Apr 1 2011

RUNNING SENSIBLE

Would you leave?

Surely that should be “Running Scared”? Well, it was originally until some wiseguy in Tokyo actually used the phrase to describe my flight from my home.
Why wouldn’t I be scared?
A 9.0 earthquake, perhaps?

The 9.0 quake and how it shook Japan (see scale at the bottom). The epicenter is marked by an X in the top right corner.

Make that a 9.0 earthquake 400 km away. Only a few things fell down in my house; it didn’t do any damage. Physically. Twenty-five minutes after that quake, another one hit. It felt slightly stronger, but wasn’t so different. The second one was 7.9 on the Richter scale – but only 120 km away. In earthquake terms, that’s local. Scary enough for you?

The 7.9 quake; much closer to home.

 

That’s two huge quakes, but listen up: It wasn’t “The Big One.”
Tokyo got hit hard, but stood up to the quake pretty well. The northeast of the country has been pole-axed. There’s disruption everywhere, but not largely due to the earthquake itself. The BIG quake.
But the BIG quake wasn’t “The Big One.”
Tokyo’s last “Big One” occurred in 1923. The magnitude: 7.9, the same as the one that hit up the coast from me. It was at a depth of 23 km – not ultra-shallow, but not deep (the one near me was 39 km under the sea). Mainstream media almost never report the depth of an earthquake (although CNN’s meteorologists has been trying hard to improve, perhaps to compensate for their crap news reporting), but depth is crucial to what happens on the surface. The nature of the plate and fault line are also important. Some areas move more than others. And there are different kinds of motion.
The 1923 quake did not hit under Tokyo; it was in Sagami Bay, about 50 km away. But it was a long quake (an amazing 4-10 minutes according to Wikipedia), near the surface and produced a lot of ground movement. But it was not under Tokyo.
But both Tokyo and my house are close to major fault lines. The fault line that prompted the 9.0 quake on March 11 runs down the entire east coast of Japan, roughly from the northeast. Another fault line then cuts in from that about 75 km south of my house and juts into the bay south of Yokohama and Tokyo and then breaks south from Mt. Fuji. This fault line caused the 1923 quake and another large quake in 1703 (the Genroku Earthquake) that resulted in a massive tsunami in the area where I live (the Boso Peninsula) and, apparently, prompted an eruption from Mt. Fuji (still listed as an active volcano).

The fault lines around central Japan.

 

But the next “Big One” in Japan is supposed to be a Tokai quake that will hit the Shizuoka area roughly 150 km southwest of Tokyo. Experts tell us it’s on the way, based on previous earthquake cycles. Of course, in the meantime, we’ve had a number of large and deadly quakes, including Kobe in 1995 (a mere 6.8 on the Richter scale, but at only 16 km depth – 6,500 dead; Niigata 2005 (6.9 on the Richter scale, also at 16 km depth – 39 dead); Niigata 2007 (6.6 at 10 km – 11 dead). The Tokai quake is expected to be 8-8.5 on the Richter scale in an area where the plate is near the surface. Estimate deaths: 10,000 (that will only be revised upward after the recent quake). A big Tokyo earthquake or a Tokai earthquake will cause more disruption and damage (at least from the quake) than the recent 9.0 quake. Judging by what’s happened in the last few weeks, it will be devastating to Japan’s economy. The human cost will also be horrendous.

Where the Tokai earthquake is expected to take place.

According to The Japan Times of March 20, 2003:

“A Tokai quake centered on central or western Shizuoka Prefecture or Suruga Bay would force the evacuation of some 2 million people and disrupt the water, electricity and other infrastructure of 5 million others, the panel said. … A massive Tokai quake could also trigger tsunami of up to 10 meters striking coastal regions stretching from the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture to Mie and Wakayama prefectures on the Kii Peninsula.”
Tokyo’s last big earthquake was in 1923, 88 years ago. Before that, came the Ansei-Edo quakes in 1854-55. That’s quakes. Not one, but three over a period of less than two years. There’s always more out there. Yes, I’m scared.

