Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hyper Visua Doll Movie

Happy New Year!

Ok, here's a guilty pleasure that's really hard to justify - Hyper Visua Doll Movie. Anyway, in the Japan Times daily TV listings, Thursday nights at 11:00 PM on TVK, it says "Anime Info". So, you'd think that you'd be tuning into a show that talks about anime, or interviews voice actors. Instead, what we get is 3 male voice actors (I guess, I don't know what voices they do other than for 3 of the dolls in the sketches) being put into various situations (I.e. - learning to wind surf, or trying to create a Christmas dinner), interspersed with some unusual gag clips featuring some very high-end doll puppets. It's not worth trying to explain it - you have to see these doll sketches for yourself. Suffice it to say that these aren't your father's action figures. And, I do like them. I just wish I could afford the $600 for the basic doll kit - the clothing and accessories are separate. The sketch with Sora turning into a bear and being taken into the wild with her mother (an actual bear) is really cute.

If you go through the cast list, the dolls are (from top to bottom): Yuuto, Ryou, Takeshi, Moegi and Sora. Sora's my favorite female character.

Some samplings of the TV show on Youtube:
http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8uQA3LzvFA
http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=trfHwTOrjmM
http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=rSQQzYzYVF0

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Novel Reviews - Edogawa Rampo (Tales of Mystery)

I'm a fairly voracious reader. When I was in school, I read all of my textbooks (in some cases, twice) while waiting for the teachers to cover the materials in class. When I reached about 16, I entered a phase where I read nothing but mysteries from Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout and Arthur Conan Doyle. Afterwards, I started up science fiction and fantasy, consuming everything by Arthur Clark, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven and others. Then, around 1990, I began my ventures into manga and anime.

I've never been a big fan of "literature", although I have read some Shakespeare, Voltaire, Neitchze and Socrates. I've read a little Edgar Allen Poe, but just enough to realize that I prefer the movie "Fall of the House of Usher" to the short story. But, "literature" and straight fiction leave me cold.

In short, while I've lived in Japan close to 3 years total now, I haven't bothered to learn about anyone other than certain favorite manga artists and anime directors. But, as I encounter on my job more Japanese students, I'm introduced to more of the Japanese writers that they enjoy reading. So, I put in a request for a few English-translated novels written by some of the more famous authors as a means to kind of catch up on what I've been missing. As a result, I received 3 mystery novels as Christmas presents. I'll review them here over the next few days.



Edogawa Rampo: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, translated by James Harris; Grade: B

Edogawa Rampo is the psuedonym of Taro Hirai (1894-1965), accredited as Japan's first real mystery writer. He took his name from Edgar Allen Poe, one of his heroes. As such, many of his early short stories have a "Poe-like" feel, with their concentration on the twisted, and the pursuit of the perfect crime.

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination is the title of the 1956 English publication of 9 of Rampo's stories. Rampo could read English, but he couldn't speak or write it. His translator, Harris, could speak Japanese but couldn't read it. Between the two of them, it took 5 years to write the English version of this book and to get Rampo's final sign-off on it. So, it's hard to tell whether the flaws in the writing are due to Harris' lack of skill, Rampo's meddling, or the fact that it came out in 1956, when overly-florid writing was common. As you can probably tell, I'm critical of this book.

Each of the nine stories are stand-alone and unrelated to others. "The Human Chair" is a horror story about a cabinet maker that uses a Trojan horse-like chair to infiltrate a hotel as a thief, then gets attracted to the sensation of various people sitting on him all day. "The Psychological Test" is a Poe-like mystery where an amateur detective trips up a masterful killer in a series of mind games. And, "The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture" tells a story of love and passion ala the "Twilight Zone". The stories are all creative, and I often had trouble predicting how they'd turn out. They were also all fast reads - I finished the 220 pages in about 6 hours.

The problem is that rather than just let the story carry us into the realm of fear and dread, we're kind of led by the nose towards it, with lines like (she opened the letter) "and it contained another breath-taking surprise", and "Putting my wicked plot into operation (...)". To me, the writing is overblown. But, there's still a lot of creativity here, and it'd be a mistake to dismiss the stories out of hand just because of the English used.

Summary: Edogawa Rampo can be called the father of Japanese mystery writing, and "Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination" is a good introduction to his earlier short works. If you like his namesake, Edgar Allen, or you want to know more about Japanese literature, this is a good place to start. Recommended.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Comiket 75

(Note: Mediafire is messing up the link to viewing the bigger versions of the images, so if you want to expand them, the easiest thing is to just go directly to the mediafire gallery and look at them all at once.)



