Perfume - ⊿ (トライアングル / "Triangle")

Dear readers, before getting started, I should apologise for taking so long to post my review of this great music since I feel it deserves more recognition that this!

On 07-Aug-09 Perfume released their latest full-length CD called ⊿ (トライアングル / "Triangle"). What we have here is another collection of skillfully-produced dance-trance-talkbox-pop tracks that is sure to please fans and new-comers alike. Perfume has already made a huge impact on the music scene has once again has proven their ability to keep it going with their latest offering.

Listening to this CD straight through, from start to finish, I wouldn't necessarily claim that this is their best full-length, but it certainly does NOT disappoint. ⊿ has some absolute gems on it that provide evidence of Perfume's ability to grow and evolve despite their dedication to a music genre that's become over-saturated and watered-down over most of the past 2 decades. While I have been a fan of the group for several years now, I am still impressed by their ability to maintain a consistent and comfortingly-reliable sound while still managing to incorporate freshness into their productions. のっち (Nocchi), かしゆか (Kashiyuka) and あ〜ちゃん (A~chan) have continued to mature as singers and artists, and it shows!

⊿ contains a dozen tracks including the title track from Perfume's recent hit single, "Love the World," and a "⊿-mix" of the track "edge" from the same single. The mega-hit single, 「ワンルーム・ディスコ」 ("One-room Disco") is also on this release. Some of the new songs on the disc such as "NIGHT FLIGHT" and "I still love U" have a distinctly retro sound which definitely adds some charm to this release. Others are more akin to Perfume's classic style and they just make you feel good! The CD comes to a close with an "Album Mix" of the lovely ballad, 「願い」 (Negai / "Wish").

If you're skilled music hunter, there may still be a few of the limited edition CD+DVD sets available somewhere. The DVD contains some great material including Live performances of tracks from ⊿ and some of their musical appearances on TV. Great stuff! The headline photo of this post shows the cover art from the limited edition, while the other pic is the cover of the CD-only release. The limited edition contains both versions of the cover art, so if you prefer looking at the cute group-members, you can always flip it over.

All in all, ⊿ is another great success for this Jpop trio from Hiroshima. It's hard to go wrong with Perfume, and if you like this kind of music and enjoy their sound, you will be very happy with it! If you haven't yet discovered Perfume, however, I think I would honestly recommend "Game" as an ideal introduction to their sound. Please don't interpret this to mean that I dislike ⊿ in any way because that certainly would not be the case, but I do feel that overall, "Game" is better as a complete package. Enjoy!


Shiina Ringo - Sanmon Gossip

Hello Monologues of an Otaku readers! I hope you'll forgive my recent silence. I've been incredibly busy with so many different things, especially my recently-intensified study of Japanese language. As a result, I'm pretty far behind on all the posts I've been wanting to write for you.

It would be a shame to put this one off much longer-- my review of the new full length from 椎名林檎 (Shiina Ringo) called 「三文ゴシップ」 (Sanmon Gossip). First let's talk about the title. 「三」means "three" of course, and 「文」is an old skool unit of Japanese currency equal to 1/1000 of a 貫 ("kan"). This comes from a historical period when money was measured in weight, which makes sense since "kan" also refers to an old unit of weight measurement equal to about 3.75 grams. You can see some money like this in old Samurai movies and on images of 招き猫 (Maneki Neko / "Lucky Cat"). SO, "Sanmon Gossip," loosely-translated into English, might be "3-penny Gossip."

Moving on to the topic I really want to discuss, the music! What can I say? This CD is SO AWESOME! Shiina Ringo seems to have an endless well of creativity, skill and musicianship within that mind of hers and once again I am really impressed. With no recent offerings from her other well-known project, 東京事変 (Tokyo Jihen / "The Tokyo Incidents"), Ringo-chan seems to have combined the two projects into a single effort instead, focusing the best of both into a fantastic solo project. This, combined with her standard, extremely-high production value, makes this an incredible CD! All this, and I haven't even mentioned Shiina Ringo's trademark style of Japanese word-play-creation that makes all of her song titles so kool and interesting!

In Shiina Ringo's 三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip), she starts off by giving us a healthy dose of Tokyo Jihen-style J-Rock as well as a bit more of the sweet-sophistication J-Pop that she delivered to us in her previous full-length release, 「私と放電」(Watashi to Hoden / "Me and electric discharge"). From there she continues to explore her exemplary talent as a Jazz musician, once again combining her exciting and unique J-Rock style with the sounds of Rat-Pack-style Big Band, Swing and this time even Cha-Cha in the song, 「二人ぼっち時間」(Futari Bocchi Jikan / "Time for Two People Alone")! It's an endeavour that seemingly only Ringo-chan is able to accomplish with success while accurately capturing each of these different styles of jazz and at the same time managing to both stay true to her own distinctive style and maintain accessibility by a wide range of music-lovers.

