30 January 2003

  • Still not back to normal. For now, I'll just say that a 27 second preview for episode 4 of URDA is now available for download until 20 February 2003. Just click on the #4 link on the left hand side of that page. For more details about the anime and how to view it, see my 7 and 12 May 2002 entries. Episode 4 itself will be available on 23 February 2003.

28 January 2003

  • Sorry, it'll take me some time to properly get back to updating this page with news. Further, for some time, I find that I've been watching less anime, for various reasons. Even when I have a bit of spare time, I find that I'm more likely to pick up a manga than reach for a DVD...
  • Anyway, volume 1 of The Big O Second Season will be released on 23 May 2003, catalogue number BCBA-1591, price 3,800 yen (including tax). First pressing will come with a box to hold all 7 volumes. Source: CDJapan.
  • Episode 3 of the full 3D CG independent anime URDA by Romanov Higa is now available for download. Just click on the #3 link on the left hand side of that page. For more details about the anime and how to view it, see my 7 and 12 May 2002 entries. However, I've had problems extracting the file myself this time, and haven't been able to view the episode yet ^_^;; Hope you have more luck...
  • The final chapter (chapter 4 of story 4) of the "sound novel" Kamakur@ Love is now up. For more info, see my entry on 31 May 2002.

27 January 2003 (updated)

  • Last Friday, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi was broadcast on Japanese TV for the first time. After the movie, there was a short interview about Hauru no Ogoku Shiro (Howl's Moving Castle), slated for released in the (northern) summer of 2004. You can view the interview here as a wmv file. Hopefully the clip works, I had problems with uploading ^_^;; There you'll see a model of the moving castle (there was also draft artwork up at the Ghibli Museum) and hear director Miyazaki Hayao lightheartedly wonder whether they'll be able to finish the movie in time. Also interviewed was producer Suzuki Toshio, who said that Miyazaki loves big things that move. Suzuki continued that the story was about Sophie, a girl who was transformed into a 90 year old woman by a witch, and meets the moving castle. Finally, Naito Takashi (the seiyuu for Chihiro's father in Sen to Chihiro) said that he was looking forward to the movie and that since the title had the word "no" in it, like many of Studio Ghibli's works, this might ensure the success of the movie. Thanks again to friend Yankumi for the clip \^_^/
  • To start off my page again, I'll deal with DVD releases first:

    Hunter X Hunter Greed Island Arc OVA volume 1 will be released on 19 February 2003 and the first pressing will come with a box to hold all volumes, a GI binder and a postcard, price 7,140 yen (including tax), duration 47 minutes. Volumes 2-4 will be released on 19 March 2003, 2 April 2003 and 23 April 2003 respectively at the same price. Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    Hungry Heart volume 1 will be released on 19 February 2003, catalogue number PCBP-50673, price 3,990 yen (including tax). Volume 2 will be released on 19 March 2003 at the same price. Duration 90 minutes each. Source: Animate Yokohama, Musicmarket and Mangaoh Club.

    Shin Seiki Den Mars volumes 1 and 2 will be released on 21 February 2003 and volumes 3-5 on 21 March 2003, price 6,090 yen (including tax) each, duration 60 minutes each. Catalogue numbers PAND-5001 to PAND-5005 respectively. Source: Animate Yokohama, Musicmarket and Mangaoh Club.

    The Kiddy Grade PV promotional DVD will be released on 25 February 2003 with three different covers: red/Eclair, blue/Lumiere and black/both characters, price 1,785 yen (including tax). Duration 5 minutes. Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    In addition, volume 2 of Kiddy Grade will be released on 25 March 2003. The Collector's Edition will come with a box to hold the first half (6 volumes) of the series, price 7,800 yen (excluding tax). The regular edition will cost 5,800 yen (excluding tax). Duration 47 minutes. Source: Musicmarket.

    BonoBono movie will be released on 25 February 2003, catalogue number BCBA-1561, price 5,040 yen (including tax), duration 104 minutes. This is the second movie, not the CG movie which was in the cinemas in Japan last year. That movie, Kumomo no Ki no Koto, will be released on 21 March 2003, price 4,800 yen (excluding tax), duration 61 minutes. Source: Animate Yokohama, Musicmarket and Mangaoh Club.

    Kino no Tabi ~ Totteoki no Hanashi ~ will be released on 25 February 2003, price 3,500 yen (including tax), duration 12 minutes. This is the short anime with 32 page booklet, not the TV series. Source: Animate. Animate Yokohama has the release dated as 1 March 2003. You can also download a sample movie from this page of the official website here.

    Naruto volume 3 will be released on 5 March 2003 and the first pressing will come with a box to hold all the volumes and trading card, price 4,095 yen (including tax), duration 70 minutes. Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    RahXephon movie Tagen Hensoukyoku (Pluralistic Variation) Special DVD with advance sale ticket (a first pressing limited edition item) will be released on 7 March 2003 with staff and cast interviews, special promotion movie, special 40 minute digest movie "Tsubasa no Kioku ~ memory". Total duration approximately 60 minutes. Price 2,800 yen (excluding tax). Source: Mangaoh Club and official site.

    Sakura Taisen Ecole de Paris OVA volume 1 will be released on 19 March 2003, price 6,090 yen (including tax). Duration 30 minutes. First pressing (catalogue number HSB-3) will come with a 12cm CD with the new ED. Catalogue number for regular edition is HSB-4. This is a 3 volume series. Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna ~ will be released on 19 March 2003 and first pressing will come with a box to hold all volumes and picture label disc, price 4,725 (including tax). Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    Hanada Shonen Shi volume 1 will be released on 19 March 2003, catalogue number VPBY-11691, price 5,800 yen (excluding tax), duration 72 minutes. Source: Musicmarket and Mangaoh Club.

    L/R volume 1 will be released on 21 March 2003. The first pressing limited edition version will come with a box and will cost 6,000 yen (excluding tax). Source: Musicmarket.