Comiket is a huge twice-a-year 3-day event that brings amateur manga artists and creators together with the purchasing public. I attended my first Comiket back in 1993, when it was still held at Harumi Bay, just off Ginza. At that time, it could take up to 3 hours of waiting in line just to get within the grounds of the convention area. After that, you had to choose which of the 5 or 6 buildings to visit during your time there. Now, Comiket's held inside Big Sight and there's no waiting in line to get in. It's still impossible to visit all of the tables in one day, but at least now everything is inside one single building. It's just a really big building.



Genshiken is a great manga introduction to Comiket, if you need one. Each day is different. Girl's manga is featured on the first day, boy's on the second. I forget what's on the third.



Comiket doesn't allow the use of video cameras, except in the cosplay exhibit area. So I can't show you the sheer mass of bodies all in one place. In any event, the idea is for artists, both professional and non-, to be able to show off their works to the audience. The theory being that even professionals like to be able to use other people's characters for their own gags without getting sued for copyright violations. So, the publishers and copyright owners turn a blind eye to the event, since no one's making any real money from the sale of the artwork.



Most doujinshii are made by groups of friends that get together to split the costs of printing and supplies. Most fail to make their money back, but that's not the point. They're just doing this for fun. And, in the hopes of getting discovered by one of the magazine publishers and offered a contract (which has happened in the past, and is another reason why the publishers themselves also like this event - free access to raw talent). It's just that there are a few thousand tables in the main rooms, making it difficult to uncover any really great manga simply by accident.



There's also a commercial section, where art supplies are sold, as well as booths run by anime, game and music companies to sell commercial products that are made available only at Comiket. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the commercial section because there was so much else to do. I'll definitely make it a destination next time.



And, the cosplay event. Actually, there were two separate events - the "walk", which consisted of cosplayers standing at different areas in the park in front of Big Sight with the fans walking by them and taking pictures; plus a separate building that held cosplay shows that you had to pay money to enter. I only did the walk - the line to get into the building was too long. The walk is fun. The players ham it up for the cameras, and it looks like a lot of them have had a lot of experience in front of the cameras before.



"Comiket is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to Comiket." (Apologies to Douglas Adams.)



The rest of the gallery can be viewed here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chindonya


(Chindonya - チンドン屋)

Maybe pruning is an absolute impossibility. Go somewhere and you've got to be prepared to follow unusual sights or sounds. In this most recent case, I was in Shinjuku to pick up a copy of the Metropolis magazine from my old Japanese language school, and I was walking back to the south end of Shinjuku station in order to try out the donuts at the New York Donut shop inside (got a cinnamon bun for $3, which was huge and quite good). But, before I got to the station, I faintly heard a weird drum and bell version of "Jingle Bells". Figuring that there might be something interesting going on, I turned the corner and encountered the above three women.

Turns out that they're "chindonya" - "bell drum advertisers". You can check out the description on wikipedia. This troupe's job was to walk around the block playing music to attract attention to the banners they're carrying. And, the banners here advertise a pachinko parlor. Since there are few active chindonya in Japan, I'd lucked out in being able to see this group in action.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Biking the Other End of the Tamagawa

So, the second day that I took the bike out (I allowed a rest day in the middle), I decided to go the opposite direction, up the Tamagawa towards Tachikawa. On the south-west side of the river, the bike path ends pretty quickly, but picks up again a mile later, only to end again after another mile or so. Fortunately, it ends right at the base of a bridge, so I crossed over to the north-east side and kept riding out.



There are a couple of short stretches of degraded path on the north-east side, but nothing really bad. Eventually, I got to Y's Road. Y's Road is about 8 miles from Noborito, is part of a large chain of bike shops in Tokyo, and was the first place I went to back in September when I started looking for a bike. I was tempted to go in and ask if they had the 2009 models yet, but I was having too much fun just riding around. The trail continues past Y's Road for at least a couple more miles, but I don't know by exactly how much more. I only went another mile before turning around to go back home.

The path took me a little closer to Mount Fuji, and I could see it pretty clearly, looming behind some other hills. But, the weather was poor and I couldn't get a clean picture of it. Next time.

On this new stretch of the Tamagawa, I encountered a skateboard park, more baseball diamonds, tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields and running tracks, along with lots and lots of buildings. Parts of the riverbank are fairly secluded and make for good practice locations; one person had been practicing traditional Japanese flute, and another had brought out a drum set. There were also about 7-8 nature photographers hauling out cameras, tripods and really big lens sets for bird photography. There were also a couple people out flying model RC airplanes.

