Friday, October 31, 2008

Learning Japanese - Part 12, Page 1

This is the first really complex sentence in the manga, but it's narrative, not actual dialog. So, while it's useful to analyze, it may not really help us for daily conversations.

禁制の冷凍食品をめぐりシンジケートが暗躍する近未来。
きんせい の れいとう しょくひん を めぐり シンジケート が あんやくする きんみらい。

kinsei - prohibition or ban
no - possessive
reitou shokuhin - frozen food
wo - verb marker
meguri - preposition form of about, around
shinjikeeto - syndicate
ga - topic marker
anyaku - secret maneuvering
suru - verb for "to do"
kinmirai - near future

This gives us:

Banned (of) frozen food . around . syndicate . secret maneuvering . to do . near future

Or,

"In the near future, a syndicate that traffics in banned frozen foods."

I didn't really have to do anything with this line to make it fit. A more proper version could have been "In the near future, *there is* a syndicate that traffics in banned frozen foods", but the first version sounds better as the lead-in to a movie or story.

The only really interesting part of this sentence is "meguri", which is a form of "meguru", meaning "to go about", "to go around" or "concerning". "meguri tour" means "to take a tour around and through an area", as in "a tour of London". In the above sentence "meguri shinjikeeto" gives us "everything regarding a syndicate", or "a syndicate that is involved in all elements of the frozen food black market".

The second part of the narration is:

大金が動き、時には血なまぐさい事件へと発展
たいきん が うごき、とき には ち なまぐさい じけん へと はってん。

taikin - big money
ugoki - present tense form of ugoku, to move
toki - time
ni wa - during is
chi nama gusai - stench of raw blood
jiken - incident, case, plot
he - towards
to - and
hatten - development, growth

big money . moves , time . during . blood stench . case . towards . growth

Big money moves as time of growing case of raw blood stench

If you've ever taken formal Japanese lessons, you've probably encountered "ugoki". This is part of the process of connecting two sentences into one, as in, "I ran. I ate food." becomes "I ran, and ate food." "taikin ga ugokimasu" would be the correct polite verb form of "ugoku" as a stand-alone sentence. But, the author is connecting the two sentences together, giving us "big money moves, during the time/case of the growing smell of raw blood".

To build on the sense that this is a movie voice-over, I set the final phrasing as:

"The growing case of big money and the smell of raw blood!"

To be continued.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October status update

Well, it has been a while since I last gave a real update on myself, so I might as well take this opportunity to do so.

On the work front: I started a part-time job as an English teacher at an online school, located in Akihabara. As I've hinted in other blog entries, this requires that I now commute along the Odakyu line into Shinjuku, and from there to Akihabara on the other side of the Yamanote line. Going in to work usually takes 1 hour door-to-door, with three transfers. Returning home can take anywhere between 75 and 90 minutes, depending on whether the trains have mechanical problems, or if someone has jumped off a platform somewhere. The job consists mainly of sitting in front of a laptop, using conferencing software to teach English lessons to students one-on-one. 28 hours per week, until the end of Feb., 2009. The pay is marginal, but it's enough to slow the outflow. The main thing is that the commute's a real pain.

I also do some occasional editing work on documents translated from Japanese into English, which is referred to as native checking. The last native check job I'd had was back in April. Suddenly I received two small jobs this week alone. The translators have done good work on these jobs, so I'm primarily focusing on spelling and technical issues. It does mean that I might get too busy to update the blog on a daily basis like I have been, but I'll try to keep it at least weekly.

For entertainment, it's been a mixed bag. I'm not watching TV anime much anymore because of a lack of a digital recorder, and most of the shows I like had either ended last month, or are on while I'm out. I'm still trying to watch Soul Eater on Mondays, and Gin Tama on Thursdays. But, that's about it. As mentioned earlier this week, I'm currently reading Tori Miki's manga, and using one of his short stories for the Japanese translation lessons here. I'm also reading a few titles when they appear on One Manga. Unfortunately, the titles I really like aren't being translated right away any more, and the titles that do get updated quickly are ones I don't like now (i.e. - Cat Street and History's Strongest Disciple). I'm caught up on Yakushiji Ryoko's Strange Case Files, Soul Eater and Inuyasha, and I have to wait a few months until the next volumes come out. I'm not really reading the weekly manga magazines any more because of money concerns, and that I only like 1 or 2 titles per magazine anyway (Cross Game in Shonen Sunday; Soul Eater and Full Metal Alchemist in Gan Gan; Black Lagoon and Wilderness in Sunday GX; and Geobreeders in whatever magazine it is. Gun Smith Cats ended its run in Afternoon last month, again). I'll still get Afternoon, Gan Gan and Newtype if there's a toy or something that I like incuded with it (I got two Soul Eater keychain figures from Gan Gan this way). Then, I've also been running around in Akihabara looking at the shops, and attending the various events as described in other blog entries. Looks like there's no new events that I want to see until 2009 (Comiket and Tokyo International Anime Fair) though.

