still have to register your address with the local city office or town hall (市役所、町役場, etc.) before you can get any sort of cellphone plan other than the most basic pay-as-you-go, so if you’re like me and spent a good few days in Tokyo before traveling out to whatever region you’re going to be living in, you haven’t had a chance to do that yet. And, further, since I can’t move into the dorms for another two weeks, I don’t have an official residence / address to register with the town hall yet either, so I guess I won’t be getting a phone or a bank account for another two weeks still…

And even if I did know my exact address, what kind of proof, exactly, are they expecting me to have on me? … Plus, what if I didn’t have a place to stay yet? What if I was apartment hunting? Can’t get a phone without an address, but it’s also much harder to get an address (that is, to find an apartment to rent) without a phone. … Can’t I please just get a phone, for godsakes?

(To be fair, admittedly, I’m talking about a very particular set of types of plans. For all I know, it may in fact be quite easy to just do it some slightly different way. If anyone has info on this, I’d be happy to hear about it. Even in English, the intricacies of cellphone plans make my head hurt, so I don’t doubt at all that there are other possibilities, other slightly different ways to go about this, that may work out better, and I just didn’t know to ask for them – or that the staff at the electronics store failed to suggest such alternatives to me. I think one of my friends got this kakuyasu plan thing without providing an address, but then when I tried, I was refused. So, who knows?)

On the plus side, though, it looks like it’s getting easier and easier to get temporary SIM cards, and other sort of tourist-aimed plans. After being given the run-around several times (at Narita, DoCoMo is based on the 4th floor, by departures, quite a ways away from where I’d arrived, but actually that desk is closed and they’ve relocated some distance away; but once they couldn’t help me, it turns out SoftBank – another major Japanese phone carrier – has their counter on the 1st floor, back where I started to begin with. Oh, but this is an express elevator, and it doesn’t stop at the 1st floor….), I decided enough with dealing with people, and I bought a temporary SIM card from a vending machine. I don’t know if 1.5 Gb of data for a week for 3500 yen (roughly US$35) is a good deal, really, monetarily, but, it’ll do me for now. For now, for the first time in my Japan-traveling life, I have a smart phone and a data plan, and can look things up as I go, use Google Maps, post to Facebook, and all the rest. Pretty sweet.

Still, while companies are now offering kakuyasu plans that function like the temporary, quick-and-easy, SIM cards, just over a lengthier period, without quite as fully extensive a contract, even in these cases I discovered you still have to have a formal registered address. Seriously? What.

I can’t wait to be properly situated and settled – unpacked in the dorm room I’ll be keeping for a good number of months; with a proper cellphone, a bank account, and all of that. A library card. Hopefully maybe a desk in the history department, though I’m not sure that’s going to be happening… In the meantime, just one foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

The view from my room at Ryûdai’s 50週年記念館lodgings.

Nubui Kuduchi Radio Show!

Thanks to Simone Salmon, I had the opportunity a week or so ago to guest host a radio show on UCSB’s campus radio station, KCSB 91.9. I of course used the opportunity to share Okinawan music with whoever was listening… Probably did more talking than any music host ever. But I wanted to share with listeners (all, you know, ten of them or whatever) something more about the historical context, the meaning of the songs, and so forth…

It was just a one-time gig, but it was a ton of fun! I wish I had thought to try to pursue doing a regular radio show earlier on… But, then, that one night guest hosting also went so much easier because I had Simone manning the mixing boards and everything. Who knew running a radio show involved so many buttons and sliders and meticulous timing!?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

