This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
Make the most of the pleasant weather in Tokyo this March and April with Tokyo Cheapo’s guide to the best festivals and flowers. This is the first installment of a new bi-monthly events wrap where Tokyo Cheapo will be giving you the lowdown on what’s on (and cheap) in the coming months.
1. Hanami: Late March to Early April
For some, it’s the reason they come to Japan — to contemplate the transience of life while gazing at the cherry blossoms coloring the landscape pink. For others, it’s an opportunity to get drunk in a poetic setting. And yet for others, it’s a bit of both. Whatever you’re into, cherry blossom season is traditionally celebrated with chilled picnics under the trees, while the petals fall around you. The parks of Ueno and Sumida are popular spots for these hanami parties, as is the Chiyoda area (around the Imperial Palace) — you can even boat around the moat there. Rikugien, known for its “weeping” cherry trees, is worth a visit too.
When: Late March – Early April. You can check the sakura forecast (in Japanese) here.
2. Anime Japan 2014 (March 22nd and 23rd)
As the website says, “Here is everything about anime”. A dream come true for any self-respecting otaku, it’s two full days of all things Japanese animation. You’ll have a chance to see the newest anime, as well as enjoy screenings of classic titles. There will also be exhibitions, talks, music, all sorts of other stage events, seminars on the business side of things, and stuff you can buy. And did we mention the cosplay?
When: 22-23 March. Where: Tokyo Big Sight, East Exhibition Hall. Ariake, Koto-ku.
3. Mt Takao Fire-Walking Festival (March 9th)
You know those stories of monks walking barefoot across scorching coals? You can see that first-hand (and maybe try it too) at the Mt Takao Hiwatari Festival. Hotfoot it to Yakuouin Temple on Tokyo’s most popular mountain (less than an hour from Shinjuku) to experience the haunting sounds of conch shells, Buddhist prayers and fire (lots of it). When the flames have subsided, the monks cross the burning embers — said to be part of a path to an ultimately peaceful and enlightened existence.
More details here.
4. Kamakura Festival (April 13th to 20th)
The city of Kamakura (the one with the giant Buddha statue) in Kanagawa Prefecture was the political centre of Japan in the 12th century, and it’s hailed as the birthplace of samurai culture — giving it instant cool cred. Just an hour away from Tokyo, it’s a great spot to visit — especially during the Kamakura Matsuri (Festival). Held at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, there will be music, dance performances (on the first Sunday of the festival), mikoshi (portable shrines) and — the highlight — horseback archery (on the second Sunday). This style of archery dates back to medieval times and is said to have been used as a brain training technique for the samurai.
More details here.
5. Kanamara Penis Festival (April 6th)
What would the fertile season be like without a fertility festival? Except that, contrary to appearances, this festival is not exactly about that. The “Festival of the Steel Phallus” is held at Kanayama Shrine — where prostitutes apparently used to pray for protection from STIs, back in the day. The spot also came to be associated with prayers for prosperity, easy births and happy marriages. The festival is a celebration of all things penile (never thought we’d use that word in an article), with a big pink penis that gets paraded around, penis-shaped snacks and decorations, and even carved veggies. You’ll never look at pumpkin the same way again.
More details here.
Read on Tokyo Cheapo.
Japan is a country that seems to inspire more than its far share of stereotypes and myths. The overseas media is also complicit in perpetuating many of the images of Japan that make it seem weird, exotic and unfathomable. What irk the most are the ones that mold Japan as a nation of wackos with bizarre tastes in fashion, beauty, sex and entertainment. This isn’t just Japan; the western media continually likes to mock and belittle Asian countries. Would Psy have been such a hit if there hadn’t been a “weird dance” (actually originally very tongue-in-cheek)?
Here are five we particularly dislike and feel are wrong (in whole or in part), and also harmful and patronizing.
Yes, there are mascots — lots of them.
The Self-Defense Force has them, as does the police and even the Japanese Communist Party. Some days it feels like you can’t get away from mascot characters, on TV, advertising or merchandise. But that doesn’t mean people are stupid or only interested in something because of a mascot.
Mascot culture has been a big success story for regional tourism, hence why it has become something of a phenomenon in recent years. This is a fascinating social development and offers lessons in tourism. But also don’t confuse it with the idea that everyone in Japan walks around with mascot toys in their bags.
