On Screen #5 – Thailand

This south-east Asian country has long been used in films but more often that not its just been used to replicate other Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, as was revealed in On Screen #1. This Tokyo Fox series though focuses primarily on how each country is portrayed on screen whether it be real or faked.

The readily available mix of exotic jungles, beautiful beach settings, elephants, low production costs and relatively experienced film crew members make Thailand an attractive proposition for foreign production companies.

Possibly the most famous time when Thailand played itself on the big screen was for the Danny Boyle adaptation of the classic (albeit a little over-rated in my opinion) Alex Garland book ‘The Beach‘ (2000). Leonardo DiCaprio and co were filmed at Khao Yai National Park, Krabi and of course Maya Bay in Phuket which was the secret beach. More details of the exact locations can be seen here.

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Over his 50 years in cinema, James Bond has gone round the world taking in a vast array of places and of course that has included Thailand albeit on quite a small scale. Ratchdamnoen Boxing Stadium, Muang Boran and the Mandarin Hotel in Bangkok featured in the ninth film in the 007 series; ‘The Man With The Golden Gun‘ (1979), which starred Roger Moore and Britt Ekland. More famously Khao Ping Gan a.k.a. James Bond Island was used as Scaramanga’s lair.

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The Bridge On The River Kwai‘ (1957) starring Obi-Wan Kenobi, erm, I mean Alec Guinness may be all about the building of the bridge in Katchanburi area but in reality it was filmed in Sri Lanka and the contraption seen on screen is far more impressive than the actual bridge in Thailand.

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Far more recently ‘Only God Forgives‘ (2013) features plenty of Thailand in this dark tale of murder and vengeance featuring Ryan Gosling as a man who runs a Thai boxing club as a disguise for a drug business but when his brother murders a prostitute and is thus killed a series of further killings take place in Bangkok.

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Technically ‘The Railway Man‘ was also a 2013 movie due to it debuting at some film festivals not that it really got its worldwide release till this year. Based on Eric Lomax’s novel of the same name, Colin Firth plays a former British Army officer, who was tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during WW II. That camp was filmed at Ipswich in Queensland, Australia. On discovering that the young Japanese officer who haunted him is still alive Eric travels to Thailand to confront his tormentor. This is when Thailand for real is seen with Bangsue train yard in Bangkok used for scenes where thousands of Allied prisoners were forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. The Death Railway and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery were used for brief shots.

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Of course, Thailand has been a popular destination for western productions over the years and other films of note to have been shot there include ‘The Big Boss‘ (1971), ‘Duel Of Fists‘ (1971), ‘Year Of The Dragon‘ (1985), ‘Kickboxer‘ (1989) and ‘Alexander‘ (2004).  ‘American Gangster‘ (2007) has a few scenes in “Bangkok” which in reality were shot in Chiang Mai with drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) smuggling heroin in the late 1960′s via the coffins of seven American Vietnam War soldiers.

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I can’t say that I was too taken in by ‘The Hangover‘ when it came out in 2009. I thought it was ok but couldn’t understand why so many people loved it and sadly that affection resulted in its 2011 sequel (not to mention a third one last year!) which saw the guys going to Thailand for a wedding.

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Another sequel to arrive in Thailand was ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason‘ (2004) which featured some romantic sea cruising which was shot at the 200-year-old Muslim village on stilts at Ko Panyee in Phang Nga Bay. Nai Yang Beach and Phuket Airport were also used for some scenes. The crew built a Thai-style restaurant from scratch for the scene where Bridget was momentarily swept away during a romantic dinner with Daniel Cleaver.

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The Impossible‘ (2012) deals with a British family’s story about the ordeal they suffered during the terrible 2004 tsunami which hit Phuket. This film emphasises a feel good plot within the the context of mass devastation. It was filmed in part in Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak but most of it was shot in Alicante, Spain.