    Pia Carrot e Youkoso!! ~ Sayaka no Koi Monogatari ~ movie will be released on 21 March 2003 in a first pressing limited edition which will come in a bookcase illustrated by Kishimoto Seiji with a B2 poster and 8 page booklet, catalogue number PIBA-3153, price 7,140 yen (including tax). Source: Animate Yokohama and Mangaoh Club.

    Bakuten Shoot Beyblade the Movie Gekitou!! Takao vs Daichi will be released on 21 March 2003, price 4,410 yen (including tax), duration 70 minutes. First pressing will come with an original Beyblade premium pack. Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    Barom One volume 1 will be released on 25 March 2003, price 3,800 yen (excluding tax), duration 30 minutes. Source: Musicmarket.

    Kidou Senshi Gundam Seed volume 1 will be released on 28 March 2003 and the first pressing will come with B2 poster, 4 playing cards and liner notes. One volume will be released around the same time each month up to volume 13 on 25 March 2004. First pressing of each of the later volumes will also come with 4 playing cards, presumably so that at the end you end up with a full deck of playing cards. Price 6,300 yen each (including tax). Source: Animate Yokohama.

    Stratos Four volume 1 will be released on 28 March 2003 and first pressing will come with a special SD character magnet, price 3,990 yen (including tax), duration 45 minutes. Volumes 2-4 are due out on 25 April 2003, 23 May 2003 and 27 June 2003 respectively, price 6,000 yen each (excluding tax), duration 45 minutes each. Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    Devilman OVA Collection will be released on 28 March 2003, price 7,800 yen (excluding tax), duration 112 minutes. First pressing will come with storyboards for the second OVA. Source: Musicmarket.

    Mahoromatic ~ Motto Utsukushii Mono ~ volume 5 will be released on 2 April 2003 and the first pressing will come with a box to hold three volumes, 3D card, (mobile phone?) strap and booklet. Price 5,250 yen (including tax), duration 50 minutes. Source: Animate Yokohama and Musicmarket.

    Asobotto Senki Gokuu volume 1 will be released on 23 April 2003, price 2,079 yen (including tax). Source: Animate Yokohama.

    Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magical te volume 2.5 will be released on 23 May 2003 and first pressing will come with box to hold all volumes and Komugi-chan figure. All editions will come with 8 page booklet. Price 5,250 yen (including tax). Catalogue number PIBA-7175 (first pressing limited edition), PIBA-7176 (regular edition). Pre-order cutoff date is 12 March 2003. The official sequel to the series, volume 3, will follow in the (northern) summer. Source: Animate Yokohama and official site.

    Boukensha (The Adventurer) volumes 1 and 2 will be released on 23 May 2003, price 3,800 yen each (excluding tax). Volumes 3 and 4 will be released on 27 June 2003 at the same price. Source: Musicmarket.

    I'm sure the news of the Evangelion release has been fully reported and you can find some details at CDJapan's Evangelion page, but just wanted to point out that the Shin Seiki Evangelion DVD box to be released on 25 June 2003 will contain not only all 26 episodes of the TV series and retake version of Revival of Evangelion 01, Evangelion: Death (True)^2, Revivial of Evangelion 02, Air/Magokoro o Kimi ni, but it'll also come with a bonus disc. Price to be determined. Source: Official site.

25 January 2003 (minor revisions)

  • Tadaima! Yes, I'm back. Hello...? Anyone out there...? Actually I've been back for about a week or so, but I've been taking my time getting back online. Good thing this the Australia Day long weekend - I've got more time to waste over the next few days. Plus I get to watch Australia hopefully pummel the ever-dismal English cricket team again today ^_^ Australia Day commemorates the landing of the English fleet on the east coast of Australia centuries back. Though like Columbus Day in the US, celebration of the event is a bit controversial because it also harks back to the beginning of a disastrous period for the indigenous population.

There and back again

  • I've been There and back again. On the way, I stopped off at a few locations including Singapore and Seattle. Friend Mr Bear did in fact tie the knot and went off for a mini-honeymoon with Mrs Bear. For good Japanese food in Singapore, I recommend Main's Japanese Meal House at 15 Stanley Street, though they were considering moving location while I was there. In Seattle I visited the Wing Luke Asian Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute) in the International District. While the primary focus of the exhibition seems to be Chinese immigration, there's also an exhibit on the US internment of Japanese residents and citizens during World War II, including a mini-creation of a portion of a barbed wire camp. As always with museums of this sort, there's always an abundance of eye-witness accounts and other documents (in this case, the Japanese section is a computerised record titled the Densho Project) which you can never fully digest unless you spend at least a whole day at the museum. I was going to leave a donation, but forgot to in the end... ^_^;;
  • Watched the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie with my brother in Seattle - he's there working/training for a year or two. The movie was good, but not great. Still, I'm looking forward to the final movie in the trilogy. Though I already know the ending now. Frodo has failed. On flights to and from Japan, I also managed to watch the Japanese movies Ping Pong and Tsuri-baka Nisshi 13 (The Diary of a Fishing Fool 13, although the official English title was Free and Easy 13). The movie is based on the manga by Yamasaki Juzo (story) and Kitami Kenichi (art). The anime version of the manga commenced in November 2002. Since returning to Australia, I've also watched the DVD of the hit Korean romantic comedy My Sassy Girl - a good movie, with great performances by the two stars, with Jeon Ji-hyun as the girl, and especially Cha Tae-hyun as the male lead.
  • Things I learned during my trip:

    When something is warm, Seattleites (that's the official name) refer to it as being "toasty".

    If something is impressive, the Japanese word of choice is "sugoi" (or its derivatives).

    A friend told me that if you buy loose socks (like the ones Japanese school girls wear), you get a small bottle of glue to help keep the socks up.

    Kinokuniya Bookstores is the best bookstore in the world. I got the Chen Shu Fen and Ping Fan artbook "En Toutes Saisons" in a Kinokuniya bookstore in south-east Asia.

