Tuesday, February 25, 2014
With the increased popularity of Japanese animation in the west in the last two decades, Japan has become associated with cuteness. This cuteness is not a recent phenomenon in Japan however. Even on very old signage such as the ad pictured here, there is a hint of cuteness reminiscent of the current cute style associated with Japan.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Music fans in the US are often sensitive to how their favorite artists manage commercial interests as the gain popularity. Artists who appear to be more interested in making money than making good music are said to have "sold out." Regardless of their actual interests, US artists often put considerable effort into maintaining an image of legitimacy.
This doesn't appear to be the case for Japanese pop stars. The biggest star in Japan right now is almost certainly Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. At the height of her fame, her likeness is showing up on just about every product imaginable. She is featured in commercials on TV, posters for cell phone companies, and recently on Yellow Tail wine.
After seeing it in one of my favorite anime, I've wanted to try イカスミ(squid ink) spaghetti. I found a kit for it in the grocery store and decided to try it out. The taste was subtle, but I liked it. I shared it with people in the kitchen and it made everyone's mouth and teeth jet black.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
I parted ways with a friend of mine at this tiny train station where a single-car train comes every 10 minutes. My friend told me that this train had been running for decades and that it was soon to be decommissioned. There were several other people taking pictures of this train car so there must be considerable nostalgia for old trains like these. A ride into the city on this train undoubtedly takes a lot longer than a modern line, but it probably allows you to better take in the sights.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Characters in the popular anime Steins;Gate are often seen drinking Dr. Pepper, because of this, many of the stores in DenDenTown stock the drink. Besides some Coke products, American soft drinks rarely make it to Japan, so it's cool to see other American drinks gaining in popularity.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Though Japan is known for it's small portion sizes, it has many all-you-can-eat restaurants. I was invited to this restaurant by a friend of a friend living in Osaka and I'm glad I got a chance to try it out. It was an all-you-can-fry restaurant where you take raw ingredients on skewers dip them in batter and bread crumbs, and fry them in a small deep-fryer built into the table. For $15 you get 70 minutes of eating and that time was just about perfect. I tried just about every item from pieces of squid to takoyaki on skewers. I was completely stuffed and totally satisfied.
Monday, February 17, 2014
At one of the largest stations in Osaka I noticed these strange devices taped to the ceiling. The pipes lead to the drain on the floor so I'm guessing that there is a leak in the ceiling. I suppose in a space used by 1000s of people every day having wet floors or setting a bucket down aren't options. I would like to see techniques like this employed at my University in the US. One hallway has had a bucket set in the center catching water for far too long.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
I've been aware of Iori Tomita's work for some time, but I wasn't aware that it was commercially available. At a mall in Tokyo I stumbled across a display of his preserved creatures for sale. Most of the specimens were $100 or more, but if you're interested in preserved animals, you probably can't find examples cooler than these.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
I was waiting at a small, older train station when I noticed this worn sign marking one of the exits. It features a caricature of a jaunty western-looking man wearing a bowler hat and a suit coat. This is the first time I've seen such imagery in Japan.
Friday, February 14, 2014
It snowed in Hirakata the other day. This is extremely rare in the Osaka area so people were caught off guard. People were trying to use push brooms to move snow off of their walkways and they ended up canceling school for an amount of snow that would be hardly noticeable in Minnesota.
I very rarely scramble to get my camera out when it's packed away. I usually just let the photo opportunity pass me by, but this was different. I saw a Dodge Challenger driving around Namba and I felt that I had to get a picture of it so I made somewhat of a fool of myself rushing to get my camera out of my bag to snap this picture. So Cool!
While I have gotten out of the habit of eating donuts regularly, I've found a new food addiction that is at least slightly healthier to feed. My roommate and I have become connoisseurs of a Chinese food known in Japan as Gyoza(餃子). I have posted about Gyoza before, but today I will go a little more in-depth on the subject. Japanese-style Gyoza are fried while Chinese Gyoza are typically boiled. Wherever we go, we try to find new styles of Gyoza. Recently I tried "Eggplant Gyoza" which turned out to be Gyoza meat stuffed inside an eggplant. It was tasty, but hardly resembled a traditional Gyoza. Pictured here is another Gyoza restaurant in Tokyo whose name translates to "Craftsman of Gyoza." Again, this restaurant's Gyoza were mediocre at best.