I'm still trying to make contacts with people in the anime and manga fields, so I'm planning on going back to the Suginame Animation Museum soon when they have their next in-house event. And I'm thinking of visiting the Ekura Animal Studio, if I can find it. I did leave a comment with Tori Miki on his blog telling him about the review I wrote, and he thanked me for it, which was nice. Otherwise, nothing else new here.

No video games for the moment, because I don't have a console yet. And I'm waiting for the 2009 bicycle models to come in so I can buy myself a bike (may have to wait another month for that, though). But, I'm still spending a lot of time sightseeing along the train lines. I spent 2 hours yesterday pouring over a Tokyo map to see where I've been, and trying to decide where to go next.

Regarding Japanese studies, I used up my 2 free months at the Japanese Language Center last month. I'm seriously thinking about buying a contract, but I have to figure out how to schedule the classes. I'm still listening to japanesepod101.com, but I'm getting increasingly frustrated with the host and his U.S. staff, so I'm spending more time just listening to radio broadcasts while riding on the trains. My comprehension is poor, but I'm picking out individual words more. I did buy a book of kanji to practice on for the next JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), but I haven't been using it as much as I'd like lately. I need to knuckle down and do that. But, I am occasionally doing things like translating Frozen Food Agent, so that's kind of like studying, I guess.

That's about it for this update. And I almost forgot - I'm still somewhat active on What's Within Your Soul (WWYS) under the alias Salvador_Aihara. Salvador has been selected as one of the Featured Members on the site, and one of the drawings I created made it into the top 10 for the Create A Character contest. I probably won't win that, but it's still a good feeling making it that far out of 100+ submissions. WWYS ends in a couple of weeks, and I'm hoping to walk away from it with at least a t-shirt (15,000 coins; I have 21,000 right now, and may be at 30,000 by the end of the week). I just submitted a concept poster titled "I really, really, really, really, really, really like girls". I'm wondering if it'll get any comments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Learning Japanese - ii kara

I want to talk about "ii kara" a little bit more. In Learning Japanese, Part 11, we had Tori Miki's cop saying, "いいから開けろ", "because it's good, open".

Just by looking at this sentence, it's easy to think that it should be used literally, as in "because it's good, open your door". However, "ii kara" is used fairly heavily in regular speech, and the nuance is deeper than this.

The other night, I was walking home from the train station, and there was an older couple standing on the street corner. The husband was obviously drunk, holding himself up against a street sign, and pulling away from his wife in order to head to another bar. The wife was pulling him in the opposite direction, saying "ii kara, okairi nasai" ("because it's good, return"). The nuance here is much more obvious now - "it's better that you stop drinking, making a fool of yourself and wasting money, and come home already".

Another common situation is with two people arguing loudly at each other, and a third interrupting them with "ii kara, ii kara". In this case, the third person is trying to placate the other two by talking quietly and apologetically. But, the real nuance of the words is "look you two, you're making asses of yourselves and disturbing the rest of us so settle down".

The English equivalent of the intended usage is: "because you should, do ". "Because you should stop drinking, go home", "because you're yelling, stop arguing" or "because I want to look in your car, open the door". But, an American would just drop the "because" part and just go with the instruction "open up already".

Ii kara, tsuzuke.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tori Miki


(Sequel to "Dai Honya", from www.amazon.co.jp)

I mentioned Tori Miki briefly in regards to the manga that I'm translating here - Frozen Food Agent. If he's known at all within the U.S., it's as the scriptwriter for the third PatLabor movie. However, he's won the Seiun Award for best comic in 1997 ("SF Taisho"), and one of his titles - "Anywhere but Here" (which won the Bunshun award in 1995) is being carried in the U.S. by Fantagraphics. Amazon lists a number of his other works, but they're all out of print.

According to the Science Fiction Writers of Japan, Tori Miki (AKA: Mickey Bird) was born in Kumamoto, Japan, in 1958, and has quite a few titles under his belt. I decided to pick up what I could (which wasn't much) from the big Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku. These are my impressions so far:

Tooku e ikitai: (Anywhere but Here): So far, there are 5 collected volumes of these (usually) 9 panel sight gags. This is the kind of stuff that Mad Magazine used to be famous for back when geniuses like Don Martin still worked for it (yup, when Mad was still funny). A lot of the gags take several re-readings before the joke becomes clear, and even then you can't really be sure of that. This is a very surreal strip that is still running in TV Bros. (a magazine dedicated to Japanese TV).
Recommended (you can sample one volume at Amazon).

