Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kitaro Maid Dance Event

Ok, I admit it. I give up.



I was in the process of writing a diatribe on how Akihabara is constantly being misrepresented by people as "geek central". My view is that this neighborhood is about more than just electronics, anime and maids. Then, this happens...



Granted, this was an advertised event, it's just that I didn't see the advertising in advance. It's a dance performed by people dressed up as Gegege Kitaro characters, with an all-maid support group. The only thing missing here was having Neko-musume holding a Mac laptop. The music was a longer version of the original Kitaro opening theme song with a breakdown in the middle. I guess that the performers were all amateurs.



The youtube video is here. I expect that someone has already uploaded a better-quality video to youtube, but with a description in Japanese.



The crowd watching the dance was too packed together for me to get close for good shots, so I had to hold the camera over my head and hope for the best. Unfortunately, it looks like the camera focused on the head of the guy in front of me. Sigh. Anyway... Click on the photos to enlarge them.



It was hilarious to watch, and I spent the entire dance laughing. And Neko-musume was really cute.

I love this country.


(There were other cosplayers in the crowd as well, eager to pose for photos)



Saturday, November 29, 2008

Learning Japanese - Part 27, Page 5

This page is mostly pretty simple Japanese, so I'll try to cover as many panels at once as I can.

奥さんの具合はどうだい、 ムッシュ
おくさん の ぐあい は どうだい、 ムッシュ

Okusan - wife
no - possessive
guai - condition
wa - subject marker
dou - how
dai - casual male form of "desu ka?"
Musshu - other guy's name

wife's . condition . (subject) . how . is. (?) . Musshu

"How's the wife, Mushu?"

The only real note here is that I shortened the friend's name to "Mushu" because it's easier to read. "Musshu" in Romaji looks like a spelling mistake.

----

あいかわらず です よ オフィサー

なに体はどっこも悪くないんですよ
なに からだ は どっこも わるくないんですよ

aikawarazu - same as always
desu - polite form of "is"
yo - emphasizer
ofisaa - officer

nani - what
karada - body
wa - subject marker
dokkomo - emphasized version of "everywhere"
warukunai - negative form of "warui", bad
n desu - that is the fact
yo - same yo as above

same as always . is . officer
what . body . (subject) everywhere . not bad . is the fact

"Same as ever, Officer. There's nothing wrong with her body."

The "n desu" contraction is very common in spoken Japanese, but it's not something that I really understand, myself. I can pick up on it if someone else uses it, but I can't figure out how to put it into a sentence when I'm the one talking. Now, the above two sentences work in combination with the next one coming up. Even though Mushu is speaking in polite Japanese, he's still somewhat friendly with our hero. For this reason, I chose the following interpretation.

"Same are ever, Officer. Physically, she's fine."

---

ただちょっと記憶が。。。 もう年でね
ただ ちょっと きおく が。。。 もう とし でね

tada - but
chotto - little
kioku - memory
ga - topic marker
mou - already
toshi - age
dene - shortened form of "desu ne", is + tag question

but . a little . memory ... already . age . is right?

"but her memory... it's her age, you know?"

"chotto kioku ga" has the implication that there's something wrong with her memory. Coupled with "mou toshi dene", it's pretty obvious what's going on. Also, we have "年" which can either be read as "toshi" or "nen". "toshi" has the closer meaning of "age", but I think that "nen" could also be used here. If anyone can correct me on this, please do so. The version I went with is:

"But, her memory... Her age is catching up to her."

To be continued.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Learning Japanese - Part 26, Page 5

This takes us to page 5. Here's the dialog.

