Killer moves

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I was studying Japanese kanji today, and I learnt some interesting words.

  • 即戦力 (そくせんりょく)
    Noun

    1. ready fire-power; battle-ready forces; immediate asset (to a team or firm); someone who can be an immediately effective player or worker​ *Business term, Sports term*

  • 必殺技 (ひっさつわざ)
    Noun

    1. killer technique; surefire assassination method
    2. special or lethal move, usu. one unique to a certain fighter or fighting style
    *​Martial arts term*

Randomly, I remembered the following phrase from Epictetus, and decided that I will use it as a personal killer-move against people that annoy me from now on.

“Ψυχάριον εἶ βαστάζον νεκρόν, ὡς Ἐπίκτητος ἔλεγεν.”

Translation: “You are not but a tiny soul carrying a dead person”
Regarding: Vanity and nothingness

Χειρότερη μειωτική έκφραση, δε παίζει να υπάρχει, καλύτερη μακράν από παναγίες κλπ.

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Day-trip from Tokyo: Odawara castle

Day-trip from Tokyo: Odawara castle

[[Featured image: The Tora (tiger) sign of the Odawara castle.]
[[Image Gallery follows]

It’s been a week now that a university friend is visiting me in Tokyo. He couldn’t have picked a worse time possible. The start of the year comes bearing fruits: progress reports, presentations, assignments, and so on. Nevertheless, I have to be a good host and entertain my valued visitor, haven’t I? So, one of events that we schedule was a visit the the Odawara castle in Kanagawa, combined with a short visit to Hakone.

Odawara used to be a powerful city, home of the Houjou clan, that controlled a large part of the Kanto area. The castle was thought to be impenetrable. Then the feudal lords started fighting among each other and hell broke loose. At the battle for the siege of Odawara (which at that time had a coat of arms similar to the Legend of Zelda logo), Odawara castle was sieged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. For some obscure reason, the soldiers from the disbanded odawara army continued to fight under different clans, while disclosing the castles defense techniques to their new generals, even though the castle did fall to the enemy [because the defense was THAT cool, huh]. Apart from the castle, the main attractions in the vicinity include the seashore and the onsen (hot springs) in Yugawara.

As soon as we got off at the train station (super easy to get there with JR) we realized that we were hungry. Abiding by the rule ‘no money, no honey’ , we bought cheap sushi bentos and headed straight to the castle, only to stop and eat them outside the main gate. Suddenly, a young lady with a cute child comes talk to us first in English and after judging our ability, in Japanese. I was quite surprised to come across that level of good English (not common for Japanese people) and judging by my prior experience of enthusiastic people of all ages that want to introduce every nook and cranny of Japanese culture and customs to foreigners, we started a long conversation. She offered to show us the castle, and then a small Buddhist temple that had a valuable but unknown statue of Buddha and also teach us some kind of ritual writing. Normally, my head should have started flashing and ding-donging at the first 5 minutes, but my trust in Japanese people must have disarmed the proselytism alarm. We suggested going first to the Buddha and then to the castle, so that we have more time for the later. As we were walking, phrases like ‘The only true god is Buddha and that specific prayer’ and ‘we have so many wars in the world because of all the false religions’ started to appear, managing to re-arm the alarm, and eventually make me excuse myself tactfully. Conclusion: Don’t trust young English-speaking ladies with cute children, they only want to save your soul.

Soon after, we were heading once again towards the castle. This time, we managed to get inside without distractions. It is not as huge and imposing as the medieval castles of the West, but it had a certain charm. White and plain, it looked pretty under the blue sky. We bought a 800yen joint ticket for the castle, the museum and the samurai museum. The exhibits were not so impressive. The important part for me was the castle architecture itself and the wonderful view of both the sea and the Hakone mountainous area, which made clear in mind why that clan had such a power in their hands. However, at that exact moment, I also noticed the smoke of a forest fire on the mountain side and the fire-brigade moving hastily to the rescue. I heard no news about anything serious, and we visited Hakone soon afterwards, so I guess it was not a matter of concern after all. Regarding Hakone, we followed the obvious and usual approach: First visit lake Ashinoko to get a perfect view of Fuji and the red torii gate, and then go to Hakoneyumoto to enjoy onsen. We visited Izumi (和泉) onsen [~1300yen per person], but I consider the onsen at Yoshiike (吉池旅館) hotel [~2000yen per person] a wonderful choice (too many ladies with kimonos in the lounge – I was feeling too dirty and lowly at that point, I wanted to avoid any fanciness). The evening ended with dinner at a restaurant close-by, with tonkatsu and salmon dishes, although when asked for ramen, the onsen receptionist recommended Nisshintei (ハイカラ中華 日清亭).


