Japan Trip part 2

Day 7

We had basically seen most of, well, everything, so we thought a trip to Osaka Castle would round off the trip pretty well. Once again it took a whole lot of time and money to get there…

The castle itself was probably one of the most popular tourist attraction – there were German, Chinese, Korean and even Japanese tourists there. Oh yeah, and Singaporeans – you can’t miss the accent. Anyway, the castle itself was structured so that you were supposed to ascend to the top and then walk down, viewing each floor in turn so as to get the story of the place in chronological order. However, we didn’t see this message until after we had made an entire trip up and down already…oh well.

The layout of the place was quite impressive…didn’t really look like a castle per se though (more like a museum, complete with lifts) since the original building had been gutted by fire when it was overrun earlier in its history. In any case they had historical dioramas, original pictures and documents from that era, clothes, swords, video recordings/documentaries – basically, the works. I felt that it wasn’t quite in keeping with the international tourist scene that some of the dioramas didn’t have subtitles in English, but I guess they figured that people wouldn’t be too interested in them.

In any case I actually found the scenery around the castle more interesting, as the park was quite spacious and wide (just like all the other parks in Japan) so once again I spent a long time walking around and taking pictures while XR rested. Here are some of them :

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 I am personally quite proud of this shot…took me a LONG time to get right. Once again I curse the lack of a proper zoom or telescoping function on instant cameras.

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 Really hard to get a shot of the interior due to substandard lighting. Did the best I could.

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 Had to jockey a bit to get the shrine gate well spaced…didn’t want it in the middle. Turned out ok I think.

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 Osaka Castle as viewed from straight below.

I did actually want to go to the Osaka Historical Museum and NHK building but the latter was closed to all non-staff and the former…you guessed it, cost a bomb.

And I think this is as good a time as any to make a random observation…while I was pleased at the amount of parks/museums that they were, I couldn’t help but feel the prices were a bit high…but that might also have been because I was a budget tourist seeing a whole lot of them in succession, which might have made the drain on my wallet a whole lot more apparent. Still, aren’t parks meant to be for all to enjoy? Placing a cover charge on places of cultural value and interest limits their access – perhaps not by much, but it does.

On the other hand, Japanese are pretty rich, so maybe they can afford it. And judging from how clean and well-kept they are (actually not really meaning much because almost all of Japan is clean and well-kept) perhaps they cost a bomb to maintain. Or perhaps it actually paradoxically shows how much they care about art? Since placing a value (even a monetary one) on a object does show how much it means to you – might the government charging prices for cultural artifacts display it’s concern for their appreciation?

Or maybe I’m just making an overly big deal about how much I had to spend…

Whatever the case, when we finished with the castle, we decided to just spend our remaining time wandering around town. XR wanted to go to a live house but since those (surprise, surprise) cost a whole lot, we decided to skip it.

Now I’m going to ramble about the train stations again…the art around the cities and even train stations in Japan was surprisingly good…I only have one shot (displayed before) but I was particularly struck by a statue at Ueno Station called the “Statue of Wings” – a female nude statue with arms outstretched with which to fly…but no wings. Too obvious a denial of the title? Perhaps, but I thought it was rather tasteful, sculpted as it was in a semi Neo-Grecian style. And I was rather tickled at the sign attached to it which said “meeting place.” Then again, the statue did make for a good meeting place, and I know that I would much rather have waited at the statue that at some bench somewhere.

Once again I don’t have any pictures of it, but the monorail at the Expo had another nice piece – ridged wood blocks entitled “Queztlcoalt” (after the feathered serpent of Aztec legend) Maybe I was reading a bit too much into the construction and design of the blocks, but I felt that the ridges represented the feathers well, and the sharply defined lines the serpent’s legendary wisdom. Your mileage may vary.

On the way back to our hotel XR wanted to check out the nightlife of Osaka a bit and we walked around the town, listening to some live bands and looking at street art. Even though there weren’t chalk drawings on the ground (that’s real “street art” for you) like there would be in England/America, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the artists were really quite good. Here are some samples :

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 This artist is honestly very good. I told him that I was anticipating a website, and I mean it. Once again my stupid instant camera messes up my flash so the reflection obscures one side of the picture…sigh…

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 But I did get this shot, which is even better. BIG thanks goes out to my sister for fixing this up with the scanner.