    The amount of anime, manga and anime related books available in the US has really grown. This only reinforces my opinion that in some ways the US is the best place to live if you're an anime/manga fan, even considering Japan.

    I had a great time in every place I visited, but Australia is Home.

    I didn't miss maintaining this webpage at all (but I'll still continue to do it for now). Which is kinda nice to know - that I could just suddenly stop and wouldn't have any regrets. I'll slowly get back to updating this page, though I might not bother to go over news of the past month, and if some stuff I report is no longer be news in the West then too bad :P  I also have a few projects in mind of useless info which I can post on this website, info even more useless than usual... Look forward to it :)
  • Travelling around in today's security-conscious world, I was expecting to be searched, at least upon arriving in the US. However, I had no problems with customs in any nation I visited, except one: Australia. Yes, no nation considered me suspicious or any kind of particular threat except my own homeland. I was questioned by airport security while waiting for my bags. Twice. It's great to be home.
  • One thing that was strange, though, was that when I arrived in SeaTac airport, they x-rayed the luggage again. Firstly, we arrived and picked up our luggage from the conveyor belt, then handed the luggage back to security to x-ray and then had to go to another building to pick up our luggage from a second conveyor belt all over again. If you're looking for explosives, you'd check before the flight, not after it, so I guess they must've been looking for narcotics or something...
  • Had eventful journey to Tokyo. Leaving Seattle on Sunday 5 January 2003, I was supposed to fly to Washington DC for a connecting flight to Frankfurt and then another connecting flight to Tokyo. (Why travel that way? It's an even longer story...) But as (bad) luck would have it, something happened at each of those three airports that day: USA Today's Monday 6 January 2003 edition newspaper reports at page 4A "At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, thousands of travelers were delayed when four terminals had to be evacuated because a security screener fell asleep at his post, officials said. The concourses were closed for about two hours while security personnel checked for bombs." At the airport, they didn't announce that someone had fallen asleep, of course - this wouldn't have impressed the many travelers crammed into the one entry hall. Instead, they just anounced that there was a "security-related issue" and it was being investigated. But camera crews were there, and I heard somewhere that a person had fallen asleep for about 30 minutes. This meant the everyone in the airport had to be cleared out, even those sitting in planes waiting to take off. Everyone in the airport then had to go through security again. Lucky me. The newspaper also states on page 3A "First snowstorm of 2003. Winter in Washington". This snowstorm arrived just in time to cause some disruption at Washington DC's Dulles airport for me. Not enough disruption to delay my connecting flight, however. As a result of the delay at SeaTac, I missed my connecting flight. Not to worry however, because the newspaper also reported at page 10A "Frankfurt, Germany - A man stole a small aircraft at gunpoint Sunday and flew it over downtown Frankfurt, circling skyscrapers and threatening to crash into the European Central Bank. ... Frankfurt international airport was closed." Some flights to Frankfurt were cancelled. Just great. In the end, I arrived in Tokyo effectively a day late. My luggage arrived a day after me... Wonderful. Things seem to happen around me when I travel. When I traveled through the US in 1993, I arrived in LA the day after the big earthquake. While I travelled through Europe in 1994, it was the "floods of the century". I'm just lucky, I guess.
  • No problems entering Japan on an Australian passport, but I heard that Japan is also tightening its visa controls. I was told that previously Malaysians didn't have problems entering Japan, but that recently a Malaysian family wishing to visit for a few days had to provide proof they had sufficient funds to support themselves in Japan during their stay (even though both husband and wife are doctors), proof from their hospital that they actually worked there, letters from the principals of their children's schools to confirm that their children were enrolled in school in Malaysia etc.


  • I stayed in Ikebukero this time, on the Tobu department store side of the train station, rather than the Seibu department store side. (The anime and manga stores tend to be on the Seibu store side, though.) Walking the chilly streets home late each night was always an exercise in trying to dodge the guys in their thick, long black coats offering vouchers for restaurants, clubs etc and the girls in the long padded parkas either welcoming people into restaurants, clubs etc or offering a "massage", which, I'm told, in the Ikebukero district means more than just a massage. Some of the girls working in Ikebukeruo aren't Japanese, but are from some other other Asian nation, as I could tell when they chatted to each other. For occasions like this, I was thankful that I was able to tell whoever approched me that I couldn't speak Japanese. They'd generally leave me alone then, though some would try a second language.
  • Thanks to friend Yankumi who emailed me photos using a digital camera to help me find my way around Tokyo upon arrival.
  • As you may know, most of the streets in Japan don't have names, so it can be difficult to navigate your way, even as a native. As a result, you'll find maps of the locality posted up here and there when you walk around. I'd brought with me some maps to places and shops I wanted to visit, but they were in my luggage, which of course hadn't arrived yet. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised to find on this trip that I was able to use the telephone directories and the maps posted up to find my way around ^_^
  • As expected, it wasn't rare to see ads for anime or manga in Japan - most common at the time were ads relating to Inuyasha and various manga magazines including Comic Bunch, together with an ad for some live action Sailor Moon performance... I also have a greater appreciation of the role in the train in Japanese lives and why some people are train lovers, why GAiNAX works seem peppered with images of railways etc.
  • Gotta love the Japanese financial system. Had fun making sure I had enough cash on me in Japan, due to the inability of almost all ATMs there to accept international credit cards and the fact that not all establishments accept credit cards. Even my hotel didn't accept credit cards, though admittedly it was a ryokan with tatami mat etc, rather than a large Western style hotel. But I understand Citibank ATMs will accept international credit cards, and there was a Citibank near me in Ikebukero (at the 8th or 9th floor of Metropolitan Plaza, IIRC). But even then, bear in mind that the ATM is generally within the grounds of the bank, so when the bank closes, you generally won't be able to access the ATM either. Thankfully crime isn't just a big issue so I didn't feel so paranoid carrying large wads of cash around with me.
  • Oh yeah, the post offices don't credit card either. And if you're concerned that your last-minute purchase doesn't fit into your luggage (like mine didn't), there's no need to worry. There's a post office at the airport, and since there's a curfew on flights out of Narita airport at night, the chances are that the airport will be open when you're flying. BTW, if you're looking for a 24 hour post office, there's one in Shinjuku a few blocks from the west exit of the station.
  • I noticed that some petrol stations had the pumps hanging down from overhead. I figured this was a factor of space considerations and not wishing to take up the available floor space with bowsers. Parking was also expensive, with some car parks in the Ikebukero area charging about A$4 per 30 minutes. I'm sure busier areas in Tokyo would charge a lot more.


