The Meiji-mura Experience

Yay!

Yay!

My first ever publishing! I wrote an article, and photographed the Meiji-mura World Cosplay Summit event for Japan Daily, formerly known as Japan Daily Press. Thank you Japan Daily for the opportunity!

Link: Japan Daily Article WCS Meijimura

Zelda: Not taken by me

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Kiso Valley in Nagano

Between Nagano, Nagoya, and Gifu lays a volcano responsible for over 50 deaths in 2014.  It was a tragic event, and some may say Mt. Ontake’s eruption a precursor to Mt. Fuji’s future eruption. However, only several dozen kilometers away, lays a cultural Easter basket of homes belonging to an era bygone.

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I had a chance to make my way up to this rice paddy dominated area, to take in the beautiful river, mountains and even waterfalls. Kiso Valley is famous for it’s long hiking trail, which runs through all that nature and a beautiful town. Tsumago and Magome are town’s very closely linked by trails, while Narai, the richer and bigger town, is further North closer to Nagano.

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Lined along the trail are sweet shops which serve a variety of ice cream in regular flavors and green tea flavors. Snacks and drinks are also available, but my favorite shop, felt like an old cafe from the 80’s with a small arcade table with the game Invaders built in.

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We were fortunate enough to be able to drive through all the areas including the waterfall. There was no shortage of parking, but the hot weather made walking through certain parts rougher. The waterfall areas were much cooler, and allowed us to enjoy beautiful photography shots with a cool breeze.

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Many of the towns in the area are sleepy, but had enough car traffic to warrant an Aeon supermarket in one of them. Although smaller, it was pretty much an Aeon in essence. The most beautiful scenery came from the setting sun, which illuminated everything in an euphoric glow.

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The Legend of INITIAL D Finally Ends But My Decade-Long Fandom Remains

Fujinsei

And so Initial D has finally ended.  Did you hear?  Of course you did.  What?  You have no idea what Initial D is?  Seriously?

Initial D (頭文字D) is an anime series based on the manga by Shigeno Shuuichi ( しげの 秀一).  It’s about street racing on mountain passes, which is super illegal (but who cares? It’s anime), with these cool cars performing awesome drifts.

I fell in love with Initial D the first time I watched it more than a decade ago.  The art style of Initial D:  First Stage wasn’t the greatest—just look at the image below—but they used some cool 3D effects on the cars during races, and that’s when I got hooked.

itsuki takumi iketani at gas station - initial d

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Nagoya’s World Summit of Cosplay 2015

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Make way established international events, this stealthy, but growing trend is breaking its way to become one of the biggest annual events in the 21st century. The 12th annual World Cosplay Summit took place on August 1st. While certainly, there have been events that fade to fad-om, this summit is here to stay.  Nagoya is not a city known for much, except for Toyota and former military production centers.  However, the former mayor has made it important to put Nagoya on the map, as the 3rd biggest city in Japan, Nagoya finally has an event Osaka and Tokyo would die for.DSC02599

Beginning with only 3 countries in 2003, the World Cosplay Summit has risen to 26 countries as of 2015. When the WCS finally hit 7 competing countries in 2005, they began to hold Championship events for prizes.  Brazil and Italy are tied for 1st with 3 wins each respectively, while Japan comes in a close 2nd.  France and Russia have one title respectively. I had the chance to see Italy win in the previous years and had to agree, they deserved the title for their brilliant performance in 2013.

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Who’s turn was it to win this year? Anime, manga and video game themes filled the Oasis21 lobbies and Osu parade. Most were just fans dressed up, but the professionals stood out with their homemade, colorful and in some cases gigantic weapons and armor. What contestants wore looked better than anything one could buy from any shop, these people were professional tailors and prop makers at heart.  I had a chance to cosplay in 2013 and this year as well, but my store bought clothes came nowhere close to their heart-filled efforts. This years event was slightly different from last year, as it would finally be held indoors with air conditioning.  Previously years had contestants wear their costumes in 35 degrees weather and in humid conditions, which combined with stress and exhaustion is quite dangerous! However, if people didn’t want to pay for tickets they could still watch it outside for free.

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The most popular winners in previously years had cosplayed and performed as the Legend of Zelda characters.  The cosplayers, had to put on a play which best represented the characters they were dressed as. Creativity,dress, authenticity, and design were key in winning.  Therefore, it was no surprise that another Legend of Zelda team won this year. This time it was from the Legend of Zelda’s Majora’s Mask. However, the biggest surprise this year was that the winners this year would be a latino country! Before they announced the winners, Mexico had secured the Nico Nico Live stream award. Then they were in tears as their name was read out for they had won Mexico’s first ever WCS grand prize.  They were filled with unbelievable joy for they were not only the North American champions, but the World champions as well!