And of course there was…http://www.bside-label.com. I bought some stuff from him and we actually had a short conversation in which he told me about visiting Singapore on a holiday…he appeared very surprised I could speak Japanese as well as English. He was even nice enough to throw in some free postcards with my purchase.

As to the live bands, I didn’t really like too many of them since they sang with that annoying high-pitched nasal whining tone that unfortunately characterizes most J-pop these days…it’s incredibly irritating and what’s more, it’s caused by bad singing technique. We did see a rock band which I thought wasn’t that bad (XR thought they were the ultimate bomb and bought 2 of their CDs) – their singer was pretty good and had decent voice control, but the lead guitarist was trying to act cool soloing with his grubby slippers and almost fell over…I had to restrain myself from laughing. Look man, you can be cool, but it takes real style to be cool in slippers – at the very least, when you solo try not to fall over. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a shot of him doing that since I didn’t know he was going to slip up (literally) during his playing…

I was pretty surprised that street fashion/art was so vibrant in Japan, which isn’t exactly a country well-known for it. Perhaps it was because Osaka wasn’t as heavily urbanized as Tokyou (then again I didn’t visit Harajuku/Shibuya in Tokyou, so what do I know?)

I was struck by once incident in particular – there was a female magician/juggler putting on a (pretty good IMHO) performance. Her performance was entertaining not only because she was a good juggler (even though she did make a few mistakes) but because her constant chatter was interesting…I especially like it when she said…”Why no applause yet? and “this trick is very difficult, so please applaud before I drop something.”

But that wasn’t really what drew my attention…it was the fact that when she brought out the flaming clubs, the police turned up. This put a kind of dampener on things. I can see that she was actually 1) doing something potentially dangerous (flaming clubs are not what I would call convinience store goods) 2) obstructing human traffic (she was performing in front of a bridge) but hey, I wanted to see my show!

However, just before she had to stop performing, she did manage one final trick with 4 balls, to the applause of the crowd (she didn’t need to ask for it this time ^_^) before the police intervened and she had to stop. However, it did make me think…what price and value does art have in society, especially performance art (or just plain entertainment) that takes place in real time before people?

The last trick performed by the juggler was interesting as well – the police more or less let her perform the trick, as they probably knew it would be over once she did it…I might be reading too heavily into that, but it struck me as a particular Japanese form of compromise, along the lines of “ok, we have a job to do, you do your shtick and we can get this over with” – although perhaps not expressed so crudely.

I only managed to get one shot of the police escorting the performer off…I couldn’t help but wonder how Masamania (http://www.masamania.com) would have shot it. After writing this account and taking pictures myself, I find I have even more respect for his journalistic ability. More pictures really do establish more of the presence of a scene. Oh well, I think I did the best I could.

We were about to go back to the hotel when there was a last performance…this girl appeared and placed a sign on the ground announcing that she was going to sing anime songs. With all the pink she was wearing and the accoutrements she took out, it was a good bet she was going to sing shoujo anime songs. Ok, no problem there…XR didn’t look too keen on the proceedings but I thought I would give it a shot.

She spent a long time getting ready – about 20 minutes if I recall, what with taking off clothes, putting on clothes, and…stretching? I would soon learn the reason for all that stretching… (her routine was quite strenuous) At this time a few people had gathering around but not too many yet.

Then she began…the first two songs didn’t really catch my attention, but I listened anyway, since I was intrigued by the setup and we had some time to kill. I only really became interested when she started singing Otome no Policy…a song I have always liked the Para Para version of (it was the very first version of it I heard, actually) a song that one of my exes liked (always a draw!) and it was a Sailor Moon song! Who doesn’t love Sailor Moon music? (No, don’t answer that.)

Then came a few other songs which I didn’t know but were nevertheless enjoyable (probably from comtemporary mahou shoujo anime, which I don’t watch.) And then came…Cutey Honey. That got me, hook, line and sinker. My sister’s interested in the series notwithstanding, I have always liked that song as well – Cutey Honey is more or less the original magical girl (yeah, Sailor Moon came AFTER her, not before) and the song just really gets me going. I also liked the fact that the crowd really got into the song by taking a picture just as the song came to “Honey…FLASH!”.

Speaking of the crowd…by this time, a sizable amount of people had gathered, and she had managed to draw a much larger crowd that any of the other street performers I had seen – despite the lateness of the hour. Maybe it was because her music was more accessible? But I seriously doubt that cute, mahoushoujo/shoujo anime songs are what would be considered “mainstream” appeal.

