Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) poster

Once a murderer, always a- Nah! He’s a great guy, really…

Things are really picking up steam now – we’re a week away from the end of the silent era of Hollywood Cinema, and we’ve already taken a look at one of the most ground-breaking films of the silent era. But before we bid farewell to silent film, there is one final entry, in the form of 1927’s ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’.

While not a best picture, ‘Sunrise’ was honoured at the first ever Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, which looked back at films from 1927 and 1928. There, it won the Award for Best Unique and Artistic Quality of Production, on the only occasion that award has ever been given out. Janet Gaynor also won the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, which was attributed to this film, and a number of other works over the course of her career. The movie was also able to win Best Cinematography. Furthermore, before we get into it, it is worth mentioning the director: F. W. Murnau.

If that name means anything to you, you probably know that Murnau was the man who directed 1922 German film ‘Nosferatu’. In 1926, Murnau chose to emigrate from Germany to America, moved to Hollywood, and began working at the Fox Studio. Here, he immediately began work on ‘Sunrise’, an adaptation of the novel ‘Die Reise nach Tilsit’ (‘The Trip to Tilsit’), by German novelist Hermann Sudermann, who passed away a year after the film’s release.

The film follows the story of a man in the midst of an affair with a woman from the city. She has asked him to sell his farm and move with her to live in the city, but he must first drown his wife. When the time comes, he finds himself unable to do it, and the couple begin a reconciliation process as they travel around the city, before returning home to (hopefully) begin their life together anew.

One thing is for sure; ‘Sunrise’ is e beautiful movie. The German Expressionism of Murnau’s early work makes its way into the film to give the occasional distorted scene, and there is a great use of the overlaid shots (used tremendously in ‘Metropolis’) to show the inner thoughts of the characters and really draw you into their mind. Finally, one scene in particular appears to be the grandfather of green screen technology, even though Blue Screen would not be fully invented for three years, and it would be decades before it was fully recognised as a film-making technique.

Murnau surely brought great performances out of his actors. Certainly, Gaynor’s work was phenomenal, and she was thoroughly deserving of her award, but George O’Brien puts in stellar work as a broken man, down on his luck, and desperately trying to recover his love and life. Margaret Livingston plays The Woman from the City, whom the man is willing to kill his wife for, and her interestingly complex portrayal makes a character that could seem cartoonish evil, come across as more real and believable.

While the movie is likely to make you tear up on a number of occasions, it is the sort of film that requires you to push a few nagging thoughts from your head to truly enjoy. Firstly, why is the woman taking back her husband? Didn’t he try to murder her early in the film? Wasn’t he having an affair before deciding to try and murder her? Did they honestly leave their baby at home for the whole day? Seriously, didn’t he try to murder her at the beginning?

That said, this is a film about two people falling in love all over again. It is a film about coming to terms with the city, and learning that it isn’t an ominous and dangerous place, but an exciting and advanced new world. It is a film that is so simple, it just has to work. ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ is not about the bleaker parts of life, but the special and honest moments instead, and the true beauty of love. And for that, this simple little film has to be seen, for drawing so much from the silent era, and blending it seamlessly into a picture that is at once moving, and imaginative.

4/5 – Love It
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Game of Thrones poster

Does this count as a spoiler?

With everyone caught up once again with what is going on, we can dive back into the general ‘Game of Thrones’-ness in episode two, ‘The House of Black and White’. The story continues the plotlines of each of the characters from the previous episode, with the addition of Arya and the Martells of Dorne.

So, as we arrive back in the world once again, we have a very similar shot to one in season three. Arya steadily approaches the Titan of Braavos by ship, carrying on from the series finale last year. The arrival scene was almost identical to the one where Stannis and Davos arrived in the previous season, yet we have more of a chance to see Braavos itself, and it turns out that it looks like Singapore crossed with Venice. Arya travels to the titular House of Black and White, and spends the majority of the episode waiting outside the door. We get plenty of Arya one her own once again, and continuing to be the brutal shell she has become over the series so far. If not for the final shocker at the end of the episode, her scenes would have come off as incredibly depressing; she sits for days in the sun and rain, chanting her prayer. It seems as though no part of the carefree little girl from the first season is left at this point.