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At the end of the day though, filming on location in Thailand isn’t always so easy due to a variety of reasons and one such example of that is ‘Anna & The King‘ (1999) which, due to the protests of historical inaccuracy from the Thai Film Board, had to be filmed in Malaysia. Protracted negotiations and rewrites resulted in 20th Century Fox finally moving the production, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat, to the likes of Penang (Bangkok harbour and some street scenes), Ipoh, Perak, Parit, Papan, Langkawi and Selangor. Many, many decades before that ‘Anna & The King Of Siam’ (1946) and ‘The King & I‘ (1946) were banned from filming in Thailand for the same reasons and so alternative locations were found.

You can see previous On Screen articles by clicking on the links below:

On Screen #1 – Vietnam (Click here)

On Screen #2 – Istanbul (Click here)

On Screen #3 – Myanmar (Burma) (Click here)

On Screen #4 – Brazil (Click here)

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Tokyo Daytripper: Gojira-Koen (Godzilla Park)

In anticipation of a forthcoming Godzilla-themed cycling tour of Tokyo ahead of the very late Japan release (two months after the rest of the world!) of the 2014 movie, I was searching the internet last weekend to see if there were any other places I could use to bulk out the various Gojira-related locations. To be honest, I was only expecting to find a few shops or signs to add to the various statues, toy stores and filming locations I already know about. However, whilst searching Armand Vaquer’s blog (he is the author of ‘The Monster Movie Fan’s Guide to Japan‘) I was quite surprised to discover that there is a huge Godzilla statue in Kanagawa prefecture which also doubles up as a kids slide and from that moment I had to go and see it as soon as possible.

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Gojira-koen is just a nickname for its real name is Kurihama Hana-no-kuni (Kurihama Flower World) and in October 1999, a Godzilla slide was erected on its hilltop in the city of Yokosuka which is famed as being the home of the US Navy base and is also the gateway to the uninhabited Sarushima a.k.a. Monkey Island. The park is free to enter and is a ten minute walk from Keikyu-Kurihama Station; 40 minutes away from Yokohama. On arrival at the park’s entrance, its another 10 minute walk up a quite steep path which winds round the lush, green scenery but once you get a glimpse of the statue towering above you, all efforts taken in reaching it will be forgotten.

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Over 100,000 individuals and 200+ companies in the local community contributed to the cause of bringing this 8.75 metre statue to the area and all their names are listed at the base of the slide. It’s magnificent body is made of tempered plastic and weighs five tonnes and when I went I had the whole thing all to myself. Sadly for me (but fortunately for you dear reader!) my digital camera memory card was playing up and my phone camera colours have messed up recently so I was one of those w*nkers using a tablet as a camera! All in all that means I couldn’t use my digital camera which meant no tripod use and therefore no pictures taken with me in them on the timer.

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With the wires and pylons above the gigantic amphibious bipedal dinosaur, it actually makes the whole experience seem more authentic and similar to when he was awoken by hydrogen bomb testing and came ashore to prey on humans, tearing down the Tokyo city landscape in the process.

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So what about the actual slide I hear you ask! Well I decided to brave it in the name of my extensive research even though there’s a notice saying that it’s only for kids under 12! I saw a much, much older man go on it though so thought why not! Just ten steps take you up inside the monster and then you can slide for joy down its tail! Actually, its rather lame, even for kids as the one child I witnessed going down it moved so slowly that he instantly walked off to the far more exciting slide which lies right behind Godzilla.

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The slide can be found in an area called Adventure Land and is clearly marked on all the maps. There is a sign saying not to climb on the giant lizard.

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By the entrance/exit gate there is a small shop possessing a Godzilla picture on the wall but sadly there’s no other kaiju-related merchandise in the store.

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Back in Tokyo later that afternoon I took a quick detour to Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi where a 6.6 metre high model of Godzilla has been unveiled to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ‘Gojira’ movie in 1954. It’s a pretty cool design and is supposed to look like he’s merging from the multipurpose commercial complex’s garden. I was only there in the daytime but until August 21st there will be an evening light show every 30 minutes from 6 pm onwards featuring smoke and roaring noises.

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Just to complete the collection, below are the other two Tokyo-based Godzilla statues; the tiny statue in Yurakucho and the one outside Toho Studios in Seijogakuenmae.

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Godzilla‘ (2014) is released in Japan on July 25th.

