Category Archives: Japan Travelogues

In Tokyo? Don’t miss this exhibit of originals by Jiro Taniguchi and Igort, ending December 19th.

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While in Japan this fall, I was fortunate enough to take in a lovely exhibition of original comics artwork by two modern masters, Igort and Jiro Taniguchi. While I’m super behind on my Japan blogging, I wanted to mention this one because it ends on December 19th, and if you can attend you absolutely should, it’s wonderful and free!

Here’s a link with all of the relevant location info: http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/event/2015/7F2A.en

My friend Jocelyne and I made the trek to Kudanshita, and then up the hill to the exhibition at The Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo. We arrived just as the building was closing for the day and we had the place all to ourselves. So: a few pictures!

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The exhibition featured lovely introductions for both artists, in Japanese and Italian, and the large printed materials really complimented the originals and helped fill the large, lovely space.

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The exhibition featured Igort on the right (orange), and Taniguchi on the left (blue), and was about men taking a walk. Igort’s work was pulled primarily from his new book “Les Cahiers Japonais: Un voyage dans l’empire des signes”, a travelogue of sorts. The art was lovely and was very much the perspective of an outsider looking into Japan, lots of Japonisme to the work. I’m interested to read it now, and I hope it gets an English translation.

Taniguchi’s work was drawn from one of his newest projects, a gorgeous fully watercolour-painted travelogue of Venice, commissioned by Louis Vuitton(!) and available more-or-less exclusively through them. It’s a gorgeous book and the artwork itself is similarly beautiful, the details and sense of place very impressive indeed.

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In addition to the originals from both books, the display cases also featured original artwork and books from different projects in the artists’ careers, going back almost to the beginning. It’s remarkable just how much Taniguchi’s style has changed, and how much it’s remained the same, over the years. The exhibition also featured 4 short films about the artists on a loop, and a selection of their graphic novels for visitors to browse (French, Italian, and Japanese).

The exhibition is free, and also features a small catalogue to go along with it. We got ours for free, which was a lovely treat! Unfortunately they’re still packed away, and I’ll see about uploading a photo or two of it when I unpack.

I wasn’t allowed to take close up pictures of the art, for obvious reasons, so I’ve included a few samples from both cartoonists below that I found on the web. Both books are lovely, and if you can track down that limited edition Taniguchi do so before it’s too late–it’ll set you back $80-$100.

Jiro Taniguchi, from Venice:

louis-vuitton--Louis_vuitton_288_lv_travel_book_collection_introduces_Venice_DI3

VeniseTaniguchi VeniseTaniguchi

 

 

Igort, from Les Cahiers Japonais:

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cahiersjaponais01

cahiersjaponais02

 

Japan Travel, Hiroshima, Barefoot Gen, and Kickstarter.

I’ve been recounting my travels to Japan in November and December 2014 over on my Facebook. These are travels outside of Tokyo, and were largely personal trips, not related to comics, and I felt like they weren’t particularly well-suited to Comics212. But we’re at the point in the trip where I reached Hiroshima, and I thought I’d share that here.

The Eternal Flame Monument at the Hiroshima Peace Museum.
The Eternal Flame Monument at the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

71lPIsdV9hLI had been to Japan about a half-dozen times before my trip in November and December 2014. With each trip I’d never made it much further west than Osaka, and with each trip I’d feel a growing feeling of… I dunno, guilt, but also the abdication of responsibility, that I’d never been to Hiroshima, to see the remains and to see the Peace Museum. I’d read a bunch about Hiroshima and seen a documentary, and the graphic novels ‘Barefoot Gen’ by Keiji Nakazawa, and ‘Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms’ by Fumiyo K?no, are both excellent, emotional, and often visceral works on the subject of the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath that have stayed with me for years.

Monument on the Hiroshima Peace Museum grounds.
Monument on the Hiroshima Peace Museum grounds.

