Even though I haven't been in England for about nine months, I haven't managed to escape the presence of David and Victoria Beckham (Posh and Becks).
They're everywhere, advertising everything. Mobile phones, chocolate, cars, TV stations, skincare products. You name it, their face is on it.
David advertises chocolate for a company called Meiji. In fact a huge lifesize chocolate Becks was made in honour of his visit to Japan last year. On the TV advert for Fran (chocolate sticks) he says, 'One love. Big peace. More Fran. Be sweet.'
Cheers for the advice Dave. You've changed the world with your wisdom.
Last year, they both signed a contract with the Tokyo Beauty Clinique(TBC) for a reported two million pounds. What is even more frightening is that the skin cream that Victoria advertises to reduce ageing, costs one hundred and seventy five pounds.
The advert they do for TBC beauty products is definitely one of the most cringeworthy I've seen. Posh is in the bath and it's full of beautiful flower petals floating on top. David, no doubt feeling left out, decides to have a bath in the one next to her. We then see him putting something into the bath.
Ooh, what are you putting into your bath David? Flowers?
The camera then pans to David in the bath and guess what he's put in the bath.
He then cheekily raises his eyebrows to the camera, in a vain attempt to fool us into thinking he possesses a personality.
I have to admit it will be interesting to see if his recent affair has any effect on his marketability in Japan, as it is the strength of his relationship and commitment to family values that have been used to sell the Beckham brand here.
There is no escape from them. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Their quest for world domination is relentless and they will not stop.
The official website for TBC is here.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Posted by steve at 10:07 am
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
The festival honours the fishermen who dicovered the statue of the Kannon(Goddess of Mercy) in their nets, over a thousand years ago.
The festival lasts three days and it is the final day which is the most spectacular. In total around a hundred mikoshi(portable shrines) as well as the three huge mikoshi from the Asakusa Shrine, are carried through the streets. They're all very beautiful and weighing over a tonne, require lots of people to carry them.
The mikoshi carry the shrine's kami(deities) and the processions bring luck, blessings and prosperity to the neighbourhood. It's believed the more the mikoshi are shaken, the more blessings will be given.
I've never seen Asakusa so busy and the atmosphere was incredible, as the crowds followed the mikoshi around the streets. The rain fortunately didn't manage to put anyone off having a good time either.
Most interesting of all was seeing lots of Yakuza on a shrine being carried around the streets, chanting and blowing whistles. They were showing lots of flesh and you could see their huge tattoos, which covered almost all of their bodies. Apparently it's usually illegal for them to openly display they're tattoos in this way, so I was quite lucky to catch a glimpse. You can see a picture here.
They definitely appeared to be having a great time and the seemed to love the attention that they were getting from the crowd. I suppose it makes a nice change from cutting off people's fingers.
Posted by steve at 2:20 am
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
On my second day in Hiroshima I decided to visit the island of Miya-jima, just off the western coast. Miya-jima is believed to be one of the most beautiful places in Japan and is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine with it's huge vermillion gate which rises out of the sea. It really is an incredible sight.
The Itsukushima Shrine was first built in the sixth century and was remodelled by Taira-no-Kiyomori in 1168. The shrine itself is very beautiful and stretches out into the sea. In 1996 is also became a World Heritage Site. Whilst I was at the shrine I was also very lucky as I got to see a traditional Shinto wedding, a picture of which you can see here.
Seafood is also very popular on the island. Once the tide has gone out lots of people go out onto the beach to collect shellfish.
There are also lots of wild deer on the island, which are very tame. If you want to you can even feed them. You can see a picture of me feeding them here.
The island is also famous for its wooden rice scoops, which are a good luck charm.
It's a great place to go and the island very peaceful. The scenery is wonderful and there's the opportunity for plenty of climbing or just lazing around on the beach if you want.
When I was in Hiroshima I met lots of people and I had a great time. One night I ended up drinking a bit too much and afterwards I couldn't get into my guesthouse as I'd missed the curfew.
I then decided to get a taxi to a cheap hotel, but unfortunately this was also closed. Feeling very drunk and tired, I then went to the first hotel that I came across. It was only when I opened the door of my room that I realised where I was.
Completely by accident, I'd ended up in a love hotel.
The room had a very big gothic vibe to it. It was painted in a very dark red with a huge chandelier in the middle of the ceiling. At the head of the bed on a tissue box was a condom and there was also a local guide, with numerous photos and phonenumbers of women in it, if I required some company for my night's stay. There were also some channels on the TV, that I'm unable to get in Tokyo.
It was another very interesting experience, although I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that the bed didn't vibrate. I've spoken to a number of Japanese since who have all found it highly amusing that I spent the night on my own. If you're interested in love hotels there's a good link here.
Hiroshima is also famous for its okonami-yaki and it's said to be the best in Japan. Okonomi-yaki is like a pancake with meat and vegetables and is extremely delicious. Hiroshima okonami-yaki is different the rest of Japan as it has noodles(soba) in it.
You can see a picture of an okonami-yaki restaurant here.
The official website for Miya-jima is here.
You can see all of the photos here.
Posted by steve at 4:19 pm
Sunday, May 18, 2008
The A-bomb Dome
On August 6, 1945, at approximately 8.15 am, the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, from a B-29 bomber called the Enola Gay.
