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Hecuba, Singh, Osaka - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 11:56 pm
Hecuba, Singh, Osaka

I'm in Osaka, jet-lagged but happy, eating sashimi and about to go soak in a sento.

The sequence of views from my Airbus window this morning was fascinating. First Mongolia, snowy moonlit high plains in the grey of dawn, looking like the surface of the moon. Then China, flat and vast. The rivers and quays around Beijing are shaped by man, and the ground sparkles with new, silvery industrial buildings. Smoke stacks throw plumes.

Then there's the extraordinary promontory of Dalian, with crinkly red mountains and affluent cities; the last part of China before the Yellow Sea and North Korea. Our route, as the crow flies, should take us through North Korea, but we fly carefully around it. We don't want to be mistaken for spies.

South Korea is amazingly slender, and Seoul ( on the seatback route map) surprisingly close to the DPRK border, and not far from Pyong Yang. Through little fluffy white clouds I see Seoul's high, boxy apartment blocks. I've been watching a Korean TV show on the plane entertainment system; tidy mother and messy mother swap apartments. The Korean flats shown are in exactly these big boxes, much larger than Japanese living spaces, with gigantic sofas and hypertrophic plasma TVs with Dolby cine-surround speaker systems. The rooms are all lit with overhead fluorescent light. The tables are low, like Japanese ones, but the colours are completely different from Japanese colours.

There's a little turbulence over the Sea of Japan, but soon we're descending over Fukuoka. Japan looks like an enchanted land, so different from the lugubrious, hostile and vast landscapes the plane has traversed so far. Suddenly there are wooded mountains with little clouds nestled in nooks and temples poised on top. There are the sandy-beached islands of the Seto Inland Sea, which we'll be investigating in January. There are shiny new bridges linking the echanted Pacific isles to each other. There are sudden cities (that's Shikuoka, and here comes Osaka) poured into the plains between forested mountains. This whole thing shouldn't really be here: the archipelago has pushed a series of volcanic heads out of the sea, but they remain dreamlike and somehow enchanted.

Soon we land on the artificial island which is Kansai International airport, and I'm marveling at... Well, I'm grumbling at the fact that striking Finnish baggage handlers have ensured that our luggage wasn't on the flight. But apart from that I'm struck by the super-niceness of all the Japanese employees I deal with, and the deep sense of superlegitimacy with which they do their jobs. Complete conviction, religious (but secular) devotion.

The luggage claim girl smiles sweetly, the currency exchange man fans and flick-counts my yen like a magician, and on the train to Tennoji a trainee steward is being choreographed by a supervisor through her duties, and making white-gloved gestures as precise and attentive as those of the man who guided our airbus to its docking bay, then bowed deeply to the Finnish plane.

The speckless cleanliness of everything, the escalator animated by a Shinto kami in the form of a voice telling you to take care, the extra-schoolgirlness of the schoolgirls, the strange medieval aspect of peasants tending microscopic fields, everything confirms my feeling that Japan is a religious society posing as a secular one, and that it's poetry compared with the prose of all other societies I've known. And yet somehow this "poetry" is deeply effective; as I've been reading in my complimentary copy of the Financial Times, Japan is still vastly powerful: the four dominant blocks of our time, says the paper, are the US, Japan, Europe and China, with India and Brazil far behind. So this island that just pops out of the sea like a volcanic afterthought to continental Asia somehow continues to pack enormous civilisational clout.

Anyway, I didn't intend to string my first impressions out quite so far. I was going to say "here, jet-lagged, happy" then point you to two articles of mine which have just appeared: Discovering a new band in real time, a piece in Playground investigating a Californian band called Hecuba (photo above), and 800 Words with Alexandre Singh, my conversation with a young British lectures-based artist living in New York, published by Art in America.


Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)

I'm off to Japan again at Easter, possibly flying Finnair out of Heathrow depending on the prices when I book the flight. Suggested place to visit when you're in the Seto area is the town of Onomichi, a favourite haunt of mine when big-city concrete Japan has fried my brains sufficiently. It's at the mainland end of the road-bridge chain linking Shikuoka to Honshu, full of ratty old shrines and temples that wouldn't be given house-room in Kyoto or Nara. It's the sort of place the big-city elites came from -- "Tokyo Story" was based on Onomichi folks visiting their grown-up kids in Tokyo and embarrassing the hell out of them.

Have fun -- I wish I was spending New Year in Japan.

Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)

The reason why that first Hecuba video looks good is because it is a faithful pastiche of a Kenneth Anger film. I must say I find that kind of direct quotation - especially in a music video - very boring.


Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
Sing Your Life

Have a wonderful time Nick....tell Hisae I got offered 70 quid for her knitted Mac lead cover yesterday..bizzaro...I wouldn't part with it for blood , money or treasure.

viva you both this Yule


Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)

Your air travel posts are always so wonderfully evocative. I felt I was in the seat next to you sharing the same thoughts. I could almost hear the thrumming white noise of the jet engines, and smell that intoxicating mix of av-gas, thermoplastic, and aluminum.

I'm so happy you are in Japan. If CO has to end, it is fitting that it should end there :)

(coincidentally, I wrote the words "pink-grey of dawn" in a letter this morning)

Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC)

An editor would probably query "moonlit plains of Mongolia looking like the surface of the moon".

"Does that mean Mongolia-moon is lit by itself?" said editor would demand.

They have no sense of poetry, editors. Of course the mongolian moon is lit by itself!

