Thursday, 30 December 2010

To Tokyo!

So, I’m in TOKYO! And my goodness has it been hectic! After the finals week I was really looking forward to having a rest! But before Hannah and I even left for Tokyo my days were spent with Aya, Amy, Gillian, Gabe, Areal and Katie. We had much fun over two days doing Visual K photo shoot (am just getting into V-Kei thanks to Katie and Gilli). Then in the evening of the same day we went out with Aya to brief karaoke and then to have all you can eat MEAT, or yakiniku, which is where you grill your own meat and it was soooo much fun! The following day we all went to Osaka and had all you can eat cake which was so amazing I cried! I love cake, and letting me have all you can eat was kinda dangerous ^^; but then being hyper we ran around Osaka which may have burnt most of the sugar off…possibly…maybe not ^^; And then after a final trip to Mandarake we said our goodbyes for the winter. I won’t be seeing Amy again for a while, but she lives near Otakon so always an excuse to go to that in America ^___^

The following day was Sunday 19th December and after packing and cleaning the room it was off to Tokyo with Hannah! My goodness the bags were heavy and we got horribly lost trying to find the hostel, but it was made up by the AWESOME train ride on the shinkansen (bullet train). It goes so faaaast and has loads of leg room and is so smooth~ Out of the window I got to see Iga again! And the 1/1 scale model of a gundam!!! And Mt Fuji!!! It was the most awesomeist magicalist train ride eeeeeverrrr.

Then after finding our way fine until we got to the area the hostel was in we lost our way. An hour and very soar shoulders, arms and legs later, we made it! We were both so hungry we just dumped our stuff (no one to say high, just our keys and a note) and went round the corner to a restaurant we’d seen. That was the magical Jazz bar. It was only me, Hannah and the guy running it. We sat down, didn’t know what to have so asked what he suggested and he gave us two specials, fried rice and soba, soooooo goooooood!!! The guy didn’t speak a word to English and really liked Jazz. He let me play his piano. The bar itself had such a nice homely feel about it. It was so nice ^__^ I just can’t describe how after that one visit I fell in love with it.

Unfortunately the hostel was nothing to be desired (tatami guest house). Unless you like cheap in money and services (freezing cold, stained sheets, a large sink to wash stuff including your hands and face after going to the bathroom) then avoid it. We both realized we could probably stand it about a week, but a whole month? Ohhh no. But planning our escape had to wait because we were tired and the following day we met up with Cait and Brittany in Ikebukuro!

Ikebukuro was cool! We went around trying to find places that were in the anime Durarara (which is based in Ikebukuro and is an awesome anime!) And it gave us a chance to wander round the whole of it before we all got tired and hungry and went back in the evening. Oh yes, that evening was nerve wracking. Our plan to escape led us to Sakura Houses, expensive but we could move in the next day. We were thinking of sneaking out in the morning and had come up with a cover story when there was a knock on the door. It was the landlord -_- he wanted paying. So we told him our cover story (that we had to go back to England the next day due to a family emergency –hinting at an accident). He looked kinda disappointed and although he could have charged us the whole months rent he only charged us half. Gack >_<>

So the next day Hannah and I got up early in the freezing cold room and left. We traveled over to Shinjuku and began getting house stuff sorted. It felt better immediately, Sakura Houses, although notoriously greedy, were more professional and felt a lot more homely. Also they had free heating and showers which the last place didn’t. It took ages and we were both really tired and achy for carrying our luggage around again, but held on just that little bit longer. We were able to leave our luggage at the Sakura Offices while we viewed the new house, and then when we met up with Cait and Brit in Shinjuku to say good bye to them. I’m glad we got to say bye coz I would have been sad otherwise. And even then it wasn’t bye, but ‘mata ne!’ so I’ll see her again ^-^ We (me Cait and Brit) plan to have a 2 week visit to Britain, and then 2 weeks to Utah one summer! Defiantly! I mean, when else will I have a chance to go to Utah?

Since the move I have been really tight on cash. And I mean REALLY tight. We want to go to places and do things, but I’m trying to save money where I can and I really wonder if I can. At the end of the month here we plan to go back to Osaka via the mountains etc but train and accommodation might end up costing as much as this trip. And even though I might have money for it, it means I will be broke next semester. It’s all a bit of a pickle really, but I’ll work it out. Cross that bridge when I get to it ^-^

Next up, Tokyo at Christmas!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Nakama "Companions"

Nakama, Companions, Tomodachi, Friends~

It’s not often I talk about the different friends I make at places. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just because people won’t understand if I say “So-n-so and I did this and we…etc”, where as if I say ‘my friend’ they’ll…I dunno….get what I’m saying better. Anyway, I’m weird and it’s random logic that works in my head. But this time I’d like to introduce some of the nice people I’ve met here in Japan. It’s not all of them and I’m sorry if I offend anyone who I didn’t include, it doesn’t mean I love you any less. And in no particular order…actually, in alphabetical order to keep it even, here are the people I’ve met in Japan and why they are wonderful:

Amy. There’s one word for Amy and that’s かわい! “Kawai!” she’s just so cute! And the little rascal knows it. Yes there is a little bit of Amy that is naturally cute but it doesn’t help when she flaunts it with her big blue eyes and sweet loli clothes. She’s certainly one who will always give you a big hug and a big smile to brighten up your day.

Areal. He’s a funny one. First time I met him he brushed me off and I actually thought he didn’t like me until we all went out one day to a doujin fair. Since then we’ve been really close and although with the rest of the gang go out quite a lot to do all kinds of interesting things. He’s a happy character who does things his way no matter what people say, and has such wonderfully flamboyant fashion! (Him and Amy like shopping and shoes a lot more then me)

Aya. The one Japanese person who I think I’ve gotten really close to. She’s wonderful and kind, likes anime, manga, cosplay, and rock music. She took me (along with Amy, Areal and Gabe) to a Japanese cosplay event which was awesome! She is the sort of person who will speak her mind as long as it doesn’t hurt people as is just a really fun person to be around. It’s hard to describe but she’s the kind of person I really admire.


Brittany. She is my wonderful, wonderful, wonderful room mate who is just wonderful! She’s so kind and gorgeous, although I think she pushes herself down a lot. She either doesn’t get upset or just has the skill to never show it to anyone. She sometimes dies from her wheat intolerance but bounces right back afterwards. We get along really well and she often does really random things, and then I’ll join in, like THE FUTON MOSTER! Winding her up is fun too.

Caitlin. Always has something interesting to say. She’s incredibly sweet and always has energy to go on an adventure! I really liked hearing her stories about her homestay and her views on animes.

Cassie. The Aussie with an American accent who had a will stronger then steel. She always does things her own way and knows how to get what she wants. Although she could be a bit brash without realizing it, she is equally kind and will always defend her friends. I loved hearing about her adventures on an online game she plays and it’s a good thing Brittany stalks the game otherwise I’d miss out on what she gets up to.

Gabe. Gabe, Gabe the American. Will always say the same thing when I see him “Jen-Jen! My favorite Brit” despite the fact I am the only Brit he knows. Silly billy. Really nice person who will keep everyone happy and the tone of conversation light.