奥さんの具合はどうだい、 ムッシュ
おくさんのぐあいは どうだい、 ムッシュ

あいかわらずですよオフィサー

なに体はどっこも悪くないんですよ
なに からだ はどっこも わるくないんですよ

ただちょっと記憶が。。。 もう年でね
ただちょっときおくが。。。 もう とし でね

それでこの絵がかわりってわけか
それでこの え がかわりってわけか

大昔の若気の至りですよ。 これでも画家志望だったんです
おおむかし のわかげ の いたりですよ。 これでもがか しぼう だったんです

フランス留学までしたのに。パリのバイトで覚えたこっちのほうが本職になっち
まった。 しかもフレンチならまだしも合成食のアメリカンダイナーだ
フランスりゅうがく までしたのに。パリのバイトでおぼえたこっちのほうが ほ
んしょく になっちまった。 しかもフレンチならまだしも ごうせいしょく のア
メリカンダイナーだ

ジケンジケン

来たばかりですまんな
きたばかりですまんな

出勤だ
しゅっきん だ

毎度ありがとうございます
まいど ありがとうごいざます





To be continued.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Learning Japanese - Part 25, Page 4

Next hard-to-decode panel.

そう 本来なら。 だが20世紀後半 に一世 を風靡したという外食チェーンを 模し
たそのレトロな 店 だけは別 だった

そう ほんらいなら。 だが 20せいきこうはん に いっせい を ふうびした という
がいしょく チェーン を もした その レトロな みせ だけ は べつ だった

sou - yes
honrai nara - by all rights
daga - but
20 seiki kouhan - second half of the 20th century
ni - by
issei - lifetime, generation
wo - thing being acted on
fuubi shita- dominate + past tense of verb "to do"
to iu - called thus
gaishoku - eat out
cheen - chain
moshita - past form of "to copy", "to model"
sono - that
retoro-na - retro-ish
mise - shop
dake - only
wa - subject marker
betsu - different
datta - past form of desu, "is"

yes . by all rights.
but . second half of 20th century . by . generation . dominated . called thus . eat out . chain . to copy . that . retro-ish . shop . only . (subject) . different . is

"Well, by rights. But, there's one shop, that copies the retro look of the so-called fast-food chain that had dominated the 20th century, that is different."

To break this down, we have to realize that the hero is talking about three things: first that there was a fast-food chain that dominated the 20th century (presumably MacDonald's); second that there's a shop that boasts of its paintings that also copies the retro look of the fast-food chain; and third that the author considers this one shop to be worth entering.

Which gives us:
"a so-called fast-food" chain that dominated the 20th century"
"a shop that copies the retro look of the chain"
"But, I consider this one shop to be different".

Put them together, and this is what I went with, "By rights, yes. But, there's one shop, copying the retro look of the fast-food chain that had dominated the 20th century, that is different."

It's still a bit long and awkward, but it has both the intent and feel of the original Japanese (which is also long and awkward for most native speakers.

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fuji-san

In an earlier post, I wrote that Fuji dominates eastern Japan, and pervades the Japanese psyche. I'll take a moment to explain what I meant by this.



From a physical viewpoint, Mount Fuji is a dormant volcano, 12,388 feet tall, and one of the tallest mountains in the country. It last erupted in 1707, and was first climbed by a monk in 663 AD. On a clear day, it can be seen from Tokyo, about 70 miles away. Prior to the construction of the modern-day skyscrapers, it could have been visible from anywhere in the city. It's located in a plains area, not too far from the western mountain ridge that runs up the middle of the island, so it's visibility is within a half-circle arc with a 80+ mile radius. So, as far as dominating the region goes, it's like the mountain is watching you from anywhere within this arc.

Japan is the home of the Shinto religion, which essentially holds that places have power, and such places are marked with a shrine for worshiping the local gods there. Fuji, being so big and in the middle of an open plain, naturally was recognized as a particularly powerful place. Japanese men were expected to climb to the top at least once in their lives (the saying goes "a wise man climbs Fuji-san once; a foolish man climbs it again", meaning that it's good for your soul to make the pilgrimage to the top, but since there's nothing up there, it's silly to do it more than once). But, the mountain was closed to women until after 1860. A number of woodblock print artists in the 1800's, most notably Hiroshige, featured various views of Fuji in their prints, which brought the mountain to those people living more than 200 miles away from it.

