Album Review: Metafive - EP METAHALF (2016)

Takahashi Yukihiro & Metafive - Source: Natalie.mu
After releasing Meta (2016), which can arguably be deemed the best Japanese alternative/techno album of this year, Metafive have made their rounds this year performing a several Japanese music festivals including Summer Sonic and World Happiness. Behind the scenes, the band was also recording new music, and nearly two weeks ago, they dropped an EP or mini-album—Metahalf.

Metahalf (2016)
Source: hmv.co.jp

If you've heard Metafive—or any of the six member's solo works—it goes without saying that they're a group of highly skilled musicians. Nonetheless, Metahalf just does not deliver in the same way that Meta (2016) did. That's not to say that Metahalf isn't a quality EP, it just lacks some of the magic that it's predecessor had. That being said, Meta (2016) is a rare album in that all tracks contain something special, a feat that's quite difficult and somewhat rare for an artist to produce back-to-back. 

It's usually better to get the bad news out of the way first, so let's start with the last two tracks of Metahalf, the weak links: "Peach Pie" and "Submarine". 


Reading in Chinese: Choosing Materials and Tackling Unknown Vocabulary

Pages from the popular Japanese comic Card Captor Sakura translated into Chinese.
Last month, I finished teaching a summer Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) course. At the end of the course, I asked students if they had any general questions for me regarding English learning. Some asked pretty much the question many other English language learners I meet in my daily life ask:

"How should I study vocabulary? Should I memorize? I heard memorization is the best method."

Indeed, in China and other Asian countries, rote memorization is used not only to cram for tests, but to tackle any content thrown at students in the variety of classes they take. I believe there is a time and place for rote memorization (i.e., math formulas), but if you want language to be memorable, memorization is the wrong road to take. 

As an English teacher who loves to use the principals of cognitive linguistics or logic to tackle language, I believe vocabulary, grammar, or any other facet of language is only retained when it's contextualized, and/or when we know the etymology or background. Whether you're learning English, or Chinese and Japanese in my case, this rings true. I remember words and phrases from memorable conversations or interesting books. Naturally, when words and phrases are heard or read in context, they make more sense. 

I'll make a post about listening to Chinese in the future; this one concerns Chinese reading. (I don't know enough Japanese yet to read books, only short comics and signs!) Again, no matter the language you're learning, I think these tips will help you. 

Record five unknown vocabulary words per page

Recently, an employee at my local Walmart (yes, they're here in China!) struck up a conversation with me. He asked the typical memorization question, and I told him a better way to brush up on English is to read and write down about five words per page that you don't understand to check the definition later. 

"But what if there's more than five words I don't understand on a page?" he asked.

I replied, "Ignore them!"


A Rainy Day in Shibuya and Harajuku (Part 1)

Barrels of sake at Meiji Shrine in Harajuku.
On my fourth day in Tokyo, I visited Shibuya and Harajuku. It was rainy and cold—as it was for most of my trip—but with rain boots, an umbrella, and a heavy jacket it certainly wasn't difficult to bare.

Although the neighboring areas of Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku are easily accessible by metro and other forms of public transportation, I elected to walk. On foot, it only takes about 20 minutes to reach Harajuku from Shibuya.

Hachiko in all his wonder.
It's raining, it's pouring!


The first place, or landmark, on my Shibuya-Harajuku agenda was the famous Hachikō statue just outside Shibuya station. Hachikō was a dog who waited around Shibuya Station for his owner Professor Hidesaburō Ueno who would meet him there after work. Unfortunately, the professor died from a brain hemorrhage and never meet his dog at the station again. Nonetheless, the loyal Hachiko waited for his owner outside the station for over nine years until he died in 1935 at age 11. 

After Hachikō's death, a statue of him was erected at the station in his memory. Over the years, the Hachikō statue has become a prominent meeting area for Tokyoites. Shibuya is an area teeming with crowds, so the noticeable statue serves it's secondary purpose well. 


8th Annual Shenzhen Cartoon and Animation Festival

Cosplayers from a variety of series.
Two gorgeous maidens

Awesome weaponry!

Last week, a friend and I attended the last day of Shenzhen's 8th annual Cartoon and Animation Festival(第八深圳動漫節). The event spanned five days (July 21-25, 2016) and offered anime fans from Guangdong Province and beyond a chance to share their love of their favorite series and characters.

