Tom Hanks, I really like you too.

I love movies and TV, and without the Internet I'd be lost and lonely. Tom Hanks has been one of my favorite actors long before I even knew it. The first movie I ever saw him in that I can remember is Big. As a child, I imagined that I would be just like him as an adult, especially filling my apartment with toys and games. Watching it as an adult and reflecting, I think I might have actually done just that. I'm certainly young at heart, I have plenty of toys and my interests are definitely not "mature" by most people's standards. And I still feel like a child when it comes to romance, something that movie touched on a bit.

As I grew older, I saw more of Hanks' movies: Turner and Hooch, The Money Pit, The 'Burbs. Naturally, as a big baseball fan, I saw A League of Their Own a few times in theaters and have watched it several times since. The music lover in me enjoyed That Thing You Do. His career has become more serious following Forrest Gump, but I've seen nearly everything he's starred in.
A couple weeks ago, I saw he was in a music video by Carly Rae Jepsen. The song itself has grown on me, and Hanks may be getting old, but he makes the video that much more fun just by being there.

And then, this came out:
I just watched this video which came out on Tuesday, and all I have to say is that it was totally awesome to see Tom Hanks play Tom Hanks. And the fact that he can have fun like this just makes me love him as an actor all that much more. After a very tough week both at work and at home, this was a great way to finish it off.

The Strange Things You Find in Crane Games...

While in Nagoya over New Years vacation, I checked out a few of the "UFO Catcher" crane games, as I usually do. One particular store had an interesting item...
Stethescopes. For, I assume, playing doctor. I didn't try to play this machine.

I think I've seen other strange things in machines but never took pictures. I have heard of some games holding household goods like dish soap! And recently I've seen those "selfie poles" in a few locations.

More soon, I hope!

Junior High Japanese Rock? 五五七二三二〇 (Go Go Nana Ni San Ni Rei)

Japanese music can be pretty good. J-Pop may be a bit different from American pop like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, but it's fun and peppy.

I'm more of a rock guy. Queen, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith are all favorites. There's something special about women handling an instrument though, and the latest Japanese rock group has eight of them.

There are five guitarists and three drummers in  五五七二三二〇 (pronounced Go Go Nana Ni San Ni Rei, literally 5572320). Their first music video, above, just got released today, and it's a loud hard rocking song with a catchy chorus, titled 半世紀優等生(Half a Century Honor Student). 
The thing to keep in mind here is that these are all junior high school students, which puts them all at 13-15 years old. 
The full version of the music video, above, starts off like a scene from the end of a movie about junior high school, with a peaceful piano solo ... then the girls show up in the school's field with giant inflatable hearts and dead bunnies (?!) and the rocking begins.
The chorus is simple but catchy, and there isn't very much singing going on, with more spoken-word lyricizing occuring. It's still fun.
About 2/3rds through the video, we are introduced to the members of the group in a way that reminds me of Sin City or similar movies.
Then, everyone eats cookies. I don't understand the lyrics so I don't get the symbolism, if any. But the imagery is similar to that used during the piano solo. And there is a reason they are eating cookies.
There's a lot of slowed down high speed film cuts too, which look pretty cool. The song ends with a very anime-ish tsundere yell and everyone stops playing.

Female rockers aren't very common, especially in Japan. 五五七二三二〇 definitely has produced-pop feel to it, but the music itself is loud and hard. I'm certainly enjoying it! I've listened to the song a few times today as I've been writing this article. As for the names and stories of the girls involved, that is being kept a secret because, as their promotional website says, they want to focus on musical and academic activities.

So, about those cookies. If you look at the promotional group image near the top of my post, you'll notice a package of coconut sable cookies and images of the cookies scattered around the group. The translation is a little hard to fully understand, but it appears that the group was put together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the cookies.

I'm sure the film-like clips of the girls eating cookies are going to be used in commercials in the near future if they aren't already, and this may be all we see from this group. But who knows, there may be a follow-up this summer (hopefully with more singing included). The single will be available on iTunes (worldwide, it seems) on March 25th.

I should note that I was "introduced" to this band by the band's publicist, though I'm not receiving any compensation of any kind for this post.

Happy Valentine's Day!

The day for lovers has come and gone, and as I've reported before, generally the ladies give the guys gifts on February 14th in Japan. Some of my kid students bring me presents, and I wanted to show my "haul" for this year and to say thank you again!

There is a gift from one of my adult students in there too. And before you read anything into that, know that in Japan many people give gifts to friends and coworkers - there is a Japanese expression for that but I can't remember it! I do know the term "obligation gift" - a gift given in return for a gift received. And yes, I will be giving obligation gifts in return on March 14th.
I ended up with eight gifts, if I kept track properly. And they should all be visible above. Chocolate and sweets of any kind is awesome, so I'm going to enjoy these for a while!
The wrapped package under the Gaufrettes tin had Star Wars chocolates. Godiva and other fancy chocolates are always welcome, but these are quite unique so I thought you'd enjoy seeing them!

Happy Twin Tail Day!