Once again, following on from the previous season, Dorne is out for revenge against the Lannisters for the nightmarish death of the beloved Oberyn. When a beautifully elaborate threat arrives for Cersie, she believes that her daughter, Myrcella, is in danger. For those who forget who that is, she’s the girl that Tyrion sent to Dorne in season two, just before the riots broke out. Jaime takes it upon himself to head into Dorne and rescue her, proving himself to be a good father and a powerful Lannister to Cersie. He also sets up what might be the best possible buddy-adventure storyline since Arya and The Hound.

Before we get into Dorne, it would be good to take a quick look at what is currently the worst buddy-adventure storyline: Brienne and Podrick. When these two set off together last season, I loved it. Throughout their travels in the books, I love it. But in this episode, I found them almost unbearable. Having failed to rescue Arya at the end of the last season and lamenting this fact in the previous episode, Brienne and Pod take a moment to rest in a tavern. In a hilarious turn of events, Littlefinger and Sansa happen to be having a meal in the same tavern, apparently still on the way to their mysterious destination. What followed, was possibly the most awkward and forced dialogue in the entire series so far. When George R. R. Martin writes an episode, you know it is him because everything just sounds a little off, yet it still flows well and the point comes across well. He did not write this episode, however; David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, did.

David and Dan are the people responsible for ‘Game of Thrones’ being on the air. They are two of the greatest screenwriters currently working in television, and I love their work. But for everything good, there has to be something bad to balance it out, and all the tremendous writing in previous 41 episodes was entirely karmically balanced by this single scene. Perhaps it was Michael Slovis, the director who made a mess of it, however. Dan and Dave have churned out utter brilliance over the years, while Slovis has directed… last week’s episode. I was prepared to then discuss how a horseback chase/fight was totally generic and looked very low budget for this show, until I read an interview explaining how the original fight had to be scrapped at the last minute.

For the record, it was only the Brienne and Podrick scenes that were in any way bad in this episode: the introduction to Dorne was fantastic. We have a lovely shot of the Watergardens, and get a chance to meet Prince Doran Martell, and Indira Varma makes a brilliant return as Ellaria Sand, still justifiably bitter over the death of Oberyn. While there isn’t quite the same reaction as in the books, where we learn how up in arms the entire country is over the death, I feel as though there is still a chance to ease us into Dorne’s reaction in the next few episodes.

I was expecting there to be either no storyline at The Wall this episode, or for it to be small and insignificant. However, as Jon has arguably the most to do this season, it makes sense for his story to hurtle forwards at a break-neck pace while everyone is finding their feet. Again, his character is tested (as it is every season) by an enticing offer from Stannis, yet it doesn’t resonate as much as it does in the books. Like with the Tyrion storyline, I feel as though it is probably for the best, as there is still a lot to get through.

Tyrion and Varys don’t have a lot to do this episode. For the first time in a while, this season seems to be a season of traveling. Sansa and Littlefinger are taking multiple episodes to exchange snide comments on the road, and Varys and Tyrion are taking some time to enjoy a rollicking, drunken adventure until they reach Daenerys.

And thus, I was totally done with Dany. I never wanted this to happen. I thought she was great, I thought she was interesting, I thought she was honourable, I thought she was taking on more than she knew how to. But damn it, she just lost me entirely. She threw away any shred of respect I had for her by listening to, and then entirely disregarding, the advice of Sir Barriston Selmy. You do not disrespect Barriston “the Badass” Selmy. Ever.

At the end of the episode, we get a brief glimpse of huge dragon once again, showing off the tremendous CGI in place, yet it was far too little, and just too late.

Overall, this was a good episode. Jaime, Jon, the Dornish and Arya were all brilliant, and I can’t wait to see what will happen as their stories unfold. I’m certain Brienne and Podrick will make their way back from this, as it wasn’t terrible overall, just somewhat mishandled. Dany, however, I am done with.
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Dragon Age: Inquisition poster

Lemme hear you say “Nooooope!”