Fuji is one of the "Sanreizan", Japan's "three holy mountains" (along with Tate and Haku). It's a symbol of the country, along with Tokyo Tower, and the hinamaru flag (white flag with red rising sun). But, in a way, it's "just kind of there". The Japanese natives that I've talked to have no strong feeling one way or the other regarding Fuji now. If they've grown up in Tokyo, then Fuji is just a mountain that they can get to in a couple of hours by train or bus. It's so deeply ingrained in their culture and surroundings that they've stopped noticing it. But, it's a symbol of stability that's occasionally invoked by politicians and the like to show that the country will last a long time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Metoropori-chan V



The UDX building in Akihabara is just outside the JR train station, and home to the Tokyo Anime Center. It has a rest area (open space with tables and chairs) that is often converted into an exhibition space with booths and a stage. The building houses a number of restaurants and coffee shops. Tully's Coffee is on the ground level just in front of an open plaza. Occasionally, the plaza is used for open-air music events, and there's a flyer that goes out every couple of months listing the plaza events, which take place usually twice a day, on Wednesdays, Sundays or Saturdays. This last Sunday, I was wandering around during my lunch break and I encountered such an event for the first time.


(Some of Metero's all-male backup dancers)

"Metoropori-chan V" (Metropolitan-chan V) apparently has been around for a while, originally performing under the name Tokyo Metero (until the Tokyo Metro subway company sued her and she changed her name, according to the wiki entry). The character is a "nurse idol", supposedly set in the year 1940. She sings a number of "etchi songs" about administering cures to sufferers of various maladies. The show consists mainly of her singing on stage for a while and then going into the audience and hitting a lucky few with her foam "injection syringe". If an audience member is really lucky, the "treatment" also will include kicking. While I can't prove it, there's an impression that this performance is based on an earlier anime title. There are a number of videos of the performance on youtube.



I'm not sure, but one of the other videos on youtube is for someone named "misono", and it looks like the same woman, but out of costume. Interestingly, the video is from a TV performance, indicating that our "Metero-chan" has notoriety here. However, the wikipedia page for "misono" links to a completely different J-pop singer.





Monday, November 24, 2008

Oome

I once had a business trip to Costa Rica. In the capital city of San Jose, I found a brochure for a day trip where you could ride a bus from the east coast of the country to the west, while stopping at a live volcano and a spot in the rain forest along the way, all within about 10 hours. I didn't have time to go on the trip, but I'd love to go back to try it.


(Dam from the visitor center, barely visible from the water side)

Tokyo is a lot like San Jose in that respect, but with a lot more anime DVDs in the mix.


(View of the lake, from the middle of the dam wall)

We decided to jump on the train from the apartment and rode it out 30 minutes to Tachikawa, where we switched lines. We rode the new train another 30 minutes then switched again. At the second platform, I discovered the grime-covered advertisement of Mysterious Akko-chan requesting passengers to visit the shop around the corner. We rode the third train out to the end of the line, then took a bus out for another 30 minutes.


(Another view of the hills surrounding the lake)

Thus it was that we arrived at Oome, and the dam that supplies water to Tokyo. There's a hiking trail at the other end of the dam that goes out 12 kilometers, ending on the other side of the lake at a bus stop. If you want, you can hike back on the other side of the lake to make it a full 20 kilometer round trip. We got to the lake at 4 PM, so there wasn't time to make the hike. Plus, there was a stiff wind coming off the lake at about 45 degrees F, and we weren't dressed for the weather. Maybe next time.


