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Soundtrack Review - Swing Girls
Friday, 30th June

Shinobu Yaguchi had a hit on his hands with 2001`s Waterboys, about a group of high-school boys who take up synchronised swimming. The sight of 5 incredibly weedy Japanese boys in budgie smugglers doing a traditionally female sport was loved by audiences Japan wide, and a TV spin off was made.
Yaguchi had very little to do with this; he was busy with a follow up, `Swing Girls`, about a group of high school girls (and a boy) who take up big band jazz. It came out in 2004, and was a smash hit, adored by teenagers, jazz purists and schoolgirl fetishists alike.
The soundtrack is a rarity these days, solely featuring songs that were actually in the movie (none of this "inspired by" bullshit). In composing the score, Hiroshi Kishimoto and Micky Yoshino wisely opted to use acoustic guitar pieces to punctuate the mood, and to spare the audience an over-saturation of jazz.
Jazz highlights include "Make Her Mine", the climactic "Sing, Sing, Sing", and of course no jazz film is complete without a rendition of "In The Mood".
Other highlights include small grabs of dialogue from the film, featuring the charming accent of Yamagata.
It`s important to note that all of the jazz tracks performed in the film were actually by the actress`s themselves. Months of intense training paid off, as they sound better than those old guys that play at the Nambour show every year.
Two bonus tracks round off the album - "What A Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, and folk power ballad "Still Loving You", by the kids who work at the junkyard half way through the film. Both are equally classic.

Jazzu Yarube!
(Let`s do jazz!!)

Matt Strain`s Bicycle Tragedy - For Immediate Release
Sunday, 24th June

FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - With narrow roads, steep petrol prices and those weird, boxy cars, it`s no wonder that bicycles are the transport of choice for a wide segment of the population. Matthew Strain, exchange student from Australia currently studying in Japan, uses a bicycle on an almost daily basis, for a variety of reasons.
"It`s cheap, gets into a lot of places, healthy. And you don`t have to wear a gay helmet like in Australia," he says, through an interpreter.
However, it`s not always smooth sailing.
"Shittest thing happened though. I was riding home from the grocery store the other night, and instead of a smooth ride, I was feeling every bump on the road. Those pads for the blind especially,"
Unbeknownst to him at the time, his back tyre had become flat. Despite his father owning a tyre store, he was clueless as to what to do next.
"The person who was in my apartment before me left behind a puncture repair kit, so that helped,"
With the help of two young, sweaty Chinese men, his bike was soon back into working order. A quick peddle around the carpark and a cheery ring of the bell informed all parties that the repair job was a complete success.
"Those blokes did a bloody ripper job I reckon," Mr Strain said, in his charming Australian patter.
Though as he was to find out later on that night, it wasn`t all a job well done. Though they patched up one hole competently - there was in fact two holes in Mr. Strain`s inner tube.
"Shit," Mr. Strain was quoted to have said at the time.
This time, Mr. Strain felt he was cogniscent enough with bicycle repair to fix it himself this time. As he was soon to discover, he was more useless than first assumed.
Again, with the help of some Chinese friends (different from before), his bike was back on the road to recovery - and the road to the video store.
Though by the time he reached his destination, he could feel the unmistakable vibrations of a flat tyre once more.
"That really pissed me off, that did," Mr Strain said, just barely keeping a lid on his emotions.
Though luckily, this time things weren`t as bad as before - the problem was traced back to the valve not being screwed back on properly.
With his bicycle woes behind him, Matthew Strain is now free to get back to the things important to him.
"Yep, reckon I might go for a peddle around the river, ring my bell at some stray cats. Who knows, I may even get pulled over by the cops again."
And with another victory ring of his bell, he was off.

Additional picture:

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Wedding Eruti Party Sunshine
Sunday, 11th June

I first heard about it two weeks ago, at the International Students service desk.
`There will be a party at the Wedding LT Function Hall for the International Students on June 9th,` one of the staff told me. `It should be enjoyable. Would you like to come?` they asked. I was happy to go: this would be the third welcoming party this year.
They pushed a piece of paper in front of me and asked me to sign. I thought it was merely an RSVP. I was wrong, as I would find out some time later.

*  *  * 
The day came at last. I put on my cleanest pair of pants, had a wash, then made my way to the Wedding Hall (a short bike ride from the dorm). I love Japanese parties - good food, good people, and plenty of booze (free). This party was no different.

Just before dinner was served, us International Students were invited on stage to introduce ourselves.

The Chinese students` Japanese is miles ahead of mine, so I had practically no idea what they were saying. When it was my turn, I wasn`t sure what to say without sounding retarded.
Here is a illustrated transcript:

"Everybody, good evening. My name is Matthew Strain. I come from Australia."

Extended pause

"My hobby is table tennis.
"Thank you, good night."
     

