Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Drug Honey

When you just got to get your punk on.



Frilly nylon skirt shop on Yasukuni Dori, between Akihabara and Ryogoku. I found this place on my way back from the Tezuka exhibit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. I just like the name.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Animation Industry Guidebook

While I was visiting the Suginami Animation Museum recently, I picked up a copy of the Animation Industry Guidebook (アニメーション業界ガイドブック), which has a bunch of interesting links as shown below. The book is essentially an introduction to the anime field, and is broken up into sections in order to help people wanting to enter it to get a feel for where they would fit in best, such as editor, cameraman, inbetweener, director, etc. There's also a career path map that shows how to reach the job position you want. There's also interviews with people in each field, with experience ranging from Galaxy Express 999, One Piece, Crayon Shin-chan, and Net Ghost Pipopa.

While trying to track down an electronic copy of the book (which turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be, since there's no URL in the book), I discovered that this is the 2008 edition, and that it's fundamentally the same as the 2007 version, but with much better artwork.

The book's in Japanese only, but that's part of the point, I guess. If you want to break into anime in Japan, you better have a good grasp of Japanese, first. Although, at least one of the schools (NEEC, link given below) does have a lot of materials online in English.

The below links came directly out of the guidebook, and are from companies and organizations related to the creation of the guidebook. It's work checking out all of the links, since there's some great artwork in many of them.


JAniCA

Association of Japanese Animations

Nerima Animation Association

Suginami Anime

Digital Content of Japan

Anime!Anime!

OLM digital

Sunrise, Inc.

Shirogumi, Inc.
(This website is cool!)

Shin-ei Animation

Studio Easter

(Guin Saga, Sora Nake Girl, The Garden of Sinners)
(Go to the Works page and click on the anime title links to go to the official pages for those works)

Studio Hibari
Moonlight Mile and Major. (Go to the Products page for links to the official title websites.)

Toei Audio Visual Center
Toei, Inc.

Nihon Kogakuin (University)

Bihou
(Evangelion:2.0, Persona, Hyakko, Blood, the last vampire)

Polygon Pictures
(CGI versions of: Yamato, Galaxy Express 999)

Mushi Productions
(Tezuka's Works)

Charapal
(Meet Anytime, Always Heartwarming Friends)

Creative Village
Creator's Networking Site

Coach no Mori
(Networking site)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Akihabara Moon



"Where ever we may be, just remember that when we look up, we both see the same sky." Yeah, but mine has more buildings going up at any one time...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Firing versus salary cuts



A few weeks ago, there was an event in one of the meeting rooms on the 6th floor of the UDX building. At first, I had no idea that the event was being held until I saw a few people standing outside holding signs advertising it. The signs announced a "Sabra idol goods" show. Not having any idea what this meant, I went up to the 6th floor to check it out. Unfortunately, it was a small room, and a line had formed in the hallway with about 15 guys waiting for someone to leave so they could go in. Turned out that Sabra is a men's magazine like Maxim, and the event was selling t-shirts and photos of some of the latest models. Since I was on my lunch break, I didn't bother trying to wait the 20 minutes to get inside to look around.

But the real point here is the difference between Japanese and western labor practices. In the U.S., there's always a war between labor and management, where the workers want more money and benefits, and management is looking for ways to cut costs. When a crunch comes, one of the first actions taken is to lay off workers, with the tacit knowledge that replacement labor is easy to come by and new hires will generally be cheaper than those being sent out the door.

In contrast, Japanese companies have formed a bond with their employees, and they'll take various steps (like shorter hours, pay cuts and more unpaid overtime) long before they'll contemplate laying anyone off. In part, my opinion is that this occurs because Japan considers the loss of one's job as a form of failure, and failure is a "one strike and you're out" situation. That is, there's little support for helping someone get back into the workforce in another company, and the suicide rate for those laid off is fairly high. Management knows this and wants to avoid contributing to the pressure to walk in front of train, if possible.