Currently, Last Gasp Publishing has a Kickstarter running to support its mission to place Barefoot Gen, for free, into schools and libraries across America. As someone who finally visited Hiroshima late last year, and who saw the devastation and its aftereffects, and spoke with survivors firsthand, I can say that this incident is still as relevant as ever. The discussion that Barefoot Gen could and should spark in schools and libraries is one worth having, and I hope you’ll support this Kickstarter:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1784498350/barefoot-gen-for-schools-and-libraries

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The only photo I snapped inside the museum is this one showing the town of Hiroshima in 1945. The red ball hanging over top is the height, location, and size of the explosion of the atomic bomb.

I didn’t take many photos in Hiroshima, because quite honestly I was having a tough time. It didn’t seem appropriate to be snapping away, at least not with tears in my eyes. My friends have told me that it doesn’t get any easier, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary to go, and I’ll probably head back there at least once more, to take it all in again.

Across the river from the museum is the actual memorial, with the "Atomic Bomb Dome" building.
Across the river from the museum is the actual memorial, with the “Atomic Bomb Dome” building.

If you’re able to visit the Peace Museum, and like myself able to sign the Peace declaration, please do.

Thanks,

– Christopher

The Atomic Bomb Dome is a ruin left largely intact as a reminder of the devestation of the war. After visiting the museum, I sat for a long time directly across the river from this monument.
The Atomic Bomb Dome is a ruin left largely intact as a reminder of the devestation of the war. After visiting the museum, I sat for a long time directly across the river from this monument.

I’ll be in Japan for Christmas

Hey there. I’ll be in Japan from November 18 through December 29. Andrew will be there with me for the latter half of that. We’re both very excited.

I’m very fortunate to have worked this out with my employer at The Beguiling at the beginning of this year, and while the timing is awful, it’s never not going to be awful and so I’m pressing on.

I know it seems overly audacious to assume anyone gives a whirl about my travel plans, but since I know a bunch of people almost entirely online, and since this is unprecedented, I thought I’d make a brief note. I’m hoping to get a chance to write some more, and to relax, and maybe improve my terrible Japanese language ability a little. I’ll still be answering e-mails, but I probably won’t make it to your Christmas party.

Don’t worry, I’ll take pictures.

Thanks for your understanding and for not hating me,

– Christopher

The Coolest Thing I Did This Year

The Arcade Fire, Reflektor

I have a bad memory.

I feel like this is at least in part due to my heroic intake of aspartame via diet coke from my early childhood up until a few years ago, when I kicked it more-or-less entirely. I’m certainly hoping that someone draws a link between aspartame and memory loss, because I am DOWN for some of that sweet class-action money–my diet coke intake was so prodigious that it even got a shout-out in volume 4 of Scott Pilgrim.

But I digress.

I have a bad memory, and so when someone asks me how my summer was, or to reflect on my year, or “so what was the coolest thing about your trip to Japan?” I get a little scared because I can never pull that info up. I’m bad at it. I try to rehearse a few key things so I have something to do other than stare blankly. Japan trips in particular are tough, because I’m usually pretty depressed when I come back from Japan, and the trip itself has smushed together into a warm fuzzy comforting blur, and the disparity between those two states of mind, and my aformentioned poor memory, tend to obliterate details in their entirety.

So, we were talking about music at work, and cool music we liked this year (This was a month ago, when that discussion would’ve made sense, but I’ve also gotten shitty at blogging in a timely fashion so here we are, February!). I mentioned that I really liked the new Arcade Fire, Reflektor, and then I remembered how I came to own it, and it was one of the coolest things I did this year.

You see I was in Japan, and I was there for three weeks. Long trip! I knew I wanted to travel and get out of Tokyo, my last bunch of trips had been confined to Tokyo, and while I love the city, Japan has lots for me to discover, and those discoveries tend to come more quickly when I travel outside of the city. So I bought a JR Pass, a rail pass good for free travel on the national train lines anywhere in the country. And I decided that I would either go to Hiroshima, I’ve never been, or go back to Hokkaido (and Sapporo in particular) because I’d only been once and loved it there. I’d let fate decide, I had a bit of business I could do for UDON with the good folks at Crypton (stewards of international virtual idol sensation Hatsune Miku), headquartered in Sapporo. If they wanted to meet with me, I’d go to Sapporo. If they were unable, I’d go to Hiroshima.

