Category Archives: Life snapshots

Souvenirs from Asia: Really Random Stuff

My husband and I have gone off the beaten track (sometimes WAY off) in our Japanese pop culture travels, so our friends have sometimes accused us of going out of our way to get bizarre stuff. However, all of these following items my husband bought at Narita Airport. Meaning that the Japanese want visitors to buy these as souvenirs, and you can’t blame my husband for picking them up when the airport authorities made it so convenient.

So first of all we have that favorite Japanese dish—curry!  Inside this box is a single serve pouch  of curry; just heat and serve. However, thing that makes it interesting—and therefore worthy of occupying space in an airport souvenir shop—is the meat they used. That’s not an ordinary pig on the box—it’s a wild boar!

Yes, folks, it’s wild boar curry. You, too, can pick up a box at Narita Airport and enjoy this novelty for a mere  ¥600!

Also, at that same store for the same low price is another curry. It’s a little more difficult to tell from the package illustration, but this is “Bakayarou Curry.” Or to translate: “Idiot Curry.”

 Now this is a pun that requires explanation, so much so that I’m surprised they put it in the airport with the intention for foreigners to buy. As mentioned above, “bakayarou” translates into “idiot” or ”fool.” The jinchuuriki Killer B from Naruto often uses that term in his raps. However, the word bakayarou is written by putting together the kanji characters for “horse”and “deer.” (Don’t ask me why, that’s just how it is.) And the meat used in this particular curry pouch is—you guessed it— a blend of horse and deer meat.

And you can bring it home from Narita Airport for just ¥600!

Moving on from curry, we have a snack that looks like it was inspired by the west but took on a life of its own in Japan: Tohato Bacon Sticks!

This he picked up at the airport convenience store. I kind of thought it would be a shorter version of a slim jim, but this snack actually has a texture closer to a Pocky or potato chip. It’s definitely not a 100% meat product, but it still emits that enticing smoky aroma that is distinctly bacon.

We put it out during our last Bible study gathering, and it was a massive hit. There’s just something irresistible about bacon, and Tohato has harnessed its qualities into an unexpected crowd-pleaser.

And finally, my husband brought home this:

In case you’re not familiar with it, “The Wave” is an iconic piece of Japanese art, and the creators inserted Godzilla, another Japanese icon,  into the scene. Even though it’s been about a half century since Godzilla first stormed onto the scene, he remains popular around the world. He’s certainly popular with my husband, and we had a little fun superimposing Godzilla onto our kitchen noren.

Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! Off-Season Character Goods

As mentioned in my previous postHaikyu!!  fans are in the midst of a long wait for our next season of anime. In addition to fighting impatience, fans also have to contend with something else: a decline in character goods. There are hundreds of manga and anime in existence, and even as large as as Animate and The (Shonen) Jump Shop are, there’s only so much shelf space. As such, stores tend to stock merchandise of series that are currently airing or about to air, and only mega popular titles like Naruto get year-round dedicated space.

However, even though it’s been a couple years since the last episode of Haikyu!! aired, its fan base is apparently strong enough that my husband found some items on his last trip to Tokyo. It’s nowhere near the quantity and variety he witnessed in 2015, but he still found some interesting items to go with our Haikyu!! musical Blu-ray sets.

First, we have something that can only be described as really really random. Remember Shimada-san, the Karasuno alum who teaches Yamaguchi the jump float serve? If you’ll recall, he works at the family business, a supermarket called the Shimada Mart with a distinct piggy logo. Anyway, for some reason, someone thought it would make a marketable piece of merchandise, and for some reason. my husband thought I’d like it and bought it.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised they made a Shimada pig plushie considering a gal dressed up as the Shimada pig at last May’s Fanime Convention. At any rate, the pig plushie is still in its packaging, and if you want it, message me with your best offer.

This next item, on the other hand, I am totally keeping. It is the kind of accessory that sets you apart from all the other Haikyu!! cosplayers, and the best  ¥5000 my husband spent on this trip—a vinyl Karasuno gym bag! It’s got an adjustable strap and a side compartment in addition to the main one. Plus, it’s perfect for stowing street clothes during a cosplay meetup. I just have keep a close eye to make sure another Haikyu!! enthusiast doesn’t try to take off with it during said meetup.

And lastly we have an edible product: latte art in a package by Takara Tomy Arts! It’s kind of a cute concept, given the popularity of latte art. Apparently, they’ve solidified the milky foam stuff into solid discs. Just drop a disc into a cup of hot coffee, and you have insta-art!

