“One Piece” exhibition canceled in Seoul due to Rising Sun Flag “nationalist” images

Written by: William on July 11, 2014 at 10:11 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

An exhibition based on the massively popular manga “One Piece” scheduled to take place at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul from July 12th has been canceled, it was announced on July 10th.

Organizers said they have made the decision after people realized that numerous motifs in the original manga were reminiscent of the Rising Sun flag, a symbol of Japanese militarism and which has a particularly painful resonance in Korea, a country which suffered from decades as a colony of Japan.

The TV anime version of “One Piece” has already been broadcast in Korea and so the content of the exhibition had previously been judged as harmless, according to the museum. As such, they agreed to rent out a section of the venue for the event. However, after being told that Rising Sun Flag images appeared in the original manga they changed their minds, although no such images were featured in the actual planned exhibits. As the museum is run as a public organization funded by the state they had no choice but to cancel the exhibition.

one piece manga expo exhibition korea seoul cancel politics rising sun flag nationalist symbol wartime aggression

Like in Japan, Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” is popular in Korea and the exhibition, along with sketches and other materials, was going to feature life-size models of the characters, bringing the world of the manga and anime to 3D life for visitors. It would have been very successful too if early numbers are anything to go by. The events company behind the show said it had received reservations alone from 5,000 people! Not surprisingly they are now looking for an alternative venue for their exhibition since there is clearly demand for it, regardless of the politics.

While it might seem inappropriate or even bizarre to hold a mainstream exhibition (i.e. a piece of entertainment) like this at a war memorial in the first place, the Seoul venue is actually very large and has multiple spaces for all kinds of functions and events.

A similar exhibition opened recently in Taiwan, also a former Japanese colony, apparently without similar issues.

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Noriko Takasugi’s “Fukushima Samurai” photography series documents quiet dignity of Japan’s disaster survivors

Written by: William on July 11, 2014 at 8:41 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Photographer Noriko Takasugi has devoted herself to going in search of modern-day “samurai” in the devastated region of Fukushima in northeast Japan.

Her “Fukushima Samurai” series, though, is far from being just a cosplay gimmick. It’s a story of identity. As the artist says: “Since 2011, I have devoted my time to capturing the survivors of 3.11. While I am listening to their story, I could not ignore the unique spirit emerging in these people. These photos are part of my long-term project that differs from the major news stories about the disaster, having been investigating the evacuees not as victims, but as part of a 1,000-year-old folk culture of the area and representative of Japanese identity, examining how they are surviving and fighting their fate to retain their sense of self.”

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

With a background in clinical psychology at Waseda University and training under Daido Moriyama, Takasugi is one of eight photographers engaged since 2011 in the “Fukushima Photo Project”. Her own contribution looks at identity and the relationship between man and the environment.

Her project focuses on participants in Soma-Nomaoi, an annual celebration in Fukushima that is 1,000 years old. The high point of the famous three-day festival in the district sees horsemen dressed in traditional samurai gear race against each other.

The resulting work, “Fukushima Samurai”, is available as a photo book and is an exploration of Japan as a “hidden world” of ordinary human warmth and triumph in the wake of the 3.11 disaster. As Takasugi notes, Soma-Nomaoi “is not just an event but also an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival. Here, the samurai way of life, Bushido, corresponds to the concept of chivalry. This sense of identity represents how and why, they live.”

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

The series of portraits of these unbroken men, still intent on participating in Soma-Nomaoi in spite of the hardships they have faced (death, radiation, the destruction of their homes and businesses), is a quiet reflection on masculinity and the dignity and tenacity required to overcome adversity. It might not be the Hollywood version of the samurai spirit but it’s there all right.

Her work has attracted the attention of press such as The Independent newspaper and has been exhibited widely, including in the UK.

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

As Takasugi says:

The Nomaoi Samurai warriors portrayed here were once residents in the area close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant but they are no longer allowed to live there. Each of them stands in the places that had a personal meaning to them in the area.

Nomaoi Samurai who stand here were the residents of the area near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. They are unable to live there anymore but are able to enter the territory during a day. The Nomaoi men took me to the restricted area, to the places personally meaningful to them, reviving memories of home.

Armored from head to toe with inherited familial flags hanging from their backs, five hundred samurai storm forward recreating a battle scene. Soma-Nomaoi is an annual celebration of samurai culture in Fukushima more than one thousand years old.