I should note, at this point, I fully intend to go to Hiroshima, I just haven’t been able to commit to it, it’s huge in my head… I don’t know how else to describe it, it’s too big, and sad. Seriously. I went to the war museum adjacent to the highly-controversial Yasakuni Shrine, and I was bawling by the end of that. Meticulously catalogued death, I could not deal. So, yeah, I’m going to go, but I just need to psyche myself up for it. Next time.

As you may have guessed, I went up north to Hokkaido. I spent the night in Hakodate, a lovely little town with great history, food, and lots of onsen. Super cute trolleys running through the town too. It was a great stop, and now I want to go back there, too.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself a little here.

The main island of Japan, the island that Tokyo and Osaka and Kyoto are on, is called Honshu, And the island north of that is Hokkaido, and that’s the island that Sapporo is on, and they brew beer there. Actually, I have a lot more to say about Sapporo than that, including that I love it there and could totally live there for the three summer months that Tokyo basically becomes unliveable thanks to the 105 degree heat, digress digress digress.

To get from Tokyo to Sapporo, most Japanese just fly. It costs about $100, $150 to do so, round trip. It’s about an hour and a half. Like flying Toronto to New York. It’s like… 9 or 10 hours by train, I think. But, if you’re going to Osaka and Kyoto and wherever else in Japan, where you would have to pay for train tickets anyway, it becomes free to go up to Hokkaido… if you bought a train pass. Frankly, I can use some time to decompress, I’m a little busy usually, a 5 hour stretch on a train actually sounds lovely. Except, as I mentioned it’s a separate island. But, amazingly, the Japanese government built a railway and drilled a tunnel underground to connect the two islands, under the Tsugaru Strait, called the Sekai tunnel, and it goes underground and underwater for nearly 24km. It goes 240m below sea level, and 140m below the seabed. If you have fears of things related to those two ideas, it is intense. It connects Aomori, on Honshu, with Hakodate, on Hokkaido.

Also, it now becomes relevant to point out that for like 8 bucks a day you can get a sim card for your iphone with unlimited data, unlimited local calling, and a bunch of free international calling, for your trip to Japan. There’s nothing like decompressing on a train for 5 hours when you can just read infinite tweets.

So I’m in Aomori, and I get on a train named SUPER HAKUCHO, and via Twitter I read, and am reminded, that The Arcade Fire released their album the day prior.

So I go to iTunes, which works just fine, and I see it’s there.

And as my train is hurtling at high-speed towards a 24km tunnel under the sea in Japan, I purchase, and download the complete album on my phone. It completes in about 8 minutes.

I start listening to the album as we enter the tunnel. I’m 240m below sea-level on the other side of the world, listening to my favourite Canadian band on my phone.

I smile, because every aspect of that moment is something that I had wished for, longed for, really, since I was a child and first became enchanted by the promise of technology, and travel, and Japan as a gateway to these ideas.

I get that this is a stupid, small moment, and one that I’d seemingly forgotten until last month, but looking back at it, it’s just so… cool. The perfect encapsulation of the life I’ve wanted for so long, and now it’s here, and isn’t that great? 

Anyway, just thought I’d share. Hope you had some cool stuff happen to you this year as well.  🙂

– Chris
P.S.: I really liked the album, obviously.

 

Ghibli Museum – Significant Overseas Ticket Price Increase!

Hey everyone!

I got a comment on my blog that reminded me about something that I’ve been meaning to post. The Ghibli Museum, a must-visit spot for anyone going to Japan, is still an amazing space and incredibly inexpensive to visit, at only 1000yen!

However, JTB, Japan Travel Bureau, the only way to purchase Ghibli tickets from overseas, has taken to charging customers exorbitant rates, with a ridiculous currency exchange AND huge ‘transaction fees’! Basically that 1000yen ticket (about CDN$10.58 by today’s exchange rate) now costs nearly $40! That’s $13.00 +tax for the ticket, and a $25.00 transaction fee!

While I think this is unacceptable and plan on mailing off a letter of complaint to the good folks at the Ghibli Museum about what their business partner is up to, this is pretty much the only game in town for foreign visitors at the moment. So read on for my suggestions for a Japan-bound traveler on what to do.