DSC02574DSC02587My favorite performers were different, I preferred the Gurren Lagaan performance by Hong Kong. They combined real life and manga flawlessly, their battle and costumes lit up the room. The way they brought people back to the series won them loudest cheers. As I exited my press seat and the building, I learned that there were many fans happy to pose with them outside.  I didn’t have the chance to take great pictures outside the actual event, but I did take many at the Meijimura cosplay event one week before hand and the Osu parade. This year, it was incredibly more crowded than previous years for anime, manga and games continue to rise in popularity in Japan and world wide!

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Himeji Castle challenges Sun as second brightest object in the universe

Not too far away from Osaka, lies a castle of such grandeur people just could not turn a blind eye to it. This is literally the brightest castle in existence but thanks to the government green tarps, we were saved from a renegade castle after our favorite sense. It was put under a 6 year renovation project, which made exterior photos as likely as a non-hobbit Elijah Wood.  For half a decade one could only enjoy the large spacious interior and exterior, erected by a Shogun with a little too much dosh and a lot to compensate for.

Unfortunately the tarps have fallen, and just in time for Golden Week, when thousands upon thousands of tourist flocked like pigeons to Himeji Castle for photos. But wait, why does every photo online looks the same you ask? Because everyone has found a favorite spots, and it’s all on the same power line (another pigeon reference). These photographers made sure to upload hundreds of photos in those exact same spots.  But of course, mine are not the same as theirs. Behold the beauty of my super HDR, heavily contrasted edits with my old software. The castle itself blended its azure whiteness with the white clouds that day, making it the second brightest thing in our universe.  The many tourist who didn’t have their cameras destroyed by the imminent bright flashes of beautiful destruction made off with their vision only half in shambles and their memory cards full of postcard duplicates.

I came away with a replica castle that day. One that was oddly not white but Bronze. Some guy in the factory asked, “Sir, what is this castle known for?” and the manager responded with, “if you have time for questions, you have time to forfeit your lunch time”, and so rather than one that looked authentic, we got a gift that looked like it too had been under construction for 6 years.

Serious note: The trip took 4 hours from Nagoya, with a 1 hour pit stop at a beautiful service area stop at Lake Biwa.  I had some omelette rice, before making my way there.  Parking at the castle park was 600 yen for 3 hours, which was more than enough time to see the Castle.  Entrance fee was 1000 yen, and included entry into the castle itself.  The line ups are long so either go late or early, or bring a fan because you’ll be waiting outside for a long time. The castle will be open until 7 P.M. this summer only!

Video rental culture in Japan

CFTRnHhUsAEIBZ-Remember the nostalgia of heading to Blockbuster or a rental store with your friends and looking for that new game or movie release? How you could fight over the one movie you oh so wanted? Well it’s a culture that’s still alive and kicking in Japan. And this week I rented my very first blu-ray, how many people can say that in this digital age of download? Well, millions in fact!

Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, have completely displaced media rental culture in first world countries and many others, so why does a first world country like Japan still thrive on with rentals? And why did I have to wait almost 15 minutes to return a video in downtown Nagoya? Well here’s a little back story. Downloading and streaming movies online, have a bit of a stigma in Japan. People in Japan trust their big corporations and businesses and are even thankful for their practices. They believe it’s the life stream of a capitalist economy that can keep people’s lives comfortable.  The distrust here against the big and rich is small compared to countries overseas. Therefore, corporations and politicians vouching for the big businesses and even their strange and backwards rules and regulations that they want to enforce is quite common here. A law was passed recently to make download or upload of copyrighted material illegal with heavy fines and jail time as punishment.

The movie industry in Japan has done a lot to scare people away from downloading films with loud campaigns that can be seen on TV or at the movie theaters. It’s so loud that even legal downloading on the Playstation Network, XBOX Live, and iTunes has been lagging behind other countries. Strangely enough, they place blank cds and dvds in front of the rental checkout counter to passively encourage you to make copies of your rental for backup or re-watching.  Making copies has been an ingrained culture in Japan, since their invention of the VCR. Japan gave us the VCR, to record and copy, and at one time frightened Hollywood, that it would cut into their profits, which actually has done the opposite and help it grow into what it is today.

