Posts Tagged ‘manga’

Going choo choo for Japanese railways

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The numbers of railway enthusiasts in Japan are increasing. According to NHK journalist Takeshige Morimoto, there are now over 2 million train fans in Japan today. Their numbers are not just limited to geeky trainspotters (tori tetsu), tetsu (rail) fans include: people who enjoy taking trips on Japans various local lines (nori tetsu), mothers who’ve caught the bug from their kids (mama tetsu) and more recently young women (tetsu chan).

The railboom trend was the subject of Morimoto’s “Railway Boom Spans Generations” program which was aired on 20 Jan. Morimoto, who presented the show, believes that in a digital world where people are feeling more and more disengaged from one another, railways provide a sense of connection to other humans.

Businesses are clearly picking up on this new wave of enthusiasm for railways. According to Nikkei Trendy, from October to December 2010, four new rail-themed stores opened up in Tokyo Station. Nippon Shokudo is our favorite: Modeled on the Cassiopea (Japan’s equivalent of the Orient express, which runs overnight from Ueno to Sapporo), the restaurant is a super-swanky replica of the train’s original dining car.

Packed lunch boxes that are sold at trains stations (ekiben) are also experiencing a surge in popularity. The varieties available have been proliferating, according to Yomiuri Online, and special care is given to utilizing local ingredients that will reflect the area where it was bought. A nationwide ekiben competition just got underway at Osaka’s Hanshin department store. On until the Feb. 1, 260 different packed lunches will be competing for the crown of Japan’s best ekiben. Due to a marketing collaboration with the manga “Ekiben Hitori Tabi” (Solo Packed Lunch Journey), this year’s competition is expected to be even more popular than previous years. The manga is the story of one man who tours the country trying out ekiben in his quest to discover the secret of making delicious ekiben.

The railway boom is also reverberating in the movie industry. In May last year a movie titled “Railways” was released. It’s the story of a 49-year-old elite businessman who quits his job when his mother becomes ill and his colleague dies. The lead, played by Kiichi Nakai, goes back to his hometown and finds solace and redemption by becoming a train driver.

If you want to see just how passionate Japan’s railroad fans get, check out the video of a hardcore tetsu mama above.

Some konbeni snacks with your favorite anime?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

K-On! goods displayed in Lawson convenience store

K-On! goods displayed in Lawson convenience store

Pop culture and junk food are a perfect combination: Both are brightly colored, easy to consume and totally moreish. Personally I can while away whole afternoons watching anime while stuffing potato chips and chocolate down my gullet. Sure,  I end up feeling a little sick and ashamed at the end, but while it lasts, the experience is sublime.

Space Battleship Yamato drinks at Family Mart

Space Battleship Yamato drinks at Family Mart

That’s why convenience-store tie-in campaigns that target anime and movie fans make so much sense. A limited-edition K-On! Choco Snack has proven to be hugely popular, so popular that Gigazine discovered that it had disappeared off the shelves of the local Lawson within hours of going on sale Nov. 9.  In addition to the K-On! Fair at Lawson, this month Seven-Eleven and Family Mart are also running campaigns. Here’s a round up of what’s on offer:

  • K-On!, an anime about five high school girls who form a band, is the focus of Lawson’s campaign. K-On! fans can purchase special yaki-soba sandwiches, cold cocoa drinks, sticker sets and caramel corn. Fans can also accumulate points by buying Gogo no Kocha drinks, which then qualifies them to win lottery prizes that include T-shirts, K-On! figurines and a custom-made electric guitar.  Lawson is also selling K-On! phone cards, K-On! figurines (from Nov. 16) and tote bags (that can be purchased on Loppi). The campaign runs until Nov. 29.
  • Fans of One Piece should set sail for Seven-Eleven. Customers who spend over ¥700 can enter into a prize draw to win special pirate-themed One Piece booty. Some drinks also come with a free cell-phone strap.
  • To promote the upcoming release of “Space Battleship Yamato,” Family Mart is running a special campaign until Nov. 29. Customers who spend over ¥500 can apply for a special lottery to win movie-themed goods. Sweetening the deal, Yamato-themed pastries and drinks are available.