Gillian. The 音楽オタク “Ongaku Otaku” or Music Geek who just seems to know everything about Korean and Japanese popular and rock music and the industry. A huge Visual-K fan who’s getting me into the scene too. She also knows Korean, and although it’s a same she can’t go to Korea next semester I’m really glad because it means she can stay in Japan and teach me Korean! She’s uber nice is always ready and rearing to go out and do something awesome!

Jacob. Kinda like a big Jewish teddy bear. He’s really quiet and sometimes ditzy but very sweet, and if he has something to say he’ll say it. He’s an awesome character.

Katie. Always embaressed about her age but sooo pretty! I love her hair! Also really awesome with a unique gothicy fashion sense and a love for Japanese and Korean rock music. She is uber fun when ever we go out and is as crazy as Gilli about doing random fun stuff!

Mandy. Sooooo smart! Mandy is from Finland/Sweden and is a History major. She’s picked up Japanese so quickly and is always teaching me about European history! She’s often very quiet and I forget she doesn’t like small talk, but she’s so kind and awesome and sweet! I did get miffed at her a lot for not eating anything but an onigiri (rice ball) a day coz she had no money. Silly billy. She was Cassies room mate.

Tyson. Loves Jet Lee. I swear he should just marry him. An awesome character who wants to be a martial arts specialist of some kind. He’s really helpful and has given me some good tips on loosing weight (I just have to use them). Always has something to say, and has some really good opinions. Incredibly down to earth character and room mate to Jacob.


These guys are kinda spilt into two. There’s Seminar House 1 people and Seminar House 2 people. Although not all of them live in those houses it’s how I divide them in my head because I’ve met them through either one of those houses. SH1 people include Brittany, Caitlin, Cassie, Jacob, Mandy and Tyson. We all went out a lot together at the beginning of the semester and got really close really quickly. It’s a shame that after midterms things meant we didn’t hang out a lot but they’re all really wonderful people.

SH2 people include Amy, Aya, Areal, Gabe, Katie, and Gillian. We went out together a lot after the midterms doing the really nerdy stuff like cosplay.

Although I’m going to see a lot of these guys next semester there are a few I won’t like Amy, Caitlin, Mandy and Cassie, who have all made my first semester at Kansai Gaidai wonderful and I’m gonna miss them a lot! Until I next seem them in America/Finland/Australia, coz I will ^__^

Monday, 13 December 2010

Changing

It's the last week of the first term in Japan. Everyone's getting final exams and papers done, and people are preparing to leave. The current topic of conversation between everyone (aside from how much revising they have or what they're doing in the Winter holidays) is how people have changed. A few people are saying how more open minded they've become, how much more outgoing they are, or are saying just how quickly they've managed to pick up Japanese.

This has got me thinking; what has changed about me? Am I any different from before? I find myself thinking a lot more about my future. I had originally planned to become an interpretor by doing the JET program before doing a masters in England on interpreting and translating in Bath. Now I'm not too sure. JET has a few horror stories, but mostly not incredibly positive stories, and it seems like University degrees are under threat from the Tories, so who knows if I'll even be able to afford a masters degree when the time comes. My Anthropology lecturer proffesor Hester is incredible, and although I've only had him for 3 months I've grown to really respect him like no other lecturer at Kent Uni. This has got me thinking about becoming an Anthropologist and moving to Japan. But likewise social stigmas towards foreigners amoung other stuff make me really wonder if living in Japan is really such a good idea.

Aside from thinking about the future more it's got me thinking about the past. At the beginning of the term I had a lot of pent up emotional stress from my now ex-best friend turning against and completly ignoring me for 9 months even though we were living together; and from my now ex-boyfriend who was just the worst person possible for me but I kept convincing myself that it would be get better and blah blah blah 7 months of missery later and I end it in a horribly guilty messy way...*Sigh*. But spending time away from all that had really helped clear it out. What's happened had happened and there's nothing I can do to change it. I think Japan has really helped me move away from that and learn from the mistakes that I made.

Then there's the present (which seems kind of appropriate considering it's almost Christmas). How has Japan changed me? I like I'm a lot more chilled here. I'm working a lot harder then I ever have done before and there isn't anything like AGS or AnimeSoc to relieve the stress so I think that gets built up and I'm less bouncy then I would be at Kent, but I don't think that's a bad thing. It's helping me to see that I just need to take it slow....I don't know if that makes any sense. I think the work and a greater stress on managing money is encouraging me to become even more responsible and giving me more of a desire to go out and explore as a relief method.

I think I'm still unclear on what has changed about me thanks to Japan, but I know something has. I also know (here's a warning to people back home), that although I still have 8 months to go and I'm missing everyone really badly, that when I do get back to England I am deffinatly going ot fall into depression from being apart from Japan which I've grown so familiar with. It really doesn't feel like I'm going to be here that much longer so I keep thinking that I don't have much time left when actually I do and I'm being silly.

Anyway. Random brief look into Jen's random mind, so feel free to ignore this rant. I think next time I'll give people much needed phrases you need in Japan ^-^

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Cosplay Special: The Event

Cosplay Special!!!

Finally the JAPAN COSPLAY EVENT! 28th November (Saturday)

Something should be noted about Japanese cosplay events, which you may have realised from comparing my cosplay experience with the Japanese cosplayers experiences. Normally cosplay in England (and the US and other places) is done at conventions, or organised by groups to do a photo shoot. They are very much opportunities to have fun and run around and be crazy and creative. Japanese cosplay in very much not socially accepted in the public eye, it’s considered strange and alien and it is very much frowned upon for people to walk around in public in strange costumes. So events are often organised which focus just on cosplay rather then conventions which advertise products etc. This event is held every Saturday and Sunday every weekend at a shopping mall in the port in Osaka.

Not only is it very much not accepted in public but the general Japanese mentality has created a very different way of cosplay. Japanese people are brought up in their school and home life focusing on the in group. They are very much this is my group and people on the outside don’t matter, only this. So when Japanese people cosplay they cosplay in little groups of other people who have the same interest (often people they’ve met online on sites whom they know under pseudo-names as described in the interview) and they very much stay in those groups at events. People really did not break away and talk to other cosplayers or photograph other cosplayers. They staying in their groups (which are all characters from the same anime) taking photos of themselves. Often they’ll have a professional looking photographer who volunteers from the social networking sites to take photos of the single group for the whole day.


So, on with the story ^-^

This all started when Aya, Gabe, Areal, Gilli, Amy and I went to Mandarake in Osaka. Mandarake is a magical shop of second hand manga, figurines, dvds, games, and cosplay. Aya, Amy, Areal and I are all cosplayers and I was determined to get a cosplay to it was up to the 4th floor. So after browsing through the cosplay Amy and Aya found some Macross Frontier cosplay of Ranka, and because Aya already had a Sheryl cosplay then why doesn’t Amy do Ranka? She’s small and cute enough. I was kinda feeling left out until I found an Alto cosplay. I jokingly suggested it to Aya but she got so excited (it was so cute) that I just couldn’t not get the cosplay. So I bought the costume (and a Working!! costume) but decided to leave the wig for later (so I could afford the second coplay). A day of awesome geek filled shopping followed.

