10 Things I Learned In Japan

Disclaimer: No offense meant for people who usually gets offended by lazily written articles that contain stuff like compact discs, bikes, and Maria Ozawa. Also, no offense meant for Spotify-lovers.

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Stand on the right, walk on the left. It’s not just for the work-crazy Japanese, always rushing to get to work. It’s also for us who are always rushing to get back home from work, those who are rushing to the next big sale in the mall, those who are rushing on their way to work to catch the morning bell. We’ll probably take years to learn this simple trick. Not because we’re slow. But because we love to break rules. Or simply, maybe, we hate rules and prefer chaos over the orderly.

Trains are cool, trains are great. They’re fast, effective and convenient too. I remember Jello Biafra saying something like “9/11 might have been averted if America was as crazy about trains as they were about airplanes”, that it would be “more fun to travel across the states in bullet trains.” We only have four train lines in Metro Manila. Imagine if we could double that number. It wouldn’t be much compare to Japan, but it would surely felt heavenly for commuters. Or, it could be worse. Imagine all of them not in good working condition, with all trains taking hours to arrive, and you have to suffer long lines before you reach the turnstiles.

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They even have dedicated walkways with color coded tiles for the blind. Color coded tiles. For the blind. Go figure.

Book-Off is a record collector’s paradise. You can buy old stock CD’s—lots and lots of them—for as low as ¥250. You would usually find albums from the most popular 90’s bands: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Garbage, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, NoFx and The Offspring. If you’re lucky and patient enough to check all those alphabetically arranged racks every once in a while, like me, you’d probably find some rare items—something from either the Pixies, Stephen Malkmus or My Bloody Valentine.

There are also lots of old (e.g, The Beatles, Ramones and Jimmi Hendrix) and current (Imagine Dragons, anyone?) stuff, but not in the bargain section; which means you need to bring more cash with you if you are into them. Or you can wait till one of those CD’s gets transferred to the cheap section. Like the time when I found a very mint copy of Sgt. Pepper’s priced at ¥500 and I went straight to the cashier. The next time I saw another Beatles album sold for less, it was The Abbey Road. If you guessed that I grabbed it right there and then with all my might, you are most probably right. But that’s not saying I’m one big Beatles fan. I’m not.

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Hard-Off is pure hard-on. From bikes, to turntables, to gaming consoles, to electric guitars, it’s haven for those who don’t mind owning pre-loved items.

A for Effort, Z for Delivery. Putting effort means putting more hours. Even if it means being inefficient. For as long as you look busy and focused (even if at times, you’re only pretending) and stay at the workplace for as long as you can, your boss will appreciate your effort. You cannot relax and show that you’re really enjoying what you do by humming a Barry Manilow song while your hands are on the keyboard and go home at 5pm. Applying the take-a-break-every-30-minutes rule, is also a big no-no.

Japanese girls in yukata will bring out the inner samurai in you.

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It’s almost impossible to lost your wallet with all your important cards and ID’s in it. If you have a contact number in it, you’d most probably get a call. If you lost it on a train, you can contact the train station. One morning, there was this one guy reading manga while on the train, who just left the manga inside the train when he dropped off at the next station. The following day, I rode the same car on the same schedule and found that same guy reading the same manga he was reading the previous day.

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If you find one of Jimmy Page’s guitars displayed in a store in Ochanomizu, you’re not allowed to touch it. Unless, in our case, we didn’t know that there is such a rule. So, the store owner had to rush to us and tell us not to touch it after we already did. There goes my fingerprints side by side with those of the great Led Zep guitarist.

Maria Ozawa is overrated; Manami Hashimoto is the shit.

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Images taken from here, here, here, and here.

Ultraelectromagneticpop! (Eraserheads, 1993)

eraserheads-ultraelectromagneticpop-20130824Simply put, this is the local equivalent of Nevermind. Instead of a nude baby in the pool, we got these four flaming lads gracing the cover, chill as fuck and wearing chucks, with two of them holding what appear like rolled-up joints. Like Nirvana, the Eraserheads toiled the underground, signed to a major label, hit big and made a whole lot of impact in the music scene.

Musically though, chuck-sporting lads is just a very different album from little baby blue. Nevermind is a hurtling punk-rock album, while Ultra is an unabashed pop record, though one that is hardly representative of pop music of the early ‘90s, local or otherwise. The former helped popularize rock music with loud distorted guitars. On Ultra, however, one gets the nagging feeling—which the band themselves pointed out and griped about—that the guitars could have been louder.

Guitar mixing and other recording/production issues aside, the tunes flow from start to finish. Whether they take their cue from Manila Sound (“Easy Ka Lang”, the glorious “Ligaya”), Motown (“Shake Yer Head”), try and fail to make 100% reggae (“Maling Akala”), graft both Nat King Cole and Paul McCartney into a sped-up reggae folk number (“Toyang”) or do punkish take on a straight pop song (“Shirley”), the results were no less than perfect. And when delivered with such verve, one tends to overlook that production-wise, it’s got nothing on the aforementioned album that bears the name Butch Vig. Purists and fans alike described its sound as “tinny”. But whether this “tinny” sound diminishes the bands outstanding song-craft, creative sheen and the songs’ ultra-magnetic appeal, is surely up for debates. Me, I say tinny sound my ass! Ultra is a lo-fi pop masterpiece, its lack of polish being incidental notwithstanding.

The word Beatles-esque has been attached to Eraserheads’ music since the time they knocked Jose Mari Chan off the top of the charts. But there’s nothing anglophilic about the timeless post-basted, group support therapy (a.k.a binge drinking) session of “Pare Ko”, or in the cutesy, t-shirt parading, thesis-making love song “Ligaya”. “Tindahan Ni Aleng Nena”, the one song they deliberately tried to channel the Beatles is very much Pinoy at heart—its story revolves around a sari-sari store and migration to Canada. There’s no fake Brit accent on “Shake Yer Head” either. And despite referencing “Silly Love Songs”, “Toyang” is unassailably Pinoy; with bitso-bitso, Coke 500, Sky Flakes, and “Bahay Kubo”, all in a song about true love.

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Looking past its cultural impact and significance, Ultraelectromagneticpop! isn’t so much groundbreaking as it is an excellent pop record. The songs may sound pretty dated by now, but back in 1993, they did sound unlike anything else. Thanks mainly to the local mainstream music, which back in 1993, sounded like it was still 1983. The Apo Hiking Society, Gary Valenciano, Smokey Mountain, Donna Cruz, Regine Velasquez, and the Introvoys—they were all stuck in the ’80s, sleeping for so long with their hair rollers on, only to be awaken by the noise from an underground scene, already bursting at the seams.