Tag Archives: Japanese pop Culture

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 .

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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 hyperdia.com or Google maps (use the public transportation tab).

Tickets

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!

FLY!!!

Next up: Haikyu!! themed snacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Souvenirs from Asia: Totoro Clock!

My husband and I generally don’t buy things on impulse. Especially if the price is over $100. Even if one of us is bewitched, the other will be yelling, “What are you thinking?”

However, on his last trip, my husband got blindsided by a level of cute too potent for either of us to resist. During his last morning in Japan, he arrived early in Akihabara for a final shopping trip. Animate didn’t open until 10am, but Edion, a nearby electronics store, was already open so he decided to wander around there until Animate opened. That’s where he saw this:

Anime cuteness in the EDION Clock section

Too cute!!!

He wasn’t expecting to buy anything outside Animate, but that Totoro clock grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go. Totoro is one of anime’s most charming representatives, after all. And the other thing was that we actually needed a clock. We hadn’t intended for it to be a ¥11,200 clock, but then again, we never thought we’d have a Totoro option.

Even the box is kawaii!

Even the box is kawaii!

Being a good husband, he texted me a picture and asked what I thought. I too fell under Totoro’s spell, and three minutes and roughly $110 later, my husband walked out the proud owner of a Totoro clock.

Which just shows how extreme kawaii can separate an otaku couple from their money.

Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! Season 3 Haul!

My husband boasts that he can now get to the Animate store in Nagoya, Osaka, Ikebukoro, and Akihabara without the help of directions. This says a lot about how he likes to spend his free time on business trips. However, in addition to the fact that he is an otaku, he like to make his rounds with these stores because each location actually carries different stock. So between four Animate stores and the Jump store in Nagoya along with the start of Haikyu!! Season Three, he returned with quite a haul of Haikyu!! goods.

Seijoh chibi charm (?) and padded pen case

Seijoh chibi charm (?) and padded pen case

 

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Sports towels with school spirit!

Kenma on panda???

Kenma on panda???

Apparently, Karasuno’s rival schools have quite following, judging from their representative goods. According to my husband, there was also a Karasuno sports towel, but the design wasn’t nearly as slick as Seijoh’s and Nekoma’s so he only wound up buying the ones for the rival teams.

Not to say that Karasuno got outclassed by its rivals in all categories. During my husband’s last trip, he brought back Hinata and Kageyama phone charms. Apparently, the collection now includes Nekoma’s setter. However, I don’t know what panda bears have to do with Tokyo, volleyball, or Nekoma High School, and Kenma just looks awkward sitting on it.

A fan for ace Bokuto and chibi themed erasers

A fan for ace Bokuto and chibi themed erasers

Fits in the medicine cabinet!

Fits in the medicine cabinet!

While most of his purchases, like the chibi themed erasers, were “what-you-see-is-what-you-get,” we did get a bit of a surprise with one. My husband was trying to stick with practical items, ergo the simple plastic cup (something I’ve been needing for the bathroom) and towels. The eyeglass case also fell into that category. However, despite being a Jump store item, the proportions of the chibi crow on the are kind of off, enough to make it look like a counterfeit product. However, when I opened the case, I was pleasantly surprised by what is now my new favorite eyeglass wipe. And something that makes it extra special is that it’s a rare item that includes all twelve members of the Karasuno team and their support staff.

Eyeglass case and wipe

Eyeglass case and wipe

According to my husband, more Haikyu!! goods should be available as we get deeper into the anime season. However, I’ve got more than enough to keep me happy as Karasuno enters the finals against Shiratorizawa.

Go crows!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Souvenirs from Asia: Japanese snacks!

My husband and I scheduled an anime viewing at our house this month so I asked him to buy a few unusual snack foods from Japan for the party. This is what he brought back.

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I am amazed he made it back with all that plus his other souvenirs AND luggage.

Since it would take too long to go through the entire stash, I’ll limit it to the highlights for this post.

First we have the nori wasabi flavored potelong. I suppose wasabi flavored snacks aren’t so unusual in the West now, but I thought the nori and wasabi high-fiving on the package was especially cute.

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Next is a potato snack that definitely would not make it out West. Not sure who thought chocolate and potato would make a great combo, but it’s popular enough for my husband to find Jagachoco chocolate covered potato chips in the convenience store.

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The next snack is all about the packaging. I don’t know what message the Tohato marketers wanted to convey, but to me, that Jack o’ lantern styled pepper screams, “DANGER. RUN AWAY.”

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On the other end of the packaging spectrum is this. It may be just a bowl of instant udon noodles, but the kimono-clad Hello Kitty makes you feel like you’re getting something truly elegant.

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Prefer a more masculine Japanese icon? How about some Ultraman raman navona? No, I have no idea what that is, but it comes from a confectionery so I assume it’s sweet.

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And here’s another confectionery offering. I was surprised my husband found this one because Initial D is over a decade past its heyday. Maybe Initial D fans have a raving sweet tooth that makes this product profitable? Or perhaps there’s a reboot in the works?

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img_2619Finally, we have a snack that also a game: Godzilla vs. Evangelion! I don’t know who decided to put these two together, but at the very least the chibi character versions are really cute. My limited knowledge of kanji tells me the circle and characters on the back of the box are used to play something, but I’ve no idea what. However, our Japanese-literate friend JB is coming to the anime viewing so perhaps our party will include monsters stomping over noodle-shaped snacks.

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