The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 caused widespread destruction including the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. About two thousand people died in Fukushima, eighty per cent of whom were from the area where the Soma-Nomaoi is held. Due to the radiation, the people were forced to relocate the day after the disaster, with many indefinitely losing their houses, land and jobs.

Despite the harsh conditions, loss of lives and loss of hundreds of their horses and much of their armory, the majority of the surviving Nomaoi men agreed to hold the gathering in 2011, just a few months after the disaster.

Having spent a month with the local people between summer and autumn 2012, I believe Soma-Nomaoi is not just an event but an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival. This unique sense of identity represents not only how, but why, they live.

“It has been tough working there since the disaster,” said one of the portrait subjects, “but I could survive because of Soma-Nomaoi.”

fukushima samurai noriko takasugi photography soma nomaoi festival

If you’re in Tokyo, be sure to check out Takasugi’s series of “Fukushima Samurai” at the Konica Minolta Plaza until July 14th.

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JR West traditional crafts tourist train gets decorated with Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen kimono dyeing design

Written by: William on July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

JR West has announced a special new tourism train that will run between Kanazawa and Wakura hot spring in 2015.

Kanazawa, known as a “mini Kyoto”, is the main city in Ishikawa Prefecture, which sticks out on the west coast of Japan in the Hokuriku region. The prefecture is famed for its sushi, kimono dyeing, lacquerware, gold leaf, and other traditional crafts. Along with Kanazawa, another major center for the arts is Wajima, a small city located further along the Noto peninsular.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

Not surprisingly then, the new JR West train’s interior and exterior is inspired by the wa and bi (Japanese beauty) of Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen, a local kimono silk fabric dyeing technique (Kaga was the old samurai domain when the Maeda clan ruled Ishikawa before the Meiji Restoration).

The crafts train starts running in October 2015. It has capacity for 52 passengers in two carriages, including private cabins. The carriages are differently designed, either with Wajima lacquer or Kaga Yuzen themes. It will run for around 150 days a year on weekends and holidays.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

JR often creates special trains for sightseeing lines. Along with Japanese prefectures’ penchant for yuru-kyara mascots, it is one of the most successful tactics for luring local tourists. They go as much for the experience of the transportation — whether it be kitsch or luxury — as to visit the place itself. JR West also recently teamed up with Sanrio to create a Hello Kitty locomotive for Wakayama Prefecture.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

Kanazawa is anticipating a huge boost to its already fairly large tourism industry when the extension of the Shinkansen bullet train from Nagano to Kanazawa opens in spring 2015. While Kansai sightseers can take the Thunderbird express from Osaka to Kanazawa, until now Kanto folk had no equivalent and usually change in Niigata to the slower coastal train that passes down through Niigata, Toyama to Ishikawa. With the Shinkansen, they will be able to take one express from Tokyo straight to Kanazawa.

[Via Nippon.com]

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As Shinzo Abe’s government seeks to change Constitution, AKB48′s Haruka Shimazaki fronts Self-Defense Forces recruitment video

Written by: William on July 8, 2014 at 8:18 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

A recruitment campaign ad fronted by a sweet-looking, innocent pop music idol? Only in Japan.

haruka shimazaki akb48 sdf recruitment ad commercial

“You and Peace” declares Haruka Shimazaki, the 20-year-old pop singer and member of idol group AKB48, who is the face of a new Self-Defense Forces recruitment commercial.

The SDF has a long history now of using moe motifs and Gravure idols in its recruitment campaigns and other promotional materials. It continues to do this because it increases applications among young men, no doubt charmed by the faux innocence of the visuals.

While this may cause a mixture of amusement, embarrassment or even mild shock to outsiders, this time the stakes are higher. The government is ramming through a change to the law to allow for so-called collective self-defense which lets Japan help defend its allies abroad (as opposed to strictly self-defense of Japan only). It is widely seen as the first step towards changing Japan’s much-lauded pacifist Constitution and has met with mass protests around Japan for weeks now, and even a shocking self-immolation in Shinjuku that was inexplicable ignored by much of the mainstream Japanese media.

Though its budget is larger than many nations with very active militaries and spending was boosted in 2013, Japan’s armed forces are still officially only for “self-defense”. As per the controversial Anpo security treaty, the USA promises to step in help defend Japan in the worst case scenario — hence the continued presence of American bases, especially in Japan. As thanks for hosting the US military, Japan benefits from American protection. Ostensibly its own forces, then, are for wasting money on purchasing equipment and arms it won’t need and to be used in major disasters — the SDF proved itself indispensable during the Tohoku crisis in spring 2011.