TSUNAMI

And then there are tsunamis. We live 100 meters from the sea at an elevation of roughly 5 meters. I have had unsettling dreams about tsunami since I moved here. I know the danger. I know we have to get out and away from the sea when a quake hits. I’d always had a plan in mind. Assuming that I could get out in my car and the roads weren’t blocked, I figured I could get to my friend Mike’s clifftop house in a couple of minutes. Plan B (if the roads are blocked, a likely scenario) is to walk up the little road in front of my neighbour’s house and climb the hill above it (the sea’s on the other side). I can’t quite figure out how high the mountain is. I’ve always based my escape plan on the basis that a 10-meter wave would be heading our way. This is very possible.
My next-door neighbour reminds me that the Tohoku quake and tsunami was a “once in a thousand years event.” Not quite true. The media have reported it that way, but the truth is that it was a “once in a thousand years event” in that location. There’s a lot of locations… I live at a different location; the clock is still ticking.
The urgency I have about evacuating is the result of knowing about another earthquake and tsunami that happened in Japan in 1993, and which, curiously, has been largely forgotten, even now. A 7.8 earthquake struck off Okushiri Island in northern Japan on July 12, 1993 (more information here: www.drgeorgepc.com/Tsunami1993JAPANOkushiri.html).

A tsunami wiped out Aionae village.

Waves of at least 10 meters (and up to 20 meters) hit the island within two minutes at its nearest point. Villages were wiped out. But not everyone was killed. Although 269 people lost their lives, another destructive earthquake 10 years earlier (no “once-in-a-thousand-years” event here) taught people that they had to run to higher ground very, very fast. I’m hoping the hill near my house is high enough for refuge, but I don’t know how high it is, or even if I can get to the top with a wife and 3-year-old child. It could be pitch black and in the summer there are poisonous snakes and other wildlife in the hills. And what if the waves were 40 meters high. Apparently, it’s happened before. Of course, if I thought it would happen to me, I wouldn’t have bought a house so close to the sea. You run a risk. There might not be another major quake in this area for 500-600 years. There might be one tomorrow.

FALLOUT

Three days after the March 11 quake, a friend called me. He had spoken to a couple of credible nuclear engineers. They advised him to get out of town. He advised me to escape immediately. Others were urging caution. A number of friends reminded me that no official spokespeople could be trusted, least of all the buffoons at TEPCO. The government couldn’t afford to have 30 million people in the Tokyo area panicking.
I had this vague belief that my toxic lifestyle over the years would grant me immunity from any poisons heading my way, but that wouldn’t apply to my daughter, who was a week away from her third birthday. Cancers start easily in children hit by radioactivity. But there were other reasons why getting away would be good.
For a start, aftershocks. I actually had some work to do when I got back to Japan on March 10. In fact, I had a lot of things to catch up on. There were around 150 recorded aftershocks on March 12; that’s around six an hour. They just kept coming. I would sit at my desk, the cabinet would rattle and I’d be out the door like a shot. And not just six times an hour. There were aftershocks that shook my house that didn’t make the earthquake list. Just little jolts. Little jolts that would wake me up and get my heartbeat racing. I couldn’t concentrate in such conditions.
We had only transferred our bedroom to an upstairs room a few months ago. The upstairs shakes easily and the bedroom was not designed for a quick exit. So, after returning home on March 12 (we slept at the local golf club on March 11), we slept downstairs near the front door with the entrance light on and the door unlocked, keys and passports at the ready. Sleep was fitful at best. And what was it doing to my daughter. If there was a significant aftershock, we’d bundle her up and head for the front door.
“Jishin? Jishin?” she would ask, practising her latest Japanese word. When she looked at the news on the TV, she would say the same. “Jishin? Jishin?” I was worried her nerves were as frazzled as mine and my wife’s.
Gas for cars was already being rationed, electricity cuts were on their way, you couldn’t buy milk and some foodstuffs and there were predictions of large aftershocks and serious pollution from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.
Geez, what would be the sensible thing to do in these circumstances? Ah! That’s it! Stay at home and take it like a man, and tell my wife and child to stop whining. Living in fear would toughen them up!
Or I could go to a place where there were no earthquakes, no power cuts, plenty of gas, milk, water, food, life.
On March 15, we headed to Shimizu in Shizuoka Prefecture to stay in a hotel for four nights. After that, a friend lent me his family’s mountain house near Umegashima hot-spring resort – very remote, very peaceful, fucking cold and famous for landslides. And right in the region where the Tokai Earthquake could occur, I foolishly reminded myself.
But lightning doesn’t strike twice, does it?
We celebrated our escape that evening in a Korean restaurant. The beer tasted good. We could relax. As I drank my cold beer, the ground started shaking and shaking as a 6+ earthquake (on the Japanese scale; 6.2 on the Richter scale) shook Mt. Fuji, 50 km away.

