Tsugaru Shamisen

I randomly got a chance to see some 津軽三味線 (tsugaru syamisen)
a while ago. I was just walking around in Osaka with a friend doing
some Christmas shopping, when a Japanese guy started screaming
about an event to see some free shamisen that was starting soon.
The event was starting in about five minutes, so we figured what
the heck and decided to check it out.

The main performer was Takeda Suguru. Suguru-san won the
津軽三味線全国大会 (Tsugarusyamisen all Japan Competition) twice
in a row in 1988 and 1989. Apparently now he runs a bar in
Osaka which also does Syamisen live events, and also has been
heavily influence himself by American Jazz.

I’m no expert in Shamisen, so if you know any of these facts to
be wrong please let me know. The Tsugaru Syamisen originates
Aomori-ken, the north part of Japan just below Hokkaido. I hear
that this tsugaru syamisen is larger than the usual syamisen. The
usual Shamisen is a three stringed guitar like instrument, which is
strummed with a large pick called a “bachi”. The instrument is
sometimes strummed very powerfully, so that the bachi strikes
against the body to create a percussion sound.

During this performance where were Shamisen solo’s, as well
as 民謡 (minyou) which is basically Japanese folk music. Usually
a lady singing in that… you know… Japanese way of singing.

Some famous minyou include… 帰ってこいよ (“Come back!” a famous
enka song by Miyako Harumi) and a song by 美空ひばり (Mizora Hibari,
an old school famous singer Mizora sings that song… あ~あ~♪川の流れのよーにー♪).
Some songs also included a single taikoh drummer.

I don’t know if I have these calls spelled correctly, but while playing either the
drummer or syamisen player will call out… はい!あら!あらん!あらおう!
I think this is to keep tempo, or maybe it is just part of the song… but
it’s very interesting. (Pics Below)



I usually stay away from ミーハー updates like this… But, I have the image so whatever…

A friend of mine gave me the heads up about this Japanese product actually. There was a news story about it on BBC News as well. It’s HUGE! I ran into the actual product a few days later in Tokyu Hands in Namba.

Anyway, the Hizamakura (literally “knee-pillow”) is a model of a woman, well… The lower half of a woman anyway… and it is made out of some ultra skin-like material, and it is wearing a skirt… and some underwear.

You can sleep on the knees of the hizamakura to get cozy.

There is a bit of culture behind this though. In Japan, men and women, seem to have this thing about laying their heads on their mothers knees and having their ears cleaned with a Q-Tip. They call it 耳掃除 (mimi souji), or “ear-cleaning”… Gotta love those translations… Anyway, that feeling of lying your head on your mothers’, or girlfriends’ lap and getting your ears cleaned is apparently really really desireable for males as they get older.

Honestly… I don’t get it. But hey, I’m not Japanese.

For a quick grammar lesson… You can do other words with X+makura as well. For example うで枕 (udemakura) for an “arm-pillow”. I heard that a few years ago the same company that makes this
hizamakura made an “boyfriends udemakura” for women as well. What’s next?

Tokyu Hands was sold out of the hizamakura when I was there.


– Harvey


I took a trip down memory lane and went to the Nanzan University school festival (学祭 – がくさい).

These school festivals happen once a year I believe, and take place on a day when school would normally be out for a holiday. This particular festival happened on Wednesday the 3rd of November on Culture Day ( 文化の日 ). Have I neglected posting this entry for so long?!

I just happened to be in Nagoya, and when I was going around the town in the morning I noticed that a university was having a festival. This was Meijo University (名城大学). Nanzan, the university I at which I was an exchange student and really learned Japanese is also in Nagoya, so I decided to go over and see if they had something going on as well.

During these festivals, the different student groups plan events, set up booths to display art, shops to sell food. It’s hard to express how involved the students get in these festivals. When I was an exchange student at Nanzan I participated in an event with the photography club and sold chocolate mousse. We were really really 一所懸命 (isshokenmei) all day long, and when we finally sold the last cup, it was a celebration like we had won the super bowl or something. めっちゃ盛り上がってた. Massive celebration. Here are some pics of some of the things the students get into.

Picture heavy post huh. Sorry.

Also the Nanzan cheerleading squad was roaming around…

as well as some crazy boy-girls!

Gotta love the gakusai…

We had some events at Indiana University that could be considered somewhat close to the gakusai, but usually they are organized by a few key organizations, unlike the school-wide, once a year, Japanese gakusai.

Definitely a unique part of Japanese culture. I imagine some kids end up working harder in preparation for the gakusai than they do in their studies…


無駄に豪華 Amazing Toilet

Meguro (in Tokyo’s) Gajoen (雅叙園) is an ultra fancy building that is often used to host weddings and other events. I was there for a friends wedding,

It’s the kinda place with private artificial waterfalls (with Carp of course)… Indoor greenery… And like, fancy smancy elevators.

How nice is the place?

The coffee costs about $8 US. It’s just regular coffee… Granted, you get free refills…

Lady cleaning toilet entrance (above). The bridge to the toilet stalls (below).

In Japanese we call this. 「無駄に豪華」 MUDANI GOUKA.