But, even though I had a longer stretch of good trail this time, I still couldn't really unwind like I wanted to (other than being horribly out of shape), because there was just too much other traffic on the trail. Lots of older people walking or slowly peddling along; several packs of school students supposedly out to help clean up the trash along the river (but mostly just taking up the entire path talking to each other) and a few high school sports teams out for an exercise run. There was even a paramilitary group out running in formation (no idea which group, though).

There was a bit of a headwind on the way out, slowing me down and making me think that I was just too old to be riding around any more (it was also fairly cold). But, when I turned around to go back, I just flew. I covered ground so fast that I didn't realize that I'd passed the bridge that I'd crossed over on earlier. So, when I did cross a bridge, it took me 5 minutes to realize that I was already back in Noborito, and that I'd covered over 3 miles more than I'd thought I had.

I like my new bike.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My new baby



This is my new baby. A Giant Seek cross bike. 530 mm frame. 3 gears in front, 8 in back. I've been waiting to get a bike like this since September, and had to put it off until the 2009 models came in. Even then, I had to wait 2 more weeks for a big enough frame to arrive. Unfortunately, it's still a little small. The pedal arms are too short, but if I had them replaced with something longer, the pedals would hit the ground when leaning into a turn (the bottom swing of the pedals comes within 2-3 inches of the ground as it is). The seat was set a little low, and the handle bars weren't aligned completely perpendicular to the frame, but these last two items were easily fixed yesterday. I'll have to be content with the pedal stroke. But, there's no where in my area where I can really ride flat-out, so I don't need to worry about trying to go faster. I just need to ride for some length of time in order to get enough exercise each day. In any case, regardless of the minor quibbles, I'm just glad I have a bike again.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Biking the Tamagawa


(The Tamagawa, looking north from Noborito)

The Tamagawa (Tama river) runs from inland out to Kawasaki City and used to be a major waterway for navigating into Tokyo from Tokyo Bay, up until maybe the 1920's. At least up until the 1890's. Now, it's mostly just a trickle with a few dams along the way. There are a couple places where old men set up chairs to do some fishing, but otherwise, it's not much to look at anymore. Although, around the Noborito area there are popular spots for having picnics and exercising.


(Looking south to Kawasaki City, from Noborito)

Tamagawa runs about 6 blocks from my apartment, and there's a bike trail that runs along it, next to a small street treated as a main thoroughfare for delivery trucks. Walking or riding a bike on the street is very dangerous - it's only 20 feet wide or so. So, anyone wanting to get around, or just exercise, will get on the bike path. During the Summer, I was walking to Noborito in order to buy the Japan Times newspaper (Noborito is the closest place that carries English papers), but it was taking 90 minutes for the round trip walk, so I gave that up in order to dedicate the time to other things. But, it was good exercise for a while.


(Noborito dam)

In this neighborhood, there's not much to do or see along the Tamagawa from a sightseeing viewpoint. On the river side, a couple of baseball diamonds used by high school students, a private tennis court, and some small plots of land used for farming. On the road side of the bike path, it's mainly offices, apartments, and a couple of small factories. As I say, the river itself is mostly a trickle, so it's not even much to look at while exercising.


(Shrine near the dam)

But now, I have a bike. On Monday, I decided to take it out for its maiden ride. From Noborito, it's 25 kilometers to Kawasaki train station, which is about 30 miles round trip. Took me about 2.5 hours. My legs are killing me. Along the way, I discovered a miniature golf course (free and open to the public if you bring your own club and golf balls), several golf practice centers, several batting practice centers, 2 shrines, a horse racing track and a whole lot more buildings. I have no idea how close I got to Kawasaki station, but I'd like to think that it was no more than 1 mile away.


(Dog statue at the shrine)

The problem is that the paved trail is only maybe 5 miles of the full length of the river. The rest of it is gravel or packed dirt. That limits the speed I can ride at. And, a couple of places I had to ride on the street, with cars passing within a foot of my leg. So, on the way back, I crossed over to ride on the other side of the river. For the first 5 miles out of Kawasaki, I had a nice paved trail. Then, I ended up back on packed dirt. Unfortunately, at one point the trail disappeared completely and I had to detour onto side streets packed with foot traffic. I realized that what I should have done is to ride about half way to Kawasaki on one side of the river, then when I got to Maruko bridge, crossed over and kept riding on the other side, then reverse the pattern on the way back. But, I'd still be on gravel for a couple of miles in the middle of this no matter what I do. Sigh.


(Facing statue)

One interesting thing was to encounter 3 older men riding beat-up bikes carrying huge bags of aluminum cans - the piles were close to 6 feet wide and 10 feet high. Turns out that there's a recycling plant halfway to Kawasaki, and that's how these guys make money, scavenging soda and beer cans to turn in.

