The Tokyo Kurassiku Ka Shou

November 29, 2011

I spent most of this past Saturday taking in the classic car show in Aoyama Itchome, about an hour’s subway ride from my suburban Tokyo apartment. It was a sunny day, albeit with the chill of imminent winter in the air. The leaves strutted their autumn colors at close to 100%, according to the NHK news, which gives an update on these important matters nightly. The cars rolled past the clapping spectators, after which they were staged in a viewing area in preparation for setting off in stately fashion to the tony Ginza shopping district.  All manner of autos were on hand, from sleek sixties’ sports roadsters to regal European touring saloons; cartoonlike Japanese city cars, and rumbling 50s’ American finmobiles. What was surprising to me was how easy-going most of the owners were, allowing onlookers to open hoods, sit in driver’s seats, and dream for a moment or two of earlier, simpler times. Queues formed to sit in the navy blue Packard cabriolet, and in the fire-engine red ’59 Chevy Impala convertible (called “open-cah” in Japanese). Liveried staff members held doors open, took photos upon request, and kept the cars spotless all the while. Naturally, the wares of the Japanese auto industry were prominently featured: Datsun/Nissan; Toyota; Mazda; Daihatsu; Honda; and more. In fact, I have never seen quite such a gathering of Rising Sun Retro in one place before, and I walked away pretty impressed, I have to say. But hey, I may as well let the pictures do the talking, right? Enjoy…

A first-gen Corvette...

...complete with yellow steering wheel!

Dramatic Ryuko, Dramatic Lamborghini

Saki channels her inner Annette Funicello

One young cops directs traffic...

...while another takes off after the bad guys!

A resto-mod '58 Chevy Impala

Check out those taillights!


And the Mini-me doppelganger!

The Queen Mum of cars, a stately Rolls-Royce

The Spirit of Ecstasy spreads her wings atop the Rolls grille


My dad's first car, an Austin A40

The kid-size Subaru 360

...and its slightly larger Italian cousin, the Fiat 500

A brace of MGs


A Corvair-esque NSU from Germany

An oddity, a Messerschmitt, I believe

The driver's entrance to the tiny BMW 600

A minimalist Lotus 7

A MINI woody with real wood...

The return of Christine

The one I wanted to drive home, an Austin-Healey 100-6

Gorgeous Facel-Vega from France

This is a Daihatsu?!!

The delectable Nissan Silvia ca. 1966

Dinky Honda S800

The seriously rare Watanabe Griffon

A rotary-engined Mazda Cosmo

The high-style Nissan Cedric

Equally slick from the rear...

The highly sought-after Toyota 2000GT coming...

...and going.


The 2000GT's little sister, the tiny Toyota 800

...and again.

And, last but not least, the Old Guard.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

November 23, 2011

Like everybody else, a lot of my favorite things (or people, or places) are well-established in the worldwide “favorites” continuum: Springsteen and the E-Street Band live; Paris in the tentative bloom of springtime; piping hot homemade chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven; Casablanca (the movie rather more than the city, as I have experienced both, and in my estimation it looks better in black and white); seminal hard-boiled detective fiction (Chandler, Hammett, et al); looking down over the twinkling evening lights of Los Angeles from the foot of the Hollywood sign; a fine merlot with a hint of raspberry in the finish; the humor of a Bill Bryson or a Steve Martin. There is little or nothing I can say about any of the above that hasn’t been said before, and probably better. It’s a fair bet that there are entire blogs devoted to each and every one.

So, I try to turn my pen (okay, keyboard) to slightly more obscure faves, in hopes of turning one or two of you on to someone, someplace, or something that has slipped under your radar thus far. So, here goes:

Sungha Jung: this Korean finger-style guitarist, whose videos began hitting YouTube several years back, has become one of the ‘Tube’s major stars, with some 350,000,000 views as of 2011, most of those from Korea and Japan. He began playing guitar at the tender age of nine; here, you can see a very early video, of the budding virtuoso taking a run at “Pachelbel’s Canon in D”, when he had been playing guitar for less than a year (this is enough to make me hang up my finger picks; sigh…):

Nowadays, he has grown both in stature and ability, and he plays concerts all over the world. And he is still only fifteen! Here you can see a recent video of him playing Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved”:

Oh, and get this: he learns his tunes straight from the music videos he likes, and he never took lessons!