Dai Hon-ya: A silly SF adventure story written by Takita Kansei and illustrated by Miki. I haven't read it yet, but it looks to be a light-hearted piece, using some of the character designs that appear in "Anywhere but Here", and all the characters have his distinctive gag design style.

Sekishin Densetsu: (roughly "Legend of the Stone God"). A more serious SF mystery featuring two newspaper reporters trying to uncover the story behind strange events that occur at sites where large meteors have landed in the past. The character designs are more realistic and hence don't look like his gag works, but little hints and glimpses of his regular style do pop up against his will. There are 3 volumes that I know about, but I'm only 30 pages into the first one. So far, this is a pretty traditional Japanese mystery series, and doesn't really stand out against the crowd.

Machikado no Ojigibito: (Street Construction Signs): This is an essay on those figures that can be seen on construction warning signs of a guy in a uniform and hard hat, bowing to you. About 160 pages of heavy text and photos. Not recommended unless you're a serious collector of Tori Miki stuff, or street signs.

Overall impressions: Tori Miki is a very talented artist with a huge volume of output that crosses multiple genres. Although his serious works tend to be more mainstream, his gag material is definitely worth buying. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Enta-Matsuri 2008

Enta-Matsuri (Entertainment Festival) was yet one more of the events operating under the CoFesta banner, and was probably the most frustrating and interesting one of the group, for me. It's easy to see why CoFesta was created - most of the individual events, like JAM or Enta-Matsuri, aren't really big enough to attract a crowd on their own, so they banded together to make this long 1-month event instead, with a shared advertising budget. Meaning that Enta-Matsuri was pretty small.


(Ad for robot spirits version of Gundam)

The CoFesta brochure stated that Enta-Matsuri would run from Oct. 18 to the 26, but the brochure itself had no specifics and neither did the official website. A map for the event was issued from the UDX building Anime Center around the 22nd, but even it was misleading. The theater stage, standing manga reading library and card game areas didn't open up until the 26th, and the snap-together-robot-kits display was only held on the 25th, in the Anime Center. The only things open for more than 1 day were the Shonen Jump manga display and the Anime Center with its regular activities, from the 23rd to the 26th, neither of which were all that interesting for me. So, that was frustrating.


(Penguin Musume actresses)

The interesting parts were what little I could visit during my 30-minute lunch breaks on Saturday and Sunday (again, I lucked out because I work literally next door to the UDX building). These included being able to see the Penguin Musume voice actresses on stage, and the practice session for the radio show being broadcast from the Anime Center.

The Anime Center has a small recording booth in one corner of the room, and usually there's no one in it when I'm there. This time was different. I couldn't figure out what the show was about, but I got to watch as the director ran the cast through the script, giving them instructions on arm movements at different points in the dialog (the idea being that if the actor acts with their body, it comes across in their speech during the broadcast). So, that was fun.


(Shonen Jump's manga display area)

One of the other things that occurred during the event was the prize give-away. This was the standard "turn the wheel and the little marble that comes out indicates the prize you'll get" game. High-end prizes included PS3s and other expensive stuff. You needed tickets to get in line, and I couldn't see where to get the tickets from. But, the line was over 400 people long, and I didn't have enough time during lunch to justify joining in.

The next big anime event is coming up in March, the Tokyo International Anime Fair, at the Big Sight center. Maybe I'll see you there.

Oh yeah, and Japanese Prime Minister Aso also gave a big speech in person across the street in front of the train station. He likes manga, so I guess that's why he was there.


(Sales booth and information booth)


(Robot kit maker booth - Robot Spirits)


(Theater space)




(Figures leading into the manga display area)


(Print Club printer display)


(Part of the manga display area, with the TCG tournament in the background)


(More of the display area.)




(Sales counter for the Manga vs Manga TCG cards)


(The TCG cards have characters from Shonen Jump and Shonen Magazine titles, and are intended to fight against each other.)


(Kindaichi and Lum TCG card posters)


(Part of the Anime Center space, here for the table with flyers advertising other events)


(Info desk of the Anime Center)


(Cut-out advertising a Tezuka anime)


(Radio broadcasting booth. Sheets of plastic in front of the window messed up the photo.)


(Anime Center sales area.)


