Concert Review: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra “Skanking Tour” in Matsuyama

Posters at Matsuyama's w Studio Red.

(Click here for other posts about Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra)

Entering the venue.
I finally (finally!!!) got the chance to see Japan’s legendary Ska band Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra in Matsuyama, Japan, the last leg of their “Skanking Japan” livehouse tour.

I always prefer to see bands at their “home base” or home country if possible, so I was ecstatic to do so this time. But why Matsuyama? Well...by the time I found out about the tour, all the other locations were sold out! Plus, the date simply worked out better with my schedule. 

TSPO played at Matsuyama’s w Studio RED for two days (6/23 & 6/24); I attended the second show, the last show of the tour. Unfortunately for me, since I bought my ticket from overseas, I had to wait for quite awhile to get in. But the wait wasn’t long, and before I knew it I was inside, waiting for the guys to enter!


Singapore: My General Impressions

Blue skies are the perfect background for the Marina Bay Sands hotel.
"What a fun city, but it's so...small." I thought in my hostel bunk on my last night in Singapore. 

Well, to be fair, great things can come in small sizes. Quality over quantity. You know all the bumper stickers sayings that back the little things in life. 

In terms of size, Singapore fits right in with those sayings as the core area of the city sits on a physically small area of space. But as all the David over Goliath phrases tell us, small things sure can pack a punch. I knew Singapore was a small city before, but I didn't realize that it was literally possible to visit all major districts and tourist spots in only two full days.

Night view of part of the Singapore skyline.
Visitors to the Republic of Singapore should know that it is a sovereign city-state, which means the city has its own government and therefore functions like it's own country.

In my opinion, one should not fly halfway across the world for the sole purpose of exploring Singapore. But if you you live in Asia and need a weekend getaway, or if you're planning a trip to Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, ect., Singapore is worth two days in your itinerary. It's honestly one of the best places I've been to in terms of food and history, a place where Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and imperialistic British culture collide in an amalgamation of color, taste, and expressions. The diversity of Singapore is apparent as there are four official languages: English, Chinese, Tamil, and Malay.  


Exploring the Sapporo Beer Museum

The iconic Sapporo Beer logo.
The museum entrance.
Known for it's annual snow festival, indigenous Ainu culture, and shiroi koibito(白い恋人)or "white sweetheart" cookies, the city of Sapporo is also synonymous with beer as Sapporo is the original home of the Sapporo Brewery. Hence, any visitor to the city must stop by the Sapporo Beer Museum(サッポロビール博物館).

Whether you're a beer aficionado or not (I am the former, ha!), the Sapporo Beer Museum is a great place to visit as it conveys Sapporo history from an interesting perspective. The iconic beer company not only introduced the well-known beverage to Japan, but was also a defining presence in the alcohol industry during both Japan's pre-WWII and economic miracle days. Today, the company has internationalized and is one of the most respected beer brewers in the world. In fact, it is the best-selling Asian beer in the world. 


Album Review: Chara - Sympathy (2017)

Watabiki Miwa aka Chara
Source: chara-web.net
Watabiki Miwa—much better known as Chara—just celebrated over 25 years as an established artist. I have written extensively about her work here and will continue to chronicle and review her discography in future posts. However, I couldn't resist the opportunity to review her latest album Sympathy, released earlier this week. 

Although Chara will be 50 next year, and has spent almost half her life in the music industry, I believe Sympathy is indelible proof that her sound remains fresh and innovative. Sympathy includes some obvious weak links, but the star tracks shine through and demand several repeats, which makes this bittersweet album a whimsical summer gem. 

Sympathy (2017)
Source: musicman-net.com
While her sound has evolved and gone through many phases of experimentation through the years, one thing I love about Chara is that she's always unmistakably herself and never fails to be daring with her work. Sympathy is clearly a sensual album, a rare theme to spot in the work of a Japanese artist of Chara's generation. 

However, love and sensuality has been a running theme in Chara's work from her flirty, borderline exhibitionist early-90s days to her now more refined sultriness. Occasionally paired with her other common theme of innocences, this album serves romance on a wide, delectable gradient. To use an example from Chara's discography, this album is as if Madrigal (2001) had a baby with Chara's 2010s sound. There is a funky playfulness here that is hard to miss. 

Naturally, perfection is unattainable, so let's start with the weaker tracks in the album.


Trippin' Out at the Seoul Trickeye Museum

Although they're getting visibly old, the paintings at Trick Eye Museum Seoul are gorgeous!
When you're an adult, it's refreshing to visit places that make you feel like a kid again. I'd say the best place to do that in Seoul is the Trickeye Museum. 

"I'm a genie in a bottle~"
With locations in major cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Phuket, the Trickeye Museum features numerous brilliantly painted sets where you can take fun pictures. As the name suggests, the sets play tricks on the eye. With the use of simple props and the extension of the paintings from the wall to the floor, visitors will have a blast posing for Instagram worthy photos. 

Some of the illusions require a bit of mild contortion to pull off (i.e., crouching and laying on the floor), but mosts guests will find the majority of the exhibitions accessible to them.


WWII's Baby Nurses: Remembering the Himeyuri Students

The haunting portraits of the Himeyuri students displayed at the Himeyuri Peace Museum.
Source: Yahoo! Japan
"Whenever I saw dead bodies on the ground, I thought I wanted to die before the others so they could bury me. My fear was to be the last one on Earth." 
   --Hideko Yoshimura, Himeyuri survivor (Japan Times, 2007)
Although they attended high school in Japan over 70 years ago, the girls of Okinawa Daiichi Women's High School and Okinawa Shihan Women's High School were, in essence, like any other high school girls you'd find in any place at any time. They giggle with their friends, shared secrets, played sports, and studied hard as they worked toward graduation. But unlike many other high school girls, the young women from the two high schools were mad to grow up quickly during the chaos of the last days of World War II. Shooting and basic nursing care lessons progressively took precedence over math and Japanese classes. Eventually, they traded their school uniforms and classrooms for nursing outfits and crude cave clinics. By the end of the Battle of Okinawa, 12,000 American soldiers, 200,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians, and 136 Japanese schoolgirl nurses perished. 

The Iwamakura Monument on which is inscribed
a poem dedicated to the fallen girls written by
Mr. Seizen Nakasone, one of the Himeyuri teachers.
It was erected on April 7, 1946.
Even in the chaos of war, how could those girls have imagined losing their lives in cave bombings? What raced through the minds of those who held grenades to blow themselves up in order to avoid capture? What were the last thoughts of those who leapt off the capes at the southernmost tip of Okinawa island toward an imminent death in the beautiful turquoise ocean? 

And what of the survivors who had no choice but to leave their friends to die and live on with indelible memories of crude surgeries and the smell of death? 

The Himeyuri Peace Museum may not answer these questions for you, but after your visit, you will feel the pain of the Himeyuri or "Lily Corps" girls. You will feel their heartache and the echos of their unfulfilled wishes caused by tragic, untimely deaths. 

Himeyuri was the name given to the military nursing unit formed by 222 students and 18 teachers from the two women's high schools. After training as part of the curriculum in 1944, the girls were sent to the front lines on March 23, 1945 to assist the Imperial Japanese Army.