Saturday, 17 February 2018

🌏 VISITS — ABASHIRI

The one-carriage train pulled into Abashiri as night fell. We stepped off of the train pulling our backpacks on and bent forward into the driving snow. Abashiri is a port town on the northern east coast of Hokkaido, Japan, and is well known for two things: drift ice and a prison. We were there to see the ice, but on arrival couldn’t help think about how this hardy frozen town was the perfect place for dangerous criminals.

Abashiri gave off an uneasy feeling. Maybe it was the bleak cold, our closeness to Russia, or just that we were hungry and tired, but this was far from the popularly perceived notions of Japan - this was definitely no Kyoto. We found our hotel opposite the station, next to the warmly lit-up, shiny Toyoko Inn hotel which busy with families from China celebrating their Chinese New Year holidays. We pushed open the creaky door of our corroded concrete old hotel

The lobby was reminiscent of the black lodge in David Lynch's Twin Peaks; red velvet sofas and parlour palms appeared hazy through the smoke of a lit cigarette in an ashtray. We rang the bell at reception and an short old round lady appeared. She was rough and gravely like some old character from an anime—not the sweet kind, but one who would try and trick you out of a magical power. The lady was actually kind enough; she spoke a little English and we spoke a little (very little) Japanese but she chatted to us just the same – happy, we supposed, to see a different type of clientele. As we chatted square shapes of older men came and went in leather jackets, their rough hands clutching cans of beer and 7-11 noodles for dinner as they clambered up to their rooms. I presumed they were truckers and remembered about the protagonist in Mari Akasaka's novel Vibrator, steely and strange.

The men were quite intimidating and the thought went through my head that this is the kind of under-the -adar hotel that they might invite prostitutes back to. This thought made me uneasy. That wasn’t the end of it though: the red lift took us to our room on the third floor, and it was the only time we used the lift, it creaked and croaked as it hauled our weight against gravity and flecks of paint peeled off.

Our room was simply incredible in an 'how can someone actually think its ok to let people stay in this place?' sort of way. I put my bag on the desk, not wanting it or anything I own to touch the stained carpet, ingrained with decades of people’s detritus. The walls were damp and the widow was frozen shut from the inside. It was amazing. This whole hotel hadn't been touched since the 1970s, it was like a set from a murder mystery except we were in it and the big bulky beer-drinking men in leather jackets were staying next door.

As quickly as we got in, we got out. The lady at reception had kindly given us a map with a discount voucher for an Indian restaurant attached. Back out in the permeating cold of the Abashiri night we followed the folding map, past the golden warmth of the shiny new hotel next door. We crunched up the road, past a KFC (who would have thought it?), past a group of young Chinese New Year tourists and across an ominously frozen river. We walked though the deserted streets of this northern city and it began to snow. Why were we doing this to ourselves?

We were hunting down the Indian restaurant for a few reasons: primarily because I was vegetarian who was just really hungry and knew that Indian food usually caters well for vegetarians, so there would be no trouble tucking into something tasty, and secondly simply to see Indian food being served in such a strange and hostile place so far away from the Indian restaurants we know and love and have been brought up with in dear old England. Plus we had a coupon. Through the doors of the restaurant and out of the driving snow, an Indian guy greeted us in Japanese and surprised smiles and guided us to a table. Men came out of the kitchen to get a look at the two white people who suddenly rocked up out of the snowy fog of the night. We were as surprised to see these east Asian guys as they were to see us. The restaurant was empty apart from a table of teenagers who were eating together after a college sporting event.

We ordered our curry like seasoned pros – ‘spicy please!’ The Indian guys turned out to be Nepalese and were truly so wonderful. We spoke to them mainly in English, uncertain if they spoke better English or Japanese. The guy who served us was in his 30s and had moved to Abashiri from Nepal as his uncle had started a restaurant here. We began to suspect that most Indian restaurants in Japan were run by Nepalese men. (We are still trying to understand why this is to this day!) We tucked in to a hearty curry and ate our cheesy naan bread like gluttons; the coupon from the lady at the hotel was for cheesy naan. This was the kind of carb-loaded food we needed to keep us warm and all of it for about £10. We didn’t want to leave the kind men with tasty food and their warmth to go back to the shabby shack of a hotel but the Nepalese guys wanted to close and we needed to go to bed. In the morning we were going to be going out onto the chill of the frozen Sea of Okhotsk for one of the colder things to do in Japan.