You can read other Godzilla-related stories by clicking on the links below:

1954 film review      Tokyo filming locations      Trip to Toho Studios 

 

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Teaching IELTS Classes At A Local University

Thanks to an ever growing network of connections I occasionally get offered temporary or part time teaching projects which I often turn down as five (sometimes six!) regular days work each week is more than enough for me. However, one came up a few months back which caught my eye and that was to teach an IELTS course at a University in Kichijoji.

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Given the news at the start of May that TOEIC or TOEFL (both have the same license) will no longer be accepted by the British Government’s home office for students who want to get a visa to study at a university in the UK. This followed a BBC documentary in February which found that some test centres were helping students to cheat. After those revelations it was announced that students wanting to study at UK universities will need to take a different exam, such as the International English Language Testing System more commonly known as IELTS.

With this exam being seen as the future I thought that, having only taught it a handful of times over the years, it might be useful to gain some knowledge of what the exam actually consists of and for that I really must thank my colleague Alex Case (of Tefltastic blog fame) who not only helped me with advice but also provided me with materials galore via the aforementioned website which is a must-see site possessing a minefield of information for any teacher looking for free, additional resources to aid their lessons.

It’s been a pretty hectic Summer thus far with lots going on. There’s been the World Cup (with games going on constantly through the night), my wife’s family dog Momiji stayed  with us for three weeks, I had to sort out a load of stuff so that I could get married and much, much more though to be fair I did have some days off my regular job in that time.

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Although provided with a book, I was basically left to my own devices to come up with some speaking and writing lessons for a class of nine students wanting/hoping/thinking of going overseas to study at some point in the future. So, throughout June and July I have spent my Friday evenings doing these IELTS classes and I have to say that I have really enjoyed it and the feeling of putting together my own original lessons has been very satisfying. As much as I like my regular job it typically only involves teaching classes of three or four so it was nice and felt good to teach a sizeable class (yeah still small by high school standards!) and use the teaching skills and ideas that I gained when I did my TESOL course many years ago. This involved lots of pair work or working in three’s (when all nine turned up) with all of them regularly changing partners as is Tefl style!

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My task was to teach them the speaking and writing parts which was a very rewarding experience for me as first and foremost I knew very little about them beforehand. I wasn’t really planning to use my trademark music in the lessons but as there was a CD player in the classroom I thought it’d be rude not to!

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An IELTS exam is around two hours 45 minutes yet the speaking part only lasts around 11-15 minutes. Despite this, speaking probably formed the major part of our lessons with the first section including your basic questions about free time, studies, family, travel, future plans, food & drink and so on which are basically just designed to relax the student of nerves and ease them into what lies ahead!

After four minutes of those questions it’s on to Part II which involves giving a 1-2 minute speech (with a minutes preparation time) on a given topic. The card they read off includes four bullet points on what they should talk about and this was practiced a fair bit throughout the lessons under strict exam conditions. In the latter lessons I jazzed it up a bit by doing a white-brick-black-brick true-false opinion activity which was to help them see things from an opposing point of view. The speaking partner is secretly given a white or black lego brick just before they read their card and begin preparing for their speech 60 seconds later. This seemingly went down very well, especially the bit at the end where the listening partner guessed if what they had heard was a true or false opinion.

The third section really begins to push things a bit harder as the examiner and candidate have a discussion about more abstract themes, typically relating to socio-economic and environmental themes.

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The writing parts were a little more demanding of me as you can’t exactly spend the majority of the lesson actually having them write. Instead, it was more about useful phrases, exam techniques, tips, lesson plans and identifying and correcting typical Japanese errors. Of course all these activities were conducted in ways which gave the students the most amount of speaking opportunities possible.

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Basically, the writing part is an hour long and involves two tasks for the candidates. The second one is to write an essay often comprised of looking at cost-benefit analysis of the aforementioned socio-economic or environmental issues but first of all (though they are free to do in any order they like) they have to describe a diagram, graph, process or chart using all manner of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and phrases. Comparing and contrasting information also plays an important part which presented me with the perfect opportunity to get some Top Trumps card activity into proceedings as a quick warmer activity.