A week or so later Aya contacts me and Amy and we arrange a day to go the event she normally goes to, and Areal and Gabe decide to come along. This means I need a wig. So another week later and I return to Mandarake with Amy and Areal and my friend Yuka to get a wig. Now there was the choice of one wig was the right colour but the wrong length and the shop keeper suggests I get a longer one so I can do Alto’s pony tail, even though it’s not quite the right colour. So after umming and ahhhing I go with her advice.

So a few days later, before the weekend of the event, I try to style the cosplay…it did not go well…wigs do not like ponytails…at all…one little bit…So I made a horrible horrible mess of my cosplay and after someone pointed out what a bad job I’d done I just broke down. It was messy, rats nest looking that was top heavy. So I resided to giving up altogether because I felt sooo bad. BUT the following day Areal and Amy turned around and convinced me to give it another go. They helped me get back into the cosplay mood so I decided to borrow some trousers and go hunting for a t-shirt and other accessories to finish the cosplay. I looked up on the internet how to fix the wig and fixed it as best as I could the day before the event. Phew!

Morning of the event and we get up early, cosplay in bags and dressed in normal wear, we work our way through Osaka. What I found really cool was how you got closer to the event you could tell who cosplayers were, event if they weren’t wearing costumes. This is pretty awesome because when you go to an event you can tell who cosplayers are because they’re dressed up. Japanese cosplayers tend to be young girls with cases on wheels (it’s in these cases the cosplay is) and there were a lot of them. Aya said that normally about 500people attend the event but on that day there’d be about 250 (found out from her cosplay site).

We arrived at this mall by the port by the sea and had to go all the way up to the 12 floor where there was a lobby where we signed up and got split into guys and girls changing rooms. Japanese shop assistants said “irashyamase~” (welcome) as we went in. The changing room was just a big room with tape to indicate places you could change in. So we all got changed in public (which is fine because I’ve been to onsen and those are worse for ‘public displays’) and then dumped our bags in a bag section and met the boys (who weren’t cosplaying).

As I said, Japanese people don’t cosplay in public, and as pointed out in the interview there’s a strong sense of animosity. As a result you couldn’t photograph in the lobby, especially of anyone not in costume. And the boys had to pay an extra charge to sign up because they weren’t in cosplay, they had their photo taken, contact details and a blacked out membership card. No joke, it was BLACK so that people couldn’t see what it was a membership card for.

We then headed down and began testing out the cosplay (while I was frantically scribbling down everything I was because this was hot stuff for my dissertation). Areal was in charge of my camera and it was so WEIRD being out of control of my own photos. It was not a nice feeling, especially because he wasn’t using automatic but manual focus. Ahhhh >_< onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_y2pPBaDXZKU/TPz2i4x3PqI/AAAAAAAAAM8/cPrxgvdM1-4/s1600/IMG_1525.JPG">ke South Park (translated into Japanese). He said he’s like to do cosplay but doesn’t have the body for it. I can understand that all too well…there’s just some cosplay you can’t do -_-


So we then, as they say, did as the locals do, and spent from 11-4 taking photos of ourselves. Now and then Areal and Gabe would wander off to get a few snap shots of other cosplayers (and sometimes I’d order them too, like of the awesome good K-On group). And we had two people come and ask to take photos of us, both times was of other Macross Frontier cosplayers. I felt so…inadequate compared to these Japanese Cosplayers. When you see their photos online they are amazingly good and now I can understand why. They just spend hoooouuuurs taking photos so of course they’re going to be really good at posing and photography…that and they’re Japanese and just suit anime characters way better. Although ironically the few I talked to said they thought Western faces were more like anime because their eyes are so big. I guess the one side will always wish for what the other one has.


At 4:00 approached we were getting stupidly tired. We sat for a bit while Aya went to find her friend and a girl who was working at the event came up and talked to us about cosplay and stuff. It was really nice ^^ She was the first person to come up and actually properly talk to us. I made a few more notes as a sight report and then we got changed and ate ramen for dinner. Ahhhhhh it was good ^_^ Summary: Cosplay in Japan is incredibly unique and fingers crossed the next one will be even better then this one >8D


Cosplayers: People Who Are Close but Not Close

The following is the second part of my cosplay blog special! It's an interview with a Japanese cosplayer who is awesome and I love her to bits for doing this for me!


Cosplayers: People Who Are Close but Not Close

Kosupure (or cosplay), is a combination of ‘costume’ and ‘play’ and consists of the practice of expressing ones fandom through the dressing up of fictional characters from various medias; mainly anime, manga and games. It’s seen within Japan as a subgenre of the otaku subculture, which describes people who are avid fans and consumers of various mediums but mostly linked to the consumers of “useless things” such as anime, manga and games (Grassmuck 1990). There is an argument as to whether cosplay started with costumed role-play in American in the 60s and taken to Japan, or whether it was important from Japan along with the practice of anime and manga fan clubs (Winge 2006). Either way it is now a common practice in Japan especially among the young female otaku, such as 22 year old Reiko (for the purpose of anonymity this is not her real name). This essay will look at Reiko’s involvement within the cosplay community, her consumption practices, how it fits in with her social life, and how it contributes to her self identity.

You wouldn’t expect Reiko to be more then an average young Japanese woman but she is an avid cosplayer who was first interested in cosplay at 17 when she went to her first doujinshi (self published fan comics) event. She said that she had an interest in doujinshi before and when she went to her first event in Osaka there were a group of people doing cosplay. “I thought they looked cool and wanted to try”, but it wasn’t until a year later at the age of 18 when she was in university and was able to try cosplay for the first time. Her interest in doujinshi and cosplay developed on their own but when she got to University she was able to go to cosplay events for the first time with a group of friends. These university friends have stopped cosplaying now but she has formed a new group of cosplaying friends through the cosplay community.

Reiko decides which cosplay to do based on her favourite characters from anime, manga and games, but if a friend wants to do a group cosplay (all characters from the same show or game) then they will do that. Hers and her friend’s interests in the latest anime, manga and games is the fuel for their creative cosplaying passion. She said that, like many cosplayers, she normally buys her cosplay and then adjusts it to fit her body shape. She will normally spend about 8000yen on a single cosplay including the costume, wig, and accessories. I asked her if she bought a new cosplay every time; “Sometimes, but I use the same favourite cosplay a lot. There are people who buy new cosplay each time, but I don’t”. Aside from buying anime, manga and games which fuel her love of cosplay, and the cosplay itself, Reiko also spends time and money on dieting, skin products, but more importantly saves money from her part time job, which is based around the events at the weekend.

Reiko will go cosplaying about three times a month, normally at “ATC” a shopping store in Osaka which holds weekly cosplay events. There are normally normal people doing their shopping at the store, so they will often get stared at a lot. The cosplayers go to have photo shoots which are shot inside and outside the building itself, but they don’t just go to have the photos as keepsakes. What I found particularly interesting was the way the cosplayers interact at events like these: Reiko told me that a cosplayer will have a meishi, a business card, with their “cos-name”, photo, mail address, and cosplay website etc. People use these cards to look up the cosplayer or photographer on sites like an SNS (Social Network Service) and they normally keep in contact via the internet and sites like these. “You can make lots of friends” she said, but when I asked if she was close with her cosplay friends she said “Hmm, sort of. Real life names, where they live, contact details and personal information you normally don’t know”. To keep their identity there is a social taboo to asked or give out personal information, as a result Reiko knows the people by their ‘cos-names’ and characters, and is close to them as cosplayers, but outside of the events and cosplay community she knows nothing about them. Cosplayers who meet in the cosplay event normally don’t meet outside of it. There is anonymity within the cosplay circles due to its links with the otaku image, which is normally perceived as being very strange, and has very negative connotations linked with it (Grassmuck 1990), not only that but people prefer to keep their normal and cosplay lives separate for fear of what their friends and family might think of them.

