Saturday, May 31, 2008

A-Chan on Drums

Back In Business!

Im happy to anounce that The TenGooz are back in business!
Michael is back from the PI and finally, after our longest hiatus EVER we in the studio recording on Thursday night and then again, rehearsing and working on new material last night. Hase G is exploding with new ideas and I also had an idea which we played around with.
After practice Michael, Thomas and I head off for a major night cap at Findlagen,Tsukuba`s best whiskey bar. Michael and I might have overdone it, sampling the tea-ceremony-master-like
barman`s superb collection of Whiskeys, Scotches and Bourbons.
Thomas, unfortunately with car, had to suffice with Ginger Ale. The joint was jumpin' and TenGooz fans were there in abundance.

The recording of CHATTER will continue next week. As Ive said this song will be strongly political, my cry out againt the ravages of 8 years of Bush adminstration on the state of human rights,human dignity, and culture in general.

First lines

There tryin` to go through all our Chatter
NSA computers siftin` through the data
email and phone calls are all fair game
and we`ve gotta show ID just to get on the train

There trying` to go through all our CHATTER
nightime helicopters flyin` pitter-patter
the ones theyve been hunting are still at large
while thousands are held without being charged

Im no longer sold
these days when Im told
that we`re living in the land of the free.......

Avi Landau

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ibaraki's Poppies

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?!Problem POPS up at Shimotsuma Poppy festival!

Its a fun-filled and very colorful event held every year on June 1st at the Shimotsuma Flower Park, just to the North-West of Tsukuba City.The hundreds of thousands of poppies which spring up each spring along the Kokai River(小貝川,kokaigawa) are literally free for the pickin, as families, couples, and any anyone else who would like to, can help themselves to as many flowers as they care for.

If ,like me, you were planning to go this year, you are in for a big disappointment!Im sorry to have to break the news. ALL the poppies have been MOWED DOWN AND BURNED!
Apparently someone noticed a preponderance of violet colored poppies when they are usually mostly red,white and pink.Experts were consulted, specimens examined ,and to everyones surprise it was determined that the banks of the kokai river was covered with hundreds of
thousands of OPIUM POPPIES ,which as you can imagine are highly illegal. Authorities were at a loss what to do, and in the end just went ahead with the simplest solution -they destroyed
the whole lot -legal poppies and all.
As of now the police think the incident was the result of an accidental seed mix-up,but of course they are still looking into the matter. Hopefully next year we can enjoy picking the poppies(雛罌粟,hinageshi) once again.

There are several ways that poppies can be referred to in Japanese: The easiest to remember is simply popi (ポピー). The non-narcotic type of poppy which is usually enjoyed in spring is thehinageshi(雛罌粟). From chinese literature there is the term gubijinsou (虞美人草), which is also the title of a novel by the novelist Natume Soseki.

The Japanese also use two words derived from European languages to refer to poppies-
amapora(アマポーラ) from the Spanish and kokuriko(コクリコ)from the French.

The poetess Yosano Akiko(1878-1942) has left us this poem-


AA satsuki furansu no no wa hi no iro su kimi mo kokuriko ware mo kokuriko

Aah! the fields of France in May, the color of a flame!
Both you and I - poppies!

Avi Landau

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Stop and Smell the Roses

Stop and Smell the Roses(and other flower royalty)

My friends and I had long been planning and looking forward to visiting the Tsukuba Botan-En(つくば牡丹園), the nationally renowned peony garden located in Kukizaki own.Unfortunately,
the weather kept putting us off. One day in early May,we actually drove out to it and walked up to the front gate, but decided that it was too cold and wet of day to spend strolling in a garden (especially with an 800 entrance fee!)

Spring had nearly passed when finally the perfect opportunity arose. A few free hours and weather that was just right. The only worry was - would there be any peonies(牡丹、botan) still in bloom?