Just when listeners start to think that this release has come to be strictly about Jazz, however, Shiina Ringo takes us in a new direction about 2/3 of the way through the disc! The track 「尖った手口」 (Togatta Teguchi / "Sharp Trick") can best be described as "industrial pop" which as far as I know has not yet been identified as a music genre. This is just further testament to her skill as an innovator.

Perhaps this sounds like it might be a bit of a shock for those of us who enjoy listening to her full-length releases all the way through from start to finish? Surprisingly, No! In fact, I think she planned this little diversion perfectly, doing her best to (quite successfully) make this CD really compelling. In the next couple of tracks, 「色恋沙汰」(Irokoizata / "Love Affair") and「凡才肌」(Bonsai Hada / "Mediocre-like"), Ringo-chan takes us on yet another diversion in which she explores music that starts to enter the territory of the broadway musical, incorporating many unique band instruments and even an accordion.

To finish the release Shiina Ringo, returns to her roots, filling our ears with the J-Rock/Pop sounds that caused all of us to fall in love with her in the first place. The final track, in fact, has all the feeling of that last encore that musicians play at their concerts, coming back out onto the stage one last time just to make the fans happy. For this "encore" she chose to do a totally KOOL vocally-harmonised A cappella version of her all-time favourite, 「丸の内サディスティック」 (Marunouchi Sadistic) that she calls the "EXPO Version."

三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip) is a welcomed addition my CD collection which is sure to get lots and lots of play-time because of its variety and ingenuity. If you haven't yet gotten into Ringo-chan's music, do yourself a favour and treat yourself to this great music. You really won't be sorry; I promise! ^^


Midwest Bonsai Society Exhibition

Bonsai Contest WinnerOn Saturday, 15-Aug, I spent a lovely day with my wife and friends at the Chicago Botanic Gardens where the Midwest Bonsai Society was having their 33rd annual exhibition. On display were well over 100 bonsai trees that were grown and nurtured by this year's competitors as well as nearly 50 world-class bonsai. This was my first time to see the exhibition and so I was a bit overwhelmed by the vast display of all the different species of tree and numerous different bonsai styles. Many of the bonsai on display had contest ribbons on them, but not being a hobbyist myself (yet) it was nearly impossible for me to differentiate between those that placed in the competition and those that didn't, let alone to see the differences between the first, second and third place winners. All of them looked quite beautiful from my perspective.

Bonsai Close-UpWhile I was viewing some of the award-winning bonsai, I noticed that many of the top award-winners all had the same name on them; I was thinking that the owner must be one of the top experts in this area. A few minutes later a group of people came over and started talking about one of the trees and it wasn't too long before one of the men in this group started to pick up and turn one of them around, under the supervision of a tall, white-haired man. The older man, as it turned out, was the man who grew the award-winning bonsai. I was able to stand nearby and listen while he discussed some of the characteristics of the tree that won its first-place award. Symmetry, and something he kept referring to as "line" seemed very important. I also learned that with most bonsai styles, there is meant to be one "viewing" side, even though I still have fun looking at them from multiple angles.

Yamaji HiroyoshiThe highlight of the show was a 90-minute demonstration by bonsai master 山地宏美 (Yamaji Hiroyoshi [English]) of 山松園 (Yamaji Sanshoen) in 高松市 (Takamatsu City), 香川県 (Kagawa Prefecture). Yamaji-san's specialty is working on pine trees, which is quite fitting since the name of his home city, Takamatsu, means "tall pine trees." In his demonstration, Yamaji-san took a lop-sided, mis-shapen pine tree and from it created a beautifully-shaped bonsai, guiding his audience through some of his various techniques as well as a few tools of the trade. Surprisingly, in order to complete the transformation, the tree had to endure quite a few "intrusive" procedures that included splitting and twisting the trunk, sawing, wedging and pruning. Once finished with the reconstruction work, there was a considerable amount of shaping, taping and bandaging to do, but the overall effect and future beauty could still be seen in its form. It was truly amazing and sometimes even shocking to see the amount of effort put into changing the tree into a bonsai. By the end of the 90-minute demonstration, the bonsai master was exhausted and soaked with sweat. Throughout the transformation, Yamaji-san repeatedly told his audience, "I don't do this in Japan;" he explained that the trees are typically trained into bonsai from the time that they're just saplings. I believe, therefore, that the presentation was primarily for the purpose of demonstrating technique and showing what's within the realm of possibility, rather than to complete a project in a way that is normal for bonsai hobbyists. In fact, Yamaji-san told us that this tree will be a show piece-- about 30 years from now!

Yamaji-san's demonstration - the beginning

Yamaji-san, assisted by staff from Yasukunai Bonsai shop

Yamaji-san's finished project

Detail view of the Chicago Botanic Gardensmy Japanese BoxthornThe whole day was very enjoyable, not only because of the fantastic bonsai exhibition, but also because of the wonderful surroundings of the permanent gardens at the Botanic Gardens and the gorgeous weather in Chicago that day. I am very pleased that I was able to see this wonderful show. To make the experience complete, I purchased a bonsai of my own to bring home and raise myself. This is my Serissa Foetida, commonly known as Japanese Boxthorn, or Snowrose. Suzumiya Haruhu is there to cheer me on, too! Hopefully it will grow small white flowers in the late autumn months. I could see myself getting into this!