Taking place one year after it’s predecessor, ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ begins with the country of Orlais enduring civil war which is threatening the entire land of Thedas. Templars oppressed the magicians until they fought back in a bid for independence. Succumbing to desperation, a ‘Divine Conclave’ is brought together; a peace summit between the higher ups of the Mages and Templars to negotiate a compromise and, ultimately, stop the war.

A new and more deadly threat rears it’s ugly head however, as the peace summit is interrupted by a huge explosion, killing every attendee on impact and tearing a hole in the sky dubbed ‘The Breach’. The tear allows loose demons to enter the world to wreak havoc. Enter Player Protagonist!

Surviving the onslaught and discovering you are the only one that wields a mark that can close the rifts that spawn reigning chaos all over, you are inducted into the ‘Inquisition’. This is a reborn organisation sanctioned by the Divine who called the peace summit. Their goal? Restore order to the land of Thedas.

Simply put, the Inquisition aim to,

  • Put a halt to the rifts that are spawning all over, threatening all in their way (that only YOU can close).
  • Crack down on the civil war, creating level ground between both sides to rise against the bigger more important task at hand (that only YOU can stop)
  • Once completing these two “simple” tasks, you will finally close ‘The Breach’ – the reason you set out on this quest (that only YOU ca- okay you get the point)

Create your Inquisitor from multiple races, different classes that aim to hone different weapons, gain allies and bring peace back to Thedas. Good luck ‘Herald of Andraste’.
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The inside of Book Off

“This isn’t a library! Why don’t you just Book Off!”

The literacy rate in Japan amongst those over the age of 15 is, according to their most recent census, 99%. For a country with such a high ability to read, it’s no surprise that reading remains a popular pastime. And, of course, from short stories to novels to manga, you’ve a wide selection.

As I mentioned in my article about wasting time in the cities, bookshops remain a popular haunt and reading amongst the shelves is tolerated, if not encouraged. Most bookshops will be a bit stricter about you reading certain things – manga tend to be cellophane wrapped to prevent them from being opened before purchase – but most books are fair game to anyone with an interest.

The type of book you’re most likely to see is the Tankōbon – a catch-all term for a book that can stand alone as opposed to being a part of a series. Any bookshop worth its salt will have a very sizeable number of them. Of course, within this term, there are a number of different types, and everything from sappy romance to hard sci-fi, as well as big name Japanese authors like Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Haruki Murakami, but most will be small volumes of around A6 size, which are often thin enough to stuff into a pocket without risking too much wear-and-tear.

A bookshop, when it sells you a book will almost always put a paper cover over the book to protect it whilst you get it home. Of course, given the habits of the average Japanese person, the books can still be opened and read with the cover on – many Japanese have very long commutes by train for work and the like, and a very high number read on the train, and even whilst walking – miraculously, I’ve seen no pedestrian collisions yet. Even so, there’s a certain mystery to seeing somebody’s nose buried in a book whose title you don’t know, and whose cover you can’t even see.

There’s another bonus to the covers as well – advertising for the shop that sold the book. The covers all have the name of the shop printed on them, usually in large, friendly letters, as well as phone numbers and branch locations. It’s almost cheeky of them to use the habits of the people to their advantage like this, but you can’t deny that there’s a certain level of brilliance to it if this was indeed the original intention.
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Metropolis (1927) poster

‘My name is ‘Metropolis’, king of films:
Look on my robot, ye Mighty, and replicate!’

With the age of sound fast approaching us, let’s take a look at a silent film which takes the epic scope of the early Griffith movies, adds in the grand architecture of Lon Chaney’s movies, and the revolutionary styles of German expressionism. Well, that’s the review for ‘Metropolis’ out of the way – time for lunch.

Okay, okay, okay…

Released in 2027, ‘Metropolis’ follows the story of a social uprising in the science fiction urban dystopia of the title. The film was directed by Fritz Lang, who would later direct ‘M’ (which we’ll cover in the future), based on a screenplay written by himself and his wife. At the time of its release, it was the most expensive film at the time of its release, costing around 16 million USD adjusting for inflation. Now we have to take a closer look at the film.