  • On this trip, I ate better than my last trip, when I basically survived on pot noodles (and even those weren't cheap when converted into A$). Ate real okonomiyaki for the first time with a friend, in Shinjuku. And made it a point to avoid Western food such as McDonald's.
  • On my train journey to Hakone (see below), the lady seated next to me kindly gave me one of her mandarin oranges. Very nice of her (good mandarin, too). Unfortunately I had nothing which I could properly offer her... ^_^;; I'd bought a bento for the train journey, but it would've been strange to offer her some of that. First time I've bought one of those bentos. I traveled on the trains across Japan much more on my previous trip, but was a tight budget then. And while I was expecting the bento to be the equivalent of the train/ferry food you might find in the West (ie barely fit for human consumption), the bento was surprisingly good, with a selection of chicken, meat and scallop.
  • My friend also took me to one of the Shinjuku branches of the Mo-Mo-Paradise restaurants. This chain focuses on shabu-shabu and sukiyaki. There were a lot of people lined up for a table. As with everything in Japan, space is a premium, and upon the lift doors opening, we could already people standing and sitting in the entry. However, it only took us 25 minutes to get a table in the end. People didn't seem to have problems eating beef, but that was before they found the 6th and 7th mad cow in the past week... Anyway, the good thing about Mo-Mo-Paradise is that you can eat all the shabu-shabu (or sukiyaki, if that's what you ordered) you want. Though perhaps there's time limit of 90 minutes. Still, my friend and I were full after an hour. First time I've tried shabu-shabu too.
  • Friend also took me to a tonkatsu restaurant, also in Shinjuku and also of a restaurant chain, where you grind your own sesame seeds before mixing it with the sauce, and where you get all the rice and lettuce you can eat to go with your katsu. Unfortunately I can't remember the name.
  • During my travels, I found out that the drink Calpis (whether the Water or Soda variety) tastes great, but when ordering it, you'll need to pronounce it "Karupisu" since pronouncing how it is written on the can "Calpis" will only confuse people and lead them to think you're trying to order Coca Cola. Weird, but that's my experience. Cold Georgia Coffee out of a vending machine is good too, but cold green tea must be an acquired taste - I didn't like it. Some vending machines feature competitions so you can buy your drink and win a prize at the same time - not that I won anything. My aunt also traveled to Hokkaido and bought back some sembei and other snacks like Corn Chocolate by Hori Confectionary. Yum.


  • This was my third trip to Japan (the first time, I wasn't a fan of Japanese entertainment). So this time, I visited places which I haven't been to before, like Tokyo Tower and Ueno Park. The Ueno Park area has a number of attractions including the Tokyo National Museum, Toshogu Shrine, Kiyomizu-do Kannon Temple and Shitamachi Museum. The Shitamachi Museum features a reproduction of a few buildings Tokyo in the 1920s so you can get an idea of how people lived then. I also visited the Tsukiji Fish Markets again, but this time I went early enough (about 6am) to see the real action. My friend and I also considered getting tickets to watch some sumo, since while I was there the tournament commenced, but we ultimately decided against it because of the cost.
  • There was a relatively minor earthquake (between 5 and 6 on the Richter scale) while I was at the Tokyo National Museum, but I didn't notice it. Did I mention that I slept through the LA earthquake in 1993? Actually I was in San Diego at the time, but it seems my roommate noticed it...
  • Want to see how the people lived in Meiji Japan in the time of the Rurouni Kenshin? Visit the Fukugawa Edo Museum, with its 11 or so buildings which re-create a Meiji period neighbourhood, where you can enter the buildings (remember to take off your shoes), handle all the items etc. However, it's a 15 minute walk from the Monzen-Nakacho subway station and I didn't notice any English signs to the place, so you'll need to be able to read maps and recognise the name of the museum in kanji. The museum itself has no English explanations either.
  • I was in Japan for the Seinen no Hi public holiday (Coming of Age Day), but I didn't realise I should visit the shrines for the best place to see the young women in their kimonos (and perhaps guys in their suits). Still, I did notice a few young women in their kimonos on the streets, beautifully made up, one traveling with her mother(?) and a photographer in tow (actually, the photographer was ahead of her, since she was obliged to take small steps). Harder to notice the guys, since suits wouldn't really stand out. Overall, this time 'round, I don't think I saw as many women in traditional Japanese dress out and about. In fact, it was a few days before I came across even one person in traditional dress.
  • One thing I noticed more of, however, was homeless people. On my last trip, in 1996 or 1997 (I forget when), I don't recall seeing homeless until reaching Osaka. But this time, I noticed quite a lot of homeless at Ueno Park and a few in other places, such as the underground mall at Ikebukero Station. The homeless always seem to be men, not women, and they don't beg for money, unlike people in North America (Canada and the US).