U.S. Immigration - Green Card

Immigration and Naturalisation Services

In most of my posts I discuss going to Japan but this time I want to discuss the opposite-- getting into the U.S., via Immigration and Naturalisation Services, otherwise known as INS. During the past few months my wife and I have been in the process of applying for a green card so that she can obtain permanent, legal residency in America. Let me just say that it's been nothing like the land-of-opportunity story of hopes and dreams that's been so highly romanticised during this country's short, 230-year-old history. Instead, it's been a time-consuming, frustrating and somewhat stressful process. In order to explain what I mean, let me describe the parts of the process, which involves many different chores, tasks and fees some of which are fully expected and some of which are a bit surprising.

First comes the completion of several stacks of forms and paperwork under the supervision of an over-priced immigration lawyer. Many of the forms demand that both the applicant (my wife) and the petitioner (me) provide private and personal information such as in-depth facts about family history, employment and educational history, as well as full disclosure of financial information including income, assets, liabilities and taxes. In addition to this, a hefty application fee is collected.

Second is the gathering of documentation. In order to complete the process, INS needs birth certificates, a marriage certificate, passports, IDs, tax returns, paycheck stubs, bank and credit account statements, loan statements and proof of employment in the form of letters written by employers (written according to specific guidelines and containing all required information). Additionally, profiling and finger-printing of the applicant is required during this step.

Third, new forms are created by INS and the immigration lawyer, based on the gathered information. These documents need to be signed and dated and then returned to INS before a specified deadline. Although this step doesn't sound too hard, it's important to understand that you may or may not actually receive the documents in a timely manner. In our case, one of the documents was supposedly mailed to us, but it never arrived so we had to visit the immigration lawyer in person to obtain an original copy that we could use as a replacement. I can't even imagine what would have happened if we were unable to take time off from work to meet with the lawyer, or unable to travel there before the office's *EARLY* closing time. Thankfully for us, having full-time salaried jobs and owning a car made it possible.

Mixed into the whole process, after each of the above steps is quite a lot of waiting and wondering. Another such period of time occurs at this fourth stage, which is finally nearing the end of the process. During this time the applicant and petitioner wait for INS to schedule an appointment for both to meet with an immigration officer in person. Once your appointment date has been set, there is still some more paperwork to be assembled, such as new paycheck stubs, new proof-of-employment letters and copies of bills, insurance documents, photographs and anything that can serve as proof of marriage. If your immigration lawyer is a good one (which my wife's is not), s/he might pro-actively contact you to let you know what's needed.

Chicago Federal Building, 101 W. Congress Pkwy.This final interview appointment is what my wife and I did today, and is the reason why both of us took the day off work. Upon arrival at the INS facility downtown, the typical government-building experience awaited us, complete with sterile-looking walls and floors, security guards, police and metal detectors. In addition to this, the security guards have extremely well-honed skills that help them to speak to everyone entering the facility in a way that makes us feel like criminals with little more than a fifth-grade education.

Once my wife and finally I arrived at our destination, we were handed a pager similar to the ones that restaurants use to communicate that a customer's table is ready. We entered a large room and waited to be paged while we sat nervously and watched the scores of snobby lawyers, angry mothers who didn't complete all of their tasks correctly, and married couples consisting of aging, dis-sheveled white guys with their mail-order-brides. Thankfully, once our pager summoned us to the back-offices, the experience was a good one! A gentleman named Officer Whelan was assigned to our case, and although he was required to ask a lot of questions about our relationship, socioeconomic status and personal lives, he was kind and professional and treated us with respect and dignity. At the end of the interview he informed us that our application would indeed be recommended for approval and that we definitely had "no reason to lose any sleep." We left with smiles on our faces and huge feelings of relief in our hearts. My wife should have her green card within the next 60 to 90 days. Thanks Officer Whelan! To my wife's lawyer-- thanks a lot for nothing AND for charging a premium for it.


Nintendo and the Yakuza

Yakuza in Asakusa, Tokyo. Courtesy of Magnum PhotosMarioRecently I've taken a bit of an interest in Yakuza culture and have found myself reading articles here and there with great interest. Today I discovered something that truly amazed me-- that the world's beloved Nintendo video game company has connections to Japan's organised crime syndicates!

In order to explain this rather obscure and fascinating connection, I must first explain the origin of the word, やくざ ("yakuza"). This word comes from a combination of three very old Japanese words from a regional dialect: 八つ ("Yattsu" / Eight) 九 ("Kabu" / Nine) and ざ ("Za" / slang word for 三 or "San" / Three). Yattsu-Kabu-Za ; 8-9-3. Take the abbreviated form of these three words and you get Ya-Ku-Za. Okay, so now that we've established that-- why "8-9-3?"