A nation of geeks
This links in with the mascot thing. Sure, manga and anime are popular here. hHwever, one of the biggest mistranslations and inaccurate use of language concerns the idea of “subcultures”. If we had a yen for every time we saw the words “anime subculture” in Japanese or English. More often than not, it’s being used incorrectly. What’s important here is how manga and anime are indeed mainstream — but in the sense that cartoons and comics are part of popular culture in America too. No one calls American geeks because of how successful “The Avengers” was, right? But the movie was seen by thousands of non-fans too.
What has changed in recent years is that certain types of manga and anime have risen in status — by which we mean subcultural content previously associated mostly with hardcore fans, especially science fiction. However, manga and anime itself is not a subculture. Quite the opposite: they are part of pop culture. So just because they are a visible element in Japan, it cannot be correlated solely with “geeky” culture.
The difference is that there is a whole wealth of anime and manga that can be enjoyed by adults too, not to mention the tens of thousands of titles specifically meant for older audiences (and we don’t mean “adult content” either). This is like how there are graphic novels and the likes of Robert Crumb in America, plus a quality Pixar animation is entertaining for all ages.
That’s what’s interesting; not that everyone in Japan is an otaku because they read comics even after the age of 18, but that there are comics that cater to predilections that go way beyond superheroes. If you look at the annual list of bestsellers, Japan has some of most varied reading tastes. What was the biggest box office hit recently in Japan? Yes, it was an anime. But it was Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind Rises”, which frankly is as mainstream as any Disney picture.
What makes us doubly angry is that “Cool Japan” is also getting it wrong, promoting a subculture — something for a select taste — as representative of all that’s good about Japan. And so we have embarrassments like AKB48 (not even a true example of genuine otaku culture anymore) performing at the ASEAN gala banquet.
We have been guilty of helping with this myth ourselves. Sure, there are some bizarre beauty gadgets in Japan. But they are genuine skincare and health tools, no matter how odd the pictures sometimes look. From electric nose-lifters to face sliming mouthpieces, there is a whole pantheon of frankly visually alarming gadgets out there. But we actually think these are pretty amazing and not just to be scoffed at.
Either way, they are unusual items that are used by a minority of people. It’s not the case that everyone women is walking around with wacky mouthpieces jutting out of their jaws in a quest to retain their youthful beauty.
And at the end of the day, the beauty trends that should really be grabbing the headlines are the amazing quality of Japanese cosmetics and make-up, from Shiseido to Kanebo and shu uemura.
The catalog of articles here would be notorious and too long to list, but the perennial claim is one of two extremes or even both at the same time: the Japanese are not interested in sex anymore, and/or they are super kinky and like to get their kicks at strange fetish clubs or through 2D characters.
There are extremes in every culture and we love how Japan, free of the notion of original sin and other moral hangups in the monotheistic world, is able to find a way for more unusual sexual customs to exist alongside the so-called mainstream. But they are just that: fringe elements. As healthy and often refreshing (if mind-boggling) as they are, the majority of men in Japan are not interested in pursuing anime girls or even Akihabara “idols”.
And we find it laughable this image that young people are not interested in sexual relations (any reporter who writes an article on this should go and visit a college campus or nightclub).
Japan is prohibitively expensive
Not so “wacky” this one but we still hate it always gets rolled out as a stereotype to explain how “opaque” and formiddable the lifestyle in Japan — especially Tokyo — is. Japan is not expensive. Sure, if you take the average apartment in America and Europe and compare it to a similar size in Tokyo, it will seem crazy. But no one lives like that. Things are compact in Japan (not small, compact) and you have to adjust your scale a little. In fact, it is far more affordable to live alone in Tokyo and go out for meals on a very regular basis than other cities.
What is expensive? Up-front fees for apartments, though this has improved recently. Some fruit and vegetables. Hostess clubs. Shinkansen bullet train tickets.
Everything else is pretty reasonable, not least because consumption tax is relatively low (it’s going up this spring, though) and prices have hardly changed in over ten years (the up side of the “Lost Decade”). You can shop at UNIQLO et al if you are on a budget and there is a host of great eating-out options for as little as ¥1,000-¥2,000 yen for a nice meal. Try getting an apartment for one, paying for daily transport costs, utility bills and going out half a dozen times a week in New York or a major European city… and then you’ll see what we mean.
