Friday, March 30, 2012

Pokemon Center Store In Tokyo

The Pokemon Center described in this article in Hamamatsucho closed in December of 2014 and a new larger center called the Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo has opened to replace it up in Ikebukuro at Sunshine City.

A new post with the address of the new store is here.

Archive article follows
This place is a Pokemon fan's paradise on Earth.  I'm surprised they haven't made a Pokemon episode that actually happens in a Pokemon store - but you know I wouldn't be surprised if they did as I haven't seen all of the hundreds of episodes of Pokemon.  There is so much Pokemon merchandise in here from candy, capsule toys, cards, stuffed animals, t-shirts, jewellry, vinyl figures, the video games, etc.  There are even Pokemon instant noodles with pokemon shapes!
Pokemon Center in Hamamatsucho, Tokyo  by Tostzilla
The store is a long block away from the Hamamatsucho Train Station and if you are taking the Yamanote Line to get there, look for the store from the platform as you can see the signage (with the recent power conservation measures - it is hard to see at night).Hit this link to download a PDF map to the store.
Outside of the store!   by Tostzilla
As soon as you enter the store, you are subject to the catchy Pokemon game music and immediately have video game flashbacks.  Working here all day must either mean you are going to tune the music out, or go insane. I'm sure there has been more than one meltdown by a small child in this store who cannot get all 6000 of the toys they want or maybe even an adult Pokemon fan who realizes they don't have sufficient monetary resources to get all of the possible loot in this store.  I still remember playing Pokemon Blue waaay back and have fond memories of the game.  Just started working my way through Pokemon Platinum right now whenever I'm not playing through Deus Ex.  Pokemon the original series with Ash just starting out and Pokemon Orange Islands were my favourites out of all of the series.

I was at the store on a weeknight when it wasn't overrun with kids and it was a pleasant place to shop.  I picked up some souvenirs for the kids, a t-shirt for myself, the pokemon noodles, and a bunch of capsule toys I didn't see anywhere else.  Another wonderful toy store that is worth a visit is Kiddyland in Harajuku, which is also quite amazing, just check out my link to it here!
Gashapon in yellow dispensers!  By Tostzilla

Other Tokyo Anime / Otaku Highlights Worth Visiting
More Tokyo Highlights
More Japanese Pop Culture

Japanese Souvenirs For An Otaku Or Others
Akihabara Attractions Hotspots Guide
Anime and Games Set In Akihabara
Where to Find Giant Robot Statues in Japan
Sweets Land, Character Street, and Ramen Street at Tokyo Station
Yokohama Ramen Museum and Nissin Cup Noodle Museum 
The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka 

Tokyo's Theme Cafes
Artnia The New Square Enix Cafe and Store

Gundam Cafe and AKB48 Cafe in Akihabara
Gundam Front Mini-Theme Park in Odaiba (with another Gundam Cafe)
Shonen Jump Theme Park (J-World) with Naruto, One Piece, Dragonball, and more
The First Evangelion Store in Harajuku

Giant Robot Toys - Macross, Godzilla, GundamGundam Video Games in the Arcade and Home (Gundam Pods)
Evangelion's Rei and Asuka Figures Homage
Nifty Japanese Cat and Train Coin Banks
Canned Bread and Other Nifty Japanese Souvenirs
UFO Catchers and How to Win at Them  
Gashapon / Gachapon Capsule Toys in Japan
Tokyo's Fantastic Kiddyland Toy Store
The Ultra-tall Tokyo Skytree!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Six Anime With a Slice of Life

Slice of Life anime are pretty unique to Japanese animation.  Not many television shows are produced, much less an animated series, that are just about the typical everyday life of a group of people or kids.
Flickr / Pink Sherbet Photography
There are teen dramas, but these are more soap operas than slice of life which sometimes doesn't seem to have a purpose. The focus is on the enjoyment of living and the small things that happen every day.  Often these types of anime focus on  school, but they often have show content that is cute. I have chosen six series here as examples of the genre that range from normal reality to fantasy (with some sci fi in the mix). I'm not saying they are the best or anything like that (I didn't include Lucky Star either as has too many in-jokes) but they are good if you find you like this sub-genre.  All of the series I talk about here have had North American region 1 releases, except for One Off.

Azumanga Daioh
Azumanga Daioh is an anime television series by J.C.Staff that aired in 2002 and was adapted from a four panel manga series.  It is a funny show that can get pretty bizarre at times, but Chiyo-chan is cute and the other characters are a lot of fun. I like Sakaki's obsession with cats and her happy ending.

Azumanga Daioh chronicles the everyday life in an unnamed Japanese high school of six girls and two of their teachers, revolving around child prodigy Chiyo Mihama and her struggle to fit in with girls five years older.

Sora No Woto
Sound of the Sky (So Ra No Wo To) is a 12-episode anime aired in Japan in 2010. Sound of the Sky was a nice change of pace as it was an original property and not adapted from a manga (although a lot of the regular stereotypes show up in it such as a character that sure reminds me of Rei Ayanami).  This was one of my favourite shows for 2010-11 as I really enjoyed the characterizations and the odd European / Japanese mix of culture in it.  The show is about a young girl named named Kanata Sorami who joins the military to learn bugling after watching a rendition of "Amazing Grace" by a mysterious trumpeter of the Helvetian Army. This show is both fun and serious, but mainly fun and about military garrison life of the 1121st Platoon in a backwater outpost in the town of Seize (inspired by Cuenca, Spain) in Helvetia (another name for Switzerland).  This show has awesome music by Kalafina.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has the technology of the early twentieth century with mechs (go figure... ), long after a great war that has ruined much of the earth.  There is also a very cool high-tech tank in this series that plays an important role later.

