June 24, 2011
To explain for the newer readers, Dr Rob is the other key contributor to Test Pressing alongside myself. He lives in Japan and here writes about living in the country post-earthquake. If you didn’t know the good doctor has a radio show and you can stream it here.
When the Tohoku earthquake hit I was in Sakudiara, a small town in Nagano that has sprung up around a handful of warehouse-sized shops and a cinema multiplex. That has to be at least 500 kilometres from Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi. The areas closest to the centre of the quake. My kids had the day off school and as a soft option I had tried to lose them in Toys R Us. I had been feeling unwell all day and as I stepped out of the blare and demands of the shop I felt myself become unsteady. My first thought was maybe I actually have the flu and I checked around me to see if everyone else was OK. They seemed unaffected and I felt then like I might pass out but I noticed that the pylons around us were twanging like steel nipples. Earthquake. In Tokyo you get used to them but part of the deal with moving to Nagano is/was that they never happen here. We`ve got the volcanos to worry about instead. I asked a taxi driver “does this happen often?” He said “never”. When we got to the shinkansen station everybody was being ushered off the platforms and into a waiting room. The TV warned of possible tsunamis up to 1 metre in height. Within 5 minutes this was up to 10 metres. Trains were suspended. All mobile networks went down. We were lucky enough to live so close as to be able to stretch to a taxi home, though totally unprepared for what would greet us there when we switched on the TV.
When an earthquake of any scale hits in Japan, television broadcasts are interrupted by a colour-coded map highlighting areas worse effected and if tsunami are expected then evacuation voice overs in Japanese, English, Spanish and Chinese. These normally last for a few minutes. In the case of the Tohoku earthquake they started around 3pm on Friday March 11 and continued for a little over two weeks. Early on we didn’t get to see the tsunami footage. I guess it wasn’t available. No one able to retrive it. But news announcers were wearing hardhats in shaking studios as ceilings collapsed around them. I couldn’t understand a lot of what was going on but one of the sights that will stay with me was that of Chiba burning. It looked like they would never be able to put it out. It really did look like the beginning of the end of the world. And the quakes just kept coming. They are still coming. We had another one last night (16.05.11). I can`t quite remember the figure but there have been over a 1000 earthquakes in Japan since March 11. Over 100 of them grade 4 or over.
Where I am, in the mountains, is pretty much bang in the middle of the widest part of the main island. The safest place in terms of tsunami. This didn’t happen by accident. I once visited a beautiful coastal resort called Shimoda. Blue sea surrounded by lush green mountains. I had always dreamed of living on a beach somewhere, but the warning signs in Shimoda changed my mind. In the event of a major earthquake, leave the area immediately. So you survive a major earthquake. Your home falls down at midnight. You`ve then got around ten minutes to try to outrun a giant wave. Forget it. I am no longer dreaming of California. I have made my home in the mountains.
While the earthquakes kept coming, every ten minutes in some places, attention quickly focused on the damaged nuclear power plant on the Fukushima coast, around 250km south east. I called the British Embassy for advice. “My children and I are in Nagano (a long way away) what should we do?” “Stay inside, close all windows and doors.” “My wife is in Tokyo (a lot closer – maybe 180km to the South of Fukushima) what should she do?” “I`ll have to call you back. In the meantime check our website.” I did and some attractive young lady showed me how to pack a handbag with a bottle of water and my passport.
Friends from Ibaraki came to stay in my living room, because their roof had collapsed and they were just to close for comfort. Three adults, three children. Each adult monitoring news from a different source. The BBC, Japanese TV and direct news feeds to mobiles. It was impossible to work out what was going on and the seriousness of the situation. Japanese authorities trying to avoid panic. Overseas advising evacuation. Those British nationals living in Tokyo and the north of japan should consider leaving the area.
