Tag Archives: travel

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.

img_2906

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!

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

 

img_2624

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: The Japanese School Festival revisited!

A couple months ago, I got an inquiry from someone (from Belgium!) about bunkasai. FC is going to Japan this fall with his girlfriend, who is a big anime fan, and, after reading my 2012 post about the Komazawa Girls’ School Festival, wanted to ask if I could provide any information on locating a bunkasai to take her.

I have to commend FC for going the extra mile for his girlfriend. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give him the help he needed. School festivals are small local events, and you really need someone who is Japanese fluent to find them. I definitely am NOT Japanese fluent, and if it weren’t for the kind efforts of my Okinawan friend, we never would have found the Komajo bunkasai.

Fortunately for FC, he was somehow able to learn that Todai is having a festival during the time of their trip so he’ll be able to treat his girlfriend to a university-style festival in November. (Yay!)

I’m not sure how FC wrangled that information from the Internet, but my husband also orchestrated a bunkasai visit on his last business trip all by himself.

Well… almost by himself. The visit was made possible by two things. One, he was in Japan at the right time. Bunkasai generally take place in the fall, with high school festivals at the earlier end and university events scheduled later. Two, even though he didn’t have our Okinawan friend scouring the Internet in advance of his trip, he did have the concierge of his Nagoya hotel. They decided to humor his request and sent him off with printed directions to Nagoya Women’s University.

img_2610

img_2614The festival, the school’s 66th, was also a kind of open house for prospective students. Nagoya Women’s University teaches fashion so one of the events was a fashion show. You can see a couple of the models from the fashion show next to the local mascot, who was also in attendance.

Overall, the university, which also has an associated primary, middle, and high school, wasn’t quite as posh an establishment as Komajo, and everything was on a proportionally smaller scale. While a celebrity (whom I didn’t recognize) was included in the lineup, the main stage events also included simple magic tricks by a white-haired gentleman. (My husband couldn’t tell if he was a faculty member or maybe someone’s uncle.)

img_2611

img_2613However, all the elements of student booths and food stalls were there, and my husband brought me back two matcha green tea umeboshi dorayaki to try. (Looked pretty but was super sour!)

We are hoping the next time we manage a bunkasai visit it can be to a coed or boys’ school. It just so happened that the only festivals open to the public where we visited were girls’ schools. There’s nothing wrong with girls’ school per se, but it does make it more awkward for my husband to try to strike up a conversation with the students, especially if I’m not with him. And it would be interesting to see if there are differences. Perhaps FC will put up a blog post after his Todai visit and let us all know 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Souvenirs from Asia: Swallowtail Butler Cafe revisited!

My husband was in Japan on business recently and, while there, he revisited a highlight from our 2012 Japan pop tour: Swallowtail Butler Cafe!

Now his actual intention was not to visit Swallowtail by himself. As I’ve mentioned to a few inquirers, a single lady, a group of ladies, or a lady with a gentleman date would definitely fit in with the Swallowtail clientele. A single gentleman, not so much. (And I’m not sure they’d know what to do if they got a group of salarymen.) However, he was in Ikebukoro in search of an Attack on Titan costume for a friend of ours and passed Swallowtail’s corner on the way to Cospa. This is what he saw there.

img_2606
img_2607The Swallowtail franchise has expanded! Now on the corner opposite Japan’s premier butler cafe is a gift shop and patisserie. And quite popular from the looks of it. FYI, the line on one side is to get tickets and the line on the other side is to enter the patisserie after purchasing a ticket. As much as my husband wanted to stay and try the owl themed treats, the line was literally out the door.

So he wasn’t able to see if the patisserie servers were attired as they were in the butler cafe. ( For more details and information about the butler cafe, read my 2012 post here). However, judging from the crowd outside, Patisserie Swallowtail is a more casual establishment that appeals to the same demographic: single ladies, female groups, and couples on dates. And with its sidewalk level signs and large red awning, Swallowtail corner is now a lot more easy to locate.

img_2604

So Patisserie Swallowtail is now on our list of places to visit together. In the meantime, I get to enjoy a souvenir my husband bought at the gift shop: cute pastries in an oh-so-elegant box. Just to sort of thing you’d expect from the Swallowtail franchise.

img_2608

img_2609

 

A Tour of Japanese Pop Culture, Part 12: Komazawa School Festival!

Our vacation culminated with a visit to the Komazawa Girls’ School Festival, a destination truly off the beaten track. For those unfamiliar with Japanese high school culture, these festivals or bunkasai are as commonplace as homecoming or prom in the United States. Watch any Japanese drama or anime with a high school setting, and you can pretty much count on a bunkasai episode. Having seen so many anime/drama depictions, we wanted to experience the real deal. Not all are open to the public, but thanks to an Okinawan friend, we found one scheduled at the time of our trip.