Reiko is an unusual case, I think. She uses a cos-name but it is the same as her real life name but she uses different kanji so that when people say her name she doesn’t get confused. Not only that but most of her friends and her family knows that she cosplays. I asked her what her family thought and she said that at first they thought it was strange but now it’s normal. The only people who don’t know are her friends from high school, before she started cosplay. When I probed her to see why she doesn’t tell them she replied “It would be troublesome, embarrassing, because they might think she’s otaku and maybe that characters image is bad.”

Thinking up questions related to identity I figured that asking ‘how does cosplay make your identity’ would give me an answer from Reiko that she would think I wanted. Instead I asked her “If you’d never got into cosplay, do you think you’d be the same person?” She paused for a moment and replied “Different, defiantly different. When I cosplay I make myself, I become myself. For example, when I do cosplay and a man comes and asks me ‘Can I take a photo’ and he makes really good photo it makes me. My level of cosplay increases.” I pushed the question if she’d never done cosplay then what would she be doing now; “I don’t know…but long ago I was also interested…I can’t think of not doing it.” So I asked why she cosplays; “At first I saw a lot of cool people who did it, so I wanted to do it too. I like those characters and when peoples faces change to become those characters, it’s fun. When I see photos it’s interesting, fun. I’m young now and I have a lot of good photos of when I’m young. When I get older…because now it’s a hobby, but it’ll be impossible to do when I’m older.”

From what I understood cosplay gives Reiko her confidence in her image as a young woman. She is able to ‘make herself’ and at the same time create new persona and ‘new faces’ through the acting of the characters she enjoys. Cosplay is a central aspect of her life that she can’t imagine being without. Her part-time job funds her passion and is scheduled around events. She not only buys cosplay and the necessary accessories, but also anime, manga and games which inspires her cosplay. She socialises with her friends in real life, who know she cosplays as well as with her friends online, whom she always makes new ones through the introduction of events. Ironically, although she’s close to a lot of people who cosplay, she is only close as a cosplayer to them as cosplayers and none of them know who they are or what they are like outside of the cosplaying world. It is a practice which is done in the open with a lot of interaction between cosplayers, but is a closed circle where real identities are kept private. As Winge (2006) states “Japanese culture values community above the individual, cosplayers exist as a subculture, outside the acceptable norms of the dominant culture…[a]s a result, Japanese cosplayers have a negative reputation as individuals”. Because of this discrimination, areas for ‘safe cosplay’, such at official events like the ones held at ATC.

Cosplay the British Way

This was a report we had to do at the begining of the year on your own popular culture consumptions in our country. So I decided to do it on cosplay. I realise that I didn't define what cosplay was so I'll do it now. Cosplay comes from "costume play" where you dress up as characters from various mediums, be it anime/manga/books/films/bands/TV programs, and not just Japanese mediums, but Western ones too. Some people even say it originated from Trekkies in America dressing in Star Trek costumes and then being brought to Japan.

The following is my own opinion and what I really think, so I realise I may sound really snobbish at times...or a lot of the time. But it's unedited and what I gave to my teacher.

Cosplay the British Way

One of my interests is in cosplay. This originated from the website DeviantArt.com, where people share, collect and comment on their own and other people’s artwork. My main attraction to the site was the individual’s professional looking manga style original artwork. After being on the site for many years I began to stumble across photographs of various characters from popular animes and I began to collect the images of some of my favourite ones.

A few months after that I began to investigate into the possible cosplay events I could go to, but living in England, out in the countryside and having no money I felt like I would never get an opportunity to try it out. A while later and I started university and was introduced to KentANIMEted, a student run anime society. Within a few weeks they were advertising a group trip to the London MCM Expo, a sci-fi, fantasy and anime convention, which most people attended in cosplay. This isn’t to say that everyone who likes sci-fi, anime and manga likes cosplay and in fact many people go to the events simply as fans of the genres.

I was so excited at this opportunity that I spent several days thinking over the possible characters I could do. I did not have much time nor any money and as the event grew closer it seemed like I would miss this one opportunity. I think that it was something so new that I had wanted to try for so long that I just could not miss the chance. In the end I managed to convince a friend to buy me a Yuuki cosplay off of e-bay (a character from the shojou manga Vampire Knight).

I had fun but learnt a lot from my first cosplay. Such as the need to stay in character; I was too hyper that the few photos I did have taken of myself were ridged and I looked like a complete newbie (which technically I was). After that I began to make my own cosplays; my first was with a friend who helped me make a custom made Final Fantasy White Mage, which I did in a group with some friends. The second I made by myself and it looked terrible. From that I learnt that you needed the material to match the colour and fit with the costume; to use proper clothes templates; how to tack, sew and use a sewing machine; good places to go in my area and further afield for materials and accessories. I would normally spend about £60 and at least 2 weeks on a single cosplay and each time I would learn something new. The best part was going to the London MCM Expo (which is held twice a year) and knowing the effort I put into my costumes was worth it, although there would always be something I would have wanted to improve about the costume.

After going to these conventions and other small University based events for 2 years, with a total of 9 different costumes of varying genres (anime, manga, games sci-fi TV and webcomics) I noticed I had not only how I gained the skill to make clothes but also developed a kind of cosplay snobbery. There were always ‘bad’ cosplayers running around and I would always judge their cosplay as much as I judged my own, critiquing in my head (and sometimes shamefully out loud) how bad they looked and why and how they could improve it. Once when I was walking through Camden in London on a normal day and I spotted a Roxas and Axel (from the game Kingdom Hearts) and my first thoughts were ‘Oh a Roxas and Axel. Wow Roxas is fat and Axel should really sort out her wig’.

I normally feel bad for thinking this way but I think it formed from the strikingly different groups that always seem to form at the Expo. The ‘Japanafiles’, people who ran around with ‘free hug’ signs, eating pocky and other Japanese snacks and shouting “kawaii” and “desU” (with no real knowledge of the Japanese language except what they obtained from the internet and anime). These are often cosplayers dubbed ‘Narutards’ and ‘Bleach Clones’, those who buy the same mainstream fandom costumes (Naruto, Bleach, Soul Eater, Vampire Knight, Death Note, Kingdom Hearts, Silent Hill etc) from the internet and who gathered in large groups from the same series. They are well known for cosplaying the mainsteam because that’s often the only anime/manga they know.

There are the cosplayers who dress up in (most likely) hand-made costumes which are not part of the mainstream, (I say ‘most likely’ because people don’t tend to ask if a cosplayer has made the costume themselves). Those cosplaying in something different would often come in groups and looked amazing together (one year there was a large group of zombie Disney princesses). Then there are the professionals, people who had been cosplaying for years and gotten it down to a fine art. They will often spend hundreds of pounds and months on amazingly detailed costumes for events where they strut around in character and are often treated like celebrities. Their photos are the ones that crop up the most often on the internet and there are forums and websites dedicated to showcasing the progress of the costume’s make and final pictures (www.cosplayisland.co.uk/ and www.mcmexpogroup.com/forums).