In an age when your average Hollywood blockbuster would cost you hundreds of millions of dollars, ‘Metropolis’ still holds up very well for its use of practical effects and miniatures. Scenes of the giant skyscrapers separated by scattered freeways and biplanes making their way from place to place conjure a city that is real very much alive. In the same way you feel this life and depth to the city, you can really feel the weight of all of this pressing down upon the workers who live in the bowels of the urban sprawl. A place where gardens and theatres are perched atop a skyscraper, the ground itself conjured images of a slum, and deep beneath the earth are the factories which keep the city alive.

The cinematography for the film was especially pioneering, as many occasions show layered and patchwork mixtures of various images to reflect the bustling business of the higher world. One scene showing a character’s first venture into the land of the rich and powerful evokes the images of montages showing off wealth and splendour. In a similar vein to ‘A Page Of Madness’ using the editing to give you a look inside the broken psyche of the characters, ‘Metropolis’ uses it to show the wonder and amazement of the characters surrounded by bright lights and loud costumes.

While the expressionistic and exaggerated style is great for the story and themes, the costumes and props work as a great indicator of the time. While the majority of the costumes are the standard 1920s attire, the scenes in the laboratory during the creation of the robot “Hel” strike a tremendous balance between the magical imagery of ‘The Thief of Bagdad’, and the super-serious science of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. It is a brilliant balance of science and fiction, making the story feel both real and fun. But the design of the robot itself was so spot on, that it is no wonder the film stands the test of time.

The robot of ‘Metropolis’ is one of the most recognisable images when people look back at the works of silent cinema, and it is obvious why. While Lon Chaney was creating visually unique and interesting make-up techniques to give his performances more of a visual edge, the robot was designed in such a way that everyone has seen it in one way or another. Whether you are a fan of ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Mass Effect’, science fiction has been forever reimagining itself, but paying homage to the iconic design, in either C-3PO or the physical manifestation of EDI, the roots of ‘Metropolis’ and its design can still be found today.

It is perhaps this reason that ‘Metropolis’ should be required viewing over everything else. While the story, themes, characters and music all hold up brilliantly, it is the iconic power of this silent epic which continues to resonate today.

5/5 Build Shrines To It.
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Game of Thrones poster

Does this count as a spoiler?

Another year, another season of ‘Game of Thrones’. Okay, let’s not make this sound as though it’s a drag – ‘Game of Thrones’ is awesome. The series is awesome, the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series it is based on is awesome, and a lot of the expanded lore and history is awesome. But with such a high calibre of content, coming back after four fifths of a year is always going to be an apprehensive time. Everyone needs a brief refresher on what has happened up to this point, we need to be reminded of why we care about all the characters and their struggles, and on the off-chance there is anyone alive that has only decided to start watching the series now, they need to know just who are all these people.

And so, ‘The Wars to Come’ – the first episode of the fifth season of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’. How does it hold up for a first episode? Brilliantly. That said, it is because not an awful lot happens in the episode itself.

The episode begins with a flashback (which I will discuss in a moment), before picking up shortly after the events of the season four finale – Cersie and Jaime Lannister stand over the corpse of their father, and discuss how his death has changed everything. For Jaime, it is a time to prepare for the coming storm, and for Cersie, it is another round of ammunition to use in her hatred for Tyrion. From there, we see the return of Lancel Lannister, now a devout follower of The Faith of the Seven, who reintroduces the most boring religion in Westeros to the audience, while setting up themes of forgiveness and justice – something sorely lacking in this universe.

Tyrion himself is still grappling with the realisation that he murdered his lover and his father last time we saw him, but the self-loathing he is going through (and by all rights he has earned it) is cut short by the laying out of Vary’s plan of action; basically a quick synopsis of what to expect from the pair for the rest of the season. The chemistry of Tyrion and Varys still hold up, with Varys continuing the straight-man routine, and injects just enough life and optimism back into the scene to support the beautiful scenery of their location.

The same location, in fact, that Dany spent her first episode back in season one. Illyrio Mopatis, the hairy man from those few episodes, has been cut – his appearance in the books now being replaced by Varys. It was a change I would have more difficulty with, if it wasn’t for the inclusion of Kevan Lannister (Lancel’s father and Tywin’s brother) returning for the first time since season two. While I would have loved to see a few episodes of Tyrion and Illyrio drinking and making jokes until the former feels fit enough to continue, his omission does streamline the story, which makes sense, seeing that they apparently want to cover two books in one season this year.