However, it is a little disappointing that the creators didn’t choose a more detailed illustration for this product. My husband also bought the One Piece version to show what Takara Tomy was capable of producing, and as you can see below, the One Piece illustrations are much more intricate.

Next up: Really Random Souvenirs







Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! 2017 Musicals: “The Winner and The Loser” and “The Summer Evolution”

Haikyu!! fans are in the midst of a long waiting season as far as the anime goes. The last season was released 2016, and although it’s already 2018, there’s been no official announcement about when Season 4 will come out. Fortunately, the manga is still ongoing, and those in Japan had the opportunity to relive the drama in the Haikyu!! films and musicals.

As I mentioned in a post last summer, the Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! production company presented the third musical The Winner and the Loser and the fourth musical The Summer Evolution in 2017. Unfortunately, my husband and I were unable to attend either show. Fortunately, as with their previous productions, the company collaborated with Toho Animation to release DVDs (Region 2 only) and Blu-rays of the musicals.

These are available through the Toho Animation online store and Amazon Japan, but both those outlets require a working knowledge of Japanese to make a purchase (and probably a Japan based credit card, I suspect). So my husband got them the old fashioned way: he ran to Akihabara during a 9-hour layover in Tokyo and bought them at Animate. (Arigatou, Animate!)

As with the previous releases, there are no English subtitles (although  the closing song for The Winner and the Loser does have English lyrics). And yes, it is pricey. Is it worth it? We think so! We only understand about one-tenth of the dialogue, but if you’re familiar with the series, you shouldn’t have any trouble following the overall plot. Also, the packaging, especially for The Winner and the Loser is really slick. The case includes a clear wraparound cover, and when you slide it off, you get a pretty cool image of Hinata in mid-jump. The Summer Evolution’s packaging isn’t quite as flashy, but its cast is the first to include females. Even though watching men play female bit parts is funny, it is nice to finally have actual women step onstage.

By the way, just like in the anime, the musical incorporates flashbacks in its storytelling. As such, these shows have references to previous productions, and those who’ve seen the first two musicals will have a more comprehensive entertainment experience.

Next up: Haikyu!! Off-season Character Goods.













A visit to World Cosplay Summit 2017!

If you’re an anime fan visiting Japan, Akihabara, Ikebukoro’s Otome Road, and the Ghibli Museum are probably on your list of places to visit. If you happen to visit in early August and can afford a detour to Nagoya, you should also consider the World Cosplay Summit (WCS)!

WCS 2017 participants

WCS is what it sounds like, an international gathering of cosplayers. The main feature of the week-long summit is a competition. Every year, participating countries choose representatives (the United States picks its delegates at Anime Expo), and they join on one stage to determine the best in the world. Entrance to the two day competition proper requires the purchase of tickets, but even without tickets to the main event, there’s still plenty to see and enjoy, as we discovered.

While my husband and I enjoy cosplay, we are definitely unacquainted with competitive cosplay. As such, most of what we learned about WCS came from its website, and the English language portion unfortunately had few details on events and schedule. Unsure whether the tickets were worth it, we decided to simply go to the venue the final weekend of WCS and “people watch.”

Saturday, August 5, 2017
Aichi Arts Center and Oasis 21

Cosplayers swarming Oasis 21.

The Aichi Arts Center in Nagoya was where the ticketed events took place. Directly adjacent are Oasis 21 (a shopping center and transportation hub) and Central Park (an underground mall). With WCS taking place at the art center, we figured we’d see a few cosplayers coming and going.

There were way more than a few. The whole area was packed shoulder to shoulder with cosplayers and photographers, too. On the art center lawns, in the restaurants, by the Oasis 21 fountain, in the mall bathrooms, on the stairs, in the train station…I’d never seen so many cosplayers in one place.

Cosplay performance with taiko drums!

We quickly discovered WCS had an official presence outside the paid Aichi Arts Center area. The Oasis 21 courtyard has an outdoor stage, where WCS entertained the general public. Cosplayer teams performed sketches, and between acts, WCS hosts invited random cosplayers from the crowd to the stage to show off their costumes.

Cosplayers of all ages!

The heat is no joke….

Not surprisingly, the average quality of outfits and paraphernalia of the WCS crowd was a level higher than what I’ve seen at Fanime and Anime Expo. Properly colored wigs and tinted contact lenses were the rule, not the exception. These people were out to look good, and what made it even more amazing with that they were fully decked out at the height of summer.