I think it was more the entire act itself…she was a real trooper when it came to performing – every dance slightly different, all the motions practiced and smooth. There was variance in the movement as well – she would prance for some songs, toss her hair for others, skip and hop when appropriate. And there was a special favorite of mine…the synching of the lyrics to the actions (like the aforementioned camera taking a picture during “Honey Flash!”) – she would mime the motion of throwing away garbage during a song, point to the audience etc.

Others would pass by and end up staying and watching, even taking the pamphlet for her website. She definitely drew the biggest crowd of any street performance I had seen until then – tourists, salarymen, and all stopped to watch. Some didn’t stay for long, but watch they did.

And of those who stayed to listen, some stayed to dance. I even saw an middle-aged guy just pass by and spontaneously start dancing with the rest of her hardcore fans…only to be followed by a modern Japanese skinhead punk who in the end, threw of his shirt and danced with the rest of them. He even invited me to take a picture.

And that was only the first half. After a rest she did Moonlight Destiny…and anyone who spends any amount of time with me karaoking knows how many times I have requested someone to sing it with me (especially girls) only to find out that NO ONE even KNOWS the song. Her version was good though, even though she messed up the lyrics here and there and she couldn’t reach the high parts because she was too tired. Then came Ojamajo Doremi! I hate the show, but I love the song. By this time the crowd was more or less at it’s max size, and I had already abandoned all restraint and was singing with the rest of them…oh yeah and the skinhead from before had abandoned his “cool” image and was singing along too.

But the last song was the clincher…it was an original piece, the lyrics and sound of which were bona fide mahoushoujo. Her groupies even inserted their own “lyrics” into the song which sort of made sense…in a way. And there was even a small musical homage to Sailor Moon, the quintessential magical girl inside the song – the transition riff was based on the first few bars of Moonlight Densetsu!

It was every bit as good as any rock concert I have ever been to. The same thing was being accomplished, basically – the artist builds up the emotion, throws it out to the audience, and like a boomerang, it comes back doubled. It repeats again and again, with the feelings reaching a fever pitch – and that’s what makes concerts work, whether they be pop, rock, classical or what have you.

She was sort of like…a real-life magical girl. Because she did what magical girls do – transform into something that makes people happy – or if you prefer a less loaded word, cheery, joyful, or lighthearted.

Make of her what you will – a schizo in pastel pink, a modern-day savior of hearts, a nutcase unable to separate fantasy from reality…candy pop princess or normal fangirl. Maybe all of the above, I couldn’t say.

I actually have more pictures but didn’t put them up because well, they weren’t taken very well…and at the risk of sounding cliché, you had to be there.

Day 8

Hmm, let’s see, we basically made our way back to Singapore. Yeah, that’s about it. Oh yeah, and I saw this :


 Not sure if the crack in the head was placed there on purpose. Somehow I doubt so.

And after that came lots of travel and eventual return to Singapore. Nothing much else to write about, move along, yes, you over there too.

Still here? I guess some more photos wouldn’t be amiss :


Interestings Sights :


 Dick Bruna’s art is alive and well in Japan…(Dick Bruna is a well-known children’s book illustrator whose work wasn’t too popular in his native Australia but is/was a big hit in Japan)


 Honestly, these signs are just so darn cute you actually feel like doing what they say…


 “I’ll have an Existentialist Pastry and an Abstract Coffee. And how an Immaterial Cheesecake for dessert.”


 Japanese street band, fairly standard fare.


 Decently sized concert for midday.


 I would normally term this cruel and unusual…but the dogs seem to be enjoying it. Unfortunately though, I don’t speak canine so I can’t verify that statement.


 Looks like a scene right out of Bare Knuckle. I actually don’t know WTF is going on here…


…the ultimate street picture…


 The Old Dudes Band. Check out their headgear!


 Japanese cosplayers in Harajuku, the street fashion capital of the country


 And…more Japanese cosplayers (actually these are more or less their normal street clothes, they don’t seem to be cosplaying anything)


 Probably debating what to wear next


 These girls are actually pretty tame as gothic cosplayers go…


 More Japanese gothic cosplayers, complete with confused but intrigued gaijin


 Check out the guy at the right…he looks like he comes straight out of King of Fighters, complete with permed hair and raised fist


 Not a bad shot of Yoyogi Park during the daytime


 V! V! V! Victory! Combine, 1, 2, 3, 4, shutsugeki da…


 The safest store in the Bakufuu to shop at. Or maybe not.