Anime, manga and shopping

  • When I first decided to visit Tokyo, it was more as a shopping trip than for seeing the sites, but when I arrived, I realised that nowadays, with the internet I can order most of the anime, manga, CDs, magazines I want, and had already done so. So there wasn't a lot that I actually knew I wanted to buy anime/manga-wise.
  • Still, I managed to pick up my copy of the I''s OVA volume 1 DVD. Also, second-hand stores like K-Books and Mandarake are great places to try new manga I haven't read before (since the books aren't sealed in plastic and prices are cheap). Unfortunately I wasn't able to find many R.O.D goods at all, and only ended up with a clear file at Animate. There weren't even any Read Or Dream goods, but I guess it's still a bit too early to start marketing the TV series. Did manage to find three R.O.D doujinshi, but all three were hentai. The Haibane Renmei OST was sold out everywhere I went across Tokyo.
  • I could've spent more time in Tokyo, and never really fully explored any district. Well, at least I'll have something to do the next time 'round ^_- In Ikebukero, I visited Animate (which multi-storey building is now only "cramped" when full of customers, compared to the store's smaller location in 1996 or so, which was extremely cramped), K-Books for second hand manga (which Ikebukero branch has two locations), Books La Shin Bang for doujinshi and goods, Manga no Mori (where you get paper book covers for each manga tankouban you purchase) and Comic Toranoana for doujinshi and manga (a shame they don't accept orders from overseas). The first three stores are all located along the same road, which makes it convenient for the fan. There was a free Tenhiro Naoto (of Sister Princess fame) art exhibit at Ikebukero while I was there, but I'm not a fan of the series, so I didn't bother going, though the building was pretty much across the road from Animate. At Nakano, there was Mandarake with its multiple locations, as well as Anime World Star for cels and Fujiya Avic (also with multiple locations) for CDs and DVDs, old and new, all in the same Nakano Broadway building right next to the station. At Nakano Broadway, I also found the DVD for the Hong Kong triad movie Young and Dangerous 3, which I had scoured the stores of south east Asia and the Chinatowns of Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria for without success. I was surprised to find it in all places at the little store Jasmin Tea in Tokyo, which appears to specialise in Hong Kong DVDs and CDs. At Shinjuku there was of course the large multi-storey Kinokuniya Bookstore in the annex to Takashimaya Times Square, Comic Toranoana again and Yodobashi Camera which sells much more than cameras, including anime CDs and DVDs. These are of course only some of the larger stores which I visited. There were others which I can't remember the details of. And unfortunately I didn't get as much time to shop around Shinjuku as I was hoping for. And of course, from time to time I'd pop into various HMV etc stores, although stores like that don't tend to stock a wide selection of anime CDs etc.
  • Since most things are available over the internet nowadays, I decided this time to try to concentrate on shopping for stuff which might be harder to get, such as doujinshi. And where else would you find monthly magazines on kendo? ^_^ This is the first time I've really delved into the world of doujinshi. I found one of Yuki Nobuteru's artbooks "Anvil III (The Man in the High Castle - Rough-Drawing Works)", as well as some of Kawarashima Kou's, and also Yoshitoshi Abe's "Sketches 2000.9-12" and volume 2 of his "Old Home no Haibane-tachi" doujinshi ^_^ At Comic Toranoana, since all the doujinshi are sealed (as they are at any store), there'll usually be one copy of each doujin which is tagged as the sample copy. On the back of that copy will be a photocopy of one or more pages, so you can get an idea of what the artwork is like inside. Some of the other doujinshi stores follow this practice. Further, at Toranoana, the tags of the sample copies are outlined in red if they're hentai and are outlined in green if they're for a general audience. Though bear in mind that this is Japan. Even if a doujinshi is marked green, there can still be nudity etc, it's just that the nudity is not used in any hentai or erotic manner, such as you get nudity in Ranma 1/2. Apparently the Shinjuku branch of Comic Toranoana had to arrange access via a second elevator because the other tenants in the building (mainly restaurants) complained that Toranoana customers were monopolising the elevator - there's always someone traveling from the sixth floor (where the store is) to the ground, and vice versa. I also learnt that different doujinshi stores will have carry different doujinshi and that prices will vary. So if you've got the time, shop around for the doujinshi you're looking for. For example, I found some doujinshi in Comic Toranoana at a price only 60% of that charged in Books La Shin Bang, but then Books La Shin Bang had other doujinshi which were considerably cheaper than at Mandarake.
  • Then at Akihabara, I visited Animate (multi-storey of course), Melon Books for more doujinshi and manga, Yamagiwa Soft for CDs and DVDs (they at least had the CD single for ED to Haibane Renmei) and Ishimaru for more CDs and DVDs. In addition, one floor of AkiDepa (Akihabara Department Store) in the same building as the train station sells anime, manga, toys, goods, model train equipment etc. They used to have a Gundam Cafe there as well, but it was closed by the time I got there. By the way, the AkiDepa website closed on 31 December 2002, sorry ^_^;; I was lucky that all DVDs were 20% when I was there, but as previously mentioned, I realised that there wasn't that much that I wanted but hadn't already ordered online... Then at the Akihabara multi-story branch of Gamers, I had a meal at the Gamers Cafe on the top floor, where the all female staff wear Galaxy Angel type uniforms. I can recommend the curry pilaf, served on the Gamers dishware which you can purchase on the ground floor. My friend ordered a mint blanmanche. I wanted to take a photo of the place, but thought perhaps cameras (still and video) might be prohibited. In any event, no one else was taking photos. In the end I didn't get time to visit the branches of Comic Toranoana and K-Books in Akihabara, nor a variety of other stores. Nor did I even get time to visit Liberty, the store for second-hand CDs and DVDs. They also sell new items, and sometimes at a discount, so it's a great store with about six locations around Akihabara and one or two other locations around Tokyo. Last time I was in Japan, I spent a small fortune on LDs at Liberty and then only just made it to the post office before closing time the day before my flight (and then had to look for an ATM which would accept an international credit card to withdraw cash for postage, but that's another long story). This time, all I could manage was a few minutes at Liberty's small Ikebukero outlet.