WCS takes place during Japan’s summer break. This makes it easier for students to attend. It also means it’s crazy hot and humid. I was wearing a hat, tank top, and shorts, and I found the heat oppressive. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for those in long wigs, long sleeves, and cloaks. Even the scantily clad ones had to contend against sunburn. Suffice to say, the lines for shaved ice and soft serve ice cream were long, and you could sense the collective relief when the sun went down.

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Osu Shopping District

Oasis 21/Aichi Art Center hosted more of the same on Sunday (except with BIGGER crowds), but before we went there, we packed onto a train with several German-speaking cosplayers and headed two stations away to Osu Kannon Shrine.

The 2017 WCS contestants!

WCS coincides with the Osu Summer Festival held by Osu Shopping District, a covered arcade encompassing several blocks of shops. The shopping district is adjacent to the shrine, and apparently, it’s tradition for the international delegates to parade from the shrine through the shopping district. We figured that was worth seeing, and apparently, so did many others. We arrived an hour early, and Osu Kannon Shrine was already bustling with cosplayers (which certainly helped entertain us till the main event).

The marching band that led the cosplay parade.

The parade was a somewhat smaller affair than we expected. It began with the fifty or so international delegates posing on the shrine steps while an announcer introduced the group over loudspeaker. Then a high school marching band struck up and led the way for the representatives to promenade through the shopping district. I thought more cosplayers would be part of the procession, but no. It was just the main contenders, and the other cosplayers present were there to support them or just get a really good look at their costumes.

One of the best things we’ve ever eaten in Japan.

Thus, it was a very short parade. However, the Osu Festival also had a stage with idol performances after the parade, and we enjoyed their shops and food stands (the beef skewers were AMAZING and only ¥600) before returning to the main gathering at Oasis 21.

Osu Summer Festival idol performance

So in short, it was crowded and hot but the skill and enthusiasm of the cosplayers were amazing to behold. If you have an interest in cosplay, it’s worth checking out. As for us, if we’re in Japan in August again, we might just purchase tickets for the competition stage .

Summer Koshien: The 99th National High School Baseball Championship of Japan!

If you watch sports anime, you know the dream of high school athletes is to go to nationals, and of the myriad sports tournaments in Japan, none is more prestigious than Summer Koshien, the high school baseball championship. The tournament takes place in the beginning of August at Koshien Stadium (also home to the Hanshin Tigers) in the Kansai Region. As it turns out, the opening of the two week tournament coincided with the tail end of our Osaka vacation, so my husband and I got to attend the 99th Koshien!

Actually, we nearly didn’t get to go because of a typhoon. Typhoon #5 hit Kansai the night before Koshien’s scheduled start. So the tournament got pushed from Monday to Tuesday, and for a little while, it looked like it might get pushed to Wednesday, the day we had to return home. Fortunately, the rain let up early Tuesday morning, and we were able to join the crowds August 8 for Day 1 of Koshien.

The 2017 competitors!

Opening Ceremony

As former marching band geeks, my husband and I have an appreciation for displays of pageantry, and given that Koshien is a venerable institution, we anticipated a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. We were not disappointed.

Procession of the flags

The opening ceremony began with a band (playing Sousa’s National Emblem!) marching in with a choir. Next came a series of flag bearers. The flag of Japan entered first, then the Koshien banner, followed by what I’m guessing were Japan’s prefectural flags.

Finally, the baseball teams paraded in. Each team was preceded by a girl carrying a sign indicating their prefecture. Next came a player bearing the team’s banner, and the remaining 17 players followed in rows of three. And they were marching. Like seriously high-stepping and swinging their arms. Teams varied in their level of coordination and the height to which they picked up their heels, but there was no mistaking their energy and excitement. And once all 49 teams were lined up on the field, they made a colorful, festive sight.

Players marching in!

It rather reminded me of the Olympics. And like the Olympics, Koshien has its own anthem. After the raising of the Japanese flag, the choir and band led the tournament theme song as the Koshien flag went up.

Speeches followed. I couldn’t understand most of it, but I found it interesting that one speaker sprinkled his address with a bunch of English words. Then a representative player stepped to the mic to lead the sportsmanship oath. Again, I couldn’t understand a word, but the composed young man did a fine job as far as I could tell.

With that, the band played a recessional for all to exit, and it was time to play ball!