Since returning to Osaka, I've come to appreciate how much better the food is here than in Tokyo. By far the best Gyoza I've had came from a small resturant near my school called TekuTeku, meaning "The sound of many footsteps." I have come to know the owner of TekuTeku very well and I once asked him how he made his Gyoza so tasty. He told me that he had done a lot of research on the internet about Gyoza preparation. This struck me as rather funny that the owner of a restaurant would get their cooking ideas from the internet like everyone else. Though it shouldn't be surprising, I've always imagined that cooks in Japan call upon hundreds of years of tradition in crafting their products. Judging by the taste of the food, however, the TekuTeku way appears to be superior.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
For the last month or so, I have continued to work on my game, slowly adding features and refining the main mechanic. It feels great to be back into programming like I was when I started many years ago. I'm also enjoying learning about the independent games community and all the interesting ideas that are becoming realities now that large game studios no longer control all channels for promoting and selling games. I don't know if I will attempt to sell this game, but I definitely intend to make it something worth showing to other people.
The current version of the game is online at http://www.markv12.com/Game
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
It snowed a few days ago. This happens a handful of times each year in Osaka, but the snow never accumulates. In amounts like this, the snow is actually rather fun.
This made me think about where I want to live in the future. After such a fair winter, I'm not sure I can handle another brutal winter in Minnesota, or at least I'm not sure I want to. It will be nice to come back to the US during the summer so I'll have some time to think about this question.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Before coming to Japan, I had heard about the Fugu fish. It's considered a delicacy despite being extremely poisonous. If the fish is not prepared properly, it can be fatal. This tank was facing the street making it clear what this shop is known for.
This is also a good example of the Japanese preference for freshness. Most high-end restaurants I have encountered that serve fish have a tank where the special fish of the day is displayed, and for the right price one of those fish can be killed, prepared, and served to you in a manner of minutes. To my knowledge this practice is extended to other animals in parts of China.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
While living in another culture is quite a new experience, It is equally interesting simply living within 14 miles of one of the largest cities in the world. In fact, the suburb of Osaka that I live in has a larger population than Minneapolis despite taking up half as much space. Though I have mentioned this before, one aspect of living in a huge city that didn't immediately occur to me is the level of specialization that is made economically feasible by the scale of the city.
This is by far the largest selection of Ukuleles I have ever seen. These aren't cheap Ukuleles either. Almost all of them were over $400 and some of the fancier ones were around $4000. You wouldn't go to this shop unless you were serious about Ukulele playing. With 22 million people a reasonable train ride away, there must be at least a few in need of such fine instruments.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
When people think if Japanese design, they tend to think of understated elegance and natural beauty. Of course, there's no such thing as a homogenous culture and tastes undoubtedly vary among Japanese people. Take these Mercedes Benz covered in glitter paint. While they may lack the precise restraint of a Bonsai tree, the certainly are... something.
Friday, February 7, 2014
I have seen many examples of Japanese companies using the trademarks of American companies in ways that would undoubtedly result in legal action in the US. This "Ganson" guitar is an unapologetic copy of a Gibson Les Paul Custom.
There is considerable legal precedent in the US that the headstock of a guitar is a copyrightable design and many companies ran into trouble in the '70s and '80s for copying designs from Gibson and Fender. This tradition continues in Japan as copyright is very weak in Japan even for Japanese products such as animation.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
A lot of my attraction to Japan has stemmed from my interest in all things Otaku.
In this US, this term primarily refers to fans of Japanese animation, though in Japan the definition is much broader. Through my interest in Otaku I have visited many places that are not often visited by tourists such as animation studios and shopping districts frequented by Otaku. The Akihabara area of Tokyo has long been considered the mecca for Otaku, though after doing some research I learned that as Akihabara became a tourist destination, many Otaku began frequenting a place called Nakano Broadway a few train stations away. I decided to visit that place as part of my pilgrimage.
Nakano Broadway was considerably more low-key than Akihabara though it had a similar selection of Anime and computer goods. Instead of taking up an entire district like Akihabara, Nakano Boadway is housed within one giant building. It has 4 floors with new products on the first floor, and more interesting second-hand sellers on the upper floors. One of the most interesting stores sells nothing but animation cels from vintage anime. Cels from well known anime cost as much as $1500 though the majority of the cels were much cheaper. Cels depicting iconc scenes cost considerably more than other cells from the same series.