This time when we got out of our cars at the gardens parking lot, we stretched our arms out ,taking in the warm fragrant air,then exhaled with satisfied aaahs. Conditions could not have been better. But when we checked the IN BLOSSOM BOARD posted at the front gate we were disappointed to find that only a couple of dozen botan(peonies) were in bloom, all of these being indoors in the COOL HOUSE.

There was no cause for consternation ,however, because the information board also showed that thousands of shakuyaku(芍薬), a smaller type of peony,and hundreds of roses were at their best on that day!

We drawn in by the color and fragrance we could glimpse from out side, we paid our entrance fee and picked up our maps of the grounds. My Japanese friends stamped their stamp books with commemorative seals (just as pilgrims in earlier ages in Japan would have their books
stamped,providing both a unique momento and offical proof that a temple had been visited. A precursor of the kinen shashin or commemorative snapshot).

The cool house is located about 50 meters from the front gate, and inside we were treated to a fine selection of impressive botan, the KING OF ORIENTAL FLOWERS. These large yet delicately petaled flowers were originally introduced to Japan from China in the Nara Period(710-794)as a medicinal plant.
On the continent the peony had not only been important for its pain killing and anti-convulsion powers, but also as a subject of painting and poetry and as a popular decorative motif.
It was actually adopted as national flower of Ching China. They were also very much enjoyed as a garden flower.

In Japan, the peony never achieved such high status as it did in China, but it has certainly thrived here. it was especially popular during the Edo Period(1600-1868)when many new varieties were cultivated.

We spent about 30 minutes in the dimly lit and chilled room. Numerous visitors passed through. In fact,we were interupted as a bus load of tourists from Saitama Prefecture breezed through, cell phones snapping away with their artificial click.

The grounds of the garden are extensive and lie at the foot of the ruins of the local castle.The large trees abound are now fresh with new leaves.There are also ponds, a red bridge and
a rustic deck for viewing the scenery.

The thousands of shakuyaku in bloom now are overwhelming in number and variety. These flowers were also imported from China as medicine(as was tea)and have been given the nickname Prime Minister of flowers. They are also famed for their beauty, which they have come to symbolize.

If you mention botan or shakuyaku to a Japanese, they often will repeat a popular idiom used to describe a beautiful women- Tateba botan, suwareba shakuyaku, aruku sugata wa yuri no hana (standing she is a botan,sitting a shakyaku, when she walks she is a lilly.

Keep in mind the TenGooz song- Almost Out of Time. Stop and appreciate the bounty of nature.
Savor every moment but keep GROUNDED IN GROOVE

Avi Landau

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Egret Rookery Under Assault

Egret nesting area

Egret Rookery Threatened!

Whenever I head towards Tsuchiura by car or bus, I always look forward to catching a glimpse of the large flock of egrets(shirasagi,白鷺)which use the small grove of trees on the eastern bank of the Sakura River as their rookery.
Especially in the breeding season(April and May)it is thrilling to see all the frenetic activity of the colony, even if for the briefest moment, as you drive by on the Tsuchiura Gakuen Road(look to the north when you get on the bridge just past the route 6 underpass).
I always worry about this egret grove(sagi no mori) in October, as the launching point for the famous and extremly crowded and noisy Tsuchiura Fireworks Competition is just a couple of hundred meters to the south.

This year I have been concerned since spring, with this year`s breeding season being plagued by exceptionally unfavorable weather for the chicks.There have been week long strings of cold, wet and VERY WINDY days,undoubtably resulting in the death of many young egrets.

To check up on how they were making out I asked a friend to stop and put on the parking lights as I had a longer than usual look at the birds. Much to my consternation, I saw a bulldozer
and construction team working just next to the grove.

These are very shy and sensitive birds and usually flee when they are spotted from a hundred
yards. Unfortunately, I could not go down(I had no time) to inquire as to what is going on. If someone can fill me in please do. Anyway, I will try to find out what is going on.

Havent these beautiful creatures been hounded enough. For centuries they have inspired artists (in Japan and on the continent), painters and choreogrphers, dancers, musicians and laywrights.