The ever present cosplay photographers are those who would create these final pictures of the Cosplayer in character. They get people to pose and create artbook style photographs, often copying poses and scenes from the series the character originated from. A decent photographer is able to make any cosplay look amazing no matter how bad the costume was. I am lucky that one such photographer came from the University anime society (www.manylemons.co.uk/gallery) and who is also one of the founding members of cosplayisland.co.uk.

I have found that a successful cosplay (which everyone aims to get) is one that gets lots of compliments and requests for photographs (a difficult task considering the number of cosplayers who attend). My last event was like this. I had arranged to go in a small group with 3 other girls who I had met at a previous Expo event. We stayed in a hotel to attend the whole weekend and each made 2 costumes for the weekend (one for each day). The most successful was our group cosplay on the Sunday of the one popular manga Air Gear. For that event I spent a total of around £400 (I know others who spend a lot more depending on the event and costumes), but I felt like the money was well spent considering the experience. The atmosphere at such large scale events is tremendous because of the number of people and costumes.

I’ve met many cosplay friends through going to the Expo, although I often only ever see them at the events (due to how spread out across the country they are). Many of my close friendships have also developed through the anime society and quite a few through making cosplay with them. Early this year in connection with KentANIMEted I ran a cosplay workshop to help people get into making their own costumes. Most people who cosplay (such as those I’ve met) will keep socialising throughout the year using the Expo forums, but I found that I preferred socialising with people in person rather then over the internet as most of the people on the forum were annoying ‘Japanafiles’.

The consumer culture of cosplay is strongly rooted in the fandom of American and Japanese sci-fi and fantasy, anime and manga. I don’t know any cosplayers who do not own at least one manga book, anime, DVD and sci-fi comic. The Expo itself is a geek’s shopping dream where vendors sell art, anime, doujinshi, Japanese magazine, plushies (soft toys of anime/manga characters), DVDs and advertise the latest games and films. Those cosplayers who cannot sew and just go for fun will buy their cosplay off e-bay (most often specially fitted from Hong Kong). The professional and amateur cosplayers are significantly different as they will spend most their money of materials to create the characters clothes, money which does not go into the American anime industry (most products in England are linked back to the Ameircan market rather then the Japanese one because the American’s translate and export the products for European consumption).

In conclusion my own interest in cosplay spawned from the social networks of the internet to a university club where I made new friends and learned from them before going onto teach others. The cosplay culture itself is designed to be seen by others so people are often committed to doing events with other people in either small group photo shoots, or in a large convention like the Expo. The cosplays themselves are created from the animes, mangas, TV shows, films, comics and webcomics that they are interested in. These cosplayers will consume a wide variety of these before they even think about cosplaying (I certainly did), and then at the event itself is a wide selection of products people will purchase at extortionate prices because it is linked to those interests. I am ever thinking of new cosplays I want to do, new events to go to as each cosplay is different and I feel like there is still so much I could do.

Iga and Kyoto Flea Market

First I have a big apology for the lateness of my blog posts, so much has ones again being going on and things have, once again, been piling up. So here’s a large update of goodies about Japan and STUFF.

Iga –Ninja ‘village’ (14th November Sunday)


First of all one of the main trips which I (along with Cait, Brittany, Cassie and her friend TK) went on in the last month was a week after the INFES, a trip to Iga the Ninja ‘village’ in the next prefecture over. Why do I say ‘village’? Well…Iga is now a large town/city and the ninja part was very much a museum in the middle. Don’t get me wrong it was incredibly interesting and fun, especially the ninja demonstration, was just a bit of an anti-climax after a 3 hour ride to get there. So here’s a fun video of some of the ninja demonstration (apologies for the woman in front):



(She’s talking about Shuriken and how on TV and anime you seen ninja throwing several shuriken at a time, but in real life this wouldn’t happen because real shuriken weigh about 200g. Ninja would only throw between 1-3 at one time, not one after the other, so they can’t use a lot.)

Kyoto Flea Market (21st November Sunday)


Now onto the more interesting stuffs. Another week later was the 21st November, now in Kyoto at the Toji Temple every 21st of the month there is a large flee market. I got up extra early and made my way there on my own, first time I’d gone wandering on my own, and I’m so glad I did! Being on my own I could go at my own pace, and browse all the stands. Most of them were selling antiques, toys, kimono, old clothes, or nommy nommy nommy vender food like taiyaki, teriyaki, okonomiyaki etc. I got a large pile of stuff which I won’t say because they’re Christmas presents for people ^_~

After wandering around for a good 2 hours, and it only being 11:00am I met up with some other friends who had made their way there and we went and got some lunch of omurice. Omurice is very interesting Japanese food. It comes from “omelette” and “rice” and is rice mixed with ketchup and then covered in an omelette with ketchup or sauce poured on top. What is really interesting is that Japanese people think this is youshoku/foreign food and yet the only place I have seen/heard of it is in Japan! But despite the debate it is VERY yummy ^_^

Then (after putting our haul in a locker at the station) we worked out way across Kyoto (which is a surprisingly large place) to the Imperial Palace. Then (after putting our haul in a locker at the station) we worked out way across Kyoto (which is a surprisingly large place) to the Imperial Palace. But first we found the Kyoto river was really log and you could get stepping stones across!!! I think we wasted an hour doing that ^^;
(Me, Areal, Amy, Katie, Gilli and Gabe)

For those who don’t know Japan used to change their capital every time the emperor died. First it was Osaka, the Kyoto, then Edo (which is now Tokyo), they got out of the habit after the Shogun kicked the emperor out of power. So Kyoto used to be one of the capitals and has it’s own imperial palace which is only open to the public without reservation for a short time each year (the imperial palace in Tokyo is apparently open to the public only 1 or 2 days a year!). And that was the last day.

It’s funny because although we did get to see the palace, which was a series of single floored buildings which you had you walk outside to see –couldn’t go inside because they were all just single roomed buildings divided with screen doors, we mainly wandered around outside. It was so pretty! The autumn colours coming in made the grounds (which were HUGE and full of trees –you wouldn’t know you were in the city) sooo pretty.



Then to finish off the long day we went and had nummy nummy Japanese food in huge quantities. I can’t remember the name of it but we went to a restaurant in the centre of Kyoto city where you order lots of small side dishes and all eat a lot of little stuff. Hmmmm ^-^



Coming up Next!

Cosplay Special!!!

The weekend that just went was an extra special day because I got to do cosplay for the first time in Japan. I had a lot of trouble getting the costume right but it was worth it in the end and COMPLETELY different to how England does cosplay. So over the next few days I’m going to upload some special blogs on cosplay. The first two being reports on cosplay that I wrote. One is a report on my own experiences of cosplay as a consumer of cosplay. The second will be an interview of a Japanese cosplayer. And finally what happened last weekend at the event, and then some specials on my photo blog with photos of our cosplay. ^-^ Apologies if you don’t like cosplay but hopefully it’ll be educating for you.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

An Interview with an Otaku

Something which might interest people is some of the essays I've been writing here. I was thinking its a shame to have these actually interesting essays and no one to see them apart from my professors. SO here you go! This is for anyone who's interested in otaku and has time, or is just a masochist and wants to kill time. Enjoy!


