The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: Japan

Unicorns on a unicycle at UNICON 17 (Part 1)

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I went up to witness UNICON for the first time. For those who do not know what UNICON is, it is a unicycle convention, kind of like the equivalent of the Olympics for unicycling. For the first time, UNICON is held in a location that is financially accessible to me, and it would be remiss of me to miss it again.

And so it was a trek to Montreal to attend UNICON 17, where some other Singaporeans would also be attending. Going up would also mean that the Masticating Bunnies From Hell from Ride the Lobster would be reunited for the first time in six years.

However that reunion would be tardy because Jiahui, one of the team members, would be so exhaustively busy traipsing all around Montreal visiting friends while we friendless people huddle around and twiddle thumbs.

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I’m surprised my well-worn and falling apart bicycle bag has held it together for so long after all these years. It last saw use on my trip back to Singapore in January, and with each subsequent use, it falls apart bit by bit. A zipper pull fell out previously (the zipper itself was still intact) and I wonder what else would break on this trip to Montreal.

And of course, it had to rain on my way to Penn Station. I brought an umbrella along with me, and holding on to one bag of two unicycles, a plastic bag with some food to last the 11-hour train journey, an overstuffed backpack, and an umbrella should probably be a Cirque du Soleil act of its own.

I got to the train station an hour early and I was like “Great! Maybe I’ll get a chance to snag an early seat.” I totally forgot one had to check in luggage from States-side, and because I didn’t do so, when the train opened for boarding, I had to go check in, and ended up being the last to board.

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Thankfully there was a backward-facing wheelchair-reserved seat available. I was feeling pretty much handicapped by that point, and I had the right number of wheels (big ones, at least), and there were no real wheelchair people in need, so I took it. It wasn’t too bad, I got stretch out, as I hurtled backwards all the way towards Montreal.

So, I was supposed to meet some of the Singaporeans at the college, where some of the events are held. Interestingly, no one bothered to tell me the instructions on getting there, only providing me with a street address. Well, I don’t have wireless internet on my phone, but thank goodness for being old-fashioned, and I had to ask three people how to get there. The first older station attendant didn’t speak much English (why is he working at the information kiosk at the main train station then?) but I understood enough to get to Berri-Uqam. There, I asked a younger English-speaking lad who told me to get to Pie-IX (pronounced “pea-neuf”), which I retrospectively probably remember the older station attendant mentioning something like that, but “pea-neuf” and “Pie-IX” didn’t connect as being the same thing in my mind because je ne parle pas français. Anyway at Pie-IX some teenager told me to just go down a road, at which point I took out my 20″ unicycle, shouldered my 29″ uni, my backpack, and my umbrella, and finally made it to the college.

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I think UNICON 17 already kicked off two days ago. But on my first night, it was apparently Naked Bike Ride day, and the unicyclist were planning on crashing it. So many unicyclists went, it was a pleasant surprise. I believe the number of unicyclists matched the bicyclists head for head. Males also outnumbered females maybe four to one. And there were definitely more naked unicyclists than there were naked bicyclists, as a lot more bicyclists kept more pieces of clothing on. Perhaps as the UNICON attenders were from another country, they didn’t have to worry about maintaining some sort of professional credibility in Montreal as many of the bikers did. Or maybe Europeans just like getting naked a lot more.

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As I was not registered to participate competitively, there was very little I could actually do at UNICON. I felt like making friends was an uphill endeavour, when many already had their circles of friends either from having attended UNICON before, got to know each other by virtue of participating in the same event, or were basically from the same country.

One morning, I sat myself down at a random table, and introduced myself to the table. It comprised Americans, a Canadian, and some Germans. I eventually got to see them over the next couple days and even got to hang out with them once or twice.

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Some of them (the Canadian and the Germans) went up to Mont Royal, and I joined them. One of them played the piano while I unicycle-danced in the background. It was all fun and games, until the experts showed up. Then they proceeded to defy gravity and jumped all over the place, and us mere mortals of lesser skill just stopped.

I got to see the UNICON events, of course. I was mostly there for the freestyle, and it met my expectations of what I thought it to be. Slightly dismaying was to see six to nine year olds completely outclassing me with freestyle, as the leapt onto their unis with a stand-up leg-up glide like physics was optional.

Freestyle expert solo was OK, and the first place winner went to USA Matt Sindelar, who did a Western cowboy themed routine using that very well-known tune from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, gun sounds and all.

Japan’s freestyle male expert solo entry Kaito Shoji was slightly less than what I expected, compared to last year’s winner. But he was still pretty good, and had great synchronicity with the music at the beginning.

