Friday, October 28, 2011

Japan is really good at plastic surgery

I like a lot of Japanese pop music, and my wife, being from there, likes even more of it than I do. And as anyone who's married knows, there's a lot of cross-pollination of tastes - you can't avoid it. After you've been exposed to enough J-pop, you start to realize something: almost every even semi-famous artist there has had work done. Most Americans who are into Japanese music, and even some Japanese themselves, don't realize this. It's far more prevalent than in America.

Please note that I'm not making a moral judgment on plastic surgery itself. What I am saying is that the Japanese are really good at it. They know how to make people look the same, but better. Whereas it seems like most westerners who go through major plastic surgery come out the other side looking like gargoyles (or at best like they've obviously had work done), in Japan it's usually very hard to tell unless you knew what the person looked like before. Even then, it's often not obvious what procedures they've actually gone through. I've been following certain artists long enough to notice this. In some cases, the artist will eventually confirm the surgery; in other cases, they'll keep it a secret.

First, two really obvious and famous cases, both confirmed by the artists themselves:

Both Ayumi Hamasaki and Kumi Koda had obvious eye jobs at the very least (Kumi Koda also had an obvious nose job). The "roll" below the eye is removed, a more obvious crease is given to the upper eyelid and in general the appearance of the eye is enlarged and tightened up. It's kind of a myth among people who have heard about Asian "eye jobs" that the goal is to try to look more "western"; if anything, it's the opposite. You can see here that it made these two artists have noticeably bigger and less tired-looking but definitely still Asian eyes. They almost look like anime characters. Regular people in Japan don't have eyes like Ayumi Hamasaki's - almost anyone you see with eyes like that had an eye job. That includes almost every "idol" and famous pop star. This is now an extremely common procedure; it's like getting Lasik.

This is Nozomi Tsuji, who I believe falls in the unconfirmed category, but it's a pretty obvious (and almost extreme) case if you ask me. She basically went right for the maximum eye size up to - but IMO, not beyond - the line that separates "cute" and "freak". If you get it right, you get maximum cuteness, but oh, how easy it is to step over that line. She looked like the "after" photo in the first photos after her maternity - so she had a bit of a break when nobody was taking pictures of her. In her case, she was actually popular before the eye job, so a lot of people did notice and talk about it when she came back.

Now a couple of "did she or didn't she?" cases:

That's Maki Goto both when she was in Morning Musume and now. She had a confirmed eye job before that first photo. But compare it with the next couple. Is it just age? Makeup? Lighting? You could make the case either way. The thing is, it's actually only been a few years, whereas to me the first and second photos, at least, look 20 years apart. When I saw these recent photos of her after not following her for several years, I didn't even recognize her.

When I see them side by side with her old self, her facial features look basically the same, but I still feel like there's something different. I can't put my finger on what. People don't change that much in just a few years, once they're an adult (she was already 18 in the "before" photo). She seems to have done something to tone up the sexiness and tone down the cuteness. Given her previous history, it wouldn't surprise me if she had more work done, even another eye job. (Though it's true that eyeliner can do amazing things.)

This is actually what inspired me to write this post. That's Haruna Ono of Scandal. I never realized how different she looked in their early stuff until I bought their "Video Action" BD, which has a couple of videos from their indie days that I hadn't seen before. The difference in the videos is actually a lot more pronounced than in these photos (this is just all I could find on the net). Check it out yourself - here's one of their very early videos, and here's a later one to compare it to. In the "before" photo above, that's her second from left. Something is different, isn't it? Her face used to be rounder and flatter. She's much more attractive now.

If she did have work done, it was very early - the suspicious thing is that she looked suddenly very different in their first "official" video for Doll, and has looked basically the same ever since. "Doll" was shot literally only a few months after that first one I linked above. It could just be styling or aging, but it could be something else. She was already 20 in that "before" photo, and she's just 23 now - so her aging shouldn't make a big difference. I didn't find anything online that told me for sure one way or another.

It's not just girls that go under the knife:

That's Gackt, formerly of Malice Mizer and now of... himself, I guess. This is another case where it's hard to see exactly what was done but most Japanese generally agree that he's had some work. His eyes definitely look different, and his entire face is thinner and more defined (and no, he doesn't appear to have otherwise lost weight - he was always this thin). Maybe some cheekbone and jaw work? I'm not sure if Gackt himself has ever confirmed it, but the guy is such a prankster and con artist that nobody takes anything he says seriously... meaning even if he said he'd done it outright, it'd probably convince more people of the opposite.

In all of these cases, most people I've talked to agree that the artists in question look better than they did before, although the differences are so subtle that a lot of people don't seem to notice it until they look back at some old pictures or footage.  Then they have that "wait... what?" moment.

I'm sure you could find cases where the opposite is true and the work done was not an improvement, but certain procedures are so common in Japan now that they're almost pre-requisites for having a singing career. If you suddenly notice a famous person from there becoming a lot more attractive when you never noticed them before, you can almost be assured that it's not just makeup.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center Open House - 10/16/2011

I've previously written about my fear of flying, but I love airports as long as I'm not going anywhere. I'll go to an airport just to hang out. One of the best buildings ever constructed at an airport is Eero Saarinen's iconic TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport in New York, built in 1962 and closed in 2001. The jet age equivalent to Grand Central Terminal, the TWA Flight Center is a modern, ethereal and delicate structure the likes of which we will never see built again. The interior looks like something from 1960's sci-fi.