In Japan, you can run, but you sure can’t hide.


Mar 31 2011

The Quake: March 11, 2011

THE QUAKE

My 3-year-old daughter has learnt a new word: jishin. Earthquake to you and me. She learnt it in the garden of my house as we took refuge from the violent earthquake that hit Japan at 14:46 on March 11, 2011.

We were 400 km from the epicentre and experienced a 5+ on the Japanese scale. (It’s actually a 10-point scale, but as the previous scale was only a seven-point scale, they decided not to go beyond 7 when they revised it. I guess it would scare people if earthquakes were allowed to go into double figures. Five-plus is actually a 7 on a 10-point scale.)

As my wife and I stood in our garden, we were scared. It would be stupid to be anything else. Earthquakes are not something you can control or laugh off. The small ones rattle your nerves; the big ones kill you. One of the nice things about living in the country is that we can run into the garden to avoid having things fall on us. Of course, the garden could open up and swallow us, but it seems safer being outside.

As the ground rolled and my house wobbled, I tried to explain the phenomenon of earthquakes to my daughter, moving my hand from side to side and pointing out that our house was shaking, along with everything else in the neighbourhood.

We had only been back in Japan for 24 hours, having spent the previous two weeks on vacation. We hadn’t unpacked. I had been trying to catch up with a few things in my upstairs office. I wanted to get them out of the way and jump into the bath I had run earlier.

The upstairs of the house gives us our first warning of a quake. The windows in the old wooden cabinet where I keep my CDs rattle at the drop of a hat. When I hear the sound of shaking glass, I know it’s an earthquake. Usually, they don’t bother me that much, but I would rather be outside my house than in it if it’s going to be a big one.

So I dash out of my office and rush down the stairs – every time. Well, almost. Sometimes the quake stops before I get to the top of the stairs, where I’ll wait expecting more. This time, by the time I got to the top of the stairs, my wife had already rushed to my daughter’s play room. I bounded down the stairs and as I got to the front door, things started to move a lot. I shouted to my wife to get out quick.

We live 100 meters from the sea at an elevation of roughly 5 meters. I have had dreams about tsunami since I moved here. I know the danger. I know we have to get out and away from the sea when a quake hits. On March 11, I was trying to calm my daughter, absent from nursery school as we’d only just returned from Thailand. The tsunami fear hadn’t registered yet. I moved my hand from side to side, demonstrating a shaking motion to my daughter.

“Tsunami,” my wife cried. How had I forgotten? I handed her our daughter and rushed inside to get my car key. You don’t wait around. A powerful tsunami can arrive in two or three minutes.

I couldn’t find my car key. As we’d parked the car at Narita Airport, I had removed the key from my normal bunch of keys and after we arrived home, my wife had locked the car and put the key in a different place.

I checked the hook for the spare key.

Nothing.

I rushed outside to ask my wife where the spare keys were. She’d taken them off the hook and put them in a pretty little glass case, without telling me. I threw it open on the floor and searched for a Toyota mark. I got the Nissan mark on the key of my wife’s car. I thought about that for a moment before realizing that my car blocked its exit. I searched again and found my spare key, dashed outside and started driving.

We turned on the radio – we never turn on the radio – as the tsunami warning signal started blaring from the loudspeakers in our neighbourhood. For once, I was thankful for the neighbourhood PA system. I still don’t know why they play a wake-up jingle at 7 a.m. every morning, but I was paying attention now.

I’d always had a plan in mind. Assuming that I could get out in my car and the roads weren’t blocked, I figured I could get to my friend Mike’s clifftop house in a couple of minutes. Of course, the lost key had added a minute and other people had gotten in their cars by the time I reached the main road. It was getting busy.

