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Video: ups and downs – How I Joined a Japanese Choir

It’s been many months and summer is almost here. Cherry blossoms have bloomed and fallen. During the holidays and into the spring, a few bumps along the way led to headaches and delays. Beneath all that however were the trips, festivals, and most importantly the people there to push you through those times. In Nagasaki, one such group does that through the magic of music.

A special thanks to The Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club. I love you all and couldn’t have done this without you!

Sorry for the delay. Had to borrow a friend’s computer to do this! Thanks so much Matt!

Music:
Hold Me Down – Foreign Fields
いざ起て戦人よ – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club
ふるさと – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club

 

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8 (most used in this video)

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CC 2015

Check out my previous episode on traveling to Yakushima and Tanegashima, and taking video of the stars above Japan.

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Video: under the stars – Filming the Night Skies of Japan

A trip to the islands of Yakushima and Tanegashima at the beginning of fall provided an opportunity to visit one of the most picturesque landscapes Japan has to offer. My favourite photos however whether back home in Canada or in Japan, are taken simply by pointing my camera up into the night sky.

My longest video thus far with over 1500 km driven for footage around Kyushu and about 2 months to film everything, hope you enjoy!

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0 (most used in this video)

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Nagasaki and my summer adventures.

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Video: summer lights – The Highlights of Summer in Japan

Summer is over and school is starting again. Here are a few of the highlights experienced during the last 2 months.

This video definitely took a bit longer to make than I hoped. School starting up and just generally being busy has made it especially difficult to find time to simply sit down and edit. Hopefully it’s entertaining and stay tuned for the next episode which I assure you will be filled with a few surprises 😉

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 (most used in this video)

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Omura and first moving in.

SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVALS

Summer Music Festivals in Japan

It’s summer now, and for those musically obsessed of us out there, that means SUMMER FESTIVAL SEASON! Japan, which boasts a recording industry second only to the US, has about as many music festivals as there are people in the country. There’s just so many! What this means is that there’s just about something out there for all tastes.

Sadly, by the time of this posting, some events may have already passed, but hay! There’s always next year, right?

July

DEAD POP FESTiVAL

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Where: Kawasaki, Kanagawa

When: July 11th & 12th

With a goal to “Knock Down the Wall,” this festival’s line-up is all across the board. From comedy bands, to rock, to punk, to ska, to the very border of metal, walls are definitely getting knocked down.

Sekigahara Live Wars

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Where: Sekigahara Battlefield, Fuwa-gun, Gifu

When: July 18th-20th

This festival is particularly fun. It is a yearly “battle” between day 1: women (though, women fronted, not specifically women ONLY), day 2: men, day 3: idol groups. These divas will definitely relight the fires of war at this festival.

JOIN ALIVE

Where: Iwamizawa, Hokkaido

When: July 18th & 19th

JOIN ALIVE aims to be a very chill festival, going so far as to offer free admission to junior high school and under kids. And seriously, looking at that line-up, I would KILL to have gone to this festival as a junior high schooler. Also, there are rides! How cool is that!?

Fuji Rock Festival 

Where: Yuzawa-cho, Niigata

When: July 24th- 26th

One of the biggest yearly festivals in Japan, Fuji Rock Festival takes places at an off-season ski resort, and as such, one of the main draws (aside from the concerts) is the fact that you can camp it. Though an even bigger draw to it is that it features a huge line-up of non-Japanese bands. And these aren’t a bunch of nobodies. These are HUGE acts! Because of this, the website is FULL of handy information in English. Enjoy!

Punkafoolic! Bayside Crash

Where: Tokyo

When: July 25th

This is a nice little punk rock fest that takes place deep in the heart of Tokyo, pretty close to Tsukiji Fish Market. BUT! It’s just before orientation. Sorry incoming people. Maybe next year.

Tokai Summit

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Where: Nagashima Spa Land, Kuwana, Mie

When: July 26th

Tokai Summit holds the claim to fame of being the first outdoor festival dedicated to Hip Hop. Even better, it takes place in my home prefecture! YEAH! Though it’s only a one day event, NagaSpaLand offers an amusement park and outlet shopping to fill the rest of the music-less hours of what should totally be a weekend affair.

August

Rock in Japan Festival

Where: Hitachinaka, Ibaraki

When: August 1st & 2nd then August 8th & 9th

Rock in Japan Festival is put on by music mag “Rockin’ On” and is one of the biggest festivals of the year. It’s so big that not only is it a given that it’s going to sell out, but you can’t even just expect to buy tickets for it. No, you have to enter a raffle just to be allowed to throw your money at it. It also takes place on two separate weekends, all the way up in Ibaraki, so unless you’re placed in a surrounding prefecture, good luck seeing the entire festival. With one of the most diverse line-ups, there is easily something for everyone here…and not gonna lie, probably 10/10 of my favorite current artist list.