And if don’t believe us, head over to Tokyo Cheapo for some tips on enjoying yourself in Japan on a budget.
Movie adaptations of video games rarely work.
For every Silent Hill and Resident Evil there’s a Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros. or Prince of Persia.
But things go better when Hollywood isn’t meddling with the Japanese source material.
And so it is we wait with bated breath for the upcoming film version of The Idolmaster, the mega successful Namco Bandai Xbox game that sees players become Yasushi Akimoto-type idol producers. If you’ve ever wanted to be in charge of your own idol group, this is the game for you.
The Idolmaster Movie: Kagayaki no Mukogawa e! (The Idolmaster Movie: To the Other Side of the Light) is a brave choice. Although the franchise is immensely successful as a game and anime series, how do you turn such a subject matter into a feature-length film?
And without the interaction element of the game and the digestible length of the TV anime, will it be as interesting for the general public, enough to justify the larger budget?
There is always the problem of the fine line between satisfying the hardcore fans and also bringing in new audiences.
Here’s the trailer.
We will find out on January 25th when it premieres in Shinjuku.
On November 23rd, Studio Ghibli’s latest film Kaguyahime no monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) was released in all theaters across Japan.
I have already seen a number of reviews so far, most of which are specifically focused on how different the film looks, compared to other Ghibli works from the past. But I would like to take a different approach.
Director Isao Takahata is famous for his depiction of real life, while his longtime friend and another Ghibli guru Hayao Miyazaki uses fantasy as a basic setting of his stories.
“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is based on a Japanese folktale from the tenth century called Taketori monogatari – or ”The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”. It’s a story about an old bamboo cutter who finds a tiny baby girl inside a bamboo stalk and together with his wife raises the baby as his own. The girl grows up to be a woman of ordinary size and of extraordinary beauty. She is approached by a number of suitors, but she somehow manages to reject all proposals. Finally, she reveals her biggest secret to her parents that she was sent from the moon as a result of some “promise” that she made and must return there. In the end, an emissary from the moon takes her back to where she belongs, leaving everyone in tears. It definitely doesn’t sound like a happy ending, doesn’t it?
One could easily argue that this film might be the most “fantastic” of Takahata’s all past works. Yet the primary focus of the story is not the encounter between humans and aliens but answering many questions of why. Why was she sent from the moon in the first place? Why was she sent to earth? Why was she so sad when she left earth? Why did she need to return?
The tag line reads “The crime and punishment of a princess”, which implies that this is not a simple feel-good story of a lunar princess who comes down to experience life on earth. Takahata says in one interview that the earth and the moon stand opposite from each other: while the moon might represent sanctitude but without any color or life of its own, the earth is full of life, hardships – and joy.
If the earth was considered ultimate hell where all sinners are sent to serve their sentence, Princess Kaguya would be happy to return home, which is obviously not the case here. Perhaps this is where he portrays realism over fantasy, in an imaginative story setting where he suggests that life on earth might at times be too cruel, yet it does have something that even heavenly beings from above envy.
Sometimes I just wonder.
Japan is such a small country (geographically speaking, at least), so why do they even have to divide themselves into forty-seven prefectures and compete against each other? Recently I wrote a post on the result of recent survey which basically defined Japan’s most and least attractive places. The battle of yuru-kyara mascots is another means through which we get to know the undiscovered parts of this string of islands. Maybe we are all subconsciously waiting for super heroes who could represent all that Japan has to offer and unite us all together.
And One Piece might just offer the gang of heroes to do it.
Now that the manga series has sold over 300 million copies, One Piece has no doubt proven its worth to be the ultimate representative of all prefectures in Japan. In the 3-Oku [300 million] campaign, forty-seven characters from One Piece appear on ads in local newspapers to represent each prefecture in collaboration with various local specialties, events and tourist destinations across the nation.
Although almost all the featured items in these ads can be seen on the cover of major guidebooks, it’s a new approach that each prefecture is taking to show what they are proud of — whether it be the Tokyo Skytree (above), the hot springs of Gunma, Nebuta Festival of Aomori, Sasakamaboko (fish cake in the shape of a bamboo leaf) of Miyagi — or wara natto (natto wrapped in rice straw) for Ibaraki (below), recently announced the most unappealing prefecture in Japan.