I kept a diary. It goes without saying since it is clear that I am that vain. And I thought about asking Paul to post pieces everyday, just to highlight the situation. But I am so far away from the real trouble. My anxieties are trivial. Largely unreal. There was a report detailing the adverse psychological effects the continual news coverage was having on young children. Constant re-runs of lives being washed away. Confused like the children I did not know if the footage was archived or was this still happening.
Every morning at 5 AM I would check the only English speaking channel for news. I would check the IAEA three times a day for updates. I remember my panic at learning there is a Unit 5. Every night I would go to bed fully clothed, In case I had to get the children up and out. Sea-sick on dry land. Can`t trust my senses Earthquakes would be detected by laundry, unable to be dried outside, dancing in the lounge. My youngest son and I watched dead Koi float in an ornamental pond. Like fallen crescent moons. Mum called to check if I have picked up any Uranium tablets. Tiny bombs. I learned to fear the rain.
We tried to send food and clothes North, but there were no routes open. The British Embassy advised that I should consider leaving the area. So I did. I packed a suitcase and got some money together but I didn’t really think about going. There are an awful lot of people an awful lot worse off, who have lost everything and have nowhere to run. And it quickly became apparent that the power plant situation was chronic. If you did run, would you ever come back? I did realize that I was beginning to lose my mind. Where I live, out of season, is deserted. I could walk for 20 minutes and not see anyone. I would wonder if there had been some public announcement in Japanese that I had missed, and everyone else had gone. I knew I had to get a grip.
In all honesty, Nagano has been largely unaffected. I don`t think the earthquakes we experienced were over grade 3. Anything higher must be terrifying. Food deliveries, the equivalent of something like Ocado, stopped and as yet haven`t fully resumed. The swimming pool closed to save on electricity. In the supermarket (we only really have the one) we suffered runs on tinned fish, milk, bread, bottled water. Toilet roll. All shortages seemingly caused by panic buying and hoarding rather than supply. Fuel was rationed to 10 litres per car and the kerosene we use to heat our home (we were still in the -20s at night) limited to 18 litres per household per week. Fuel rationing has consequences for a community that needs tourism to survive. The government lifted tolls on roads over Golden Week and the place was busy. But not as busy as last year.
In the third week, once emergency broadcasting had stopped, I made the conscious decision to ignore all media. None of it was really telling me anything I could use. Information on the IAEA is along the lines of “Today we tested radiation levels in 15 prefectures”. Which ones? “And levels ranged from 1,000, 000 to 0.1 mbq/m2.” Where is it 1,000,000 and where is it 0.1? Everyone seemed to know something you didn’t. “Oh you are safe in the mountains they will shield you”. “Oh you need to get out of the mountains, the winds will carry the radiation to you first”. But it seemed to me that nobody knew anything. I decided to ignore everyone. I decided just get on with things. But I have stopped boozing in the evening. I never know when I all my faculties may be called upon.
I called friends in Tokyo. Anyone thinking of heading further south? No. They were all staying put. So I figured maybe things weren’t as bad as they looked on TV. But when I did go back into Tokyo I was shocked. I travelled in to play at Lone Star, like most parties here now, for the indefinite future, for charity. I`d watched fellow shinkansen travelers don facemasks as we went through Omiya and arrived in Tokyo at around 8:30 pm on a Saturday night. Expecting to have to squeeze my record box, standing, onto a busy Metro train, I practically had the carriage to myself. To get to the party in Harajuku I travel through Omontesando, a busy shopping area, normally packed with hot women trying to look cool under weight of too many purchases. No one was on the platform. Changing lines, wheeling my box through deserted walkways, eerie is the word. Tokyo is never quiet. Convenience stores were dimly lit and empty. Shops and restaurants closing. Saving power.