The Flight Center was opened to the public for one day last weekend as part of Open House New York, and my wife and I went.  Here are my photos:

As a historic landmark, the TWA Flight Center still sits on the same spot it always did, only now the view of the tarmac and runways that you used to have out the back is instead a view of jetBlue's new Terminal 5. JetBlue had originally planned to use the TWA Flight Center as a gateway to the new T5 and maybe they still do - there is definite restoration work still going on.

I flew out of there once in 2000, and even at the time - as a terminal still in regular use, though by then known as (the original) Terminal 5 - I knew how special it was. It's kind of an odd feeling revisiting a building that you've used in a functional capacity that's now serving as what amounts to a museum to itself. Talk about feeling old!

But it was great to be able to visit such an amazing building, something not many have had the chance to do in the last decade. Hopefully that will change soon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New York Ramen: Misoya

Returning to a theme!

When I first started writing about Japanese ramen in New York, there wasn't a lot of choice. Real Japanese ramen was one of the final frontiers in authentic ethnic cuisine in New York, and Minca was basically it (and I feel a little bad about my harsh review of them now).

Today, ramen's everywhere in New York.  For a while I was actually keeping up and basically reviewing all the major ramen shops - nowadays, that's pretty much impossible.  Sorry about that, but you're on your own if you find something I haven't reviewed here.  (I never did review Setagaya, but here's a quick one: it's all right; nothing special, but not bad).  It's like playing whack-a-mole trying to visit all these new ramen restaurants popping up all over the place.

The good news is that this has caused everyone to really up their game - you just can't get away with mediocre ramen anymore and expect people to like it.  People are hopefully becoming a little more sophisticated and there is definitely more competition.  And the quality has gotten steadily better over the years as a result.

This week my wife and I happened on Misoya, a new ramen shop that apparently also has a shop in California (or so their t-shirts say).  They've been open for one month.  They do not have their own web site or I would link to them.

Misoya Ramen
129 Second Ave
Manhattan, NY 10003

The verdict: good!

As its name implies, Misoya specializes in (as in only serves) miso ramen.  This is a common thing in Japan; many ramen shops serve specific types of ramen.  If you want something other than miso ramen, go somewhere else.  I see this as the maturing of the New York ramen scene (is there a "ramen scene"??) - there are now enough ramen shops that we're starting to see specialization.  This is a good thing, because these specialty restaurants do their one thing really well, and there are plenty of ramen shops, so why do they all need to do the same thing?

I'm personally not a huge fan of miso in general so I was a little nervous, but first of all, just look at that bowl above!  It's a beautiful bowl of ramen.  The ingredients in the ramen I picked are a little different than what I'm used to, but they were very good, and you can always get more "traditional" ingredients.  I picked the one the waiter said was the most popular, sort of their house ramen.  They serve three different broths and then have several mixes of ingredients; I chose the standard broth, though you can get it heavier or lighter as well.

In the standard broth, the miso is not overpowering and you can still clearly taste pork marrow.  It's a rich and flavorful broth - very nice.  The noodles themselves were fabulous, just the right thickness and texture, and the pork!  The pork was some of the best I've had in New York, almost rivaling Yo! Tekoya in Tokyo. Melt in your mouth kind of stuff.  There is a lot of food in that bowl - I could not finish it, whereas I can finish the ramen at Rai Rai Ken and other ramen shops.  And it was not for lack of trying.

Misoya is a sit-down table restaurant, unlike Rai Rai Ken and pretty much any real ramen shop in Japan.  This actually drives me crazy about Rai Rai Ken these days - despite having some of the best ramen in the city, it's impossible to get a seat there because New Yorkers generally don't understand how to eat ramen at a place like that.  You eat fast and go.  You don't talk.  You slurp, you eat, you pay, you leave.  It's Japanese fast food.  Rai Rai Ken has become so popular that there are always people waiting outside because it's just a small counter shop and people sit there talking for 30 minutes after eating.  Well, Misoya's nod to American culture is that it's set up like a regular restaurant, and there is no rush.  So, take that for better or worse, though I imagine most New Yorkers will take it for better.

Sorry for not posting a pic of the storefront - we forgot to take one.  Maybe I'll update this post someday.  But it's easy to find with the address.

Even if you're not big on miso, give Misoya a chance.  They really make a tasty bowl of ramen.

Monday, October 10, 2011


How can you not like this? This is SCANDAL's newest single. I just got their latest album Baby Action, and can't stop listening to it.  Pop music in Japan!  This would just never happen here, somehow.

Incidentally, I linked to iTunes up there, but this is also available on Amazon. Both iTunes and Amazon are really working to bring Japanese music to their respective download sections. Support that! Buy this.

But this is not even my favorite. My favorite is still their first song from three years ago, DOLL.

They had kind of a Runaways type thing going on in those days. In a land of manufactured musical artists, they are a real band that formed organically and make their own music. I do like their look better now, though, from LOVE SURVIVE at the top. The Doc Martens and short skirts (actually skorts). This is their signature look now. 

SHOUJO S has everything - from their first album, I still love this. I'm a sucker for a girl band that does choreography - and apparently they do all of theirs themselves (they actually met in dance school; they're dancers).

They're playing on March 28 at Budokhan in Tokyo. (Yes, they are apparently that big now.)  I am actually planning to go.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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