Now, I need to find a new part of the city to explore. In the meantime, I'm going to take it easy for a bit. My legs need the rest.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas



Merry Christmas to all (both?) of you. I hope you all have a good, safe holiday season this year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Upcoming Activities I'll Be Attending - Katana and Comics

Figures. Blink in this city and you'll miss something. Got a couple of things coming up in the next few days that I'm hoping to be able to check out. If you want to meet up with me at one of them, drop me an e-mail.

Comiket
First, Comiket is running again at Big Sight, this time from Dec. 28 to the 30th. This is the big doujinshii (amateur manga) market that's held twice a year, and is usually *packed*. Each day tends to be focused on a particular type of manga (ie - one day for boy's manga, one for girl's). And, there's usually a lot of cosplay going on. I'll probably go when the boy's manga is featured.

Looks like I'm also developing an "arch-nemesis". Every time Patrick Galbraith writes something about manga or manga culture, he does it in a way that pisses me off. His "Pop Life" write-up on Comiket seems like one long back-handed insult regarding doujinshii and the people that create them. If Galbraith really has this much disdain for his subjects, then the Metropolis should replace him with a better writer. On a side note, Metropolis printed my letter this week.

Katana
Second, Sokendo, a retailer of Japanese swords, located in Harajuku, has announced that they're having a New Year's sale. There will be about 100 swords on display, from commercial art pieces to antique collector's items, including one dating back to the 1300's. All display items will be available for sale, not necessarily meaning that many of us can afford the better ones. The exhibition and sale will run from Jan. 3 to 12. I may go on the 4th or 5th. And I will try to take pictures, if allowed.

Cycling
Third, I'm now riding around the Tamagawa area on my bike as much for exercise as for sightseeing. If you live near Mukogaoka-yuen or Noborito and want a riding partner, let me know. Even though this isn't so much of an upcoming event...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Having a bike

When you move to a new city, it takes time to explore the area, find all the interesting places, and get settled in. Each form of transportation has its pluses and minuses, and if one form is not available, there'll be whole sections of the city that you can't get to.

Having a car is nice, but for sightseeing, the primary drawback is that you're not likely to simply stop it, get out and walk around. Scenery whips by too quickly, and you become too focused on just getting from point A to point B without paying attention to anything in between. Naturally, living in Tokyo, there's also the additional problems of little parking, narrow winding streets, traffic jams, and $5/gallon gas prices. Doesn't matter much, I don't have a car and no plans to buy one. However, the real plus is that you can choose to get out of the city at any time (like, to Mount Fuji), and visit places that aren't near the train stations, while carrying lots of luggage and food.

If a target destination isn't near a station, then the fallback plan is to take the bus. Tokyo has a very good bus system, but it is confusing. Plus, if you're going more than 5 miles, the costs start to add up. There's also the disadvantage of not being able to get the driver to take you directly to your destination, if it's not on his route. But, if you have access to trains and buses, you don't need a car. Again, though, you're focused on destinations, and not on exploring the areas in between.

Taxis - If you're on a fixed budget, taxis are not a viable option. But, they can get you directly to your destination, like buses can't.

Trains are great. You can get almost anywhere in Japan by train. It may take a few transfers along the way, but you can get there. The problem is that the costs add up fast. From my apartment, it's $5.60 one-way to get to Akihabara. And, it's $1.30 just to go from one station to the next, even though they may only be 1/2 a mile apart. So, doing a lot of sightseeing along any given train line does get expensive. This is where the monthly pass comes in. The second you get a job, your employer pays for transportation costs. Buy a monthly pass, and not only don't you have to buy tickets every day, but every stop on that line between your home and your office becomes free. If you live far enough away from your office, you can now do a lot of exploring. This is a very good thing.

Walking is kind of obvious. Go somewhere, walk around, go back. If you can get to that "somewhere" by train or bus, you can explore as much as you like. You can now wander around aimlessly, stop and take pictures, stop in a shop just to see what they have, etc. With walking, you can really get a feel for a neighborhood like no other form will let you. The problem is that you may only have a 2-mile exploration radius, and you're not going to go up and down every single street simply because it takes too long and you'll get too exhausted. But, couple walking with a train pass, and you can see a lot of things for free. Without the train pass, you're pretty much stuck with a 2 to 4-mile radius circle around your apartment.