 This is a Health Club, but the katakana for “Health” can be read as “Hells’…”


 Ok, this is the most expensive Yoshinoya’s you will EVER eat at in your life…


 Really nice shot of Yoyogi Park. Kudos to XR for this one.


 Good shot of the pond.


 What would a trip to Japan be like without a picture of Doraemon?


 Nice shot but I think it would have benefited from a wider angle


 Random statue. Nice design though


…and now for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!


 Check out the expressions on their faces…it is the essence of WTFness…


 Good shot of the shrine gate.


 Finally managed to get some of the sunlight effects.


 A peaceful scene.


 Two people just chilling. Quite relaxing.


 Haaahhh…breathe in…breathe out…


 Another Japanese band. They got a half-naked guy there for some reason though.

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 It’s…NANBAWAN BAN! Basically it means “No.1 Street” but it’s a nice dual-language pun. (You have to read “ichi” (one) as one, then it makes sense.)

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 ZOMG! Catty!

Thoughts and Conclusions :

Well, as you can probably see, most of this trip was spent on things that were mainly unrelated to anime – for better or for worse. I myself think it’s a welcome change from the frenzied pace of the last trip…but I don’t regret either. Both were very different trips for very different purposes, and I enjoyed both immensely.

But going on the trip made me reflect and think about Japan, and to some extent, myself. The Japan of Mandarakes, K-Books and Animate, gashapon, artbooks and model kits, is very different from the one that you can see in the statues of Takarazuka, the old people of Osaka, and even the glimmer of the fireflies…at the risk of perhaps belabouring the point, Japan is not just about anime, but then again, it’s not just about art either. You can’t talk about one without the other, since anime/manga is part of Japan on a fundamental level…and vice versa, that anime/manga is also art. Two halves of the same coin? Maybe.

I think that on some level Japan is a country like any other country, it’s people people like any other people. On the trip I saw schoolgirls and schoolboys, salarymen and housewives. I saw kids running under “No Entry” banners and parents rushing under to get them back. I saw that, the famous Japanese respect for surroundings notwithstanding, tons of litter in an around Osaka. I saw a couple in their late 20’s necking amdist the firefly viewing crowd…whether because of or despite the people I can’t say. I saw lots of polite Japanese people but rude Japanese people as well.

But I can’t say I saw Japan. I can say only that I saw a part of Japan…a part that perhaps the Japanese people themselves cannot see, since it is an outsider’s privilege to observe from without. But then again, who can be said to see every part of any object? What goes for Japan also goes for the world…you can one part, but it won’t be the entirety of it. I can say, however, that I saw enough. Enough for what? That’s for me to know and for you to guess. ^_^

On the trip, I also wondered what about my own view of anime in general, the artform so dear to my heart. There are, and will be, fangirls and fanboys of every denomination…rabid otaku in blind worship of consumer goods. But there also be fans with a mission, with zeal (perhaps too much of it) and a drive to create. I think Rika-chan’s performance really brought it home to me – is there a limit? When is too much passion, too much effort spent, too much being a fan, crossing the line? Or even…is there a line, and should it be crossed?

I think those are questions each and every anime fan has to ask him or herself to some degree. After seeing Murakami’s art I find myself contemplating these issues a lot more – his sculptures and works sent a powerful message. Are fans, like he says, drowning themselves in their obssession? Seeking refuge in a fantasy world? But at the same time who is to say that the creation of this world is inherently a bad thing? On a basic level…it’s anime art asking anime questions in an anime world.

Lots of questions, not so many answers – but hey, I think it’s more fun that way. For better or for worse, that’s just my personal take on things.

And so that about wraps it up. Feel free to send comments, questions, marriage proposals, cash gifts or any other sort of solicitations, either through email (ka*************@ya***.sg) or through the weblog form.



Credits :

XR for putting up with me for the entire trip. I know it’ s hard job, but someone’s got to do it…look at me man, I do it all the time.

My parents for sponsoring part of the trip. (one more than the other)

My sister for helping with the scanning of the photos and general help and support.

All the cats I met on the trip, for being so cute.

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