Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Hi folks! Bet you thought you'd never hear from me again! It's been mean of me to deprive you of a taste of what I esperienced in Japan. After all, I did all this flag-waving about how exited I was to get to visit Japan, and then...silence after the dirty deed was done. That's like not calling the next day after a hot date. What can I say in my defense? Well, lots of things, actually, but it would all be tedious to listen to. Instead, why don't we just get right to some of the particulars of what went down in Japan mm?
First of all, being a nerd, I had in mind a somewhat educational goal for this trip. The artist in me wanted to be inspired. The animation nerd in me wanted to be smack dab in the center of a country with a long and rich animation and comics history. Who can satisfy these beasts?

Yeah, I had no choice in the end but to chop off all my hair... And no, I don't want to talk about it.

See you later, big rotary sculpture!!

So on May 17th, I was there at the rotary, catching the last bus that could possibly get me on time to Gimhae airport in Busan to take me to Tokyo. The old apartment was clean enough so as to save me embarassment in the event of my death. Got to the airport just fine, and somehow managed to get my flight to Tokyo.

After arriving at Narita airport, I marvelled at the state-of-the-art bathroom technology in Japan, which I still don't fully understand. Then I took the airport limousine (actually just a big tour bus) to my hotel, the Shinagawa Prince. Which is actually a nice hotel in a convenient location (very close to Shinagawa Station). My room was tiny, but I didn't come all the way over to freakin' Japan to care much about the room. I was out to see everything! Or so I thought in my nievite at the time.

Day 1: Mt. Fuji

Day 1 had me on a tour with some other folks to one of the iconic symbols of Japan, Mount Fuji. The tour bus took us to Hakone, where the distinctive snow-capped mountain stands quite majestically. I ended up talking with this lady from Denmark who was telling me about her life and her family. She had an interesting past. The tour does give you your money's worth, as you're shuttled about different areas of interest in view of the mountain. First, they took us about 1/3 of the way up, where there was a pretty decent view of the scenery below. Then, we were taken on some gondalas close to the area, and took a short ferry cruise. We also had lunch--interestingly Western food, though I heard that the reason for that is foreigners complained a lot about traditional Japanese food! Anyway, it was all kinds of cool to see the mountain up close, and experience its mighty presence. I must say that as an American, it's harder to grasp the concept of a national identity existing for a thousand years. It seems sometimes you can feel the weight of history when one visits significant historical sites such as this; where all the civilization around it is just old as hell!

view from the mountain

gondola view

The European-style ships seemed out of place to me, but I guess the Japanese think they're cool.

I love these koala cookies!! Why don't they have them in Korea? They're manufactured by the Lotte company!!

Temple gate

It was great to see one of the things I said I *must* see if I was going to Japan (the other "must-see" being the Studio Ghibli Museum). Goodbye Mount Fuji! I love you!!

Day 2: Akihabara and the National Museum

Okay, so I missed my tour bus that day, I felt sore about it, though I never actually *asked* anyone to book me a tour. I was dead tired the night before, and it took Christ to rouse me the next day; certainly not that flimsy automated wake-up call. You can listen to me pontificate about that, and other subjects right here:

This little bird hopped onto my table and demanded a handout. The wild beasts get more audacious every year!

Shinagawa station, waiting for the train to Akihabara.

Am I seeing things, or does Beyonce get a couple shades lighter every year?

I like the Space Invaders icon on the game building. Remember Space Invaders? That game was *tiiight*!

Day 2 found me in the Tokyo district of Akihabara, the anime and manga heart of darkness. And I must say, all in all, I was rather underwhelmed. First I thought it proper to visit the Anime Center, which was almost useless, except for perhaps some brochures about animation-related places in Japan in English I picked up. Anyway, you can share in part of the adventure right here:

For all of its' surface glitz, Akihabara seemed little but a cultural wasteland for fetishists of the worst kind, perverts, and borderline hikkomori. After visiting a store that held floor after floor of manga, anime, and related merchendise, the thought occured to me along the lines of "this place would make a glorious fire!"