(Clouds. Clear skies, but cold and windy)

We went out to the lake to look at the Fall colors, but most of the leaves hadn't turned yet. Still, it was a nice trip, and I ended up getting up into the hills just outside Tokyo for a view that I hadn't realized was so close to hand. Plus, the round-trip fare was less than $20, so it was a cheap excursion that I plan on repeating when things warm up again next Spring. One of the people we met at the bus stop was from Sweden. He had a full backpack and a camera kit with tripod. He'd been out to the park before for weekend camping trips and nature photography. Maybe I'll meet him again when I come out for my hike.


(View back towards the visitor center, from the road on the dam wall)


(View of down-river side of dam, from the road on the wall)


(Akko-chan billboard, grimy, but still in use)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Anime and Manga in the News

This last week gave us a number of stories that showed up in the news.

First is "itasha" - cars that are dressed up by anime and game-character fans. The article is fairly even-handed, but the description of "otaku" by Patrick Galbraith, a "University of Tokyo scholar" (a 24-year-old punk student) who is commissioned by Kodansha publishing to write a book on otaku cuture, is very derogatory. I'm assuming that his book will be worth avoiding when it comes out. Galbraith apparently leads tours of Akihabara, and I guess he has written for the Japan Times before, but he doesn't seem to have a good opinion of the people he associates with, so he doesn't impress me. But the cars are cool. I actually saw one in Akihabara a few hours after reading the article, and it's basically just a muscle car with anime decals on it. Be more interesting if it was permanent air-brush work

Second is "Oretachi no Taro". A number of websites have carried this story (including Wired), but it's the first time I've seen it. Back in September, when now-Prime Minister Aso Taro was running for the Prime Minster position, a gift shop opened up in Akihabara, called "Our Taro". The shop was only open for about 6 days, but the goods produced with manga-style versions of Aso's likeness on them are still available from Assorted Products. As I mentioned in the blog entry on Enta Matsuri, Aso is known as being a big manga fan. The space Oretachi no Taro was in had previously been occupied by a food shop that closed after less than a year. The space is about 1 block west and north of the UDX building, and the shop paintings are still on the outer walls, making it easy to spot. (As a side note, although Aso is a fan of manga, he's not that popular with a lot of Japanese, mainly due to his hawkish stance and his willingness to spend his family's fortune in a splashy fashion.) I included my photos below.

Third, we have "Shin Takarajima" (New Treasure Island). This is a reissue of a Tezuka Osamu manga that's been long-out-of-print. According to the article, the original manga, printed in 1947, marked the beginning of the modern story manga. Previously, the only way to get this title was to buy it from collectors, at around $10,000 US per copy. The reprint comes out in February, from Shogakukan Creative, Inc.



(Ore-tachi no Taro shop front, now abandoned)


(Have your photo taken with Taro!)




(The top manga on the table by his hand has the cover from Rosen Maiden)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Video Game Pimp Sites

Having participated in 3 websites that were developed to advertise specific video games, I'd like to take a moment to get something off my chest.

Companies like Affinitive promote themselves as a viral advertising channel that competes effectively with magazine and TV ads. I think that they're a waste of money that could have been better spent elsewhere (see below for example). Now, obviously the prizes and free copies of the game being handed out to the public are great for those of us that receive them, but that's not the point. The point is that companies like Sega and Bandai aren't getting the kind of return on their investment that they should.

Take as an example Altimit Corp., one of the more popular "pimp sites", created to advertise the .Hack G.U. games. First, to measure the success of a site, we need to look at three things: number of members joined, copies of game sold, and amount of money saved over using more traditional advertising methods.

Member Count:
Altimit Corp. reached over 60,000 members by the end (What's Within Your Soul, for Soul Calibur IV, only had 40,000). In order to bring in new members, the site awarded points for new referrals. This meant that existing members were encouraged to invade various newsgroups with signature banners linking back to the main site; place banner ads on their own personal websites; put ads in their MySpace and Facebook accounts; and to talk to their friends in real life. The more new members joining the site, the more "eyes" looking at the game, the more points the existing member received in return. Unfortunately, referrals are open to abuse, with people creating dummy accounts and naming themselves as the referrer, in order to rack up more points. Meaning that the total number of valid members on Altimit was maybe closer to 30,000. Further, the site is only useful if the new members keep coming back and bringing in more new people themselves. At its height, Altimit only had 5000 or so member accounts that were accessed in the last 2 months of its life. Of those 5000, closer to 2000 of them actively participated in any activities on the site.