The Games

Confession: I am not a baseball fan. Most of the time I find baseball mind-blowingly boring. However, I figured Koshien would be different, and it was. Because it’s a high school competition, most players only have one chance to be in the tournament. Because a single loss puts a team out of the running, everyone’s bringing their A-game. And with representatives coming from every part of the country, their energy is palpable. These athletes are living a dream, and there’s nothing jaded about the excitement on their faces.

Of course, that excitement plus their youth brings a certain amount of unpredictability to the matches. In Game 1, Hasami (Nagasaki Prefecture) scored first with a single home run and maintained a lead in the latter half of the game, but eventually lost in a dramatic ninth inning play by opponent Hikone Higashi (Shiga Prefecture). In Game 2, Tochiku (Fukuoka Prefecture) was hitting balls like mad (total 13 hits) but only got four runs in. Plus, they kept making fielding errors, the kind that you wouldn’t see in a professional game, and ultimately lost to Saibi (Ehime Prefecture). Between errors and random home runs, I was pretty well entertained.

Fans, Bands, Traditions

Entertainment was also to be had in the stands. As previously mentioned, my husband and I were in a marching band so we find bands and cheer squads as interesting as the teams they root for. With Koshien being such a huge deal, we anticipated schools and families pulling out all the stops.

Hikone Higashi’s team acknowledging their cheer squad

They did. Sections of the stadium are designated for the fans of the competing schools (more on that in “How to go to Koshien”). The size of each group varies (i.e. schools located closer to Koshien tended to have more fans present), but they definitely stood out in their identical colors and garb with matching clappers, towels, etc. Fans stood as one, sang as one, shouted as one, jumped as one (yes, one group was jumping). It was the first time I’d seen Japanese cheering, and I was impressed how well-coordinated they were.

Pep bands also varied in size and instrumentation. Saibi had a huge brass section and repertoire to match (they were constantly showing off their trumpets). In contrast, their opponent Tochiku had a band that hardly played at all. Most of Tochiku’s noise came from a massive bass drum and shouting directed by the cheer squad’s cue cards.

Watching the different expressions of school spirit was fun, even if I couldn’t understand cheers or recognize tunes. (We only recognized two: “Popeye the Sailor Man” and “Dr. Who.”) Stadium etiquette is different, too. In the States, bands play when there is a break in the action so as not to distract players. In Japan, the bands (and all the fans) make the most noise when their players are at bat. When their side retires, everyone sits and quiets down while their rivals’ supporters start yelling/playing/clapping, etc. And when a time out is called, everything stops.

We got to see this when lingering clouds from the typhoon dumped rain in the middle of Game 2, forcing a halt. Our college band would’ve taken the opportunity to entertain the crowds with our music. The Japanese bands didn’t play once during the break. In fact, some band players fled the stands.

The diamond after a downpour. Note the tarps on home base and the pitcher’s mound.

In their defense, the downpour came down hard for a good ten minutes. The ground crew only had tarps for the pitcher’s mound and home plate so the dirt from the infield looked like it was melting into the grassy areas. By the time the rain stopped, the diamond was a sopping mess, and then watching the ground crew clean it up with towels and wheelbarrows of dirt provided a different form of entertainment.

But getting back to stadium etiquette … other interesting differences include the singing of each team’s anthem (couldn’t tell if it was the prefectural or school song) in the first inning, the raising of the winning team’s banner at the end of the game, and all the bowing. Teams bow to one another at the start and end of the game, and they bow to their fans before they exit the field.

One more thing they do before leaving: collect dirt. Players scrape dirt from the Koshien diamond into bags to take home. Kind of odd, but it is regarded the traditional keepsake for participants. At the very least, I didn’t see any spitting so it’s probably less disgusting than dirt from an American stadium.

How to go to Koshien

So if you’re thinking of going to Koshien, I would highly recommend it. If you’re already in the Kansai area, it’s affordable, and aside from infants (the weather is way too hot for babies), every demographic in the age spectrum was present. While middle-aged men were in the minority, I saw more dads with sons than I’d seen anywhere else in Japan. People were selling and buying beer in the stands at 7AM (the sake doesn’t come out till noon), but from what I could tell, no one was being an obnoxious drunk.

Getting to the Stadium

Take. The. Train. Unless you are in walking distance, the train is the way to go. Especially because the stadium parking lot is unavailable to the general public during the tournament.