Haibane Renmei
Haibane Renmei (Charcoal Feather Federation) is a 13-episode anime series based on the work of Yoshitoshi ABe.  The music for the series is composed by Kow Otani and it is one of the most beautiful anime soundtracks I have listened to.  This is an older series that is actually fairly serious as there is a deep mystery setup in its universe that center around the Haibane, and the fate of the Haibane.  However, it also presents a simplistic, more rural life (and I also wonder if it is post-apocalyptic or a "manufactured" world by other beings).  The series follows Rakka, a newly hatched Haibane(a being resembling an angel), and other characters in the city of Glie , a walled town with a single gate through which only a mysterious group, the Toga, are allowed to enter or exit.

All of the Haibane live in "Old Home," an abandoned school in the country near the town of Glie. As time passes, Rakka learns more her world. All Haibane also work in the city and must follow strict rules.  I like the bit about their halos and the story about redemption that flows through this show, which obviously has religious undertones, but I don't think it is really about any particular religion (even with the angel imagery).

K-On is a story about four Japanese high school girls who join Sakuragaoka Girl's High School's light music club to save it from being disbanded, and they are the only members of the club.  Yui Hirasawa, the main character, has no experience playing musical instruments or reading sheet music, but she eventually becomes an excellent guitar player. From then on, Yui, along with bassist Mio Akiyama, drummer Ritsu Tainaka, and keyboardist Tsumugi Kotobuki spend their school days practicing, performing, and hanging out together.  The music for this show has been very popular in Japan.

This is a wonderful, fun, little show about the adventures around the music club.  It has all of the standard tropes like a rich club member, beach episodes, and school festivals.  No particular plot other than to graduate from high-school, drink tea, eat desserts,and play music.

Hanasaku Iroha
Hanasaku Iroha ( "The ABCs of Blooming" or "The Colors of Blooming") is a Japanese 26-episode anime television series produced by P.A. Works that aired in 2011.  I really enjoyed watching all of this series with its wonderful visuals and the great characters.  The opening music in this series is quite upbeat and catchy.  Both this and Sora No Woto were in my top shows for 2011.

The show is set at a hot springs inn called the Kissuisō way out in the country, but is nothing like the harem anime Love Hina (also set at a hot springs inn - which I still remember fondly) and is basically all about the ins and out of running such an institution.  The story centers around Ohana Matsumae, a 16-year-old teenager from Tokyo who ends up living and working at the inn run by her grandmother.  She makes new friends and needs to resolve her relationship with her now long-distance boyfriend.

Ichigo Mashimaro
Strawberry Marshmallow (Ichigo Mashimaro) is a Japanese manga series that was adapted into an anime series in 2005.  This is one cute show about a bunch of junior high school girls, their friendships, and adventures as they make it through school and summer holidays.  The show centers on Chika Ito, her older sister and her friends, especially Miu her best friend from next door.  Lots of comedy ensues and a foreign exchange student is introduced later to liven things up even more.

Finally, I want show you something I haven't seen yet except in the trailer below, but it looks very laid back and slice of lifey.  This new OVA is called Oneoff (わんおふ) from the director of Kino's Journey and has some really nice looking art.  It is about a high school girl that loves riding her scooter to everything from enjoying great views, drinking tea, and going to school.

Thats all!

Other Six Favourite Anime Posts
I've also written some mecha anime inspired SF. It has received some good reviews. Visit here if you are interested.  I could always use some community support from anime fans!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shiodome Megaplex

The Shiodome is a redevelopment of an old industrial area along Tokyo Bay into a pretty futuristic megaplex.  Places like this and Roppongi Hills are incredible set pieces of urban development.  The development runs right along side the railtracks and the Yamanote Line.  You can follow the railway tracks south from Ginza to reach Shiodome.  Shiodome station and Shinbashi station are also connected with an underground walkway and a pedestrian deck. JR lines, subway lines and the Yurikamome line stop at these stations.
Train tracks by the Shiodome by sinkdd
Shiodome Shio-Site is a group of utra-modern skyscrapers that are home to some of Japan's top companies, including Nippon TV and Kyodo News. The overall design of the Shiodome very techie with lots of steel and concrete which some people don't like, but I really like it as it looks like the future.  There are attractions worth checking out here along with many restaurants and major hotels.
Shiodome Pedestrian Deck / Tostzilla
The Shio-Site buildings are all connected by an extensive pedestrian deck that linke to subway, train and monorail.  This pedestrian deck is three stories off the ground and you would think you are at ground level for large parts of it until you get to someplace where you look over the side!  There are gardens and parks at that this level.  This is futuristic and I suppose street level is dimmer as it is under all of this. Many of the buildings are also connected above ground, at ground level, and underground with walkways and malls that are very impressive to see.
Shiodome by Night   Flickr / oisa
View Shiodome Area in a larger map

Shiodome City Center
Shiodome City Center, which is known for its modern architectural design, with many corporate offices and restaurants gathered upon the building.There are great views from the upper-level restaurants.

