Category Archives: japanese pop culture

Todai Bunkasai: The University of Tokyo Komaba Campus Festival!

Todai's froggy mascot Komakkero

Todai’s froggy mascot Komakkero

Two months ago, I wrote about FC, who was taking his anime fan girlfriend to the University of Tokyo  (Todai) school festival. Though it sounded like fun, Todai’s festival took place the weekend after Thanksgiving so I completely ruled out the possibility of my husband or myself going. However, as it turns out, our crazy endeavor to get to the Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Musical put us in Tokyo that very weekend. So we actually went, too!

Todai holds two festivals per year, in November and in May. I’m not sure where the May one is located, but the November one takes place at Todai’s Komaba Campus, which is where lower division classes are located. (As such, all Todai students spend their first year at Komaba.)

This was my second bunkasai. I’m fairly confident that my experience at Komajo Girls School was more representative of a typical school festival. Having said that, I would absolutely recommend Todai’s bunkasai to the casual English-speaking tourist over a high school event. One, it is easily accessible. From Shibuya Station (a major Tokyo hub), you take the Keio Inokashira Line three minutes to the Komaba-todaimae Station. The campus entrance is literally right outside the station, and on festival day, you can’t miss it.

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Todai main gate on festival day!

That leads me to my second point: it is an open event. While many school festivals are for alumni and family/by invitation only, Todai’s is a massive public event. When we went, our train was packed, and it completely unloaded at the festival. These weren’t just college students. Packs of high school students, parents with toddlers and elementary age kids, and random foreigners like ourselves filled the University grounds.

 English language program guide

English language program guide

Three, unlike most bunkasai, this festival actually prepares for foreigners. For the 2016 festival, Todai had an English language web page and festival guide (available online and by request at the festival information centers). Plus, because Todai is Japan’s number one university, you have a pretty good chance of encountering an international student or one who’s travelled abroad who can speak English.

Now, even though I’ve stated that the Komajo bunkasai was a more representative experience, that’s not to say you’ll be missing out by going to Todai. Rather, it’s the opposite. Todai’s festival was like Komajo’s, only ten times bigger and chaotic. Crowds pack the halls and walkways, and students–some in costume–drum up business for stands of meat skewers, takoyaki, choco-banana, and crepes. Whereas Komajo only had one stage, Todai had three. Komajo had three or four rock bands; Todai had at least three classroom tuned “live”-style club venues with a different band scheduled every hour and that doesn’t include the bands on the main stages or the non-rock musical groups.

Todai students advertising something, but I have no idea what.

Todai students advertising something, but I have no idea what.

That was one of the biggest surprises for me. I think of the University of Tokyo  as an elite academic institution, not a hotbed of artistic activity. But the number and variety of musicians at the festival was staggering, ranging from the University’s choral group to jazz ensembles to the folk musicians playing Irish tunes at the Irish Cafe to hiphop vocalists soloing by the takoyaki stand. Our favorite was the AniOke (Anime Orchestra), a dozen string and woodwind musicians who played pieces from anime soundtracks. We were fortunate enough to hear their arrangements of Rozen Maiden and Your Lie in April themes before they left the stage.

Anime Orchestra!

Anime Orchestra!

I was equally surprised by the number of dance groups at the bunkasai. At least ten separate hip hop dance groups were practicing routines in the courtyard adjacent the cafeteria. I don’t how what event they were practicing for, but they were all quite skilled. Hula Circle KaWelina had about forty dancers performing hula at the Main Gate Plaza, and they were followed by a cosplay group doing The Prince of Tennis Musical 2 (a lot like Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!!, except with tennis rackets).

Hula dancers and cosplayers at the

Hula dancers and cosplayers at the Main Gate Plaza

Yet Todai’s elite academic institution aspect wasn’t completely absent from the bunkasai. Amid the festival style stands, haunted house, cafes, and performances, they had robotics and formula car displays and a kind of open house in the Life Sciences building with amphibians for elementary school boys to grab. After all, the University of Tokyo is THE school to aspire toward in Japan, and I’m sure many parents bought their children to inspire them toward that goal.

Well, my husband and I are way past our college years so we were more interested in the fun aspect. Here are a few more highlights.

Karuta demonstration. Karuta is a Japanese poetry card game I never would have heard of were it not for the anime Chihayafuru. It’s not exactly popular in the United States so it was a treat to see it live. The match we saw had college students playing against kids, and one player even wore hakama.

Karuta in real life!

Karuta in real life!

Cosplay cafe. Perhaps it was just this particular shift, but all the servers were male and most were cross-dressing. Not sure why that was so, but we had a pleasant conversation about anime with a third year law student in a magical girl costume (he’d studied abroad in Australia so his English was excellent) and his friend in a Halo-style outfit. This cosplay group was also responsible for the Prince of Tennis Musical 2 show at the Main Gate.