Zushi Fes

zushi fes

Where: Zushi, Kanagawa

When: August 7th-9th

MTV, yes THAT MTV, invites you to get your party on in your swimsuit at this resort festival featuring quite a few Japanese DJs, R&B singers, hip hop groups, and everything in between.

Rising Sun Rock Festival

risingsunrockfest

Where: Ishikari, Hokkaido

When: August 14th & 15th

This is a music fest for people who love Japanese music and hates sleep. Concerts go on ALL NIGHT LONG, and the festival prides itself on only featuring Japanese artists. Ishikari, next door to tourist hotspot Otaru in Hokkaido is a gorgeous area, and being able to enjoy amazing music as the sun comes up on a new day is definitely an experience to check out.

Sonicmania/Summer Sonic

Where: Chiba and Osaka

When: August 14th-16th

Summer Sonic is a MONSTER of a festival. Technically the fest begins on the 14th with Sonicmania, a one day EDM festival that, though run by the same people, is considered a separate event with a different name. Summer Sonic itself takes place in both Osaka and Chiba at the same time, often with artists playing one city one day then the other the next. Not only is it geographically huge, but it also draws some major foreign artists, as well. Generally, if you go to one summer music fest in Japan, for most people, it’s this one.

MONSTER baSH

Where: Yoshino, Kagawa

When: August 22nd & 22rd

Not to be confused with the OTHER Monster Bash, the International Classic Monster Conference, Film Festival and Expo, this MONSTER baSH is the original outdoor music festival of Shikoku. Its aim is to bring people together, year after year, to smile and enjoy amazing music. I can definitely get behind that sentiment, though they chose a rather odd name for that kind of goal.

Sweet Love Shower

sweet love shower

Where: Lake Yamanaka, Yamanashi

When: August 28th-3oth

Taking place in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Sweet Love Shower is celebrating its 20th year in existence. It is presented by none other than Space Shower TV, who once deleted my youtube account for hosting too many of their videos, which explains the slightly odd name. The festival itself has a lot of great artists, mostly if you’ve seen them on SSTV, you’ll see them at the fest.

September

Sunset Live

Where: Itoshima, Fukuoka

When: September 4th-6th

Taking place in Kyushu, Sunset Live promises a laid back, very chill music fest in the late summer heat. The artist list features an eclectic line up of rock, folk, jazz, and electronic artists. Looks to be a very chill event, where you can catch the sun setting below the ocean horizon. A very nice coda to the summer.

OTODAMA

otodama

Where: Izumiotsu Phoenix, Osaka

When: September 5th & 6th

Looking at this setlist, this festival looks amazing and insane at the same time. It looks like the first day is super laid back, very chill, and the second day, all hell breaks loose. A very nice collection of really great, yet not terribly known groups. I really want to go to there.

Inazuma Rock Fes

Where: Kusatsu, Shiga

When: September 19th and 20th

This festival is a highly popular gathering of major pop acts, such as two of the ridiculously popular 48 groups and TMR. If you are wanting to hit this festival, better get in quick. Tickets are already selling out.

Punkafoolic! Shibuya Crash

shibuya crash

 

Where: Shibuya, Tokyo

When: September 20th

Another punk rock festival presented by Punkafoolic! For one glorious day, punk rock from all over the world takes over O-East and O-West (am I the only person who still thinks of them as On Air?). Those of you who had to skip out on Bayside Crash will definitely be able to make this one.

Kansai Lovers

kansailovers

Where: Osaka Castle Music Hall, Osaka

When: September 23rd

At only 1000 yen (drinks for an extra 500), Kansai Lovers is a great chance to bid farewell to the summer and enjoy some great up and coming musicians. I, for one, am highly tempted to drag myself all the way out to Osaka for this one day festival.

 

While this is quite a long list of various music festivals all over Japan throughout the summer, it is by no means exhaustive or complete. I hope, though, this will inspire some of you to hit up a festival or two. They’re no comparison to seeing your favorite artist at a one-man show, but they can be a great way to expose yourself to some great new bands you’d never heard of before. Great way to find new music at a pretty decent price. Enjoy!