Thomas Tiercy from Switzerland had one of the more interesting routines, though he didn’t place in top three. Perhaps it was because his routine was less about unicycling and more about object manipulation, but I felt it deserved a place on the pedestal because it was so different from the rest. It was also more show-sy than the others, which I appreciated a lot.

Shoji’s pair entry with Natsume Yamamoto was definitely much better, and the performance was more enjoyable. It featured great chemistry between the unicyclists, and felt less like a run-through of tricks, and more like a performance.

Here are some of the photos from Freestyle Solo and Pair.

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While Street really isn’t my thing, here are also pictures from the competition. I have no idea who these people are, but the UNICON list says these people are: Christian Huriwai (New Zealand), Maxwell Schulze (USA), Raphael Pöham (Austria), Josef Sjönneby (Sweden), Jack Sebben (Canada), and Casper van Tielraden (Netherlands).

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I’m breaking up this post because it’s getting too long. More to come in part 2!

Ceci n’est pas un concombre

 

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Japanese visual artist Hikaru Cho is known for her transformative paintings — turning things into something else through her application of paint. In this series, she turns various food items into looking like other food items, such as the banana above into a cucumber. She also did the same with turning an egg into an eggplant, and a tomato into an orange.

But Hikaru Cho does really amazing (and creepy) work with transformative painting on humans. Here are some of her best works:

Her site’s definitely worth checking out!

Would you like an Obama bun?

As I was writing about chopstick innovation and learnt how a design company, Nendo, attempted to innovate the chopstick while keeping with the traditions of lacquerware-making from the Wakasa province, a historic province that is today part of the Fukui prefecture, and I learnt a lot about the lacquerware type unique to Wakasa called Wakasa-nuri 若狭塗り.

The Wakasa province is renowned for its exquisite lacquerware, including its signature chopsticks, and the ancient capital of the Wakasa province is a town called Obama 小浜市.

Yes this lacquerware hub of ancient Japan shares its name with the current U.S. President Obama.

“Obama,” which means “little beach” in Japanese, has many of the temples during the Yamato dynasty. Needless to say, when President was first senator and ran for presidency, the city gained worldwide attention.

From Wikipedia:

The city of Obama has received much publicity because it shares its name with U.S. President Barack Obama. It began when Obama as a Senator gave a 2006 interview to Japanese television network TBS where he noted that, when passing through customs in Narita Airport, the official who inspected his visa said that he was from Obama. The Obama City Hall heard about the interview and the mayor, Toshio Murakami, sent Senator Obama a set of the city’s famous lacquer chopsticks, a DVD about the city and a letter wishing him the best. As Senator Obama’s presidential campaign progressed, more local businesses began to organize primary parties and put up “Go Obama!” posters, sell “I love Obama” T-shirts, and produce manjū (a type of Japanese confectionery) with Senator Obama’s face on them. A hula group began in the town in honour of Senator Obama’s home state of Hawaii. The troupe visited Honolulu in June to perform at the Pan Pacific Festival.

President Obama has since thanked the town for their gifts and support, saying “I look forward to a future marked by the continued friendship of our two great nations and a shared commitment to a better, freer world”.

Check out these Obama buns

Of interesting note, the card says: Obama Manjuu, Oba-man, using the typical Japanese practice of making portmanteaus

Also, unsurprisingly, Obama, Fukui’s Wikipedia page has been vandalised. Under “Demographics,” someone wrote, “The population of Obama consists of Japanese aboriginal groups mixed with Indonesians, mulatos, Texans and Koreans.

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Chopsticks innovation

Chopsticks are such simple tools that rethinking, redesigning, and improving them seems like an impossible task. But, if something as simple as the umbrella can be redesigned, so too can a pair of chopsticks.

Oki Sato from Japanese design company Nendo was asked to redesign the chopstick, and looking at the kind of problems that people run into when using chopsticks (square chopsticks are too pointy, round chopsticks too slippery, chopsticks are messy to store, etc.) Take a look below at the concepts he came up with for re-imagining chopsticks and how they can be made better.

hanataba 花束 (bouquet)

“Round chopsticks are slippery to use, but overly square-cornered ones aren’t as comfortable to hold. We explored ways of increasing the surface area of chopsticks in the hand, as a way of improving holding comfort, and discovered the natural form of the pleated cross-section. When viewed as a cross-section, the chopsticks look like flowers, so a bunch of chopsticks kept together into a cup turns into a ‘bouquet’.”

jikaoki 直置き (direct placement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. The firm’s expert artisans carefully carved away the chopsticks’ tips to fine points, so that they float above the tabletop when the chopsticks are laid down for cleanliness, even without chopstick rests.”