The same does not apply for video games though. Video games are protected in another way.  In the US and Canada, lending your friend a video game is something common. You own the commodity you purchased, you’re free to do with it as you please. But in Japan, it’s technically against the law to lend video games to a friend. You can resell them, but not lend them. The same applies in stores. You can buy video games but you can not rent them. Some places have received the rights to rent out games from certain publishers, but even so they’re very small in numbers. People still go to the arcade and buy used games, but almost never rent.

So, as you can see renting culture for movies, and just movies is strong. Would it be strong for games if they were on the list? I believe they would be, I mean who wouldn’t want to try a game before buying it. Downloading a demo would be nice, considering Japan has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world. But people still turn to rent videos, and buying video games. The best part about renting in Japan is that it is fairly cheap with coupons. I got my blu-ray version of Interstellar for 216 yen. Which is just about $2.

The process of filling out an application for was easy and quick as well. Returning the video, isn’t as simple as it was overseas. You have to hand it to them and they have to scan to see if it is late. If it is late you have to pay on the spot. No dash and dine. It’s funny what small changes in laws can do to a country, and it also explains the digital divide between Japan and the West.

Toys! Here, there and everywhere

I’m a bit of a collector when it comes to my favorite things.  Recently, I’ve acquired Ultra Magnus in my Transformer’s Masterpiece collection. He stands tall and mighty, but I want bigger. The Combiner Wars Devestator bound for US released this fall stands at 18 inches (45cm)! There hasn’t been any announcement for it on the Japanese market. Just the US bound one by Hasbro. Although it isn’t a masterpiece, it stands tall. Way taller than the biggest. My Optimus MP-10 is arriving this Summer and will nearly complete my collection.

I’ll rock your casba

The Amiibo buying games as reached critical mass. I’m not out to collect everything, but I do have my eyes on some upcoming Wii U/3DS accessories.  These beautifully (usually) figures sit cheap, when they’re not inflated by high demand coming from overseas traffic. 11 bucks in Japan, but the Japanese Amazon figures sold out within 30 minutes because of offshore buying driving up the prices of other retailers! It’s insane and I might have to pull myself out of the Amiibo game after acquiring some rare ones like the Wii Fit Trainer and Shulk.

I’ve been collecting Tomica die cast toys more recently as they’ve been venturing into my areas of interest. I picked up two AE-86 ones officially licensed by Initial D.  I also picked up the Tie Fighter and X-Wing diecast, but ignored the poorly scaled Millennium Falcon and Star Destroyer one. I have the Y-Wing lined up and here’s hoping for an A-Wing and the probably impossible B-Wing. I’m out for the JSDF die cast tank and jeep as well.

I’ll swoosh you good

I’ve thrown in my first pre-order for a Nendoroid in a long time. I have toon Link coming in this Summer. My newest area of interest is in Adventure Time goods. As a long fan of American cartoons, Adventure Time caught my interest back when I first enjoyed some episode during season 3 on my European Cruise. As it enters the Japanese market this year I hope to procure more and more of their goods.

Finally, I’ve gotten a Wii U, so of course I have my eyes on games for that and my 3DS. I recently ordered Danganronpa 2, which I had put off for quite a while.

I’m sorry wallet! I know I should be taking care of my car, but my toys call! This is why I can’t leave Japan.

By gtr06 Posted in Toys

Kei Works and Fukui

I put my car and my new equipment to the test on my first road trip with my new Suzuki Kei Works. We took off near high noon, and only stopped to eat some Lunch at a Service Area stop which had a variety of rare Japanese snacks not usually found outside these tolled highways.  On the way, greenery and mountains flooded our eyes with spectacular views of a rural Japan waiting to be discovered.  If Nagoya was a metropolis, then Fukui and the road there was the anti-Metropolis.

 

In Fukui City, laid a castle in ruins, with government buildings built inside to provide a mix between new and old, similar to new trees growing out of a dead forest.  We made our way through traffic passing by busy malls, to find a rural castle named Maruoka.   There was a lake full of Koi at this castle, as there also was at the previous one, and steps up were lined with stories of people who had lost loved ones.  From children who died too young, to elderly lovers brought apart by death.  The castle itself glittered in the setting sun, and with this message from the sky, we went to our final spot, Tojinbo.

At Tojinbo, we got to see one of the most spectacular sunsets along a rocky ridge of ocean battered rocks.  Toursit from afar came to admire it, lovers came to be embraced by it, but we all shared the warmth of the setting sun.  As our time in Fukui winded to an end, we had dinner at a traditional Soba place.  Fukui is famous for a variety of Soba, therefore variety set courses littered restaurants around this prefecture.  After our meal, We went to gaze upon the night stars in this rural setting of darkness away from the bustling lights of the big city.