About two-thirds of the ads have been revealed on the website so far, and we have yet to see the remaining works.
In addition to newspaper ads, One Piece posters can be seen on the walls of seven major stations across the country (Sapporo, Sendai, Shibuya, Nagoya, Umeda, Hiroshima and Nishitetsu Fukuoka Tenjin) from November 4th to 26th at intervals of a week or so.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the manga, I do have to admit that One Piece is loved by so many that it has the power to surpass regionalism, which sometimes can get really ugly and messy.
Today Bandai continued its commemoration of 20 years since Sailor Moon’s first TV broadcast with an interactive publicity event featuring the range of cosmetics released earlier this year by CreerBeaute to celebrate the anime series.
The third in the series of cosmetics products was being promoted by five ladies dressed up like Sailor Moon characters, to a specially invited audience selected by lottery from over 3,000 applicants.
Sailor Moon will likely need no introduction for JapanTrends readers. The iconic anime series not only was integral in spreading the general popularity of Japanese anime overseas for the generation now in their twenties — especially girls — but also cemented a lot of the funky images we have about Japanese schoolgirls in anime. (The magical girls’ clothes in the series are modeled on “sailor”-style girls’ school uniforms.) The anime was first broadcast in 1992, adapted from the original manga by Naoko Takeuchi.
This event took place at Spiral in Aoyama and showcased the latest in the Sailor Moon cosmetics, set to be released simultaneously in Japan and also Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore where the franchise is popular.
The new products are Miracle Romance Star Power Prism, a series of three types of eyeliner in five colors inspired by “Moon Prism Power, Make Up!”, the phrase the main character, Usagi Tsukino, uses when she transforms herself.
Visitors could also get their photo taken with the Tuxedo Mask, one of the characters from the series, and also get a closer look at the make-up products a day before they went on sale.
This isn’t the first time that the Creer Beaute has collaborated with anime to create new cosmetic products and brands. Past inspirations include Urusei Yatsura, Creamy Mami, Evangelion and The Rose of Versailles.
Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises, the final film of director Miyao Miyazaki, in spite of the controversy over its extensive use of smoking scenes, has surpassed all box office expectations for the decidedly uncommercial story of an airplane designer.
It has now taken over 10 billion yen ($100 million) at the domestic box office, the first Japanese film to achieve this feat since Miyazaki’s Ponyo in 2008. Overall it is the first movie to take this much money since Toy Story 3 in 2010. Distributor Toho is expecting the film’s receipts to slow as the summer holidays end but it may well come close to Ponyo‘s final take of 15.5 billion yen by October. By comparison, Monsters University has taken $88 million in Japan since its release in early July and remains in the top ten.
While Miyazaki and Ghibli might well be box office genies, with the unusual story and premise of the film (and a title that is a reference to Paul Valéry!), its success was anything but certain. However, controversy over Miyazaki’s pacifist rhetoric and the anti-smoking lobby’s campaign, have likely done nothing to harm interest in the picture. It was also announced amidst a media frenzy that it would be the last feature film that 72-year-old Miyazaki would direct (although he has said this before). Miyazaki’s shock announcement at a September 1st press conference at the Venice International Film Festival led to a box office boost as domestic audiences were keen to catch his final film on the big screen. Audience numbers jumped 134.5％ the following week.
On September 11th, in 54 days since it opened it had been seen by around 8 million people (of course, some may well have seen the film more than once). It was released on July 20th and is still being shown at 454 screens. This is far less than newer releases like Man of Steel (611) or Captain Harlock (578), and yet last week it took four times their grosses. It has been the number one film at the Japanese box office for eight straight weeks. If it can do this for two more weeks it will surpass another Miyazaki film, Howl’s Moving Castle, which managed nine consecutive weeks. The Wind Rises will be released in US in February 2014 in two versions — one with subtitles and one dubbed.
We only hope that Miyazaki, having gone out on a high, can be persuaded to come back and make a contribution to the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We couldn’t stand it if it’s just mascots and AKB48!
While the weekend was all about the announcement that Tokyo would host the Olympic Games in 2020 — the city’s second bid and ultimately its second time to host — some netizens and keen-eyed manga fans have been noting an interesting parallel to the situation today and one that was predicted in the Eighties.