Edward Elric from
Fullmetal Alchemist
Kakashi from Naruto
From my childhood to my young adult years, I attended several anime conventions and have even donned costumes to attend these events as well. These day, I no longer make an effort to go to such events, but I though it be great fun to attend my first non-American anime convention!

The Shenzhen Cartoon and Animation Festival did not disappoint! Tickets were a fair 50RMB (about $7USD) and there were several impressive costumes, fun games, and cute things on sale to buy.

Costume Play

Costume + play = cosplay! Anime fans love to bring their beloved characters to life by dressing as them at conventions. Some buy their costumes, while other majorly talented fans create their own from scratch. Either way, it's entertaining to see them get into character, especially when they look eerily similar to their fictional counterparts!


Music Musings: Metafive (2014-Present)

Yukihiro Takahashi (third from left) & Metafive - Source: Natalie.mu
Originally posted on the now-defunct Japanistas.com.

With his penchant for classy hats and Thom Browne suits, friendly grin, and slightly raspy timbre, 64-year-old Yukihiro Takahashi hardly appears to be a techno composer or a drumming powerhouse — but appearances can be deceiving!

Beyond Takahashi’s stylish exterior lies a lifelong musical innovator with an impressive number of successful projects under his belt. An industry pioneer, Takahashi has helped mold electronica, j-pop, synthpop, new wave and even hip hop music as we know it today, and he continues to do so through his super group Metafive: recording artist and producer Keigo Oyamada aka Cornelius; Japanese-Swedish singer/songwriter Leo Imai; electric instrumentalist, Tomohiko Gondo; former Denki Grove member and DJ, Yoshinori Sunahara; and DJ and record producer, Towa Tei.

Takahashi’s formal introduction to the music industry came from his time as the drummer in the Japanese British glam rock-inspired group Sadistic Mika Band, known best for their acclaimed 1974 album Kurofune(黒船), “Black Ships”.

As the first Japanese band to tour the United Kingdom, the Sadistic Mika Band’s unique sound drew attention, especially regarding their ability to create Western-style music in an undoubtedly Japanese manner. They went on to appear on both BBC Radio and BBC TV.

Nevertheless, The Sadistic Mika Band in its original form disbanded in the mid-70’s, yet there have been a number of revivals of the band under several names over the years, including a 2006 revival with Kaela Kimura in Mika Kato’s place.

After Sadistic Mika Band’s disbandment, Takahashi went on to begin a successful solo career. Simultaneously, he was a member of world-renowned group the Yellow Magic Orchestra along with bassist, producer, and songwriter Haruomi "Harry" Hosono, and composer, pianist, and two-time Golden Globe, Academy, and Grammy award-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The Yellow Magic Orchestra in the early 80’s. – Source: Factmag.com
Created by Hosono, YMO was meant to be a temporary project, but after gaining international recognition, the band played spectacular lives and recorded esteemed albums together for several years.


Black Women Thrive: Interview with English Teacher Ayana Wyse

English teacher Ayana Wyse
Whether you're facing uncertainty or simply a little nervous, sometimes in life you have to just go for it like Ayana Wyse did when she made the decision to move to Osaka, Japan nearly five years ago after she started learning Japanese on her own while still living in Brooklyn, New York.

"I decided to live [in Japan] after months of studying because I wanted to try a new life, learn the language in the country and was inspired by my friend who lived in Japan for a few months."

Actually, before moving to Japan, Wyse had some experience being out of her element and changing her scenery stateside in New York. After growing up in a predominately White area in the county of Westchester, New York, she was happy to move White Plains, the more diverse area of the county. Nonetheless, her Black peers were well aware of her less divergent background. 

"I was excited to...experience a new [high school] with new people and more diversity. When I went there though, many of the Black people teased the way I talked...I still made an effort to befriend mostly Black people so I didn't have to stick out so much any more although now I'm back to being one of the few Black again [in Japan]."

Although Wyse's peers might've felt she was not in touch with Black culture, in reality, Wyse and her older brother—five years her senior—grew up being educated about her Caribbean and by extension African roots as her father is from Grenada.