Which brings us to my main point. Buy a bicycle and your exploration range explodes. You can't really bring a bike on the train, but some buses do have carrier racks on the front. Even if you just stay around your home base, you can go about anywhere within a 25 mile radius as part of a day trip. (Tokyo Station is 20 miles from my home; Kawasaki city is 15 miles). As long as you can survive the twisty little roads, the need to ride on the sidewalk most of the time, and the cars and the pollution, you can get almost anywhere for free. The main drawback is having to worry about someone stealing or damaging the bike. But, you'd have the same worry if you had a car.

I just bought a new bike last week. Pruning, pruning...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fudan Juku and some video game

I really wish I knew things before I discovered that I wanted to know them...


(Fudan Juku)

Fudan Juku (腐男塾 - "Rotted Man's Cram School") was one of the advertised groups performing in the UDX plaza yesterday afternoon (along with a Christmas performance of some kind, plus a few other music acts). I knew that something was going to happen during the day, so during my lunch break (3 - 4 PM), I swung by. I had no idea who the four people were standing on the stage; obviously women dressed up as guys but that was it. They were having sound problems and the show was being delayed until everything was fixed. Half way through the next song, the sound cut out again and they had to improvise to keep the crowd amused. And, it was a big crowd - at least a few hundred people (largest crowd I've seen in the UDX plaza so far). So of course I couldn't get close to get good pictures.


The video. The music cuts out in the middle of the song.

But I did stick around to listen to the following song, which seems to be their signature piece - Otokozaka (it's the one for this music video on the j-pop site). The group seems to be known for its Takarazuka-like presentation (all-female cast playing both the male and female roles), and I do like the version of the song on the j-pop site. There are other videos of them on youtube. Next time, I hope I have my new camera so I can take better videos.



Also in the UDX building this weekend was a launch party for a new video game. I thought that the game was called "Sudden Impact", or something like that. But, the name was in katakana and I can't find the game online to confirm it. All I know was that it was new, and it was a first person fighter along the lines of Quake and Halo. The party was in one of the conference rooms in the UDX building, and consisted of some hardware dealers at the entrance selling PCs, mice and game controllers. Next to them were ten tables featuring maids. Some of the maids were selling t-shirts for their maid cafes, other sold maid figurines. There was even a "maid casino" - three maids running a roulette wheel. And inside the room was a stage where about 10 players competed against each other in the game. There were about 100 gamers sitting, watching in the audience. The event ran both Saturday and Sunday. Of course, they didn't allow cameras. Even if they did, the maids acted so skittish that any attempt at photographing them would have caused them to flee. I'm hoping that next time, I'll have enough spare cash to afford a maid cafe t-shirt, and a couple of rounds at the roulette wheel.



(Fudan Juku's CD sale rack.)


(The advertising poster for the day's events at the UDX. The two photos on the left were for acts that performed earlier in the day, when I was at work. The photo on the right shows the Fudan Juku girls in their sailor fuku personae, with their school boy versions in the inset.)




(Note the backup dancers off-stage. I'm wondering if these are the same guys that attended the Metoropoli-chan V event.)



Saturday, December 20, 2008

RMH-I

You know that you're living in a weird and wonderful world, when you're sitting in a spaghetti restaurant in Japan, and the music playing over the speakers is an Italian version of John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High".

Friday, December 19, 2008

Silver Anchor Scanned Chapter

Click here to view chapter 20.


(Vol. 3 cover, from amazon.jp)

Chapter 20 shows up in volume 3. This is the one that first caught my eye for this title. Shirakawa has decided to take both Chinatsu and Tanaka under his wing, and guide them through the various processes required for their respective career goals. Chinatsu is the standard plucky forward-looking young girl, who dreams of becoming a host on Fujiyama TV. But, she'd never actually tried applying herself for this goal before, and Shirakawa takes her by surprise when he tells her to go for it. So, her task is to survive Fujiyama TV's "Female Anchor Seminar" series. These seminars are intended to weed the applicants down from the initial 100 entries, to ten in the second wave, and eventually to the sole winner. Chinatsu made it to the top 10, and is just about to learn whether she'll be allowed to stay in Fujiyama's upper-level seminar.

Tanaka, on the other hand, is your stereotypical spineless wimp - naive and easily swayed by whoever he's talking to at the time. He's never had a true goal in his life, and is terrified by the idea of talking to strangers that may be in a position of power over him. Shirakawa thus sets Tanaka with a series of tasks to help him learn what he's good at. Initially this was just to fold a box of origami cranes in the middle of a busy Tokyo street, without being allowed to explain why. Pedestrians take pity on him and quickly lend him a hand, finishing the cranes within an hour. Next, Tanaka is to "follow the money" of Japan's wealthiest men. Tanaka doesn't want a job where the only reward is a high salary, but eventually realizes that Shirakawa's true aim was to show how people with money and power are constantly jockeying for position in the marketplace against each other and that he'll need to do this as well. Then comes the "OB meeting".