Fun Japanese history facts:

  • The 3 big unifiers of Japan are Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. There is a phrase  that describes the relationships among each-other:  “織田がつき 羽柴がこねし 天下餅 座りしままに 食うは徳川 – Nobunaga pounds the national rice cake, Hideyoshi kneads it, and in the end Ieyasu sits down and eats it.”

  • Hideyoshi was a nameless peasant that turned to one of Nobunaga’s top generals. But when he rose into power he passed a law that banned class mobility. The samurai right became permanent and heritable.

  • Ieyasu grew up as hostage of Nobunaga’s Oda clan, but despite their rivalry, eventually they became strong allies.

  • Nobunaga had a younger sister. The sister had 3 daughters. One, Chacha, married Hideyoshi. One, O-Hatsu, married Kyogoku Takatsugu (another warlord). One, O-go, married Hidetada, Ieyasu’s son and Tokugawa shogunate heir. But Chacha and O-go’s children, Hideyori and Senhime, married each other. Even in hardships, Nobunaga’s bloodline remained strong and continued to flow quietly underground towards high power concentration.

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Greece vs Japan: LIVE Concerts

Greece vs Japan: LIVE Concerts

Recently, I had the chance to visit two rock music concerts in Japan. Of course, I’ve been to other concerts before, but it was always the case of big opera hall kind of concerts until now (eg NHK Hall or Tokyo National Opera). Opera or classical concerts feel the same worldwide, the singer’s and orchestra’s behavior is predetermined, the audience is educated and the flow of the show is perfect. However, rock concerts differ a bit. The atmosphere is more ‘raw’ and ‘loose’, the band members joke with the audience, try silly stunts, talk about politics, may even perform drunk. Depending on the genre, both the band and crowd reactions span a wide range.

From my experience in Greece, concerts of local and overseas artists exhibit some differences. Greece is a nation stricken down by financial and social problems, with the new generation of musicians expressing their political opinions via lyrics and interviews, in order to inform or motivate the crowd. Nowadays, most of the concerts are in solidarity or support of a social movement or wrongly prosecuted individuals (e.g. solidarity to immigrants, covering the trial costs of activists etc). Overseas artists usually don’t have such an interest, but because Greece is not one of the HOT live concert destinations and the country’s situations is pretty known around the globe, most bands offer some words of sympathy or revolution. Punk and rock bands are by default fueled by teen angst and feelings of dissatisfaction, so it’s only logical that they are supportive. As for the crowd, if we take out the local Greek subculture of ‘bouzoukia’, usually involves a pit, even during the happy reggae songs of Locomondo or slow ballads of Pavlos Pavlidis. I speak from experience, I have my bruises to prove it. When I started my undergrad in Athens, I visited a handful of lives. On the aftermath of a super heavy pit for Mocha (?I don’t even know how it started?), I returned to my hometown for the weekend. My dad saw some bruises on my arms and legs and was literally terrified about the kind of life I was living by myself. People are drinking and dancing, smuggling tsipouro and cheap wine in water bottles, smoking tobacco or others, lighting up red and green smoke sticks. In case of couples, usually guys create a wall formation to protect girls from the expanding pit of wild dancers. Nevertheless, girls are far from fragile; they dance with force and pride, and if the band is lucky, a bra or two might be thrown at them (and then requested back because ‘That thing costed me 30 euros, bras are expensive, man!’). This might look dangerous and unthinkable for many, but I, as many others, enjoy it truthfully. The crowd is aware of the dangers, so everyone is careful of others and reacts immediately in case of emergency. Last but not least, the clothes are not fancy. Most of the people wear simple black T-shirts and old shoes, because of the high possibility to ruin them from being stepped over or random wine in the air.

Some examples [not exactly rock genre though]:

Japan is the exact opposite. It doesn’t matter if it is a huge stadium concert (the recent live of UVERworld in Yokohama arena) or a gig of local bands in a small live house (AGNO et al in Baysis Yokohama). The performance starting time was 18:30 – so at 18:29:55 the audience begun a countdown. The concert started sharp on time, no delays for any reason. You noticed the 18:30 right? That was a new one for me. I am used to either all-day-long festivals or concerts from 21:00++. But here concert hours are similar to office working hours, 18:30-21:30. The audience stood up as soon as the artists came on stage. Everyone put their hands up and started moving their fists rhythmically while singing. Always the right fist, and always with the same rhythm. No deviations from that. I was enjoying it my way, moving the left hand and rocking my body loosely, but everyone around me was serious and stiff, thus making me feel a bit awkward and out of place. When the singer addressed the crowd, the audience remained quiet and still. No whispering, no coughing, damn I wonder if people even breathed. The artist gets ultimate respect and attention both when performing and when talking. Almost every band member talks at some point. They talk about love and life and dreams and prayers. They talk about trivial matters like the weather and getting dressed well because now it’s the flu season. They talk about how much they try to improve their musical abilities, strive to be the best and present the best version of them selves to their fans. Fire, smoke, elevation stage for the famous band; lights, sound effects, stage jumps for the local band. Lead singers especially emit huge amounts of energy, dancing, jumping around, trying to offer an unforgettable experience. In case of a big band, I guess it is something to be expected. But small bands with an audience as much as a handful of people, are not bothered, they perform as if they were addressing hundreds. And they keep thanking the crowd for their participation and support. Again and again and again. I was literally taken aback by the enormous amount of respect from singer side and audience side. Another huge difference was that no cameras, iPads, tripods were present at any point. The audience came to enjoy the music, instead of recording a video that they would never even access, and that is what they did. The whole Yokohama arena was pitch black, with no rectangular light sources blocking your field view; just the occasional blinking of LED wristwatches. The dress code was far from the usual black T-shirt. Some were wearing their work clothes, some had their outfits specifically picked out for the occasion, a lot were wearing the bands T-shirts, wristbands, towels, and any other accessory. I was excited to see a cute girl with a long pink skirt and a red beret, headbanging to an hardly known metalcore band. Even the smallest band has a devoted fanbase, ready to buy merchandise and visit all the gigs. Because being a band in Japan is a serious issue (everything is a gravely serious issue around here, I gather). Local bands have a logo, a website, official photo-shoots, trivia pages, live streaming channels. It is of no importance if the band’s drummist is a hardworking salary man, he will devote himself 100% to the band’s business.

verdict
Greek concerts are unpredictable and crazy.
Japanese concerts are safe and relaxing.

Despite the differences, I enjoy both versions. However, when it comes to American or German bands, I prefer the Greek option of the concert. Japanese bands fit better to the Japanese live performance concept.

Melomakarona

Melomakarona

[Greek text]
Επιτέλους! Ευχαριστώ για τα μελομακάρονα ρε μάνα!Αν και μόνο 5 έφτασαν αρτιμελή, τα υπόλοιπα θα τα φάω με το κουτάλι. Μαζί έφτασαν αμυγδαλωτά και καρύδια. **Το μπουκάλι κοκα κόλας δεν περιέχει νερό.**

[English text]
Finally, my mom’s parcel with homemade Christmas sweets arrived (late and with 5/10 surviving ‘melomakarona’). **The coca cola bottle does not contain water – ‘tsipouro’ 38%vol**

  • Melomakarona are biscuit-like, traditional Greek sweets, made commonly during winter  for Christmas. They are based on flour, olive oil, honey, cinnamon and grated walnuts. The name origin is not certain; some claim a connection to the Italian ‘macaron’, some suggest relations to the work ‘makarizo’ for praising the dead. Either way it’s delicious and here’s a recipe by Akis.
  • Tsipouro is a widely spread, strong (40-45%vol), distilled spirit, made from grape byproducts. It is commonly sold both from official industries and from local distillers. It comes in two versions: pure or with anise flavoring, though i prefer the first version. Normally, it is served on the rocks or with water, and it can be drunk in shots at fun times. During winter, it is enjoyed boiled with honey, hence called tsipouromelo. 

DJ police

DJ police

As New Year’s Eve is closing in on us (technically Christmas is, but it doesn’t matter in Asian countries – apart from when you desperately want to eat KFC chicken wings), another Japanese peculiarity is worth mentioning. As you probably have experienced by now, large crowds usually call for serious safety measures. And who is responsible for the aforementioned safety measures? You guessed right, the police! Now, let’s stay away from the ACAB tags etc, and examine the Japanese ‘big-event-cop’ equivalent.

The story goes as follows. Once on a starry night of 2014, Japan managed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals (not a small achievement for the national team). Shibuya is hellishly crowded everyday, however on that day it was even more hellishly crowded due to people’s celebrations. One cool policeman decided to change his approach towards the uncontrollable crowd and refer to them as a motivational sportscaster. “You are the team’s 12th player. Play fair like the Japanese team.”, he was urging the crowd. Obviously, his attitude caught the interest of passerby crowds and soon requests flocked to the local police department for ‘cool-cop’ training, because why not? The new policeman model is both effective and entertaining – two birds with one stone. Soon after, DJ cop became an noteworthy attraction in big events. Either for Halloween or for New Year’s countdown, DJ police fulfills its duty with coolness and creativity, high-fiving youngsters all the rage. Standing on high rise booths, referring to the crowds from microphones, a DJ cop is able to convert the controlling atmosphere to a smoother ‘ come on Barbie, let’s go party – but mind your surroundings guys’ party mood. According to my sensei -the most trustworthy source ever- DJ police is highly possible to be dispatched again in Shibuya scramble on the 31st. If you happen to be around the area, keep your eyes and ears open!

 

Image result for dj ポリス

The night is young, people, let’s get it started in here!