I'm pretty sure I posted this video to this blog before, but in honor of Twintail Day I thought it would be a great way to kick off this post.
You see, Japan loves having special days in addition to all of the holidays it celebrates. The Kobe Beef Burger I tried last week was released on January 29th. 2, 9. Ni ku. Niku. The Japanese word for meat. Get it?
And 2/2 is a bit easier, what with all the "2" s of course. Recognized as an official Day by the Japan Anniversary Association since 2012, Twin Tail Day is a chance to show off the growing popularity of what might be the cutest hairstyle ever. Check out some pics on Twitter with this link . And before you ask, yes, there IS an official Twin Tail website  (in Japanese) .
When I think of twin tails in America, all that comes to mind are Pippi Longstocking and Punky Brewster (wow, I forgot all about Punky Brewster until just now). But yes, a very large number of girls and women wear their hair in the various twin tail styles.
Did you know there are three styles of twin tails?
Sailor Moon (way above) and Mayu Watanabe of AKB48 are two good examples of the rabbit or crescent style. These tails come from a high point on the head.
Pippi Longstocking and idol / actress / singer Yuko Ogura are representative of the traditional style, starting around ear height.
And finally, the country style is a lower tail set, originating around the neck, and the Twin Tail Project identifies Anne of Green Gables as an example.

Do not ever say this blog is not educational!

Which is your favorite style, or favorite twin tail wearer? (This should make for interesting comments ...)

My First Kobe Beef - from Lotteria?!

When you hear the name Kobe Beef, you probably think of an expensive steak made from highly-pampered cows. And that's about right. But just like any other cow, Kobe cows provide several different cuts and styles of meats. Fast food chain Lotteria has bought up a bit of the ground stuff to make a limited-time offering of burgers which use Kobe beef!
The box itself is pretty cool. Lotteria is using a bunch of local varieties of beef for sandwiches this year; the promotion began in November. There are a few months where there will be no special offer, as far as I can understand.
Opening the box, there's a package-in-a-package kind of deal going on. As my coworker said, "Welcome to Japan." In all, the burger was protected by four layers: a plastic bag, a paper bag holding the box and my fries, and the wrapper you see above. So I finally unwrapped it and got to the sandwich:
There's the burger! It looks like a small piece of meat, but it was hard to get a good shot (it's sliding off the bun a bit). This isn't a big sandwich, but it was larger than I expected.

As you can see, the bun itself isn't the usual brown; it's made from rice flour which is softer and a little chewier, and topped with sesame seeds. They also included too much of the usual boring lettuce, and a special sauce made from apples, bouillon, and local onions. While the review I read mentioned that the bun absorbed their sauce, my burger had plenty of it left behind, making the sandwich messy and a good bit slippery. The meat itself has chopped onions and a larger grain of ground beef, adding a lot of texture.

How does it taste? Pretty good! Most of the lettuce ended up falling onto the wrapper, so I was able to enjoy the flavor of the meat and sauce. The burger was moist and tender, and the larger pieces of beef made this sandwich stand out above any usual patty. I've certainly never had a burger with a flavor like this, and for my first taste of Kobe beef, I have to say it was pretty good.

However, this quality comes at a price, to the tune of 1500 yen for a (fast food) burger with a medium drink. There are burger joints in town with higher-priced sandwiches, but those are real, big burgers. As a novelty and to try Kobe beef, this was worth the cost. You won't see me shelling out that kind of coin again, though.

And, if nothing else, eating this during my lunch at work made for an interesting event. Everybody gathered around me to see the sandwich and watch my reaction! When was the last time you heard of a fast food burger attracting a crowd?

My New Years Gift of Sweets

I spent my vacation over New Years traveling around Central Japan and the Kansai region. New Year's Eve was in Kyoto, and in addition to a little sightseeing a picked up a few traditional things.

My gift for the office was a box of yatsuhashi, which most likely Kyoto's most iconic food. It's a lightly sweet snack that is essentially a souvenir sweet these days. It comes in two forms and several flavors.
The baked version is mostly found in curved long triangles, similar to a stick of gum curved into a long semi-circle. 
In its raw form, it's a soft, flexible dough. Many prefer the raw, unbaked yatsuhashi, which is usually cut into squares about 4" in size and folded into a triangle with a small bit of red bean paste filling inside. 

The "basic" flavor is cinnamon, and unlike most snacks in Japan, the cinnamon can be quite pronounced. But baked yatsuhashi is also found in matcha (green tea), and raw yatsuhashi is found in at least half a dozen non-traditional flavors, like strawberry, chocolate, and yuzu (a sweet lemon-like fruit). Chocolate might be my favorite, although the other flavors are pretty good too, and the traditional cinnamon is certainly good as well!
 A gift to myself (as a sampler for the blog, naturally!) was the box you see above. The shopping street leading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto is full of, well, shops, mostly selling souvenirs and traditional goods. After picking up some yatsuhashi, I wandered into a different store that had a shelf of small jellies and some boxes to pack them in. I grabbed a nine-pack box (there are larger sizes, too) and picked out a selection of gorgeous sweets.
You can see my non-harmonious arrangement above. One of these wasn't really a jelly (top-left) but was okay-tasting; the rest were mild but sweet. They're really beautiful, though! The sweets go by the name of wagashi, and are generally served with tea. As with most Japanese sweets, the base is usually mochi and/or anko, or fruit jellies. I believe the form above is namagashi, a "wet" type made fresh without preservatives.

Japan has an obsession with fruit flavors with dessert, and the fruits themselves are usually fairly expensive still too. Grapes, apples, and strawberries aren't just snacks here. Gummy candies are all over the place with fruit flavors - fine by me, because I love them! These are much milder, but I think they would go great with a cup of tea on this cold winter night!