Tea ceremony. This was hosted by the University of Tokyo Urasenke Tea Ceremony Club, and the most traditional of the attractions we participated in. Located away from the festival hustle and bustle at Hakuinsha Pavilion, the tea ceremony was a formal affair, requiring us to sit seiza style for approximately a half hour (after it finished,my poor husband nearly fell over trying to get up). If you decide to participate in this, make sure to bring a folding style fan. (We were the only participants without one!)

Hakuinsha Pavilion

Hakuinsha Pavilion

I’d like to conclude by sending a big THANK YOU to FC in Belgium. We wouldn’t have made it if you hadn’t told me about the event. I hope you and your girlfriend had a fabulous time at the bunksasai. I know we did!

Japanese Pop Culture Special: Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival!

For a long time, the mark of a successful manga was an anime and possibly a spinoff comic, but nowadays popular titles spawn off live-action movies and TV shows, light novels, CD dramas, and even theatrical performances! Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association, which was formed in 2014, stages productions drawn from Japanese manga, anime and video-games, and on November 20, my husband and I got to see their performance of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival!

 The flyer that started it all…

The flyer that started it all…

We first learned about Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! from a flyer slipped into my husband’s Jump Shop purchases during his last business trip to Japan. We looked at the ad, thought it was cool, and filed it in the back of our mind as one of those things we could only dream of. However, the next two weeks brought an unexpected bonus and vacation time that changed our paradigm. By then, four out of the show’s five venues had sold out, but with the help of three Japanese speaking friends plus two international phone calls, a lot of Google translate, and much stubbornness on the part of my husband, we got tickets for the Canal City Theater in Fukuoka!

The Show

Not having been to Fukuoka or a Japan 2.5-Dimensional production, I expected Canal City Theater to be a modest, small-to-mid size theater. After all, how large an audience could an otaku musical possibly attract? I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Canal City Theater is a modern, quality venue that seats 1,184 and hosts Broadway style productions like The Little Mermaid. And yes, it was packed. There was even a line for people hoping to purchase unclaimed tickets (more on that later).

Program and commemorative folders from the Haikyu!! musical

Program and commemorative folders from the Haikyu!! musical

The audience demographic was another surprise. Haikyu!! is a shonen title, but the audience was over 90% female. My husband described the crowd as “young to middle-aged office ladies.” Perhaps musicals don’t appeal to Haikyu!!’s younger male fans? Or maybe they don’t have the disposable income for it? Well, these female fans had money for tickets and then some. An array of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! goods were available for purchase in the lobby, and they were doing a brisk business. We ourselves picked up an official program, some folders, and a DVD of the original Haikyu!! musical, but sadly all the hoodies had sold out. The crowd was definitely enthusiastic, and when the show started, we learned why.

Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is a high level production. The staging includes a special rotating platform, live video, and projected images for backgrounds and special effects. The cast also displays an array of talent, ranging from acting to acrobatics to rap. From what I can tell, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! has an original score that doesn’t draw from the TV series (although parts are reminiscent of the anime’s soundtrack). While I have referred to the show as a musical, it’s not like a Broadway show where characters break into catchy tunes every other minute. Rather, music is primarily used to set the mood, and most of the singing is relegated to one hip hop number in the second half.

Regarding the plot, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! begins with the team’s summer training camp and ends midway through the Interhigh competition. (The initial formation of the team was covered in Japan 2.5-D’s original Haikyu!! musical.) The first half focuses on the practice match against Nekoma. Viewed mainly from Kenma’s perspective, the match is depicted as a video game that the Nekoma setter is trying to beat. Thus, we get to see 64-bit versions of the Karasuno players as he analyzes them. The second half focuses on the Interhigh match against Dateko, which takes the form of an impressive rap- and dance-off. As such, the cast is more or less evenly divided between Karasuno, Nekoma, and Dateko players. But even though it is an all-male production, Karasuno manager Shimizu does play a part in the story.

As you might guess, the whole thing is in Japanese.  Because we weren’t at Japan 2.5-D’s Tokyo venue, we didn’t have access to translation glasses (more on this later). Even so, we had no trouble figuring out who was who (jersey numbers and projected manga images helped a lot), and we got the gist of 70% of the dialogue based off what we remembered from the anime. Not to mention, many scenes were sheer visual spectacle that required no knowledge of Japanese.

A major aspect of the Haikyu!! story is speed and height. Unlike their animated counterparts, the actors can’t hang in midair. So they rely on clever choreography and manipulating props. Lifts comprise a major part of Hinata’s battes at the net. Special lighting and illuminated volleyballs provide the trajectory of a fateful spike in slo-mo. In the match against Dateko’s ”Iron Wall,” pieces of walls are included in the dance number.