Sansa and Littlefinger continue their game of refusing to fully trust each other, while still smiling sweetly and acknowledging a growing respect, yet their story ends on a cliff-hanger (ish) as they leave the Eyrie and head for an unnamed location.

Brienne and Podrick have possibly the shortest part to play in the story, as Brienne grapples with her failure to find and rescue Arya previously, while seemingly still blaming Podrick for her disappearance. The fun dynamic of the two of them has gone (for now, at least) but there is a hint at some more character growth for each of them as the season continues.

By far the weakest part was Dany’s story. My biggest problem with Dany, is that she began back in 2011 as clearly one of the best characters, starting off in a terrible situation, finding her strength, and earning the love and support of her people (and dragons). In the second season, she grapples with what it means to be a leader, learns about who to trust, and goes through the third season as a powerful and wise badass. Then she reaches Meereen. It’s not that I have such a problem with the Meereenese knot – obviously she needed to stay in one place for a while to allow the rest of the story to catch up with her – my problem is that she is becoming a worse leader and a less likable character as time draws on.

Her time in Meereen is spent throwing the established order out the window, and then enforcing her own way of thinking and living upon an entire city that do not want her there. When acts of atrocity are committed against her and her supporters, she continues to retaliate for fear of appearing weak, bringing more pain and suffering upon her supporters. This comes perfectly around in a scene where she revisits the dragons she imprisoned last season, hoping to set them free again. Unfortunately, having been chained up in a cave for a while, they are far from accommodating. Dany continues to make sudden, big gestures, but when she thinks reasonably and tries to change anything later, she finds out the hard way that it is too late.

That said, this episode did show a visual culmination of everything ‘Game of Thrones’ stands for: boobs covered in blood.

Jon had the most story in his section. While Sam and Stannis remind the audience what the plot will cover in the coming weeks, Jon has a personal story about becoming a leader, and learning the value of other people’s points of view. Without wishing to spoil anything, he is forced to offer an option to a character which is refused, and has the decency to respect that, despite disagreeing with it. At the end of the episode, he shows that respect in a powerful, and impactful way.

All in all, the episode was great for wetting the appetites of audiences, as plenty is set up and teased. We also see the sort of struggles – and how well the show handles them – which a lot of characters are likely to face this year. But before we finish – the flashback.

Each year, the first scene has been used to resolve plots or introduce new characters. In season one, we learned about the White Walkers, in season two we met Stannis and learned about the powers of Melisandre, season three was the fallout from The Fist of the First Men, and season four was the symbolic destruction of the Starks and the victory of the Lannisters.

While there is the whole region of Dorne to be introduced, I feel as though this flash-back to Cersie’s childhood was great for giving us a new look at the character. In the books, the first time you see things from Cersei’s point-of-view, everything changes, and she becomes a must more interesting and believable character. This functions in a similar way, as we now know of the prophecy which will colour her views for the rest of the season, and have made her the character we see on screen. This tiny piece of backstory makes her later exploits appear so much more reasonable in their proper context.

That said, I still don’t know why they sexualised the creepy woods witch. Why take a character called “Maggie the Frog” from the books, and give her a pronounced cleavage? Huh, HBO?

I’m still excited for the rest of the season, though.
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Amnesia: The Dark Decent

“No Memory: Going Down without Light”

Ever been worried that you would one day wake up not knowing who or where you are? What about if you awoke not knowing who you are, what you were doing, or what you needed to get done? Or, how about all of the above, but then being forced to travel through an abyss, avoiding certain death around every corner whilst solving the darkest puzzles. Well, in ‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’ you will tackle all this… and more.

You begin the game as Daniel, waking up dazed and confused in August 1839 within the dark halls of a castle. With no memory (also known as Amnesia) about your persona or location all you know at this point is that you are stuck here. Oh, and you are not alone. You find a note, from yourself, explaining that you have deliberately erased your own memory for plot convenience, and to find out everything you used to know, you will need to venture deeper into the inner sanctum, find the Baron, Alexander, and kill him.