When one starts fantasizing about arson, it's about time to go. I *had* been on a mission to find some classics like these:

Hakujaden (1958)-- Legend of the White Snake--a film said to have inspired a young Hayao Miyazaki. The film (a story of a Chinese legend) supposedly was made in part as a postwar gesture of peace and reconciliation o the rest of Asia.

Ribon-No Kishi (1967) known in the U.S. as Princess Knight) By the way that cover art is horrible. Am I right in thinking Princess Knight was the first Shojo manga? Written by Osamu Tezuka, and later made into an anime series, P.K. is a fairy tale of a princess who lives her life disguised as a boy.

Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon (1963)---Don't know the story, never seen the film, but said to have inspired others, including Genndy Tartakofsky who used this film as a main inspiration for Samurai Jack.

Belle and Sebastian (1981).--Saw this as a young kid, and absolutely *must* see it again, this, and Mysterious Cities of Gold.

Song of the South (1946), is, of course, not an anime, but Disney released it in other countries, but not in the U.S, because it didn't want to deal with controversy. Actually, I've seen S.O.S, and it's not any more racist than the other films made in that era, and less so than most. It's just people will get their panties in a bunch about it because, of course, "cartoons are for kids".

But, not finding any of these films, I left empty-handed. And was reminded in Akihabara why I can't stand 99% of anime, and even less of anime culture.

Tokyo wants the Olympics in 2016!!


Next stop, the National Museum!! But first, a musical intermission. "Let's go out to the lobby, let's go out to the lobby, let's go out to the lobby, and have ourselves some snacks!"

Finding the national museum was hard for some reason. By this juncture, I was exhausted, and tired of walking around. But at a point I resolved not to turn around as I had to be close. Eventually I found it, and plopped down in a seat for a long while, contemplating life, and such.

Peace and tranquility!

Look at the detail on this samurai armor. Gorgeous!

I like this warrior's pose. He's badass and he knows it.

I don't know about you, but whenever I go to a museum, I'm always very much reminded of the generations upon generations-billions of people who have been born, lived their lives, and died before anyone alive today was born. Like when they have exhibits of everyday items, I think "All those things *belonged* to someone. Those were her things." Someone with talent made this thing. , and now he's long gone. It's a little depressing, but it makes me all the more convinced there must be a point to all this. That we as humanity have a greater destiny and all that. I wax very philosophical when I'm hungry.

Anyway, after that, I dragged myself back to my hotel eventually. See you tomorrow, I'm beginning to see a disturbing trend, here.

Day 3-4: The Shinkansen to Kyoto

I checked out of my hotel on Day 3, and put my stuff in a big locker at the Shinagawa station. I went walking around for a while, and then came back for my stuff to take on the train. Shinagawa is a huge station, and it's a good one to be close to because it's a major hub for the city subway, the JR trains, and the Shinkansen:

So, I took one of those babies, and rode in style to Kyoto Station. It was night by then, and had a taxi driver take me to "Hotel Unizo" or so I thought. In reality, my poor Japanese got me taken to "Hotel Umizu" or something like that. The people at the hotel were kind though, and called me another taxi. Eventually, I got to my room, where once again, I hit the pillow and was soon dead to the world.


The next day, I went out a-hunting for the International Manga Museum. Yeah. I'm sure you are all simply riveted by now. Boredom is the price you pay for following a nerd, and not a normal individual with basic social aptitude.

I don't get it. What's with the chicken wire and astroturf?

At the time, the museum was having a wonderful exhibit on the comics of Jean Giraud, AKA "Moebius". Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures in the exhibit, and I nearly got mauled taking a small picture of one of his prints in the foyer (the pic didn't turn out so well, anyway).

Don't know Moebius? Well, you may not have seen his comics, but if you're into sci-fi you've certainly seen some films whos production design was influenced by him--either directly or indirectly. Ever seen The 5th Element? Blade Runner? Tron? The Empire Strikes Back? Willow? The Abyss? All had production design that were designed by Moebius himself or heavily borrowed from him.