A man in a small truck drove ahead of us. He was heading to the port, presumably to get on a boat and take it to safety out to sea. A small white car was ahead of him.

Traffic lights.

There is a set of traffic lights at the road going down to the port. The man in the white car stopped.

Are you nuts, I thought.  A 10-meter wave is heading toward us (that was the initial estimate) and you stop for the fucking lights. I was anxious but didn’t panic as I could see down the road to the sea and the road to Mike’s house was only 100 meters further up. And the lights had to change sometime.

Green. The man in the truck sped down to the port, the man in the white car drove straight ahead and I flew up the hill to Mike’s house, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.

We listened to the radio. They were predicting waves of 2-3 meters to arrive in 30 minutes. That shouldn’t be a problem for our house, but you never know. I decided to go home and get cameras and passports and coats. We’d left in a hurry.

There were more people up on the hill when I got back, and my wife was sitting on Mike’s deck (Mike was elsewhere). I pointed out that if another earthquake came along, to stay away from the deck as it’s only a couple of meters from the cliff edge.

Another earthquake came along. A big one. It was 3:15.

I shouted at my wife to get off the deck and further up the hill behind Mike’s house. The whole world was shaking again, and it went on and on and on. This quake has been largely ignored by the media. Perhaps not surprisingly as the main quake in northern Japan was 9.0 on the Richter scale. That was 400 km away. The second one registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and was only 120 km away. That’s a big fucking quake and in earthquake terms – especially at 7.9 – 120 km is almost on your doorstep. It was another 5+ on the Japanese scale – strong, but still some way off the top of the scale.

The Earth wasn’t going to stop shaking any time soon.

 

THE WAVES

The first tsunami had been due to arrive at 3:20. We stared at the sea. We checked Taito port and the jetties around it. Nothing seemed to be happening.

At around 3:30, the water started to rise. It was almost imperceptible, but the jetty seemed to get lower and lower. There was no wave, no warning, nothing spectacular at all. Just some swirling in the port.

Then the water dropped – and kept dropping. It dropped to around a meter below the level we had seen when we arrived at Mike’s place. Then it came back. Again, no drama, no wave.

But there was more of it.

Tsunamis are not necessarily about big waves crashing on the shore. A tsunami is about the ocean rising – and rising and rising. The whole ocean. If you look at some of the video footage of the large tsunami in the north, it’s like the sea is just overflowing.

As I watched the second influx of water, the sea level kept rising – up the base of the jetty and the sides of the harbour walls. Then it covered the jetty that juts out into the sea, behind which they have a swimming area in the summer. And the walls in the harbour were being inundated.

Then the water went out – and out. The jetty was totally exposed and the harbour entrance was dry. Then we saw a wave. It was a bit messy, breaking at different places and it seemed to have some subwaves behind it. The empty port filled up, the water rising perhaps 4-5 meters in a few minutes. That’s a lot of water. And then it rushed out to sea again.

The beautiful sunshine we had earlier in the day had disappeared. A nasty black cloud had blown in from the north and it was trying to rain. A shadow covered the ocean. I looked out to sea at the half-a-dozen or so boats that had managed to get out to safety. A black shadow stretching across the bay bore down on the smallest vessel, which was also closest to shore. Then the boat lurched upward and disappeared momentarily. Moments later the black line turned into a breaker and headed to shore. It was held up briefly by the wall protecting the harbour entrance, but then it rushed in.

A wall stood in its way. The wall was probably over a meter wide – more at its base – and about 6-7 meters high. The water slammed into it. The wall leaned over and collapsed underneath the wave. The water rose. It covered the jetty again and covered the harbor’s internal walls. Containers drifted free.

The water sucked back into the ocean, exposing a lot of beach again. All was calm.

Another big black line formed across the sea – right across it. As the ugly black sky came to meet it, the wave rolled in and broke. Taito is Surf City. This was the perfect wave and it stretched for miles across the bay. Luckily – ironically – there had been little surf that day, so there was no one in the water when the earthquake struck. This was a nice wave, but as destructive as the first. It rushed in and grabbed a boat that hadn’t made it out to sea. It turned the boat over and tried to drag it out as the water rushed out again. The boat got stuck upside down next to the harbour wall.