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The Top 5 Festivals in Japan

One  of the greatest things about Japan is the insane amount of energy put into festivals.  Festivals are one of those rare times of the year where Japanese people as a whole can let their hair down (so to speak) and celebrate.  Every little village or town does something at some time or other here, and the sheer variety of spectacles you can witness and be a part of is truly remarkable.

Here’s a sample of some of the best:

5. Saga’s International Balloon Fiesta (October 30 – November 3)

Photo Credit: Masami Chikita

Photo Credit: Masami Chikita

Like Saitama to Tokyo, Saga is usually overshadowed by its neighbour Fukuoka, but on at least one weekend a year it’s brimming with excitement.   Saga hosts an annual International Balloon Fiesta where you can see dozens of awesomely-designed hot air balloons from around the world take off and engage in a variety of competitions.  The sight of the sun rising as the balloons take flight is breathtaking; and if you’re around in the evening you can enjoy a special ‘light up’ event.  What adds to the excitement is that the Karatsu Kunchi Festival that takes place in the north of the prefecture on the same weekend.

4. Okayama’s Naked Man Festival (3rd Saturday of February)

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Okayama’s Naked Man Festival, or ‘Hadaka Matsuri’ is one truly like no other.  Participating men are stripped down and strapped into loin clothes called ‘fundoshi’ and parade around the streets huddled in groups chanting and drinking sake as spectators douse them in cold water.  And this is not even the main event!  These hundreds of men then pile into and around a temple where they wrestle over scented ‘fertility sticks.’  The prizes are often insane: money, cars, concubines (OK, I made that last one up, but the other two are true!).  It’s definitely a sight to see, or, if you’re brave enough, take part in.

3. Akita’s Kanto Festival (August 3-7) 

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In Akita’s Kanto Festival, dozens of teams take turns hoisting up sails of lanterns with long bamboo sticks.  The point is to see how many bamboo sticks you can extend below the lanterns without it snapping.  I would say how high you can get the lanterns, but when you add a certain amount of poles, the entire thing bends and you get a really cool effect!  The participants balance the apparatus on their hands, their shoulders, their heads and even their butts while an unseen MC and spectators chant “Rokusho Rokusho” to aid in concentration.

2. Aomori’s Nebuta Festival (August 2-7)

fdadas

A very close number 2, Aomori hosts the spectacular Nebuta Festival every year where gigantic lit-up floats are pushed through the streets and spun around for spectators’ delight.  The floats are accompanied by music played live on the streets and screaming, jumping, bell-jingling groups of participants yelling “Rasera, Rasera!”  It is impossible not to get caught up with the excitement.  What truly adds to Nebuta’s appeal, though, is that you can participate in the festival the same day you visit.  That’s right, for a little over 2,000 yen you can rent an outfit and basically join any group you want to jump and chant in the streets.

1. Tokushima’s Awa Odori (August 12-15)

Awa Odori is the biggest dance festival in Japan, attracting well over 1.3 million visitors a year to Tokushima City.  Groups of dancers stream down the streets while the sound of Japanese taiko drums crash into the air.  The absolutely best part of Awa Odori, though, is not even in the main performance areas, but in the side streets where dancers and drummers deluge into, popping up and dispersing spontaneously as their noise echos off the walls of the outdoor shopping arcades.  Nearly every corner you turn down you’ll encounter a breathtaking spectacle of excitement!


Do you agree with our list?  Any glaring omissions?  Tell us about them in the comment section or, better yet, give us your own take on the best of Japan.

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Welcome To My Japan

Everyone  takes loads of videos and pictures nowadays—too many, really.  One of two things usually happens with these: they get regurgitated with no apparent effort to sort them all over Facebook and other social media, or they are kept hidden away on someone’s computer along with hundreds of other gigabytes of will-never-be-double-clicked bits of media.

I don’t agree with either of these practices.  On one hand, there is no need to show your friends the result of every single click your camera has made; on the other hand, pictures and videos should be seen by someone.  I tend to take a middle route: make something with your work!

ritsu

At the end of 2013, I made a “Thomas’ Travels 2013” video for my friends and family where I went through all of my videos and made a kind of highlight reel of my year.  The work was exhausting and fulfilling; the result was spectacular.  Everyone who saw it gave me great feedback and got to see a glimpse into the best parts of my life in less than 5 minutes.  A lot of people told me they were able to travel vicariously through the places I went.