Kabufuda8-9-3 goes back to a very old Japanese card game called おいちょかぶ (Oicho-Kabu), which has some slight similarities to Blackjack. The game is not played with western-style playing cards, but with a Japanese 40-card deck called 株札 (Kabufuda). Oicho-Kabu was an integral part of Yakuza illegal gambling rings and became very popular for this reason. In Oicho-Kabu, 8-9-3 is the worst possible hand, and results in a score of Zero (yes, 20 = 0 in this game). Zero, being a losing hand is considered useless, and 8-9-3 or "Ya"-"Ku"-"Za," therefore, was used by regular folks to describe the "useless hands" of society. (Is that amazingly interesting or what!?)

Nintendo Company HQ PlacardNow that we've completed our history lesson, on to my main point-- Nintendo! What seems like it must be common knowledge to many folks was completely new and fascinating to me as I only found out about it this past weekend. When Nintendo was first founded in Kyoto back in 1889, owner 山内 房治郎 (Yamauchi Fusajiro)'s business was the production and sale of Kabufuda (and also 花札 (Hanafuda)) playing card decks! In fact, each deck of cards was hand-made by Yamauchi-san himself! When he could no longer keep up with the huge demand, he hired some employees to help him and that's how the company grew**. The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that a large percentage of Nintendo's first customers were Yakuza!

I would like to state, at this point, that I was not able to find any specific sources of information stating that Nintendo's first customers were, indeed, Yakuza. Based on the time period, and the two groups' respective line of work, however, it seems like a fairly obvious conclusion. Please feel free to leave a comment for me if you have any evidence or information that illustrates the opposite.

**Nintendo still makes Hanafuda (flower-card) decks. One of their modern versions has drawings of all the Mario characters on them.

27-May-2011: NEW UPDATE! Further exploration of this topic was recently posted by Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku.com in his review of the book, "The History of Nintendo."


Nekojiru / ねこぢる

Just recently I started reading a very unusual, interesting and sometimes even shocking and gives-me-the-creeps manga called ねこぢる (Nekojiru / "Cat Juice"). It's the first manga I've ever read in Japanese. I have to admit it's more difficult than I expected, although I have been enjoying the addition of lots of strange new words to my vocabulary. LOL!

橋口千代美 (Hashiguchi Chiyomi) (1967 - 1998) is the mangaka (manga artist/writer) who created this fine work, although she, herself, usually went by the name Nekojiru. The series ねこぢるうどん (Nekojiru Udon), which is now considered to be her finest work, first debuted in 1990. The main characters in Nekojiru are, as the title suggests, cats, primary focused on the cute little kitty brother and sister duo, Nyāko and Nyātta. Surprisingly, the lives of these cute cats are steeped in dark humour, paradoxical comedy, brutality, eeriness and just outright craziness. This probably sounds a bit strange and perhaps even off-putting to some of my readers, but I give you my assurance that this is what makes this manga so unbelievably appealing and fascinating! Quite possibly, some of the content in Nekojiru's stories was influenced by psychedelic drugs like psilocybin mushrooms which make appearances in her books from time to time. Admittedly, after reading one of the stories, I find myself feeling dazed and a little bit creeped out or even disturbed, but in spite of that, or perhaps *because of* it, I am eager for more! I think there is a lot to be said for manga that has the power to do THAT!

After an increase in popularity two anime adaptations of Nekojiru were created. ねこぢる劇場 (Nekojiru Gekijō / Nekojiru Theatre) aired in Japan on TV Asahi in 1999. Then, in 2001, the award-winning ねこぢる草 (Nekojiru Sou / "Nekojiru Grass") was released in both Japan and the U.S. (named "Cat Soup" in English). Sadly, Hashiguchi-san was unable to enjoy any of the fame surrounding her work since she had committed suicide by hanging herself on 10-May-1998, seemingly without any clear motivation, leaving no suicide note.

People who knew Nekojiru personally found her to be somewhat plain and misunderstood, but also unpredictable, mysterious and seemingly fragile if not for shadowy side of her internal personality which she expressed so powerfully in her manga. Whatever the truths of her persona may be, she was an amazing mangaka who left her unique and incomparable mark on the world for which many of us will be forever thankful.

Here are some links I'd like to include with my post:
  • Nekojiru homepage: http://nekojiru.net/
  • A wonderful up-close-and-personal English-translation of a memoir written by 吉永嘉明 (Yoshinaga Yoshiaki) in a book called 自殺されちゃった僕 (Jisatsu Sarechatta Boku) about his acquaintances with Nekojiru: Part 1, Part 2


Asahina Mikuru Goth-Punk

I am so happy to announce another new edition to the family-- another member of 涼宮ハルヒの (Suzumiya Haruhi's) S.O.S. Brigade! Charming and beloved time-traveler 朝比奈 みくる (Asahina Mikuru) has arrived wearing her goth punk outfit, making goth punk moe like no one ever has before. Of course, Mikuru-chan looks super cute regardless of what she wears!