1. “Kagiyade-fuu ~ Intro” by Mongol 800
2. “Asadoya Yunta” 安里屋ユンタ by Daiku Tetsuhiro 大工哲弘
3. “Asadoya Yunta” 安里屋ユンタ by Natsukawa Rimi 夏川りみ
4. “Nada Sou Sou” 涙そうそう by Yanawaraba やなわらばー
5. “Ka Nahona Pili Kai” by Kealiʻi Reichel
6. “Shimanchu nu takara” 島人ぬ宝 by Begin
7. “Shima uta” 島唄 by The Boom
8. “Nubui Kuduchi” 上り口説 by Ukwanshin Kabudan 御冠船歌舞団
9. “Wuduyi Kuwadisa” 踊くはでさ by Shimabukuro Masao 島袋正雄
10. “Tomari Takahashi” 泊高橋 by Noborikawa Seijin 登川誠仁
11. “Uchina Noir: Ghosts of Chibichiri Cave” by Joseph Yoshimasu Kamiya (available on BANDCAMP!)
12. “Hana – Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana wo” 花~すべての人の心に花を by Kina Shokichi & Champloose 喜納昌吉 & チャンプルーズ
13. “Heiwa no Ryûka” 平和の琉歌 by Nenes ネーネーズ
14. “Miruku Yugafu, Undercooled” 弥勒世果報 ~ Undercooled by Sakamoto Ryûichi & Unaigumi 坂本龍一 & うないぐみ
15. “Kanpoo nu kweenukusaa” 艦砲ぬ喰ぇーぬくさー by Deigo Musume でいご娘
16. “Toki wo koe” 時を越え by HY
17. “Miruku Munari” ミルクムナリ by Hidekatsu 日出克
18. “Shichigwachi Eisa” 七月えいさー by Rinken Band りんけんバンド
19. “Iwai Bushi” 祝節 from a YouTube video that seems to have been taken down. So sorry to not be able to give proper attribution!! yikes!
20. “Snow in Okinawa” 沖縄に降る雪 (Okinawa ni furu yuki) by Miyazawa Kazufumi 宮沢和史
21. “OK” by Talvin Singh
22. “Tinsagu nu Hana Dub” by Ryukyu Underground
23. “Uchi-NanChamploo” うちなんちゃんぷるー by HIFANA (ft. Kotobuki)
24. “Ashimiji Bushi” 汗水節 by Okinawa University of the Arts Gamelan Ensemble 沖縄芸術大学ガムラン (see also this post from two years ago)
25. “Country Roads” カントリー・ロード (from the Studio Ghibli movie “Whisper of the Heart” 耳を澄ませば) by DJ Sasa & the Islanders
26. “Kajadifu Bushi” かぎやで風 by Harry Seisho Nakasone
27. “Tôshin Doi” 唐船どーい from this YouTube video uploaded by teamrimi


Photo my own.

Those who know me know that I pretty much never go to concerts – which is to say, standing up in a pulsing, shouting, crowd; loud; lasers and lights and smoke machines sorts of concerts. I /do/ go, fairly often, to sit-down concerts of so-called “world music,” and things in that vein; in the last couple years, I’ve seen Kealiʻi Reichel, Jake Shimabukuro, the Silk Road Ensemble (twice), Kodō, and the Vienna Philharmonic, among others. And, when I’m in Okinawa, I go to “live houses,” aka “shimauta bars” – touristy though they may be, still, it’s live Okinawan music, and it’s really fun. But, on the rare occasions that I’ve been to the other kind of concerts, I’ve generally found them to be just too loud, for one, and just somehow or other just not my thing.

But, I am *so* glad that my friends Yumiko and Carl suggested that we go see Perfume, live in concert, in Los Angeles. They were at the Wiltern Theater, and the show was just an absolute blast. In its aftermath, three days later, I still have the music and the visuals, and just a remnant feeling of the whole experience, still running around inside of me. I’m watching videos and listening to the group’s latest album – Cosmic Explorer – on YouTube, and as soon as I get to Japan in a couple weeks I am going to seek out a real physical copy. Now, for perhaps the first time, I really understand why people go to live shows, why they get so hyped up about them, why they enjoy them so much – and, why they follow bands, and albums, and why they get so hyped up about buying the merch. I made the mistake of not getting to know the album better before I went, and so unfortunately I only got really revved up during the two songs I knew (from earlier albums). In that moment, I understood why everyone else was already so revved up, throughout the show – knowing the songs better than I did, they were feeling that feeling I only felt during those two portions.

Photo my own.

I do wish I had known we were allowed to take photos. I’ve been to so many performances where they were not allowed, and so I just assumed they weren’t. If I’d known, I would have captured so many more moments – especially during the final song – the encore piece – which had just the most beautiful stage set + screens + costume design/aesthetic. But, so it goes. My huge thanks to those who took video and posted it up on YouTube, allowing me to share bits of the concert here.

I knew and loved Perfume already, from some years ago. Their songs “Polyrhythm,” “Baby Cruising Love,” “Chocolate Disco,” “Secret Secret,” “Nee,” and so forth are all just wonderfully energetic and catchy, and fill me with happiness. I also loved the robotic aesthetic to their dance style (and other aspects of their electronic sound, techno-electronic music videos, etc.), and the juxtaposition of that with cute, feminine, aspects of their hair, dresses, high-heel pumps, and so forth. Creative, unique, just wonderful. Not your typical J-pop, and certainly not your typical mainstream American fare.