Anime fan pilgrimages help boost tourism

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

A new anime set in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, seems set to revitalize the city’s flagging tourist industry. Since the anime “Yosuga no Sora” (above) went on air Oct. 4 the local government and tourist office of Ashikaga have been deluged with enquiries about visiting the city. But it isn’t the first case of popular anime sparking a boom in local tourism, as Kuki, Hakone and Kyoto have all become popular destinations among hardcore anime fans.

Perhaps the biggest success story is Washinomiya, a beautiful shrine located in Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, that provided the backdrop for “Lucky Star.” The surge in tourists has revitalized the town, partly thanks to sales of  “Lucky Star” branded souvenirs. Even the mikoshi at a local festival this year was decorated with “Lucky Star” characters.

In November the area will host a special matchmaking event called otakonkatsu” (organized dating for otaku), providing an opportunity for single shy anime fans to hook up. Interest in the event saw daily visits to the chamber of commerce and industry’s website rise from around 500 to over 10,000, though some men were peeved that women could attend for free whereas men have to shell out ¥8,000 to participate.

Though already a popular tourist spot, Hakone is getting an extra boost from “Evangelion” fans who often make a pilgrimage to the area to view places featured in the smash hit anime. There’s now an official map of the area especially for fans called the Hakone Hoken Map.

Kyoto, featured recently in both the hugely popular “K-On” and in the cult hit “The Tatami Galaxy,” is another well-established tourist destination that’s profiting from otaku tourism. Earlier this year we reported that “K-On” fans were putting up ema plaques at a shrine featured in an episode depicting a “K-On” school trip. (If you’d like to visit these spots yourself check out The K-On Guide to Kyoto.) More recently, “The Tatami Galaxy,” which is set entirely in Kyoto, was featured in the travel issue of Spoon magazine, which included a travel guide to the sites shown in the cartoon.

Tourism tie-ups aren’t limited to anime/manga. As Pulse, and everybody’s blogging brother, reported in August,  fans of Konami’s virtual dating game Love Plus got a chance to live out their fantasy dates in Atami (the latest version of the game Love Plus + featured an option to go sightseeing in the seaside resort town). Fans who went on the tour could take augmented reality photos of their Love Plus girlfriends, fill in a special stamp book at sightseeing spots and buy Love Plus/Atami souvenirs. The augmented reality photos, available to iPhone customers, superimpose an image of your virtual date onto the actual background, though it was noted by Game Watch, that there were some proportional glitches. In one instance, the digital girlfriend appeared to be as tall as a building in the real-world backdrop. Bug or a programmer’s private joke – you decide.

Pulsations (09.08.10)

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

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 . . .

Tachiyomi: Do it on your device

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Browse the latest magazine with Seven Net Shopping's tachi-yomi app.

Browse the latest magazine with Seven Net Shopping’s tachi-yomi app.

Japan came a little late to the Twitter party, but it has quickly made up for lost time.  And it’s not just individual users that have been fueling the Twitter boom.  Forward-thinking Japanese companies have also embraced the micro-blogging revolution in a big way, by developing Twitter marketing campaigns, offering Twi-wari discounts, incorporating Twitter into social games, and mining Twitter for valuable customer feedback.

The latest Japanese practice to be Twitterized is the fine art of tachiyomi (立ち読み) – browsing comics and magazines for free before you purchase them.

Tachiyomi, which literally means “stand and read,” can be observed 24/7 at one of the over 40,000 convenience stores or many of the bookstores in Japan. Most stores will allow customers to stand in front of the magazine rack and read through the comics with impunity.

Yamasa Shoyu, a soy sauce company, has taken the term and applied it to the manga-based marketing campaign for their new disposable 200-ml packs of soy sauce. The series is titled “Soy Sauce Magician” and is written by the manga team Masayuki Izumi, which consists of writer Haruki Izumi and artist Masayuki Kusumi, who have released several food-themed manga. By scanning a barcode on the product with their mobile phones, customers can finish reading a comic, the beginning of which has been posted on Twitpic.

