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Hitting the mark at the Miraikan’s ninja exhibition

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

By Jon Ginsburg

Thanks in large part to some teenage turtles and video game culture, ninja are no long hidden in the shadows and known worldwide. The nimble masters of stealth and subterfuge are also experiencing a bit of a comeback in their homeland.

The ninja came into the spotlight at the Group of Seven summit, which was held in Mie Prefecture in May. Iga, a city in Mie that also happens to be “the hometown of ninja,” pounced on the promotional opportunity and had the troupe Iga-Ninja Group Ashura showcase ninja skills and explain their tools and techniques for the summit’s visitors.

Also in 2016, Aichi Prefecture advertised that it would be hiring ninja to promote tourism, as well as its historic Nagoya Castle. No doubt inspired by the upcoming tourism bonanza, culminating with the 2020 Olympics, this campaign will feature ninja performing acrobatic stunts, using their signature shuriken throwing stars and, of course, posing for pictures with tourists.

For the next three months, Tokyo residents and tourists alike can get the full ninja experience at Odaiba’s Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. On July 2, their latest special exhibition — “The Ninja: Who Were They?” — opened to the public.

Three uniquely constructed fire arrows sit in one of the exhibition’s multiple a display cases. Despite its misleading name, fire arrows were actually the world’s first rockets.

Three uniquely constructed fire arrows sit in one of the exhibition’s multiple a display cases. Despite its misleading name, fire arrows were actually the world’s first rockets. (Jon Ginsburg)

On the media preview day, I had a chance to experience it firsthand. Before venturing into the show’s interactive areas, I perused the historical displays and ninja-related artifacts near the entrance. These ranged from different types of shuriken (there are a variety of kinds, believe it or not) to other weapons and tools of the trade, including grapples, iron claws and fire arrows, to name just a few.

The exhibition also contains installations that provide insight into the ninja ways of life and explain survival strategies, such as methods of concealment and secret codes.

What sets this exhibition apart is its interactive component. Visitors — be they children or adults — can test their skills to determine whether or not they have what it takes to be a ninja.

The tiptoe challenge shows no mercy! Hearts sink as the wailing of sirens stationed on either side of the wooden floor force challengers to return to the starting line.

The tiptoe challenge shows no mercy! Hearts sink as the wailing of sirens stationed on either side of the wooden floor force challengers to return to the starting line. (Jon Ginsburg)

The first exercise I tried consisted of jumping over boxes representing sunflowers. Naturally, no self-respecting ninja would leave bent flowers in his wake. While it sounds easy, it’s not merely a matter of jumping high. You have to use your head.

My confidence soared after this first task. I thought I was well on my way to becoming a ninja . . . until I reached the dreaded tiptoe challenge. Participants must silently tiptoe across a wooden floor without triggering sensors that set off alarms. This challenge was easily the most frustrating. My advice to future challengers is to stay on your toes, and don’t let your heels hit the floor.

The shuriken target practice proved to be a fan-favorite among the exhibition’s younger visitors. Kids perfected their throwing accuracy by tossing countless ninja stars at the wall’s illuminated bullseyes.

The shuriken target practice proved to be a fan-favorite among the exhibition’s younger visitors. Kids perfected their throwing accuracy by tossing countless ninja stars at the wall’s illuminated bullseyes. (Jon Ginsburg)

I took another beating at the shuriken target wall. Since throwing accuracy is one of my athletic strengths, I assumed that I would excel at this challenge. Unfortunately, my overconfidence proved to be my downfall. Maybe it was my one-out-of-five hit rate, or maybe it was seeing children half my size hitting the targets more often, but I definitely came up small during this task.

If, as I did, you discover that you lack the right stuff to become a ninja, there are two photo opportunities that might make you feel better. You can attach your head to an animated figure’s body, via the old face-in-photo-wall trick, or visit a light display that shows your digital ninja silhouette. Strike a pose, and the silhouette may even grow or multiply.

“The Ninja: Who Were They?” is an ideal exhibition for those seeking a more interactive museum experience. The history of these Japanese espionage experts is fascinating, but what’s not to love about a show that tests your mad ninja skills?

See City Guide article on “The Ninja: Who Were They?” for details.

G-strings on the menu at Amrita’s naked dining pop-up

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Following in the shoeless footsteps of restaurants in London and Melbourne, the pop-up Amrita has a simple premise: diners must be naked before they are seated. Well, almost naked. Unlike other such pop-ups, guests in Tokyo will be provided with “paper underwear.” Whether this fig leaf is to satisfy patrons’ modesty or satisfy local hygiene laws is yet to be seen.

It’s also worth mentioning that Amrita isn’t the first restaurant made for the senses. Dark Dinner events involved blindfolded patrons trying food and having no idea what they are eating. But where Dark Dinner makes you dine blind, Amrita is truly an eyeful.

Amrita's website claims that it's importing

Amrita’s website claims that it’s importing “top class” male dancers for its pop-up event.

There are a couple of other rules as well. No phones or cameras, no tattoos (oh, Japan), and people can’t be “15 kg overweight.” Exactly what is the tipping point on the scale though is unclear. So yes, Amrita wants to celebrate the human body — as long as the body looks in shape. Oh, and nobody over 60 years old, please.