In addition, participation in the later activities resulted in members gaining a lot more points than less-active people. Looking at the top point-earners on the site showed that only 150 members out of the full "60,000 accounts" were really working towards promoting the game. That is, instead of 60,000 members, Altimit could only count on 150 real "pairs of eyes" looking at the game at the end.

Number of Copies Sold:
It's difficult, without actually having access to industry numbers, to know how many copies of the G.U. games were sold as a direct result of members participating in Altimit Corp. However, several of the activities on the site did include showing yourself holding the game. There were less than 350 entries in these activities, indicating that the result of the 6-month run of Altimit for promoting the last 2 games of the G.U. trilogy was well below 1000 copies (assuming that some people bought either 1 or both games but didn't have a way of uploading photos of themselves holding or playing it, or just didn't want to). Further, at least 20 free copies of the game were given away through the site, and there's no way to tell if the same copy of the game was used in more than one photo or video among a single group of friends.

Why is this significant? Assume that the game costs $50 each, but that the distributor takes half of this off the top. $25 * 1000 = $25K. That's $25,000 US to the makers of the 2 .Hack G.U. games, generated by the Altimit Corp. site. That's peanuts.

Traditional Advertising Comparison:
This is the big question - How much does a company save by using a pimp site versus going to an ad company and making up a magazine ad or TV commercial? The answer's obvious; Assuming that the pimp site company gets $10,000 per month, for 6 months, that's nothing compared to the $1 to $2 million that an ad company could charge. And, one of the activities on Altimit had the users making up posters, for free, that were used as bonuses for people buying the games - that's another $1 mil that the ad company could have charged. So, from this perspective, going to a pimp site is worth the money. That is, it would be worth the money if the site sold 1 to 2 million copies of the game. But, with 150 active users and maybe $50,000 in game sales, Altimit still cost more than it generated.

If we compare apples to apples, a TV ad that only sells 10,000 copies, compared to a pimp site that only sells 1,000 copies, will cost the game maker a lot more money, that's true. But, if your advertising money isn't bringing in enough customers to justify the expense, it doesn't matter - either way you're losing cash. It's just a question of *how fast* you're losing it.

-------------------

Having said all this, we have to ask - who benefits by using a pimp site? Well, obviously the company hosting the site. Certainly not the client, because they're not getting a positive return on their investment. Also benefiting are the fans of the game that like visiting the site, but we're only talking 2,000 active visitors, and less than 100 people that receive prizes (t-shirts or copies of the game) for their participation. In the case of What's Within Your Soul, there were closer to 150 active members. WWYS didn't benefit many newcomers to the brand, and it didn't help the site's client.

If the game maker isn't getting a positive ROI, then the current crop of pimp sites are a bad advertising channel for them, and should be avoided in the case of less popular game titles. Naruto may be an exception, because the anime and manga already had a big fan base to begin with.

-------------------

What's the alternative?
Actually, Altimit Corp was a success on several counts. The most important one being that it allowed the formation of a community that shared a common interest in the .Hack G.U. games (and the backstory behind the games that was published in books, OAVs and TV anime). And, this community would have been an excellent testing pool for Bandai in developing new games, either G.U. sequels. or other unrelated RPGs. The community was not self-sufficient though, in that participation in most events required that the site offer rewards, or points that could be redeemed for rewards. And, there was a limit to the number of rewards available. To become self-sufficient, the site would either need to be untied from the .Hack franchise, or there would need to be a way for winners of prizes to return the prizes to the pool for others to select from.