While high-tech equipment add a definite punch to the action, the show makes good use of simple effects as well. A pile of quilts facilitates one of the most entertaining transitions, and a stray cat Hinata encounters is merely a hand puppet operated by a stage ninja in a hooded poncho. In addition to moving the props and sets, the hooded stage ninjas also serve as a kind of Greek chorus, voicing the thoughts of the mob or serving as an anonymous extra.

So… my husband and I flew to the western end of Japan just to watch this musical, and you might be wondering, “Was it worth it?”

In answer to that question, I’ll just say that the third Haikyu!! musical Winners and Losers will be touring Japan March and April 2017, and we are talking about getting tickets.

Now perhaps our journey has piqued your interest. If you’re serious about viewing this production yourself, you have two options.

DVD

DVD and insert of the first Haikyu!! musical

DVD and insert of the first Haikyu!! musical

The cheaper option is to purchase a DVD of the show. As of the writing of this post, the DVD of the first Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is available, and preorders are being taken for Karasuno Revival. Those in Japan can purchase it at the Animate store (which also carries DVDs of Japan 2.5-D’s Naruto and Prince of Tennis theater productions) or through Toho Animation, which produced the videos.

For those outside Japan, neither Animate nor Toho Animation ships overseas, but if you do an Internet search for “Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! DVD,” you’ll probably find a source who will. WARNING: the DVD is a REGION 2 DVD (the United States is Region 1) and entirely in Japanese (no subtitles, English or otherwise).

As mentioned earlier, my husband and I purchased the DVD of the first musical at the theater for ¥8000 (roughly $80 US), which is the standard price. For that, you get two discs and a lovely mini program with cast pictures and bios. It’s not an awesome as seeing it live, but Toho Animation does a great job of formatting the footage for the small screen.

Theater Tickets

If you are determined to see Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! or one of Japan 2.5-D’s other musicals (upcoming productions include Prince of Tennis, Wake Up, Girls! and Death Note), there are three ways to go about getting tickets.

1. Though the Japan 2.5-D website. Japan 2.5-D actually does want a global audience for its productions. Thus, its website is in both Japanese and English (click on the ”EN” in the top right hand corner to toggle out of Japanese into English). Also, Subtitle Glasses are available in English and Chinese for showings at the AiiA 2.5 Theater in Tokyo.

When tickets go on sale, find your show on the Japan 2.5-D website and click on the green International Ticket button. This will take you to an English language form that will allow you to purchase Will Call tickets. This is the most expedient way for English-speakers to get tickets.

2. Through the musical’s official website. Each Japan 2.5-D musical has its own official website through which general tickets are sold. This is probably the worst way for internationals to get tickets, but you may resort to it if you’re desperate (like we were). Basically, the tickets reserved for internationals is limited. As such, it is entirely possible for general seats to still be available after Japan 2.5-D’s International Tickets sell out.

However, getting general tickets is difficult. All the instructions are in Japanese, you need a Japanese address to open an account, and you need a credit card associated with that address to make the purchase. Alternately, you can reserve seats online and then complete the order at a Japanese convenience store that has a ticket service. Our tickets were only possible thanks to three very kind friends (One to navigate the website, one to give us her parents’ address in Okinawa so we could open an account, and one to pay/pick up the tickets in Sapporo and mail them to us in California).

3. At the venue. Now the thing about general tickets is that they’re a bit of a moving target. When people reserve seats online, they have a few days to complete the order. When that deadline passes, the seats go back on sale. That means that a show that is sold out today might have availability tomorrow. That also means there usually a few unsold seats on the day of the show. Ergo, the unclaimed ticket line. If there’s more people than unclaimed tickets, they hold a lottery to decide who gets them.

So no guarantees with this last route. However if you just happen to be in a town where a performance is showing, it’s worth a try.

As for me and my husband, we’ll be aiming for those International Tickets when sales start.

Impulse buy: Hello Kitty soy sauce!

I’m pretty self-controlled when it comes to spending. I hardly ever make impulse buys–mainly because I’m kind of a miser. However, every once in a long while I will fall sway to an item’s charms. On Monday, I went to a local Asian supermarket to pick up some ginger, and I saw this:

hello kitty soy1

My thoughts went like this:

That’s ADORABLE!

Waitaminute. Why is Hello Kitty selling Kikkoman soy sauce?

Who cares. That’s ADORABLE!

hello kitty soy 2Then I saw the price and knew I had to get it. As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, my husband is a huge Hello Kitty fan (click here for pictures from his Hello Kitty restaurant visit), and $2.50 is a nominal amount for the reaction I would receive for bringing that particular grocery item home.

I went home with two bottles. Yes, he loves it.

Moral of the story: cute sells.