As the sky grew darker from the rain and the approach of nightfall, one more wave came in. One of the larger boats had two lights on. It turned into the wave. The black line drew closer to the boat and suddenly the vessel reared up, its lights shaking from the force. It rode the crest and disappeared.

One … two … three … four…

Four seconds – and then it came back. Safe.

Darkness was falling. It was going to be a long night for the fishermen riding out the waves about 1 km offshore.

The wave rushed into the harbour and grabbed two more boats, which it tried to take out to sea. Although the water covered the sea walls in the harbour – and even flooded the car park and the lower approach road – the level was not looking critical for oceanside residents such as myself. We’d been on top of the cliff for three hours or more. It was now cold and raining and dark. We made the decision to go home, at least for a short time.

I drove down by the sea to try and see how things were. It was dark and the weather was bad. I drove through the tunnel near my house toward the two little islands – one a big rock, the other a much bigger rock about 25 meters high. The big rock separates the beach so that the waves roll in on two sides and only meet on high tides.

I peered into the gloom. The sea was out. Too far out. I could just about make out a reef in front of me. I’d never seen a reef there before. I got in the car and drove down the road before turning around and heading back up the small hill toward the tunnel, where I stopped and got out again.

In that short space of time, the emptiness where the sea was meant to be had been filled in by swirling waters and waves that crashed against the concrete walkway and the sea wall. It was violent. Here the sea had nowhere to go, so it raged in response. I got in my car and headed home to pick up necessities and take a quick shower. We didn’t stay long. Nerves were still rattled.

We drove inland, figuring putting distance between us and the ocean was the best idea, although we were following the Isumi River, which was probably less of a good idea. We stopped at the small town of Kuniyoshi, about 10km inland. I wanted to buy shoes for my daughter as we’d forgotten to bring any (we carried her everywhere on that day). All I could find were socks. We bought some drinks and snacks at a supermarket, but then decided to eat at the local ramen (noodle) shop. It was nice to sit down, eat and watch the news. We stayed for a couple of hours. I was able to finally hook up my computer and Skype my family back in England. Japan’s mobile phone network was largely dead. The TV continuously flashed maximum tsunami warnings for our area, the same warnings as for those in northern Japan. Safety first.

I had figured the tsunami would start at the epicentre of the earthquake and ripple out, but that’s not the way it worked. The wave wasn’t created at a single point. A whole slab of the planet had moved – a rectangular chunk of the Earth perhaps 100 km wide and 400 km long. We were at the southern end of the rectangle. Luckily it didn’t move as much as the top end.

We managed to connect with friends who had sought refuge at the local golf club on high ground. We were welcome there. The lodge rooms were all taken, but they had seats, toilets, tables and a TV where we could watch as the horror show unfolded.

At 3 a.m., I hugged my daughter and we went to sleep on the floor of the golf club’s dining room. My stressful day had ended in sanctuary; for much of Japan, the nightmare was only just beginning.


Feb 20 2011

Manic Street Preachers

(Originally published in The Japan Times)


Manic Street Preachers’ angry tunes turn up Japanese fans

By Fred Varcoe

To some, the Manic Street Preachers are the new Sex Pistols, the new Guns N’ Roses, the new Nirvana, the British Guns N’ Roses, the British Nirvana, etc., etc.
You get the idea.
Whoever they are – and they will insist, no doubt, that they are merely the Manic Street Preachers – there always remains the danger that this week’s new wild boys could turn into New Punks On The Block.
One of the horrors of old age (35.96 years) is that you keep telling yourself, “That’s been done before.” Of course, my parents tried to say this, but lacked the conviction of actually knowing what had gone before. In fact, they were hoping that nothing like (insert horror of your particular generation here) had ever happened and merely thought that if I thought something wasn’t original I would lose interest in it.
In reality, of course, if what had gone before was so horrendous as to unsettle my parents, then I certainly wanted some of it as part of my antisocial weaponry. As a result, my parents were convinced in the ’70s that I was: 1) worshipping the Devil (Black Sabbath); 2) taking acid trips to Katmandu (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd); and 3) killing off prominent members of the establishment (the Clash and Sex Pistols).
Little did they know that I was secretly conforming to their social values – well, I was closer than they thought – and that, far from worshipping the Devil, we were actually fairly good mates.
The Manic Street Preachers, like most bands, are doubtless not interested in comparisons to what’s gone before. Straight musical comparisons of the type “The Beatles are better than the Stones” or “The Jam is better than the Who” rarely do more than irritate musicians. Still, the past is an important point of reference and, as music is an evolutionary art, it has significance.
The band’s ironic allusion to the past in “Condemned to Rock ‘n’ Roll” makes the point that we’re talking about an indefinite now rather than a series of generational crises:
“The past is so beautiful
The future like a corpse in snow
I think it’s all the f—ing same
It’s a life sentence babe.”