(Some of the figures in the Anime Center.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Learning Japanese, Part 11 - Page 1

When the driver says that the checkpoint isn't on his GPS, the cop replies:

検問情報 をナビに流す警察がどこにあんだよ いいから開けろ
けんもん じょうほう を ナビ に ながす けいさつ が どこ に あん だ よ いい から
あらけろ

We have to assume that there are two sentences here. The clues are the "an da yo", which usually comes at the end of a sentence, and the fact that "ii kara" starts on a new line.

kenmon = checkpoint
jouhou = information
wo = particle that comes before a verb
nabi = GPS
ni = from
nagasu = distribute (over a radio)
keisatsu = police
ga = subject marker
doko ni = from where
an da yo = what is + emphasis
ii kara = because it's good
arakero = open (imperative)

checkpoint . information . GPS . from . transmit . police . from where . rhetorical question . Good . because . open.

Now, a nuance that is obvious to native Japanese speakers is the "an da yo". It could be treated as "wa nan da yo", which is literally "subject marker . what . is . emphasis", but has the usage of "what are you thinking" or "what's up with that"? Along with "ga doko ni" (topic marker + from where), it turns the entire preceding sentence into a rhetorical question.

The literal translation is:

"Which police would transmit checkpoint information to GPS?" "Because good, open."

Or, "Police would transmit checkpoint information to GPS?" "Because good, open."

Turned into slightly more natural English: "You think the police would broadcast checkpoint info over the GPS? Because it's ok, open up." I'm taking the cop's attitude and business-like behavior into account when deciding on the final version of the sentence to use. Note that the version I actually do use is "You think the police would publicize check points on your GPS units?" I'm treating "your GPS units" as meaning "to the GPS systems of the public in general".

Note also that "ii kara" is a special case that gets discussed in the next entry. It can't remain in its current form as-is.

To be continued.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Learning Japanese, Part 10 - Page 1

I'm going to skip around a little, going from stuff that's obviously simple, to much more complicated dialog. First, the title.

冷食捜査官
れいしょくそうさかん

rei = cold
shoku = food
sousakan = investigator

Tori Miki chose to call this series "Frozen Food Agent" in English. The "French Connection" subtitle already in English is in part a reference to the movie of the same name, as well as being a pun on the materials being smuggled.

---

In the first panel, the cop says -

すまんな検問だ
すまんな けんもん だ

suman-na = A casual version of sumimasen - "sorry", or "excuse me"
kenmon = Inspection
da = A casual version of "desu", meaning "is".

There are any number of ways of translating this. I originally wanted to use, "Excuse me, this is a checkpoint", but it didn't fit in the balloon easily. Then I figured that "Sorry, checkpoint" worked just as well, while also conveying the sense that the cop is being business-like and is not really that sorry.

The driver replies -

えーっ!? ナビには全然出てなかったざんすよ
えーっ!? ナビ には ぜんぜん でてなかった ざんす よ

Eh = what?
nabi = navigator, the Japanese version of GPS
ni wa = from + topic marker
zenzen = nothing
detenakatta = polite version of "came out"
zansu = see below note.
yo = emphasizing particle.

Eh!? GPS . from . nothing . came out (!)

Literally, "What! Nothing came out from GPS."
I chose to render this as "Ehh? My GPS didn't say anything about a checkpoint!"

Normally, in polite speech the last part would be "detenakatta desu yo". However, Tori Miki decided to give the character an accent to emphasize his being French, changing "desu" to "zan-su", resulting in the character coming across as being really effeminate. I could have treated the character as having a lisp, ("my GPeth didn't thay anything...") but, it wouldn't have been the same thing. Instead, I just left the "su" at the end as-is.

To be continued.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Learning Japanese, Part 9 - Page 1

I finally have the first page scanned and uploaded to Photobucket. I'll put the text here for anyone that wants to practice their translation skills. (This is where NJStar and it's automatic pop-up dictionary comes in really handy).

For some reason, Blogger doesn't want to treat images as thumbnails any more, and the bigger images don't fully fit on the screen. To see the full image, just click on it.

冷食捜査官
れいしょくそうさかん

短期集中連載ファイナル!
たんきしゅうちゅうれんさい ー ファイナル!

