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2009 was definitely AKB48’s coming out party, releasing a single practically every quarter of the year; one after another charting higher and higher with their latest RIVER reaching #1. AKB48 as a whole is on the rise (which includes their sub-groups) and will likely continue that trend into 2010.

2009 had 4 singles released by AKB48: 10nen Zakura, Namida Surprise, Iiwake Maybe, and RIVER — all of which reached at least top 5 in their respective release days. Ranked accordingly, I’m looking at this through the entire single, including B-side (or coupled-with) tracks included.

#4
10年桜 (10nen Zaukra)

The single by itself is truly amazing, however its B-side, 桜色の空の下で (Sakurairo no Sora no Shitade) was somewhat lacking; a huge contrast in tempo from 10nenzakura; though I did like the Sakura tie-in to both songs.

#3
言い訳Maybe (Iiwake Maybe)

A solid single paired with an equally solid c/w track, 飛べないアゲハチョウ (Tobenai agehachou).

#2
RIVER

There has to be a runner-up and it was their latest single, RIVER. All 3 songs are top-notch, although listeners at first may be on the fence of the intro to RIVER; a mix of an army-esque drumline (if there’s such a thing). Same can be said for the fast acoustic guitar on the second track 君のことが好きだから (Kimi no koto ga suki dakara), but that’s left to others’ opinion. The last track, ひこうき雲 (Hikouki Gumo) is nothing short of magical. Once the chorus hits, I compare it to swaying your arms in the air as you’re moving to the beat (to be fair, the girls are swinging red towels in the air in the PV).

Which leaves…

#1
涙サプライズ! (Namida Surprise)

Any fitting for the single that was released on my birthday (24/06)? The song itself is about a surprise birthday party for a friend. You can’t help but feel happy listening to it, even the little slip-in of the classic ‘Happy Birthday to you’ can’t be ignored. 2nd track, 初日 (Shonichi) continues the pace, very anthem-like with “Oi, Oi, Oi…” and clapping in unison towards the end. the last track, FIRST LOVE, a solo track sung by Team K favourite, Ono Erena mellows it all out, with surprising vocals to boot. Mentioned in a tweet months ago and soon after the single itself was released, I’d easily choose this version of FIRST LOVE over famed JPop artist Utada Hikaru’s single of the same name (although a lot of naysayers would say otherwise).

Just ranking only the singles themselves (excluding b-sides) the list is slightly different:
#4 言い訳Maybe (Iiwake Maybe)
#3 RIVER
#2 10年桜 (10nen Zaukra)
#1 涙サプライズ! (Namida Surprise)

of course, all 4 are incredible in their own regard, and unfortunately I had to choose which was better between the 4.

Hope more success for AKB48 in 2010 and beyond. They are for real.

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As with tradition around these parts, it’s about time to present the best (in my opinion) that JPop had to offer in ’09. Now there’s a different take for this year’s list, as things change, life happens, that sort of thing. I didn’t give enough listening time to new music and not nearly enough to supplement a top 10. So for this year I will go in depth of the best 3 I thought I couldn’t stop listening to. For reference, see my best of ’08 here.

#3:

想いあふれて (Omoi Afurete) – 松浦亜弥 (Matsuura Aya)

It’s a shame she had left Hello!Project (along with her fellow “elders”) this year, but her last studio album under the H!P umbrella is any indication, she left with a bang. The move from the cheery, genki Aya in the first 3 albums to a more refined, mature Aya in the final 3 really do show her growth as a singer. Omoi Afurete really did bring out the very best of Aya. The majority of the album does dip into what Aya is now about (eg. KizunaKekkon Shinai Futari, Omoi Afurete), and a a handful of what she used to be (eg. boomboomboom, Rescue Rescue). Not since her 2nd album, T.W.O. has she had a solid start-to-finish album

Favourite tracks: 結婚しない二人 (Kekkon Shinai Futari), 想いあふれて (Omoi Afurete)

#2:

ANSWER – アンジェラ・アキ (Angela Aki)

Upon the review I gave back in late February, I had Angela’s newest album ANSWER a top album of ’09, hands down (see below who topped her, again). It’s clearly still one of the best this year but just couldn’t hold down a late-comer. Nevertheless, I still think the 2 songs from this album, Dahlia & Requiem, enough warrant to be upon the best. That’s not to say the others don’t hold a candle to those, the 2 highlighted are true standout songs which should take notice. Her song, Black Glasses, for me proved to be a standout track in its own for it’s meaning and how it’s revolved around my life. It’s lyrics have been the inspiration to 2 photos for my 365 Day project.  I do hope she can breakthrough in the US/CDN market.