The new AKB48 Haruka Shimazaki commercial comes at a Rubicon moment. As the scholar Dexter Thomas lucidly points out in a recent column for Al Jazeera:

We might wonder if a male spokesperson might be a better choice: for example, a member of Exile, a J-pop supergroup of 19 men. They are one of the most successful and recognisable pop groups in Japan, with their own magazine, TV show, and over a dozen chart-topping albums. They regularly appear half-clothed on advertisements and billboards, and represent the pinnacle of mass-market masculinity. Also, Abe clearly has access to them: He invited them to perform at an ASEAN banquet only a few months ago. Wouldn’t an Exile member in fatigues be a great encouragement to get young men to rush to the nearest recruitment centre?

In short: no, because it would be too realistic. If one of these popular young men appeared in a military advertisement, it would be too easy to imagine that young man being killed in a war – and, by extension, for a young man watching the commercial to imagine themselves dying. Or, for anyone with a son or brother to imagine that person dying.

Instead, the aim behind using AKB 48 seems to be an attempt to appeal to a specific male desire to protect “their” women, all while cleverly sidestepping the possibility of danger.

Most countries’ military commercials give a glorified version of military service – bravery, sacrifice, adventure. We see images of men and women holding guns, sitting in tanks, and actually preparing for combat. This commercial does none of that.

Instead, the SDF commercial spends more time on close ups of the pretty girl’s face than anything else. The rest of the shots are mainly dedicated to pictures of young men standing at attention or running with tote bags. The last shot of a uniformed soldier is a smiling man hugging a young girl, with the caption “Disaster Relief”.

In other words, there is no mention of armed combat. The cutesy voiceover tells the viewer that the military is a place that is “like the sky, full of unlimited dreams”. This is no longer a military recruitment spot, this is an invitation to Tokyo Disneyland.

“War without actual war”? Yes, a fantasy for sure but no one is talking about this particular elephant in the room.

Japan’s forces have been participating in United Nations peace-keeping operations abroad for years now and SDF personnel were eventually sent to Iraq to assist the American mission (collective self-defense in all but name). However, essentially the SDF is untested in combat and whatever the saccharine appeal of Haruka Shimazaki, the reality of war is very far removed from the artificial world of idols. Any new recruits may one day soon find themselves having signed up for more than they expected…

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Bijin Uketsuke iPad app gives you a welcome from virtual “beautiful receptionists”

Written by: William on June 27, 2014 at 9:34 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Omotenashi, or hospitality, is the buzzword of the moment. It all started with Tokyo’s presentation to bag the Olympics in 2020 and now it’s everywhere.

The latest example is this Bijin Uketsuke, an iPad app that gives you a lovely lady to welcome you to your own personal virtual receptionist.

bijin uketsuke beautiful japan virtual receptionist ipad app

Ideal for cash-strapped businesses without the funds to hire a bilingual hottie to man the desk, the Bijin Uketsuke (“beautiful receptionist”) is a virtual answer to omotenashi. You can place simply a tablet at your front door and then visitors will be greeted by a smiling female receptionist, and they can use the screen to ring the person they are here to see… all while being guided by the charming uniformed woman.

You get a choice of seven ladies in blue.

Sexist? Yes. (We know that sexism is alive and well even in the heart of contemporary Tokyo.) Neat? Yes.

bijin uketsuke beautiful japan virtual receptionist ipad app

Bijin Uketsuke is available in English and Japanese from iTunes for ¥700 ($7).

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Goodsmile Racing’s new Hatsune Miku GT racing bikes are awesome

Written by: William on June 25, 2014 at 9:19 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Following the 2013 bikes and other merchandise, HRM Goodsmile Racing Bike Project has created three new snazzy Hatsune Miku racing bikes.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

The Racing Miku Hatsune Miku GT comes in three models: HRM-Extreme (for racing), HMR-9 (high performance model for hills and slopes), and HRM-x (the fashionista’s choice).

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

The bikes are only made to order and come with eye-watering price tags. The HRM-Extreme comes in at ¥580,000 ($5,700) plus tax, while the HRM-9 and HRM-x are more reasonable ¥198,000 ($2,000) and ¥138,000 ($1,300) plus tax respectively.

Made using super lightweight esrMagnesia metal alloy, the bikes also include many components produced by top bike parts maker Shimano.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

Goodsmile Racing has been competing in Japan’s famous Super GT car race in Vocaloid idol-themed vehicles for several years now.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

Now they are holding the GSR Cup Cycle Race on September 6th at the New Tokyo Circuit. Look out for Hatsune Miku bikes galore!