We knew nothing about Komazawa other than it was an all-girls school prior to our visit, and we were floored by what we found. Located in the affluent suburb of Inagi City, Komazawa is actually a middle school, high school, and university and definitely on the prestigious end. The campus is huge, boasting a gorgeous track and koi pond, and the girls bathroom was bright and shiny as a Yogurtland parlor.

Festival Decorations. And no, I have no idea what the McDonald’s pic is about.

But even though Komazawa is a high-class place, its bunkasai contained many of the elements we’d anticipated: various booths, handmade posters, high school boys coming to check out the girls. The main stage was in a courtyard surrounded by food stalls selling curry, noodles, hot dogs, tapioca drinks, takoyaki, and cotton candy. There were no plays the day we attended, but they had several music and dance performances.

Based on the three rock bands we saw, there’s some correlation between Japanese rocker wardrobe and cosplay. One band dressed like nurses, and another had a drummer that looked just like anime idol Hatsune Miku. We didn’t know any of the songs, but watching them play their hearts out to the cheers of their fans (a few in cosplay also!) was pretty cool.

As for the dancers, their performances looked like music video dance routines. The music was all canned, but most girls lip-synched as they did their best idol group imitations. Again, we didn’t recognize any the songs or groups, but they  drew a huge crowd and we had fun watching them.

Other festival entertainment included various game booths, most of which required 100 or 50 yen to play. In the gymnasium, however, the sports clubs had free games. From the looks of it, they were simply trying to promote their clubs. The kendo club had a whack-balloon-with-shinai (bamboo sword) game; the soccer club had a kicking game; the softball team had a throwing game; and the archery club had a shoot-the-balloon game (with a real bow!). We don’t really see kendo or Japanese archery at home so it was cool to see students in hakama showing people the proper way to hold a bow or shinai.

Over by the main school building, the students had rearranged and decorated their classrooms just like we’d seen on TV. In manga, you can pretty much count on a bunkasai with a haunted house or a butler/maid café. As it turned out, Komazawa had no maids; the closest we got was green tea and manju served by the kimono-garbed tea ceremony club in its tatami-floored classroom (though that was quite fun).

However, we did see one classroom swathed in black plastic sheeting. Thinking it was a haunted house, we went in. Inside was a maze made of cardboard and black plastic. But when we turned the first corner, instead of a student in a scary costume, we were greeted by a girl holding up a sheet with a question on it. As it turned out, it was a Halloween (?) themed quiz game! We encountered four more girls with questions in the maze, and fortunately it was multiple choice. In the end, I won a prize for getting three questions right while my husband got a smaller prize for one correct answer.

Apparently, challenges were all the rage for this school. Another class had a four-part challenge consisting of a timed chopsticks skills test, a throwing game, name that tune, and a model strut (yup, they had a little catwalk set up in the classroom). We had a lot of fun with that, thanks mainly to one girl who had a decent grasp of English. She was able to explain all the rules to us, though it took a bit of charades to get the idea of the model strut across.

Although that girl and her class were the most memorable for us, we enjoyed interacting with all the students. Some got quite shy when they realized we were from America while others got super excited and wanted to pose for pictures with us. You could tell they hadn’t expected random foreigners.

Neither did the faculty and parents. Several adults were lending a hand at booths or taking their families around. In particular, there were a bunch with children all wearing the same elementary school uniform. Prospective students, maybe? Anyway, occasionally my husband and I would be trying to decipher what a particular booth or display was about, and a parent or teacher would offer us an explanation in fluent English. As it turns out, many within this community go to university in the United States. And after helping us out, they  inevitably asked, “So why did you decide to travel here?”

Inagi City is over an hour by train from Tokyo, and school festivals are local events. My husband and I were pretty much the equivalent of foreign tourists to San Francisco taking a detour to Walnut Creek for a high school homecoming game. I don’t know if they thought we were nuts to make so much effort to visit Inagi for the reasons we did, but they all did their best to make our trip worthwhile.

Last minute purchase for the Americans!

The girls, I think, were amused by our presence. We stayed until closing, and by that time, a good portion of them knew they had Americans in their midst and waved as we went by. One group trying to sell the last of their festival merchandise rushed up to us in hopes that we’d make a purchase.

We bought two bags of their sugar butter toast snacks. They were trying so hard to make their sales pitch in English we just had to reward them.

Like I said, this experience was definitely off the beaten track, but it turned out to be the highlight of our trip, and we’re glad we could experience a bit of Japanese culture most foreigners don’t get to see.