Archive for January, 2008

Pictures

Posted in Technical on January 22, 2008 by joeki2000

For about a month now I have about a dozen pictures online. To see them you just have to click on the link on the right hand menu (My Photo’s). I’m just giving the heads up on this, because I intend to upload a new set in the coming weekend, so anyone who hasn’t seen them yet : Hurry up! .

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My stay in Japan, the first 4 months

Posted in Japan News on January 18, 2008 by joeki2000

Well, the semester here is coming to an end, and so is my intensive Japanese course here at Shinshu University. Next semester (April) I will be a normal student enrolled at the faculty of arts. I’m not quite sure yet what courses I will be taking. I’m considering Korean or classic Chinese among others. Though I would really like to take some English classes as well, because I’m very curious about the level here. But worries for later I guess. Right now I feel it’s time to take a good critical look at my stay in Japan here up until now. I’ll point out the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good :

Nagano Ken :
I love Matsumoto and the Nagano Ken in general. The city is surrounded by mountains and beautiful nature. I can’t wait for the Spring to do some serious hiking in the area. Furthermore, this is not Tokyo or Osaka which is very nice. Don’t get me wrong, they are both obviously attractive and interesting city’s, but I’ve been in Tokyo three times now and to be honest it always feels good to get out of there after a few days. It is just more relaxed here, not so crowded, a lot more rural I guess. Something I also appreciate about my home town in Belgium. I think I could seriously work and live here for a long period. Though from a tourist point of view Matsumoto might not be so attractive, it has it’s beautiful buildings and traditional culture. Also Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka are not that far away, so if you want to leave for a while, it is perfectly possible, by bus ! .

The Food :
I thought I would have a hard time adjusting to the different kind of food style here. But I’m enjoying every meal here 🙂 . I did lose some weight, but that’s only natural of course. But I have to hand it to the Japanese, they know their food.

The People :
There are some really good people here. If you’ve read my blog you’ll know that some people have treated me very well here, even though I was almost a complete stranger to most of them. I’ve been treated to countless meals & beers. I’ve been invited to Onsen, to fly in an airplane, to go snowboarding etc. But generally, these people have not been students. They were either adults, or young people who have graduated. More on this later (unfortunately under “The Bad” ….)

My Japanese and the Language Course :
I’ve always been an average student in Leuven. I don’t intend to change that. But I do feel my Japanese has improved a lot here. At first I figured the course would be boring and an endless review of things I studied earlier. But especially the grammar classes were very useful. Some of the teaching staff was also very enthusiastic and friendly.

Living on your Own :
Though it comes with certain responsibility’s (some I had never faced before) and duty’s, I’m actually enjoying living on my own. Even though my apartment is the size of a shoebox, it still feels like your own place. Sure you have to clean every week, preparing food and doing the dishes takes time and there is never something completely done. But still, the freedom…. .

The Bad :

Japanese, nay, Asian Students :
Our relationship (well I can’t speak for the other Belgians I guess but I think they feel the same) with Japanese students hasn’t been as good as I had expected. Though this might have something to do with the rural character of Matsumoto (foreigners, especially Western ones are still rare here) , it is very hard to become friends with Japanese students here. I’ll give you some of my personal opinions about this :
First of all, people here assume you don’t speak any Japanese and thus are even afraid to talk to you. Once it has been established that your not American, but speak Japanese , things usually go more fluently.
I don’t know if it is because Matsumoto is Inaka (rural…) , but there is little to no Night life here amongst students (or so it seems). People do activities in their student circle, but outside of that, the number of students that actually goes out drinking is on the low side. Going out is also quite expensive here compared to Belgium, perhaps another reason.
The Japanese social system also has a major part to play in this I think. I’ve discussed this dozens of times with other foreigners in Japan and unless you know something about this, it’s pretty hard to explain. But for example inviting Japanese people usually takes a lot of work. After a while it gets annoying to always have to take the initiative, and after a while you just give up and go out with the people you have already befriended. This is something Asian I believe, because we experienced the same with Korean students here. Of course there always exceptions (fortunately).

Other than this, I don’t have any bad things to say. Don’t misunderstand me : I’ve got enough friends here already to make my weekends interesting. Besides, the other Belgian dudes here are all cool and I’ve even made some American friends as well who are always prepared to have a good time. And in the local Izakaya’s and bars you always meet new people, but usually ,as before, these are older people working etc.. not students. Perhaps Japanese people need to get of their Island some more and see what’s going on in the rest of the world (that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth). I can discuss these things for hours and hours, so hit me up if you’re interested. Hopefully though, next semester we’ll meet a lot more cool young people at the faculty of arts.