Comment Submitted on 2013/10/09 at 6:49 pm

Hi,

I’ve been enjoying your blog as of late as I prepare for my trip to Japan at the end of October. I really want to visit the museum but was wondering about the ticket situation. To buy the ticket from the states, it would cost $40. To buy it in Japan, it would cost $10. I’m a bit of a cheap-arse. Kinda hard to swallow the markup. Do you think it’d be prudent of me to purchase the tickets in the states? How difficult would it be to acquire the tickets in Japan? Great blog! Thanks for the help.

– Jerry

Hey there Jerry,

Thanks for your comment on my blog!

To answer your question–yes, the new ‘transaction fee’ that JTB is charging is insane.  I don’t know that I can 100% recommend either the “buy early, pay through the nose” method, or the “take your chances in Japan” method as being a good deal though.

Here’s what you’re looking at:

Buying Ghibli tickets in Japan:
– Only 1000 yen!
– You can only buy them from a Japanese electronic vending machine, only at LAWSON convenience store, and the machine is Japanese-language only!
– The machine may or may not take your foreign Visa/Mastercard. This has been iffy for me in the past.
– Tickets bought in Japan have an “admission time” on them, meaning you MUST enter at that time or within an hour afterwards, or your ticket is invalid.
– Tickets sell out QUICK, so by the time you get to Japan, all the tickets for your dates may be unavailable.

Buying in North America:
– $40! Highway robbery! a 400% markup is unacceptable for an ‘administration fee’.
– International tickets are good all day, no ‘start time’ so you can plan a flexible schedule!
– You can buy international tickets months and months in advance.
– It’s way easier to plan your trip when the tickets are confirmed early.

So! If you’re the type to fly by the seat of your pants, then good, go for the cheap option! Otherwise, swallow your pride (and $30 that could go towards 2 great bowls of ramen) and pay for the convenience. If you need to have your trip set in stone, pay the money for the peace of mind.

Though, frankly, the third option is the best: Beg a friend of yours in Japan to buy them for you!

Thanks,

– Christopher

TCAF in Tokyo – November 13-18

Heya! I’m pretty excited about my next trip to Japan, as I’ll be bringing along a collective of cartoonists and publishers as part of the work I’m doing with TCAF (The Toronto Comic Arts Festival).

I know I’d mentioned it a few times before, but now that the events are public I thought it warranted a blog post. Here are the quick-and-dirty details, but you can find all of the info and links and graphics and author biographies at http://torontocomics.com/news/tcaf-japan-2012-exhibition-details/.

If you’re reading this and you will be in the Tokyo area, I hope you’ll come say hi!

Oh, I’d like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts for supporting my trip.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $154 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil  a investi 154 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.

TCAF Presents: En Masse in Tokyo
at Design Festa Gallery WEST Room 1-D
November 13th to November 15th
3-20-18, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Free to attend
http://enmasse.info/
http://www.facebook.com/events/114548898703824/

On Tuesday, November 13th, a group of Canadian and Japanese artists led by En Masse mainstay Rupert Bottenberg will collaboratively create three brand new works from blank canvas’, with the public invited to (unobtrusively) view the creation process. Then, from the 13th to the 15th, all three new narrative art works will be on display and for sale at the legendary Design Festa Gallery, founded by acclaimed contemporary artist Takeshi Murakami.

TCAF Presents: Canada Comic Arts!
November 15th to December 2nd (Speaking Event November 18, 7pm)
Place: Shibuya Parco Part One B1F, Inside Parco Book Center at Presspop Gallery.
http://www.facebook.com/events/508510162495190/

We are proud to present “Canada Comics Arts” curated by TCAF of Canada.

In trying to give us a chance to glimpse the presently expanding exciting comics and arts scene in Canada, TCAF has selected and brought over original artworks by amazing artists, Maurice Vellekoop and Love Love Hill, and also books by Canadian artists of their choice. The TCAF crew, artists, and publishers will be in store on November 18th from 19:00 to discuss what’s going on now in the Canadian comics/art/publishing scene. Authors will read short excerpts of selected works. Don’t miss out on this rare chance!