The Preachers have been shot out of the same gun that produced the angry sounds and sneers of bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. (On Fuji TV’s “Beat U.K.” recently, lead singer/guitarist James Dean (groan) Bradfield tried to impress the viewers with a couple of “f— you’s” while bassist Nicky Wire did his best Sid Vicious impersonation and came across as being genuinely thick.)
Perhaps significantly, they too have risen to the fore in a deep economic recession. The bleak prospects facing the young and unemployed of Britain have given rise to a new breed of angry young musicians and, just as important, a new breed of angry young fans.
As punk was a welcome antidote to the disco dross of the ’70s, so the new breed of the ’90s is welcome relief from the neo-hippy dirges of the Manchester scene.
That the Manic Street Preachers arc the most exciting band to come out of Britain in recent years is hardly surprising. They are virtually the only exciting band to come out of Britain in recent years.
The band’s Japanese debut at Club Citta on May 11-13 was sold out weeks ago and could easily have stretched beyond a week. After Nirvana’s Japanese tour earlier this year, it was the most eagerly awaited rock event of 1992. But unlike Nirvana, the Preachers went some way to delivering live what they promised on their debut album, “Generation Terrorists.”
The main difference was balance. The songs on the album, while leaving no doubt we are dealing with anger, were presented with a slightly sugar-coated production job. Live, the energy level hits the high end of the scale as 1,000 sweaty Japanese punks and rockers bounce up and down to the Preachers’ very direct brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
Where Nirvana is slightly flakey and occasionally laid back in delivering the message and the music, the Preachers slam it into your face. The guitars of Bradfield and the slightly – okay, let’s be honest, very – redundant Richey James grind along like a rivet gun, laying down a foundation for Bradfield’s excellent and, unlike Johnny Rotten’s or Joe Strummer’s, controlled vocals.
If you can’t tell how angry Bradfield is just by looking at him (believe me, you can), you can take a peek at the lyrics that accompany the CD.
“Madonna drinks Coke and so you do too
Tastes real good not like a sweet poison should
Too much comfort to get decadent
Politics here’s death and God is safer sex”
(“Slash and Burn”).
Or:
“Useless generation
Dumb flag scum
Repeat after me
F— Queen and country
Repeat after me
Imitation demi gods
Repeat after me
Dumb flag scum”
(“Repeat (U.K.)”).
The Japanese fans may understand the album title, but probably don’t make much headway with the semi-literate lyrics. The important thing is the gist of the message gets across. With the concert being held in the all-standing human crush heat of Club Citta, there is an intensity there that is usually lacking at theater venues.
Added to which, the Preachers’ penchant for choral-style hooks allows the Japanese audience to actively participate and get closer to the band and the music. A few adventurous fans climb over the shoulders of the mob down front and threaten to get on stage, but always back out at the last minute, much to the disappointment of the fans and the band, who are hoping that the barrier between the two will break down. But this is Japan, so it won’t.
Still, as events in the metropolis go, it made its mark. The band has the same universal appeal as Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana, and, like the Seattle rockers, it has just taken the first big step. Fame and money are on their way. Providing Bradfield keeps his muse (with five more years of a Conservative government, this should be no problem), the future looks bright. Next time round, the Manic Street Preachers could be playing the Budokan.
Except there may not be a next time round if the band members are to be believed. They have said they will break up rather than outlive their usefulness. They don’t want to end up as memorial pieces.
A wise move. Otherwise we could be looking at a fate worse than death: the new Sham 69.