At the party, it was understandably quiet. It became clear that many of the young foreigners we know had left the country. Gone home. It turned into one of those nights where the aging DJs are left drinking with a handful of close friends. Going for it with the bravado of Shakespeare kissing plague victims. Bravado which of course eventually slipped. By 3 am everybody, to me, looked worried out of their minds. I heard rumours of radioactive caesium in the breast milk of Tokyo mothers. Stories of protestors at the TEPCO headquarters being beaten up by plain clothes police. I realized once again, how lucky I am.
I do get the feeling that as figures for accumulated radiation begin to be made available that the situation may be worse than the Japanese government was willing to admit (I guess their standpoint – to avoid panic – has been we can neither confirm nor unconfirm until tests have been done and numbers are available) and as bad as overseas authorities have predicted all along. But now, I kind of ignore the earthquakes because we have made the decision to stay. I cook my kids` food in bottled or filtered water. I don’t let them get wet. This has become the new normal. Not so bad. Maybe easy to forget, save the pink Spiderwort in the window box. And maybe I should keep my mouth shut since I am still here sitting amongst most of my possessions. With my family. Japan doesn`t need any more scary stories. She needs support from the rest of the world in terms of visits from friends. Artists. Tourism and trade. But the other night at 2 AM I took these pictures off the TV, as cameras followed a man back to his former home in Miyagi. A solitary white radiation-suited figure on a science-fiction landscape. Completely flattened. Absolutely nothing as far as the eye can see. Stopping. Taking a moment to burn incense. To mourn. Beyond hope. The sound of bird song deafening.
June 3, 2011
May 31, 2011
It was a sad day when we heard about the passing of the genius that was Gil Scott Heron. The good Dr Rob brings a fitting Test Pressing tribute.
Gil Scott-Heron: April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011
Gil Scott-Heron: Lady Day & John Coltrane (Flying Dutchman)
Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson & The Midnight Band: The Liberation Song (Arista)
Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson: The Bottle (Live) (Arista)
Gil Scott-Heron & His Amnesia Express: Angel Dust (Live) (Essential)
Gil Scott-Heron: The Klan (Chicken Wings Edit) (Soul In The Hole)
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson: Peace Go With You Brother (Strata-East)
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson: Angola, Louisiana (Arista)
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson: It’s Your World (Soul Brother)
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie XX: I’ll Take Care Of You (Young Turks)
If I had to choose only one Gil Scott-Heron track then it would have to be the version of “The Bottle” from the live double LP “It`s Your World”. I picked up my copy, which is only half the album, for 50 pence in The Record And Tape Exchange in Notting Hill in the mid-90s. I now know this to be a David Mancuso “Loft classic”, but I can remember being pretty nervous the first time I played it. Worried about audience reactions to the extended percussion break. Needless worries. For at the point when the song kicks back in the whole place literally jumped. Including those folks at the bar. The whole place lifted several feet. Everyone was higher. One of my fondest DJing memories.
Music so life-affirming, so positive, so inspiring and so heart-felt from an intelligent man clearly troubled by personal demons. A man who struggled his whole life with the very things he was warning against. Like Burroughs, a man who totally understood the tools of control, but still couldn’t help himself. The simple true-ism that “Everybody needs something”, a criticism and a confession, is something I’ll be quoting for as long as I`m still breathing.
When I dug the record out again to put this compilation together, and heard the line “Brother says he’s got to have some money, sister told me all she needs is love”, I was reduced to tears. I guess if you don’t understand, then you might count yourself lucky.
Compiled by Dr Rob, with considerable assistance from Tim H.
Dr Rob lives in Japan. This is his response to recent happenings. Help where you can people. Ed.
Be Not Defeated By The Rain by Kenji Miyazawa
Translation by David Sulz
Be not defeated by the rain, Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.
Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.
A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove’s shade.
A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.
If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.
In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.
Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man”.
This is my goal, the person I strive to become.