Spanish Mike and Richard Shindell: there is a good likelihood that you are one of the 7,000,000-odd viewers of a major YouTube hit “The One Semester of Spanish, Spanish Love Song”, in which a crew-cut fellow who has come to be known as “Spanish Mike” extols his love for a comely senorita using his limited vocabulary of only one semester’s worth of Spanish lessons. If not, by all means check it out here; it’s hilarious:

Now, there is a sequel, “The Second Semester of Spanish, Spanish Love Song”, in which Mike enlists the aid of Erik Estrada to further his cause with the aforementioned comely senorita. Although Mike’s Spanish has improved, he fares no better with the girl, sad to say.

Anyway, all of this serves as a lead-in to a piece about one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Richard Shindell, who recently composed his first song in Spanish, “Cancion Sencilla”. Shindell, who has lived for a number of years in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, apparently felt some misgivings about writing in his adopted language, as noted in these lines (translated from the Spanish, which rhymes much better): “My love, I’m sorry not to have written you sooner. Even though I always wanted to, I could not. What can I say? I’m a little slow. It took me all these years to learn your beautiful language, and still not well enough…” He goes on to suggest “Let’s spend our nights whispering, conjugating your beautiful verbs; let’s begin, you have so many: I live, you live, we will live; I love, you love, we will love; to leave, to return, to stay, and of course, to whisper…”

You can check it out here, complete with the original text and its English translation; how cool is that!

The News From Japan

November 13, 2011

Here’s a new item that falls into the category of “Answers to Questions Nobody Asked”: An American-born Japanese chef, Chase Kojima, working in Australia, has just released for public consumption—are you ready for this—Vegemite sashimi. And if Vegemite, which tastes like salty yeast with an ever-so slightly-regurgitative finish, isn’t enough to send you scurrying for the egress, then the source of protein may be: a local Aussie delicacy called Moreton Bay bugs. That part isn’t as bad as it sounds, actually; the “bug” is actually a species of lobster, thenus orientalis, native to the seas east of Africa and south of Japan. While the rest of the world tries to come up with names to make patently unpalatable things seem palatable (think: “sweetbreads”), the contrarian Antipodeans find hilarity in doing just the opposite. You have to love that. Still and all, I have never met a food that was improved by the addition of Vegemite, and I’m thinking sashimi isn’t going to be the one that turns the tide.

In other news, the Japanese were quite unhappy to discover that their homeland was not in the top ten of the world’s happiest countries, as determined by the United Nations Human Development Index. Norway edged out Australia for the top spot, with the Netherlands, USA, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland filling out the remainder of the top eleven. I don’t know about you, but when I think of smiling happy people, veritably bubbling over with good humor, Liechtenstein isn’t among the first few (hundred) places that jump to my mind. That said, I’ve never been there. It’s kinda easy to miss.

All in all, 2011 is a year that most Japanese will be happy to see in the rear view mirror. It was the year of the Tohoku earthquake, one of the strongest in planetary history; the cataclysmic tsunami that washed tens of thousands out to sea; and the reactor meltdown that triggered the world’s most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. Said reactor provided some twenty percent of Tokyo’s power, so the city sweated through one of the hottest summers on record, with thermostats voluntarily set several degrees higher than normal or comfortable. There was remarkably little whining; people rolled up their sleeves, kept towels close at hand for surreptitious wiping of foreheads, and apart from a few cranky subway riders, pretty much got on with their business. Bosses cooperated by making every day casual day; it is only just now that suits and similar business attire are beginning to proliferate once again.

One thing that hasn’t changed, I am happy to report, is the weirdly wonderful assortment of Japanese products: soft drinks; t-shirts; fast foods, and so on. Many with mangled English (“Manglish”) ads to promote them. Consider:

Am I missing something here vis-a-vis the color?

The Fruit Burger...hamburger, ketchup, onions, and---mango...

Howzabout strawberry milk flavored Pepsi? Yikes-u...

What can anyone add to this?