Favourite tracks: 手紙 ~拝啓 十五の君へ~ (Tegami ~Haikei Juu Go no Kimi e~), ダリア (Dahlia), レクイエム (Requiem), Black Glasses

#1:

ゴーストライター (Ghost Writer) – 柴田淳 (Shibata Jun)

Call it coincidence. Call it favouritism. Call it whatever you like, but Shibata Jun’s talent can’t be unnoticed. A late entry in November, Jun’s 7th album, Ghost Writer, surpassed expectations; starting with the lead-off single, Love letter. A 7+ minute ballad with all sorts of emotion, but not overdone. The album as a whole dips into a darker side of Jun (eg. the haunting intro to the song Uchiu no Housoku), and not since her album, Hitori, which also showed that raw emotion. And her voice is next to hypnotic. It’s truly a treat to always seeing new music from her, I can’t really pick a song from her albums which I didn’t like. She will likely feature in my reflection of a decade of listening.

Favourite tracks: 救世主 (Kyuuseishu), Love Letter, 蝶 (Chou), 幸福な人生 (Koufuku na Jinsei)

That wraps up my listed best of ’09. I have honourable mentions for albums I enjoyed but couldn’t squeeze in the top 3. Hopefully look for that soon.

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Comm'l Bdway *shakes head*

I’ve constantly voiced my displeasure about this particular issue on my Twitter account (@kurichan_), on how such a company can make such shortcuts to something so simple. Upon hearing about the station name change in late August (merging Millennium Line’s Commercial Drive and Expo Line’s Broadway Stations to the hub now known as Commercial-Broadway), it’s sad to say that the first thing that came to my mind that it was expected the destination signage of routes #9 and the #99 B-line would be shortened much like it’s name before it (previously read on buses [for B-Line express buses] as “BWAY STN”).

Sure enough, I was right, and I was furious upon seeing it for the first time (after receiving a tweet from my brother about it). This is 2009. Storefront LEDs have more capabilities (namely scrolling, among others) than the junk affixed to buses right now. Not only that, most of the new buses (trolleys, natural gas buses and articulate buses (both diesel and hybrid) TransLink has received have ranged from a few months to at most from 3 years ago (dating back to the pilot #2101 trolley).

So recently the Commercial-Broadway hub needed a makeover, replacing signs, renovating the Expo Line side. And to correspond to signage on buses, the SkyTrain stations will now need to change their signage again. (see photo above)

This isn’t the first time a faux pas like this has happened. Buses bound for West Coast Express station and exchange, Coquitlam Station have the dubious distinction of the unthinkable “COQ STN”.


Photo: BusShots (via flickr)

However compared to other station names with a similar number of letters (8 or 9) thankfully haven’t gotten the “txt-like” signage (eg, Brentwood, Metrotown, Lougheed, to name a couple). So why do the 2 stations in question have incoherent babble displayed when it can easily be displayed in full. Many have joked that TransLink had hired a savvy 15-yr old to type up the signage. Plus I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with costs.

I must’ve lost my fanboyism to transit in Vancouver upon returning home from Japan in May, because now I see that flaws in this system (and there are many) stick out like a sore thumb.

The significance of such a minor issue like the misspelling of a station name is great because this shows if one cannot properly correct a simple thing like this, I’d hate to see how they deal with the bigger problems. Oh wait.

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Continued from post below:
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The in-train announcements come off way too short, and timing is just off. First off, for accessibility purposes, the announcements do miss a key component. For those who are visually impaired, tourists or practically anyone not familiar to the area, the lack of, “the doors on the right/left side will open” are missed; not only that, commuters standing near said doors will know which door does open at a certain station and therefore may be less annoyed to see a herd of people wanting to get off. The announcement of “This train is for Richmond-Brighouse/YVR-Airport/Waterfront” should be played back when the train is stopped at the stations, not seconds after the train departs from said stations. However, in the case of the latter, some additional information should be added to that announcement from the more major stations (Waterfront, Vancouver City Centre, Broadway City Hall, Marine Drive, Bridgeport for example), such as other stations of note that the train is bound for. So something like this (from Waterfront):
“This is the Canada Line train, bound for Broadway-City Hall, Oakridge-41st, Marine Drive, Richmond-Brighouse. The next station is [Vancouver City Centre]”
and when nearing the station itself:
“We will be arriving at [Vancouver City Centre] shortly, the doors on the left side will open.”