Seven Elevens will start selling the packs of soy sauce on Aug. 9, and they will be available at other convenience store chains from Aug. 23. Beyond Twitpic, the two-comic series is being promoted on  Twitter and YouTube. While the comic is mostly just a silly ode to shoyu, highlighting the various uses of the miracle sauce, Yamasa Shoyu gets points for spirit.

Yamasa Shoyu has released a mini-comic they've termed "tachi-yomi." It highlights various uses of soy sauce.

Yamasa Shoyu has released a mini-comic they’ve termed “tachi-yomi.” It highlights various uses of soy sauce.

Seven Net Shopping, the online arm of Seven and iHoldings that runs the Seven Eleven convenience stores, offers a more realistic digital version of tachiyomi for iPad and iPhone with their new app “Seven de Tachiyomi.” The free app is a digital bookshelf where you can browse popular magazines (such as Brutus, Pia, Real Design and Pen) and even a few books. The number of preview pages varies by magazines from three to 20 or so. Unfortunately that’s as far as the digitalization goes – customers looking for more will have to order a paper version of the magazine from the Seven Net Shopping site or, ironically, be forced to get up and haul themselves to the closest brick-and-mortar konbini to buy a copy

Passion for ‘garage kit’ models mounts at Wonder Festival

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Wonder Festival showcases some of the top garage kits - handmade models of characters from anime and manga.

Wonder Festival showcases some of the top garage kits – handmade models of characters from anime and manga.

The Japanese are renowned for otaku-levels of devotion to their hobbies, whatever they may be, and this is especially true for “garage kits,” plastic models of anime and game figures that are constructed by hand and are as professional as products produced by major companies.

Garage kits, like anime, came of age in the 1980s. The growth of the hobby has been channeled through Wonder Festival (Won-fes, for short), a biannual convention where garage kit artists have been displaying and selling their wares since 1984. In the beginning, the kits occupied a legal gray market, which led to a uniquely Japanese moment of corporate compromise – the invention of “day-of copyrights” (tojitsu hanken, 当日版権). These copyrights are issued through the event, which is hosted by Kaiyodo, a company that produces garage kits, figures and other toys. Dealers who apply can receive a copyright that allows them to sell and display only accepted models only during the event. They can’t take reservations during the event and ship them later. They can’t sell models that haven’t been accepted. The copyright ends when the event does. This year there will be 1,900 dealers selling their kits on July 25.

If the ’80s was the boom of garage kits, which created a so-called “garage kit spirit” where artists aimed to create the most detailed models possible, then the ’90s was when it became more corporate. Notably, the popularity of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” baptized a generation with the breasts of Asuka and Rei, the two main female characters from the legendary sci-fi anime. Almost singlehandedly, the show increased the number of casual fans of garage kits, fans who were more interested in seeing the characters they liked (in revealing positions, nonetheless) and less interested in the quality the models. Additionally, corporations have taken advantage of the event to release limited edition, already completed models that pander to non-fanatics.

In response to the influx, the label “Wonder Showcase,” closely connected with parent organization Wonder Festival, in 1999 began to highlight some of the highest quality garage kits. For each show they select several artists and profile them along with their works. They help promote the artists and put them in a great position to meet people within the industry during the show, but don’t force them into a management contract – the goal of the showcase is to promote the “garage kit spirit” that initially sparked the boom. Due to the questionable legality of their hobby, artists often use pseudonyms to hide their true identity.

The event was held at Tokyo Big Site until 2008, when an elevator malfunction caused injuries to visitors and drew a surprising amount of attention from the national press. Since 2009, Makuhari Messe has hosted the event.  This year the festival takes place July 25, from 10 a.m.  to 5 p.m.

To follow the coverage from abroad, Danny Choo‘s Web site might be one of your best bets. Here’s his roundup of Wonder Fest 2008.

Wish upon a lucky star: ema cartoon craze

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

These ema at Chichibu shrine are the work of Sugar and Salt, a blogger who is doing a pilgrimage of Japan's shrines

These ema at Chichibu Shrine are the work of Sugar and Salt, a blogger who is doing a pilgrimage of Japan’s shrines

On a recent visit to Chichibu Shrine, I was surprised to find a few ema (wooden prayer plaques) decorated with colorful anime characters. While it’s common for ema to be decorated with pictures of animals significant to the Shinto religion (most typically horses), anime ema are a little out of the ordinary, so I decided to do some digging.