禁制の冷凍食品をめぐりシンジケートが暗躍する近未来。 大金が動き、時には血
なまぐさい事件へと発展
きんせい の れいとうしょくひん をめぐりシンジケートが あんやくするきんみ
らい。 たいきんが うごき、ときにはちなまぐさい じけん へとはってん。

マルセル画材店
マルセルがさいてん

すまんな検問だ
すまんな けんもん だ

えーっ!? ナビには全然出てなかったざんすよ
えーっ!? ナビにはぜんぜん でてなかったざんすよ

検問情報 をナビに流す警察がどこにあんだよ いいから開けろ
けんもん じょうほう を ナビにながす けいさつ がどこにあんだよ いいから
あらけろ

おまわりさん一人検問? ゾクに狙われるざんすよかえって危険ざんすよ
おまわりさんひとい けんもん? ゾクに ねらわれる ざんすよかえって きけんざ
んすよ

うるさい早くしろ
うるさいはやくしろ



Thursday, October 23, 2008

DC Expo 2008

OK, I really need to learn better. Studying Japanese should come first. Anime and manga come after that, (coffee and family should be in this list somewhere), and everything else should be last, if not at all.

Yeah, as if that's going to happen. As mentioned before, CoFesta is a blanket event name, and one of the events it includes is DC Expo. This year's expo runs from Oct. 23 to the 26th, and is at Mirai-Kan (the Future Building) near the Telecom Center, on the monorail route leading to Big Sight. Mirai-Kan is essentially a science museum, with a restaurant, a theater, a gift shop, and exhibit space. The DC Expo is a technology and art show that was spread out over 3 floors of the Mirai-kan, and included a video game tournament and 4k demo in a neighboring building. The 4k is a series of movies created using technology with 4 times the definition of HD.

In short - I had fun. I got to see the HRP-2 Promet robot, a fully-independent robot dinosaur, lots of artwork from people from various countries, lots of 3D TVs of various kinds, and fish. One of the 3D systems is a set of video goggles that lets you transpose computer graphics over whatever you look at. So, while I was looking at the rest of the expo, the goggles included schools of fish that swam around me. The fish would disappear if I looked in the wrong direction, and if I looked straight on at them, they'd bump into me.



Another exhibit, called Heart-to-Heart used a pair of sensors to monitor pulse rate and breathing, then combined that with the stats from a partner player to create weird new life forms. Heart-to-Heart is actually intended for hospital use, but it also makes a great 2-player game. The stronger your pulse, the bigger the lifeform gets. The yellow one on the right was mine.



At the entrance to the expo is a projector that shows a picture of the Earth on the floor. As you walk over it, the space you are standing on warps as if you're walking through water, and speakers play a splashing sound.



The topography table has 200 magnets in the bottom, and contains lots of little steel balls. Moving your hands over the table causes the computer graphics projected onto the table to change. It was created in part as a way to have an interactive system that can be used by sighted and blind people.

The robots were a lot of fun to watch, although the dinosaur seemed almost too real to be believable. Then there was the real reason I went to the show - the invisibility cloak. It wasn't much to look at, though.

Actually, the cloak's a great idea, but it's not at the practical stage yet. The idea is to project a photo of the background onto the cloak (in fact, a trench coat) and then look at the person wearing the cloak through a splitter lens set in front of the projector. The cloak is made up of millions of little glass beads that reflect the light from the projector straight back through the splitter lens and into your eye. In effect, the photo of the background gets superimposed in your eye over the cloak, and the cloak disappears. But, the effect only works if you have the projector set up and look through the splitter lens. However, the effect is *really* cool anyway. The cloak becomes almost invisible, while the wearer's face and hands can still be seen.

It was a great show. If you're in Tokyo this weekend, I recommend checking it out. I want to see what they have next year.


(Art work from China)





(Art work from who-knows-where)


(This is from the museum's gift shop. Yes, Japan is prepared to feed its astronauts properly.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fanworks

Going to events like JAM 2008 and CoFesta can be hit-or-miss. Occasionally, the event is some little one-off self-promotion staged by a no-name studio. Other times, it's a professionally-run celebration of a specific creator or studio, or of anime and manga itself. In either case, sometimes the event is just a waste of time and money, other times I get lots of freebies and toys, and can discover a diamond in the rough.

A case in point is Fan Works, a studio that apparently creates anime for the net. I found their booth at JAM, and the rep there spent a fair amount of time talking to me about their titles. He seemed to be a little disappointed that I wasn't an animator or distributor, but he perked up when I mentioned that I like to make my own Flash stuff.


(Yawaraka Atomu from Fan Works)

One of the key elements at JAM was the heavy use of the Atom Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu) character. In the case of Fan Works, they created an anime that's a cross between Yawaraka Tank (Soft Tank) and Atom Boy, called Yawaraka Atom. It's pretty funny, and Soft Atom isn't quite the fearless hero that his predecessor was.