An Otaku in 2010
– The new generation of ‘otakuness’ -

Within this interview I wanted to look at a normal Japanese person and find out ‘what makes them otaku’, how they think other people view this identify and how it is expressed in their everyday life.

The term otaku originated from the word meaning ‘your home’ which was used to refer to someone whose position to oneself was unclear. It carries the connotation of being equal but also being distant from them. In the 1980s the term began to be used largely between fans of anime, manga and computer games. The media then began to use this term to describe people (mostly teenage men) who were socially inept, who did not care about their looks and who were into “collecting useless things” such as anime, manga and computer games (Grassmuck 1990); a negative image which grew to be connected to an incident, know as “The Miyazaki incident”, in 1989 where a man whom the media labelled as being otaku killed 3 little girls in horrific ways (Grassmuck 1990; Schodt 1996, p.45). This negative image was predominant in the 1990s and so I was particularly interested in seeing how things have changed in the last decade from the perspective of a modern day otaku.

Yuuki (for the sake of anonymity this is not her real name) was hardly the unclean anti-social image associated to otaku when I met up with her one lunch time. She seemed like an average 19 year old Japanese girl with her tights, short shirt, smart top and a big grin across her face, although she looked quite nervous she seemed happy to talk to me. When I first met her she appeared to be an average Japanese girl but after a few months she mentioned off hand that she was an otaku. This had caught me completely off-guard because her outward image was not what I had expected, and considering she was the first otaku to ‘come out’ to me, I asked her if I could interview her. She agreed and we met a few days later. I told her that the interview was anonymous and she seemed to relax a bit.

At the beginning of the interview I wanted to know what she thought made her otaku and how it was different to other people. She said that she was familiar with otaku culture and knew that otaku are otaku to their fandom’s, such as train-otaku, computer-otaku, and in her case she was an anime-otaku. There are people who just watch anime but otaku get involved more, and in her case she does so by going to events and enjoys watching cosplay (although she herself does not partake in cosplay). Other otaku also spend a lot of time on the internet browsing sites of their interests such as anime sites, but she said she does too sometimes but hasn’t had much time for recently. Considering that the image of otaku is associated with men I found it interesting that she made the comment that a while ago otaku is only men, but now it’s also women. “There are many woman but they don’t say as much as men. Women take care of their fashion, but boys don’t, so it’s hard to tell if woman is otaku”. But when I asked her why it was now also women she did not know.

I then wanted to know how she became an otaku. When she was in elementary school she got into anime that was on TV such as Sailor Moon, Ranma ½, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Mezon Ikoku. It was an interest she developed on her own, which was normal among elementary school children. What was not normal was that she maintained her interest in anime through junior and high school until the present day. It was not normal for her to be interested in anime after elementary school and that was when she knew she was otaku.

She had one friend who was otaku in high school, who did not appear to be otaku and she knew her for a long time in junior high before she found out. One day after they had graduated from junior high her friend went up to her one day and said “why don’t you go to an event with me?” and since then she has gone to events in Osaka every year and one time she and her friend wrote a manga and tried to sell it as Comiket (a large doujinshi event in Tokyo). Although her friend has now moved away they still sometimes talk online. I asked if she had any other friends online and she said that although many otaku might because it is easier to be yourself online, she does not and prefers to talk to people face to face.

Her other friends in high school were not otaku though, and although they knew in high school that she was an otaku her university friends do not. I asked her why not and she said was embarrassing and that there’s a ‘bad feeling’ associated with being otaku. In general anime-otaku are seen as being very anti-social and get this bad impression. Although there are some ‘good’ impressions of otaku such as history-otaku or animal-otaku, where being otaku is a profession. I asked if she was ever bullied for being otaku and she said although there is a bad feeling she was never bullied. If people were not interested in the same things they either tended to not get to know that person or can get along despite different interests.

As she had mentioned her university friends did not know she was otaku I decided to expand on why that was. She said that Kansai Gaidai was famous for its fashionable girls, and her friends here are all fashionable. She thinks that they would not be surprised and would understand if she told them she was otaku, but “real otaku don’t say they are otaku”. This statement I found interesting and when I asked her why that was she replied that “if people go round telling everyone they are otaku then people don’t think they are otaku. Otaku are shy and quiet and don’t say they are otaku. That is why it is difficult to know if a person is otaku.” She said that she did not think there were any otaku at Kansai Gaidai because of this.

I asked her why clothes were linked with otaku. She said that a person who is not interested in fashion shows that they are not interested in sanjiken or rather the 3D. They prefer 2D girls and are not interested in attracting real girls, so they do not need to pay attention to their looks. She said that personally she is not as fashionable as her friends and usually wears Uniqulo clothes (a brand of cheap clothes) and because of that her friends sometimes joke that she is otaku (that is why they would not be surprised if she told them she was an otaku). She prefers cheap and reasonable clothes where her friends prefer expensive fashion. This is because she likes to save money to spend on anime and manga, although she will also spend her money on trips, music and concerts.

I wanted to gauge her experience of the media and otaku. She said that before 2005 otaku did not appear in the media but since Densha Otoko became popular then the image of otaku has been one that is strange but acceptable. Densha Otoko or “Train Man” was a drama based on a manga which revolves around the story of an otaku trying to fit in with society and his love story with a normal woman (Pena 2006 p.12-14). It portrays otaku as being the socially inept anime obsessed image that people are used to seeing in the media, but also as being harmless people who have friends and can get girlfriends. Although Yuuki did say that the show portrayed a good image to some people, other people still think the obsession with anime, manga and game characters as being too weird. The media now broadcast otaku as being strange all the time, but at the same time show that many Japanese people are otaku so it is not unusual. I asked her what she thought of this ‘bad’ image of otaku, to which she replied “it can’t be helped if people think that way”.

My final question was if she would stop being otaku when she started full time work. She said that she didn’t know. If she stops being interested in anime and manga then she would give up on being otaku, but now, although she’s very busy she still spends her free time watching anime, and she’s been drawing manga since junior school, so she doesn’t think she will ever give that up. She said that although people have bad impressions being otaku is always fun. When she sold her comics in high school she got a lot of good feedback and the event was a lot of fun. “Almost all otaku are quiet, not energetic, but if they gather they can be energetic, excited, crazy.”

One thing which struck me in my conversation with Yuuki was that she never mentioned the Miyazaki incident from 1989 and when I asked her if there had been anything about otaku in the media before 2005 she said “not really” and that she had never heard of Miyazaki. Although most of the definitions linked to otaku mention this incident as being a key aspect in the negative images of otaku, I think I can understand why she did not make the connection. Yuuki was, like most of current teenager otaku generation, born in the late 80s/early 90s, so they would not have been conscious of the increasingly negative image associated with otaku. Their parents and the elder generation would and this negative feeling seems to have been passed down into the generation without any context. I think this is why shows like Densha Otoko and the modern media are able to portray the image of otaku as being ‘strange’ but overall harmless, because it is directed to a generation outside of the ‘dangerous otaku’ image.