The result? In Japan, lots of workers and little to keep them busy during periods of slow sales. Case in point, Sabra had at least ten people at the event whose sole tasks were to wear t-shirts with the name "Sabra" on them, and hold signs advertising the event with arrows pointing the way to the room. 8 hours a day, for 2-3 days in a row, at least 10 people doing nothing but holding a sign (which happens a lot for events held at the UDX). When I asked one of them what the event was, they didn't know and could only keep repeating, "go into the room and find out for yourself" (which I would have done if the time spent standing in line didn't promise to be longer than my lunch break).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Scandal

The other day, Scandal had a live performance in the rest space on the second floor of the UDX building (also known as the Akiba Square event space). 100 to 200 people lined up to watch, and the stage was low enough that I couldn't really see the girls past the crowd. So, it wasn't worth trying to steal a couple of photos. Nearby, a table was set up for selling their latest CD. The one song I heard during my lunch break wasn't too bad - a fairly decent hard rock number (it was probably "Shojo S"). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to hang around for the next song because I had to get back for work.

The main reason for mentioning them is that Scandal did some of the music for the Bleach TV anime series. Their website is pretty cool. I like the anime-style characters for them.

Youtube videos:
Shojo S, Bleach 10 OP
Shojo S live
PV

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Small Adventures

In the normal course of the day, you come to expect that things that went well yesterday will continue to do so today and tomorrow.

To get to work, I have to take 4 trains. Normally, this would mean buying 3 separate tickets each time, leaving the gated areas to go over to the ticket machines to get each ticket. Ignoring this, I could get a transfer ticket at the beginning that lets me ride the first two trains on the same ticket, but that's still two stops at the ticket machines each way, every day.

In order to simplify my life, I bought a 3-month pass which lets me go all the way to Akihabara and back without having to stop at the ticket machines all the time. Which is good because I can just carry that one card in a little case and pull it out when I need it and just put it away again when I get through the gate. It also makes it easier to catch connecting trains that are only a few minutes apart, making my total trip time shorter. I've been using this kind of ticket for months, and this one specific pass since the beginning of June.



So, there I am, going through the gate at Noborito, preparing to transfer from the Nambu to the Odakyu line. I put the ticket in the machine, a red light comes on, the gate flaps close on me, and the ticket doesn't come out. And there are a few hundred people behind me trying to also get out of the station.

I back up out of the gate, push my way past the crowd and get to the station master's window. Of course, now, I realize that it would be nice to know the Japanese word for ticket gate. Fortunately, the jammed gate has a flashing red light on it, and I wave and point at it, and the station master decides to follow me back over there. The crowd's starting to thin out, but they can tell that the gate's not working so everyone just flows around us. The station master opens up the machine to reveal a whole bunch of gears, rollers, tracks and one long rubber band that's fallen off the rollers. The station master starts pulling sections open and poking around with a tweezers, indicating that this has happened before. He's thinking that I lost a simple, smaller one-way ticket that's only worth $2, so he keeps looking in the discarded ticket hopper. I'm trying to tell him that it's a drivers license-size pass worth $450, but again I don't have the words for it.

After a couple of minutes, the crowds are gone, he's still poking around, and I've probably missed my next train. I start visualizing the path of the card from the first roller to the last, and eventually I see what looks like a corner of the card sticking out from under a roller that he hasn't checked. Sure enough, it's my card, and after it gets pulled out with the tweezers, is completely mangled and useless.

The station master tells me to go to a different window, where customers buy long-distance train tickets (and is similar to the one where I reported my forgotten backpack a few months earlier), but I'm not exactly sure if I understood him right. I go to the window, wait for the previous customer to leave, and hold up my card, saying "a little mangled". The station person here immediately understands what's happened, and using the information printed on the front of the card, types in a request for a replacement. However he's still fairly new to the job, and it takes three different people and another 10 minutes to finish the operation.