I joked if TransLink had paid the voice of SkyTrain Laureen Regan by the word as the reasoning behind why the announcements were so bare-bones.

Other known announcements would include notifications where the priority seats are for the elderly, handicapped, expecting mothers, and passengers accompanying small children. It may seem like a mouthful, but to attain competence as a company, you need to cover your bases. And yes, this does extend to the Expo and Millennium lines too.

Now to an issue pertaining to the rush hour crunch (again). Regardless of station, the time unloading/reloading of passengers is at a blazing 8-10 seconds. Not good. As you’d be expecting crowds, big or small, waiting at stations, it’ll take the allotted time just for the unload, then a few more seconds for the reload. As an automated system, this is a big problem, because what happens, passengers will just hold the door open anyway to allow most, if not all passengers to get on board–delaying the train anyway. And since it being an automated system, there wouldn’t be a chance for full-time attendants to let the conductor know that all passengers are safely on board. Of course that goes back to train selection, automated or otherwise.

Jumping back up to the station concourses, there should be the next train LED board up on the concourse, adjacent to fare machines and eventual faregates. A small addition but needed.

Back down to the platform once more is positioning labels on the platform noting passengers where to stand whenever the train arrives. Since they only use one kind of train, it’s easier to implement. Or if you want to one up that, install automatic platform gates. This enables passengers where to board and possible jumpers. This covers a whole area of future problems.

This pretty much covers what I thought would’ve been a short post but expanded to a two-parter. If I have more beefs (which I’m sure I will), an additional inset post will be added in the near future.

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While as not to get too in deep here, as Metro Vancouver’s newest rapid transit line, the Canada Line is now over a month into revenue service, certain things are being put through the microscope. What is missing, what can be improved, and what may or will happen in the not too distant future will be put into question. This is clearly through my perspective, and some may not agree though.

Now at first glance when you first step into one of the 16 stations along the Canada Line, euphoria sets in. You can’t help but gaze in awe of what $2 billion does. The trains are, for the most part, clean, and quiet. While you down your Jugo Juice heading to the city centre you think to yourself, “My God, why didn’t we get this sooner?!”. Step back to reality.

There is an immediate problem here, and we shall start in the process of entering a station.
All but 5 stations (Waterfront, Vancouver City Centre*, Bridgeport, Sea Island Way and YVR-Airport) have only 1 entrance. And since most are situated adjacent to a street corner, it would make sense to have added a second entrance on the opposite corner– convenient for bus stops close to the stations. It doesn’t have to be extravagant as the main entrance, even just a small ubiquitous glass-housed sheltered stairwell heading underground (if applicable). Since the line itself wasn’t built in the ground lower than it is (only about 25m burrowed if I’m not mistaken), It wouldn’t work and thus unlikely for a re-fit later on.
*During business hours, entrances from Vancouver Centre and Pacific Centre are open.

Faregates. There was an issue on why it wasn’t installed on launch day (either time constraints or money, likely the latter). TransLink plans to have them installed on Canada Line stations in 2010, and existing Expo and Millennium Line stations in the near future. All this talk about fare evasion, this would’ve been a chance to do something about it. In regards to this, for the entire revenue day (around 4.30am – 1.30am) there should be at least 1 attendant either near the future faregates, or somewhere in the vicinity. Most often a Transit attendant present is sparse. Of course, the implementation of faregates, would mean a new fare system (as apposed to the 90-minute tickets), but that’s for another topic.

No growth for retail opportunities in the station itself. Sure, you have Jugo Juice in pretty much every station, but this would have been prime opportunity to have a multitude of businesses operating, occupying an otherwise empty, cold and, let’s face it, bland interior the Canada Line provides. This is especially true to high occupancy stations such as Broadway City Hall and Vancouver City Centre Station (save for adjacent shopping centres).

*This is more of an irk I see when approaching the platform, as for station signage, it doesn’t mention the previous or next station anywhere (and I don’t mean those red signs on the far ends). So let’s take a page from Japan’s JR system; picture it: you’re on Shibuya Station on the Yamanote Line. Assuming you’re going clockwise, the next station would be Harajuku, while the station inbound was Ebisu (noted in a faded text). As a tourist, for example, it would serve a benefit for what it’s worth.