"OB meeting" essentially translates to tracking down an alumni from your college, and asking him/her how they got the job that they have. Tanaka tries to duck this task out of fear of having to call a stranger on the phone. But, he does finally arrange to meet someone at the end of chapter 19. Which brings us to the start of chapter 20.

Tanaka is the quintessential patsy. The authors use him to commit every error in the job hunting book, just in order to explain to the audience why something is an error, and how to avoid it themselves. This makes Tanaka a fairly unlikable character. Your task is to ignore Tanaka's flaws, and focus on the author's message, assuming that you're interested in finding work in Japan at some point.

One important point to this manga is that it takes place in present-day Tokyo, so the buildings and landmarks are all real places. The street scene featuring Studio Alta on page 8 is pretty much exactly the way it looks from the north exit of the JR Shinjuku station exit, facing north. I can't say which restaurant the group goes to, though, or the office building where the chapter starts (just too many possibilities to choose from).

If you like this manga, please buy it!

Click here to view chapter 20.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gin no Ankaa (The Silver Anchor)

Gin no Ankaa (written by Tatsuya Seki and drawn by Mita Norifusa), Grade: C



Yoshihiko Shirakawa is the ultimate headhunter. He's been living in New York for a while, and then suddenly returns back to Japan. Fuyumi Kitazawa is a reporter working for Mega Tokyo TV, tasked with finding out why. As she yet again fails to get an answer from Shirakawa himself, her younger sister, Chinatsu, butts into the conversation and tries to get job hunting tips for herself and fellow college student Yuuichirou Tanaka. Shirakawa shocks the two students by telling them that with the current weak market and massive competition from other soon-to-be grads, their typical plan of going to a good university and then seeking out one of the top three companies in Japan is doomed to fail.

However, Shirakawa likes a good challenge, so he decides to treat the two as a pet project, suggesting to Chinatsu how to get started on her dream path as a TV announcer, and guiding Tanaka into finding his own dream job along the way. All the while evading Fuyumi's questions as to why he came back home (he spills the beans in volume 3).

Normally, this is not a manga that I would read. Mita isn't that good of an artist, and I don't want to follow a typical story of kids chasing their dreams. However, it looks like Seki has done his homework, and has succeeded in describing Japan's current job market. Initially, I stumbled across Gin no Ankaa last year when I came to Japan for 6 weeks, and I translated one chapter in order to study business-level Japanese. That chapter goes a long way into showing the Japanese mindset. So, this time I bought some of the manga volumes in order to scan that chapter and upload the translation for use here. But, I bought the wrong volume. So, I started reading the story, and I'm impressed. The entire series goes through the process of picking a dream job, researching it, determining which training programs you need to take to get to the interview stages, etc. Anyone wanting to work in Japan should treat Gin no Ankaa as a training manual to prepare themselves in advance (taken with a grain of salt, of course). (I'll upload the translated chapter after I read volume 3, since scanning it requires that I cut the pages out of the book.)

I haven't found anything else by Seki. Mita has worked on a number of titles, including "Dragon Zakura". He currently has "Angel Bank" running in Weekly Morning magazine. Angel Bank describes the activities at a venture capital firm, and it's almost like Mita's deliberately trying to see if he can get away with drawing his characters badly - their proportions are all wrong, and their faces change from one panel to the next. I'm not even bothering to try to read it, even though I buy the magazine to follow Vagabond. But, with Gin no Ankaa, Mita's done a reasonable job with the artwork, and Seki's the one supplying the business knowledge.

Summary: The world's greatest headhunter shows two college students how to get their dream jobs in Japan's current market. The series is up to book 5 right now, and is running in Super Jump magazine.

Recommendation: Highly recommended if you want to work in Japan, or if you interact with Japanese business people. Otherwise, you might want to give this one a pass.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Other Tokyo Shopping Districts

Tokyo has several districts (or neighborhoods) that are known for specific types of shops or activities. Most are known by the name of the nearest train station. The map here is not to scale, but it's based on the standard JR train line map. The Yamanote loop is about 5 kilometers wide, and 10 km long. The Chuu-ou line is about 4 km from the north end of the loop and runs the full width.



Shinjuku: A major nightlife area. The west side has electronics stores and game arcades. The station itself has several major department stores, as does the south exit. The north side leads to more stores, restaurants and movie theaters. The east side has Shinjuku Gyoen, and lots more stores, shops, and bars. The north exit street area is popular in manga, with the big TV screen on the Studio Alta building. (If you wanted to, you could go just a short ways north from the station to Yasukuni street, and then just follow it east to Jimbocho (see below).