Plus, Koshien Stadium is just two blocks away from Koshien Station. You can see the stadium from the station, and on game days, all you have to do is follow the crowd. You can get more information on exactly which trains to take from your particular location using or Google maps (use the public transportation tab).


Koshien offers special box seats, but I’m just going to focus on the four types of general seating, which are shown in the diagram below.

Seating chart for Koshien tickets

Covered Section (shown in green)
This was the section we sat in. It is the most expensive, but ¥2000 (roughly $20 U.S.) isn’t bad for an entire day of baseball. In addition to getting a prime view, you also have shade, a significant benefit because the heat is no joke. Seriously. During opening ceremonies, one of the sign bearers passed out and had to be carried off. We were also spared having to flee our seats when the Game 2 downpour hit. Along with weather protection, you also get foul ball protection from a metal wire barrier.

Partly Covered Section (shown in blue)
¥1500 will get you here. The awning will shade you for a portion of the day, and only the upper seats will protect you from rain. Obviously, it’s a less centered view of the diamond, and you need to pay attention if there a hit because foul balls will come flying!

Cheering Squad Section (shown in pink)
There’s no shade in the ¥600 seats. HOWEVER, these are definitely the most energetic and rambunctious sections because this is where the cheer squads/pep bands sit.

Bleachers- FREE zone (shown in yellow)
They’re in the outfield, and there’s no shade, but you might get the chance to catch a home run!

Koshien ticket and keychain souvenir (Konan is this year’s Okinawa representative).

No tickets are required for the free seats. It’s simply first come, first served. All other seats require a ticket. However, seats are not assigned. The tickets let you into your designated section for the day, and then you take whatever’s available in that section. So whether you are going for a free or ticketed seat, it behooves you to to go early (or send someone early to hog seats for your group).

As for purchasing tickets, advance purchases are available online a few weeks before the tournament, but this summer those sold out within a day (my Okinawan friend suspects scalpers were purchasing them).

End of the ticket line sign guy. Note Koshien Station and the Ace of Diamond banner in the background.

Fortunately, they also sell tickets on the day of each game. As long as you’re willing to get up early, you shouldn’t have trouble getting a ticket. (Ticket sales began 7AM. We lined up at 6:30 AM.) Just go to the stadium and look for the guys carrying the end of the line signs. You know you’re in the right line if the price on the sign matches the cost of the ticket you want to purchase.

Additional Information

The stadium Kentucky Fried Chicken stand’s colonel in Tiger garb.

One nice (and surprising!) thing was we didn’t have to go through a metal detector to get in the stadium. And if you want to bring your own food or drink, that was okay too, as far as we could tell. So take advantage of that! Bring plenty of cold fluids along with your sunscreen, hat, cooling scarf, etc. because you will need it.

If you forget to bring food/drink, no big deal. They’ve plenty of food offerings at the stadium, and there isn’t a huge markup. (¥200 for a bottle of water, ¥600 for a squid skewer.)


So there you have it. Summer Koskien 2017 continues till the end of the week so those in Japan still have the opportunity to go. If my husband and I find ourselves in Kansai during a future August, we’d certainly go again.


Souvenirs from Asia: Baumkuchen and Fake Toast

As mentioned in my last two posts, a happy convergence between my husband’s last business trip and a Jump Shop promotional event resulted in a massive load of Haikyu!! goodies. However, not all the gems in his souvenir stash were Haikyu!! related.

Baumkuchen is a European pastry very popular in Japan. It is often sold as a souvenir in airports and train stations, and the Narita Sanrio shop went all-out with this apple kuchen. The packaging is adorable, and instead of the traditional ring shape, this kuchen is apple shaped.

Hello Kitty Japan apple kuchen

My husband also picked up baumkuchen at Tokyo Station. As you can tell from the photo, this baumkuchen and the box of cookies beside it are designed for your name. movie fans (my review for the your name. light novel coming soon). Unlike the apple kuchen, the your name. kuchen comes in bite-sited, individually wrapped pieces. The cookies are also individually wrapped, and each has the movie logo baked on top.

your name. cookies and baumkuchen

Do not eat! Its not real toast!

This final item is not edible though it looks like it might be! Fake toast! It looks like a cosplayer prop for that classic late-student-running-to-school-with-toast-in-mouth. However, there’s all sorts of warnings about not putting it into your mouth, which makes me wonder what its intended purpose is.

Anyway, that’s it for this round of souvenirs!


Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! snacks!