With that over and done with, we all retired to our seats for some tucker. Every dish was seafood based, and damn tasty. One dish was comprised completely of scallops and different types of mushrooms. Yummy.
While we were eating, we were also entertained with some singing. First on the bill was San-Un, from Korea. She brought some Seoul to the party, with her rendition of `Evermore`, by some artist I`ve never heard of. I didn`t get any pictures, as I was in the toilet. She`s in the above photo, the fourth person from the left, in blue.

Up next was Enhun, from Mongolia, with a traditional Mongolian song. I have no idea what the title was, but judging by the lyrics it was probably unpronouncable.

Whilst watching the acts before me, I made sure to calm my nerves with plenty of beer. I had to make sure I was nice and relaxed. Why? Because, the third person on that bill... was me!
The piece of paper I signed earlier the previous month was an agreement to sing something at the party. I found this out a week before the party, when the organiser asked me if I`d chosen a song yet. After vomiting all over the floor, I gave him a song. I chose my personal karaoke standard, `While My Guitar Gently Weeps`, by The Beatles.
I didn`t have the benefit of lyrics to read from, however no one in the audience was familiar enough with the song to know if I stuffed up, so it all worked out.

Below is a photo collage of the performance. I`m pretty sure I spent way too long on it. Please enjoy.
Feel free to make it your new desktop wallpaper.

As you can imagine, the crowd was simply blown away.

After my blistering performance came these three Chinese students, with a Chinese song from China (in Chinese).

It was pretty good, but it couldn`t top what came next:

No, he wasn`t singing. He was doing magic tricks! However, they were science magic tricks. Pretty amazing. The man was all gent throughout the performance, and though I couldn`t understand much, I felt he put on a really good show. I was both spellbound and amused, which is more than I can say for the likes of David Blaine or that arsehole David Copperfield.

So, there I was thinking the night had reached its climax. Where else can you go after a the spectacle that is a science teacher performing magic tricks?
Where indeed?

YES.
Three of the administration staff doing a performance on the bells. Bells, people. And they even went through the trouble to wear crisp white gloves. It was the absolute highlight of the night, and I can say, without hyperbole, that it was the single greatest thing I have ever seen in my life.

And with that, the formal proceedings were over. There was another performance by a whole bunch of Chinese students (one with beer in hand) about a mouse who loves rice, or something, and then we were free to mill about and talk to other guests.
We also took some nice photos. Check some of them out on this page here.

--

Makudonarudo Hanbaagaa, Pt. 2
Wednesay, 7th June

Let`s take a closer look at the meal on offer.
Sliced American cheese, browning, wilted lettuce, a rasher of bacon small enough to be eaten with a toothpick, and a smokey horseradish sauce - all on a sesame seed bun.


Looks decent, if not entirely edible. Check out how it compares to an average hand.


Fries, pre and post `shaka-shaka`-ing.


But hang on, what`s this? The copyright information on the bottom is written entirely in English. The fact that it was printed in Japan makes it even more confusing.
In my legal opinion, McDonald`s Corporation (and its affiliates) have left their trademarks wide open to violation by non-English speaking Japanese.

Enough dilly-dallying, let`s get on with the important question: How does it taste?
Only one way to find out.

Ittadakimasu!

Gochisosamadeshita!

True to McDonald`s design of worlwide homogeneity, the Coke, bun and fries were identical to those south of the equator. Even under the free sachet of herb and spices seasoning there was no mistaking where the fries were made. The lettuce, as previously noted, was a few hours away from being chicken feed. The bacon wasn`t exactly enough to break kosher, and the cheese was business as usual. The horeradish sauce, however, was the star player of the meal, and would certainly make a welcome addition to the array of dips at your next outdoor party. By all means, the sauce alone lifted the meal from `forgetable` to `decent`.

-Judgement-

Taste: 4/10. High praise for McDonald`s.
Service: 10/10. The winning combination of McDonald`s` customer service and Japanese courtesy.
Atmosphere: 7/10. Clean, though marked down for the non-enclosed smoking section.
Total: 7/10.

McDonald`s the world over is a place not only to eat, but to have fun - as you can see from the wrapping on the left. Despite the lack of a life-size, molestable, fibreglass model of Ronald McDonald (or Donald McDonald as he is known in the Japanese market), I certainly enjoyed the experience of eating McDonald`s in Japan, if not the food itself. The meal was small and eaten in under three minutes, however I felt fulfilled for the rest of the night.
Though the meal has long been digested, the memories remain.


Sites of interest:
The Offical McDonald`s Japan Website
A Japanese man`s Morgan Spurlock-inspired 30-day McDonald`s challenge(With half-naked pics of said Japanese man!)

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Images (most of them anyway) and words Matthew Strain 2006.
Additional translation by Shitagi Dorobo