Sunday, May 20, 2012

Springtime, Limited Edition Candy, and the Guinea Pig Apocalypse

It's finally the May long weekend.  Time to kick back, read some novels, watch some anime and write more SF stories for myself too.  Re-watching that old James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, that takes place in Japan.  This particular weekend means that you have a better than even chance of planting flowers and other delicate plants and not have a major freeze wipe them out in Canada (Vancouver and Victoria are exempt as usual from the nasty weather).  The daffodils and tulips are well into blooming and the other flowers are just starting to bud out. 
My apple tree is blossoming right now and is very pretty, good eating apples too - can't stand crabs as I don't make jams and stuff.  I was out walking the other day and other apples are blossoming too.

You clean off the BBQ and start grilling now too.  But don't forget to fill the old propane tank.  Grilled meat... yum. Chicken wings, lamb chops, steak...

The other day I was in the supermarket and saw many types of wonderful new and newish types of candies.  You don't always have to go to Japan to get it, even though they still do it the best!  Not all of these will be around in a year though.  The dessert gums were pretty good and there was an Apple Pie flavour too that was pretty darn good.

These chocolate bars were pretty good too.  With the orange Aero bar being particularly good along with the 2 musketeers truffle crisp.

Guinea Pig Apocalypse
This is far worse than the Zombie Apocalypse.  Not only are they cute, they are deadly.  Zombies are so in right now that I think I really don't like the genre.  High School of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead were entertaining, but I guess I can't take too much of a good thing.

You know it is bad when gun magazines start making issues titled "Zombie Nation"  What kind of survivalist is reading this stuff?  I know it's all in fun, but seriously?  The magazine was basically a gun / survivalist magazine with tips for surviving the zombie apocalypse.  There was an article like "Six Ways To Avoid the Bite" and stuff like that.  At least all the REAL gun ads for the AR-15 variants were good. 

So, to protest against zombies, I have enlisted my two cute guinea pigs to promote the Guinea Pig Apocalypse.  When fluffy piggies attack....  argghhhh..... get it off! --- get it off! Blam! Blam! Blam! There's thousands of them... Fall back --- we need to call in artillery on our position.  Fire mission.  Danger close!
We lost our camera man after this shot.
But seriously, here are my Guinea Pigs Ginger and Chelsea in a less hostile pose.  They don't like zombies either as it interferes with their grazing.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ghibli Museum in Tokyo

The Ghibli Museum, run by Studio Ghibli, is a wonderful place to visit with or without kids (say 2 or older - as long as they can watch Totoro and enjoy it).  I took the train out to Mitaka Station from Shinjuku and spent several hours here one late morning and early afternoon.  If you want to make a day of it, you could also hit Nakano Broadway which many of the trains will stop at on the way in or out.   See my travelogue post here for more about the Ghibli Museum.
All photos copyright, Tostzilla.

You don't need to be a fan of the Ghibli films, but it sure helps if you are.  Studio Ghibli has many many award winning animated films including "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle," "My Neighbour Totoro," "Kiki's Delivery Service," "Ponyo," and "The Secret of Arietty" amongst many others
1:1 Scale Totoro
Side of Ghibli Museum with Giant Totoro
Kiki Cat Taps
Interior Courtyard of Museum

The museum itself is set in a parkland environment and is nicely themed with friendly staff and many different types of exhibits inside and outside the museum building.  You may wish to stop at a konbini by the train station and pick up some drinks and food (rice balls or sandwiches, etc.) as the snack bar here was pretty busy and many families here were having picnics in their outdoor lunch area.

Inside the museum is an environment that begs kids to run around and explore.  There is a great big cat bus to play on (for the younger kids only), windy metal staircases and tiny passages to explore, but the biggest attraction are these special Ghibli short films that are ONLY shown here.  These short films showcase Ghibli talent and include shows such as a semi-sequel to "My Neighbour Totoro" called "Mei and the Kitten Bus."  You will not know which short you will see and I didn't get to see that one so I guess I'll have to go again.
Laputan Robot Soldier
Other attractions include the great big giant statue of robot soldier from Laputa as the highlight of the rooftop garden here, the many little details from different Ghibli films that are embedded throughout the grounds and the building.  It is a delight to visit for any Ghibli fan.  Of course there are also many art of animation displays, Ghibli memorabilia, and other exhibits to view.  The gift shop here is also wonderful and I got a great little stuffy of Mei cosplaying as Totoro!

Ghibli Museum Links
Definitely check the official site link for the latest information about the museum.  You will have to buy your tickets in advance - no walk-ins.  See the museum site for information about ticket purchase.