She came from the future to investigate a huge time-rift that happened several years ago, that Suzumiya Haruhi created without realising it. I'm terribly curious about her experiences traveling through time, and also about her in-depth knowledge of science, but she always just tells me "きんそくじこうです" (it's classified). In any case, I'm happy she decided to stay in our time period for now.

Mikuru-chan was escorted here by the team of Griffon Enterprises and sculptor 山本雅弘 (Yamamoto Masahiro), the same duo who also invited Haruhi and Nagato Yuki to join us and dressed them up in their cute Goth/Lolita attire. We have seen quite a few beauties coming from Griffon these days and they seem to just keep on coming! Much like her friends Haruhi and Yuki, Mikuru-chan looks incredible and it's clear that considerable care and effort went into her outfit, accessories and hair; her overall appearance is absolutely jaw-dropping. I think I'm very luck that she's here!


Feature Foto #8: Kiyomizu-dera

Today's Feature Foto is the doorway into the main Pagoda at 清水寺 (Kiyomizu-dera / Kiyomizu Temple) in Kyoto. The original site of this gorgeous Buddhist temple was first founded in 778 A.D. by a Buddhist priest from the Kita Hōso sect named Enchin. Due to fires that damaged the temple several times over the years, the building seen in this photo is from 1633.

The temple was named "Kiyomizu," or "clear water" after the nearby 音羽瀑布 (Otowa no Taki / Otowa's waterfall) originating from the hills that surround the temple. The fresh, clean water from the waterfall is one of the main attractions at the temple which contributes to the health and longevity of those who drink it. A visit to the temple wouldn't be complete without drinking a cupful of the Otowa no Taki water which is partially channeled into three streams that fall from overhead into a decorative pond. Visitors cross a small bridge over the pond and fill their cups with the therapeutic water as it falls from above.

The Hondo (main temple building) was built in devotion to Kannon in which a statue of the God is displayed. The Hondo houses one of the temple's most spectacular vantage points, with beautiful views of Kyoto-- the Kiyomizu-dera Stage, which also happens to be one of its most famous historic curiosities. The fame of the Kiyomizu-dera Stage comes from an Edo-period tradition of taking the 13-meter jump from the stage down onto the hillside below, the survival of which was believed to be rewarded with the granting of the jumper's wish. Only 85% of those who attempted it survived.

With all of the world-famous and stunningly beautiful sites to see in Kyoto, I think that the Kiyomizu-dera is sometimes omitted from travelers' lists of must-see places. I would strongly recommend that this wonderful temple NOT be skipped, however, as it's sure to leave a lasting impression on all who visit. I would especially recommend a visit in the autumn, when the Japanese maple trees that surround the site are in full, glorious colour. Please enjoy Kyoto-- one of the places I cherish most in this world.

If you have Google Earth, download Kiyomizu-dera's place marker.


おくりびと / "Departures"

I went out with my wife yesterday to opening night of おくりびと ("Okuribito," a.k.a. "Departures"). I would just like to say first that it has been a *very* long time since I found any movie to be so unbelievably moving and deeply impacting as this one. The film is inspiring, humbling and truly beautiful in every sense, and the afterglow from seeing it is a lasting one.

The story is about a young couple named Kobayashi who leave their big city life in Tokyo after the husband, Daigo (本木雅弘 / Motoki Masahiro), loses his job as a professional cellist. Daigo and his wife Mika (広末涼子 / Hirosue Ryoko) return to Daigo's hometown in opulent Yamagata Prefecture where he finds himself taking a job as a the assistant of a funeral director (山崎努 / Yamazaki Tsutomu). At the heart of the movie is an enlightening celebration of the cycles of life and an exploration of the humanity in which each of them is steeped. As with most married couples, there are many ups and downs for Daigo and Mika as they experience their new life. Nothing could have prepared, them, however for the unusually challenging and deeply meaningful experiences that awaited them. What we learn from director 滝田洋二郎 (Takita Yojiro) is that every stage in human life is truly beautiful, even death-- which is but a gateway to the next stage. What gives our lives meaning, Takita teaches us, is people - the people that surround us and become part of our lives give them meaning and beauty, even when we die. Another impression made upon the audience is that the way we die, as well as the people who surround us during our "departure," are an indication of how we lived.

The director's telling of this engaging story is enhanced by the use of subtle, yet rich and expressive symbolism in which the film is enveloped. Every aspect of the characters' actions, the space they occupy, the objects that surround them and even the changing of the seasons were part of a thick canvas that Takita Yojiro used to paint a sincere and revealing picture of his vision for the film. All of this was further beautified by the gorgeous backdrop of Yamagata Prefecture's mountainous and exquisite natural and communal settings. (This really makes me want to visit Yamagata-ken!)

Finally the elements that really drew the film together into such an amazing work of art were the incredible talents of the actors! Motoki and Yamazaki, honestly were pure genius and really demonstrated their great skill in this movie. They were absolutely amazing and convincing to the point that the audience forgets all about their own lives and feels like they've become a part of theirs. All of the actors in this movie did incredible work and did a tremendous job of communicating the depth and scope of the director's vision.