Overall the interview went well. At the beginning I explained to her that she could speak in Japanese if she felt more comfortable doing so and to ask me any questions if she didn’t understand anything. I asked her to explain her details in as much detail as she could and to tell me about her experiences and feelings. As the conversation went on I adjusted my questions to fit in with what she was telling and now and then had to probe to get her to expand on a previous statement. She was fine for the most part apart from seeming very nervous, which I found out was due to the fact that she had never spoken about her otakuness in as much detail to anyone before. One problem I had with the interview was that she spoke mostly in English, and although this was helpful for me I felt like she could not explain herself as well in English. There were times where I asked her to explain it in Japanese but she would slip back in to English again.

In conclusion Yuuki’s ‘otakuness’ derives from her love of anime since a young age and had carried on through school, expressed through her hobby of drawing manga. She is a female otaku, showing that otaku does not necessarily equal men. Her identity as otaku is a central part to her and although she does not appear to be otaku in the way the media portrays them to be, she still hides this aspect of her from her friends. She is a generation born outside of the Miyazaki incident yet the negative connotations giving people a ‘bad feeling’ of otaku remain. I think hiding their identity is common among many modern day otaku who do not want to be associated with the negative images of being unclean, anti-social and strange, despite the fact that they are also portrayed as being common and harmless. Due to this many otaku do not know about other otaku that might be close to them which is why, as Yuuki explained, “when otaku gather at events they become different to how they are on their own”.





References

Grassmuck, Volker (1990) “’I’m Alone but Not Lonely’: Japanese Otaku-Kids Colonize the Realm of Information and Media, A Tale of Sex and Crime from a Faraway Place.” Retrieved from http://www.cjas.org/~leng/otaku-e.htm, 1st November 2010

Pena, Joseph (2006) “Otaku: Images and Identity in Flux” Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=curej, 1st November 2010

Schodt, Frederik (1996) “The Doujinshi World”/”Otaku” from Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley: Stone Brige Press, pp. 36-49



Interview Guide

1. What makes him/her otaku
-Why/How do you define yourself as ‘otaku’?
-How do you think this is different to other people?
-Do you think there’s a good/bad image of otaku in Japan? Why?
-Have you ever been bullied because of this?

2. How they became an otaku
-When did you start becoming interested in anime/manga/computer games etc?
-Did your friends introduce you or was it something you did on your own?
-Are many of your friends otaku? Why/Why not?
-Do you discuss your interests with your friends? Why/Why not?

3. The Media
-How does the media portray otaku? Good/Bad?
-Did you notice a difference in the past?
-What do you think of this image?

4. The Future and General Thoughts
-Do you think you will stop being otaku when you start full-time work?
-Any comments he/she wants to expand on?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Stress

I feel like after the last few weeks the stress has just been building and building and building and building. Japanese academic life is so different to England. We have tests every week for Japanese and assignments every few weeks for afternoon culture classes. The culture festival was smack dab in the middle between midterm exams and midterm assignments. This last week I handed in two assignments, did a 5min presentation in Japanese that I had to do off by heart, and then this Friday I have another assignment and a presentation to do for a culture class.

Not only that but for my midterms I got a really bad mark for the anthropology module even though it was a really easy test and I’d revised all weekend. It really hit me and I felt horrible and angry at myself for making such stupid mistakes. I feel so incredibly stupid in that class and since then I haven’t done the reading (mainly because I haven’t had time) and I haven’t said anything in class. I feel like my brain has turned to mush. I feel like such an idiot and I’m scared of putting my hand up in case I say something stupid. I’ve always done that. I think professor Hester must think I’m such an idiot. I’ll never be an anthropologist.

Not only that but I’m working all the time so I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to know the seminar house people as well as I could have. I don’t feel like myself here. I’m not the happy hyper Jen I normally am at Uni, but feel like the bored, tired, anti-social Jen when I’m at home.

I get the feeling it’s partially due to the fact that I don’t have things like the anime society of Adventure Gaming Society. I don’t have a weekly event where I can see all my friends and unwind. I don’t have the time to do something like that. I admit I have time to go out and see the sights, but it’s the human contact that I crave and that I’m missing.

This is what I was afraid of most of all before I came to Japan: making friends. I admit I have friends here but they’re not the same as in England when we’re just really close, and even when we’re not as close people would still notice if something was wrong and try to make it better. I dunno, it could just be different cultures and different mentalities. I mean I think I partially don’t make an effort to get to know people better and make a good impression but this stress and this work has just drained my energy. I really don’t feel like being genki all the time. -___-

I keep having this re-occurring theme in my dreams when I’m back in England, normally in Canterbury, and the Japan trip was just over. And I think “wow that went really quick” and then I wake up. I’ve had that for 4 nights in a row now. I think I’m home-sick. Which is a first time for me because before when I’ve gone away from a long time, I’ve not really had anything to miss. I miss England. I miss my friends. I miss the work at Kent Uni.

Everyone has their ups and downs, and I have more ups then downs here in Japan. I guess it’s just hard when the people you love aren’t there.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

School Festival FAIL

Gaidai School Festival pissed me off big time!

Lets start from the beginning: Students were asked if they would like to volunteer for something called INFES (International Festival) before we even came out to Japan and I thought why not. So I signed up saying I’d be happy to do anything and would even donate clothes for the fashion booth. Time eventually goes by and I get an e-mail saying I’ll be working on the World Booth representing England (nothing about if they wanted to use my clothes and it was never mentioned again).

So there’s apparently a meeting but I missed it for some reason and since then it just went down hill. Because I hadn’t met the girl I was doing the England booth with we decided to meet up and start organising what we were going to do. So after a few meetings we decide that a word game of English to American English, some England pop music, photos and she’ll get together some introductions of famous people.

But then there are some meetings to see how we’re doing, I only find out about this from the girl who says “Are you going to the meeting later?” to which I have to reply “what meeting?” I can’t really go to something if I didn’t know it was on. AND it didn’t finish until really late with nothing sorted at all. We had a few of these and I think I ended up going to 2. Turns out a few of the other foreigners had the same experience.

Not only that but I was really confused as to what the whole thing entailed. My partner nor the organisers (who are all students, no teachers involved) told me what the stalls were going to be like, where it was, what time. My partner got a time table in Japanese and just told me we were preparing on the Thursday and Friday just gone and then INFEW was Saturday. Or at least that’s the impression I got. Turns out it actually started Friday and I was expected to work on the booth all Friday afternoon (despite having classes) and all Saturday.

NOT ONLY THAT! But it turns out Thursday-Saturday was also the Gaidaisei Festival. The Japanese students organised a HUGE festival and INFEW was just a tiny part of this festival…NO ONE told the international students. We all just…found out!

I was really annoyed, mainly because there had just been no communication between the Japanese and the foreign students. And they had no excuse not to have contacted us because they’re learning English and we’re leaning Japanese. So there shouldn’t have been anything wrong with putting a pamphlet in our draws advertising the event. Turns out there was a famous J-Pop singer there too who hadn’t sold many tickets- again we didn’t know about it. I’m sure more people would have gone if they’d been told.

My impression is that the foreign students are just outsiders of the Japanese’s students system and that they feel like they don’t have to include us in their activities. I didn’t feel welcome or encouraged to partake in the activity they’d asked me to do. So I didn’t exactly put as much effort in as I could have, and I missed most of the festival because I was working for 6 hours straight.