Instead of running a pimp site, where the goal is to recruit new members and promote the site itself by having members spamming other newsgroups and magazine sites, the game maker (i.e. - Bandai) would be better served by creating a community site that lets fans share their own artwork, stories, fan fiction, videos, etc. (as happened at Altimit Corp.) Keep the reward section and the awarding of points, but tie these instead to answering marketing polls and providing feedback on what works in a game (and in other advertising) and what doesn't. This would all be money better spent, and more likely to generate a positive ROI for the game maker.

Altimit Corp showed what a good community-driven game-advertising site could be. What's Within Your Soul showed how the concept could fail. Both failed the game maker in terms of generating game sales via pimp sites. Therefore, instead of relying on pimp sites in the future, game makers would be better off using Altimit Corp as the starting point for a community site that would be more than just advertising for one or two titles.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mt. Fuji, from Tokyo


(Mt. Fuji from my apartment - no zoom.)

Mount Fuji (i.e. - Fuji-san) is a weird beast. It's considered a defining element of the Japanese psyche, and it certainly dominates the landscape on the eastern side of the island. People like to talk about being able to view Fuji from the train riding in from Kichijoji to Tokyo in the early morning, but the air turns polluted quickly and it can't be seen later in the day. The thing is, Fuji's not that far away - it can be reached by express train (which goes maybe 30-40 MPH, and simply skips every 4 to 5 stations on the line) in about 2 or 3 hours. It's the quality of the air that makes all the difference.


(Mt. Fuji, slight zoom. Notice Yomiuri Land amusement park, and ferris wheel to the right)

Yesterday morning, I looked out my apartment window. I've been here since mid-July, and today was the first time I really saw Fuji from here. For the last four months, the air hasn't been good enough to see it. Now...


(Mt. Fuji from my apartment - 4x zoom. This is what Fuji looks like to the naked eye.)

Fuji doesn't just pull it's disappearing act on Tokyo. Several years ago, I went to Hakone (which is at the foot of the mountain) specifically to see Fuji up-close, but it was the late Fall, and when I got there, all I could see was clouds. So, I stayed at a hotel over night. The next morning, the sky was clear, and I looked out through the 2-story-tall picture window in the hotel's lobby, and Fuji was so huge that I thought I could just reach out and touch it. The night before, I didn't even know it was there, even though I'd spent a couple of hours walking around Hakone to visit the shops. The next day - can't miss it.


(Mt. Fuji, from Hakone, 1994)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My translated manga

Well, I tried contacting One Manga about having them host the manga that I've translated, and haven't received a reply back. Looks like they only support a small group of large fan translator clubs that focus only on big-name manga. Sigh. Doesn't matter, though, since I worked on the below chapters specifically for myself, and for anyone with direct interest in them. Let me know what you think. Also, let me know if you have any problems viewing them.

Frozen Food Agent
Ok, here's the full set of English-translated pages for the manga that I'm using for the Learning Japanese thread. Looks like Tori Miki's got volume 1 of a full book of Frozen Food Agent stories coming out from Kodansha next week. If you like the below story, please buy the book. I know that I will, when I can find it, and I'll post a review of it on the blog.


Kochi wa Kame Ari, chapters 8 and 9 from volume 159:
I've mentioned Kochi Kame several times before in this blog, primarily because it provides a key insight to popular culture here in Japan. I've also mentioned that last year, the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan (SCAJ) held it's first trade fair at Big Sight, and that in the same week, Kochi Kame started a two-part story where the main character, Ryoutsu, tried setting up his own coffee shop (in part 2, he markets his own line of canned coffee). I thought that the timing of that had been too perfect, which is why I translated those two chapters shortly afterwards. I'm making these chapters available here. Again, if you like this manga, buy the book.