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

And if Hatsune Miku isn’t quite to your taste or if you can’t get enough of cute anime girls, you can also get Love Plus cycling jerseys and water bottles, based on the popular SIM dating game.

love plus bike water bottle

love-plus-bike-jersey

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New photos released for new live-action film version of “Lupin III”

Written by: William on June 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

The first set photos have been released for the upcoming live-action film adaptation of the popular TV anime “Lupin”. Starring Shun Oguri, Meisa Kuroki and Tadanori Asano, “Lupin III” will be released in Japan on August 30th.

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

We love the look of this latest big screen version (following the 1974 film) of the iconic manga and anime by Monkey Punch (who has been a consultant on the new movie). It is supposed to show how the main characters all meet for the first time but updates the story to a contemporary setting.

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

The big-budget movie has been filmed in Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and elsewhere, and features an international starry cast. It is directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, who is known mostly for work in the science fiction and horror genres.

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

Still no full trailer but anticipation is now super high for this film!

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Mother of Ultra in swimwear joins Ultraman monsters on beach for Fukuoka, Kagoshima Amu Plaza malls summer campaign

Written by: William on June 21, 2014 at 3:42 pm | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

When you think of summer in Japan you will usually come up with a stream of images of matsuri festivals, firework displays, flash rain storms, and sweaty Tokyo trains. What you probably won’t get is an image of Ultraman’s mother dressed for a swim at the seaside.

But that’s apparently the way to appeal to shoppers in Kyushu.

amu plaza hakata fukuoka kagoshima mother of ultraman dada Jamila Pigmon swimwear summer campaign

Mother of Ultra, along with a host of other Ultraman monsters and characters, is helping promote the summer campaigns for Amu Plaza Hakata in Fukuoka and Amu Plaza Kagoshima.

Clearly tongue-in-cheek, the TV ads are very well made and should amuse aficionados and non-fans alike.

And if you have ever wanted to know what Jamila, Pigmon and Dada look like when dancing, now you can find out…

Here are the cast dressed for the beach.

jamila dada pigmon mother of ultra ultraman  characters swimwear swimsuit beach dance kyushu fukuoka amu plaza kagoshima summer campaign

jamila dada pigmon mother of ultra ultraman  characters swimwear swimsuit beach dance kyushu fukuoka amu plaza kagoshima summer campaign

If you thought that old Tsuburaya sci-fi series were the preserve of geeky guys and hipsters, think again. After all, these days fans can even go to special Ultraman monster bars and enjoy special hashed rice meals.

This is not the first time the Kyushu mall has used giant images from the retro Ultraman franchise. When it re-opened in March this year the campaign TV ad and poster featured Ultraman’s mother posed up against the building.

mother of ultraman hakata amu plaza renewal

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JR West creates Hello Kitty train for Wakayama tourism this autumn

Written by: William on June 18, 2014 at 9:03 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Japan Rail knows how to attract customers. In between rolling out snazzy new bullet trains and other technological advances, it periodically customizes JR Yamanote Line trains to look like a chocolate product or a manga and anime franchise.

From September, a special Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running on JR lines as part of its Wakayama Destination Campaign. The sightseeing train will be an express with all seats reserved.

hello kitty train wakayama tourism campaign

JR has consulted with locals and got advice about the sightseeing spots to include on the design. The prefecture is famed for the sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage site for ten years now. Southern Wakayama is also home to Taiji, one of the (controversial) centers of Japanese traditional coastal whaling and dolphin hunting, and its Whale Museum is on of the tourist destinations featured on the train, along with a uniformed Hello Kitty.

The interior of the train will also be painted with characters but the design has yet to be announced.

hello kitty train wakayama tourism campaign

Although JR West is trying to push how it has worked hard to find a design that shows off the locality of the region, we have yet to find a tangible reason for the choice of Hello Kitty other than her apparently universal popularity (after all, Kitty-chan is not even Japanese, she is meant to be British). Perhaps someone can enlighten us? Sanrio, never afraid to license out its character to all and sundry, must be happy with the extra coffers, though.

The Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running for 33 days on weekends and holidays from September 13th to December 14th, 2014.

Wakayama must have a thing for felines and locomotives. The fortunes of the small Kishigawa Line were famously reversed by the promotion of Tama the cat to station master.

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