Caretta Shiodome
Another mall and set of restaurants in the area.  Great views from the elevator!
Shiodome can easily be combined with an early-morning visit to Tsukiji fish market, and you can also pick up the Yurikamome monorail from here to zip out to Odaiba.  The Yurikamome line runs on magnets and is a driverless train.  If you wish to go to Diver City (to see the giant Gundam) or anywhere else on Odaiba, you can take this line from the Shiodome.

A few links to shopping, other attractions (such as the advertising museum/) at Wikitravel, and dining suggestions in the Shiodome, some with views at Chowhound.

At the Shiodome, there are many attractions other than the shopping malls such as Shiodome City Center.  Some of these attractions I have written about and are covered at the posts below:
Redevelopment of Shiodome PDF

Design of Shiodome

History of Shiodome Development

Identifies a number of the buildings here for you.  For example, you can orient yourself to find the Ghibli Clock at the NTT building.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Miyazaki Steam-Punk Clock at NTV Shiodome

This is a do not miss BIG clock (a glockenspiel as it has mechanical animations) at the NTV headquarters in the Shiodome, Tokyo.  The steam-punk themed clock is designed by the famous Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghbli is the largest animated clock in the world.  The clock was completed in December 2006 after a design period of over four years.  I didn't know about this clock when I visited and wandered over when I was exploring around the Shiodome.  I managed to see the complete animated sequence and it was pretty fun to watch.
Miyazaki's Big Animated Clock at NTV / Tostzilla

The enormous copper clock is 12 metres high, 18 metres wide, and has extensive animations timed to music including firing steam cannon, moving figures, and moving legs like Howl's Moving Castle.  In fact, the whole contraption reminds me of Howl's Moving Castle.  The clock was built by sculptor Shachimaru Kunio who also built the giant Laputa robot on the rooftop of the Ghibli museum.  Miyazaki said that he wanted to make something that would be loved by future generations that would last beyond his animated characters. Try to be there on the hour, but the animations don't always run every hour.

The site below has many close up pictures of the clock for your viewing pleasure.

NTV Site about their "Large Clock"  Flash or Google Chrome is required.  It is in Japanese.

Apparently, the clock animations may not be running while there are power saving measures in place, so the possibility you may not see the mechanical sequences does exist.  Other than this clock there are many things to see in the Shiodome area and I have covered them in this post here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Anpanman Terrace in the Shiodome

Soreike! Anpanman (それいけ!アンパンマン Go! Anpanman) is one of the most popular anime cartoon series for young children in Japan. In 2011, Anpanman was the most popular fictional character among Japanese children for 10 consecutive years according to Bandai.  The series is  based on the Anpanman picture-book series that began in 1973 and is produced by Nippon Television and Tokyo Movie Shinsha. The show has been on the air in Japan since 1988 and is still running.

Anpanman Terrace   Flickr / calltheambulance
The Anpanman characters appear on virtually every imaginable children's product, from clothes to video games to toys to snack foods.  "Anpanman (アンパンマン) is the main character of the anime, whose head is a bun made by Uncle Jam. His name comes from the fact that he is a man with a head made of bread (Japanese: pan, a loanword from the Portuguese word meaning "bread") that is filled with Red bean paste (Japanese: an) called an anpan. He doesn't need to eat or drink to sustain himself and has never been seen eating. It is believed the bean jam in his head gives him sustenance. His weakness is water or anything that makes his head dirty. He regains his health and strength when Jam Ojisan bakes him a new head and it is placed on his shoulders. Anpanman's damaged head, with Xs in his eyes, flies off his shoulders once a new baked head lands. He was created when a shooting star landed in Uncle Jam's oven while he was baking. He has two special attacks called: An-punch and An-kick (with stronger variations of both). When Anpanman comes across a starving creature or person, he lets the unfortunate creature or person eat part of his head. He also has super hearing in that he can respond to anyone that calls his name out in distress from anywhere in the world." From Wikipedia

Anpanman Terrace
This is a store dedicated solely to Anpanman goods and merchandise that is also very near the NTV store in Shiodome (not surprising!).  Most of the merchandise in the store is for children and there are all sorts of dolls, stuffies, toys, games, and shirts for them. Kids will like the bold colors and simple faces for these characters.

Young kids would like this place and there is also a Anpanman themed play area here.  A bakery also sells Anpanman Bread and snacks. If you are going to see the big Miyazaki animated clock nearby it is worthwhile stopping here for a look.

Anpanman Terrace is in the Nittele Tower (NTV Tower), Shiodome.
1-6-1 Higashi shinbashi 
Minato-ku Tokyo

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ball's Pyramid (Lost Bug Survival Story)

Ball's Pyramid is a 7 million year old volcanic remnant that is very narrow and high with a height of 562 metres (1,844 feet).  The rock was named after a British naval officer in 1788. It is near Lord Howe Island, Australia, which is an isolated nature preserve.

This island had an interesting secret that was not confirmed until 2001 when scientists made a serious investigation.  The scientists climbed 500 feet of cliff and found a colony of the presumed extinct Dryococelus australis or Lord Howe Stick Insect (aka tree lobster).  These 6 legged bugs are the heaviest stick insect in the world with a big 12 cm length and thick hard shells.  Before they became "extinct" they were used by the locals as fish bait!