With loss of habitat due to development and especially the use of agricultural chemicals, the once UBIQUITOUS sagi no mori are a mere shadow of what they used to be.

Please go check on the birds yourself. but remember they are very sensitive so try to keep your

Avi Landau

Monday, May 26, 2008

Chez Michael!

Home Cookin'

Chez Michael !

He never ceases to amaze! We have long been aware of Michael Frei`s musical and scientific talents, but last night our eyes (or more correctly, mouths) were opened to a new, hitherto unknown side of our lanky sax player-his love of cooking!
Drummer A-chan and I were treated to a traditional South German meal which Michael hipped up - completely from scratch.

The mood of the evening was prodded a little higher by liberal doses of MOONSHINE, home-made schapps, lovingly prepared by Michael`s father back on the farm in Germany.

We also got to hear Michael new alto sax which he will probably be using for this weeks recording sessions.

If you are interested in Michaels recipes-please contact us.

Grounded in GROOVE

Avi Landau

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Doudou gets the crowd up!

Michael is back but misses out on Doudou !

TenGooz` popular sax player Michael Frei is back in
Tsukuba and chomping at the bit to do some recording and
gigging. He was in Okinawa and then The Philippines as part of his
continuing exploration of the world of rice and its cultivation.
Hopefully he will post some pictures of his journeys on these blog
pages along with some stories of adventure.

Michael returned a few days too late to catch Sabar and
djambe legend Doudou N`diaye and his percussion orchestra.
Since long before joining the TenGooz, our saxist has been
deeply involved with African music, having actually lived
and played in west Africa himself and then being part of the
Bang Boys of Germany whose music is highly influenced by
sub-saharan rhythm and harmonies.

It had been a long time since I had shouted out so spontaneously and
with such excitement as I did at the end of Doudou N`diaye Rose
Percussion Orchestra`s first offering last wednesday night.
If the concert had ended right there after just 15 or 20 minutes,
I would have cosidered it one of the greatest musical experiences I had ever had.
Starting out with nine drummers beating out an intro,
the number of percussionists gradually grew as they came out onto the stage
addinng new layers of rythm and exploding with the energy of life.
It just kept building and bulding going beyond 10 in terms of

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let down after that
with the rest of the show never living up to the first 20
minutes.One problem was that it was too loud,numbing really.
Also there was not enough variety of tone color.
Seeing this ensemble doing one or two pieces as part of a festival would be perfect
but 2 hours of them was like an overly long folk-lore show
for tourists with the volume turned up too loud.

Still the first moments were well,well worth being there for,and
I imagined they will remain seered on my soul(and my eardrums!)
for the rest of my life.

Avi Landau

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Before a big scene!

On Location at Tsukuba Center

Hi,TenGooz fans!
We are almost ready to start laying down the vocals for our popular in concert, and very political funk song CHATTER. I will keep you posted on our progress. In the meantime, have a look at one of my recent postings on Tsukublog-

On days when the light is just right and there is very little chance of rain, you might get lucky and find a colorful collection of super heroes and monsters battling it out at Tsukuba Center. For many years TV production companies have been using the Lion Pit between The Okura Hotel and The Right-On Building as an unearthly-looking set (which more importantly for the producers is free of charge!) for shooting Sunday morning kids` programs. Like me, you will probably have to ask one of the moms with toddlers who are excitedly watching the proceeding to find out the name of the show they are filming.
Today I watched the cast and crew of the popular channel 10 show Go-On-Ja(ゴオンジャ) which often uses the Tsukuba Center location. It is interesting (especially if you have small kids to bring along) to watch the actors get warmed-up, rehearse and shoot the individual shots, then get half out of costume and enjoy a cigarette break. Sometimes small explosions startle the onlookers who ring the set and are treated very politely (remember, the space is being used for free!)