I settled on a single cel from an anime I didn't know for $6 which included the original hand-painted background. It is uncommon for an affordable cel to come with a background as that background was likely used behind many cels. It's a cel/background from the anime Silent Möbius. I decided to watch a few episodes and it was interesting, but I have yet to find the scene that my cel comes from.
On the 4th floor of the building I stumbled across an old arcade. This is probably the truest form of Otaku I have witnessed, just a bunch of friends hanging out and playing video games. Most of the games in the arcade were from the 2000s though there were several middle-aged adults in the back playing truly vintage games from the '80s. I feel some connection to these people as I too grew up with video games and enjoyed the social aspects that came with them.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Though I have already fallen for this many times, but once again I bought a product simply because it had an Anime character on it, and it turned out to be less than tasty. I didn't buy the product pictured here, but I decided to try some sort of cream puff that featured Snow Miku on the wrapper. It was so-so. I don't think I will ever learn.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The area around Akihabara in Tokyo has numerous specialty cafes that cater to all sorts of tastes. The most famous, by far, are maid cafes, where customers pay a premium to be served by cute girls in the Japanese reimagining of a french maid outfit. Since I was in the area I felt pressured to visit such a cafe, but when I thought about it, I wasn't too crazy about the idea of spending $10 for likely mediocre drinks while paying an additional $10 for "maid treatment."
I was walking down a side street when I suddenly noticed this cat looking out at me. I had stumbled upon a 猫カフェ or "cat cafe."
Much like a maid cafe, a cat cafe offers drinks though the real attraction is the atmosphere. The rather small building was absolutely full of cats, running around and playing on the various scratching posts that lined the walls. Though there are many stray cats in Japan, kittens from pet stores typically cost over $800. Such a fine collection of cats was not likely cheap.
Before I could sit down and play with the cats I was instructed to wash my hands while I received a rundown on the proper way to interact with the cats so as to not interrupt the relaxed atmosphere in the cafe. Once my preparations were complete, I ordered a drink and sat down on the floor as there were very few chairs which makes sense given the nature of the establishment. I was also given a booklet listing the cats in the cafe and there likes and dislikes.
The cats had differing personalities. Some seemed to avoid people while others were more friendly. The cats mostly interacted with each other though some were interested in the many toys provided for customers to use.
Somewhat surprisingly, the customers at the cafe were entirely male. I've heard that there is growing "comfort" industry in Japan where men pay for very basic human, or in this case, animal contact. It is my understanding that the popularity of these services comes from the fact that Japanese society generally does not encourage physical contact. Even the members of my host family never hugged.
In any case, it was refreshing to see a group of Tokyoites, who are often though to be very up tight and cold, taking a break from their likely hectic lives to enjoy the company of some adorable cats and of each other.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Though handheld video games are primarily aimed at young people in Japan as well as the US, older people are no strangers to the technology. I believe there are more adult-centered applications for handhelds in Japan including news readers and language learning aids. In this case, however, I believe he was playing an Anime character based puzzle game. I was especially entertained by the imagery of a grizzled older man smoking a cigarette while cheerful Anime women danced across the screen of his DS.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Though I am thousands of miles away from home I haven't gone a day without seeing the products of American companies. The culture and language are vastly different from my own, but the people are holding the same iPhones and playing the same video games that I was familiar with in the US. This used electronics store in Akihabara used to be a dealer of new Apple products even before Apple made it's big comeback. It's interesting to think that when my mother brought home our first PowerMac over 15 years ago, Japanese customers were coming to this shop to buy the same hardware. I've also been able to reminisce with my Japanese friends about the same video games that defined our childhoods. While this might not be the most heartwarming sentiment, multi-national corporations do bring us together in some ways.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Have you ever had that experience where you're looking for something online (cameras, golf clubs, Starwars memorabilia, etc...), you see a few enthusiast quality pieces priced to the stratosphere and you wonder who in their right mind would purchase them? Do you also imagine that you'll probably never see one in real life as no store would be crazy enough to stock an item with such a limited target audience?
An interesting aspect of visiting the hobby goods center of the largest urban area in the world is seeing specialty shops that wouldn't be economically feasible anywhere else. A prime example is this yoyo shop I stumbled across in Akihabara. They sell yoyos costing as much as $300. I suppose if you are hardcore into yoyoing, this would be your Mecca. There are stores like this for every hobby imaginable. I like to imagine that every person I come across is actually a master of one of these obscure arts making the journey to his or her homeland.