We walked to our hotel – stopping off for a can of Chu-Hi from a 7-11 which would hopefully knock us out and help us sleep on our stained sheets – back past the happy faces in the shiny hotel, faces almost pressed against their clean glass in envy. We slept fully clothed on top of the sheets that night.

Morning came and we left as soon as we could brush our teeth and get layered up for the outside. We checked out and stashed our heavy backpacks in the big lockers at Abashiri train station; coin lockers are one of those convenient perks of travelling in Japan.

Grabbing some snacks from a bakery we made our way to the ferry terminal and purchased tickets for the 9am morning ice breaker – bad hotels have a way of getting us up and out in the morning. Alarm bells started to ring when we noticed a disclosure sign for the ice breaker cruise: you might not actually see any ice. So yes, we had travelled all this way to Abashiri specifically to see the sea freeze over – one of the more famous things to do in Hokkaido – and it turned out it wasn’t cold enough to be frozen. Well, it felt cold enough, but no, it wasn’t.

We had our boat tickets now and so by this point were duty bound to board this ship. On the ship we found a place on the top deck to take in the scenes of the sea whilst most people sat below deck keeping warm and taking selfies.

This boat trip is actually on some people’s bucket lists as a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do and even though the ice was not there, the boat trip was unforgettable. The ship took us out of the harbour and into the frigid Russian Sea of Okhotsk, the cold blistering through our many layers, almost suffocating in its dryness. The wind blew against our bodies, the expanse of the sea in front of us reminding us of how small and fragile our bodies are against the forces of nature. To put it simply, we have never been so cold in our lives. It was incredible. And we did see some ice – the harbour was a little frozen over – and we did see some sea eagles chilling out on rocks by the sea. Even if there was very little ice, the immense feeling of being so far away from everything we know on the cold of the Okhotsk was worth the trip.

Back on dry land we had a few hours before catching the train to our next destination and took a walk up the Abashiri shopping street. It turned out that Ababsihi wasn't the strange frozen oddball of a town that we first thought. The shopping street gently pumped out sweet music through its public address system. We were on the hunt for a contact lens case and this was when we were reminded that we were still in the kindhearted country of Japan.

We first tried an opticians thinking that they would have all sorts of optical-related items, but after some miming and saying the word ‘contact lens’ in a Japanese way the kind lady behind the counter said they didn't have any. But she got on the phone, went through the phone book and phoned someone up for us. She instructed us to walk up the road and described another shop. We thanked her so much for her help and made our way to the next shop, like a treasure hunt for contact lenses.

The next place was a pharmacy, it was busy with older members of the town sitting waiting for prescriptions. A youngish guy came out from a back room and we told him that a lady had called up for us, telling him that we were looking for a contact lens case, he had understood however he didn't have any. But then, after some rummaging around he produced two pill pots the size of contact lenses and asked if they would work - yes they would! We thanked him and offered up token money and he shook his head. He didn't want payment. Just another example of omotenashi – the sheer kindness of Japanese people when it comes to accommodating strangers.

We returned to our coin locker, slung our bags over our shoulders and bought tickets for the 3 o'clock train to our next destination, Asahikawa, for the ice festival, leaving Abashiri with warm hearts but the rest of us completely frozen.


REBECCA ALICE SAUNDERS
@yesnotravel



❄️
YES/NO VISITS HOKKAIDO
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Friday, 16 February 2018

🐣 PASTEL — CLOSE

The space afforded by this track, the expansiveness of it, how it manages to put you in this swirling realm of love, yet also retain this very intimate feeling, as if your ears are being privately whispered into, is testament to pastel's efforts as a musicmaker. And not only this, but this atmosphere is summoned with great simplicity, a seeming effortless swathe of sound that utilises sparse elements to maximum effect: mainly a simple beat, a bit of soft synth, and voice. The difference between the sense of space and intimacy is best illustrated in this song by the big rush of sound that is the chorus, the only moment where there is any sort of loudness, representing a swell of feeling. Still there is an underlying mist of loneliness here, a distant wind that is like a sadness that cannot be shaken.