Other Tokyo Anime / Otaku Highlights Worth Visiting

More iPhone & iPad Apps About Tokyo, Japan, and Learning Japanese

Here are a number of apps that should provide some good information or be of use about Tokyo, Japan, or learning Japanese.  The selection below covers touring in Tokyo, Japanese phrasebooks, and Japanese food guides of a simple sort.  Please check to make sure an app is still free if I mention it was free at the time of writing if you purchase it. I can't guarantee the prices don't change.

My other app list pages:
    Tokyo Travel Guide (with Offline Maps) - mTrip (updated Feb 10, 2013)
    This travel guide looks like it has all of the essentials.  It combines it own sources and other internet sources into a nice package.  Offline maps is useful.  I like it better than Triposo.

    Tokyo Signs
    This is a pretty nifty app about street signs and other signage you could encounter in Tokyo.  Would be a nice supplement to anyone wanting to practice their reading with authentic real world signage.

    Tokyo Vivid Noise
    An interesting app that is all about placing you in an immersive sound environment at different locations within Tokyo.  Obviously not for everyone, but it is an interesting concept.

    Tokyo Cool
    A pretty good little guide to some of the more popular Tokyo locations.  Not too expensive, but I would definitely supplement this with more guidebooks or other information.

    Tokyo Truisms
    This apps shows old Japanese proverbs and other quotations.  Fun for a bit.

    Free.  A very snazzy intro to Japanese customs, manners, and idiosyncracies. I like it.!/id458048665

    Ramen Walker
    Free. This is a guide in Japanese to delicious looking Ramen restaurants all over Japan.  Basically excerpts from a print magazine, but it is nicely linked and boy does it have awesome ramen photographs that you can browse through by ramen type and such.  Very pretty even if you don't read Japanese.

    Station QuizFree. Match the Station Name.  In Japanese.

    YamanoteLine (single word name)Free. Shows the Yamanote Line Signs.

    Handy Menu - Ramen
    Free. Practice your ramen ordering skills with this drill type game.  Pronounces and shows you pictures and Japanese text of the various menu items.  Will tabulate a bill at the end.  Aimed at young audiences, but fun.

    Handy Menu - Sushi
    Free. Practice your sushi ordering skills with this drill type game.  Pronounces and shows you pictures and Japanese text of the various menu items.  Will tabulate a bill at the end.  Aimed at young audiences, but fun.

    Sushi Culture
    Free.  This is an application all about sushi that is beautifully photographed.  Well worth the download.

    Good Luck Trip
    Free. An electronic magazine.  Just a single issue, but it hits a number of the highlights in Tokyo and has good info inside.  Well worth a look.

    Human Japanese
    This comes as one of the more highly recommended learn Japanese apps based on what I can find on the web.  I bought the iPhone version and wish it had retina graphics.  There are two versions of this one for the pad and one for the phone.

    Lingolook Japan
    A great little Japanese phrasebook and situational reference.  You can pick a category and phrase and have it print and speak the Japanese if you are in trouble.  Very nicely done and I quite like it.

    Free.  A Japanese dictionary with a ton of good reviews.!-japanese-dictionary/id288499125

    Learn Japanese Phrasebook
    Free.  Nice place to start if you don't want to spend any cash.

    Sunday, May 13, 2012

    Gyudon From Yoshinoya and Sukiya and JAL Air Beef Bowl

    I'm covering two of the larger gyudon or beef bowl chains in Japan in this post.  There are many more places to get beef bowl there.  Gyudon is a popular fast food dish that is healthier than some as it consists of stewed beef / onion in a slightly sweet/savoury sauce over a bowl of Japanese white rice.
    Beef Bowl   Flickr / Jetalone
    It is also relatively cheap compared to many other food options with prices often as low as 2 -3 dollars with coupons or when they have a promo.   There were pricing wars in the middle of the recession.  Prices fell to keep customers coming in.  They hoped that a customer who ate in once a week might come twice which means you also get a chance to sell more or upsell pricier products.  This business was also slammed by the Mad Cow scare around 2004 and later when the chains had to switch from cheap American beef to Australian beef or offer pork bowls instead.  Well, the beef is good again now, so let the good times roll again.  In anime, the students are often eating at these places and there are jokes about not taking your date to one of these joints.  As there are no beef bowl chains in my city, I make my own to get a fix.

    Gyūdon (牛丼?), literally beef bowl, is a Japanese dish consisting of a bowl of rice topped with beef and onion simmered in a mildly sweet sauce flavored with dashi (fish and seaweed stock), soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine). It also often includes shirataki noodles, and is sometimes topped with a raw egg. A very popular food in Japan, it is commonly served with beni shōga (pickled ginger), shichimi (ground chili pepper), and a side dish of miso soup. Gyū means "cow" or "beef", and don is short for donburi, the Japanese word for "bowl".  From Wikipedia.