The restaurant’s website says that Amrita wants guests to have an au naturel experience where they can focus on the food, which happens to be organic, and nothing else — except maybe the waiters. According the event’s website, the pop-up is bringing in “top class” male dancers, dressed only in G-strings, who will be serving up meals and muscles.

If naked dining doesn’t seem intimidating, the prices may shock you. There are several different meals ranging from ¥12,000-80,000. Sadly for those emperors with no clothes, the ¥80K seats are all sold out during its three-day run from July 29-31. No details on what the top-drawer plans entail, however.

And if that wasn’t clear enough, Amrita’s website breaks down the process in eight simple steps, liberally translated here:

1. Show up, your heart pounding
2. ID check (making sure you are over 18 but under 60)
3. Strip — but don’t forget the paper undies
4. Hand over all cameras and cell phones
5. Strut to your table
6. Eat, or that is try to eat
7. Change back into your clothes
8. Go back into the sad, clothed world

J-blip: Doraemon hard boiled eggs soften your heart

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Doraemon1

Doraemon, everybody’s favorite blue robot cat, could be coming to a salad near you in the not-too-distant future.

Doraemon2

Anyone can turn a hard boiled egg into the shape of the Japanese icon, and the good news it doesn’t require Doraemon’s magical gadgets, nor high tech.

The simple four-step process is:
1. make a hard boiled egg
2. peel off the egg shells
3. put the egg in the Doraemon-shaped mold
4. leave it inside cold water for 10 minutes.

Voila! There you have it.

The special mold will be released, in Japan only, on Jan. 30, for ¥100 and will come in both Doraemon-shaped and Dorami-shaped (Doraemon’s little sister) versions.

#pulsepresents: gift idea grab bag

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Stumped about what kind of Christmas gift to give the Japanophile in your life? Here’s a grab bag of possibilities, prepared by Japan Pulse’s elves. And you can follow us on Twitter for more #pulsepresents, tweeted daily.

Commemorative Tokaido Shinkansen KitKats

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Trainspotters will love you forever if you can track down a package of these cool limited edition KitKats, sold in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen. The packaging, depicted a number of classics, can be folded into a mini train. The flavor is, inexplicably, frozen mikan.

Jagarico Panic

In this hot potato-style game, which requires the actual potato snack, players take turns opening up the container to remove a crunchy potato stick. The loser has to draw a penalty card which, in this video, includes a tissue nose probe. Ew.

“The Art of Setting Stones”

For your stressed-out friend, we suggest “The Art of Setting Stones” an overview of traditional Japanese gardens, which describes how the gardens are both “a microcosm of the natural universe and a clear expression of our humanity.”

Ki no Kami Snap Animals

The “Wooden Paper” Snap Animals series lets kids build their own toys by snapping together shapes to construct various animals.

Cardcaptor Sakura Cosmetics

Card Captor Sakura Cosmetic Kit

Cardcaptors of the Clow, expect the unexpected blemish now! A new cosmetic kit featuring Sakura’s magical tools doubles as cute trinkets from the anime and manga series, as well as lip balm and foundation.

Funagata Bags

Designer Kazumi Takigawa has created a new type of canvas bag that has a similar look of the typical brown paper bag but with the functionality and durability of a tote. Each bag is handmade in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Hello Kitty, Hello 40

On her anniversary, 40 fans — from comic artists to toy creators — pay homage to world’s most famous mouthless feline.

Pulsations (8.17.2012)

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Visual pulse:

Spoon & Tamago highlighted an exhibition at The Open Space 2012 of Rhythmushi, a nifty little hand-drawn music app that has quietly been building a big fan base over the last two years. If you can’t make it to Shinjuku for the hands-on experience, enjoy the video demo here.

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Pulsations (08.04.12)

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Reconditioned Bicycles: The Two-Wheeled Wonders & Where To Find Them (from Tokyo Cheapo): Fixie, schmixie, we’ll take a refurbished mama-chari to go, please.

 A Day in Tokyo (from Pechakucha.org): Sometimes it’s good to see the city you live in with fresh eyes.

Dynamite and Godzilla’s eggs: peak summer is upon us (from Tokyo Food File): Two from the pantheon of super melons.

Japan’s OTHER Languages (from Tofugu): Did you know there were eight languages unique to Japan? Neither did we.

Empty Ramen Bowl Tour (from Vimeo): Enough said. But hang on, if you like emptying ramen bowls, we might have a job for you . . . 

Visual pulse:

This week the classic “Tokyo Story” jumped up two spots to the top of Sight & Sound’s director’s poll. If you need a primer in the brilliance of director Yasujiro Ozo, here’s a quickie.

15th Japan Media Arts Festival

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

The 15th Japan Media Arts Festival showcased award-winning international works in the categories of Art, Entertainment, Animation and Manga. Click any image below to see a slideshow of photos from Japan Times Arts editor Mio Yamada.

Tokyo Designers Week 2011

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Here’s a selection of what blipped on our radar at Tokyo Designers Week 2001, a multi-ring circus of design innovation. This year the organizers put an emphasis on Tohoku reconstruction, the environment, food and loooove.  And as in past years, the student work was just as eye-catching as that from professionals.

From amateur endeavors to corporate PR, from high art to crass commercialism, from sleek motocycle prototypes to dried squid light shades, the annual event literally offered something for everyone.

Photos by Mio Yamada

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