Kaigai Manga Festa, Tokyo, Japan
Featuring The Toronto Comic Arts Festival & Canadian Authors
Tokyo Big Sight, East-West Atrium, 3-11-1 Ariake, Koutou-ku, Tokyo
11:00am to 4:00pm
Admission 1000yen ($12.50CDN)
http://kaigaimangafesta.com/en/
http://www.facebook.com/events/354922114598137/

Kaigai Manga Festa is the first ever Tokyo exhibition of international comics and graphic novels. TCAF will be on hand to represent Canadian comics culture, with the support of Canadian publishers Drawn & Quarterly, Koyama Press, and UDON Entertainment. Authors include Rupert Bottenberg, Omar Dogan, Jeffrey Ellis, Agnes Garbowska, Dax Gordine, Love Love Hill (Collective featuring Wai Au, Kim Hoang, Julie Man), David Namisato, Benjamin Rivers, Miguel Sternberg, Maurice Vellekoop.

In addition, TCAF has created an original doujinshi in honour of the Festival’s 10th Anniversary, celebrating the wonderful original artwork that has been created to represent the festival.

And just cuz it’s kinda neat, here’s the TCAF appearances flyer in English/Japanese:

– Chris

Japan Travel: Studio Ghibli Museum November 2011 & July 2009

It’s been over a year since my last Japan Travelogue, and that was from 2010. I’ve been to Japan three times since then, and taken thousands of photos during that time. My busy life (the reason I’ve been three times…) has kept me from updating as much as I’d like, and while I can’t promise that’s going to change any time soon, I’ve got about an hour right now (at 3am on Friday night) and I figured, what the heck!

Two things before we dive in.

1. Sincerely, the Ghibli Museum is a wonderful, surprising, lovely space, and if you plan on going don’t read this post. Experience it for yourself.

2. I’ve actually already blogged about the Ghibli Museum before, following my 2007 trip. You can see that one–which is much more in-depth–at http://comics212.net/2007/12/12/japan-2007-mitaka-ghibli-museum/.

The Ghibli Museum
Mitaka (just west of Tokyo), Japan
Website: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/

Adjacent to a huge and lovely park, and specifically designed to blend into the surrounding parkland and neighbourhood, The Ghibli Museum sits as a wondrous and somewhat understated tribute to the genius of Animator Hayao Miyzaki. It is, in effect, the opposite of Walt Disney’s ‘World’ and ‘Land”, a themed attraction in observance of a particular animator’s creativity, but one the discourages abandon in favour of consideration, appreciation, and harmony. It’s as perfectly integrated into the fabric, the seemingly shared world of Miyazaki’s works, as any of his films.

I’ve been 3 times and I’d go back any time anyone asked me. I’m planning a trip in November 2012, and I’ll be going then as well.

When my friend Kimi (pictured) and I arrived, it was a warm autumn morning  just before the museum opened for the day and the line of folks waiting to get in was formidable! Like many attractions in Japan, The Ghibli Museum is on a timed-admittance policy, where your ticket (which must be purchased in advance) says not just what day you can visit, but what time you can enter as well. This is to keep the swell of the crowds manageable, but since they never kick anyone out, the earlier in the day you go the easier it will be to get around and see things, and the more fun you’re likely to have.

Fun fact: If you buy your ticket from overseas, there’s no timed admission! Just show up whenever!

Kimi is from Hokkaido, Sapporo specifically, and I met him a few years back on my first visit to the city. He’s an interesting guy, traveling all the time, and was willing to come down to Tokyo to meet me on my trip. He’s actually a bit of a closet nerd too, so we get along great. He’d never been to The Ghibli Museum before and his enthusiasm was pretty infectious. 🙂

There are a lot of lovely little details like this to discover on your trip.

Tickets in hand, we approach the entrance archway.

The Ghibli Museum has a very strict rule about photography, where you’re not allowed to snap any photos inside the building, but you can take as many as you like outside of it. Or as they put it on the Museum’s web page:

*Photography and video recording are not allowed inside the Museum.