The extinction of these bugs began in 1918 when a supply ship ran aground at Lord Howe Island.  Rats escaped from the ship and found out that tree lobsters were quite tasty.  By 1920 the tree lobsters were gone and thought extinct for the next 80 years.  In the 1960s climbers said they found some stick insect corpses on Ball's Pyramid but it was never followed up on.  The insects were nocturnal and the expedition in 2001 found them in one spot on the island - one spot only.  Why this spot and how they got there, who knows?  A landslide nearly wiped this colony out too!

A breeding program has taken place since and there are thousands of them now.  However, they can't just be reintroduced to Lord Howe Island as the rats are still there.'s_Pyramid

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coffee Please, Not Tea - Tokyo Coffee Shops, Hario & Canned Coffee

Tokyo Coffee Shops
Tokyoites love their coffee and they have a long tradition of coffee brewing.  So it isn't just about green tea, which is also a great beverage.  Myself, I love a good cup of coffee in the morning to wake me up.  There used to be thousands of small coffee shops but these have been mostly displaced by bigger coffee chains, konbini stores, family restaurants, and the convenience of canned coffee from vending machines.  Still, you don't have to have a coffee at a Starbucks and there are several local Japanese coffee chains to try for something with some Japanese touches.  An unusually designed Japanese Starbucks (not in Tokyo) is described at the end of the post.
Flickr / larryvincent
Two of the larger Japanese chains in Tokyo are Tully's and Doutor.  Both have their own specialties and many of the specialty coffees that Starbucks has.  Starbucks is pretty good too and it is the coffee shop of choice to watch the Shibuya Scramble Crossing from.  Pricing is within similar ballparks too.  Their coffee shops can be found in many locations around the city, sometimes it seems on every street corner.  Remember that the non-smoking environment in Japan is not the same as it is in North America, and if you want smoke free you might need to try Starbucks.

Tully’s operates under license from the American Tully's.  Tully's has items such as Tapioca Royal Milk Tea and Cream and Honey Lattes / Tea.  There are other seasonal products and even food specialties like sandwiches and other sweet pastries. Everyone does breakfast too and Tully's offers a delicious looking open face sandwich with melted cheese and bacon.

Doutor Coffee also offers all the coffee specialties, an excellent Green Tea (Matcha) Latte, a very pretty looking seasonal Cherry Blossoms Latte, delicious looking sandwiches, cake, and pastries.  If you are in Tokyo for any bit of time you'll have time to try them all!  Doutor also operates the Excelsior chain of coffeeshops that have a different food and beverage lineup.  The Excelsior coffee chain is also operated by these folks.

A more exclusive and hand crafted coffee can be obtained from Omotesando Coffee.  It is located in Omotesando and they have had many writeups on the web and in Monocle magazine.  Expect to pay more for the quality!  Their very minimalist web site is below.  You need to mouse-over to activate the menus!

Hario Pour Your Own Coffee
Yes, this is a Hario from Japan, not a Haro as in the ball shaped robot in Gundam.  I use one of these at work whenever I don't want to leave the office to grab a coffee.  Works great and sometimes I wonder why I'm waiting in a line at the coffee shop (other than to stretch my legs or for a change of setting) because the coffee comes out great from my Hario coffee filter - often better than the coffee shop!

A difference between the Harios and other filters lies in the fact that the paper filters are perfectly conical, not flattened at the base.  This and the guide channels provide for a better flow of  water through the grinds so you get nicer coffee.  You do have to go through a few steps to make the coffee and you have to be a little patient, but it pays off.  The Harios are made from glass or ceramic and come in small and large sizes.  If you buy one, get lots of filters as they tend to have an erratic supply chain outside of Japan and cost more.  Kappenbashi (Kitchen Town) has coffee supply stores where you can load up on Harios and the filters cheaper.

Canned Coffee
Canned Coffee from a vending machine that is hot or cold!  Canned coffee (缶コーヒー kan kōhī) is ubiquitous in Japan, with a large number of companies competing fiercely and offering various types for sale. Japanese canned coffee is already brewed and ready to drink. It is available in supermarkets and convenience stores (コンビニ kombini), with vast numbers of cans being sold in vending machines that offer heated cans in the autumn and winter, and cold cans in the warm months.
Canned Coffee   Flickr / ADD Photography
Japanese Vending Machines with Canned Coffee - they come out of the machine hot!
Canned coffee is a Japanese creation, and the term kan kōhī is wasei-eigo: the English-language term "can coffee" was created in Japan and is believed to have entered English usage as a way of distinguishing it from a typical can of, for instance, Folgers or Nescafé. In the United States, at least, "canned coffee" is the preferred term, if used at all.

UCC Ueshima Coffee Co. is well known in Japan for pioneering canned coffee with milk in 1969. The official government web site of Shimane Prefecture, Japan, claims that the world's first canned coffee—Mira Coffee—appeared in Shimane in 1965, but this was short-lived. UCC does some excellent Evangelion canned coffee tie-ins - check out my EVA coffee page.  More significant perhaps was the 1973 introduction by Pokka Coffee of the hot and cold drink vending machine. The Japanese Wikipedia version of this article claims that it was this introduction that allowed the industry to take off, and in 1983 canned coffee makers shipped more than 100 million cases.  From Wikipedia.
Anyhow the various canned coffee companies have spent a fortune marketing their products, which do taste pretty good too, and you can enjoy a few of the Tommy Lee Jones commercials for Boss above.