About 15 minutes have passed from when the card first got eaten by the gate to my getting the replacement card. Everyone that I dealt with here was professional and didn't question whether any of this was my fault, as if this all happens all of the time. There never was any real stress or panic on my part, but what meant to simplify my commute has caused me to be set back 15 minutes and miss 2 different connecting trains.

I also now realize that there are holes in my vocabulary that I need to fill...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ultraman Town



As mentioned in the Gegege no ge Kitaro entry, there are a number of sightseeing places around Tokyo that have a statue, pictures from some show, or other things that attract people for photo ops. And that some of these places are pretty much unknown to anyone outside the area. Kitaro street is one such. Another is "Ultraman Town.



Officially known as Soshigaya-Okura, this is a stop on the Odaku line heading southwest from Shinjuku (one stop before Seijogakuen-mae). The Ultraman statue is just outside the station, past the posters on the pillars in the entrance way. Along the streets, there are little banners hanging from the light posts with silhouettes of various early enemy monsters. 0ne block down the street leading along the station away from the statue, there's a Kaldi coffee store that carries a variety of import snacks and roasted coffees. (I especially like the little $2 coffee puddings they carry during the Summer).



When you arrive at the platform by train, you are greeted with posters welcoming you to "Urutora-na Machi" (The Ultra Town). The reason for coming here is just to have your picture taken next to the Ultraman statue. (But stop and get a coffee pudding while you're at it.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Theme Streets and Anime Attractions



There are a number of locations around Japan that are associated with anime or manga in one form or another, and have turned into tourist attractions because of it. The Washinomiya shrine that appears in "Lucky Star", and the police box at Katsushika (from the "Kochira Kameari" manga) being two prime examples. And as Bartman905 pointed out elsewhere, the lifesize Gundam in Odaiba will also become more popular this summer.



Then at the same time we have towns that have placed artwork along the streets for one reason or another that's no where near as well-known. Sazae-san Street may appeal to the locals, but there's not that many people in France willing to make the pilgrimage to Tokyo just to see the artwork leading up to the Hasegawa Machiko museum.



The same probably holds true for Chofu. Chofu is a small town on the Keio line about 15 miles out west from Shinjuku. Head out of the train station on the side with the Parco store, and walk straight away from the station a couple of blocks. Look for Tenjin Dori. You're now in Gegege Kitaro Street.



Gegege no Ge Kitaro is a kid's manga that features a hero from the monster world that answers the pleas of children being terrorized by ghosts and goblins. To an extent, it's a horror title, but it's also an adventure story at the same time. The TV anime has been running in various incarnations since 1968, and is still on Sunday mornings. The main characters include Kitaro, his father "Medama" (eye ball), Nesumi Otoko (mouse man), Neko Musume (Cat Girl), the stone wall and the paper strip.



There's no specific reason why the city of Chofu would want to host the Kitaro characters. But, if you're in the area, it is fun trying to spot them all.




(Sometimes you have to look for them.)


(The light post has a page from the manga on it.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vending Machines revisited

I've written about vending machines in Japan before, and Bartman905 recently posted a good article on them in his blog, too. But, it's time to add even further to the "Japanese VM lexicon".



First I'll re-display my egg vender here. Fresh eggs, in Fuchu. Right off the farm (or rather, right out of the banks of chicken coops lining the guy's backyard).



Next, the newspaper venders. Technically, these are little different than the magazine machines, or a newspaper box. I've never actually seen papers in this machine during the 6 months it's been on the platform.



Note the "Petit Mall" on the left. Dispenses candies, snacks and cookies. Doesn't dispense potato chips. My theory is that foods that you eat with your fingers, like chips, are not popular because people know that their hands are dirty and they don't want to touch their foods until after they get home and can wash off first.



