The Uwaga Pies … are AWESOME

I recently met the incredible Polish vlogging duo of Krzysztof Gonciarz and Kasia Mecinski, and we hooked up twice to close out the week with some of the things that make Tokyo such an incredible city to live in.

Kris and Kasia produce a daily (yes DAILY) vlog about their lives in Tokyo call The Uwaga Pies, and it's AWESOME. Seriously, the quality of what they produce day after day is incredible. People think I produce a lot of stuff. I have no idea when they sleep!

The first video is from Thursday (July 30) when we attended the pre-opening press event for the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku, the brainchild of 6%DOKIDOKI creative director (and Harajuku fashion master) Sebastian Masuda. Kris and I recorded an interview for my podcast Metropolis On Air later in the day about vlogging, video editing, and YouTube, which will be out this coming week. You might see me pop up in this video (more than once).

The second video is from Friday (July 31) when we had our monthly Metropolis Magazine "getsumatsu" party at Kakekomi Gyoza in Shinjuku's Kabukichō district. Two menu items you'll see in the video were horse meat sushi and horse rib sashimi. This was also a sendoff for one of our interns, and a great excuse to drain a barrel of sake (yeah, you'll see me doing that). And this was just a sliver of what Kris and Kasia did all day. Just watch … you'll be amazed.

Now go to The Uwaga Pies YouTube channel for much more of this awesome daily dip into life in Tokyo! 

Perfume: Relax In the City/Pick Me Up (Review)

Showa Day 2015 (April 29) brought with it the release of “Relax In the City/Pick Me Up,” a new double A-side from Perfume, the Japanese EDM trio from Hiroshima that’s making a name for itself globally. The two songs may get equal billing as A-sides, but the packaging focuses entirely on “Relax In the City.” Yet, if you like Perfume for their Yasutaka Nakata-driven electronica/dance flavor, you’ll find that the real gem is “Pick Me Up.” And, in fact, even the B-side (yes, we’re dealing with three-dimensional space here),「透明人間」(“Toumei Ningen” or “Invisible Man”), outshines the headliner.


The choice of “Relax In the City” as the true A-side probably comes down to three things: the packaging design (the release comes in the form of a box modeled after the “house” in the music video); the commercial tie-in (the song is being used for Sapporo Brewery’s Green Aroma beverage promotions); and the desire to secure a more lyrical hit for the group following their last single release, the heavily stylized “Cling Cling.”

The set, which takes up a lot of shelf space and is essentially an empty box (but one that is meant to be a collectible and used for whatever you like), includes a CD, a DVD, and a 40-page photo book. The CD contains the three tracks along with instrumental-only versions of each for your next karaoke night. The DVD contains the music videos for the two A-sides and the 44-second teaser for the EP. The photo book captures a day on the “set” of the “Relax In the City” video, which was shot over the course of 13 hours in a grassy field alongside the ocean in Okinawa.

Speaking of which, the video itself is a mixed bag. Aesthetically, it is indeed relaxing and refreshing (though not set in the city), but there are serious sync issues with the visuals and vocals. Artistically, it’s a nice picture, and the scenery transforms naturally with the song and over the course of the day-long shoot. The girls look beautiful in a much more elegant and tranquil setting than usual, but in the close-ups the disconnect between the vocals and lip movement pulls you out of the scene a bit.

The video for “Pick Me Up,” on the other hand, is one of the best things Perfume has produced in quite some time. Set in an Escheresque version of the Isetan department store in Shinjuku, the story finds A-chan, Kashiyuka, and Nocchi returning from a night out only to become caught up in strange happenings inside the store. In a moment reminiscent of the Doctor Who episode “Rose,” mannequins come to life and the girls find themselves surrounded as they attempt to find their way out. More eerily, they discover mannequins inside that look like them and they must free these doppelgängers in order to escape. The story and visuals are perfectly matched to the lyrics: “I wanna make my life … I want to journey up towards the sky … jump lightly … I can be free.” The video ends with the girls back on the street and the text: “A night in Shinjuku is sukoshi-fushigi.” (“A night in Shinjuku is a bit strange.”)

This set continues Perfume’s trend of unique packaging and bonuses—especially since their move to Universal Music Japan in 2012—and is at least as strong as their last EP release, July 2014’s “Cling Cling.” Given that Perfume’s last album, Level 3, had five singles hit #1 on the Japanese charts—and that Nikkei Entertainment just named Perfume the #1 girl group in Japan (once again)—“Relax In the City” will likely connect well with listeners even if it is stylistically a departure from their norm. But keep your eyes on “Pick Me Up.” Perfume is one of the few Japanese groups finding success outside of Asia, and if they can get this track in the rotation in clubs in the United States, they could have a true hit there as well.

Perfume’s SXSW Spectacle

I’ve seen Perfume do some amazing things with projection in their concerts, from “edge” on the first world tour to “Magic of Love” on NHK’s New Year’s Eve Kohaku to a very different mix of “Spending All My Time” at the London performance on their second world tour. They upped the ante with “DISPLAY” for their fifth domestic tour in 2014 (as I suspected would be the case when I first heard the piece on the “Cling Cling” EP). But none of these come close to what they presented last week at SXSW. To accompany a new song called “Story,” the girls danced amidst a cyber-infused three-dimensional landscape whose incredible presentation on video can’t possibly compare to what it must have been like in person.