The exhibit was small, but it was cool. Giraud's drawings are so beautiful, and it's great seeing original drawings, as the reproductions do not do justice. There was some info in the center of the room about some other European comics, and some of Moebius' work in their original language. I got a kick out of reading some of the comics. Compared to my past couple years of trying to decipher Korean and Japanese, it was refreshing reading something I could actually mostly understand.

Giraud and Hayao Miyazaki are also good friends, and you can see the Moebius influence in Miyazaki's "Nausicaa" manga. Giraud even named is daughter Nausicaa. Total barf!

Man, there are so many European comics I want to check out! Guess I gotta study French too.

Course I think the French and the Japanese have been having a lovefest for quite some time. Both cultures are unusually obcsessed (and are good at ) making beautiful art and architecture, cuisine, fashion, design, film, and comics.

Here are some pictures I took in the archive. Actually, I find this sort of early work more interesting than 99.99% of the stuff I see produced today.

action drawings by Hokusai. I really wish the photo had turned out better.

Stalin and Lenin go head to head!

Some early shojo. Why is it that they never made any comics or cartoons for girls in the U.S? --especially a girl above the age of 7. Even as cheesy as superhero comics and G.I. Joe could be, they sure as heck weren't as lame as Rainbow Brite, or My Little Pony!!

I don't want to meet that guy's eyebrows in a dark alley.

Ha! I love the Frankenstien FDR on the right.

Here I am, taking a government-approved picture inside a display based on the comic art of Sugiura Shigeru, whom I knew nothing about till the day I went to the manga museum. I doubt any of his works have been translated into English.

I do find it amusing that he actually produced a comic with the title "Mr. Roboto." (Mistaa Robotto). And all this time, I thought that was just a stupid song.

Afterward, I believe I took the train to Takarazuka, so I could possibly get over to the Osamu Tezuka museum. Osamu Tezuka is the one who started it all in Japan. The one to which all subsequent manga and anime pay homage to. The one who expanded the idea of what a comic could be and what a cartoon could be, and...


Yes. At first, I thought it was closed because I had simply arrived after closing time. So I wasted time and came back the next day--to which I finally absorbed the sign that said it would be closed until the 24th!! Needless to say, I was pi***ed, and with no one to perform karate moves on to pour salt on an open wound.

I mean, I could have used the time to take the Shinkansen down to Hiroshima, which was my original plan. Being the weird person I am, I wanted to stand on ground zero. But now, that hope was smashed like a crawly disgusting bug! I could neither go to this place, or to Hiroshima. What an insulting gyp!! There was no warning it would be closed on the website.

On a side note, right across from the Tezuka museum is a huge theatre. Takarazuka is famous for its all-female revues--and tons and tons of rich housewives (likely spending their husband's fortune, while said husbands toil away downtown) were pouring into the theatre to be entertained androdgenously!! If I had known Kyoto was going to be such a disappointment for me, maybe I would have gone to one of the shows.

So...yeah. No Osamu Tezuka, no Hiroshima, not even any geisha. Seems like I've spent most of my time in Kyoto walking around lost, or in transit, with not much to show for it.


I took a liking to this bohemian looking couple.

Not even the genius surgeon Blackjack can cure what ails this vacation.

Farewell Kyoto, we barely knew ye.

Day 5: Back to Tokyo

Day 5 I tried to console myself by finding yukata for myself and Dad, but not really seeing anything that was both inexpensive enough and attractive. Dad wants this big yakuza-style robe with dragons on it. I have failed you Father!! Please forgive me!! I didn't see any mens yukata with dragons!

Day 6: Ghibli Museum and Animation Museum

The next day helped heal the wounds of my let's just say, less than satisfactory time in Kyoto. I got to go to the Ghibli Museum!! Yay!

Totoro is forced to work a mind-numbing 9-to-5 like the rest of us, selling tickets. One minute you're a minor forest diety loved by children the world over, next minute you're reduced to Gary Coleman.