Finally, we have the rice venders. First, the old style machine. I found this one in Takao last week when I went out there on my bike again. The machine is in front of a small mom-and-pop shop that specializes in selling 1, 2, 5 and 10 kg bags of rice. It's an older machine, and the empty bags in the display windows have curled over and faded with age. Presumably the rice being dispensed from the machine has been restocked recently. The instructions are to insert four 1000 yen bills and to press the button. I'm assuming that the machine doesn't take coins and doesn't give change for 5000 yen and 10,000 yen bills. Since it's right next to the shop itself, I guess the machine is out there for customers that need to buy rice for emergencies at 2 AM.



Here, we have a bank of 6 different brands of rice. You put your money in the slot in the machine in the center and select the brand that you want. Then, walk over to the selected machine and take your 5 or 10 kg (12 or 25 pound) bag of rice from the hopper at the bottom.



Close-up of the machines.



Next door, we have the dehusker. Rice when bagged with the hulls on is called "genmai". Genmai is considered healthier than hulled rice, but people still take it home and wash the hulls off themselves. This is inconvenient if you have a small apartment, or if you have to clean a lot of rice before every meal (i.e. - for large families).



Instead, just pay a couple hundred yen, pour your rice in the hopper to the right, and put a sack under the dispenser in the middle to collect your cleaned rice. This machine was found in Noborito, 15 miles west of Shinjuku, near the Odakyu line.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Croquet Golf



I was out riding along the Tamagawa a few days ago, in the middle of a light drizzle, when I came across a group of senior citizens playing in a croquet golf tournament.








Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oto Matsuri

@Records, an online record company, and Cosmate, a cosplay shop, worked together to host a music event in the Live in Akiba space on Chuu-ou Dori, on June 13. Unfortunately, the music ran from 6 PM to 9 PM, when I was working. But, I did manage to get a free fan. The event was titled "2009 Summer Live Oto Matsuri" (Oto Matsuri = Sound Festival).



All of the women in the shot were hired models working for Cosmate. The real giveaway is that the woman in the maid outfit happily posed for photos. Actual maids are camera-shy unless you pay the 500 yen within the maid cafe to have them pose with you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Pillows



This is an ad I stumbled across for the alt rock band, The Pillows. They're best known in the U.S. for having done the soundtrack for the FLCL anime series. They've made a few appearances in the U.S., most notably at SWSX in Austin, TX. I really like their logo - Buster-kun.



The album titles parody the movies "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Once Upon a Time in America".

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Toho Studio



Toho has a studio in Setagaya ward on the west side of Tokyo, but it's only open to tours for groups of 20 or more and I didn't have that many people set up on speed dial that morning. So, I had to content myself with just posing outside the building.






(Along the river/drainage ditch)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You're being watched



Japan instituted this crime prevention program where decals of eyes staring at you were plastered on the sides of buses, buildings, and taxis. The theory is that if it feels like you're being watched, you're less likely to commit a crime. There was a write-up on this back in 2007 in the Japan Times, but it took me this long to get around to taking a good photo of the sticker.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TAC - Gundam Exhibit



The Tokyo Anime Center (TAC) has its next feature display set up, and it will run until July. This one promotes Gundam, and a next DVD series to come out in October. Interestingly, the poster on the easel uses the same artwork as used in a much larger display that appeared at the Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF) last March.




















(The display from TAF.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kamikara


(All pictures copyright of Haruki Nakamura. Reproduced for review purposes only.)

The other day, I was in the Kinokuniya bookstore on the east side of Shinjuku station, and I noticed this book of paper-cutout artwork - Kamikara (which I think means "from paper"). Beside the book were individual packets of paper with cutout animals (one packet was for a bear, another for a penguin, etc.) The packets were about 700 yen each ($7) and the book, which apparently just came out last March, is 1900 yen ($19). The figures are fairly complex and are on several sheets of paper each. The book has 12 figures, plus photos of creator Haruki Nakamura's other works.



The interlocking gear heart and the clock gears are especially cool, although I also like the MC Escher lizard cube (each lizard is a separate section of the cube). Beyond his main Geocities page, Nakamura also has a blog, but it doesn't look like it's been updated since 2008.