Starbucks by Keno Kuma in Fukuoka
This Starbucks is on the street that leads to Dazaifu Tenmagu shrine. Kuma designed the shrine to blend in more with its traditional surroundings, yet look modern. Long pieces of lumber that were 6cm square in diameter were used to simulate the branches of a forest and suggest traditional Japanese carpentry techniques.  Anyhow, the store is very unusual looking and you can have a coffee in a nifty environment there.
Fukuoka Starbucks   Flickr / mab-ken

Other Tokyo Excess Japanese Pop Culture Links

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gundam Cafe and AKB48 Cafe in Akihabara

Both of these cafes are havens for their respective fans or everyone who wants to experience something a little different.  You can either decide to enjoy the ambiance of the Universal Century with its giant Gundam mecha, or the thrills of being in a themed cafe for AKB48, a very popular JPOP singing and performing troupe of young ladies.  Both cafes will be covered in this post.  It is also kind of interesting that both cafes occupy space under the train tracks - making good use of it.  I know I'll be visiting one or both of the cafes during my next trip to Tokyo. 
 Gundam Cafe   Flickr / vaneea

Gundam Cafe
The Gundam Series (ガンダムシリーズ Gandamu Shirīzu) encompasses a whole set of anime created by Sunrise studios that features giant robots (mecha) called Mobile Suits (MS). Usually the hero's MS will carry the name Gundam.  The RX-78 was the first Gundam manned robot introduced in 1979 in the series Mobile Suit Gundam. In the series, it is a testbed weapon for the Earth Federation (EFSF) when it falls into the hands of Amuro Ray, the son of a weapons designer, who goes on to pilot it in the Earth Federation's war against the Principality of Zeon. Amuro is an implied Canadian (go Canada!) as he was born in Prince Rupert, who is a Newtype human and a electronics tinkerer who also designed the basketball-sized talking robot Haro.

The success of this original series spawned a whole series of anime, with a successful reboot of the series occurring with the release of Gundam Seed.  If you haven't seen any Gundam, it is a good bet to start with this series.  The latest Gundam series are Gundam 00 and Gundam Unicorn at the time of writing.

The Gundam Cafe is a good stop for Gundam fans that is Gundam themed inside and outside.  The food and drinks were themed and the staff wear Gundam uniforms from the Earth Federation.  You can get a Jaguro blend coffee in a commemorative Gundam Cafe mug that you can keep if you pay more.  There are also desserts such as a Gundam Shaped Taiyaki pasty. There are many displays of Gundam figures along with other memorabilia. TVs there are showing Gundam ads and other Gundam film clips.  The Gundam Bathroom apparently has special effects that happen when you flush...  Check out the movies below!

The map below shows the location of the Gundam Cafe and the AKB48 Cafe which are adjacent to each other as the pair of faces in the center of the map.

View Akihabara Highlights Map / Akihabara Guide in a larger map

AKB48 Cafe

AKB48 is a Japanese female idol group produced by Yasushi Akimoto. This jpop group has achieved enormous popularity in Japan that is also one of the highest-earning musical acts in the world, with 2011 record sales of over $200 million in Japan alone.  Its twelve latest consecutive singles topped the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart. In 2010, "Beginner" and "Heavy Rotation" placed, respectively, 1st and 2nd in the list of Japan's best selling singles for the year, while in 2011 AKB48 occupied the whole Top 5 of the Oricon Yearly Singles Chart. The band has sold over ten million records.

The group is named after Akihabara area of Tokyo where they have a theater on the 8th floor of the Akihabara branch of the Don Quijote store. Akimoto's idea, later advertised as "idols you can meet", was to create a theater-based idol group whose fans could see the girls live daily.  AKB48 still performs at the theater every day, although, due to great demand, tickets are now distributed only via a lottery.

AKB48 fans can go to the cafe, which opened in 2011, to enjoy a cup of coffee in a themed themed environment full of the groups memorabilia too.  They can even imagine having a cup of coffee delivered to them by their favorite member.  The waitresses here dress in identical outfits worn by the AKB48 stars, but the stars themselves are not usually here. The varied menu had the assistance of the AKB48 members in its design.  A theater section that shows recent recordings of stage footage filmed in the AKB48 Theater at the Don Quijote.

Some AKB48 Songs
  • "Aitakatta" (会いたかった - I wanted to meet you) is Japanese idol group AKB48's third single, and the first major single released in 2006. The song is regarded as the signature song of AKB48, remains as AKB48′s most recognizable tune among the public.
  • Heavy Rotation Live- One of their more recent popular songs.
  • AKB48 - Baby! Baby! Baby! - Another of their songs that is full of energy.