But, that said, 'close' is a lovesong, that's for sure (it's dedicated to Valentine's Day, so it'd better be). And as such it's full of lovely moments, small parts like the sudden downturned chord change at 1:15, the constant fluttering heartbeat of the kicks as they propel the song nervously forward, the sparing use of a little soft melody that gently bloops on-and-off in this gorgeous minimalist morsel. Last time we heard from pastel it was a different story: the sandstorm ambient abrasions of 'stammer' from absent, just dust summoned an almost inexpressible sadness and isolation. His vocals were lost in the noise.

Here, however, the vocals are clear, liquid, bravely at the forefront and completely a capella sometimes: long tracts of the vocal begin the unexpected hook, "Do you think about my body? ..." Warm harmonies abound. It's beautifully honest, heart-on-sleeve songwriting sung with caramel smoothness, touching moments treated with gorgeous simplicity – "you held me a little longer than the last time we met" – inspire real images of real romance, and stealing your own heart in the process.




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pastel Internet Presence ☟
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Monday, 5 February 2018

🐣 TOPAZ — CROSS

The main core beating-hear of this track is that overdriven bump, that tumbling rhythm of distorted boops that seem to roll around your head as you listen; that, strangely, is the catchy part of this track. For a rhythm to be catchy is quite some feat, rather than, you know, an obvious hook, the hook here in 'CROSS' by Chicago-based musicmaker TOPAZ is the deep-set creaking bulky hypnotic foundation of the track itself. Vocals croon ghostly contentment whipping through the canyons and peaks of crushed sound, ushering you in.

Alongside this the upper air of the track flickers and crackles with all the negligent energy of an ancient television, an incorrectly repaired plug, an original tract of music with guitars and vocals sent through a digital mangle. Tracks with this sort of quality always have this feeling of speaking from elsewhere, having to squeeze signals through a fissure in time in order for them to swim scratchy gorgeous in your ears, like a kind of aural oxidation, the track feeling dug-up, uncovered.


  • πŸ”” The artwork for 'CROSS' was created by JoΓ£o Coutinho.


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TOPAZ Internet Presence ☟
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Saturday, 3 February 2018

🌏 VISITS — KUSHIRO

We arrived in the dark at a railway station in the middle of Kushiro. It was cold here, even colder than Hakodate had been. We made our way to the hotel by following the maps on our iPad and managed to slip on thick ice down a backstreet on the way. This town seemed hardy, there were no small dainty buildings, just concrete and hard corners.

After checking into our business hotel we headed out to find dinner, it was Friday night and things were getting busy. Down corridors inside buildings people were loitering, heading up flights of stairs to undisclosed locations, presumably to bars and karaoke places. Kushiro was daunting at first. It felt tough and unfriendly. Salarymen in suits slipped in and out of snack bars, groups of men in smart suits drank heavily and jeered at people. We saw a fight start happening between two groups of men. This was, we thought, all very un-Japanese behaviour and we weren't sure how to take it. We were tired, too tired to force ourselves to be brave and push our way into a bar so we fell back on the ever-present konbini and got ourselves some sake and sushi and retreated back to the comfort of our hotel room to watch TV and drown our travelling sorrows.

The next morning the sun shone on the crisp white snow and we were greeted to a view of the longest sheet of icicles we've ever seen. A local told us not to stand underneath them or our head would get squashed. The town's pale concrete streets were empty, a Tannoy echoed around, the voice of a woman over the PA, sweet and gentle, pumping out general messages. Like an old communist town, it was a steely ode to industrial Japan. The tourist draw to this town is the national park and the famous and very rare Japanese cranes. We were too late to catch the very precise bus to the crane sanctuary, so instead we decided to catch a train to the outskirts of Kushiro-shitsugen National Park.

Comprising excitingly of just one carriage, our train chugged its way through the countryside saturated with snow. It was unbelievable to see fans hanging from the ceiling above our heads—how could this Siberian deep freeze ever get warm enough to warrant using them? There were a handful of fellow passengers, a group of students and a couple. We all got off at Kushiroshitsugen station, a small platform with a wooden cabin. It was like being in a model train set. We scrambled up some snowy steps and adventured into the wilderness without any clear direction. The views from up high revealed a sweeping land below, a marshy National Park as far as the eye could see. We found a road and followed it one direction, stomping through snow as far as we could and then doubled back and explored lower down in the other direction, past Lake Takkobu. Here we walked parallel to the train tracks and said hello as we passed by fishermen trying their luck in the river; we spotted the wild shika deer and a steam locomotive trundled past us as passengers waved out of the window like a page from The Railway Children. What time were we in? Old traditions never seem to fade and die in Japan. The winter's sun was dropping and was time to board our one carriage train home to Kushiro, tired and cold from a day walking.