March 4, 2011
I wake in cold blue before the sun. Unraveling the dreams I have come to treasure. One or five AM. I have no idea. My head so cold it aches. I check the kids are covered and brave downstairs. Three degrees in the kitchen. But the fish are still swimming. I light the stove with stones thrown from Asamayama soaked in kerosene. Set the coffee on it. A shower, the quickest way to warm up. But it`s hard to get in. Ice on the inside of the window. Frosted glass. Move the frozen laundry. On tip-toes against cold tiles. Harder to get out.
Minus eight during the day. Minus twenty at night. All effort spent on keeping the family alive. No time for anything other than the business of surviving the weather. Chopping wood while the sun shines. Sleeping once it sets. A complicated city boy with a simple country life. It can be good to have your priorities straightened once in a while.
Snow makes roads impassable, so I carry my youngest son to school. My own personal trainer. These weeks we are working mainly on calves and shoulders. Dressed in cheap Wellingtons, three layers of thermals and a goose-down jacket that was too warm to ever wear comfortably in England. Now I never leave the house without it.
We take a short-cut. Across jidoukan. The snow has cleaned everything. Made everywhere new. It shines with countless jewels. Our footprints the first. It seems a shame to leave them. Ever more elaborate chandeliers of ice, dragon`s teeth, hang from drainpipes and branches.
Down empty streets early morning in Nakakaruizawa. Not the Old Town, with the summer houses, the bessou, the money, the famous and the expensive French restaurants, but the community of people who work to serve the holiday makers. Jimoto no hito. Those that suffer the seasonal cold. Lack of activity and lack of work. Together. Don`t worry. Shinpaishinai de kudasai. There`ll be skiing come February. The roads will soon be busy again.
We stand at a crossroads. Waiting for lights. Watching the sun reflect off everything in long broken sunglasses. A bright red hat bought from Slam City before the kids with “Destructo” stitched on it. I draw air through my nose and it hurts. I think about a balaclava. Then memories of meeting Millwall. I guess I might be a bit scary in a ski-mask. Most likely get arrested as I enter Lawson. Get shot as I go for my point card.
As we pass, a village wakes and shutters rise on a parade of shops where, customer-less, life goes on. Slowly. The bakery are playing my CD. With optimism, we talk of sledging and snowmen. My youngest son and I. We wonder at our freezing breath. We play at who can make the bigger cloud.
Weekends we go ice-skating. The open-air arena at Kazakoshi Kouen. My kids struggle with their laces, and I selfishly lose a Karuizawa minute in thoughts of Streatham on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes a Wednesday night. Nicola Sagar, Tony Chattaway, Dave Miller. Steven Wilbury, Robert Storer, Mark Perry. Karen Szulkai. Tony and Steven Robinson. DaSilva. Jackie and Janice. The Human League versus Frankie Smith. George Benson. Give me the night. Bauer hockey boots. The barrel roll. Galaxian and Centipede. Leaving my diary around so others might reveal my loves. To shy or lame to do so myself. Innocent days. Moments before drink. And discos. Twenty-nine years off the ice and fifteen minutes back on and I think of buying my own boots again. Smiling with the past for once. I watch a pretty girl skate backwards. Nostalgia. Love. Promise. To the south, mountains are all I see.
The skating has had another plus besides reminding me of being next to teenage girls in tight jeans and tie-blouses. It has put me back in touch with my second son. Six years old now, but only three when we arrived in Japan. In England I would carry him everywhere, and he would not sleep unless I was next to him. Then came his younger brother, putting some distance between us. And then came the language. More fluent now in Japanese, he often needs his older brother to translate my questions and requests. But by taking his hand on the ice a trust was renewed. I tell him to go faster. As fast as he can. I tell him I will not let him fall. To catch my sons. The only reason I remain strong. Now he reads me books in Japanese. Explaining words I might not understand. Carefully re-pronouncing them until I have managed to get them right. And every night he lets me read him The Mr Men.
Evenings, I keep the sake outside. No need for a fridge. My intake limited to that which has refused to freeze. Sake in moonlight. Tastes better this way. One long night late December our carpenters taught me that.