  • If you're buying something from anime or manga stores, you'll often be asked two questions. Firstly, many stores (and all the well known ones) will ask if you have a point card, ie a membership card whereby you earn points for each purchase, which can later be traded in for goods. I generally didn't bother getting a point card for the stores I shopped at, since I was likely to shop at each store only once, but I did end up with an Animate card and a few points. Some of the point cards have a technology which I haven't seen in Australia before, or perhaps I just don't get out enough... The points are printed on the metallic portion of the card and each time you shop, the points are updated. The new number doesn't perfectly overwrite the old number, but it's still kinda interesting. Apart from that, Animate was also running some promotion at the time, and with the Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna ~ scratchies I received, I earned enough promotional points to trade in for a Rikujyou Bouei Tai Mao-chan (Ground Defense Force Mao-chan) kairo (pocket heater). Maybe I spent too much time in Animate stores, but somewhere along the line, the Spiral OP "Kibouhou" got stuck in my head.
  • But I'm getting off the subject, if you're paying by credit card, the second question you're likely to be asked by the anime/manga store is how many instalments you want the total cost to be charged to your card in. I don't recall being asked this at non-anime/manga stores. Is this because anime/manga stores realise that their customers are poorer and may need to manage their debt by paying it off by instalments?
  • At the top floor of the Akihabara branch of Animate, I also got to watch the three minute pilot film for Shinkai Makoto's next work: Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Bassho, official English title "The Place Promised In Our Early Days". The Akihabara store also screens it on the ground floor, IIRC. It's got that Shinkai style written all over it, but this time with better animation of the characters, as it's not a one-man show this time, although he's still wearing many hats. And music is still by Tenmon. You can now download the pilot at the bottom of the above page, and in addition, it'll be included on the DVD with the March 2003 issue of Japanese Newtype and on a special Shinkai Makoto CD-ROM with the March 2003 issue of Animage, both on sale in February.
  • Actually, when you add up all my purchases in Tokyo with the stuff I shipped back and the orders which arrived while I was overseas, it's about four full, big boxes ^_^;; But it was mainly printed material this time, rather than CDs or DVDs or LDs. I won't go through all of it, but I did manage to find a Promotion DVD for Cosplay Complex - nothing but a cut-and-paste 3 minute 50 second clip on it - fine as a collector's item but otherwise not worth the money. When I bought volume 1 of the Haibane Renmei DVD, I got a poster, which was nice. And also picked up some Odex DVDs (ie licensed Singaporean DVDs with English subtitles) while I was in Singapore, but again I've had no time to check them out. The risque Shirow Masamune posters continue in Uppers magazine, with three posters in the last three issues. I also got the Shirow "Pile Up" manga with CD-ROM, though of course I haven't had the time to go through it. It's a short manga, and pretty expensive for the price, but it's well presented with hardback manga and similar size CD case in a slipcase. I would've preferred that the CD-ROM was artwork rather than displaying the manga on computer with sound effects and music, though. (For more info, see my 19 November 2002 entry). Also got my January 2003 issue of Ultrajump magazine with the Tenjou Tenge bandana. And got my December 2002 issue of Animage magazine with Di Gi Charat T-shirt. Got my limited edition first edition copy of volume 9 of the manga Tenjou Tenge with Natsume Maya figure ^_^ Actually, I think the figure looks a bit better than the original colour photos suggested. IIRC, the manga with figure was already in the display case at K-Books in Ikebukero, which is usually reserved for more expensive or rarer items. Also got my copy of the tankouban Ultrajump Megamix Vol. 1 with short story "S - song of sapphire star" by Oh! great. Again, no time to go through it properly yet, but the artwork by all the various mangaka in the anthology comic is good. Also got some VCDs for some doramas including "Golden Bowl" - I didn't feel I could justify the cost of getting DVD box sets for those. More stuff to add to my already large backlog of stuff to watch and stuff to read. One of the problems with this, is that I can't recall what I've already bought or ordered but haven't read. When I returned home, I realised that I'd bought a second copy of about five different manga. I've got two copies of volume 2 of Koikaze now -_- I was hoping to pick up some J-pop CDs on my trip as well, but in the end couldn't decide on what to get. Oh well. On the other hand, during my trip, I was able to read the three volumes of the Alien 9 manga. Wow, the four episode OVA series was really only about a third of the story. Looking forward to the sequel now, currently serialised in the monthly manga magazine Champion Red. I've also pretty much completed my KOR audio-visual collection \^_^/ Plus, also found a bit of a Tenjou Tenge clone: Ikki Tousen by Shiozaki Yuuji, serialised in Wani Books' manga magazine Comic Gum. Sonsaku Hakufu reminds me of Natsume Maya. Another fighting manga in a high-school setting. Hakufu wears basically the same school uniform as my pic of Maya. Even some of the drawings, character positions etc remind me of Oh! great's work. Shiozaki's style is a bit more cartoonish though. In the end, I didn't buy as much as I expected. Then again, there was one purchase which made a big dent in my finances. See the next section...

Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

  • I visited the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka! I didn't realise Mitaka was near to Tokyo, so I hadn't planned to visit the place, but during my trip, I met a friend who mentioned that she'd gone in December and explained that I'd need to purchase a ticket at Lawson's. Then, by chance, I was in a Lawson's convenience store on 10 January 2003. In Japan you have to purchase the tickets at the ticket machine at Lawon's convenience stores (or via the Lawson website or subscribe to the Lawson mobile phone service). Further, when I read the back of a Ghibli book on sale at Lawson's, it stated that tickets for each month went on sale on the 10th of that month, so it was pure coincidence that I was there on the right day. It was about 8.30am but tickets for the weekend were already sold out. And since I was leaving on Monday, I settled for a ticket for 4pm that day. The process can be a bit involved if you don't know Japanese, so the best thing would be to book your tickets overseas before you leave for Japan. Though I had a bit of fun trying to work out how to input my name in hiragana on the Lawson computer ^_^;;
  • The museum is about a 15 minute walk from the Mitaka station, but the path is pretty straightforward and there are signs to ensure you remain on track. Alternatively, you can catch the Ghibli bus from next to the station to the museum for 200 yen for adults. It's actually one of the munipical buses, and has other stops, but it's painted with Ghibli designs and people really just use it to get between the museum and the station. Get on and pay with exchange change but you don't get any form of ticket. You must enter the museum within 30 minutes of your allotted time. Although my allotted time was 4pm, I arrived half an hour early and they still let me in.
  • As implied above, you can't just turn up at the museum and purchase a ticket to enter. You need to reserve the time and date of your entry via Lawson's first. Upon entering the museum, you then receive a little negative of a few frames from a particular Ghibli movie. Mine's of the Baron from Mimi o Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart), one of my favourite Ghibli movies. The museum itself is small, three floors, and basically just explains the principles and processes behind traditional animation via Ghibli storyboards, cels etc, so if you're familiar with the animation process there won't really be anything new to you except for a few short anime. In any event, there are no English explanations. But it's still a magical place, with Ghibli artwork everywhere placed in a casual yet appealing fashion. Loved the stained creations of Yasuda Yuriko and Takaaki, who fashioned approximately 100 works for doors, windows, lampshades etc. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited in the museum. There's also a giant Laputa robot on the roof, which can be seen from outside the museum. And at the Saturn Theatre inside the museum, the short film currently being screened is "Mei to Ko-nekobus" (Mei and the Little Catbus), a 13 minute 43 second, DTS sound, work - no additional fee to view it. The third floor is just really a bookstore and giftstore (apart from a giant plush Catbus that kids can play in, but an adult would be embarrassed to enter ^_^;; ), so there are only two small floors of exhibits. Don't forget to visit the toilets as well. They contain a bit of artwork as well, plus those hi-tech toilets with seat warmer, water sprays to clean your derriere, etc ^_^ The one place I didn't get to visit was the Ghibli Museum Cafe. Although the museum closes at 6pm, patrons of the cafe are allowed to remain in that section until 7pm. In any event, the menu for the cafe appears extremely expensive: standard drinks start at 400 yen. Even though you may get a little Ghibli flag to decorate your meal, or even though the straws used for the drink are actually made of straw, I don't think that really justifies the cost... Even the Gamers Cafe prices were more reasonable.
  • The store, called Mamma Aiuto!, doesn't sell the video or DVD of Mei to Ko-nekobus, so I had to settle for a 22 page softcover picture book (400 yen, no ISBN but the barcode on the back reads 4-571101-908312) and the CD soundtrack (about 9 minutes long, IIRC, price 1,000 yen including tax, catalogue number MDG-R-00003: the MDG stands for "Museo D'Arte Ghibli", I think). Music for the anime was composed by Hisaishi Jo of course, and is basically drawn from his original themes in Tonari no Totoro. Original work, script and direction by Miyazaki Hayao. Animation quality was good - that Ghibli seamless fusion of traditional animation with computer animation (though I guess nowadays even the traditional animation is done via computer). The work required approximately 15,000 cels to produce, that's over 18 cels per second.
  • Of course, I also bought the "Ghibli Museum, Mitaka" book (in Japanese) at the Tri Hawks bookstore, together with a set of postcards. The Totoro zeotrope on the ground floor was wonderful, I thought, and it makes a fitting cover for the book. In addition, at a Lawson's convenience store, I also bought "A Guide to Ghibli Museum, Mitaka" (in Japanese), which appears to have been published on 10 January 2003, the day I was in Lawson's - another coincidence. The latter book includes an interview with Miyazaki Gorou, Hayao's eldest son, who manages the museum. It also has a few useless facts at the end, like, 40% of patrons come from the Tokyo region, the remaining 60% outside Tokyo (17% from Kanagawa, 10% from Chiba; there's no indication of how many are foreigners). I wonder if the details are worked out from the phone number you give when you purchase your ticket. In this case, I gave the number of my ryokan in Tokyo. 43% of patrons visit as couples, roughly 18% as a threesome and another 18% in groups of four. 70% of patrons are female, 30% are male. 40% take the Ghibli bus to the museum, 19% drive and 16% walk from Mitaka station. 24% of people stay less than two hours, 43% spend about 2-3 hours there and 20% spend about 3-4 hours.
  • What really blew my budget was that I bought a hand-painted reproduction of a Ghibli cel, with digital print background, with frame and matting ^_^;; Expensive, with a capital E, but I couldn't help it. I've never purchased any artwork anywhere near that price. After a couple of hours surrounded by Studio Ghibli artworks, you'd want to buy one too ^_^;; The cel has an edition and number and comes with certificate; the matting is also embossed with the imprint of the Ghibli Museum. Staff at Mamma Aiuto! (who appeared a bit surprised that someone shelled out to purchase one of their cels) also took down my details. I'm not one to buy posters etc, but now the cel is hanging in my bedroom, the only decoration in the room, and not a day goes by that I don't stand and admire it. Love it ^_^ After so many coincidences related to my Ghibli experience, I'm sure I was fated to buy a cel ^_^;; Unfortunately, the store wasn't equipped to refund me the sales tax on the purchase. Only one disappointment: when I purchased the cel, they brought out it out to me in gloves for me to inspect. Everything looked perfect. Now that I've brought it back and hung it up, I notice in the light that the cel has not been perfectly mounted. It's attached to the cel background by masking tape and then attached to the matting for the frame. However, the cel has not been flatly attached to background, causing some warping of the cel. While this doesn't cause any distortion of the scene, since the warping is mainly of clear portions at the top of the cel, in certain lighting the warping is visible because it causes reflections of light. I thought of removing and re-setting the masking tape, but upon investigation, I noticed that the cel is a bit stuck to the cel background. Should I risk trying to fix a slight flaw of such an expensive artwork...?
  • Speaking of Studio Ghibli works, IIRC, there's still a Spirited Away collector's edition DVD set at Ishimaru in Akihabara (as well as one of the Laputa collector's editions). And the Roppongi branch of Tsutaya (mainly CD and DVD sales and rentals) has two copies of the Totoro DVD player bundle. And speaking of Spirited Away, I managed to watch the dubbed version at the cinema recently, though I though the voice actress for Chihiro was good. But overall, I thought the movie was overrated - there are other Studio Ghibli works I prefer. Some wonderful artwork and exquisite animation, but not a great movie. Good thing the cel I bought wasn't of a scene from that movie ^_^;; I note also that Brian Miller of the January 1-7, 2003 issue of the Seattle Weekly listed his ten best films of 2002. Under the category of "Most Overrated Bad Films" were Gangs of New York, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Spirited Away. While it wasn't a bad movie, I do think it was overrated. What starts as a harrying adventure for Chihiro to save her parents ends with a relatively simple and tame conclusion. Then again, the movie is aimed at children, so my assessment as an adult may be too harsh to that extent. As for Brian Miller's assessment, to be fair, he doesn't take himself too seriously either. Spirited Away may have been one of his "Most Overrated Bad Films" but under the category of "Most Overrated, period" he wrote: "critics' 10-best lists."