You want to know the icing on the cake? Although I admit there were many meetings that I missed and a few I skaived off of, as well as stuff that I forgot on a regular basis, so I was feeling bad and felt obliged to go along to certain things. But my partner, who said she’s make intros for celebrities, didn’t! Yes she did work hard but the one thing I asked her do she didn’t…actually there was another and was to translate the Japanese on the English cards so the Japanese could understand.

Overall the fair was ok. A lot of food stalls and a lot of Japanese people running around in silly costumes trying to sell me the stuff. Turns out there were other activities too like dance productions etc, but once again we didn’t know about it. They could have at least given us programs for the event. So yeah. From what I can tell the Japanese students just don’t care about the foreigners and if they’re not going to communicate with us how do they expect us to act towards them?

It’s been a long weekend and this stupid volunteering has dug into time I could have spent doing productive things like not spending money on food and working on my Japanese, which I seem to be learning more from self study then talking to any of the Japanese kids. GRRRRRRR >_<

Friday, 5 November 2010

Takarazuka

TAKARAZUKA!!!



OMG! If there is one aspect of Japan that is not well known, but a definite must see for a trip to Japan it’s the TAKARAZUKA REVUE!

Takarazuka is a smallish town just outside Osaka city on the Kankyu railway. This is fairly important because the review was created in 1913 by the owner of the line who wanted more people to visit the town of Takarazuka. The Takarazuka Revue is an all female theatre production who do musical productions based on the old Western Broadway theatre with exaggerated costumes, music, acting and at the end they like to use this HUGE staircase where all the stars walk down it singing. The bigger the star the bigger their costume and the more spot light they get.

What’s special about the Revue is that girls who join it is they join in their teens and they go to the Takarazuka school instead of High School. They live and train at the dorms and work with the Takarazuka Revue for at least 7 years instead of getting public education. It’s really interesting because although they never come into contact with men (if a Takarazuka woman marries she must retire from Takarazuka) they get trained to be the ‘perfect’ housewife because they go through gruelling training in cleaning and cooking on top of their theatre training. Although when they become top stars the fans basically do all their chores for them. When they leave Takarazuka they either marry or a few go into show-business in other industries.

(Left: Posters for upcoming performances. The closest one is their newest Romeo and Juliet. It looks pretty)

I’m not very good at explaining so here are some cuts from wikipedia ^-^

The Takarazuka Revue was founded by Ichizo Kobayashi, an industrialist-turned-politician and president of Hankyu Railways, in Takarazuka, Japan in 1913. The city was the terminus of a Hankyu line from Osaka and already a popular tourist destination because of its hot springs. Kobayashi believed that it was the ideal spot to open an attraction of some kind that would boost train ticket sales and draw more business to Takarazuka. Since Western song and dance shows were becoming more popular and Kobayashi considered the Kabuki theater to be old and elitist,[1] he decided that an all-female theater group might be well received by the general public.

Part of the novelty of Takarazuka is that all the parts are played by women, based on the original model of Kabuki before 1629 when women were banned from the theater in Japan.[4] The women who play male parts are referred to as otokoyaku (literally "male role") and those who play female parts are called musumeyaku (literally "daughter's role"). The costumes, set designs and lighting are lavish, the performances melodramatic. Side pathways extend the already wide proscenium, accommodating elaborate processions and choreography.
Before becoming a member of the troupe, a young woman must train for two years in the Takarazuka Music School, one of the most competitive of its kind in the world.

Each year, thousands from all over Japan audition. The 40 to 50 who are accepted are trained in music, dance, and acting, and are given seven-year contracts. The school is famous for its strict discipline and its custom of having first-year students clean the premises each morning.
The first year, all women train together before being divided by the faculty and the current troupe members into otokoyaku and musumeyaku at the end of the year. Those playing otokoyaku cut their hair short, take on a more masculine role in the classroom, and speak in the masculine form.

The company has five main troupes: Hana, Tsuki, Yuki, Hoshi, and Sora (Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and the Cosmos respectively), and Senka (Superior Members), a collection for senior actresses no longer part of a regular troupe who still wish to maintain their association with the revue and perform from time to time. Flower and Moon are the original troupes, founded in 1921. Snow Troupe began in 1924. Star Troupe was founded in 1931, disbanded in 1939, and reestablished in 1948. Cosmos, founded in 1998. is the newest troupe.

(Right: the entrace hall of the theatre...it was big...and sparkly...the paino played itself the main themes of the performances!!!)


Anyway. The other weekend (30th October on Saturday) I went with one of my classes (with Hester again) to see this magical show. And it was AMAZING! We went and saw the Star Troupe do a Revue of Autumn. It was based around really Japanese themes with all the performers in Japanese kimonos doing fan dances and there were ninja and a sword fight between two samurais fighting over a geisha. But it was all a Japanese musical! SOOO PRETTY! I really liked the minor actors rather then the main ones, because although they weren’t in the spot light they were the ones that made the main stars look good. They were the ones that just made it really spectular with well timed moves and adorable costumes. I love the little gadgets they used that just made the show even more spectacular like trap doors, a rotating stage floor and smoke machines and well timed fans to get rid of the smoke when it wasn’t needed. Then there was the music. Soooooooo pretty. I just can’t describe it. A perfect mix of Japanese style and modern stuff ^_^

After the review and a short intermission was the main performance. It was a Japanese musical of An Officer and a Gentleman. I’ve never seen the film before but read a brief description of it before hand. Despite that I understood it really well! I was well chuffed ^^; The acting and the stage props and the timing, the lights and gadgets again were just all mind blowing. It really is on a whole new level compared to the West-end musicals I’ve seen.

(Left: The Theatre on the inside...we were really high up)

Tickets to the show range from 2500 to over 10,000yen! Me and a group plan to go again to see For Whom the Bell Tolls (if we can get around to booking the tickets). Soooo looking forward to it ^^ That will be in the mid-level seats at 5,500yen. I really wish I could have taken pictures of the performance but allas no. But there are videos on youtube ^_^

In the past Takarazuka have done musicals of Phoenix Wright (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJhdCwmO7tc&=fmt) , Black Jack, Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma, Phantom of the Opera, Singin’ in the Rain, Sound of Music, and loooads more. The Rose of Versailles is their most famous piece. It’s based on a manga of the same name that was supposed to be about Mary Antoinette but it ended up being a story about Oscar, a woman who grey up like a man to take after her father as the leader of the palace guards, so it’s really fitting to the Takarazuka image. (Right: An Officer and a Gentleman program the top is the Autumn Dance)






If that doesn’t give you enough reasons to go to Takarazuka then how about this: The Osamu Tezuka museum is also there! Osamu is the ‘God’ of Japanese Manga. He made Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy, Ribbon no Kishin/Princess Night, Jungle Taitei/Kimba the White Lion etc. It’s quite cool. You can see sketches he’s made and then there’s a café upstairs where you can sit down and watch his anime or read his manga. There’s LOADS so if you have time you’ll be entertained for hours.
(Me and Princess Knight!)


So yeah ^___^ Takarazuka. Super awesome. If you’re in Japan GO!