Other Tokyo Anime / Otaku Highlights Worth Visiting

Friday, March 16, 2012

Alien Art - Haniwa & Dogu Figures (Jomon & Yayoi Periods)

When I was deciding to visit Japan I did a pile of background reading and was researching the museums over there as I have a big interest in archeology. Well, I started coming across these interesting images of the famous "Dancing Haniwa" and amazing clay figures of women called dogu.  Well, these images are also embedded in the Japanese pysche and are hold great interest for the Japanese too. On my visit to Tokyo I made a trip to the National Museum to see these wonderful artifacts and was not disappointed!  These wonderful neolithic and early bronze age clay figures from Japan rank right up there with my love of Minoan art (look at the pottery and snake goddess figurines from my page on the Minoans).
Haniwa ( 埴輪 )
The "Dancing Haniwa" are these clay figure that look like cactuses with arms in dancing type poses that are part of a whole range of different types of haniwa figures (you have horses, other animals, figures playing harps, figures that even look more human, etc.).
Dancing Haniwa at the National Museum / Tostzilla
As a total side note for you anime figure collectors out there - just imagine what an archeologist a 1000 years from now would think about the piles of PVC figures they would excavate out of the ruins of your home if the world as we knew it ceased to exist. A shrine for ritual purposes?  Royal burial? A storehouse? Who knows... Maybe I'll leave a clay tablet explaining what they are or something myself :)  And yes,  the title of this blog post says "Alien Art", so you will eventually see the dogu and the clay vessels made by the Jomon people which are very alien looking.

Haniwa means "circle of clay" in Japanese.  Haniwa are unglazed terra-cotta (low-fired) cylinders or hollow sculptures that where arranged on and around the mounded tombs (kofun) of the Japanese elite from the Yayoi period. The kofun keyhole tombs dot the Japanese landscape today and are quite cool too. The origin of haniwa started during the latter part of the Yayoi period around the Kingdom of Kibi. A great big, and famous, kofun tomb is located at Sakai city.
The Yayoi period lasted from about 400 or 300 BC until 250 AD. This period followed the Jōmon period and completely supplanted it. This period is named after Yayoi town, the subsection of Bunkyō, Tokyo, where archaeological investigations uncovered its first recognized traces.  The start of the Yayoi period marked the influx of new practices such as weaving, rice farming, and iron and bronze making on a wide scale. Bronze and iron appear to have been simultaneously introduced. Iron was mainly used for agricultural and other tools, whereas, bronze was used for ritual and ceremonial artifacts.

The first and most common haniwa were barrel-shaped cylinders used to mark the borders of a burial ground. Haniwa range from 1 to 5 feet (30 to 150 cm) in height with most being approximately 3 feet (90 cm) high. Originally, the cylindrical type haniwa were set on top of the funeral mounds, so it is believed that they had a purpose in funeral rituals; however, as the haniwa became more developed, they were set towards the outside of the grave area, and it is thought that they were used as boundary markers to mark the borders of the gravesite.

There is a theory that the soul of the deceased would reside in the haniwa, as the earlier haniwa were placed on top of the funeral mounds. There are haniwa that are equipped with weapons and armor, and these are also thought to be containers for souls. The armor and weapons would serve the purpose of driving away evil spirits and protecting the buried ruler from calamity. Because the horse and animal shaped haniwa were normally neatly arranged into a line, it is believed that they were part of a sending-off ceremony."  Summarized from Wikipedia 

Today, the haniwa are not quite so serious as they are part of popular culture and have embedded themselves in commercials and even video games.  Still, there are many depictions show the haniwa as a ghostlike, malevolent creature too, particularly in video games.

Haniwa Yogurt Commercial

Final Fantasy Haniwa Boss

Romancing SaGa. Party gets KO'ed right at the beginning followed by a long 10 minute battle with a horde of Haniwa.

Skating Haniwa - Cute! 

Haniwa Art Documentary

Dogu ( 土偶 )
Dogu are bug-eyed clay idols that represent women with these exaggerated features like big hips, thick legs, and nipples as fertility symbols.  Compare these to other fertility figures such as the Venus of Willendorf for exaggeration of features (no relationships implied either).  Dogu are found all over Japan with the Tohoku region in northern Japan yielding the most variety.  Dogu first appeared in early Jomon period and became common in the Middle Jomon through Late Jomon.
Clay figurine from the Jomon Period
Dogu figures are not simple figures. Many have the distinctive Jomon rope-cord patterns and / or have been intricately carved with patterns. Some look like space men from outer space with the bug or goggled eyes.  Apparently they are even known as the "goggles type"! These figures definitely make my imagination act up.
One of the most interesting things about these figure are the goggle-like eyes. No one knows the meaning for this exaggeration (and I'm not going to suggest alien contact - even if it looks like a space suit to us).   The nose and mouth are usually small holes. The clay figures have a crown on their heads and the incised patterns could be tattoos?"  There are many different patterns, shapes, sizes for these figures too.

 Dogu and Haniwa Figure Overview
Jomon Period
The Jōmon period lasted from about 14,000 until 300 BC. From there, it is divided into six periods: Incipient Jōmon, from 10,500-8,000 BC, Earliest Jōmon, from 8,000-5,000 BC, Early Jōmon, from 5,000-2,500 BC, Middle Jōmon, from 2,500- 1,500 BC, Late Jōmon, from 1,500-1,000 BC, and Final Jōmon, from 1,000-300 BC.  The first signs of civilization and stable living patterns appeared around 14,000 BC with the Jōmon culture, characterized by a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle of wood stilt house and pit dwellings and a rudimentary form of agriculture.

There are over eighty sites in Japan where Jomon pottery vessels have been found, but the majority the finds come from the later periods.  Weaving was still unknown at the time and clothes were often made of furs. The Jomon people started to make clay vessels, decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks. Based on radio-carbon dating, some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world can be found in Japan dated to the 11th millennium BC (this is disputed).