sukima 隙間 (gap)

“The world is full of patterned chopsticks, so we wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to create pattern in the space between the chopsticks. We came up with four patterns: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The two chopsticks are carved into different shapes for all patterns but the diamonds, but it’s possible to use one of the diamond chopsticks as the top chopstick with a spade, or the bottom chopstick with a heart, for a total of four different patterns from the four different chopstick pairs. The carving made the chopsticks so thin that they weren’t strong enough with wood alone, so we embedded a carved aluminium core in the wood to solve the problem.”

kamiai 噛合い (engagement)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today.We put a gap on one of the four sides of the square shaped chopstick, and embedded a magnet, so that the two would snap together in one piece when they are flipped and fitted to each other.
We placed the magnets towards the outside of each chopstick, so that the chopsticks don’t come together accidentally while someone is using them to eat.”

udukuri 浮造り

“We used the udukuri process, in which the wood surface is carved away with a metal brush, leaving only the hard wood grain, then lacquered the chopsticks and polished them again to bring out the wood grain as pattern. The traditional technique, in which materials clamshells, eggshells and gold leaf are applied with the lacquer then polished away to reveal a pattern is known as ‘togidashi’ (literally ‘to polish and show’), and is particular to Wakasa-nuri. Unlike patterns drawn by hand, this combination of processes allows patterns from nature to appear organically.”

rasen 螺旋 (helix)

“We designed new chopsticks in collaboration with Hashikura Matsukan, a manufacturer who continue Obama’s traditional manufacturing techniques today. Chopsticks ordinarily come in pairs, but the rassen chopsticks are a single unit. They’re separated into two for eating, then rejoined into one form when not in use. We used the artisans’ hand skills and a multi-axis CNC miller to create these unusual chopsticks.”

All photos by Akihiro Yoshida

Synchro-nice

I’m sure many are aware of the Japanese group World Order, known for their elaborate, synchronised pop-and-lock music videos. But, do you know the creative unit behind their works? Meet Hidali, a choreography unit headed by Ryo Noguchi and Takeatsu Nashimoto.

The icon the use to represent the company, 左, means “left” in Japanese.

Formed on March 2013, Hidali has since worked with not only World Order, but other artists both local and international, such as Japanese electronic artist Haisuinonasa and American recording artist will.i.am.

On their youtube channel, they’ve released a couple of interesting videos in their signature style, including a summer greeting, a “Respect for the Aged Day” one, and one for Christmas. All of their music are done by Yu Imai, also part of Hidali.

Wow this is doge

So you know, the doge meme that has been pervading on the internet?

Well guess what? The original doges have been found!

From The Verge:

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When 51-year-old Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Sato started seeing strange pictures of her eight-year-old Shiba Inu dog Kabosu popping up on the internet this past August, she was a little freaked out. “I was taken aback,” Sato, an elegant, brown-haired woman given to wide smiles, recalled. “It felt very strange to see her face there. It was a Kabosu that I didn’t know.”

What Sato didn’t realize was that Kabosu had unwittingly become the face of “doge,” the white-hot internet meme that plasters photos of Shiba Inu with fractured phrases written in rainbow-colored Comic Sans type. The images often feature a “wow” in one corner, then a series of intensifiers, like “so” and “such,” paired with nouns relevant to the picture. “So scare,” “such dapper,” “many skill,” some examples read, like a surreal narrative of the dog’s inner monologue.

A snapshot of Kabosu perched on a couch, glancing sidelong at Sato’s camera with tan eyebrows raised, paws warily crossed and mouth pulled back, was suddenly Photoshopped onto a Twinkie, a giant rock, a Canadian landscape, and a Christmas sweater. The dog’s face was used as the symbol of Dogecoin, a flash-in-the-pan Bitcoin alternative popular enough to be targeted in a recent heist. Kabosu was used to mock politicians in the United States and Canada. And though she had seen some of the images online, until just a week ago Sato had no idea what the doge meme actually was.

She had just wanted to share some cute pictures of her pets on the internet.

Read the full feature article on the Verge here! You’ll get to see the other pictures of the doge in it too!

Embroidered Japanese middle-aged mom brooches

From Spoon & Tamago:

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When you’re going to create an embroidery you usually do it of something special, like your pet, your favorite car or pretty flowers. And then there’s this: embroideries of middle-age Japanese moms engaged in incredibly dull activities. And there’s something oddly amusing about the absurdity of it all.

Created by freelance designer Junichi Chiba, the embroidered brooches feature typical Japanese housewives doing things like watering the patio, sweeping the floor, dancing, eating rice crackers and airing out the family futon.

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source: @sheishine