Come summer our new home will be complete. Underfloor-heating, four-wheel drive, a dishwasher. I won`t know what to do with myself. But I am happy now. I want for nothing. And now is what`s important.
Japan: The Experience Of Swimming
8 Up: Before Dawn
Sybarite: Without Nothing I`m You
Cocteau Twins: My Truth
Santana: Song Of The Wind
Gutter Snypes: Trails Of Life (Inst.)
Sergio Mendes: Iemanja
Seawind: Morning Star
Talk talk: It`s Getting Late In The Evening
Fluke: Cool Hand Flute
Dead Can Dance: The Arrival & Reunion
Kaine: Welcoming Idaho
Brian Eno: Mist/Rhythm
Santana: Tales Of Kilimanjaro
John Williams: Woodstock
November 29, 2010
Sitting in a cold school playground. Neath a clear Autumn sky. Koyo in reds and browns. Pale yellows. Jealously watching my kids hot-foot it after girls. A game of “Taka Oni”. Up the slide. Round the Jungle Jim. Old tires rolled for hula hoops. I fold my arms and pull my shoulders up around my ears. I try to remember the first time I fell in love.
Was it kiss-chase at primary school? Being dragged into the red-brick Girls’ Toilets on Birchanger Road. The girl in the house opposite. Net curtains for wedding gowns. Or was it when Laura Johnson smiled?
Was it the girl I was too shy to kiss? Long weekends sat on my Chopper outside her house, waiting for her to appear. One long Saturday matinee spent frozen with fear.
Or was it the force of nature with the tattooed ankle in Corfu?
Was it a copy of Clara Bow’s bob and Kohled eyes? All dressed in black with drawn on pout. The hardest body. Dark taffeta.
Was it the tom-boy who wouldn’t take no for an answer til it was too late? A glimpse of hung-over white lingerie in a four poster bed. A glimpse of jade at the foot of her stairs.
Was it a bright red mouth. Or an overnight bag hidden under a restaurant table. My mock acquittals accompanied by a dramatic removal of glasses and flick of the fringe. So much passion there.
Was it the electricity when our lips touched on a Sunday morning after the Saturday night before. Heaven’s promise. Then Sunday nights lonely crying. Red Stripe and The Wonder Years for company. What ever happened to Winnie? Whatever happened to Croydon’s Kylie?
Was it a scrapbook? A faded beauty in 50s gear. Someone longing to be held but too used to rejection. Pressed so close to me in sleep that handprints accompany me to the shower.
Was it the green contacts and the flattery I felt? Or the impossibility of it?
Was it a shot at redemption? Or a means of escape? Something unbroken I felt compelled to break.
Or was I just too high?
Was it when my wife blushed? A goofy grin. Caught off guard as Badlands lit the ICA.
Or was it when I held my first son?
Was it with the act? Or just the idea?
Every night I dream of friends and lovers my life has left behind. These are happy dreams. Conversations, jokes and warmth. Not spectres and farewells. Love doesn’t fade. It grows. I wish I could reach out and tell these people who shaped my life that their memory makes me smile the biggest smile. I wish I could hold them. Last night I kissed my grandmother. “Good night my love” she said and I opened my eyes lonely. Lonely for a moment, then my sons awake and the day once more is given purpose.
No-man: Days In The Trees (Reich)
Scott Cossu: Purple Mountain
Haroumi Hosono: Honeymoon
Yusef Lateef: Plum Blossom
Elmore Judd: Otherly Love
Azimuth: Lina Da Horizonte
Last Night: Cool Water
Steven Halpern: Play Of Light
Chapterhouse: Epsilon Phase
Shinozaki Matasugu: From A Distance
Michael Lorrimer: Remembranza
Shakti: Bridge Of Sighs
Les Negrettes Vertes – Face A La Mer (Massive Attack)
Transglobal Underground: International Times (Haunted Dancehall)
Arvo Part: Spiegel Im Spiegel
November 4, 2010
I’m back in Tokyo for the weekend. DJing on the Friday at Right Right Right. About to enter its 5th year. Goodness knows how we’ve made it this far. Sleep is scarce but done in a small hotel in Hibiya, called R.E.M. The more I stay here the more I love it. The rooms are tiny but it’s far from a capsule. There are no real amenities but it’s cheap, clean and modern. I got tired of staying in flea pits on the wrong side of Shibuya quite quickly. Don’t let fancy foyers fool you.