The professional way Japanese film crews go about their business is impressive to watch and should be eye-opening for those who can only picture the age-old racist parody of a Japanese tv director as shown in the very popular (and perpetuator of old stereotypes) Lost In Tranlation.

For me, the bold poses taken by each character when they identify themselves or challenge each other, is reminiscent of the mudra positions introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks, most otably Saicho and Kukai more than 1000 years ago. This may sound far-fetched, but please look closely at both and you might see the connection.

No-one can predict when there will be filming at The center. But as I said earlier, there is a good chance it will be happening when the weather is favorable.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Revellers Assembling

Asakusa's Sanja Matsuri at 10am

Small Shop Selling Festival Wear

Sanja Matsuri

There is only one place to be one the 3rd weekend in May for those who love a good RAVE- Asakusa, in the heart of the shita-machi (the old Edo townsmans distict). It is there that the great Sanja Matsuri Festival is held for 3 days and the whole district seems to transform into one big Tengooz concert. The local residents spend 3 drunken, Baccanalian days, dressed in their colorful festival wear (each neighborhood has its own), shake rattle and roll with their portable shrines (omikoshi), which are extremely heavy and a very painful burden to shoulder. Getting in tune with the mesmerizing din created by their groups drummers and flute players the bearers withstand the pain by passionately chanting out Washoi,Washoi, building up a huge sweat and working the mood into a frenzied trance.
This years festivities were a little toned down as the biggest omikoshi were banned this year, apparently because some over enthusiasic Yakuza (gangsters) climbed a top of these sacred carts and showed off their fine tatood buts to the crowd.
I got up early in the morning to get there before the crowd became unmanageable. I watched the different groups gather, get ready and go into action. Things were pretty wild by 10:30 am and were quite raucus by noon.
The rythms, melodies and general spirit of passionate joy will hopefully inspire future TenGooz recordings and LIVES.

Avi landau

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Crowd Waiting For Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins Still Rollin` !

Though his legs are getting wobbly and his back bending with nearly 80 years under his belt, Sonny Rollins seemed to transform before our very eyes as he brought his instrument to his lips and began to blow. With his sax almost reaching to the floor, the legendary jazzman shook up the house, giving us samples of a whole range of the sax`s tonal and rythmic possibilities. The band that he has with him for this tour includes african percussion and trombone which gave the opening number a distinctly Tengooz-like sound.
It was good fortune that put me in the 7th row last night at the Tokyo International Forum, as I had been upset that Iwouldnt be able to take advantage of Sonny playing so nearby. But at about 2pm on the day of the show i found out that my meeting at the university had been cancelled. It seemed fated that I hop on TX and try to get a ticket. Amazingly I got what was nearly the best seat in the house.

I have to say that it was a bit tedious to sit through some a the other band members solos (after last night I really appreciate Kenya`s amazing trombone sound and his stage presence) but sonny really gave it his ALL and treated the huge crowd which ranged from young adults to extreme seniors to as much of his soloing as we could have imagined.

It was a truly satisfying evening of music.

Avi Landau

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A boy poses on Tango no Sekku

Mio up in Arms!

Putting on YOROI at an old samurai residence

Up In Arms! Wearing Samurai Armour In Sakura,Chiba

Childrens Day(kodomo no hi) has come and gone. We celebrated the festival to the fullest, eating chimaki and kashiwamochi and displaying our go-gatsu ningyo dolls and carp streamers ( see my last entry for details).

What made our holiday extra-special, though, was a day trip to Sakura(佐倉), a small city about 90 minutes from Tsukuba by car, in Chiba prefecture. I always like to going there for its excellent National History Museum, which I can never get enough of, and its serene, season displaying park on the site of its castle ruins.On Tango no Sekku,however, there is always a special event held which is to good to pass up.

In Sakura there are 3 excellently preserved samurai residences (buke yashiki) each of different design and dimension, to match the previous owners rank in the strict warrior hierarchy of the Edo Period.

On may fifth, there is an event in which traditional soup is served and anyone who would like to can be dressed up in traditional armour (yoroi).