Okay, so we were hardly jumping with joy over the prospects of the Olympics — and not least for the government’s hypocrisy (Abe flies off to South America and promises to clean up Fukushima — now finally taking responsibility for a disaster 2.5 years ago and only because it might affect Tokyo’s prospects?!).
This is the Reuters photo that everyone has been posting.
But it’s happened so we need to move on. We’ll be interested to see how much the municipal government tries to “clean up” the city — there are rumors that the days of convenience store pornography magazines may be limited — or how much talent goes into the design side of things. And then there’s the whole opening ceremony to think about. Will mascots like Funayssi be making an appearance? Or just AKB48? With this kind of boondoggle, the actual sports runs a not-so close second.
Regardless, it has now come to people’s attention, belatedly, that the manga AKIRA was already ahead of the curve.
In the Katsuhiro Otomo comic series (1982-1990) and the subsequent film in 1988 — the film which basically launched Japanese anime on the international circuit — the setting is Tokyo in 2019 on the verge of an Olympic Games.
Of course, the Tokyo in the film is very much not Abe’s Utsukushii Kuni Nippon (Japan, the Beautiful Country). It is a dystopia of motorcycle gangs and is suffering from the fallout of radiation from another war, leading to monstrous mutations (an ironic reference to the “glorious” 1964 Games when Hiroshima had been banished from the memory but was actually less than twenty years old). What has usually been seen as a very Eighties cyberpunk vision might not be too far from the truth.
With Fukushima still pumping out radiated water into the oceans and the authorities talking about building an ice wall (WTF?!) to contain the fiasco, AKIRA is starting to sound very prophetic — and the new Olympics’ optimistic slogan “Discover Tomorrow” might just be a very bittersweet ideal indeed…
Audiences are a bit divided about Hayao Miyazaki’s latest blockbuster anime, The Wind Rises, which takes as its subject the rather uncommercial story of an airplane designer.
However, perhaps more so than the film’s arguably anti-war message in a time of increasing militarims, or even Miyazaki’s recent article explaining why he is against reform of the Japanese Constitution, one other aspect of the film has been generating headlines.
In the film, in keeping with the pre-war period, there are lots of scenes showing people smoking. The film is not ostensibly a children’s film — it is, like all Miyazaki films, a family film but very engrossing for adults too — but it has surprised and irked some that an anime certain to be seen by lots of kids features so many shots of puffing.
Many people noted the extensive shots of characters smoking. And now the latest voice to be added to the clamor is the Japan Society for Tobacco Control. Although the scenes in hotels and restaurants use smoking for naturalistic purposes, the JSTC has particularly criticized the film for its scenes featuring the protagonist holding his wife’s hand while smoking when she is suffering from tuberculosis. Gratuitous depiction of smoking or just plain marital neglect?
Tobacco advertising is strictly controlled in Japan, despite the large numbers of smokers in the country (saying that, the numbers are falling). Japan Tobacco, for example, frequently advertises on TV but its commercials do not feature any actual smoking, a peculiar state of affairs which takes some getting used to. (The company also makes canned coffee, which isn’t as incongruous as it sounds. Coffee and cigarettes and all that…)
According to this interesting research paper about how Philip Morris succeeded in the Japanese tobacco market
the tobacco industry’s success in Japan was not only due to aggressive marketing, but also due to its strong influence on Japanese government tobacco control policy. The tobacco industry anticipated the ban on television advertising in Japan well in advance of its enactment, and worked to delay its implementation using the same strategies it successfully deployed in other parts of the world: hiring local experts and other third parties to speak on behalf of the industry questioning the relationship between advertising and youth smoking, and adopting incremental voluntary restrictions without outside enforcement as an alternative to stronger legislation. Moreover, the 1998 voluntary agreement that ended television advertising in Japan also preserved many of the alternative promotional activities the industry expanded during the prior decade.
Is The Wind Rises, then, an unwitting “alternative promotional activity” for the tobacco industry? Well, of course not, but in these more prissy times we can be easily shocked by period realism.
It’s not just Miyazaki’s anime. Research has highlighted the amount of smoking featured in manga and how it glamorizes the habit.
A preliminary study from the University of Tokyo showed that, of the top four selling boy’s comic magazines in Japan. . . teenage smokers accounted for 17.6% of the smoking depictions.
Ahead of its North America premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, here is the English-subtitled trailer for The Wind Rises. Can you see any smoking?