While you're at the Fan Works site, try checking out the other series. Kuyagada Tsumami (the horn beetle girl) is equally silly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SCAJ 2008 Coffee Trade Show


(Big Sight building)

Specialty Coffee is a blanket term used to describe any coffee that isn't Folgers or Hills Brothers. Basically, it's to distinguish high-quality coffees that are still fresh and tasty when you brew them (Starbucks claims to use specialty coffees, but it's all old and stale by the time the beans make their way from the central roasting factories to any given Starbucks shop). There are several groups (specialty coffee association = SCA) that have formed to promote good coffee, including the SCA of North America, Europe and Japan. SCAJ hosted its first big trade show and barista competition at the Bight Sight convention center in Tokyo in August 2007, and had its second show at Big Sight this October.


(Barista competition on the big screen)

The SCAJ show has two parts. The first is the barista competition, where barista (people who pull espressos) from around the world meet to show who can make the best coffee, and who has the best signature coffee drink. The second part is the trade show itself, where coffee growers try to find buyers for their beans; coffee machine makers show off their equipment; and sugar syrup makers demonstrate new syrup flavors. A few of the booths sold coffee drinks, but a large number just gave away free samples. And, even though the samples were only 1 or 2 ounces each, after 20 or 30 samples, it adds up.


(Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee distributor booth)

I'm partial to darker roasts, and most of the coffees aimed at Japanese consumers used a lighter roast, which tasted "green" and incomplete to me. But, there were a couple of darker roast coffees there that I really liked. I also picked up a couple small samples of flavored syrups (peach from Monin; and Torani promised to mail a sample of Honey Vanilla to me this week), which I plan on adding to club soda to make Italian sodas.


(One of the many different ways to make coffee)

The entry fee was $12 for this show, which I considered steep for just looking around (on top of the $10 round-trip price for train and monorail tickets just to get to Big Sight and back). But, I ended up enjoying myself in any case. I plan on going next year as well.


(Tree frogs as part of the rain forest-friendly coffee exhibit)




Monday, October 20, 2008

JAM 2008

JAM 2008 was one of the events that made up the larger CoFesta event. CoFesta runs through all of October; JAM ran Oct. 16-18. The first two days were limited to people in the industry. Saturday was open to the public, and featured an anime theater and talks with performers and creators. Unfortunately, I work on Saturdays and could only visit during my lunch break. Fortunately, my office is literally across the street from the UDX building and it was easy to drop by to look around for half an hour.

CoFesta is dedicated to "content", and JAM featured some of that content in the form of art exhibits, anime and video games. The art included chairs made out of shaped metal; and stuff made from cardboard. Anime tie-ins included paper box versions of the Atom Boy characters, and various toys and t-shirts. Plus the usual weirdness. It was fun, and I just wish I could have stayed there longer. But, it was a small show, and 30 minutes was all that was needed to see the exhibits (not enough for all of the interviews, though). (There are 1 or 2 more shows coming up next week that I'll also try to get to.)


(Either a game or an anime featuring characters made up of natto - fermented soy beans)


(Part of the crowds, and a booth babe in yellow)


(One booth selling something that is either for a game, or an anime)


(The main stage space, with inflatable versions of Tezuka's characters)


(Hokuto no Ken - SD version, and for the Oct. 2008 movie)


(Metal chairs that feel surprisingly good to sit on)


(Atom Boy characters in paper box form)


(Little metal art pieces that look like chairs in one direction, and Atom Boy's head in another direction)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Japanese Sword Museum

Just from looking at the website, or from outside information, the Japanese Sword Museum in Tokyo really doesn't give the impression of being worth the trip. It's about half a mile from the Sangubashi station on the Odakyu line (2 stops south of Shinjuku station), or about a 15-20 minute walk from Yoyogi Park. Meaning it's really not on a main drag anywhere. And, you can blow through the museum in 5 minutes if you just take a casual glance at the contents. Doesn't seem worth the $5 admission.

But, if you like katana and tanto, and you live in Tokyo, this is the place to go. They don't allow taking photos, so I have to fall back on just describing the place. The museum is on the second floor of what looks like a modern house. The first floor entrance has a small exhibit showing the steps from taking raw powdered ore to turning it into a blade. They consist of melting the metal into a bar with a big cubic lump on one end. Then, forging the lump into a long thin rectangle, folding the metal over and over to strengthen the blade, then finally tempering the edge to get that distinctive unique patterning. The second floor has a small gift shop with various books on the subject, post cards, and bookmarks. The exhibit space is maybe only 100' x 300' - not that large.

The reason for coming here, though, is the collection of 20 or so blades and a couple of scabbards, dating for the 1300s to the 1800s. Most of the exhibits are still pristine after all this time, but a number of the blades show scratching. The blades include examples of katana, wakizashi, tachi and tanto. There are a couple of old book scrolls describing sword-making methods, and various fittings that go along with the sword, such as the guard (tsuba), small knives and the knife holders.