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Teaching this IELTS course has not only been of use to the students but me too and, with this experience under my belt as well as a wealth of resources I will actually be happy to see those five letters (that’s IELTS by the way!) on my schedule from now on. The students were really nice and they did everything I asked of them. This course was just a taster of the full IELTS experience but hopefully they will all go on to take the exam and get the required results to achieve their goals of studying abroad.

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Tokyo Fox’s World Cup 2014 Overview

Brazil 2014 promised to take this big world event to a country which really is the heartbeat of the World Cup and though it was fairly disastrous for England (and Japan) the tournament was much better than four years ago in South Africa. With Russia and Qatar both controversially hosting the respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup’s things are sure to change!

Though still huge, there’s personally been a law of diminishing returns regarding the last couple of tournaments which is due to a mix of me getting older, international football losing a bit of its spark (whilst the Premier League and Champions League continue to flourish), the continued decline of the England team and the fact that this time I’ve had to juggle a couple of jobs with watching the games through the night! Before it all kicked off I watched YouTube highlights and my dvd’s of all the World Cup’s in my experience (Mexico 86 onwards) in order to whet my appetite and my excitement continued through the group stages as a record breaking amount of goals were scored. It did slow down a bit after that in the knock-out games but a run of late goals kept things ticking over.

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The game of the tournament was undoubtedly Germany’s 7-1 mauling of the Neymar-free hosts in the first semi final and in years to come it will probably be this match which people will remember as the game where they won the World Cup! Having had all their group games up in the intense and ridiculous heat of the north followed by a match in the cold south, they did amazingly well to rise above these challenges and were deserved champions in the end. It was a rather lacklustre final (as always) at times with some below-par shooting before a fantastically well-taken goal from substitute Mario Götze won it in the 23rd minute of extra time. The way he chested it down and fired it in from such an angle was a goal worthy of winning the big prize.

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It’s just a shame that the night before that semi I had an 11th hour change of heart and set my alarm for half time rather than kick off as I was tired and thought nothing much would happen in the first half! I well and truly got that one wrong but even the second half was way, way better than what was served up 24 hours later in the Holland v Argentina game. Even the penalty shoot out was pretty dull and anti-climactic unlike the previous Dutch game against surprise package Costa Rica where coach Louis van Gaal got highly praised for his goalkeeper change just seconds before the end of extra time with a penalty shoot out just around the corner. It worked out well for the Dutch but wasn’t exactly original as Martin O’Neill did the same for Leicester back in 1996 in the Play Off Final. It was a masterstroke on that glorious day too as the switch affected the oppositions concentration and Steve Claridge hit a last minute winner but I digress!

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So back to the World Cup and it’s probably fair to say that expectations were fairly low for us England supporters as the event kicked off in June. I thought we showed a bit of promise in the first match against Italy and were a little unlucky to not come away with a point. You could say likewise for the Uruguay game too but Suarez is a predator (in more ways than one!) and punished us by showing how to finish when he got his chances. Of course his World Cup ended in shame as he was banned from all football activity for four months following yet another biting incident. However, this hasn’t managed to deter him from signing for Barcelona!

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It was the earliest exit England have ever made although previous holders Spain’s hopes of a fourth consecutive triumph (two European Championships and one World Cup) ended before that although that was due to the fixture list and was certainly no consolation. Neither was it when fellow European giants Italy and Portugal also failed to make it beyond the group stages.

Japan didn’t fare much better and their exit was a huge disappointment given the expectations by many that they could maybe reach the quarter finals for the first time ever. They started well enough with Honda putting them 1-0 up against the Ivory Coast but no sooner had Didier Drogba been introduced and the tide turned as the Africans netted two similar goals one after another to take the points.

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Their next match showed Japan’s inability to turn possession into goalscoring opportunities against a phenomenally tough defence as they failed to break down a 10 men Greek team. Though there was a glimmer of hope at half time against Colombia that faded away as soon as play resumed and a team, with one of the stars of the World Cup in Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez, ran out easy winners in the end.