As an aside, for students of Japanese language, it is fascinating to hear the movie's dialogue which was delivered almost entirely in Yamagata-ben. The movie also presents a rare glimpse into one of the most private and sacred aspects of Japanese culture-- "coffining."

I can't say enough about this incredible film, and even if I tried I could never really do it justice. Please go out and see it for yourselves, your lives will be enriched for it!! Just don't forget to bring a handkerchief!

The cast of おくりびと is going out on a roadshow this september - that is what the poster image is announcing.

Link to the official website
Link to the English Language Website


Burger Donuts!!

These are the new "burgers" from Mr. Donut called "MosDo." They aren't really burgers, of course, but donuts that look like burgers! The burger buns are japanese-style sweet bread, the patties are made from chocolate, and the burger condiments are strawberry whip and strawberry sauce; green tea whip and green tea sauce! Get yourself a couple of these burgers, along with a side of "potadoughs," (or "potedo") and an iced coffee and you've got yourself quite a fun and tasty breakfast or snack!
These new offerings from Mr. Donut look so kool! I wish I was in Japan so I could try them, I'm sure they're quite yummy.


Loli Nagato Yuki

Today's featured beauty is 長門有希 (Nagato Yuki), fellow member of the S.O.S. Brigade and companion/protector of 涼宮ハルヒ (Suzumiya Haruhi). Yuki-chan is an artificial human with supernatural powers and is the only actual member of the their school's Literary Club, which of course was hi-jacked by Haruhi in order to obtain a club room and headquarters for the S.O.S. Brigade. Yuki's role on planet Earth is to observe Haruhi and gather information about the evolution of humankind and our potential for autonomy. Now she's here observing my wife and I as well!

Yuki's looking so cute wearing her lolita outfit, complete with her ruffled dress and a teddy bear in her purse. She's here thanks to the craftsmen at Griffon Enterprises and the talent of sculptor 山本雅弘 (Yamamoto Masahiro) who's work also brought us Haruhi herself in her gothloli attire. Masahiro is giving us a rare chance to see Yuki-chan wearing something other than her school uniform which is what she's wearing most of the time when we see her. She is another win for Griffon and Yamamoto-san because of the impressive attention to detail and fine workmanship that went into creating her. IMHO, the craftsmanship of this figure is even better than that of her friend Haruhi in that there are no noticeable production flaws of any kind and the overall impact of her design is simply stunning. I hereby welcome Nagato Yuki as another cherished addition to the family. ^^


Goto Tadamasa's Conversion

Goto Tadamasa is quite infamous in Japan as a boss in the 40,000-strong 山口組 (Yamaguchi-gumi) yakuza syndicate, one of the world's largest organised crime outfits with links to North Korea and operations in many other parts of Asia and in the U.S. as well. He is well-known for his extreme use of violence and aggression that includes activities such as the bulldozing of businesses that fail to pay protection money and the brutal beatings of his victims before the eyes of their families.

In 2001 Goto-san worked as an FBI informant in return for travel to the U.S. where he skipped to the front of the organ-donor waiting list with 700+ members to receive a life-saving liver-transplant at UCLA Medical Centre. Although he reportedly provided information that is available to anyone with an internet connection or the ability to read newspapers, his actions obviously infuriated his superiors.

Last September, Goto Tadamasa made a public spectacle of himself when he threw an extravagant birthday celebration for himself in 静岡県 (Shizuoka) and invited five of Japan's most famous enka singers (細川たかし (Hosokawa Takashi), 小林 旭 (Kobayashi Akira), 松原のぶえ (Matsubara Nobue), 角川博 (Kadokawa Hiroshi) and 中条きよし (Nakajou Kiyoshi)) to participate in a golf tournament and lavish party. This, too, enraged his fellow clan-members and also resulted in the performers' expulsion from the NHK's annual oshougatsu celebration enka concert.

Four weeks ago marked a drastic change in life for the 66-year-old Wakagashira (boss). 08-April is a day that's honoured as the birthday of Buddha in Japan and on that day Goto Tadamasa was ordained as a Tendai Buddhist priest at 成願寺 (Jyoganji Temple) in 中野区 Nakano-ku (a district of Tokyo at the west edge of the city). It's a lifestyle change that's met with skepticism and criticism as well as with praise and understanding. Critics believe the move to be nothing more than an escape route away from the leaders of the Yamaguchi-gumi from which Goto-san has been outcast. Others are more sympathetic to his goals, and see him as a changed man who wishes to make amends for his life of evil and live the rest of his life in service to his fellow man. It's too soon to determine his true motives, of course.

What do YOU think?

Thanks to Jake Adelstein, former crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, for many of the details in this post.