As mentioned previously, a change in my husband’s business trip itinerary allowed him to get to the Jump Shop’s Haikyu!! promotional event. The interesting thing was that about half the items he bought back were edibles, mostly snack foods. I’m not sure what marketing consultant drove the Jump Shop in that direction, but I guess it worked, considering my husband bought a bunch.

Choco-caramel and chocopuffs

So to start we have the sweets. Karasuno, Shiratorizawa, and Aoba Josai chocolate candies. As with many Japanese food products, a lot of effort went into the packaging. I will definitely keep the containers, but the Shiratorizawa and Aoba Josai tins only contained 5 choco-caramel candies each. As for the Karasuno one, it didn’t contain chocolates but chocolate flavored corn puffs. When we tried it, we felt like we should pour the whole thing into a bowl and add milk.

Although the packaging for these next candies isn’t nearly as durable, it is clever and super cute. The Haikyu!! characters are occasionally shown with milk or juice boxes which is the inspiration for this candy set. Not really sure about a giraffe for the chocolate candy box, but the cow makes a nice design for the milk caramel.

Choco candy and milk caramel in juice box packaging

Next, pie from the rivals! The pie, by the way, comes in (tiny!) individual servings that are of course well encased in packaging. I haven’t yet tried the leaf pie so I’m not sure what that’s about, but the filling for the apple pie is more like apple puree. So it looks cute, but it wouldn’t be my first (or second or third) choice for a snack.

Apple and leaf(!) pie from Karasuno rivals

More appetizing is the Karasuno manju. They’ve updated it since two years ago, and this version has a cute crow shape and comes with bonus postcards!

Crow shaped manju!

With player stats on the side!

The majority of snacks my husband bought were sweet, but there is a savory one in the mix. Position snacks! Each box features one or two players with their stats on the side. Pretty cool in the package design department. As for the snacks themselves, well… they kind of taste like a barbeque-ish version of the corn puffs from the Karasuno chocolate flavored corn puffs.

Position Snacks!

And finally, what all shonen like to eat: curry! I don’t know what makes it cafe curry or why the rival cats and owls got put together, but it still makes a nice visual on the box.

Nekoma and Fukurodani curry!

By the way, as part of the Jump Shop promotion, customers received a Haikyu!! sticker per a certain amount spent. Because of that, my husband and I now have more stickers than we know what to do with.

Jump Shop promotion Haikyu!! stickers

Next up: Not Haikyu!! but still cool.











Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival musical DVD and more!

When my husband and I went to the Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival musical last November, we signed up for email updates from the production company. Thanks to Google translate, we’ve learned from these periodic messages that the third Haikyu!! musical, The Winner and the Loser, toured Japan last spring; a special Haikyu!! exhibition took place at Tokyo Dome; and their fourth musical, The Summer Evolution, is coming out this fall. Then just before my husband’s most recent business trip, we learned that Jump Shop stores would be selling Haikyu!! musical goods for a limited time.

My husband’s itinerary was all China, so we chalked it up as just another event we couldn’t take advantage of. However, due to some unexpected hiccups during his trip, his boss redirected him to Nagoya for the last bit of his trip.

Translation: he wound up with one full day to shop in Japan.

DVD for the second Haikyu!! musical

And shop he did. Not only did he find the musical goods at Nagoya Jump Shop, but the store, in anticipation of an influx of Haikyu!! fans, also had their own Haikyu!! goods in force. In addition, my husband has learned from previous trips that there’s no guarantee that a character good will be around the next time you visit, even if it’s just a week later. So if he sees something he likes, he gets it. Thus, he came home with quite a haul.

So to start, we have the Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival DVD. This is the musical that we saw last fall. Yes, we liked it so much we want to watch it again and again. No, there are no English subtitles. Yes, the DVD requires a Japan region player, but that’s okay because we got one when we bought the DVD for the first Haikyu!! musical.

Jersey towels!

Next we have jersey mini-towels. As those who’ve visited Japan know, most Japanese restrooms don’t provide paper towels, so people carry handkerchiefs or small towels for drying their hands. Now fans can show their team spirit every time they head to the sink. Jump Shop had a towel for every Karasuno member, and because Daichi and Hinata are my favorites, my husband brought back 1 and 10.

Jump Shop also had jersey mugs for the whole team. My husband picked up a Hinata mug along with a traditional-style tea mug featuring most of the Karasuno team and several rival players. A nice detail of the jersey mug is that the inside of the mug has a manga-style picture of Hinata.