The majority of Jomon pottery has rounded bottoms and the vessels are typically small. This shows that the vessels would typically be used to boil food, perhaps fitting into a fire. Later Jōmon pottery pieces are more elaborate, especially during the Middle Jōmon period, where the rims of pots became much more complex and decorated.  In fact, these pots look positively organic in nature like giant pitcher plant or something even wilder.  All Jomon pots were made by hand, without the aid of a wheel, the potter building up the vessel from the bottom with coil upon coil of soft clay. Summarized From Wikipedia
Jomon Pot with organic alien-like decoration / Tostzilla
The name Jōmon itself means “rope-patterned”. This refers to the impressions on the surface of the pottery which were created by pressing rope into the clay before it was fired.
The power of dogu: ceramic figures from ancient Japan

There is a very nice PDF brochure of a continuously inhabited Jomon site at the link below.

As I mentioned earlier with the Haniwa, these dogu figures have also entered Japanese pop culture in the form of videos, games, and television programs too.

Dogu Dance - Cute! 

Dogu Videogame Battle! 

The opening title sequence of the Japanese TV show "The Ancient Dogoo Girl." You can find episodes on Youtube, but I'm not showing them as it is pretty sexist stuff with lots of emphasis on breasts.

Ancient Dogu Girl Opening

I like the show in concept otherwise as it is about "...the socially awkward teenage son of a bumbling archaeologist who finds a strange breastplate buried in the woods. When he places his palm on the breast plate, its design gets burned into his palm and awakens a girl named Dogu-chan, a hyperactive yokai hunter from the Jomon period. Because he had touched her breastplate, Makoto is now bound to Dogu-chan as she adapts to modern day life, forcing Makoto to go with her as she fights yokai in magic armor along with her animated Dogoo statuette companion Dokigoro while slowly prying Makoto out of his shell, whether he likes it or not." From Wikipedia.

Main Pop Culture Articles Page

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Konbini Song and Lawson Evangelion Tie-ins

Konbini (Japanese convenience stores) have this kind of legendary mystique amongst Japanophiles and are an element of Japanese pop culture as they permeate the media there (including anime of course). Most people seem to shop at them and even some Hikikomori (shut-ins) wander out in the depths of the night visit them for sustenance.  I like the onigiri and the nifty snacks you can get at these convenience store, but am amazed that you couldn't buy an aspirin or Tylenol type medication at them. Konbini also do many anime tie-in promotions as you can see from the Evangelion and other events that are covered below.

Anyhow, the Japanese have even made some comedy type songs that have the konbini as the focus and they are actually pretty good.

Konbini are little masterpieces in marketing and inventory / supply chain management.  Products are placed at the right place and height to catch your eye, and they track what sells well, so only popular items are stocked.  Of course, convenience foods and snacks are well stocked (who doesn't like their candy aisles!), but the selection is far better than what you get in many other countries.  I love konbini rice balls, the limited edition instant ramen, and their wonderful selection of drinks.  Since I'm on the topic of konbini, here is a video of the interior of a Lawson.  If you haven't seen one before it is worth a watch.

Evangelion and other Anime Tie-Ins with Lawson
Lawson has seen a good thing and keeps working the anime tie-in angle over the years.  Their biggest promo was the Evangelion Tie-In with a fully branded store in Hakone (where Tokyo 3 is supposed to be located).  The store was completely done up and was supposed to be like something out of the reboot movies.  It was so popular it had to be shut down early as there were parking problems and civic disorder.
I can only say that there was a lot of good looking merchandise present!  See the movies below  to get a feel for that event back in 2010.

Link to Gigazine english coverage of the store below:

Lawson has also done other tie-ins with Madoka Magica and K-on too!

Other Tokyo Excess Japanese Pop Culture Links

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kaiju (Monster-sized) Burgers

Hamburgers ( ハンバーガー ) are nothing new in Japan, and they even have a long standing tradition of eating Hamburg Steak.  There are many fast food chains with imports like McDonalds and Burger King and the home grown ones like MOS Burger, Lotteria, etc.  They do have a share of their kaiju burgers that first started out with the Mega Mac that was first sighted in Tokyo Bay way back in 2006.  While this burger is nothing close to Godzilla's size, it was impressive for its time.
Mega Mac   Flickr / Viet Hoang 

The Mega Mac isn't much of a monster burger these days as it is just a double Big Mac, but larger beasts have emerged from the ocean depths to ravage Japan. Take a look at the Windows 7 Whopper below, it could probably feed a tank battalion from the JSDF.
Whopper   Flickr / avlxyz
But this burger is just another baby compared to this unknown monster sighted somewhere on the Japanese main island.  The spotting plane mysteriously vanished in a flash of light after reporting it.
BK Mega Whopper (10 Patties) Burger   Flickr / RellyAB
In 2011 Burger King launched a pizza sized burger that is 22 cm in diameter, but at least this beast could be shared by friends once you bring it down with massed gunfire.
Pizza Burger   Flickr / TAKA@P.P.R.S
There are many other types of kaiju burgers, but these beasts are not isolated to Japan as they have been sighted in other countries.  Apparently McDonalds USA has something called an Air Sea Land burger that is made of a beef patty, a filet o fish patty, and a chicken patty (but apparently it is difficult to order - part of the Area 51 classified projects).
The United Kingdom also has a few kaiju as you can see at the links below.