The bomb was nicknamed 'Little Boy' and when it exploded 580 metres above the city, the effects were catostrophic.
The blast destroyed nearly all the buildings within a 3km radius and immediately resulted in the deaths of 80,000 people. By the end of the year a total of 140,000 people had died from the blast. In total it is estimated that 200,000 people died as a result of the the blast and the effects of radiation exposure.
The A-bomb Dome was built in 1914 and was originally called the Industrial Promotion Hall. This building was almost at the hypocentre of the blast and has been kept as a memorial to the tragic events that occured. Seeing it for the first time really puts in perspective the true horror of what happened.
On the opposite bank of the Motoyasu-gawa River, is the Peace Memorial Park. One of the most famous memorials here is the Children's Peace Monument. This is a statue of a young girl holding aloft a giant origami crane. The statue was built in memorial of a twelve-year-old called Sasaki Sadako, who developed leukaemia in 1955. In the hope of becoming better, she started to fold origami cranes with the aim of reaching a thousand, but sadly she died before reaching this figure.
Today many children from Japan and all over the world come and leave paper cranes at the memorial .
The main monument is the Memorial Cenotaph and is designed in the style of protective objects found in ancient Japanese burial mounds. There is also a stone coffin underneath the arch, which contains the names of all the victims of the blast.
Next to the Memorial Cenotaph is the Flame of Peace, which will be put out once the last nuclear weapon on earth is destroyed.
The Peace Memorial Museum is also extremely interesting and provides a fascinating insight into the history of Hiroshima, as well as explanations of why the bombing took place and the effects.
There are also many objects and photographs exhibited, which help to dramatically convey the full horror of what happened. As I walked around there were pictures showing the devastation of the blast and objects such as burnt clothes, bottles and a child's bike, which had been melted by the intense heat.
It is hard to believe that less than sixty years ago, Hiroshima had witnessed such terrible events. All that remains of that terrible day is the A-bomb dome, to remind us of what happened. Now a city rebuilt, Hiroshima provides testament to the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. It's definitely worth visiting if you have the opportunity and I found the whole experience deeply moving.
Here is a short film.
The official website for Hiroshima is here.
The website for the Hiroshima Peace Site is here.
You can see all the photos here.
Posted by steve at 3:18 am
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Hamamatsu Kite Festival
The day after going to Odawara I went to the Hamamatsu Kite Festival, which is held every year from the third to the fifth of May. Hamamatsu is a city on the coast in the Shizouka prefecture, about an hour and a half on the Shinkansen from Tokyo.
The kites are huge and are around three metres in length. They need about ten people to fly them in each team and seeing all of them in the sky was an amazing sight. Each team comes from a different block in Hamamamatsu and each kite has a different design representing the block. In total there are about 170 teams.
As well as flying the kites in each team there are also people playing trumpets to accompany them, which added greatly to the atmosphere. Even children got involved and it was nice to see such a great show of community spirit.
Apparently, the aim is to knock the opponents kite out of the sky by cutting the strings using a kite, although I didn't really see much evidence of this.
I also got to fly a kite. Ahh....... It took me back to my childhood.
Obviously the part of my childhood before I started drinking cider in bus shelters.
The festival is believed to date from the Eiroku Era(1558-1569). When the Lord of Hikuma Castle, Iwo Buzen-no-kami, had his first son and heir called Yoshihiro, a kite was flown to celebrate his birth.
The festival also coincides with Boy's Day, when carp flags are displayed around the country.
Later that night there was a huge procession with around 70 floats representing different blocks around the city. The floats were illuminated and were all very beautiful.
Whilst I was in Hamamatsu I met a great bunch of people and we went to an isakaya for a few drinks. You can see the picture here.
Sitting next to us was a group of Japanese people who had been working at the festival. Just as I was leaving I told them that the Hamamatsu kite festival was sugoi(wonderful). This was greeted with much cheering and clapping and they very kindly gave me glass of shochu, which I had to drink down in one.
Afterwards I got on the Shinkansen for Osaka, where I stayed in a capsule hotel, ready for my trip to Hiroshima the next day.
The official website for Hamamatsu is here.
Click here for all the photos.
Posted by steve at 5:00 pm
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Hojo Godai Matsuri
Every year at the beginning of May, the Hojo Godai Matsuri is held at Odawara Castle. This is a huge festival where hundreds of people walk through the streets of Odawara in a big procession, dressed as samurai. There is also lots of traditional music and dancing.
The festival is held to celebrate the Hojo clan, who from 1495 to 1590 ruled over the eastern part of Japan.
Under their control the town of Odawara thrived tremendously, comparing well with Kyoto in aspects of trade and culture. The Hojo ruled until they were eventually overthrown by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590, which resulted in the reunification of Japan.
I had a great day and I have to admit the whole thing was very impressive. The costumes were magnificent in their detail and there were also lots of spectacular battle reenactments.
I also got to join in with the festivities by dressing up as a samurai, which you can see here.
The amusing thing was that once I was dressed up in my samurai costume, lots of Japanese people wanted to have their photo taken with me.
You can see all the photos here.
Posted by steve at 9:01 am