The Ugly :
“The ugly” are some random facts about Japan that annoy me. Small things that don’t really matter but are still funny or just plain silly.
First of all, Japanese people can not drive cars. We all experienced this on many occasions. There is no regard for cyclists or pedestrians. It’s really shameful at times. Second : Fashion. I can not believe some of the clothes and outfits I have seen here. Though I am not one to judge people on their clothes or hairstyle, some of these Japanese students really look like…downright pussy’s. Third : the price of beer in cafes and bars will make many people in Belgium shiver. It’s cheaper to just buy liquor really, though I don’t want to encourage that of course. Fourth : Japanese toilets : Give me a good old Western toilet any day (like in my apartment). But it has to be said that the Western toilets here are so good. They all have heated toilet seats etc. . Fifth : The people here that speak English are few and far between, yet they always want to try it, even after you’ve noted that you speak Japanese. And last but not least : No I’m not German, no I’m also not American. I’m from Belgium….and no Belgium is not a foreign communist country and it is not located above Spain. 🙂

So I’ll be doing some travelling in the coming 2 months, and I’ll try to keep everyone informed about that. Later.

Woburn House – Message to Ourselves outside the Dreaming Machine

Posted in Review on January 12, 2008 by joeki2000

I finally got round to uploading another review, though this one is rather old (the album was released in 2006 and the review itself was written in 2007).

Woburn House are a relatively unknown bunch hailing from Bonn, Germany. They play a unique blend of post metal taking cues from established names like “Isis” or “Pelican” but add their own special touch. They are signed to the “Paradigms Recordings” label that has a lot of small yet promising artists.

With their debut album, the Germans prove they are a force to be reckoned with in a genre that has seen a boom in the last few years. Their sound can be as heavy as early “Pelican” and at the same time as refined as bands like “Explosions in the Sky”. But where they really shine is the use of vocals in their songs. The combination of Aaron Turner like growls and psalm like hypnotic chants (not unlike psychedelic stoner outfit “OM” or the British band “Manatees”) works really well.
The vocals usually take on a chorus like position in the songs, whereas the instrumental parts are used to built up tension and atmosphere in true post rock style or provide a long bridge. But the riffs are generally a lot harder than most post rock so metal heads should be happy about this. The vocals keep the ten minute plus songs interesting and varied. But to break this album apart into several songs would be a mistake. It should be listened to in its entirety to catch the full essence and flow.

Of course they are not “Neurosis” yet and sometimes transitions are rather brute or clumsy. Because the band is only a three piece their pallet of noise comes of a little thin at times. But there is certainly a lot of potential here in all areas. The abstract lyrics fit the cover and tittle of the album. I particularly enjoyed the second track “Motor”.

Paradigms Recordings , October 2006
Written 17/02/2007

2007 : A Year in Review

Posted in Review on January 4, 2008 by joeki2000

These are in my opinion the best 20 albums, EP’s and singles released in the year 2007.
Ofcourse one always discovers a new band or CD an extended time after the original release, so this list is by no means flawless, but it’s damn close :
The Best Albums of 2007 (revisited, 01/01/2009)

25 : Shipwreck A.D. – Abyss  (hardcore)
24 : Distance – My Demons  (dubstep)
23 : Nadja – Thaumogenesis (doom/ambient)
22 : Maserati – Inventions for the New Season (postrock)
21 : Jesu – Sun Down / Sun Rise EP (metal/electronica)
20 : The Angelic Process – Weighing Souls with Sand (doom)
19 : Om – Pilgrimage  (stoner)
18 : Bloc Party – A Weekend in the City (indy)
17 : Nadja – Base Fluid (Remastered)  (ambient/doom)
16 : Oceansize – Frames  (postrock)
15 : Various Artists – Box of Dub & Future Dub Vol. I  (dubstep)
14 :  Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I miss Everyone (postrock)
13 : Pelican – City of Echoes (metal)
12 : Blacklisted – Peace on Earth, War on Stage EP (hardcore)
11 : Aereogramme – My Heart has a wish that you would not Go (postrock)

10 : Neurosis – Given to the Rising  (metal)

09 : Pinch – Underwater Dancehall (dubstep)


08 :
Jesu – Lifeline EP (metal/electronica)


07 :
Zozobra – Harmonic Tremors  (stoner)


06 :
Rosetta – Wake/lift (metal)

05 : Nadja – Touched (Remastered) (doom/ambient)

04 : Jesu – Pale Sketches (metal/electronica)

03 : Dälek – Abandoned Language  (alt hiphop)

02 : Burial – Untrue  (dubstep/ambient)

01 : Jesu – Conqueror  (metal/electronica)

Again Jesu top the list, again before Burial at number #2. Dälek rounds out the varied top 3. Jesu‘s second full length of 2K7, Pale Sketches, was originally at the top spot but I switched it with Conqueror which has proven to be a real grower.  Nadja rounds out the top 5.  New at number 6 is Rosetta whom I only discovered in 2008.