It is not a very well publicized event and only about 30 lucky people showed up on that day.

The atmoshere was truly festive and the staff very kind,helpful and patient.

We also recieved free polaroid snapshots (I didnt know those were still around!) of ourselves dressed in full samurai regalia!

It was also interesting to see the old Sakura High school building, which is an amazing early showa edifice. The baseball super-legend Nagashima attended that school.

Nearby we could also stop by for some bird-watching at Lake Inba (Inba Numa).

I know you werent there this time, but you should try to make it next year!

Avi Landau

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Tango no Sekku at Avi's house

Miniature koi

Iris and mugwort(菖蒲と蓬)on roof

Doll,chimaki and kashiwamochi

The Transformation over the ages of Tango no Sekku

When looking into the origins of various elements of Japanese culture, one often finds dual or multiple roots. Even beginning students of Japanese language must deal with these many faces
when they first learn that there are two or more ways of reading kanji characters. There are even two ways of counting, the more purely Japanese way- hitotsu, futatsu, mitsu... and then the one based on the Chinese, ichi, ni, san.
It is especially interesting to keep this in mind when discussing Japan`s calendar of traditional annual events. This month`s standout special day is Childrens Day (子供の日, kodomo no hi) which has come to involve a fantastic array of festive decorations and foods. Most noticably, there are the carp streamers (鯉のぼり), which can be seen proudly flapping in the wind ( in this part of Japan,we are lucky to be able to see especially large and elaborate ones) or displayed at shops and shrines. Inside peoples homes, or at restaurants and hotels we can see the armor or warrior dolls (Go-gatsu ningyo) which have been put on display. Now less commonly you can see iris (菖蒲, shobu) stems on sale for use in the bath and even more rarely in this part of Japan (though I saw it yesterday), placed on rooves, along with some mugwort (蓬,yomogi). At wagashi (Japanese sweet shops) and convenience stores, kashiwamochi and chimaki are on sale, as the special sweets of the season.
What does all this have to do with Childrens Day?
First let me say something about Japanese festive days in general. Certain days were recognized by the ancient Chinese as being pivotal seasonal markers. These came to be known as sekku (節句) when adopted by the Japanese. To mark the seasonal changes, each sekku involved eating certain foods and displaying certain decorations. In those times the significance of these was usually one of keeping away bad luck or ritual protection.
The major sekku which are still widely celebrated in Japan are: January 7, Nanakusa (seven herbs) no Sekku, March 3, Momo(peach) no Sekku, May 5, Tango no Sekku, or Shobu(iris) no Sekku, July 7,Tanabata, and September 9, Kiku(chrysanthemum) no Sekku.
It now being May, this month`s festive day is of course, Tango no Sekku, which is now known as the national holiday, Childrens Day.
However, since this day has been recognized as being special in ancient times, there have been many meanings connected to it which have changed over the generations.

If you ask a Japanese friend about the significance of Chidrens Day, they will explain that it is a day to celebrate boys and for families with boys to pray for their healthy growth and success. This goes in tandem with March`s Momo no Sekku which is a celebration of girls. They will also explain that carp streamers symbolize strength and perseverence.
The story of Tango no Sekku, however, is much more complicated than this and its history and the origin of its customs are now unfamiliar even to most Japanese.
In ancient Japan (and still today), this is the season for planting rice. To pray for abundant crops and fertility in general and remove impurities from the village young women (早乙女,saotome) would spend a day isolated in a special womens huts called onna no ie(女の家). This hut would be covered with irises and mugwort, which in ancient china were believed to have purifying powers (because of their strong smells).
In the Nara Period(710-794), the Japanese would decorate themselves with garlands of iris and later in the Heian Period it was common (and still is) to decorate homes with these protective plants. At this time tall poles would also be set up by rice fields to welcome the God of Fertility.
Later when Japan came under military rule, the Japanese word for iris, shobu, came to held significant for its homonym, 尚武, shobu, which means reverence for martial arts. Thus, the iris remained a mainstay of Tango no Sekku throughout the generations and many Japanese still use it in their baths on this day for driving away evil and fortifying the body.
It was during the years of military rule that Tango no Sekku came to be associated with boys. One possible explanation for this can be that it had originally been a day to isolate women, and that left the boys to be celebrated!