Like other kids of the 90s, Wyse and her older brother also enjoyed Japanese pop culture in the form of anime. Rouroni Kenshin; Tenchi Muyo; Pokemon; Digimon; and Yu-Gi-Oh! were a few of their favorites.

"My brother was interested in anime first with Dragon Ball and I with Sailor Moon. At the time, I didn't know it was from Japan." 

Later, Wyse began to learn about other aspects of Japanese culture, and became particularly interested in geisha and samurai. Eventually, she studied at two colleges. However, she majored in Communications rather than Japanese. 

"First I went to Seton Hall...[which] had a good track and field team which [I] entered in...I transferred to University of North Carolina in Charlotte after two years for a better track team."

At UNC Charlotte, Wyse majored in Communications since there was no Japanese major. However, she changed her mind about working in media after she graduated. Two years after graduation, she took inspiration from her childhood best friend who worked as an ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan for six months, and from her brother who was studying Brazilian Portuguese when she began to teach herself Japanese after college.

"It was the year 2010 in January [that] I made a New Year's resolution to study a new language because I saw my brother learn Brazilian Portuguese and I worked at a cafe in NYC where the owners spoke English and Hebrew, and the cooks were Spanish. Everyone being able to speak more than one language made me jealous, so...I tried to fix that by learning Japanese on my own."


Restaurant Review: Marukame Udon, Waikiki

The Waikiki area of Honolulu is notoriously expensive. If you're staying or spending the day in Waikiki, you'll be hard-pressed to find delicious, affordable food. As Waikiki was home-base during my trip to Hawaii, I did research on good eats in the area with a reasonable price tag. Based on the rave online reviews and my experiences, I believe Marukame Udon is the undisputed winner in that category!

For almost five years, Marukame Udon has been serving up the best bowl of thick, chewy Japanese-style wheat noodles or udon(うどん)in Waikiki. The noodles are made fresh to order; in fact, thanks to the restaurant's open kitchen, you can watch the chefs make them as you wait in line!


Lots of Temples, Lots of People: Visiting Kaohsiung's Lotus Pond

The famous Dragon and Tiger Pagodas (longhuta; 龍虎塔).
Me taking several pictures as usual!
Many of the sites I visited in Kaohsiung were gorgeous and interesting; Lotus Pond was no different! Like the day we went to Cijin Island, my dad and I were blessed with beautiful weather when we visited the pond. You can tell by the bright blue sky in the pictures, right? I still find it hard to believe it was in the middle of winter! Southern Taiwan is definitely a great place to be in the during wintertime if you love warmer weather. 

Lotus Pond has quite an interesting history. The "pond" is actually a large manmade lake which was opened to the public in 1951. While the lake is a contemporary fixture, many of the sites around it have roots in antiquity. There are several temples, halls, pavilions, and palaces around the lake from centuries past. The area certainly has a nice ethereal feeling to it. 

I think it would take the better part of an afternoon to see all the sites at Lotus Pond, but you'd certainly be tired from all the walking afterward! Luckily, there is a long pedestrian road with several food venders right next to the lake so you can walk around a refuel simultaneously! 
A map of Lotus Pond, click to enlarge.

Nonetheless, my dad wasn't up to the task of walking around the whole lake, so we only saw the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas(longhuta; 龍虎塔), Confucian Temple(kongmiao, 孔廟), Spring and Autumn Pavilions(chunqiuge; 春秋閣), and the Pei Chi Pavilion(beijiting; 北極亭). As we had to shuffle through crowds, it certainly felt like enough!



因為在蓮池潭的寺廟很多,所以我覺得我說的“寺廟的文化”很重。要是你去高雄,你必須參觀蓮池潭 。不管天氣好不好,蓮池潭的寺廟也會把你迷住了,我覺得。給我在世界跟天堂的中間的感覺。




5 Ways I Study Japanese

I have made several short, lackluster efforts over the past few years to study Japanese. I remember way back in junior high during my anime-obsessed days I rented a series of Japanese learning tapes from the library; however, I didn't dedicate myself to using them daily. Since then, my Japanese knowledge has been limited to phrases here and there that I've gotten from Japanese media, especially music and television. 

