From Kyoto: The bicycle you can ride while wearing a kimono

19 Sep Featured Image -- 10805

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

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There are many things to love about the kimono, the elegant traditional robe that just screams “Japan”. But beautiful and steeped in tradition as it is, the kimono is not without its accompanying inconveniences: its long skirt, which stays pencil-straight right down to the floor, provides almost no wiggle-room and prevents the wearer from running…or even walking particularly fast, unless in comically short strides. Riding a bicycle, too, has long been out of the question – until now.

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Interview with Matt Alt

16 Sep

Matt Alt is, like me, an American with a Japanese wife who lives in Tokyo.

Also, like me, he is interested in 妖怪 (Japanese monsters).

His wife and he have written a few books, including “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide” which I reviewed (Click here to read my review and to enter (by 2014 September 27th) for a chance to win a copy of the book).

yokai

Matt Alt has kindly agreed to do an interview with me.

- My questions and comments are in red. Matt Alt’s answers are in black.

1. Could you give us a short self-introduction (that covers info not answered in the questions below) ?

I’m Matt Alt. I co-authored Yokai Attack!, Ninja Attack!, and Yurei Attack! with Hiroko Yoda.
When we aren’t tracking down yokai, ninja, and ghost stories, we live in Tokyo where we run a translation company.

2. Where are you from? When / why did you come to Japan?

I was born and raised in Maryland, just a normal suburban kid.

There is very little in my family’s background to suggest any underlying interest in Japan. I was obsessed with robots, though, and that coincided with the first wave of Japanese robot toys hitting the American marketplace – Micronauts, Shogun Warriors, and then Robotech and Voltron and the Transformers and the whole Eighties toy boom.

This being the Eighties Japan was getting a lot of attention as the next economic superpower, and as a result my school system set up a Japanese program at my high school. It was one of the first at a public school in the US.   Both there, and in university where I majored in Japanese, the vast majority of students were studying the language for business reasons. I and a few friends were the only ones studying because we loved manga and anime. I’ve heard that proportion has totally flipped in recent years.

3. How did you become interested in yokai (Japanese monsters) ?

I owe my interest in yokai to Hiroko, my wife and co-author of our books. I’d known about them through pop culture sources like Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro, but Hiroko really pounded it home to me that these weren’t anime characters, that they were folklore with a great deal of history in Japan. As she introduced me to old woodblock prints, stories, and art, I got more and more excited — and shocked that there was so little information available about them in English.

4. I’m also interested in Japanese yokai…but don’t know nearly as much detailed information about them as you do! How did you learn so much about them?

Besides my “living database” of Hiroko, there is a great deal of scholarship about yokai in Japanese. There are a huge number of books and magazines on the topic ranging from stuff for kids to pure entertainment to scholarly treatises. Besides the usual art books you can often find abroad, the writings of people like Kazuhiko Komatsu, Katsumi Tada, and Murakami Kenji offer a lot of insight into Japanese yokai culture. Being able to read Japanese is key. We rely heavily and almost exclusively on Japanese resources when we write our books.

5. What did you imagine Japan would be like before you first came here?

An otaku paradise! That was the naiveté born of a robot-obsessed fifteen year old. But it wasn’t, not at all, and I realized I actually preferred the reality all the more.

6. What type of culture shock did you experience here? Do you visit your home country often? Experience reverse-culture shock there?

Business takes me back to the States semi-regularly and I always try to go back for the holidays. Without question it’s tough to live so far from family and old friends. But I have a lot of new family and friends here in Japan too. I don’t really get homesick or culture shock, but it is often shocking to me, with the speed of modern travel, that I can be having breakfast in Tokyo one morning and dinner in Maryland that evening. That plane flight feels long when you’re on it, but by historical standards it’s the blink of an eye.

(As for me, I rarely travel outside Japan. It’s so expensive. My most recent trip to Japan was in 2004. And I experienced a lot of “reverse culture shock”! (Click here to read my post about it.  – Tokyo Five))

7. What is you favorite yokai ? Favorite “non-Japanese” monster?

With so many yokai it’s hard to choose from. I love what you might call the weaker ones, the less malevolent ones, most of all. Tofu Kozo is one. The idea of this tofu-carrying kid being a supernatural creature. Or Aka-Name, the yokai whose idea of haunting is licking out dirty bathtubs. Those sorts of creatures are the most interesting to me, because nearly every culture has a folklore tradition of scary monsters. Annoying or silly ones, not as much.