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Now to the platform itself. At a mere 40 metres in length, the platform itself spans just about the entire length of the 2-car Hyundai Rotem train. Now, TransLink can expand it to 50 metres in the future but really, it won’t make a significant difference from the original 40m. This comes from the original planning, and the choice of trains (over, say Bombardier, maker of the Expo and Millennium Line trains). As the platforms for the Expo and Millennium Lines being expanded to cover either a 6 car MK II or 8 car MK I, this is the end o’ the line in terms of the platforms for the Canada Line. Minimal expansion + Population Growth – Discontinued Bus Routes + Olympics = Busy. The tunnels themselves have a lifespan of 100 years. In a fraction of that, population in Metro Vancouver will most certainly rise significantly

Speaking of the discontinued (or rerouted) bus routes, *cough*98, 311, 351, 352, 354, 424, 488, 490, 491, 492, 496, 601, 602, 603, 604*cough*, It creates a massive bottleneck at Bridgeport Station. With only the #480 UBC/Richmond – Brighouse Sta the only bus route connecting Richmond & Vancouver. Suppose a major incident or track malfunction occurs at practically any of the stations, this creates a complete shutdown. And guaranteed, the happenings will be a common sight.

The trains themselves are Hyundai-Rotem, as opposed to using Bombardier. And much like the station interiors, the train’s interiors are just as bland, cold, plain, and sterile (well, not anymore). While the train is noticeably wider than the MK I and MK II SkyTrain, the seating arrangements and bar placements are off the mark. Bench seating across the entire train, and bars overhead with swinging drop handles allow for more standees, Instead the majority are front facing seats. While there are LED destination signs inside the train, there are no sign of LCDs for digital ads, station maps, station info, etc. What replaces it is a slide in sheet of a rudimentary map of Metro Vancouver.

Part 2 coming soon.

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I should really start packing. I’m already enjoying a 5-day weekend as the final 3 are spent in fabulous Las Vegas. Just a little taste of things to come: a bit of gambling, catch a show or 2 and of course hit up a buffet. I won’t have much to spend anyway, so I’ll focus that time on shooting. Otherwise, nothing else of importance to report. Pics and reaction upon return, or track my updates on Twitter: @kurichan_

see you soon!

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Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1a

I still can’t get my head wrapped around it, but the choice of finding a new mobile phone soon after I arrived from Japan seemed to be a lengthy process. From someone who has been using Japanese keitais (or mobile phones for those unaware) outside of Japan for use in Canada for just around a year or so, I thought at length whether it would be the right move to continue using keitais as my primary mobile phone.

Then I thought, “why don’t I get a phone that I’ll be able to utilize most, if not all functions on the phone?”. The thing with keitais is that outside of Japan, they’re just as primitive technologically as a RAZR in North America; for the reason that everything gets either locked down (unusable – like internet, MMS, & other similar functions), or the features are limited to Japan only (Barcode reader, e-wallets, etc) (which would require an internet connection so chalk that up to the former anyway). Needless to say, apart from unmatched styling, you can make/recieve a call, and SMS texting.

In a way, choosing a phone in Japan was hard, yet very easy. Hard in the fact that all of them were wonderfully designed, feature packed; but easy as that you wouldn’t be disappointed in picking any of them (even if it turned out to be a mistake).

For a moment I thought I’d go back to keitai, once after I saved up for one again (your average price for one is at least $600). But I couldn’t in good conscience go back to keitai in Canada. So then begins the hunt for a new phone. We just seem to be a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ type or people when it comes to mobile phones. Nothing is ever wowed here; as only a handful of phones released here are headturners (and I don’t mean iPhones). It will be long before we’ll ever see a 3 inch widescreen LCD on a flip phone here in North America; I mean it’s possible on touchscreen smartphones, why can’t it reach across the board to the most basic phones. We really get the short end of the stick when it comes to mobile phones, which is why it’s incredibly difficult to choose one, and one you’ll use for 2 or 3 years.

My criteria for a new phone had 2 exceptions, no Blackberries or iPhones. Ultimately when I heard Rogers wireless was bringing the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1a (shown above) — which was on my short list (HTC Touch Pro and Nokia N97 being the others) my notions of going back to keitais were thrown out of the window. I snatched this up days after it was announced and signed a 3 year plan.

It’s a great phone and I’m sure to get plenty of use for the duration.

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