I did translate one chapter from one more title - a little conversation about how the Japanese go about asking alumni members for advice on getting a job in Japan. It's very typical Japanese business thinking, so I intend to add it to Media Fire when I can track down a copy of the book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

WWYS - Closed

Back last Spring, the same people that gave us the Altimit Corp website for advertising the latest .Hack G.U. games (vulgarly called a "pimp" site) gave us "What's Within Your Soul" - a similar site designed for advertising Soul Calibur IV. WWYS held the tantalizing promise of being as much fun to hang out at as Altimit had been. This promise was short lived in part because SCIV is nothing like .Hack (.Hack is an RPG with a deep story told in various media, and SCIV is a fighting game with cross-over characters from Star Wars), and because Affinative didn't do much to foster any sense of community within the site. It didn't help that there were few prizes to win, and the top end prizes were priced ludicrously out of everyone's reach.

Most people eventually drifted away from WWYS, leaving only a hard-core few (150, max) that anxiously awaited the next activity in order to kill the boredom. (The flatscreen TV finally went to Midori, and someone else won one of the surround-sound speaker sets from a random contest drawing. But, the Yoda faceplates and one set of large t-shirts didn't sell out until the last minute either because no one had the money for them, they were unpopular items, or there weren't enough remaining active members to buy everything up.)

I mentioned in my October status update that I'd been the Featured member on the site, and that one of my drawings had made it into the final ten in one contest. I was still featured after more than 5 weeks, indicating that the sys admins weren't pushing that hard to rotate the Featured Members regularly, and I lost the contest. I did end up getting 2 t-shirts out of all this, but that's nowhere near the level of goodies I got from Altimit Corp (there, I got 2 copies of the G.U. game, 4 .Hack DVDs, several t-shirts, some posters, stickers and the entire Matrix DVD box set.) I did have fun making up drawings for some of the WWYS contests, and in writing little stories to go with them. In fact, I thought that some of the stories were really funny, but I got very little reaction from the rest of the people there, so I doubt that many people read them. And, I didn't win any of the random drawing contests.

WWYS closed on Nov. 18, and it wasn't much of a loss. Funny enough, because one of the tasks was to skin our MySpace pages with Soul Calibur artwork, there's now going to be a few orphaned MySpace accounts created just for WWYS, and then abandoned by people that dislike both SC IV and MySpace, adding to the clutter on the net.

The bottom line is that I need to learn a lesson here - spend less time on pimp sites, and more time learning Japanese and writing up my blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shinjuku Gyoen

If you like reading mysteries and other forms of fiction and even non-fiction, you'll eventually feel the pull of stories set in real-world locations. Over time, you'll perhaps want to visit that setting to see how closely the book matches reality. This kind of situation holds true for Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter fans that ultimately make the pilgrimage to England to see the "holy lands" for themselves.



However, this kind of thing is even more overwhelming for certain manga fans where the settings are in Japan. Especially since so many manga take place in one form of the real world or another. Such as it was for me and Shinjuku Gyoen.



A couple of months ago, I was reading the latest volume of "Yakushiji Ryoko's Strange Case Files", and discovered that the first chapter of the latest storyline was set in Shinjuku Gyoen. Gyoen translates to "Imperial garden", and Shinjuku Gyoen, as part of the Imperial family's lands, was completed in 1906. It was opened to the public in 1949. The gardens are popular in the spring for hanami (cherry blossom viewing), and it hosts a number of chrysanthemums that have been subjected to various display treatments (see examples below). It's located just a few blocks east of Shinjuku Station and costs $2 per adult to enter.


(Hunting for minnows)

In the "Strange Case Files" story, something causes all of the plant life in the park to die overnight. Since I walked past the park for 2 months straight on my way to and from the Japanese Language Center for classes, I figured that I should try going inside to see the setting for this particular story.


(One of several ponds in the park)

The park is about 1/6 the size of New York's Central Park, at about 1 kilometer by 0.75 kilometers. And, it's really pretty. It would take a major attack to have the effect described in the "Strange Case Files".