Tokyo and New Year

Posted in Japan News on January 3, 2008 by joeki2000

As I mentioned before , I spent the New Year period in Tokyo. We left for Tokyo on the morning of Saturday the 29th. We arrived in Shinjuku (新宿) in the early afternoon where we were greeted by Sam, a fellow student from Seijo University (see his blog on the right). So we went to his neat apartment located in Seijo (成城), one of the more upper class neighborhoods in Tokyo. This neighborhood had a very European feel to it, so it was quite nice to spend the New Year period there.

After we had all unpacked and washed up, we met our good friend Sudou at 6 p.m. in his home town Setagaya Ku ( 世田谷区) , again one of the more wealthy regions in Tokyo. Sudou is the CEO of the Sudo Jam company (http://www.sudo-jam.co.jp/). We met him a while back in Matsumoto and we’ve all become good friends since, so he invited us to his hometown to show us some good places.
First we had sushi in a famous sushiya (寿司屋). It was delicious , especially the toro (とろ), the best part of the Tuna fish. We also had Angler Fish liver, Squid and various other delicious treats. The fish was served with rice and
Makiyakinabe (巻き焼き鍋), bread and omelet baked in the pan, something we eat a lot in Belgium, so that was nice.
Of course the お酒 was being poured in at a very high tempo. We also had traditional new years Sake, poured from a barrel and drunk from a square wooden cup. Very nice.
After this with our belly’s quite full already, we went to a Teppanyaki (鉄板焼き). This is a Japanese cooking style using an iron griddle to cook food. We were treated to the most delicious steak I’ve had in a long while. It was I think the first time I’ve had a good piece of beef since I’ve come to Japan (minced meat doesn’t count). For desert we ate garlic rice which was also rather delicious. And through it all the sake kept going in nicely.
With my stomach now absolutely full, Sudo insisted we also go this his friends Italian restaurant. We had a little bit of pasta and smoked ham there, but I couldn’t really eat anything anymore, so I mainly tasted some of the wine’s.
After being treated to all these delicious foods, we thanked Sudo for his generous evening (which was one of the most entertaining since I’ve come to Japan, but that’s no surprise as Sudo is also known as the Chief Entertainment Officer 🙂 ).
But then we went our own way and took a cab to Shibuya (渋谷) were we went to the Womb Club. I had already been there once before. This time it was a drum & bass party. It was quite nice to able to just go out normally again. But by 3.30 a.m. some of us started getting tired so we passed by McDonald’s and called it quits, returning home to Seijo after a serious first day.

After such an opening day, we had to spent the next day a little more relaxed. So we slept ’till about noon and decided to go to Jinbōchō (神保町). This district is known for its bookstores, and was advised to us by Murata Sensei (村田先生). It was a welcome change of pace to just wander around in this more relaxed neighbourhood among countless of bookstores. Unfortunately some were closed because of New Year. In the evening we prepared our own food : Miso (味噌) soup with Ebi, Gyousa kimchi chicken and rice. We watched some TV and went to sleep rather early, knowing the damage I did the previous day, and knowing that the next day was New Year, this was probably a good idea.

On the 31st we went to Akihabara (秋葉原) , also known as Akihabara Electric Town. It is the largest shopping area on Earth for electronic, computer, anime and otaku goods. And we saw a lot of those last one’s. Not much to tell here, apart from that it was very impressive and extremely crowded. After Akihabara we went to Iidabashi (飯田橋地) to eat. I had a cheese, pork and onion mix, followed by Seafood お好み焼き. After that we we went to celebrate New Year. We choose not to go to a club or something and went to the Meiji Shrine ( 明治神堂) to make an offering to the gods and wish for a good new year. Of course we did bring alcohol for the wait. We arrived on time so we didn’t have to wait very long, something the people at the end of the immense line did had to do (there were thousands of people waiting). I recorded a nice video on my camera. A unique experience indeed. After that we ate some more and made our way back to the apartment.

New Year’s day we spent in Ginza (銀座) , which is the most famous upmarket department store area of Tokyo, containing such stores as Armani, Boss, LG, Sony and Mac. We strolled around and had a Coffee on the corner of the Wako department store, a very famous place. We cooked some food in the evening and watched some football and drank some very tasty whiskey.

The last day was filled with some shopping in Shinjuku and Ginza ( the bargain sales begin January 2nd in Japan) and after that it was on the bus back to Matsumoto, where it was 10 degrees colder than in Tokyo. Still, I was happy to return and escape once more from the crowded Tokyo. But I’ll sure be there again later this year.

Happy New Year everyone !