December 15, 2004

Merry Xmas

It's been awhile since I put up some pictures, so here are a few random pics I found on the camera today.

Xmas: It's very nice that Japan is so excited about the Christmas holiday. However, the commercialism of it all in this country makes America look extremely tame. One of the things I've noticed is that they don't actually celebrate "Christmas" here, they celebrate "Xmas." This picture was taken in Kyoto station about three weeks ago. It really is a very beautiful tree, and it changed colors in time with Christmas music (including music from Nightmare Before Christmas), but I don't think they realize "Xmas" isn't the actual name of the holiday. Maybe they're just trying to save money, maybe they really do only care about the commercialism, or maybe they just don't care at all... either way, at least they try.

Masks: I met Rob the other day for some shopping around Osaka. The first store we went to had very odd looking winter "masks." The conversation we had went something like this:

Jed- "Look at those masks, who would ever buy one?"
Rob- "I will buy one if you buy one."
Jed- "wha... t"
Rob- "I'm serious, if you promise to wear this mask right now, I will buy one. I'll even buy one for you"
Jed- ...nervous laughter..."
Rob- "That means yes."

The next thing I knew Rob was buying them. We then found ourselves outside, in one of the busiest parts of Shinsaibashi, wearing the masks you see in this picture. Pretty much everyone gave us the same uncomfortable-confused look, and then two girls came up to us and just stared. They didn't say a word, just stared at us. Eventually they started talking (this was at least 10 minutes later) and we found out they wanted to wear them. Rob politely said no, and we took off down the road to take the masks off. In the end, I think we stood there for a good 20 minutes with them on. It was clearly an odd experience, and I have absolutely no explanation as to why we did it. But, I will certainly never forget it.

Menu: I saved the best, or worst, for last. The picture speaks for itself, so take a look at some of the menu items. More specifically, look at the sixth item down. Luckily for us it was written in English, usually we just look at pictures and guess.

We'll be back in the States for Christmas, hope to see everyone then!

Posted by jed at 10:57 PM | Comments (3)

December 11, 2004

Christmas Time Is Here

Like I've said before, I really like Christmas time. I like decorating, I like christmas trees, I like Christmas movies, and I especially like Christmas music. Seeing as I've found myself in a list making mood, I thought I'd share some of my most favorite Christmas music. But before I do, I'd like to refer you all back to this post from last year; I'd almost forgotten about the whole Parson Brown issue until I heard the song again this year. Also note that, aside from the spam comments, it's still getting readers (I think the most recent comment was made just a couple days ago).

Anyway, child marriages aside, here are some of my favorite holiday tunes, records, and artists that have a permanent place in my head every Christmas season.

Top 5 Favorite Christmas Albums:

5 - Smooth Jazz Christmas by Dave Koz
My mom actually discovered this album for me a few years ago. At first, it didn't really appeal to me; I think maybe because it's very upbeat and joyous which, at first, seemed a little hokey. I tend to lean more towards slower, darker, sadder Chistmas music, but I borrowed it one night anyway and really enjoyed it. I love jazz, it's one of my favorite genres of music, so Dave Koz makes his way to my fifth most favorite Christmas album.

4 - Mr. Hankey's Christmas by Trey Parker, Matt Stone of South Park
I know, I know... I just finished saying I like the slower more emotional stuff for the holidays, yet I place this mock album as one of my favorites. For any of you that have heard it, though, it's really an incredible display of talent in all respects; it just happens to be a holiday themed album. The lyrics are very crude, sometimes near (if not over) the edge, but I do admit that I really look forward to listening to it every year. Thus, the folks from South Park find themselves as number four on my list.

3 - White Christmas by Bing Crosby
What can I say, he's the king of Christmas tunes. This is the guy who, as a kid, you always heard his version of the song; he's the guy who made Christmas albums a 'normal' thing to do for popular artists; and, he's the guy who's incredibly fun to imitate while in the shower. 'Hark the Herald Angels "Bing," you're third on my list, cuz I like the way you sing.'