Little is left explained to you at the beginning of the game, but as you travel back through the castle, moving forward and regaining memories that you left yourself to discover, constantly halting to a standstill to stop regain your sanity, you know that if you turn back you will remain forever in the dark. As you begin to descend into the darkness (a Dark Decent, if you will) the journey itself becomes more of a metaphor, as you are descending into the darkness of your own soul. Through the use of tinderboxes and your forever faithful oil lantern, get down there, find the Baron and put an end to the horror you have brought upon yourself. Preferably before you remember why you forgot it all in the first place…
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Work Haiku

I understand what
She is talking about so
Very much, don’t you?

Japanese haiku
Were very important to
Japan’s history

Even now we see
An influence that they have
On Japan’s culture

These days, most people are at least vaguely familiar with Japan’s famous 5-7-5 syllable poem, but not many seem to realise that there’s more to it than that – I know I didn’t until someone told me.

For most of Japanese history, poetry was the language, so to speak, of the upper classes – high-ranking courtiers, for one, would communicate with each other by writing letters in the form of haiku. Although, perhaps the best evidence of poetry having been a noble art is the sheer volume of poems written by nobility for a variety of reasons – samurai about to commit seppuku (A.K.A.: hara-kiri) for whatever reason would pen a poem, usually haiku, before going through with the suicide; and the three “great unifiers” of Japan (Tokugawa Ieyasu, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi) each wrote a haiku using the same opening and closing lines which revealed their respective preferences in battle strategy using what they would do if their cuckoo wouldn’t sing as a parallel.

Poetry writing is not as popular nowadays as it was, but it still retains a place in the hearts and minds of the Japanese, with many local municipalities and the like hosting annual poetry competitions. In general, the format is to announce a theme, or even an opening line, and let contestants get on with their submissions.

What makes a haiku a haiku is as much theme as format – haiku will always have a theme relating to nature in some way. Very commonly, they will be linked very deliberately to a season – in fact, it is completely possible to buy notebooks specifically for writing haiku, many of which will have a list of words which tie to a particular season or, in the case of more expansive (and probably expensive) ones, even to a specific month of the year.

Additionally, a separate type of 5-7-5 poem called a senryū exists. Senryū derive their theme from, as opposed to the natural world, humankind and their relations with each other. As such, they are easier to make humorous. A favourite of mine, which placed 3rd in dai-ichi-life’s 26th “Businessman” senryū competition, is actually quite easy to translate and have it retain image and rhythm:

“I’m going to quit!”
I posted on my Facebook,
And my boss clicked “like”.
by: ‘Former Head of Department”, total votes: 3966
(『「辞めてやる!」 会社にいいね!と 返される』元課長、得票総数 3,966票)

In conclusion, then,
This may well be just a bit
Shorter than normal

But there isn’t much
That I can say from this point
Without waffling

So I will leave you
On these haiku final words
Or, are they senryū?
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Japanese Skyline

It’s like being a tiny, tiny ant.

You step off the train and, staggering out of the station you find yourself surrounded by bright lights, neon signs and tall buildings as far as the eye can see. You might well be in any major city district in Japan: Akihabara, Sannomiya, Umeda…

The question now is, you’ve got way too much time on your hands. So, not counting location-specific tourist attractions, what do you do now?

Well, as with any major city, there’s guaranteed to be shops galore where you can stop by and pass an hour or so. A real favourite of mine is to waste thirty minutes or so in a bookshop – one thing that sets Japanese bookshops apart from their English counterparts is their apparent tolerance for in-store reading. Go to any decent book shop and marvel at how hard it can be to manoeuvre the aisles for people standing around with their nose buried in a Murakami short story or, in perhaps more lenient shops, the latest volume of One Piece.