Nevertheless, over the past year or so I've been making efforts to learn more Japanese. Compared to Chinese, I think it's certainly a more difficult language in terms of the grammar and writing systems among other things. At least with Japanese, when it comes to speaking, there's only intonation to concern yourself with rather than tones.

See how I use Chinese to learn Japanese here.

Although Japanese challenges me, there are five methods I use to casually study the language and check what I've learned or how much I know. I'm conversational in Mandarin, but not Japanese; I think my strongest Japanese skill at the moment is reading. Nonetheless, hopefully I will be able to hold a decent conversation in Japanese by the end of this year.

1. Learn Kana & Practice it Everyday
A hiragana-katakana chart. Memorize it!

There is simply no way one can learn to read and write Japanese efficiently without learning the kana systems, hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is used to write words of Japanese origin that do not have a corresponding kanji or Chinese-derived character. Katakana represents foreign/foreign-derived words and sounds. 

While you still need to know several kanji to read most Japanese text past early elementary level, there's a host of words you can read once you learn kana:
  • カレー (karē) - curry
  • おにぎり(onigiri) - Japanese rice balls
  • オレンジー (orenjī) - orange (the color)
  • ドキドキ (dokidoki) - badum, badum; onomatopoeia for a heartbeat
  • ハンバガ (hanbāgā) - hamburger
As you probably noticed, many of my examples are food items. Therefore, if you're taking a trip to Japan, I'd strongly recommend you to learn kana so you can articulate what you want to eat instead of pointing at displays! You can easily do it within a weekend.


Opinion: Congrats, President Tsai! But the Status Quo Will Remain...

Don't get me wrong, I have no interest in Hilary Clinton becoming the next president of the United States, but Taiwan deserves major kudos for electing its first female president in its history, Tsai Ying-Wen—a feat we Americans have yet to achieve.

Who is Tsai? In a nutshell, she is a 59-year-old professor-turned-politician and prominent member of Taiwan's democratic party. Hailing from southern Taiwan, the calm, mild-mannered Tsai rightfully takes her place as the island new president as she is of Hakka and aboriginal Taiwanese decent.

Arguably, thanks to many Taiwanese's distrust of the former President Ma and his cozy relationship with the Chinese Communist Party, Tsai was able to nab a convincing 60% of the votes in the recent presidential election.



恭喜台灣第一位女生主席!她真的代表台灣的希望,前途。 但是,我覺得她沒有辦法改變大陸台灣關係的現狀。對,喜歡共產黨的人很小,但是中國的世界存在是非常非常大。西方的國家沒有認真的興趣承認台灣因為會傷害他們跟大陸的經濟關係。對不起,但是我覺得如果台灣沒有別亞洲的國家,西方的支持,台灣沒有機會成自己的國家。

我覺得蔡主席的任務應該是經濟發展和提高台灣跟世界的關係。我也希望她會促進第一世界的思維在台灣。在我的看法,台灣人跟大陸人的世界觀差不多一樣。技術,基礎設施,學英文...對,都是很好,但是如果你沒有很現代的世界觀那個東西都沒有用,對不對? 蔡英文,加油,可是請別賣台灣人高不可攀的夢想。


Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center

With its clear signage and prominent location at the edge of downtown,
Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center can't be missed.
A beautiful display of indigenous clothing
and other items.
The Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center is a free attraction not far from downtown Fairbanks. The center is open to the public between 8am and 9pm daily, which allows visitors to choose a flexible time to stop by. 

While most tourist centers mainly offer brochures and a couple of staff members you can quiz for advice regarding your trip, the Morris Thompson Center virtually doubles as a free museum. It's easy to spend an hour or more there exploring the exhibits, taking in all the artifacts on display, and simply learning about life in the Last Frontier. Many of the stories shared within the exhibits are centered on the people—both relatively famous and virtually unknown—who have helped carve Fairbanks and more generally Alaska into what it is today.

The Visitors Center includes a gorgeous garden.
One of those people is the late Alaska Native leader Morris Thompson for whom the center is named. Thompson, who had a White father and Native mother, became an assistant for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the early 70s, and later became the youngest Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also served on the University of Alaska Board of Regents. Tragically, Thompson died in the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash with his wife and one of his three daughters in 2000. The Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center was completed and dedicated to him in 2008.