The blades are all without question beautiful works of art, and some of the scabbards are exquisite. Like I write above, you can blow through here in five minutes, but if you really study the blades to examine their details and forms, you can end up spending hours pouring over just one blade.

There are other sword museums scattered around Japan, and I don't know what any other them are like. At the least, though, I highly recommend the Tokyo museum to anyone that likes katana.

Links:
Austrian description of the museum
Another description of the museum
Wiki page on Japanese swords

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Food tastes better here

When I was a kid, I loved eating fruit, especially apples, pears and plums. But in the last few years, fruit hasn't done it for me as much. In fact, the majority of the food that I've had has seemed bland and uninteresting, even the stuff that other people raved over. I figured that it was either the result of allergies that clogged up my head (Texas is a horrendous place to live if you're allergic to anything), or the inevitable loss of sensitivity that comes from getting older.

Then I moved back to Japan, and I'm getting excited over food all over again. I've had some desserts with grapes that were really good, and the Japanese apples - nashi - have been excellent as well. So, what's the deal?

I'm thinking that it's ultimately because American grocers have been buying substandard produce and passing it off as high-quality, especially at places like Central Market and Whole Foods which charge more for supposedly "organic" fruits and vegetables. Back in the 60's, it was still uncommon to be able to buy produce out of season, but when food was in season, it tasted really good. Then, as greenhouse farms sprung up, and you could get things like cherries and pineapple all year-round, farmers switched to only one or two varieties of each food, and the quality went down. Americans are notorious for being uneducated consumers, placing more importance on low price than on high quality. Meaning that what we're eating is not as good as we're being told that it is, and we're believing what we're being told.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, the Japanese are almost obsessed with food, and are willing to pay to ensure that they get top quality produce. Yes, of course that means that consumers face higher prices. But, the food really does taste better here because of it. And that's a good thing.

(As a side note, Costa Rica, Manila and Malaysia all had great mangoes, pineapple and lychee as well, when I was there 3 years ago.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Matsutake

Japan has kind of an obsession with food. Or, at least, Tokyo does. In Tokyo, it's nearly impossible to find a city block that doesn't have a restaurant, and many locations can have 6 to 7 little mom-and-pop places within 100 yards of each other. The range of styles of cooking is staggering, from traditional soba and udon noodle dishes to Russian and Pakistani recipies. Each region in Japan has its own foods that they are famous for, and seasonal foods that can only be eaten in a specific month. Additionally, during the gift-giving periods (usually 1 week each in the Summer and Winter), special high-quality fruits go on sale at the department stores, where a single melon can sell for $200 (but it's a *really* *good* melon. Even though the economy is weak here, the prices on high-end foods hasn't gone down at all.


(Matsukate, from wikipedia.org)

A case in point is the matsutake mushroom. It's now nearing the end of the "matsutake season" (which is only a few weeks long) and most restaurants have run out of stock. A single dish featuring the matsutake can run between $20 to $40 for one serving. I had it in a soup that is served in a kind of teapot. This was a simple clear-broth soup with the mushroom sliced up into pieces and added to water. The soup was earthy tasting, and the mushroom texture was rather meaty.

I'd gone to a traditional Japanese restaurant in the basement of a hotel building connected to the Kawasaki railroad station, so obviously, the price was going to be higher to start with. We got a meal set that included grilled fish, pickled vegetables, and a variety of things that included seaweed and tofu. Very elegant, with over 8 courses of small, bite-sized dishes. The matsutake broth was a separate order. Along with the beer and hot sake, the entire meal came to $70 per person. And it was worth every penny of it (although, I wasn't allowed to have more than a sip of the mushroom broth). I'm not a mushroom person, so I couldn't say if this was a good matsutake or not, but I'm told that it was excellent.

I'm just glad that the matsutake season is so short - I couldn't afford to eat like this all the time. Fortunately, many of the other restaurants in Tokyo are in the $10/person range (for a hamburger and drink)...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Train Spotting

In a way, not having money is like living in a prison with no bars. You spend all your time in one little neighborhood (or even just in your house or apartment) while the world around you passes you by. If that's what makes you feel the most comfortable, that's great. But for me, I prefer to be able to wander around and develop a sense of the city that I'm living in. I can't find a bicycle in my size, so I'm limited to those places I can reach on foot, or by train. And, train fare adds up pretty quickly, which is an issue if you don't have the budget for it.