That evening we had an incredible night. We had read online about Restaurant Izumiya (γƒ¬γ‚Ήγƒˆγƒ©γƒ³ζ³‰ε±‹) a yōshoku restaurant which sells a Japanese take on Western cuisine. From the window display downstairs it seemed like we were in the right place: intricate plastic models showed off the food on offer upstairs, so we headed up the narrow staircase anxiously. Inside the restaurant was busy with businessmen and couples and we were showed to our seats and handed the menu. It all looked tasty and we deciphered what we should eat.

By the time we had completed our delicious delve into yōshoku cuisine it was 10 o'clock and we were out on the frozen streets again and feeling in the mood for more drinks. We found our way to two alleyways of tiny izakaya all hidden behind sliding doors, each bar or restaurant had room for maybe six people on tall stalls around a bar. They were all really busy, packed with people having fun with their friends on a Saturday night. But we wanted to join in – going to an izakaya is one of those things to do in Japan – so we chose one and slid the door open. The place was empty apart from the guy behind the counter, we asked him if it was ok to come in and he nodded and motioned for us to sit at the counter; there was no room for tables.

There was a huge list of sake to choose from, so we asked what he recommended and went for that one. He put a cup onto a small plate and poured sake in till it overflowed. Delicious gleaming flavour. And then they guy, who didn't really speak English, started handing us plates of food - we'd already eaten but we simply had to eat it. Delicious bowls of octopus. Seaweed. And possibly the most delicious sushi rolls we ate in the whole of Japan, melt in your mouth amazingness. Two customers came in. Two young women, they had a chat with the guy behind the counter and were very please to see us. We tried so hard to talk to each other, using Google Translate and sign language. We all got on a laughed together anyway. Then another customer walked in, a young guy who actually spoke English! He worked for the local television channel and sat down at the bar to eat and drink. He became the translator. It turned out you were meant to book at place in these bars but the owner behind the counter was really kind and let us in and have a place. It was probably a shock for him to see two foreigners wander in to his bar.

The evening got more and more silly as we drank and laughed and drank some more, all squashed into this tiny white portacabin-type square of a bar. We made each other laugh and then ate and drank some more in a whirl of warmth and happiness. What a place Kushiro is: on the surface steely and unfriendly with nothing of interest but just with a little effort, just under the surface is a Hokkaido culture all to its own. In this cold and icy concrete port the heart of Japan is warm.

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REBECCA ALICE SAUNDERS
@yesnotravel



Friday, 2 February 2018

πŸ—ž HUMAN TOY MACHINES: BUWANBUWAN COLLECTIVE AND DULO MNL TEAM UP FOR COMMUNITY FUNDRAISING

It is not usually the place of chiefly electronic and experimental music collectives to put on charity events; that is usually the realm of internationally renowned artists, with these smaller groups often being concerned only with music—sometimes with how it is consumed. However, it is the tight-knit support-network-type makeup of grassroots and underground musician and producer collectives that arguably puts them in a better position to understand bringing their communities up with them, not being too far removed from it themselves.

It is this personal connection with the local community that helped Manila-based collective BuwanBuwan nurture the idea for Human Toy Machines. The event, being held at Makati city's shiny new resto-cafe and eventspace Dulo MNL, is "A Fundraising Gig for the Benefit of the Children of San Diego Elementary School," with the specific goal of raising money to buy science-oriented toys and reading materials for the children of the school. It comes from the mind of collective member Luis Montales, aka producer AHJU$$I, who first encountered San Diego Elementary in his last year of senior high when tasked with thinking of a sustainable community project as an act of service.

"Upon research, we discovered Philippine Toy Library, an agency here in the country that provide underprivileged children with toys and reading materials, but more importantly a safe place to play and be creative," Montales tells YES/NO over Facebook messenger. Though all they had to do was donate to the agency themselves, he explained, there was a feeling of wanting to do more within his group, and soon San Diego Elementary School – "one of the oldest toy libraries that the agency has established" – came to light. "That’s how I got connected to the school," he says.