Feature Foto #7: Yosakoi Matsuri

The topic of this Feature Foto post is a style of dance called よさこい (Yosakoi). It has only been practiced as a dance form since the 1950s, but is a modernisation of a much older, traditional Japanese summer dance.

Every summer, people get together within their community to put a dance performance together, featuring clothing and symbols from their home neighbourhood, set to modern music. Each group of performers choreographs and practices their routines and then assembles together to take part in a huge celebration to present their performances at Yosakoi Matsuri which takes place in different places in Japan. This photo was taken at the スーパーよさこい祭 (Super Yosakoi Matsuri) held on the beautiful grounds of 明治神宮 (Meiji Shrine) in Tokyo. This particular dance troupe playfully calls themselves Baka Tokyo (Foolish Tokyo). I really liked the excitement and energy that I captured in this picture, which is why I chose it for this post.

Aside from the awesome dances, costumes and music that makes this colourful event so much fun, there is also an abundance of vendors selling delicious food, treats and drinks. One of the top selling snacks on this day was the cold and fluffy shave ice, mainly because the Super Yosakoi Matsuri takes place in August, and it must have been over 91˚F / 32˚C outside, with 95% humidity under a cloudless sky! I was sweating profusely just watching the show; I can't image what the performers must have felt.

Despite the intense heat, going to Super Yosakoi Matsuri was SO much fun and I think it's something that should not be missed!


Haruhi in Gothic Lolita outfit!

Let's have a look at one of the most recent additions to my figure collection! Most of my readers probably recognise 涼宮ハルヒ (Suzumiya Haruhi) so I won't go into detail about this famous and awesome anime/manga series by 谷川 流 (Tanigawa Nagaru). Haruhi is seen here in her goth lolita outfit courtesy of Griffon Enterprises.

As soon as I heard about this figure for the first time, I knew I had to have her and that she would turn out to be one of my most treasured additions to the family. Haruhi looks incredible in her gothloli attire and sculptor/designer 山本雅弘 (Yamamoto Masahiro) did some incredible detail work with her. The only complaint I have is that the production work done by Griffon is not *quite* up to standard. A close inspection of Haruhi is bound to reveal some imperfections that aren't normally present in a Kotobukiya or Max Factory product. There are a couple of irregularities in the paint work and she's got a *tiny* dent/knick on her dress that suggests hurried factory production, although I don't feel the end result takes away from the overall impact of this lovely figure. I am very happy that she's here!


Japan Prime Minister's new budget includes Manga Provisions!

President Barack Obama is not the only world leader focusing on new strategies to renew his nation's economy, deploying new strategies for raising revenue. Prime Minister Aso Taro today revealed his new ¥15.4 trillion plan for revitalising Japan's stuggling economy. The two leaders have some common themes in their approach such as reduction of dependency on carbon, provisions for retirement and health care, reform of the private financial sector and stimulus packages for their nation's citizens.

Prime Minister Aso also announced plans for heavy investment in Japan's "soft power" businesses such as anime, manga and fashion! The Prime Minister recognises the increasing popularity and power of these businesses, especially in the overseas markets. His plan calls for the creation of 500,000 new jobs in these businesses/arts over the next 12 years in hopes of tripling or quadrupling their revenue-generation.

This is awesome news for anime/manga addicts everywhere including Aso-san himself who is a self-proclaimed enthusiast. To think that the hobby interests of so many people like me are going to help rebuild Japan's economy is totally kool! It's wonderful in fact. Perhaps this will even help to increase the Prime Minister's diminished approval rating; he's already gained a few points in my book. Way to go Aso-san, keep up the good work!

AFP News
Japan Today

***Please Note that I shopped this image for dramatic effect. I am definitely NOT poking fun at Prime Minister Aso, I think he's kool! But... this pic is entertaining, is it not?


Chicago Music Scene: Lady Sovereign!

Coming straight from North London to the Metro Chicago on Thursday, 14-May at 20:00-- UK Grime artist Lady Sovereign! Opening for the S.O.V. are Chester French and local boy Hollywood Holt.

Lady Sovereign released her first full-length, "Vertically Challenged," in November of 2005, and in October 2006 she followed up with a second release entitled "Public Warning." In the meantime she created a slew of other singles and EPs as well, forming a growing list of outstanding accomplishments, not to mention establishing herself as a respected artist in the black-dominated UK Grime scene and becoming the first ever non-American female to be signed with US powerhouse hip-hop label DefJam. Finally, just yesterday (07-Apr-09) the long-awaited full-length "Jigsaw," released on her own label "Midget Records," hit record stores everywhere.

This show is gonna be shiznit y'all so come on out and check it. For reals.

Her official website is http://www.ladysovereign.com
For some SOV sounds, check her out on Last.fm.
She is also on MySpace.


Hollywood Anime/Game Rape - Updated List

The Hollywood rape of Japanese Anime, classic Film and Video Games seems to be more than just a passing fancy. In fact, the trend is quickly picking up momentum into a sickening pace. It seems like an industry that is completely devoid of original ideas has found a whole new world of "inspiration," and intends to continue down this disgusting path of systematic Americanisation of classic Japanese entertainment and art and casting these monstrosities with crap Hollywood actors that make me want to wretch.