Yoyogi: Has Yoyogi park, and the imperial royal museum. Near the park is an NHK TV studio.

Harajuku: On the Yamanote line, between Shinjuku and Shibuya. On the east side are the fashion shops aimed at teenage girls. On the west is a continuation of Yoyogi park, and the main drag that is popular with indie bands on Sundays.


Shibuya: A major nightlife area, with multiple department stores, movie theaters and fashion shops. A primary hangout for teenage girls. Right in front of the station is Hachiko, a statue of a dog that used to visit the station a long time ago - Hachiko is an easily-recognizable landmark for people waiting to meet up with their friends. The intersection here is the one that always shows up in anime - with the diagonal crosswalk and big TV screens. One of the department stores here is Parco, which has an art gallery on floor 6 of building 1. This is where the Tezuka Gene exhibit was held. In the basement is Logos, the bookstore that includes a small show space that had the Hell Girl display.

Ebisu: Beer garden central. Home of the Yebisu brewery's Yebisu Beer Museum.

Jimbocho: The place to go for used books. It's right on the outskirts of Kanda, 1-2 kilometers west of the JR Kanda station on the Yamanote line, and therefore people often refer to the area as being the "Kanda used book district", although this is not really correct. The majority of the bookstores are on Yasukuni Dori (Yasukuni Street), running on the east side of the Toei Shinjuku subway line's Jimbocho station.

Ochanomizu: Just south of the Ochanomizu station on the Chuu-ou and Sobu lines, there is "the musical instrument area". This is a series of shops that specialize in one kind of instrument, along Meidai Dori. About 10 shops alone carry electric guitars. That's lots of guitars. Across the street is a massive place carrying only violins. On the same street is Meiji University.

If you go down Meidai Dori from Ochanomizu, past the music instruments shops, you'll hit Yasukuni Dori. Go west and you get to Jimbocho station (keep going west and you'll hit Shinjuku). Go east and you enter the sports shops district. This is a series of large stores that carry sporting goods, such as outdoors gear, bicycles and the like. In December, over ten shops had nothing but snowboards set out on the sidewalk for sale. This district is over 4 blocks long and is packed with pretty much nothing but sporting goods shops.

Ueno: Near the JR Yamanote line Ueno station are lots of little shops with import foods. Plus, Ueno Zoo.

Roppongi: This is probably one of the most famous areas in Tokyo, not just because of all of the night clubs and drinking spots, but also because it is the home for most of the foreign embassies (a number of other embassies are scattered around the Yamanote loop). The U.S. embassy is here. Roppongi is just east of Ebisu and south of Shinanomachi, bordering on Tokyo Midtown. No idea why diplomats would want to be so close to that many bars and young people...

Yurakucho: A major nightlife district with food stalls, bars and movie theaters, bordering right on Ginza. Reachable by taking the Yamanote line 1 stop southwest of Tokyo station.

Ginza: Very upscale neighborhood. You name it, it's here (not including parks, though). Mikimoto, the famed seller of pearls, has its display store here. Just take the Yamanote to Yurakucho and head east 2-3 blocks.

Akihabara: Guess.

There are other specialty districts in Tokyo, but I'm running out of space to list them. Maybe later.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tokyo Midtown Lights


(Tree covered in LEDs, next to the LED blanket.)

How to start this...
Living in Tokyo is like being in a shopping mall 5 miles square. There are stores everywhere, and big, flashing signs to direct you away from one store and towards another. Now, imagine that the stores are packed even closer together at the nucleus, and that one of the biggest shopping complexes at that nucleus is large enough to border on the exits of three separate subway lines. That's Tokyo Midtown.


(Part of the LED blanket, from the "pier".)

Midtown put on its second annual Christmas illuminations show this year (2008), and the center piece was a 12,000 LED blanket on the front yard, animated to portray the galaxy, with big constellation pieces in the outer corners. Unfortunately, the animation was designed to be viewed from the rooftop galleries of the neighboring skyscrapers, and was pretty much invisible from the ground. There was one small vantage point from a pier-like structure running along the lawn, about 40 feet off ground level, but it only had enough space to let 4 people see the LED display at one time, and the four people already there ahead of me refused to let anyone else in. So that part of the display was wasted on me. But, the rest of the lights were pretty good.


(Midtown "chapel", this one you sit inside and enjoy.)