Mars shone a bright red, while Jupiter showed it’s diamond glow along with the rest of the stars rarely seen.  The path back was littered with lights, and we were guided by plants and stars towards the highway, where we journeyed back to the big city with no regrets and happiness in our hearts.

4th Anniversary Driver

Getting a car is no way easy in Japan, and without the right help, things can and will get very expensive.  Coming to my rescue was my good friend in Ibaraki, who works in the  import/export automotive trade and possesses the power to buy from auctions around Japan. My friend began digging around the USS-R, a famous auctioning company for a car that fit my profile. Considering how complicated owning a regular can be in Japan, requiring you to apply for a parking spot, having it examined by police, and requiring it to be near where you live, I decided to buy a K-car.  A K-car is as compact as you can get, usually small, these days boxy designs that run off engine smaller than 1L and usually packing a turbocharger (pretty cool).  Everything else would cost less as well, including road tax, inspection, parts, parking and gasoline. securedownload (6) securedownload (5)After less than a month, we found a car that fit me well a Subaru Pleo, for under 200000 yen ($2000~), but it had high mileage, and the buyer cancelled the auction when all the was offered up to was 150000 yen.  It was a disappointment, but my friend was back on top of it and found a Suzuki Kei Works (Works being a top sports model version) and I fell in love with it.  He said it might be twice as expensive, but I set a cap of 300000 yen, and he some how managed to win it at just below that!  I was going to be a driver in Japan! However, this is when things begin to get complicated. securedownload (4) securedownload (3)

Before I can have a car transferred to my name I need the usual documents, including the most important, at Jitsuin (official stamp) that is recognized by the city.  After getting this stamp, you can get a piece of paper that confirms the stamp is legitimately yours, and is normally used to buy cars.   securedownload (1)The paper is cheap, about 300 yen, and the stamp is about 2000 yen at it’s cheapest and must have a name from your license or passport on it.  The stamp takes about a day to make, so prepare in advance!  And of course remember that having a Japanese driver’s license is a must.

After all was said and done, I did not have any paperwork from my friend yet, so picking up the car (which was still under his name) required my license, and my friend’s office’s confirmation at the USS-R, near the port.  The walk was long, but once you arrive, you have to find the office.  I got a bit lost and ended up surrounded by a lot of cars, including several American cars.  I finally found the office and after a small talk, I got to see the car!  This was one of the most exciting moments of my life in Japan.  The car, my car, waiting for me to take it, and carry it off to far off adventures around Japan.  I took a picture of everything before I drove off just for future reference and set up my dash cam.  However, there was no power! I went back in and they told me to find a battery cart and jump the car.  After a few moments, I was off.  The most difficult part was getting use to the high clutch, which was located a lot higher than my RX-7 back in Canada. It was an hours drive, but I got home and parked it near my apartment. Everything felt great.

One of the most difficult points of car ownership in Japan was parking so the day before I picked up my car I went through a bit of a stressful search. My apartment was undergoing repairs and parking was forbidden, many parking places don’t want anyone who can’t speak fluent Japanese renting spots, even if you have a friend who can speak fluent Japanese.  My friend who use to work in the apartment business began asking contacts and she was a bit unsuccessful in that search.  She ended up finding a spot one station from my home for about 12000 yen a month ($120).  A little steeper than what I wished, but an incredibly close and friendly place.  We worked out the contact and everything was peachy!securedownload (2)

The final two thing I was worried about was name transfer and insurance! We went to Sompo Japan and were able to acquire some good insurance for about 5000 yen a month after an hour of negotiating. The most difficult part was having the car transferred to my name before getting insurance.  We had to go to the local Kei offices near the harbor and fill out 3 complicated forms!  At some palces if you paid someone 1500 yen they would fill it out for you, but this place didn’t have such a thing.  The lady was nice enough to help us through all of it.  I was really thankful she was so nice.  My roommate filled two sheet, and I filled the other. We had to give back the old license plates, and run around from booth to booth passing papers around over the course of two hours.  It was really bureaucratic, but when I finally got my new plates, it was like seeing my car for the first time, this time she was really mine, all mine.  I was really lucky to have 3 good friends help me do everything, without them owning a car in Japan would have taken a lot longer and things would have been really stressful. For those thinking about doing everything themselves I wish them luck with the challenge and can assure them it’s all worth it.