2 - A Christmas Together by John Denver and The Muppets
Somehow, when John Denver sings with the muppets, you almost forget that he's singing along with a piece of cloth jammed onto someone's hand. I look forward to this one every year; the songs are short and I know every word to every song, so singing along is automatic. In all honesty, Christmas just isn't Christmas without hearing this album, so the gang finds their music as my second most favorite Christmas album.

and the drumroll please....

1 - A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi
Like I said earlier, I love jazz. This album isn't just my favorite Christmas album, but one of my favorites overall. Unfortunatley, I can't bring myself to listen to Christmas music unless it's around the holidays, so I really look forward to playing this cd over and over and over during the month of December. The overall sound of the album is perfect in my mind; not too hokey, perfectly played and never fails to remind me of light snow on a cold Christmas Eve. This is one of those albums which, I can sit at home, in the dark, and just listen, completely removing myself from everything and getting lost in the music. It goes without saying that Vince Guaraldi has secured himself a number one spot, making A Charlie Brown Christmas my all-time favorite Christmas album.

Full albums are one thing, but now thanks to the Ipod, I can play all of my Christmas music randomly (and I have a lot of it). So, I figured I'd make a list of my top five favorite individual Christmas songs. These songs are all artist specific, and everytime I hear them I become hypnotized by the sounds.

Top 5 Favorite Christmas Songs:

5 - Christmas Time is Here by Vince Guaraldi
I think it was pretty obvious that a Vince Guaraldi song would find it's way on this list, but this is a great example of a tune that really makes it feel like Christmas. There is a distinct way he plays the piano, you can almost hear how soft he's hitting the keys, and how the music just flows out of his finger tips (much like another of my favorites, George Winston, who was influenced quite heavily by Guaraldi.) Anyway, it's just an all around good tune, and the perfect way to start the holiday season.

4 - Oh Holy Night by Anyone, really
At the moment, the only (good) version of this song I have is done by Cartman on the South Park album. However, as funny as that version is, it's not really a great example of why I like the song. For whatever reason, this song has struck me as one of the ultimate Christmas melodies, always making me shiver in that weird way that only a song can make you do. In fact, this song kind of frightens me... but I think that's why I like it.

3 - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by The Barenaked Ladies and Sarah Mclachlan
Like I mentioned earlier, I'm a huge fan of the darker Christmas music, and I believe this song is a perfect example of that. The harmonies these three provide when they sing this song is incredible, and it's by far the best version of this song I've ever heard. If you click on the link you can hear a quick sample of the song, just give it a minute to load up. In any event, these three have certainly earned a position as number three on my list.

2 - What Child Is This
Much like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, What Child Is This is a perfect example of the dark side of Christmas music. Guaraldi has two versions of this song on A Charlie Brown Christmas (also refered to as Greensleeves), both of which are amazing. When I hear this song everything around me disappears, and I find myself lost in the music.

1 - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by John Denver and Rowlf the Dog
I know it sounds silly, but this is truly one of the most beautiful Christmas songs I've ever heard. The interaction between Rowlf (not Jim Henson, but Rowlf) and John Denver is spot on, and they work together perfectly. It's a very simple piece, with just a piano and the two of them, swapping lyrics with each other in a slow and peaceful manner. When I hear this song, I picture Rowlf- a lonely musician, sipping a beer, singing in such a natural and honest way that can't be imitated. I picture him almost as a real person... but still a dog... with a real life, doing the one thing he knows how to do. It's very odd, but somehow wonderfully perfect. It's just too bad both John Denver and Jim Henson can't recreate that, though they have created a pretty high standard for everyone else by singing my all-time favorite christmas song.

(cue music- have yourself a merry little christmas)

So there you have it. I hope if you get a chance you can find these songs or cds and give a listen before the holiday's are over. Music always makes my holidays just a bit more special, hopefully it can do the same for you.

Meeeeeeerrry Chriiiiiisssstttmmmaaaasssss.......!!!

Posted by jed at 07:23 PM | Comments (7)