The ema pictured above are the work of blogger Sugar and Salt, who has been doing a pilgrimage of the country’s shrines since November 2009 with the aim of putting up 108 anime-themed ema. But Sugar and Salt is not alone in his/her quest. Just last week on July 7, armies of otaku converged at an unremarkable shrine in Washinomiya, Saitama, to put up “Lucky Star” ema which were for sale, one day only, at Washinomiya Station. The shrine was a setting for the popular anime and since 2007 on the occasion of the “Lucky Star” twins’ birthday votive plaques have been a big tourist draw. Sugar and Salt was reportedly there him/herself to pick up one of the limited-edition plaques.

Another attraction for anime fans is Kitano-Tenmangu in Kyoto, which was visited by the girl-band cartoon sensation K-On! during an episode depicting a school trip. It’s typical for ema to be inscribed with personal wishes and most of the K-On! plaques are drawn by budding musicians who are hoping to improve their skills on the guitar.

Anime-style illustrations have also been proliferating in gokoku jinja (shrines to commemorate war dead) due to a surge in interest in the Sengoku Period. The period of civil unrest lasting from 1560 to 1619 has been the subject of many popular TV series recently. Particularly popular with women, who are getting a little cheesed off with those wussy herbivore men, many ladies are visiting shrines like Migagi’s Gokoku Jinja and putting up ema that contain comic book-style illustrations of the heroes of the day. Sankei JP report that there were mixed reactions to the ema from older visitors to the shrines, some of whom thought the plaques were a little disrespectful to the war dead.

In Tokyo’s Rihouji Shrine (another gokoku shrine), there are many painted ema of Benten sama (the goddess of art and wisdom) in a cartoon style. The young men who put these ema up usually write a little prayer alongside the illustrations asking for success in work. A Buddhist priest at the site noted that the quality and number of the ema has risen as visitors try to outdo each other.

Sales of ema and o-mamori (good luck charms) are an important source of income for shrines, so we’re wondering if, for example, like o-mamori that have characters like Hello Kitty printed on them, shrines will keep up with the times by beginning to sell ema with anime characters already printed on them.

Good news and bad news for manga lovers

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Magajin allows manga fans from around the world to collaborate

Magajin allows manga fans from around the world to collaborate

Last month, there was both good and bad news for manga fans. Just as a new site aimed at fostering crosscultural connections between manga fans launched, Japan’s Digital Comic Association declared war on foreign sites that offer downloads of unlicensed translations of manga, commonly called scanlations.

In the past, scanlation sites acted as gateways into the otherwise inaccessible universe of Japanese comic book culture. These days, with Japanese publishers, which include big names such as Kodansha and Shogakukan, putting out more translated versions, the scanlators are viewed as drains on potential revenue.

So far, the Digital Comic Association hasn’t pursued any legal action, but if they do, sites such as MangaFox and OneManga, who offer pirated translations, are likely to be among the first to be targeted by the association. Though publishers are well within their rights to crack down on these unauthorized versions, consider this: Fan translators are, by default, serious otaku and thereby more likely to explain Japanese customs in footnotes rather than adapt their versions to suit foreign audiences. Will manga lovers accustomed to learning about Japan straight from the source be willing to switch to a localized product?

Meanwhile, Magajin, an international website for manga enthusiasts, recently opened its doors to the world. The site, which has a multilingual interface and allows budding manga artists to collaborate across national borders, actually encourages scanlation of work uploaded to its site as a means for new artists to reach a wider audience. “At Magajin,” reads the site’s press release, “scanlators are not an enemy of manga artists, but rather they can help out the community, and truly contribute to yet to come great works in Japan.”

Founded by manga enthusiast Akiko Naka, the site allows users to help each other out with translations as well as being a kind of interactive gallery in which users can comment on each other’s work.

It’s yet to be seen whether Japan’s manga publishers will be able to successfully wipe out scanlation copyright infringement. For the time being, at least Magajin will be a welcome outlet for frustrated fans; publishers looking for new talent would also be wise to keep their eyes on this new testing ground.

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