Chibi character tea mug and jersey mug


I think it reads,”Mou ippai!”(“One more cup!”)

Not to leave the Karasuno captain behind, my husband also picked up a Daichi clip and stamp. However, these items and the Haikyu!! pen alongside them are actually not from the Jump Shop but a random Ikebukoro shop.

Haikyu!! stamp, clip, and pen. The clip splits Daichi in half.

Also from another store (Ikebukoro Animate) is one of the best items of the bunch. When we visited last November, this team banner was part of a store display, but it wasn’t actually available for sale. This time it was, so now we get to show our support for our favorite volleyball team. Go crows!


Next up: Haikyu!! themed snacks.













Castle Under Siege: An Attack on Titan Real Escape Game!

Back in the day, the most a manga could hope for was an anime adaption and maybe a movie. Nowadays, manga serves as the basis for all sorts of entertainment, and when my husband and I visited Los Angeles for his birthday a few days ago, we experienced Castle Under Seige: a collaboration between Real Escape Game and Attack on Titan.

For those unfamiliar with Real Escape Game, it’s a franchise that began in Japan and has since spread to other places including San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles. It runs Escape Rooms and hosts events at special locations, but the premise behind all of its puzzle events is the same. You and your team members are “trapped” and have 60 minutes to search for clues and solve puzzles in order to escape.

Castle Under Seige, by the way, is not the first Attack on Titan themed Real Escape Game. In 2015, Real Escape hosted Escape from the Walled City at AT&T Park and a couple other stadiums in the United States. Sadly, my husband and I heard about it two months after the event (so disappointed!). Thus, when we chanced upon a Castle Under Seige flyer in Little Tokyo on our last day in Los Angeles, we couldn’t let the opportunity slip. Less than two hours later, we were at the Los Angeles Real Escape Room with five local college students.

The premise of Castle Under Seige is that participants (maximum of ten) are members of the Scouts/Survey Corps, who’ve been forced to take shelter from titans in an old castle. Eren (in titan form) and Mikasa are buying time (60 minutes to be exact) by fighting them, and Armin is giving clues to find various objects to help against the enemy.

The game does go out of its way to make it fun for Attack on Titan fans. If you have your own Attack on Titan cosplay, you are encouraged to wear it. For those without, the hosts provide green cloaks with the Wings of Freedom insignia to wear during the game. The game instructors/hosts are also in cosplay and in character. Funimation is one of the game collaborators, and I’m assuming Castle Under Seige used the anime’s English language voice actors for Mikasa and Armin (sorry, I prefer subtitles so I’m not familiar with the dub). Also, several inside jokes are infused into the puzzles and clues.

Participant uniforms!

While knowledge of Attack on Titan makes Castle Under Seige more enjoyable, it doesn’t actually give participants much of an edge. When it comes to solving the puzzles, experience with other Real Escape Games actually gives a greater advantage. So it’s entirely possible for a team with no knowledge of Attack on Titan to succeed, although they’ll probably think it’s weird that a gas cylinder is useful against man eating giants. (And according to our host, Castle Under Seige has had participants unfamiliar with the series. They provide those players with a single page synopsis of Attack on Titan.)

By the way, the success rate for Castle Under Seige is about 60%. For comparison, Real Escape Game’s Escape from the Mysterious Room is closer to 10%. So the Castle’s puzzles aren’t as intense as the Mysterious Room’s, but they’re enough to pose a fun challenge to fans looking for a new way to experience Attack on Titan.

So did we escape the titans? We did! Everyone in our team of seven was familiar with Attack on Titan, but only my husband and I had prior Real Escape Game experience (we played the Escape from the Mysterious Room in 2015). With everyone’s help, we achieved victory in 55 minutes. We weren’t anywhere close to Castle Under Seige’s current record (just over 30 minutes), but it was enough that we didn’t get eaten. And we got to pose with the props afterwards! It made my husband’s 44th birthday a memorable one.

So if you and your otaku friends are looking for a group activity and have $35 to spare, I would certainly recommend Castle Under Siege. Castle Under Siege is currently only available in Los Angeles Little Tokyo, but Real Escape also has a Zelda game and Final Fantasy XIV game touring various cities this summer. Supposedly, there’s also a Dragonball escape game at Anime Expo 2017, but the website is unresponsive so I can’t confirm that.

Anyway, check it out. And have fun escaping the titans!

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.


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!