Feb 13 2011

Gary Moore

Review of Gary Moore, originally written for The Japan Times

Concert shows more of Moore can only be better

Guitarist Gary Moore’s blues-rock talent shines at Nakano Sun Plaza

By FRED VARCOE

Somebody’s judgment must be wrong.

Last year, Yngwie Malmsteen played the Budokan; last week Gary Moore played Nakano Sun Plaza. Malmsteen is a technically brilliant guitarist with all the musical feeling of a cardboard box and a face that girls would die for (and when they hear his music, they no doubt frequently do).

Moore, on the other hand, looks like he’s been visited by a particularly nasty biblical curse, but plays and sings as if touched by the hand of God.

Moore may be slightly less than megabig in Japan, but he is recognized in Europe as one of rock’s premier guitarists and as a strong singer and powerful songwriter.

But he took some time finding both success, in commercial terms, and a firm musical direction. He first emerged with Skid Row — no relation to the new U.S. band of the same name, which was unaware of the duplication — back in the early ’70s, before moving on to the heavy power-jazz of drummer Jon Hiseman’s band Coliseum II.

Moore gained wider fame when he joined fellow Irishman Phil Lynott in Thin Lizzy for a short spell in 1973 after the departure of Eric Bell and again in 1978, before being fired a little more than a year later for missing two gigs on a U.S. tour.

Nevertheless he formed a fruitful, if not productive, partnership with Lynott that resulted in Moore achieving chart success for the first time with “Parisienne Walkways,” from his patchy 1978 debut album “Back on the Streets.”

There is no doubt the partnership could have gone on to greater things, but Lynott finally overabused himself and croaked in 1986.

By then, Moore had half a dozen albums in the racks, a firm reputation as a guitarist and performer and enough strong songs to make up a strong set.

And a strong set is what he served up at Nakano Sun Plaza. Opening with the title track from his new album “After the War,” Moore comes across as aggressive, but as the crowd responds — the Sun Plaza does at least have the advantage of being intimate — a smile creases his already well-creased face.

Barely had the chunky riffs of “After the War” started to fade when Moore crunched into the old Yardbirds’ hit “Shapes of Things.” The original was powerful enough, but Moore’s version — even on the “Victims of the Future” album — is simply devastating. Riffs crash down all around, colored by slick overlays and a scorching lead with a creditable lead vocal from keyboard player/guitarist Neil Carter. As good a version of a hard-rock song as you’ll find.

But although Moore’s blues-rock virtuosity reeks of venom, he has a gentler side to his musical soul, and on the instrumental “So Far Away,” accompanied only by Neil Carter’s synthesizer, he showed the power of the sustained note as the Sun Plaza glowed to the sound of Moore’s Les Paul in a way that perhaps only Carlos Santana has ever equaled.

Another strong characteristic in Moore’s singing, playing and songwriting is his ability to blend Irish folk music influences into his naturally hard-edged style without ever compromising on power.

Indeed, the passion Moore derives from his homeland is evident on so many of his songs, and those musicians whose passion fires their music invariably have a head start over the likes of Yngwie Malmsteem and the cardboard box set.

On numbers such as “Blood of Emeralds” (“all about Ireland”) from the new album; the acoustic “Johnny Boy”; and the main set’s final number, “Over the Hills and Far Away,” with its beautiful, warm emotional hook, Moore fired up himself and his fans and demonstrated a degree of intensity sadly lacking in so much of today’s soulless hard rock.

Moore encored first with two rockers — “Rockin’ Every Night” and “All Messed Up” — before coming back for “Johnny Boy” and the divine “Parisienne Walkways” with his solos lit up by laser-intense sustain and lightning flashes of speed.

If quality determined the size of hall an artist played, then Gary Moore should be playing the Tokyo Dome and Yngwie Malmsteen should be playing the men’s room at Shibuya Station. Somebody’s judgment must be wrong, but it wasn’t that of the 2,000 or so people at Nakano Sun Plaza.

I guess it must be Yngwie’s.