(Typical street at Gotokuji station, along Odakyu train line)

Things changed for me two weeks ago when I started working in Akihabara. Most companies pay transportation costs, meaning that I get reimbursed for my train tickets between here and Tokyo station. So, the first thing I did was to run out and buy a monthly train pass. Essentially, a monthly pass costs the daily round trip ticket price, times 4 days per week times 4 weeks. Meaning that if you go to the same destination and back 16 times a month, a monthly pass is at the break-even point. The best part of the pass though is that you can use it as much as you like during that month, so you're saving money if you go to the same destination 5 or more times a week. Plus, you can now get on and off for free at any station in-between, which really opens up the amount of sightseeing I can do - that is, I can sightsee at any station between Kawasaki and Akihabara that I want and it doesn't cost me anything extra.

Between Noborito and Shinjuku, there are 17 stops. I can visit 5 per day. Generally, I just walk in a 1-mile radius around the station, unless there's something really interesting-looking on the map at the station. So far, I've found a coffee roaster, a 4-block by 6-block city park, the Japanese Sword Museum, a Square Enix Character shop (toy store), hundreds of promising restaurants, a shoe repair shop, a music museum, a Turkish mosque, a handful of shrines and temples, the University of Tokyo research center, and several bookstores. And I still have 7 more stations to visit. After that, I have the entire Yamanote train line to explore, which gives me another 17 or so stations (although I am already familiar with Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Akihabara, and to be honest the pass only works at the Shinjuku, Akihabara and Tokyo stations.)

I'm been compiling my photos into an HTML photo album, with commentary. I'll make it available on CD-ROM if you're willing to pay shipping costs. Also, I'm told that the 2009 bicycle models should be hitting the stores between the end of October and mid-November, so if I can find a good Trek or Giant bike in my size, I'll be able to open up my range around the apartment even more.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ema, Sega's new female robot

Not sure how much publicity Ema has gotten so far, so I'm mentioning her here. This is Sega's latest robot - a 14" tall female figure that has voice recognition as well as infra-red sensors that let her recognize obstacles. There's a programming mode that lets you teach her new moves, and a "kiss mode" where if your face is close enough she'll kiss you on the cheek.

This is the most sophisticated robot I've seen for the price (about $180), but it's only available in Japan. It went on the market last month. Ema's movements are still somewhat clumsy based on the Sega video, but hopefully that will change over time. I'm seriously thinking about getting one, and will write a user review if that happens. I have found a store that carries her, but they only had two packages and it looked like they were being held for pre-orders.

AMP is coming out in 2009, and it looks pretty cool as well.

Links:
http://segatoys.co.jp/ema/flv/ema_bb.html

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bome and Hell Girl

One of the most interesting, as well as frustrating, parts about living in Japan is that there are so many things happening at one time. As I mentioned in the earlier entry about CoFesta, there are a lot of things to see and you have to be picky about which ones you choose because otherwise it gets really expensive to see them all. The frustrating part, though, is that there's no single place to go to for announcements about what events are taking place. I end up accidentally stumbling over announcements and then having to scramble to see the ones that look interesting. Case in point is the Bome exhibit running this week in the Parco department store in Tokyo.


(Bome figure from the Parco website)

The Bome exhibit is actually part of a larger "design show". Like CoFesta, the design show is spread out over Tokyo and is running for several weeks in October and November. Unlike CoFesta, on the other hand, the design show is mostly art and fashion-related and has little tie-in to anime or manga. One exception is the Bome figure exhibit. Bome made a name for himself as a designer of 3D figures of big-breasted anime characters. He's exceptionally skilled as a modeller, and has been featured at art galleries around the world. Parco department store in Shibuya managed to put together a display of about 80 of his creations, and also has the exclusive rights to sell his latest 1/4 scale figure (at $360, I had to pass on buying a signed copy). There is a Bome museum, but I can't locate the address or direction map from their website.

Now, the fun part is in picking up flyers from the desk at one event, and discovering a completely different event taking place at the same time near by. Of course, it would have been nicer if I could have looked in one place and gotten the information all at once, but whatteryagonnado.


(Hell Girl poster from the Parco website)

The Hell Girl exhibit is actually a display in the Parco basement, as part of the Logos bookstore there. It's intended to promote the manga and anime DVDs, but it includes some wall hangings, a centerpiece, and some paraphernalia for sale. I bought the collector's phone card for 1200 yen ($12) and it's *really* cool. The centerpiece is cool too; it's a grave surrounded by flowers with two 1/2 scale dolls inside that are intended to represent both Hell Girls. The best part is that Logos allows the taking of photos (couldn't do that for the Bome exhibit).


(Book display)


(One end of the grave)


(Other end of the grave)


(Pictures on wall)


(Wall hanging and DVD showing extras)