As well as following the (mis)fortunes of England and Japan I also had a keen eye on Algeria as they possessed the only representative Leicester had at the World Cup. He started against Belgium in their opener but sadly was an un-used substitute for the games after that but watching the Desert Foxes was quite joyful and the tournament was successful for them as they pushed the Germans all the way in their second round game. Of the so-called lesser-sides though it was Costa Rica who were the biggest triumph reaching the quarter finals following victories in the group stage over both Uruguay and Italy. Maybe England managing to draw with them and keep a clean sheet was actually a good result for us! Oh how far we’ve fallen!

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Now, I didn’t see every game but probably managed to watch over half of them live and the teams that were the most entertaining to watch were Chile, Colombia, Germany and as much as it pains me to say it, the USA were quite a delight to watch and though they had no star names among their ranks they showed, as did champions Germany, what a good solid bit of teamwork can do. It’s not always the case that the best team wins the tournament but thankfully on this occasion, Germany were the outstanding team and rightful winners.

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You can read my previous World Cup overviews by clicking on the links below:

Tokyo Fox World Cup 2010 Overview (Click here)

Tokyo Fox World Cup 20o6 Overview (Click here)

 

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Dining Out: Park Hyatt Hotel, Shinjuku

It took me a while (many, many years!!) to get round to going to this hotel in Nishi-Shinjuku but my wedding day on July 7th (a.k.a. Tanabata) seemed the perfect opportunity to dine out on the 52nd floor of this hotel in the New York Bar & Grill. Back in 2009, my friend Michael and I did a tour of ‘Lost In Translation‘ filming locations which did actually result in us entering the hotel and going up to the top floor but we had already eaten elsewhere so didn’t dare poke our heads in to see what it was really like.

On a day of four taxi rides (more than I’ve done in all my years in Japan!) we left the Shinjuku City Hall, where we signed our marriage papers, and drove on to the Park Hyatt in the rain where a couple of elevator rides took us up to our intended destination. We were taken over to our window seats and given the lunch menu’s which I was already familiar with having checked them in advance.

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It’s a set price of 5000 yen for lunch including a salad and dessert buffet bar on the very table where Bill Murray met Scarlett Johansson in ‘Lost In Tranlsation‘ (2003). It also featured in ‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown‘ (S02E07) on CNN last year and by coincidence those two entries constantly deliver the big ratings hits on Tokyo Fox!

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The lunch menu includes a choice of one of the following; grilled Australian beef sirloin, grilled seasonal fish, seared chicken breast, grilled Australian lamb, braised kirishima pork belly, penne regatta gragnano. All of these dishes are naturally given far more glamorous names for I have just written down the basics here.

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Please note that the 5000 yen quoted does not include the 13% service charge meaning that it is actually 6,179 yen per person and with drinks added on top of that, the price can soon get out of control! For the record, one beer of Asahi draft was 1188 yen but maybe a blog entry about one’s wedding day is not really the place to be moaning about money!!

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Once we’d finished our main course we changed seats (seemingly the norm) and moved on over to the lounge area to enjoy the dessert buffet amid a different setting and view. This was really awesome and there were so many ice-creams, cheese cakes, cookies and other such delicious sugary delights on offer which I’d love to have sampled more of but having been on a fairly strict diet for six weeks prior to this my stomach couldn’t handle as much as in the past.

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A short while later, one of the waiters brought a special congratulations (or “Congratulation” in their case!) ice cream dessert over with sparklers and candles which we then blew out. I had actually forgotten about this but when I booked the table in advance (which is necessary if you want a window seat) I did mention that we were going there after getting married so that was a nice extra touch to proceedings.

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We were both overly impressed with this place. The salad and dessert bar would probably justify the price on its own so to have a delicious main on top of that was good value too. The New York Bar & Grill is a great place for that special occasion, film location buffs or just for anyone wanting to treat themselves to some fine food on a dramatic perch complete with stunning views of the city.

The Park Hyatt is located at 3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Lunch is daily from 11.30am till 2.30pm. 
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I Got Married Today!

A stag night of debauchery followed by a lovely Summer’s day, church bells ringing, the brides beautiful long white dress, lots of family and friends present, confetti thrown everywhere, some witty and entertaining speeches, a highly decorated wedding cake, free-flowing champagne,  a fantastic evening reception and the anticipation of a glorious honeymoon in an exotic country!!  Well, sadly NONE of those traditions applied to us today as we finally got married in the glamorous setting of Shinjuku City Hall!!