8. What do you think of manga / anime such as “Ge-Ge-Ge-No-Kitaro” ?

As I wrote in the preface to Drawn and Quarterly’s English translation of “Kitaro,” which came out earlier this year, Shigeru Mizuki is a genius at his craft and responsible more than anyone else in the 20th century for popularizing yokai among the public at large. I’m a big fan of Miyazaki’s work as well – he weaves yokai, or yokai-like, creatures into his work very subtly and deftly. I love the mix of the historical and supernatural of “Mononoke Hime,” for example. And I really like what I’ve seen and played of “Yokai Watch.” The way it sort of remixes rather than simply parrots old yokai lore is really charming, and the way kids are reacting to it reminds me of how kids used to react to Kitaro.

9. What question are you never asked in an interview that you should be asked (and what’s the answer) ?

A lot of people interview us about yokai, but very few ask about their impact on modern culture – I’m not talking recent iterations of yokai shows like “Yokai Watch” but Japanese character and culture in general. They are very much the key to understanding the question of why Japan is so great at creating mascots and characters in general. They represent an intersection of folklore, craftsmanship (illustration), and storytelling that forms the fabric of modern Japanese pop culture.

10. Any final words? Links? Plugs?

Thanks for reading our books! If people enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them, that makes us really happy. Even though writing is sort of a side business for us (our main one being localizing Japanese games and manga and other content into English and European languages) we have many other book projects simmering on the back burners even as we speak. Stay tuned!

Thanks again to Matt Alt.

Book review & giveaway 4: Yokai Attack!

14 Sep

This is the fourth in my series of book reviews from Tuttle Publishers. And, just as with the previous three, the publishers will be giving away a free copy of this book to a random visitor of my blog.

The details of the giveaway will be at the end of this post.

The book that I’m reviewing this time is titled: “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide” by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt.

yokai

What are “yokai“? In Japanese, “yokai” is written as 「妖怪」 and it’s the word for Japanese monsters or ghouls.

I have been interested in monsters since I was a young kid…and when I came to Japan I got interested in Japanese yokai.
(I have a few posts about them…including this one.)
So, of course, I was happy to get this book! And it did not disappoint me!

The wonderful book is perfect for anyone interested in monsters, Japanese culture, or folktales (especially Japanese ones).
I’m interested in all of those…so I like this book a lot!

Before I read this book I already knew about a number of Japanese yokai…but this book is comprehensive. I even learned something about yokai that I knew well.

There are 49 Japanese monsters introduced in “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide“. The book describes each yokai’s physical appearance and explains the meaning of its name, its strengths and weakness, and how to survived an encounter with one.

Nearly every page has wonderful illustrations by Tatsuya Morino.

Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide” can purchased here.

As I mentioned above though, Tuttle Publishing has kindly agreed to give one random visitor to my blog a free copy of this book.
To enter in the drawing simply fill out this form by Saturday, 2014 September 27th.

(Click here to enter the drawing for a free copy of a book about Ukiyoe.)

Fill in this form for a chance to win a copy of “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide“:

Even the cheese is black!

11 Sep Featured Image -- 10780

tokyo5:

How black are Burger King‘s new burgers in Japan? None more black!

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

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Regular RocketNews24 readers will no doubt already be aware that fast food chains in Japan like to mix things up every so often by giving their buns a splash of colour. In the past 12 months alone, we’ve seen McDonald’s present a Sakura Pink teriyaki egg burger in time for the cherry blossom, and last October Burger King rocked a Black Ninja Burger which sported charcoal-black buns and a huge tongue-like slab of bacon.

This week, Burger King has taken its worship of the darkness a step further with two more jet-black offerings: the Kuro Diamond and Kuro Pearl, which feature not just black buns, but slices of cheese and a tangy sauce that look dark enough to swallow any would-be diners whole.

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Book review & giveaway 3: Ukiyo-e; The Art of the Japanese Print

10 Sep

I have reviewed some books from Tuttle Publishing (One about Japanese Architecture and another was a Japanese language study tool) and they gave a free copy of each book to random visitors to my blog.