As for myself, this little burger actually looks downright tasty and is even associated with a cute bunny. It couldn't possibly be a kaiju could it?
Flickr / chrissam42

Other Tokyo Excess Japanese Pop Culture Links

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Shibuya Crossing Viewpoints

The world famous Shibuya Crossing view has appeared in movies like Lost in Translation, and numerous anime.  Often, the giant five story display screen on the Q Front Building shown as a center piece.  It is a tangle of walkways and roads as you move south from the station (away from the Q Front) and look north.  The famous statue of Hachiko the loyal dog is also located here.
HDR Photo of Shibuya Crossing   Flickr / /\ltus

I know I really wanted to check this location out, photo it, and experience the human surge that crosses the intersection with every change of the light.  It is one of the busiest pedestrian intersections on the planet as it is right across from the Shibuya Train Station.

There are numerous vantage points to observing this busiest of pedestrian crossings.  Most views are from a lower level vantage point, but some higher vantage points.
The easiest vantage point is the street level view looking towards the Q Front Building where the Starbucks Coffee shop is located.  The second vantage point is from the Starbucks coffee shop on the second floor.  You will probably have your coffee drink in your hand right after paying for it as they are fast servers and you can wander upstairs to try and get a window view.  It can be very crowded.  From the Starbucks, you can see huge pedestrian walkway.  From this walkway, you can get pictures of the crossing that look pretty nice.  There is safety glass here, but put your camera to the glass to make the lines go away.  Also some gigantic wall murals here by Taro Okamoto (famous artist who also did a number cool statues around the city).

There are also cool views down on the crossing from the Shibuya Excel Hotel on Shibuya Crossing (19th floor). For some reason the photographers never tell you where they shot this from, but whatever.  Just don't annoy the hotel staff so everyone can continue to shoot from the elevator! 

Japanese Super Science

Japan has some amazing science projects.  The Super-Kamiokande observatory was designed to detect neutrinos from the sun and is buried 1 km underground in an old mine.  The Hayabusa is a space probe that rendezvoused  with an asteroid in deep space and returned some samples to Earth. Finally, the Earth Simulator 2 is a massive parallel computer that is simulated global climate models.  These are big, super science projects.  You can also see some exhibits about these items at the Miraikan museum on Odaiba, Tokyo.
Super Kamiokande
Super-Kamiokande (full name: Super-Kamioka Nucleon Decay Experiments, abbreviated to Super-K) is a neutrino observatory which is under Mount Kamioka near the city of Hida, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. The observatory was designed to search for proton decay, study solar and atmospheric neutrinos, and keep watch for supernovae in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Kamiokande Detection Chamber with boat for scale.
The Super-K is located 1,000 m (3,300 ft) underground in the Mozumi Mine in Hida's Kamioka area. It consists of a cylindrical stainless steel tank that is 41.4 m (136 ft) tall and 39.3 m (129 ft) in diameter holding 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water. The tank volume is divided by a stainless steel superstructure into an inner detector (ID) region that is 33.8 m (111 ft) in diameter and 36.2 m (119 ft) in height and outer detector (OD) which consists of the remaining tank volume. Mounted on the superstructure are 11,146 photomultiplier tubes (PMT) 20 in (51 cm or half a meter) in diameter that face the ID and 1885 8 in (20 cm) PMTs that face the OD.
The PMT detectors look like giant light bulbs.
Hayabusa Space Probe
Hayabusa (はやぶさ?, literally "Peregrine Falcon") was an unmanned spacecraft developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to return a sample of material from a small near-Earth asteroid named 25143 Itokawa to Earth for further analysis.
Extremely Cute Hyabusa-Tan Personification   Flickr / TAKK_

Hayabusa, formerly known as MUSES-C for Mu Space Engineering Spacecraft C, was launched on 9 May 2003 and rendezvoused with Itokawa in mid-September 2005. After arriving at Itokawa, Hayabusa studied the asteroid's shape, spin, topography, colour, composition, density, and history. In November 2005, it landed on the asteroid and collected samples in the form of tiny grains of asteroidal material, which were returned to Earth aboard the spacecraft on 13 June 2010.

Earth Simulator 2 Supercomputer
The Earth Simulator (ES), developed by the Japanese government's initiative "Earth Simulator Project", was a highly parallel vector supercomputer system for running global climate models to evaluate the effects of global warming and problems in solid earth geophysics. The system was developed for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, and Japan Marine Science and Technology Center (JAMSTEC) in 1997. Construction started in October 1999, and the site officially opened on March 11, 2002. The project cost 60 billion yen.
Earth Simulator 2 Cabinets   Flickr / electric8sheep

ES was replaced by the Earth Simulator 2 (ES2) in March 2009. ES2 is an NEC SX-9/E system, and has a quarter as many nodes each of 12.8 times the performance (3.2x clock speed, four times the processing resource per node), for a peak performance of 131 TFLOPS. With a delivered LINPACK performance of 122.4 TFLOPS, ES2 was the most efficient supercomputer in the world at that point. In November 2010, NEC announced that ES2 topped the Global FFT, one of the measures of the HPC Challenge Awards, with the performance number of 11.876 TFLOPS.

Other Tokyo Excess Japanese Pop Culture Links