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Having proposed in Yangon (Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma) on Christmas Day last year I wasn’t in too much of a rush to decide a date which is of course what most people have wanted to know ever since the announcement was made public! I just wanted to enjoy the engagement for a while but with people often asking if we had a date we were tired of saying that nothing had been decided yet. Eventually things just fell into place as we knew we wanted to ideally be married by the time of our trip back to the UK later this Summer. In the end July 7th was chosen as I had that day (also not a public holiday) off as a holiday and Rina could easily switch her Wednesday off for the Monday in question.

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I put the wheels in motion last month as the process of getting hitched isn’t so easy. In order to get married in Japan I had to send a form to and make an appointment with the British Embassy which then involved swearing on the bible that I was not married already or something to that effect. Having managed to resist swearing my head off and turning the air blue I then had to cough up £65 (11,300 yen) for them to stick a piece of paper on a wall in the office stating our wish to get married. If no-one objected to this over the space of a week or so then it was ok to go ahead and get married once I’d revisited and paid another £65 for “administration costs.”

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Of course no-one saw fit for us to not get married and even if they did the chances of them seeing this piece of paper on the wall of an office within the confined and secure area of the embassy was always going to be very small!

When it was mentioned to some people back in England that we’d be getting married this month, I think they had visions of some kind of registry office event but unbelievably it was even less glamorous than that for all we had to do was simply just fill in and sign a sheet of paper which was then handed in alongside some other documents. Mind you, this is Japan so when it comes to administration nothing is ever straightforward! Approximately 40 minutes of waiting then followed whilst the clerk did something or another and then our number was called and that was it! The knot had well and truly been tied!

Furthermore, the 7th of July in Japan is known as Tanabata (star festival) which celebrates the romantic meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month albeit only for a brief moment. With all this in mind and the fact that we had the day off it was the ideal, memorable date to finally get married.

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* Afterwards we went to mark the occasion at the New York Bar & Grill in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Nishi-Shinjuku which you can read about here
Posted in Family, Food & Drink, Japan Filming Locations | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Charlotte Crosby Experience – The Furisode-San Of Tokyo

Now, I’ve got no real idea who Charlotte is. Sure, I know she’s from an MTV programme called ‘Geordie Shore‘ and that she was on ‘Celebrity Big Brother‘ but I have never seen her on those programmes and only really knew about her and this programme because she appeared on ‘Innuendo Bingo‘ on Scott Mills’ BBC Radio One afternoon show a few months ago.

Following her appearance on that show I tried to find this episode online but all to no avail. Probably because it was on some channel called TLC that no-one’s ever heard of! Anyway, I eventually found out that it was on iTunes so decided to begrudgingly fork out £2.50 for the episode.

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As one with no knowledge about Charlotte, I went into this programme without any prejudice or preconceptions. The introduction part to the show (which I assume is shown every episode) has her parents telling the viewers that she’s loud, outrageous and a bit stupid. The latter statement becomes apparent straightaway with her terrible geographical knowledge. “Will I see the Great Wall of China?” is one such bout of her wisdom and thinking that Korea is the capital of Japan is another. She also thinks she’s in Thailand at one stage although she does self correct on that one soon after.

Foreigners are often amazed by the Japanese shower toilets and Charlotte is no exception as we hear her shrieking through the (closed) door of the hotel toilet in disbelief at this advance in technology. It was very similar to when Kelly Osbourne was in town for her ‘Turning Japanese‘ show on ITV2 back in 2007.

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The Charlotte Crosby Experience‘ series feature’s the reality TV personality (not my words!) spending time in different extreme cultures and living with some of the world’s unique communities. Her first proper experience in Tokyo is a cosplay party which she anticipates as being some kind of show with alcohol and dancing! She refuses to wear the sailor moon schoolgirls outfit as she has seen it in a porno movie! She is again shocked on arrival at the party as all the girls (for its mainly a female hobby) are dressed as boys and taking pictures of themselves as Japanese tend to do. Anyway, this goes down with her better than the more-serious parts of Japanese culture which follow.