San Diego Elementary School. Photo by Luis Montales


San Diego Elementary School. Photo by Luis Montales

Later on, and more recently in the timeline of things, Montales approached BuwanBuwan Collective head Jorge Juan Bautista Wieneke V aka Similarobjects, in hopes of putting on a fundraising gig. The specific mission was to buy science-oriented toys and reading materials for the children because, as Montales tells us, "there's a stigma against taking up science-related careers in the Philippines."

A stigma?

"To be more specific, science research careers," he explains. "Parents would often tell their children to be a doctor rather than a researcher because the former makes a lot more money. Even my teachers in school who are researchers say that if you want to be a scientist, it’s like pretending you’re unemployed. Scientists here in the country admittedly lack funding and support from our government. Because of this, they look outward and go abroad to pursue their careers. This is definitely alarming because science and technology is important and even necessary to a developing country like the Philippines."


"By instilling in the children the value of science and technology at a young age, we hope that this gets them to pursue science-related courses and ultimately increase the number of scientists in the country!"

d It's a big community-driven dream which has a good partner in BuwanBuwan, itself the dream of producer Jorge Wieneke. Its history doesn't just go back a few years, but rather hundreds, based on the Philippine myth of the Bakunawa, a huge serpent said to be the cause of eclipses. In more detail, "buwan buwan" is the name of a children's game: one plays as the Bakunawa, and the rest in a circle on the ground (buwan — the moon), who must touch one of the players inside the circle without going inside the circle; a successful touch means swapping places.

In more relative terms, Wieneke explains that pre-colonial tribesfolk would try to scare away the Bakunawa by gathering outside their homes and banging on pots and pans, making a lot of noise, hoping to scare the creature away; others would take a different approach, playing gentle songs with bamboo instruments in an effort to soothe the monster to sleep so that a brave warrior could close in for the kill.

"With monthly 'Bakunawa' events," he writes in an email, "Pinoy beatmakers and live electronic musicians of the BuwanBuwan Collective give a modern nod to these ancient lunar gatherings. With selections of both original and carefully curated electronic music, they aim to awaken, to mesmerize, and to bring people together." It is both this monthly sense of togetherness and the childhood origins of the name itself that ring true with the Human Toy Machines event. And further strengthening that bond of support and equity, he concludes: "In the playground that is music, everyone deserves a chance to be at the center."

The two agree wholeheartedly with each other, with Montales telling us on messenger, "I also wanted to host a charity gig because I believe that good music for an equally good cause is lacking here in the Philippines." After the event itself, and once the toys and books are collected, Montales and his group will be at the San Diego Elementary School every day for 2 weeks "to teach and play with the children and to turn over the new toy library to the teachers of the school!"

Dulo's eventspace. Photo by Nicollo Santos/Neil Patrick Valero

Even Dulo MNL fits the bill. A fusion of coffee and Taiwanese-Filipino cuisine on ground floor, upstairs is a wide space for the purpose of, well, anything. "The idea was to become a safe haven for dialogue and creative pursuits, for artists under all forms and genres of art, from one end or dulo of the arts spectrum to the other," writes Alyosha J. Robillos in a piece for NOLISOLI. In the same article, one of Dulo's founders Alexa Arabejo explains that they are a creative community platform, uncensored, unfiltered, and are driven not only by art but by a desire to contribute to the community, "as well as help artists and art enthusiasts by providing a space where they can gather."

Ultimately this act of gathering, synonymous both with BuwanBuwan's Bakunawa events and the ethos of the eventspace where Human Toy Machines will take place, is the rumblings of building a community. And when people are not helped and encouraged from the top down – by leaders, by parents, or whomever they may be – that help and encouragement must come from the bottom up, from the community, from the people.

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Human Toy Machines: A Fundraising Gig for the Benefit of the Children of San Diego Elementary School

Chinese Plastic Toys
Teenage Granny
Similarobjects
Jason Dhakal
Lustbass
Pamcy
Tito

Find details of the event on Facebook

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  • πŸ”” The vivid flyer for the event was created by Gilbert Redona.
  • πŸ”” Last year Jorge Wieneke put together a guest mix for YES/NO as Similarobjects, looking at the history of Filipino music by taking in both in urban psychedelic flavours as well as indigenous music. You can listen to that over here.


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BuwanBuwan Internet Presence ☟
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Dulo MNL Internet Presence ☟
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Similarobjects Internet Presence ☟
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AHJU$$I Internet Presence ☟
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