This time ’round, I altered the approach slightly.  In 2014, I had only visited one country outside of Japan (Taiwan) but I had managed to get around to 30-odd prefectures within Japan itself.  So instead of a more narrow “Thomas’ Travels 2014” videos, I decided to make it more of a ‘Welcome to Japan’ video (yes, all of the clips come from a single year).  However, I didn’t want to make it a strictly a ‘Japan tourism’ video but one that included myself, my friends and had my own personal touch.  Thus the above ‘Welcome to My Japan’ video was born.

compil

It took me forever to make (‘forever’ equalling around 40 hours).  Most of the time was spent merely watching and sorting a year’s worth of videos, but the editing process was equally time-consuming (partly due to a using a computer that was not designed for video editing).

The Result  

I was left with a video I was truly proud of that really conveyed my love for this country.  What’s more is that everyone else seemed to like it too, and I excitedly watched the video climb in views (currently at a cool 78,000 as I write this).  Companies started approaching me to license my video and my video was included on a Dutch site, Japanese sites like Temita, Spotlight and Kotaro269, and English sites like RocketNews24 and even News.com.  The support of my friends was overwhelming, and everyone started sharing it with their friends and congratulating me.  It was surreal.

I plan to write more about how you too can go about making a good compilation video, but the first thing I can say is to always take as many pictures and videos as you can.  Please be clear that this does not mean post every picture and video, but that having an extensive library of footage will be invaluable when you put together a video.  I would say that for every fifty pictures I take, I post one; and the short 4-minute video I discussed here came from well over 4 hours of video.

As a counterpoint to what I just said, I also emphasize putting the camera down as much as your hoist it up so you can actually enjoy the moment. Experiencing something unfiltered through a lens is incomparable, and it is easy to get too caught up in sharing and tagging and posting to enjoy the moment.  It’s a fine balance, but I hope you find it.

Good luck!

bonv

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Sakura Blossoms and Hanami in Japan

One of the most longstanding and recognizable symbols of Japan is the humble cherry blossom tree, or Sakura.

Every year, the Sakura trees blossom into magnificent totems of dark wood contrasted by a dazzling array of pink flowering cherries. These flowers are known as sakura, or sakura blossom.

However, the sakuras bloom for only a very short period of time. In the Tokyo region, they typically blossom at the end of March and reach their full bloom within a week and a half. By the third week, all but a scant few petals remain on the trees as the rest billow in the wind and scatter along the ground.

Thus, they are revered throughout Japan for not only their beauty, but for the enduring metaphor of the ephemeral nature of life that they represent.

This concept is known as `mono no aware`, lit. the pathos of things, and can be thought of as the Japanese term used to describe impermanence. However the nuance of the concept has a more poetic connotation – it is the idea that in the transience of all things, there exists a gentle sadness in its eventual passing and it is in this awareness of impermanence that heightens the appreciation of its beauty. Interestingly, this is a notion that is reflected throughout both historical and contemporary Japanese culture.

Personally, I find this to be a beautiful way of looking at the world. Too often, we get caught up in the responsibilities, obligations and troubles of daily life. We constantly find ourselves thinking about the future and looking forward to the next big thing, never bothering to slow down and just enjoy the moment. If you think about it, the present is all we have. I mean, you hear that a lot but really THINK about it. Each moment is always, forevermore cascading seamlessly into the next. There is only an ever unfolding “now” and the only way to really and truly live is to live in the moment and appreciate it.

The Japanese are pretty good at understanding this, or rather, at least once a year when the feeling is especially poignant during Cherry Blossom season. Every year around this time, people hold Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties. Friends, coworkers, and families put out tarps on the floor and hold picnics to view the cherry blossoms and enjoy each other`s company with food and drink.

This year, a bunch of the Gunma JETs and ALTs gathered together for a Hanami at Takasaki Park.  Although this year there was a notable decrease in Hanami parties due to the events of March 11, many people, us included, decided that the best way to show solidarity for Japan was to appreciate the cherry blossoms and reflect on the fleeting nature of life together.

After the hanami, I went for a drive with my friend Jeevy (red car). We drove down the worn down streets of old Japan and as the cherry blossom petals fell over the road, and whisked about in the air around us, we decided to stop for a few pictures.

As i write this, the cherry blossoms are almost gone. Although I`m sad to see them go, I know that they wouldn`t be as beautiful if they never left.

At least we`ve got pictures to look at until next year.

What is clubbing in Roppongi, Tokyo in Japan like?

After the sumo tournament, some of the JETs and I decided to spend the rest of the evening in Tokyo, enjoying the night life. Our first stop of the night was dinner at some hole in the wall Jamaican restaurant. Surprisingly, the food was delicious, and even more surprisingly it was rather famous – as evidenced by the wall of pictures with celebrities. Snoop Dogg had frequented this particular establishment at one point. Who would have thought!