WIRED has great background information that you can read here, but in short this is an elaborate 3D projection project involving Elevenplay’s Mikiko, Rhizomatiks’s Daito Manabe, and Kaoru Sugano of Dentsu, Japan’s goliath ad agency.

Amazingly, the video below was actually shot live—it’s not CG done in post. I can’t imagine how cool this would be to witness from inside the hall. Watch for Kashiyuka, NOCCHi, and A-CHAN behind semi-translucent screens upon which a dynamic projection mapping system casts visuals. You only actually see the girls clearly for a few moments, mainly in the more melodic section starting at the 4:03 mark; but they’re actually there the whole time.

For more details on the technical side, check out that WIRED article I mentioned. But visually this highlights why Perfume is possibly the coolest act in Japanese music, and why they’re one of the very few Japanese groups who have had success in Europe and the States

White Day: Japan’s Other Valentine’s

Everyone is familiar with the romantic overtones of February 14, the Feast of Saint Valentine. In most parts of the world, lovers exchange gifts, chocolate, flowers, and enjoy elaborate dates. Japan, however, splits the tradition into two parts thanks to one of the most effective marketing gimmicks ever conceived.

Okay, maybe gimmick is a strong word, but this is how I’ve always perceived it. As the story goes, Morozoff, a confectionary company based in Kobe and founded by a Russian immigrant, introduced Valentine’s Day to Japan in 1936. Later, in 1953, they really began promoting it; and this led to others doing the same. At some point, a translation error in the promotions led to the idea that only women should give chocolates to men, and not the other way around. So, for years Valentine’s Day was a one-sided affair.

Actually, this one-way street still exists today. But it’s not quite as it seems. Instead of being left out in the cold, ladies receive gifts in return one month later.

In the 1980s the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association succeeded in making March 14 a “reply day” to Valentine’s. It’s on this day that men give chocolates (and nowadays other gifts) to women. The chocolates that were originally promoted were white, thus the name “White Day.” While you will still see some special gift boxes filled with white chocolates, today all varieties are common.

Thanks to this gift-giving division—established by the candy industry and accepted by our culture as tradition—Japanese companies get two opportunities to market for essentially one holiday. I’m not certain if this benefits them or actually costs them more. In the end, the same men and women buy the same gifts either way. Still, the idea that an industry could so successfully establish a tradition such as this is both brilliant and troubling. (And this isn’t the only case in Japan. Let’s not forget KFC, fried chicken, and Christmas. But that’s for another time.)

White Day just feels strange, and I always have a pang of guilt for not having a gift ready on February 14. It took me years to get used to this approach, but eventually I adapted. This year my chocolate selection was the collection from Henri Le Roux that you see above. And while it would have felt more natural for me to have given these a month ago, in the context of relationships White Day has a nice way of extending the spirit of Valentine’s. And in a world where we rarely slow down and have too little time to spend with our loved ones, that’s a good thing.

Remembering Leonard Nimoy

It’s only logical. That time would eventually take from us the man who inspired generations is only logical. We saw it coming… and hoped it would not. Yet on February 27, as I slept here in Japan, Leonard Nimoy succumbed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 83. As is often the case, my geographic and temporal displacement meant that I woke up to the bad news others had been discussing for hours.

This time the news didn’t shock me in the way it did when Robin Williams took his own life last August. That was completely unexpected. This was something I had been keeping an eye since Nimoy was taken to the hospital earlier in the week. The sense of loss, however, feels the same. Or perhaps more. Both of these great men inspired me over the years, helping me form a sense of identity and a desire to always strive for the best.

As sources of personal inspiration go, Spock, the role for which Nimoy is best known, sits in rarified air. Most people know me as someone who is level-headed, who looks for solutions, and who doesn’t panic at the first sign of trouble. It isn’t easy, though. As a young man, I found keeping my temper in check difficult. Nimoy’s measured performance as Spock was a role model for addressing this. Later on Captain Picard offered guidance as well, but I’m of the age that The Original Series was Star Trek. TNG and all the rest came later. For me growing up there was Kirk, Spock, and Bones; and Spock was the character who made me see that it was possible to remain calm and be successful in life.

In light of today’s news, I’m also reminded of something else I learned from Spock: things change. He himself put it eloquently in his final tweet:

In universe, Nimoy conveyed this as Spock when asked by Lt. Valeris—a fellow Vulcan—why he keeps Marc Chagall’s Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise on the wall in his quarters. “It is a reminder to me that all things end,” he explains.

Nimoy’s passing is a stark reminder of this truth—something we so easily forget as we race through the day-to-day of life. But while this great creative may no longer be with us, the impact he had on the world remains while his own journey continues into that undiscovered country.

In the midst of writing this, I stopped to record some of my thoughts for an episode of my show Hyperchannel. You can hear those, as well as the exchange between Spock and Valeris, by playing the audio file below.

And later in the weekend I was able to sit down with my good friend and renowned Star Trek historian Larry Nemecek to reminisce about Leonard Nimoy's life and career. You can hear our discussion by playing the special episode of The Ready Room below. Or grab this in iTunes for easier listening on the go.

A Fresh Start

It's been a long time since I first started this blog. It began, in fact, unintentionally as a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. Thus the name: Accidentally a Blog. A lot has happened in my life since then, and over time these pages languished. It's time for a fresh start, so I'm hitting the reset button. In time I'll put some of the older content back online; but for now I'm back at square one. Hopefully you'll find some of the new content interesting.