Long line to the real entrance

To those of you outside the realm of animation nerd-dom, you may not understand the mania of those fortunate enough to have discovered the works of Studio Ghibli--and especially those of Japanese animation deity, Miyazaki Hayao. The reason people are standing in this long line in the hot sun: pure love, son. Pure love.

Of course there is no photography allowed in the museum. The philosophy of the place is for it to be experienced, discovered, and enjoyed by its' visitors. Not for them to be stuck behind a camera.

Even if you're not a geek like me, I highly recommend visiting, especially if you have children. It's not like most museums, in chich you are not allowed to touch or explore; it's a place where such things are encouraged!

"What's this?"

Nowadays, people in the general public seem to think of animators as technicians, film as data, and animation as a genre. This musuem does a good job of refuting that misconception, I think.

Only if there's a genre called "AWESOME"!!!!!

It's late folks. Bear with me.

Child washing her hands at the Straw Hat Cafe.

So my time in Mitaka was all right. I wish I could be there for the Aardman exhibit!! Seriously, when I get rich, I'm gonna come here like, quarterly.

That dog isn't real.

Mitaka neighborhood

I think of the Suginami Animation Museum as somewhat of a work-in-progress. The museum is niether big (it shares a building with two other businesses), nor all that interesting in its exhibits, but I did get the chance to produce a bit of bad non-animation. Wanna see it?

The Cowboy Bebop anime has the *best* original soundtrack for a TV show EVER. Any jazz connoseiur should have it. CB was a good show, but it recieved *a lot* of help from its music.

Monster known as the old-school animation camera.

Small temple across from the museum

Crappy pic of Yasukuni Shrine at night

Yasukuni doors.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I went to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, but it was night and my pictures were crummy. The shrine is controversial because it honors WWII dead who are considered to be war criminals in the rest of Asia. Everytime the Japanese prime minister pays his respects here, Japan's neighbors get upset. Perhaps it's not just this place that's the issue, but also the fact that Japan has never issued an official apology for it's role in WWII nor expressed any moral obligation for reparations.

Afterwards, I tried to find a cafe that hosts foreigners for English conversation called "Leafcup", but I never got to it. But...I did find a Wendy's!! But no fast-food pilgrammage would be complete without McDonald's and:

Fi rei o fi-sho!!

Yes. The entire year has culminated in this one moment when I sunk my teeth into a delicious fish-filet sandwich. Who knows how many more of these we'll have, as the oceans will soon be devoid of fish to filet.

Day 6: Sayonara

So, that was the day I had to leave, and go back to my regular life in Ulsan. But how can I? What if I just say I have swine flu?! I snagged a couple of knick-knacks from the gift shop, and then took the Narita Express back to catch my plane.

Now, I had all the while on vacation avoided watching the news on TV or checking it out on the internet, or buying a newspaper. I wanted to hear nothing depressing from the outside to mar my Japan experience; but on the way out, I decided to buy a Japanese newspaper to see what they're talking about. Ah, I should've known it would be a mistake:

"South Korea Shocked over Roh Suicide"

What the hell?!

Anyway, that is the subject for another entry (I do have something to say about the affair), but Japan--JAPAN! Like the little mermaid, "I want moooooooore!" As these photos may suggest to you, I traversed Japan as I do much anywhere else- as an outsider looking extremely outside, going from one spot to another as if the whole world was a museum!!!! I don't want to live like that anymore! I want messy interaction.--preferably with a good-looking guy between the ages of 25 and 37. How 'bout it? Hahahaaa!

here's a sampling of the swag:

Stitch pen I got at Mt. Fuji. They love Stitch in Japan. I like that he's biting it.

Lovely traditional fan. Now all I need is the outfit to go with it.

Nerd books I'll eventually read.

But I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do the traveling that I have in Korea and Japan. I am extremely blessed and fortunate. What for, I wonder? True, the trip to Japan was not without its dissapointments, but I've got until The Big One hits to see it again. And next time, I will be at Ground Zero of Coolness!!!!


1 comment:

Jovon said...

I enjoyed this update. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I hope to visit Japan one day.