A plate of jerk-chicken and carribean rice later, we were back on the streets on a mission for a good time. One of the great things about a night out in Tokyo is that you never know where the night will take you. You just NEVER know. The characters you meet, the places you end up in, the things you witness – the mind reels at the prospect of adventure. On this particular night, we soon found ourselves in a Karaoke bar with some new Japanese friends. Being a foreigner in Japan is akin to having a special social pass. YOU are the ultimate ice breaker. You can walk up to anyone and start a conversation and 9 out of 10 times, it will go great because you are, by principle, different and exotic and cool.

By 11:30pm once the group was sufficiently inebriated, someone came up with the bright idea to take to the streets again and go clubbing. I made known the fact that I had yet to go clubbing in Roppongi, to a chorus of “EHHH??? YOU HAVENT BEEN TO ROPPONGI??”. The matter was settled. We were going to Roppongi.

Roppongi is one of the party districts of Tokyo. People dress to impress, and some of the most beautiful people in the world come out to play in one of the prime party hotspots in the world. Somehow we managed to find ourselves at a swanky club called Vanity on the 30-something floor of a huge skyscraper. This place was just oozing with class, money and pure unadulterated hedonism.

Usually cameras aren`t allowed, but I decided to play the “official photographer” card again. After quickly making friends with the bouncer, I located one of the managers and said “Hey man, I`m taking photos and videos tonight for the club. So-and-so-bouncer guy let me in. We cool?”. “Uhhh…yeah I guess, okay.” was his surprised reply. “Take some good pics ya hear?” “Will do!”

(as usual, make sure it`s set to 720p or 1080p for the best picture quality)

4 hours later, we stumbled back outside into the cool, arid Tokyo air, filled with the smell of expensive perfume, cigarette smoke and gasoline. After a brief meal/breakfast at Mcdonalds, we split up at different stations and began the long journey back home.

I arrived back at my apartment at around 10:30 am and promptly passed out until 8:30 the following evening. Partying in Tokyo really takes it out of you. Yet I wouldn`t have it any other way.

I went to Tokyo Game Show!

Don`t worry, I haven`t let this blog die. In fact quite the contrary; I have a ton of posts and videos lined up but just haven`t put them together yet. It`s not that I don`t have the time to do them, its just – its difficult to find appropriate background music for the videos!
I admit I have been dogging it a little with the written posts though. But stay tuned, I`ve got a lot to write about. I`m heading to Nagoya tomorrow for my first trip out of my prefecture so that should be a lot of fun. I can`t wait to write about it.

In the meantime, here are a couple recent pictures I`ve taken to tide you over until the next few big posts.

This is the view from the top of my school:

Oh yeah, a couple weekends ago, I went to Tokyo for the Tokyo Game Show. I TOTALLY forgot to post about that. In the meantime, here are a couple pictures of some of the awesome cosplay I saw:

More to come!

Vlogs # 5 and 6 – Mountains, Go-Karts, Sushi, Waterfalls, Fireworks!

A couple of fun videos for you to watch today. Vlog #5 is a short video showing some of the beautiful mountains of Fujioka on top of the picturesque Sakurayama. I wrote about and posted pictures of that place before, and now you can enjoy some of the gorgeous scenic views as well.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDjBWvg7mDE&fs=1&hl=en_US&hd=1]

Vlog # 6 is a music video montage of some of the clips I’ve collected over the course of August.  I cut lots of stuff out because it didnt fit with the music or it ran over the time limit, but if I get a chance, I’ll add that footage in a future video.

Shots included are of:
– driving in and around Fujioka and Takasaki
– eating at kaiten zushi (conveyor belt sushi)
– go-karting in Isesaki
– playing in random waterfalls in Fujioka
– driving up the tallest mountain in Fujioka
– Shibukawa Festival
– Maebashi Fireworks

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBux7uLOYpo&fs=1&hl=en_US&hd=1]

To be honest, I just threw the clips together against some music with minimal editing because right now I don’t have the luxury of devoting lots of time to editing, what with work, writing, catching up on backlogged posts and more videos, and you know, those inconvenient time sucks of the day – eating and sleeping. Once I’ve caught up more and have figured out how to use Final Cut Pro properly (It’s tough being an Adobe Premiere lifer and jumping ship to FCP) The calibre of these videos should improve. But nonetheless, please enjoy the fruits of my efforts and live vicariously through me, since I want you to be able to experience the awesomeness that is Japan as well.