Now, Tuttle Publishing has given me two more books to review on my blog here…and, once again, they will be giving one free copy of each book to a random visitor of my blog!

The next book that I will be reviewing is titled “Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print” by Frederick Harris.

ukiyoe

The details of the book giveaway will be at the end of this review.

The author, Mr. Harris, is an expert on ukiyoe. He has been living in Tokyo for over fifty years and has an art studio here.

This book will appeal to anyone who’s interested in traditional Japanese culture (even if you don’t know about Japanese woodblock prints), interested in ukiyoe (whether you don’t know much about the art or you’re very knowledgeable on the subject), or interested in art in general.

As for me, I’m interested in ukiyoe (I’ve written a few “ukiyoe-related” posts, including this one).

I especially like ukiyoe pictures of Japanese monsters. So, I was a bit disappointed that this book doesn’t have more information and photos of this particular type of ukiyoe.
But, I guess that’s to be expected since woodblock paintings of monsters aren’t nearly as popular as other subjects.

That’s a minor issue anyways, because this is an excellent and comprehensive book.

It is a large, hardcover book full of beautiful photos of all types and styles of ukiyoe prints. It also explains the meaning of the details in the artwork. The hairstyles, types of kimono worn, etc all have meanings!
The book also explains the incredible work and effort that is required to make a ukiyoe painting.
As well as, how to care for a print if you decide to start your own collection.

It’s a wonderful book.

I must mention one thing that could potentially make you rethink adding this book to your collection:
It contains one 10-page chapter of very explicit ukiyoe prints.

Just like artists in any culture or era, many ukiyoe artist often freelanced to earn a living.
They would often design posters and flyers to be used as advertisements for upcoming kabuki shows or sumo matches, as well as do private portraits…and sometimes p○rn0gr@phy (intentionally misspelled by me to avoid attracting spam).

To tell the truth, I was a bit taken aback by the inclusion of this chapter. I knew this type of ukiyoe existed, but I’ve never seen them included in a ukiyoe book or exhibit.

Because these photos are included, I don’t recommend this book where children would access it…such as a school art class and such. But, for adults who don’t mind explicit artwork, I do recommend this book.

Outside of that one chapter, the rest of the photos are the more “common” ukiyoe subjects: geisha, sumo, kabuki, nature, etc.

Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print” can be purchased through Amazon here.

As I mentioned above though, the publisher has kindly agreed to give away one free copy of this book to a random visitor to my blog!

To enter the drawing for a chance to win the free book, simply submit the following form by Saturday, 2014 September 27th:

Bounty on the head of scum who stabbed a seeing-eye dog

9 Sep Featured Image -- 10757

tokyo5:

Some monster stabbed a 盲導犬 (seeing-eye dog) with a fork last month. Seeing-eye dogs are trained to ignore distractions, even pain, while working. This dog, “Oscar”, braved the pain without barking or whimpering. Oscar’s blind master got to work and a co-worker noticed the wound.

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

guide dog 1

Many readers likely remember the terrible story about the man whose guide dog, Oscar, was stabbed multiple timeswhile the pair was en route to the owner’s work.  Oscar didn’t bark nor react to the stabbing and it was only when a co-worker saw the blood on him that anyone realized what had happened. An investigation was launched and people around the world reacted in anger and severe disappointment that anyone would harm a dog like this.

But while there are people who will hurt animals, there are even more who are kind and loving to them, and one such man from Saitama is offering a big bounty to find this criminal and put him behind bars.

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Totally metal newborn

3 Sep Featured Image -- 10746

tokyo5:

The real “Baby Metal”…or metal baby:

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

MB 4

From looking at his Twitter profile, you might conclude that Hazuki, singer for the Osaka-based Grollschwert, is a pretty metal dude. He describes the unit as a “melodic deathrash metal band,” and his own vocal style as guttural, growling, and screeching.

Still, even the most dedicated musicians can’t be hardcore all the time, and the vocalist has recently been sharing pictures of his adorable newborn baby daughter with his Twitter followers. It looks like metal is in the family genes, though, as the baby has already executed a perfect double devil horn salute.

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