Kashiwamochi is a pounded rice cake wrapped in the leaf of a Japanese oak. Eating this sweet in this season is an original Japanese custom and signifies the connection between generations, as these trees dont lose their leaves until fresh leaves appear!

Eating chimaki, a conically shapped paste wrapped tighty in leaves, is a custom which originates in China. May 5th in China, is the memorial day of the great warrior 屈原kutsugen, who was famed for his loyalty. On the 5th day of the 5th month men would throw offerings into rivers (he drowned in one) in his honor. At one point, many men at different locations dreamed that it would be better to wrapp these offerings in purifying leaves. This became standard practice, and is now common today in Japan.

Raising carp streamers probably is a continuation of the native practice of setting up poles near the rice fields to welcome the rice god. Since Tango no Sekku came to be a day of celebrating boys, Japanese in the Edo Period (1600-1868) adopted the carp, as a symbol of success. This is because of the ancient Chinese story of the carp struggling upriver and transforming into a dragon.

This custom spread throughout Japan and can especially be enjoyed in Ibaraki where farmers often display fantastic and very expensive koi nobori sets to celebrate their male offspring.
For those who live in smaller abodes there are appropriately sized streamers and even tiny origami or cloth carp.

Finally, there are the dolls and armour which are displayed. Grandparents often spend thousands of dollars on a display for their grandsons, though if you want some dolls for yourself you can get the same exact dolls for a song at second hand shops (since many Japanese would not buy or are even afraid of used dolls!) . These dolls became popular in the late Edo Period as emulating the Samurai class was all the rage for the merchants and then farmers. These dolls and armour are displayed to pray for boys success and health and can be found in a myriad of forms.

There are many other, more obscure decoration for this season, but I have written too much already, so go search then out for yourselves.
Happy Children`s Day!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Decorations for Childrens Day(Tango no Sekku)

Ten days later

Before I went to NY

Cherry Blossom viewing in old Edo

From Cherry Blossom Showers to Waterworld

April is surely the time of greatest change, both social and environmental, here in Japan. There are school and company entrance ceremonies and friends might suddenly disappear as they are tranferred to another branch office. The dull winter landscape gives way to a succession of blossoms, most famously the sakura, or cherry blossoms. The dramatic changes that take place at this time of year were more evident than usual to me, since I was away in New York for 10 days.
On my way to the airport the ground was covered with a delicate pink carpet of sakura petals and gusts of wind brought down the remaining petals in bursts of flower shower. When I returned, it was as if I had come to a different country, looking out of the airplane window, I saw a veritable water-world of flooded rice fields glistening in the sun. Driving back to Tsukuba the azalea (tsutsuji) lined the road and extravagant carp-streamers (koi nobori) flapped about in the yards of house-holds celebrating their male off-spring.
Now as a re-acclimatize to Japan-time, the farmers are busy transplanting the rice seedlings in the flooded fields, that being the original reason for having the many holidays which make up Golden Week.
At night I was glad to hear a familiar sound, the thunderous chorus of frogs which inhabit the paddy fields around my house, it gets so noisy that sometimes I can't have a phone conversation.
The fact that cherry blossoms bloom just before rice transplanting begins is one of the reasons for its great importance in Japanese culture.
One theory for the etymology of the word sakura is- where the God of the fields dwell. It was believed that the god manifested itself in spring to make agriculture possible, and that is why farmers have cherry blossom viewing parties-to honor the Gods!
Of course another reason for the Cherry-Viewing parties is that the Emperor Saga was fond of them, and the Japanese have always strived to emulate the ways of the Heian aristocrats.