Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Memoirs of a Gaijin

December 27, 2011


Christmas Eve in 2008, was a mild introduction to a Japanese winter in the mountains of Iwate. I had no idea how cold it can get here and how much snow can fall in two days. Living on the East coast of Scotland usually means the sea breeze keeps the snow fall to a minimum and on the rare occasion of a blizzard, Edinburgh council soon turn the winter wonderland into brown slush thanks to a rally of road gritters and mountains of  rock salt.

This is the real thing. The frosted epicenter of a C.S. Lewis  narrative. The snow has stopped but will continue into the New Year. The depth of the snow outside easily clears my waist justifying my decision to stay here for a while. Stepping through the glass doors of the ski resort, everything changes – colored fabrics, snowboots, boards and skis are racked up like armor. You choose your weapon carefully and step out of the building into an arcade of mental and physical challenges.

Skipping over to the chairlift like a new born snow leopard (only there was a distinct lack of fur on this cub), I was transported higher into the heavens of Iwate. I managed to gallantly throw myself down several of the intermediate runs without killing myself. The only injuries sustained were muscular and one of those was due to passing out on pillows filled with beads the previous night; just another of Japan´s quirky little differences. Why they fill them with plastic beads and not feathers, I will never know – perhaps it is so that stupid white men like me, injure or ´crick´ their neck.

The added bonus of this adventure – apart from the attractive manga girls luring you into the path of a high speed tow bar has to be the luxurious Japanese Onsen provided for established writers and other elderly members of society such as myself. The fear of being publicly ejected from the premises for exposing my tattoos in the communal baths has surpassed and I now proudly skip from hot tub to steam room without a care in the world. So far my beating heart has withstood the insane pressure of removing myself from a sweltering seventy degrees and plunging myself into a cool pool of around five. Not bad for an ex-smoker. Glad it´s no longer me puffing away outside the chairlift whilst conveniently leaning on another beer dispenser. Irony sits proudly on a plinth right next to heart disease, lung cancer and winter sports in Japan.

Ninety percent of the comfortably well-off that come to these resorts probably think I am romanticizing a ´dip in the pool´, but my faith in humanity clings to the ten percent that sat beside me as the hot volcanic waters evaporate into the mountains early offerings of snow. Each snowflake seems to represent the toils of modern civilization; the love lost; the sickness and the strain. As the crystalline fingertips hit the surface and melt into the warm embrace of her liquid lover, the significance of each painful memory becomes irrelevant. When we are lost in a shopping mall, wrapped in plastic and designer labels, it is hard to imagine removing our layers of armor and forgetting the superficial world we live in. Here in Japan that luxury is possible.

Thanks to these memoirs, I will hopefully never forget the feeling of being back inside the womb whilst literally a tiptoe away from the world of Narnia. An experience I unfortunately shared with no other, but one that reinforces the delicate balance, beautifully exposed in its tender moment, between man and Mother Nature. I´ll take that one to the grave.

Oyasumi nasai.

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The Food of Love

November 4, 2009

 By Otis Shaw

If I learnt anything during those long, dark and lethargic lectures at my first year at Napier University, it was to tell the truth, no matter how many tempting carrots were dangled in front of me. So, if I was to be brutally honest about Edinburgh’s music scene, I would say it sucks. There is nothing on offer and hasn’t been, since The Venue closed down back in 2003. I hear cries of defence and patriotic vomit from shady, damp closes in the Cowgate, “How dare you mock the Capital’s throbbing epicentre of Rock ‘n’ Roll?” Well, I dare, and this article would be fit for nothing more than cleaning another vindaloo from the hairy crevice of Paul Gasgoigne’s rear-end, had it not been for a glimmer of light, nay, a furnace, swallowing up every bit of talent it comes across, pulling in bands from across the globe, like a black hole from Battlestar Galactica. A rabbit in the headlights of a decomposing, corporate swindled, music scene.

Henry’s Cellar Bar sits somewhere outside Edinburgh’s aptly named ‘pubic triangle’, if it wasn’t for the cast-iron railing, one could quite easily fall into her arms after seventeen pints, a good punch-up, a lap dance and the contents of your intestines mapping your adventures up Lothian Road. If you are reading this in hope that I mention one of the many electric evenings held at Henry’s, then you will not be a part of that sad stain on Edinburgh’s subculture. You will be a proud warrior of the dance-floor, a bearer of the sodden and partially ripped uniform only to be seen in the early hours of the morning. A tribe that long existed outside the norms of banking executives, family 4×4’s, electric tin-openers and stay-press trousers. You will have memories that will keep your grandchildren inspired for decades to come, smells like teen spirit and friendships built on the battlefield known only as the ‘pit’, forged like some ancient Roman gladiator before his last attempt at survival before a blood-thirsty crowd.

Many musicians have passed through the gates of Henry’s to stake their claim as another zeitgeist in a vast pool of talent, marginally hidden from the masses. The progressive, psychedelic, love-torn sounds of Jackie Treehorn, the spinal-cracking, explosive rhythms of Secta Rouge, the drunken, abrasive tones of the Happy Spastics or epileptic fits of rage from the Voice of the Mysterons. From Monday, right through to Sunday night, there will always be the warm, welcoming smile or indeed the look of terror as the venue spills over with vast numbers from French Claire, Henry’s full-time promoter and overseer. A confident and relaxed Polish security man is barely needed in the harmonious atmosphere generated on a Friday night. I hear the non-believers out there laugh with ignorance, surely a venue so close to Europe’s most violent headquarters must experience a little bit of aggravation? You are wrong my friend, a miracle indeed, but the stigmata does not end there. A bottle of beer can be purchased for under a fiver, there are cosy tables available for the more laid back connoisseur and the venue has been known to provide biblical performances – Derek from Oi Polloi has been seen walking on waters (Carslberg to be precise), 5,000 sinners have been purged by the hands of Super Adventure Club and a plague of locusts were reportedly seen by Muz of The Plastic Adults after three nights of sleep deprivation and an unknown quantity of herbal ecstasy.

Jokes aside, it is clear to myself as a keen supporter of independent music, that Henry’s provides a service that is beginning to take shape and spread across the waters of Scotland and into Europe, America and Australia. The money that Claire takes on the door, goes to the bands and back into the venue. Their reputation surpasses the likes of Glasgow’s Nice ’n’ Sleazy, The Garage and The ABC, giving a voice that has lured legends from California, Sydney, Paris and Czechoslovakia. You don’t have to do master the art of persuasion to guarantee a good night for our friends from Europe, and where else in Edinburgh will you find a Slovakian death metal band at three in the morning?

If you live in this detached, immoral and yet enlightening world of Henry’s Cellar Bar, then welcome to the life-line, the new force behind Edinburgh’s underground music scene – the last chance of a true musical erection. It would be cynical of me to assume the reader has grasped the utopian mise-en-scene cultivated in this venue, from my feeble attempts at journalism and so I will leave you to decide for yourself. Enjoy.

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