ReplyThread Parent
Cam Critter
Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)

Envy. I have it.

Sat, Dec. 5th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)

Hello Momus. I hope you have a great time in Japan starting now. I hope ideas of creation rise from this experience and spread through your mind new things to express and/or new mediums to express them through.


Sun, Dec. 6th, 2009 06:57 am (UTC)
good old kansai kuukou

glad to know you made it all right. landing there myself in a couple more weeks--but crossing over the much less picturesque pacific; nothing to see until the eastern shores of mythical yamato itself. and then: too much too see...

you're onto something about the secular/religious poetry thing; it's what zen aesthetics are all about, too (as you know)...

maybe see you in naniwa...

The Empire Never Ended
Sun, Dec. 6th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)

Occasionally I read your posts and a certain nit-pickiness in myself grumbles about this and that. It's only to be expected. Sometimes I write comments, only to delete them and move on with my day rather than post them. However, since Click Opera is away with fairies soon enough and this will be your last visit to Japan...

"But apart from that I'm struck by the super-niceness of all the Japanese employees I deal with, and the deep sense of superlegitimacy with which they do their jobs. Complete conviction, religious (but secular) devotion."

After all this time spent in Japan, is this really what you think? I'm certainly always impressed by standards of customer service in Japan, but at the same time I think of the miserable wages, the boredom, the sorrows within, that these people may be dreaming of something else entirely. I enjoy catching shop employees trying to outdo each other in the ridiculousness of their customer welcomes. I look forward to the day when they potentially rise up against their fat cat bosses and chuck them in the bay for landfill. Or not!

"The speckless cleanliness of everything, the escalator animated by a Shinto kami in the form of a voice telling you to take care, the extra-schoolgirlness of the schoolgirls, the strange medieval aspect of peasants tending microscopic fields, everything confirms my feeling that Japan is a religious society posing as a secular one, and that it's poetry compared with the prose of all other societies I've known."

This is a train from KIX towards Tennoji? I don't know what side of the train you're looking out of, but you see some rather speckled and downtrodden areas on the way in and despite recent developments and demolitions, Tennoji certainly isn't Aoyama or wherever. Thank the heavens!

But I do love this ending of poetry compared with prose! I suspect we hear a different poetry, especially perhaps in Osaka where it's a sound I much prefer to that of Tokyo. Because it is rather dirty in its way, certainly bawdy and much less of that pole-up-your-arse preciousness I get in the capital. Hmm, that's not quite the phrase I was after.

It's at this point I'd normally delete and get back to the cooking. Enjoy the holiday and all those sento!

Sun, Dec. 6th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)

Well, clearly I'm not doing down-and-dirty investigative journalism in a piece like this. I'm trading on superficial impressions. People do perform (and I stress perform) their jobs with apparent joyousness, and everything is cleaner -- much cleaner -- than what I, a British person, have learned to expect. On that particular train, the floors shone, there was no tagging or graffiti, and the wheel mechanisms were spick and spotless, recently painted and well-maintained. I sound like a health and safety inspector now!

ReplyThread Parent
The Empire Never Ended
Mon, Dec. 7th, 2009 09:41 am (UTC)

Sorry if that came out sounding rather harsher than I intended it! I certainly realise that those floating hours between long-haul flight and steaming bath are not one in which I imagine you summoning your inner Kate Adie, should you be unfortunate enough to have one...

Those trains certainly are clean and a vast improvement on what I get here in London. I had two train annoyances recently after returning from Japan. The first was in France where two staff vehemently claimed that a possible TGV change didn't exist and as the slow train continued to crawl its way past Grenoble the electronic sign clearly showed it in fact did. A few stations down, a passenger getting off turned to me "Welcome to France!", he said rather sardonically.

Last week, I went to the station up the road, stood on the platform. The electronic sign read "This service currently una". After twenty minutes, I went upstairs and asked about the trains. "There are no trains" came the reply. "How am I supposed to know that?" "There's a sign over there" she said pointing at a poster hiding by the ticket machine. "Yes, but I don't see that on the way in, do I?" I said. Couldn't you make a sign you can see on the way to the platform? Turn off the ticketing machine that is now going to charge me £4 for an incomplete journey? Keep your eyes peeled for people walking into the station? Make the electronic sign read "No trains today. Sorry!"? As it was, she was unprepared to leave the ticket office to let the woman still standing on the platform know she should get on the bus instead. I wandered back down in her place to let the woman know and certainly mumbled about superlegitimacy amongst my cursing, with a decent sprinkling of robust Osaka-ben...

It's certainly not a word I'd have ever used were it not for Click Opera.

ReplyThread Parent

Sun, Dec. 6th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
to be fair

i concur somewhat about the "interesting" performance element of many in the service sector there; speaking to friends in japan, when they're relaxed, you learn they're just as run ragged as anyone else is from working in a high density place; granted the service in japan is nicer than most places i've been...but the idea that everyone bolts out of bed and sprints to the train stations with uncontrollable glee to do it day in and day out is a little silly...

and yes, osaka is not the prettiest place in the world, to put it mildly, but nick is right about the trains being kept in rather good shape. again, because of the sheer frequency of usage, it's to be expected and is appreciated coming from california. here, trains are in museums.

original kansai kuukou poster

ReplyThread Parent
Sun, Dec. 6th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)

the description of the "the lugubrious, hostile and vast landscapes" is so beautiful. I never knew how to put these images into words. These images can hardly be photographed, as planes are always shaky.
Enjoy your food and bath!