Here is an updated list of what's in store or has recently been produced:

Anime and Film

  • Death Note
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • The Seven Samurai
  • Akira
  • Speed Racer
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Ninja Scroll
  • Full Metal Panic
  • Dragonball
  • Sailor Moon

Video Games

  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Shadow of the Colossus
  • Street Fighter
  • Tekken

All hope is lost.


Wormgear's Anime Pick - Kino's Journey

I just recently started watching the series, キノの旅 (Kino no Tabi / "Kino's Journey") after my wife picked it up randomly during our shopping spree at the recent Best Buy 50% off anime sale. Since neither of us had ever heard of the series before, we had no idea what to expect. Much to our surprise and excitement, Kino no Tabi is spectacular.

The focus is upon a young traveler named Kino キノ and her companion, a talking motorcycle named エルメス Hermes. Visually, the anime is quite stunning with wonderful artwork and outstanding colour. The stories come to life through the duo's dedication to a life of exploration in which they move from country to country learning what they can of the new lands they encounter and the people and cultures within them. Each visit is based on the principle that the two must stay just long enough to give meaning to their stay but also just short enough that they have no chance of becoming involved with the individual countrymen and their ways.

For viewers of Kino no Tabi, the magic begins almost immediately when we easily become involved with the lives of Kino and Hermes and share with them the experiences of each new country they visit. Each episode is somewhat of a complete story that can stand alone but which obviously exists as an element of the greater theme of the series. Each story is abundant with rich visual and cerebral imagery that paints a complex, insightful perspective on humanity. The interaction of Kino and Hermes with the world around them is a microcosmic portrayal of the vivid beauty, excitement and delight that life brings to us, as well as the dark and sometimes frightening tragedy, brutality and loneliness that inevitably ensues. The traveler's tales of Kino and Hermes are fantastic illustrations of the human condition that are both absorbing and humbling.

The anime is based on 時雨沢恵一 (Shigusawa Keiichi)'s manga of the same name, is produced under the direction of 中村 隆太郎 (Nakamura Ryūtarō) by studios A.C.G.T and Genco, and was originally run in Japan during 2003. With a total of only 13 episodes and a short-story format, this might be a great choice for readers who lack the time to devote to regular viewing. Kino's Journey has something very special that gives heart and soul to the story. Highly Recommended!

Onimusha on the silver screen!?

What is THIS? A movie is going to be made, based on one of my top favourite video game series of all time-- Onimusha? This is crazy! My initial reaction is one of both excitement and wariness. I mean-- an Onimusha MOVIE?? That is *awesome* but... can it really be good? It seems I am a little late with this "breaking story" as there has been talk of this for nearly two years already! Somehow, I completely missed it and just now found out about it for the first time.

The movie will be directed by Chrisophe Gans, who also directed the film-adaptation of Silent Hill. It has also been said that Gans has managed to cast Kaneshiro Takeshi-- the actor who was both the inspiration and voice actor for the Onimusha series' lead character - Samanosuke. The film was originally supposed to hit theatres at the end of this year, but doesn't it seem odd that there hasn't been more information available about it if that's that case? Well, other sites on the web seem to have new information that the film has been delayed until 2011. Other sites have claimed that production of the film is on indefinite hold. Damn... What's going on, I wonder?

If anyone has heard any concrete information about this, I would really appreciate some comments!


Feature Foto #6: Ryōan-ji

This edition of Feature Foto is about the Ryōan-ji Temple (竜安寺) in Kyoto (京都). The name means "Temple of the Peaceful Dragon" and it belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. It is recognised as an Ancient Historic monument. My photos are dedicated to the karesansui (枯山水), or "rock garden" which was created near the end of the 15th century.

Before I continue, I want to take a moment to talk about the word, "karesansui" 枯山水 itself. Those of you who are students of the japanese language might find it odd that the word for dry rock garden contains the character "sui" 水 meaning "water." This is because the karesansui is one of two main types of japanese rock garden and it's meant to represent the sea. It for this reason that the fine pebbles are arranged in the form of rippling pools that mimic the motion of water! Is that totally kool or what? ^^

Much time, care and effort went into the design and creation of this karesansui and it was constructed in such a way that all elements of the garden are visible only by those who have attained enlightenment. For the rest of us, a viewing from any available angle (other than from the air) will provide only a partial view. This is easily one of my most cherished locations in all the world because of its exquisite beauty and also for the overwhelming peacefulness and tranquility that it inspires in visitors. Despite the fact that the garden can accommodate quite a few guests, the area is very quiet!

A visit to Ryōan-ji is not something that should be rushed; you'll want to spend some time here as its effect of recharging the soul is surprisingly powerful and spiritually invigorating. If you're planning a trip to Kyoto, you should definitely add this to your list of top priorities.

If you have Google Earth, download Ryōan-ji's place marker.