A video of Perfume’s performance of “Story” at SXSW, 2015. Apparently, videos of last week’s LA concert are already getting taken down. :(

And all of that was well on show in this live concert. The live performance of “Story” (and the music video all the more so) was just pure techno wonderfulness. Perfume’s costume aesthetic, and robot-like dance moves were front and center. Indeed, they entered to a techno-style video, wearing Tron-like light-up outfits, and it just went on from there. I truly do love that aesthetic – it’s what makes Perfume Perfume, and actually just in the last couple days, watching some of their music videos from a few years ago, and comparing them to the concert, I really began to get a sense of how their style has evolved, matured, whatever we want to call it – and, yet, these fundamental attributes, that make them so distinctive, and so compelling, haven’t gone anywhere.

Ugh. The live version of this one has been taken down, too. Glad I saved/DLed it before that happened. Thanks once again to those who uploaded these videos!

But, in addition to that, on top of that, thinking about the concert, and also the more I listen to songs from the new album, what’s also really wonderful is just how varied it is. Perfume is by no means a one-trick pony, or a one-hit wonder. Within the bounds of that aesthetic (and sometimes venturing outside of it), they really do such wonderfully different stuff.Story” is the ultimate in the electronic, digitized, sort of aesthetic – indeed, it’s mostly techno sounds, bordering at times on machine noise, even, with tons of graphics, and a minimum, actually, of vocals or dancing. This, in contrast to “Cling Cling,” “Miracle Worker,” “Next Stage with YOU,” and a number of the other songs, which feature brightly colored dresses, and really focus on the girls, their voicemodded singing, and robot-inspired dancing.

Perfume – Baby Face (English Ver.) – Live in San Francisco

Perfume – Baby Face (English Ver.) – Live in San Francisco

Can’t seem to figure out how to embed this properly. Sorry.

I don’t know if this is weird, but, as much as I do love many of the songs overall, as whole pieces – the chorus, the melody, the overall thing that is each song – for whatever reason, I’ve gotten particular hooked on the brief instrumental sections. In “Baby Face,” this section features the wonderful sound of the clicks of some sort of wooden instrument – what I’ve been told is a synthesized sound of a pentatonic wood box. As much as I love the full and complex sounds of many of the other songs, I also love the simple, small, ton-ta-ton-ta-ton sound of this wooden box, and the cute hand-rolling to each side dance move that Perfume led us in. In “Star Train,” this is the whoa-oh, whoa whoa oh oh oh. And many of the other songs have something like it too – in “Cosmic Explorer,” they even sing it at the end, switching out of the fuller sound of the synthesized sounds, to the softer, “acoustic” sound of the girls singing it themselves.

I can’t even tell you how much fun I had at this concert. The ladies roused up the crowd, inviting us to sing and dance with them, and talking with us. They asked who had handmade Perfume “costumes” or “cosplay,” and seemed really genuinely impressed and enjoying seeing such passion in the fans. The three of them all demonstrated really good English, but they also selected someone from the crowd to even interpret for them, which must have been such a blast for her, even if it was nerve-wracking. (There was a great video of this, but that’s also been taken down.) I also especially liked the super-cute “Jenny ha gokigen naname,” a song from, apparently, way back in 1980, from a band called Juicy Fruits (I think I like the Perfume version much better. O_o) – which, as you can see in the video above, Perfume sings at their live shows as an opportunity for the crowd to get really involved and riled up, shouting the name of each girl as they come up.

Screenshot from a fan video of the concert, as Perfume performed “Star Train” as their final encore. Much thanks to whoever uploaded this, for helping capture this moment, and this incredible stage set. Glad I got the video, and the screenshot, before they were taken down by YouTube.

Finally, the whole experience came to its inevitable end. “Star Train,” which was the perfect piece to end on – a soft, kimochi wo komete (filled with feeling), nostalgic sort of song, which just really sort of touched me, leaving me (perhaps all of us) on a note of release, of relaxing and just enjoying the music, and then saying goodbye at the end of a intense fun time. Putting aside the pattern dancing, the girls sat on the steps of the stage set, or stood with mic-stands, in bright aqua dresses – the only bright color to be seen, providing a sort of shot of highlight, under an array of small lights hung from the ceiling to create the impression of a starry night sky. Video projected onto the back screen provided an English translation of the lyrics in a typewriter-style sort of font that lent, I don’t know what to call it, a certain aesthetic.

I think I understand now why people love concerts so much, and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing out on. Looking forward to seeing what concerts I might be able to attend in Japan this coming year.