Cafes, as well, are a wide and varied experience in Japan – on top of the standard fare of coffee shops and small eateries, you might also find a café with a particular theme where you can pay a set rate to hang around for x amount of time with that theme. All manner of these exist: owl cafes, cat cafes, manga cafes… The list goes on, though perhaps the best known sort is the maid café. Here, serving staff are dressed in maid outfits, and customers can pay a little extra for a conversation with one of the ever-energetic maids; have them draw smiling faces and such on your food in ketchup; or even for the privilege of having a maid yell angrily at you for five minutes, which my friend John was very keen to tell me he had had a hard time not laughing at when he saw it at the table across from his. A lot of these charges, though, may be hidden until you see the bill, so best to exercise caution.

Another attraction that pulls in many people daily is the game centre – better known as an arcade. The average game centre will have a wide variety of games: light gun games, racing games and rhythm games being the most common, and not usually for more than 200 yen per go. My personal favourite at the time of writing is Taiko no Tatsujin – essentially, Traditional Japanese Drumming Hero. As well as the video games, crane games and purikura (a sort of photo-booth affair where groups of (generally) girls take a number of photos as a group which will then be airbrushed slightly to give them a cuter, wider-eyed appearance) are enduringly popular.

Of course, if you’re out in a group, you may well end up doing karaoke. Unlike the machine in the pub setup that we the English are used to, most karaoke establishments in Japan consist of private booths which are rented out by the hour. Most places will also have at least one all-you-can-drink option.

Many places, especially places like karaoke establishments where you rent a room, will be open until the small hours of the morning, and will allow you to sleep in one of the rooms – which is just as well because, if you did everything I talked about here in one evening, chances are you’ve missed the last train home.

Onsen

Now THAT looks like a damn good bath…

To the English-speaking ear, “bath” brings to mind one of two methods of cleaning the body – debatably the more relaxing of the two, and the one that some would say amounts to wallowing in ones own filth. The Japanese bath, by contrast, is a place to boil oneself alive in the name of relaxation. And it’s glorious.

All Japanese houses, and most apartments, will have a bathroom with separate shower and bath, and most Japanese families will bathe at least once per day, but here’s the first big difference: Japanese baths are of a different shape than ones you might find in western countries. In general, they tend to be shorter and deeper. Extra features are likely to include a temperature control and a reheating element.

Which leads me to the second difference between the two bathing cultures: the bath water tends to be shared. Part of this stems from the time after the Second World War, at which point Japan was a lot less well-off than it is today, so adapted a number of water- and power-saving customs which are still followed today as matters of principle. Because of this, with no exceptions, one must shower thoroughly before bathing. I’m serious. Not doing so is a very impressive faux pas – especially if you’re the first one in the water.

The last difference I want to bring up about bath time in Japan: the bath is a place, as I mentioned, purely for relaxation. You clean yourself before you enter the water, then sit and soak for a few minutes. The water is invariably very hot, usually around 40 degrees Celsius, and this is one of their ways of dealing with their climate – Japanese winters can be incredibly cold, and a hot bath is the obvious choice to raise your core temperature and not notice the cold as much, whilst during the summer, the air is incredibly hot and humid, and raising your core temperature by bathing makes the weather easier to tolerate.

Of course, bathing is not limited to a bath within the home – public baths, existing as two distinct types, are enduringly popular across Japan. Although they have many similarities, the first type, sento, are simple public bathhouses, whilst the second, onsen, is the better known type, perhaps principally because it is the type one would most expect from a country with as much volcanic activity as Japan: naturally-occurring hot springs.

The process remains largely the same: scrub up, get in water, relax – but the public experience is not for the shy or those unfortunate enough to be ashamed of their bodies. This is because public baths enforce a policy of nudity. Granted, you are allowed to take a small towel in with you, and you might hold it at crotch area whilst walking towards the bath, but you aren’t really supposed to submerge it in the bathwater.

Different bathhouses across the country offer different experiences, and some become, understandably, more popular than others. Close to where I’m living this year, for instance, there exists the Takara no Yu (a largely indoor onsen boasting as one major selling point a bath saturated with iron) and the renowned Arima Onsen (a large complex containing a number of baths with a minor walk between each of them), which is one of the top-rated public bath resorts in the country.

The enduring popularity of onsen and sento, and of regular bathing in the home, tells us all that this is one custom that is not going to go away.

And why should it?