A big plus is the Muji restaurant on the second floor of the hotel. This means I can eat alone cheaply and healthily and not have to resort to the typical gaijin (foreigner) thing of living off McDonalds and 7-11 sandwiches all weekend. I’d never dream of going to McDonalds back home. As The Dead Kennedy’s once prophesised “Give me convenience or give me death.”
Another big plus are the hotel’s other customers. R.E.M. is opposite a theatre called Takarazuka. A theatre where all roles are played by women. It does look strange. Posters with middle-aged women in tuxedos and pencil moustaches. But it’s far more serious than panto and prinicipal boys. The street outside the theatre is always jammed with women of all ages.
Likewise the hotel is packed with well dressed women. Those in town to catch the show. and actresses so stunning that I have often had to laugh out loud at the impossibility of it. Koyuki Katou is a graduate of the theatre’s school. I eat my breakfast like a pig in shit. Surrounded by beauty. A Hugh Hefner Playboy Mansion moment to start the day. I never see another man, which is probably why they always give me a room on the top floor. Up and out of harms way.
When I’m in Tokyo for the weekend I try to set myself a mission. Set my sights on somewhere I haven’t been before. To be honest, the DJing and associated bad habits can get in the way of the stuff I`m finding more enjoyable these days. Will power where art thou. I’m cool about fluffing asking for directions in Japanese, but not so cool abut doing it when I still stink of booze.
This month I checked out an exhibition at the Mori Tower. I never had the time to go to the Mori when I lived in Tokyo. Distance and school pick-ups were against me. The entrance to the gallery is on the 3rd floor, but the exhibitions are up on the 53rd floor. If I had realised I had to go all the way to the top I might have thought twice about entering. It didn’t click until I was carefully ushered into a lift. My ears popping three times between the 30th and top floors. I ain’t never been very good with rollercoasters and the like. Except in times when all seemed lost. While now maybe I’m found.
The current exhibition is called Sensing Nature. Snow storms made of feathers. Tables cast from light. Pure white oblivion oozing blood on an operating table. PET bottles mapping the Milky Way. One of the exhibits consists of a series of short films taken in the artist’s neighbourhood shown on huge screens in cavernous darkened halls. A tapir in a local zoo. A lake. An underground car park. Each film 10 minutes in length. People standing transfixed for the entire duration. I was wondering how many people would take as much time to watch a real landscape.
My favourite piece is Kuribayashi Takashi’s “Wald aus Wald”. A forest made from white paper mache, which you are invited to explore both above and below. Below, everyone scurries about, bent double, on all fours, looking for a way to find the light. The light, provided by head-sized holes through to the forest above. Poking your head above into the forest you are greeted by four or five other human “bunnies” doing the same. I couldn’t stop laughing. Trying to snap people as they popped up. A bit like that arcade game where you have to club the moles with a mallet.
When I was taking photos, I noticed that the pictures only really looked interesting when they caught both the model of nature and part of the modern world of the gallery housing it. And I think this is what the exhibition sets out to illustrate, something the Japanese call Shizen or Jinen. The co-existence of man and Earth. That everything is nature be it a snow-capped mountain or 53-storey skyscraper.
That night, before another evening of DJing, R.E.M. and dreams of beauty, I take dinner in a tree-house in the heart of Harajuku.
With Shizen, Tokyo makes a lot more sense.