There was another chapel here, but unlike the Shinjuku display, this one didn't have the push button panel. Instead, it was more of an acoustic sound scape, and the idea was for the audience to sit inside and watch the lights change colors and patterns. Intriguing simply from a mechanical engineering viewpoint.


(Lights in the Midtown plaza, leading to the main shopping complex.)

I'm not inclined to return here any time soon (too upscale for my pocketbook), but I may be in the minority here. At least, judging by all the people that walked along the light-trimmed trees whispering "sugoi" to themselves.



Youtube link 1.



Youtube link 2.



Youtube Link 3.


(More of the LED blanket.)


(Fiber optic chandelier in the main shopping complex plaza. It changes colors over time.)


(Inside of the "chapel", looking to the ceiling.)


(Tree-lined street near the LED blanket. The lights are actually strings and tubes hanging from metal "baskets" attached to the trunk of the trees.)


(More of the street lights.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

And-H (&H)

So much for "pruning".

I have taken to swinging by the UDX building in Akihabara whenever I get to the office early, and during my lunch breaks on the weekends, just to see if there's anything interesting going on. So far, I've had one "interesting" per week, on average. This time, it was a performance of &H.



I knew that &H was going to be giving a live show in the plaza in front of Tully's (according to the events calendar), but I'd never heard of them before. Then again, given that Metoropori-chan V had been on the same calendar, I wasn't expecting much. Turns out that &H is a duo consisting of Hirokazu Kumagai on vocals, and sound producer Katou Harunobu on guitar. Hirokazu forgot his lyrics about 1 minute into the song, and ended up singing while holding the lyric sheet in front of his face. There were only about 20 people in the audience - 10 in the chairs in front of the stage, and 10 standing and watching, so I doubt anyone was disappointed by the show. There was also one girl in a sailor moon-like cosplay outfit standing next to the mixer board, so I guess she was with the band. Unfortunately, my camera wasn't good enough to capture her well.

Hirokazu is listed in the credits of at least one movie (Kiwoku Dorobou, AKA "The Memory Stealers") in a very minor role, and seems to also work as a fashion photographer. So, maybe I was within arm's reach of a real celebrity. I don't know.

(On a side note, I finally ordered a new video camera - a Canon HF-100, with 12x zoom. Maybe after it arrives in a few weeks, I can start taking better quality movies.)

Hirokazu Kumagai: 熊谷 博一
Katou Harunobu: 加藤晴信

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Takao



Takao is an approximately 600 meter tall mountain (ok, a really big hill mixed in with a range of other big hills) just west of Shinjuku. The easiest way to reach it is to go to the Shinjuku JR station and jump on the Chuu-ou rapid train heading west. Then you may want to transfer to the Keio Takao line to get to the final stop, and the entrance point to the cable car/ski chair lift.


(Tengu head, greeting you at the Takao city train station.)

One thing about Takao is that it is home to the "tengu", demons with long noses, or bird beaks. There's a big statue of a Tenju head at the station to commemorate them.



The mountain features a number of good hiking trails that meander off into the neighboring hills. You can pretty much hike as far as you'd like, making it a short day trip, or an entire weekend trek.


(Temple at the top of the mountain.)

Takao is revered as a sacred location, and thus has a number of shrines and gift shops, as well as emblems on the trees showing they have been blessed. There's a small monkey park (which I didn't have time to visit) as well. The cable car costs about $10 US for a round trip ride. But, it was shut down for repairs, so we took the chair lift up, and spent 30 minutes walking down on the way back out. There are two photographers situated on the hillside along the cable car with digital cameras and a wireless connection. Your photo is printed out and waiting for you at the end of the ride, for 600 yen, if you want it or not.


(One of the food and gift stalls along the way.)

We had yaki-mochi (a skewer of 3 soft mochi balls roasted over a charcoal flame, basted with a teriyaki sauce), from one of the trail side stalls, which I liked a lot. And, we did a lot of walking. Along the way, we met an American touring Japan as part of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and we hiked together for a while until he parted ways to continue along a different trail. (A later e-mail assured us that he got out of the hills around dark, and had made his way on to Osaka for the orchestra's next performance there the following day.)


(One of the shrines along the way.)

Takao only takes about an hour to reach from Tokyo, and is in the Hachioji region. If you want a place to get some exercise where the air is cleaner, this is a good place to do it.




(Part of the trail leading to the top of the mountain. The tree on the left has a paper lightning bolt symbol to show that it has been blessed. All trees along the trail that are at least 3 feet in diameter (and are therefore a few hundred years old) have these symbols.)


(Statue of a priest in on of the Shinto shrines at a midpoint on the mountain.)