    Yoshinoya (吉野家) is the largest chain of beef bowl (or gyūdon) restaurants and one of the Japanese chains of fast food, which was established in Japan in 1899. Its motto is "Tasty, low-priced, and quick"  From Wikipedia  This chain has aggressively expanded overseas and you find outlets in Singapore, Hong Kong, and many other countries including the United States.

    In a previous blog article I also covered JAL inflight meals with MOS Burgers.  Well, this year they have a promotion with Yohinoya to offer air beef bowl.  "TOKYO, March 1, 2012: Japan Airlines (JAL) is collaborating with Yoshinoya Holdings - the largest chain of beef-bowl restaurants, to bring its trademark dish to customers on select international flights from today, March 1, 2012. For three months until May 31, 2012, customers traveling with JAL from Tokyo to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London and Frankfurt in every cabin class will be able to enjoy Air Yoshinoya - the JAL Original version of the establishment’s specialty beef-bowl. 
    ... Specially designed and packaged to be served onboard, the Air Yoshinoya box separates the beef from the rice until customers are ready to enjoy it. Considering the lower humidity in the cabin, Air Yoshinoya also comes with more sauce so that customers taste the same succulence as the beef bowl served in shops. Air Yoshinoya packaging and tray mats are original designs for this in-flight service while the beef, ginger, shichimi (seven-flavored spice) and pickles served are just as customers would find in all Yoshinoya outlets in Japan." JAL Press Release

    Sukiya (すき家) is a Japanese restaurant chain serving gyūdon, other donburi, and curry. As of 2008, Sukiya has over 1000 restaurants throughout all 47 Japanese prefectures as well as six in Shanghai, China; two in Suzhou, China; and three in São Paulo, Brazil. Sukiya's owner, Zenshō Co. Ltd. (ゼンショー株式会社?), is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and had sales of ¥282 billion in 2007. ... Its slogan (printed in romaji outside the restaurant) is "save time and money". According to the publicity printed in English on the walls of the restaurant, it originated in Yokohama. From Wikipedia

    Other Tokyo Excess Japanese Pop Culture Links

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    PonPonPon and Veggie Girls JPOP

    Warner Music Japan has put out some very interesting promo videos with many, many dance moves.  Both are kind of cute and full of music.  They even have a big following now with lots of imitators and even fans using vocaloid software to do their own videos.
    Dancing to PonPonPon   Flickr / Moto猫
    Pon Pon Pon, which you can get on iTunes, features Kyary Pamyu Pamyu with an infectiously upbeat rhythm.  The music video is psychedelic and pretty bizarre to watch.

    The second video also from Warner Music Japan is something new from them called Veggierythm, where there are four cosplaying girls dancing in the vegetable section of a supermarket.  Pretty wild with complex dance moves from the choreographer for Perfume.  All for healthy eating!

    Saturday, May 5, 2012

    Evangelion World At Fuji Q Highland Park 
    West of Tokyo towards Mt. Fuji lies a theme park called Fuji-Q Highland Park. At this park, is Evangelion World.  Evangelion World is another place I would like to see with partial reconstructions of 1:1 scale Evangelions.  There's a lot of cool stuff to see in Japan, but if you were just touring giant robot exhibitions it would take a few days!  There is also a Gundam exhibit at the park too.  You can pretend to go for the roller coaster that looks absolutely deadly with the vertical drop, but you're really there for the anime.

     All photos in this article are used under the creative commons license from acetonic on Flickr. 

    Evangelion World takes you inside a partial recreation of key scenes from Evangelion and the NERV Headquarters.  You walk down hallways modeled in the style of the show and you'll see scenes from the remake movies.  And of course, you have your picture taken with the big robots!  There is plenty of Evangelion art and life-size dioramas.  I've embedded some movies below to show the atmosphere of the big sets and such.

    Grand opening of Evangelion World

    Making of Evangelion World

    Tour through Evangelion World.  It is open again, not closed as it says in the video. - very cool official site with flash. - official site. Hit the English link.
    Front of Evangelion World - this outpost of NERV is very purple.
    Eva Unit 01 Big Figure
    A couple of people in front of EVA-01's life size head in Cage 1 for scale.
    Big Head of Eva-02 Breaking Through Wall in Beast Mode
    Remember the elevator scene with Rei and Asuka from the movie?
    The UCC Canned Coffee Scene with Shinji and Ryoji the triple agent.
    Kaworu the angel.

    Mari the temporary pilot of EVA-02 from the second movie
    Asuka with Eva-02
    Man I would love to go see this stuff, but it would be a day trip from Tokyo for this and the rest of the park.

    View Larger Map

    Some other links to information about the park.