Furisode has its name in the episode title and Charlotte meets two young girls who wear this style of kimono whilst they entertain customers, perform dance and have conversation at Japanese parties with salarymen. The programme wasn’t so clear about this part but these girls are similar in some ways to apprentice geisha but of course there are some big differences between the two.

Charlotte seems overly keen to be friends with the furisode-san but it’s all on her terms as she seemingly wants to teach them north-east England culture rather than understand and appreciate theirs. By the end of the programme she realises what a dedicated profession it is and how hard their work is. At the start though she has very little respect or patience for anything she’s taught whether it be learning a few simple Japanese phrases or learn how to walk properly in order to be elegant when all she really wants to do is have her face painted and do a strange walk on her knees whilst her legs are crossed!

One of the girls is amazed by Charlotte and talks of her rough hair, long nails (which could potentially damage the valuable materials), no concentration, poor listening and endless cursing. I guess having seen the passion and enthusiasm on previous UK TV shows in Japan this year from Hairy Bikers and Tom Daley it’s quite a step back to hear this loud-mouthed English girl look so unhappy and bored at times. Of course this is all in the edit I guess but it’s definitely a case of there being too many rules for her which I can sympathise with a bit more as this can be a frustration at times.

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Later on she’s at Senso-ji temple with the girls getting her fortune paper and complains at first that it’s all in Japanese (the English is actually on the back) and then that its bad news! I thought she was wrong and disrespectful to then screw up the paper and start nosing through all the other drawers to find a better fortune but the girls didn’t seem to mind and began to show a hint of what they’re really like beyond the formalities of their job. This is further exemplified when they are introduced to the “I have never…” drinking game on the back of one of the traditional geisha/maiko/geiko/furisode games which goes down well although it did make me feel a little uncomfortable! I’m sure I’ve done worse in my time though!!

In amongst all that she goes to a zen temple to learn some much needed concentration and calmness. I guess it’s no surprise that she’s never heard of zen though she suspects it will be boring and given that most UK TV viewers just wanna see the whacky and weird side when it comes to Japan she’s probably right in some ways.

Judging by the McDonalds drink and discarded brown bag in the background whilst she (loudly) skypes her family (where she finishes with the line “peace out bitches!”) she didn’t exactly lap up the Japanese culture in the ryokan which is a “no-compromise” Japanese-style inn where Charlotte spends the night. Though she finds the futon comfortable she’s missing the good old-fashioned English cereal at breakfast time. She was even warned by the owner on her arrival to do as Tokyo people do when in the capital city. Oh yeah and one of the rules is no porn though I don’t know why he feels the need to tell a female about this….or is there a part of her background or reputation I don’t know about?!

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We’re back on track with the zany stuff at a cuddle cafe where the tables are turned on her as she finds out its her who has to do the cuddling. Her reaction to one of the customers is the kind of thing the producers of the show love to see happen. She’s pretty grossed out by the idea of cuddling a stranger but trying to relay this message to the guy just shows how communication is difficult in Japan for many foreigners.

Throughout the programme the footage is all interspersed with Charlotte talking to the camera and offering her valuable insight into the experiences as they happen. She’s taken aback by the language barrier quite often and is often unable to communicate in a way which the Japanese, with limited English ability and knowledge, understand. Can you really expect them to know who the likes of Cheryl Cole, Alan Shearer and Ant & Dec are!!

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The stupid hashtags (#CharlotteTLC etc), captions and her tweets (whilst in Japan) appear on screen throughout which I guess are a sign of the times and how TV is becoming so dumbed down. It won’t be long before the UK catches up with the Japanese variety shows where the screen is so cluttered with this kind of cr*p!!

The conclusion of the 44 minute programme is far more optimistic than most of what preceded it as she talks of having had the most amazing time and waxes lyrical about there being nowhere like Japan with its unique cafes (a cat cafe also features) and that being there has inspired her to search English traditions. As this was the second show in a series of which I only saw this particular episode I can’t judge Charlotte too strongly as her attitude may have changed throughout but for now it seems to me that Karl Pilkington is more like Einstein when compared to this idiot abroad.

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