(One of the chrysanthemum displays; this one produced by pinching the buds when they form)




(A shot of the roots of one of the trees in the "Mother and Child" portion of the park)


(Display at the Shinjuku front entrance to the park)


(Cascading chrysanthemums - each cascade is from one plant, and is intended to mimic a waterfall)


(The 1000 flower chrysanthemums - each plant takes 1 year to to be coaxed into this form)


(Me in front of the Tea Pavilion. A Japanese passerby stopped and asked me if it was ok for her to shoot my picture with my camera. So this is the shot she gave me. The pavilion was the gift of Japanese living in Taiwan to the Showa Emperor for his wedding. Construction began in 1927.)


(From inside the pavilion)


(This is my new Windows wallpaper image)








(Always a classic - a shot of someone shooting flowers)


(Okido Gate Building - no longer used, at the opposite end of the park)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Heidi Club - Cafe and Goods Shop

When you think of Japan, generally "ninja", "samurai", "martial arts", "anime", "manga" and "tea ceremony" come to mind first. Mention Akihabara, and the list drops down to "anime", "manga" "electronics" and "maid cafes". Mention "anime" and you get the top titles, like "Dragon Ball", "Naruto", "Bleach", "One Piece" and "Pokemon". Mention "Heidi, Girl of the Alps", and you only get blank stares.


(Character goods to the left, high def TV playing the anime in the center)

"Heidi" was a novel written by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, and published in 1880. It was turned into an anime TV series in 1974, directed by Isao Takahata, with scene design and layout by Hayao Miyazaki (who both went on to found Studio Ghibli). The animation and designs were all very crude, but the story caught the hearts of not only Japanese viewers, but audiences around the world (it's been dubbed into Turkish and Arabic, no less). The series is still in re-runs on Japanese TV in the early morning when kids are preparing for school.


(Baked goods display)

Even so, "Heidi" isn't that popular with most western fans, and the percentage of such fans that do know about it isn't that large. I only knew about it because I ran across the show when I was flipping channels a few months back. So, it's worth writing about now.


(The entrance to the second floor is behind the businessman on the right)

Anyway, what's really unusual is that there's actually a small cafe in Akihabara that's licensed to carry Heidi character products. The Heidi Club is on the second floor, located just east and north of the JR Akihabara train station, alongside the FujiSoft building (2 blocks east of the UDX building). I discovered it when I was exploring the area around my office. This is not a popular area for anime fans, since it is "off the beaten path", but even so, when I went there for a late lunch, there were 4 other couples also relaxing and watching the anime DVDs on the big screen TV.



Heidi Club is not a typical "maid cafe", but the workers are in period Swiss clothing, and the cafe does serve meals at the higher end of the price range. I had 2 large dinner rolls (baked on-premises, and very tasty) with butter, and hot coffee, and it came to $7. If I'd arrived earlier, I could have had one of the set lunches for about the same price (when I left, one of the workers was creating a pastry dessert that looked like it was being turned into a work of art; I need to go back and order one myself). But, people don't come here for the food - they just want to lean back and enjoy watching the TV show in a comfortable, western setting. Over half of the patrons were women, and the men that were there had come because their girlfriends insisted on it.



As can be seen from the photos, the shop is packed with licensed goods, from stuffed dolls to coffee cups, shirts, towels and everything else. The main clerk graciously allowed me to take photos, as long as I didn't go overboard, and didn't use a flash. The woman at the next table was doing the same thing with her cell phone camera.



What really amazed me was that the Heidi Club was right next door to me, and I hadn't seen any advertising anywhere to announce that fact. I'm thinking that they get most of their customer traffic from fans of their website. There's not that many shows on Japanese TV that get their own shop like this (Ultraman, Astro Boy, anything else by Miyazaki, Gundam all have toy shops dedicated to them, but none of them serve food), so it's pretty cool that there is a Heidi Club, and that it's so easy for me to get to.