Hakone, Yunessun and Fuji-san

  • On the weekend, my friend took me on trip to Hakone for some relaxation at Yunessun. I was hoping to see Fuji-san on the way, but that was not to be. I did however, see the mountain when flying into Tokyo. Or at least its peak, slicing through the clouds in the orange sunset. My flight was from the US to Tokyo, continuing on to Taiwan, so announcements were generally made in three languages: English, Japanese and Chinese. Except the announcement that if passengers looked to their left, they'd see Fuji-san - that was only broadcast in Japanese. At that moment, all the Japanese heads in the plane seemed to turn left at the same moment :)
  • Back to Yunessun. I've been to traditional outdoor onsen before (Yufuin in Kyushu) but not as large a commercial operation as this one, with accommodation and parking for up to 1,100 cars. Apart from the outdoor onsen part (Mori no Yu), there two other sections. One is Yunessun proper, a pool and spa section with water slides (Rodeo Mountain), a Dead Sea pool with imported salt to help you float on the water, waterfalls, Turkish bath, Roman bath, etc. The other is Yuutopia (get it? I love these cross-cultural puns ^_^;; ) where there are two pools filled with different liquids, including rose water and sake. Sugoi! But as with all the pools, you are advised not to drink the water. Oh yeah, if you have any tattoos, you won't be allowed to use the baths, apparently even if the tattoo isn't a yakuza-like one.
  • I only visited the outdoor onsen section Mori no Yu, which has an indoor section (uchi-yu, with stone and pine wood), outdoor section (utase-yu), small tubs (taru-buro) and sauna. The other two sections aren't as heated as Mori no Yu and apparently at this time of year, the other two sections can be a bit cold. At first the 43 degree Celcius water felt like torture, but after a while it got bearable. Even the 92 degree Celcius sauna didn't feel too bad. The small tubs (like the one Keitaro uses in Love Hina) were quite a test though, and I felt like my chest tightening up after not too long. Having water drip on your back while in an onsen sounds like some sort of water torture, but it actually feels good and relaxing. If I'd been there a week or two earlier, there would've been snow all around - that would've been perfect: sitting in a hot spring bath enjoying the outdoors while there's snow everywhere else. But you can't really take a camera into a bath with you anyway, someone might think you were hentai ^_^;;
  • If you pay to visit either of the other two sections, you can get massage services etc as well. The other two sections require swimsuits and are mixed bathing, whereas the Mori no Yu section, being traditional, is nude bathing and male and female sections are divided by a bamboo fence. No Tenchi Muyo type antics here, though. Didn't bring a swimsuit with you and want to try the other sections? I think you can buy a swimsuit there. You can also get memberships to the complex. Three visits should be enough to break even on a six month membership. Finally, there's accommodation in the complex, and there are a few rooms with private baths.
  • To use the complex, first purchase your ticket. You'll be given a watchlike wristband to wear. Then enter the turnstiles and go collect your suit to wear within the complex (like green short arm, short leg pyjamas ^_^;; ). Then go to the change rooms and collect a small towel to cover yourself. The change rooms have lockers. Go to the locker with the number of your wristband. Press the face of the band against the sensor panel on the locker and it'll unlock. Take everything off and store in locker (except your towel). Press the face of the band against the panel again and the door will lock. Snazzy, huh? You're now ready to bathe in Mori no Yu. As usual for a Japanese bath, go to the stalls and soap and wash yourself completely before entering the baths. This way, even though many people go through the baths each day, the water remains crystal clear. When you've finished bathing, or want a break, come out, collect a large towel to dry yourself, go to your locker and put on the green suit you collected earlier. You can now walk around the complex, rest in one of the common rooms, watch TV there, get a massage, buy food or drink etc. No need to bring your purse/wallet, because you can use the wristband. Yunessun has a cashless system where you can use all the services, buy food and drink, rack up huge bills and pay when you leave at the end of the day. If getting a massage or buying food, instead of paying at the point of purchase, you just press the face of the band against the sensor, which will then credit your number with the charge. Vending machines in the complex also use the sensor. Oh yeah, I don't think kids are given a wristband, probably to the relief of parents who would otherwise have nightmares of their daughters and sons amassing huge bills on massages, ice cream etc. That's probably why all those boys were crowded around the vending machine when I was there, waiting for their parents to arrive. After a rest, it's back in the baths. When finished, rinse off in the stalls again. One section of the change rooms has weighing scales, tables, chairs, lights, mirrors and hair dryers etc so that you can make yourself up etc. Return your pyjama suits. Then it's time to leave. Hand in your wristband and pay your bill. Or, this being Japan, you can deposit your watching into a cashing machine and pay that way.
  • I wonder if anyone bothered to read this whole account of my trip...?


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