-The Ghibli Museum is a portal to a storybook world. As the main character in a story, we ask that you experience the Museum space with your own eyes and senses, instead of through a camera’s viewfinder. We ask that you make what you experienced in the Museum the special memory that you take home with you.

The first few times I visited the museum my opinion of this ranged from contemptuous to simply disdainful, but having experienced so many attractions in Japan and elsewhere through other people’s viewfinders, for example going to the Moma and having there be a crowd of people 10-deep taking pictures of “Starry Night” with their cameraphone, I think maybe I appreciate this policy now…

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t try to sneak a few photos. 😉

Back outside and on the roof of the building, we see one of the most amazing pieces of the museum, the Robot Soldier from Lupin: Castle in the Sky (one of the cubes is there too). It’s just perfect. I hope if we ever get robots, they’re Miyzaki robots.

Wrapping around the back half of the museum (not visible from the front road) is a large deck/patio, a gorgeous outdoor space amongst the trees and looking onto the park. It’s an additional exit from the museum, if you’ve decided your visit has come to an end, but it’s also a lovely place to sit and rest, and maybe grab a hot dog, ice cream, or beer.

Nausicaa beer. Er, rather, “Valley of the Wind” Beer. Recommended. 🙂

The deck is also where you can enter The Straw Hat Cafe. This is different than the little food-service window serving snacks, this is a full-service, sit-down restaurant that there is always (in my visits) a 40 person line for. But Kimi didn’t travel down from Sapporo to not go to the cafe, and so we got in that line.

I got some sort of blueberry pop with ice cream in it (delicious) and Kimi got, I believe, home-made ginger ale. Both were excellent! Oh, and? Real straws made of straw.

From the website:

The Cafe serves both cold and hot meals, snacks and desserts. The menu is simple and the variety is limited, but almost everything comes from organic farms, is very fresh and nutritious, and we cook them with loving care and patience. We specially recommend the jumbo fried pork cutlet sandwich, the fruit sandwich, and the strawberry short cake.

Kimi had some sort of curry vegetable/rice dish that was delicious, and they were sold out of the pork cutlet sandwich that day, and so I ordered a chicken club. This is a chicken club, perhaps the most immaculately prepared I have ever had, or ever will have. It had avocado too. It was pretty seriously delicious.

Oh, and the dishes! The food is served on Ghibli-themed dishes, which are, conveniently, available for sale in the gift shop. 🙂

I’m not much of a dessert person, but after how good my sandwich and drink were, I had to see what they’d do with it. Kimi got vanilla ice cream with some sort of compote, and I got strawberry shortcake, that again, was immaculate and light and airy and delicious. Gigi the cat on my plate probably helped make it even more delicious.

Hi Kimi!

The outdoor spaces are fascinating and detailed and beautifully appointed, and the interiors I would say are even moreso. It really is wonderful just being here.

So that was my 2011 trip to The Ghibli Museum. I’m sure my 2012 (and 2013, 2014, 2015…) visit will be just as enjoyable. I’ll see if I can find a few more things to take photos of for you. 🙂

– Chris

BONUS: As I was digging through my archives for this post, I realized I never posted my photos from the 2009 trip to Ghibli. My husband Andrew and I went on my birthday in July of that year, with my friends Dave & Kiko, and their kids Noa and Hana. Here’s the photos from that trip that don’t duplicate what’s above too badly. 🙂

David, Kiko, and Hana.

Noa really liked the Ice Cream.

Representing TCAF in Tokyo. 😉

Thanks for reading!

– Chris

A Walk Through Nakano, Tokyo, Japan

I’m trying something a little different.

Over at my Flickr, I’ve just posted a walk through Nakano, one of the suburbs of Tokyo. It’s 2 or 3 stops west of Shinjuku, and in addition to being a lovely little area of town, it also houses Nakano Broadway Mall, home to nearly 10 different outlets of the used nerd good chain Mandarake, which I’ve talked about before. You can see my first visit to Nakano Broadway at http://comics212.net/2008/02/06/japan-2007-nakano-broadway-mall/, if you’re curious.

On our 2010 trip, our friend Jocelyne took us to a cute little vegan/vegetarian restaurant a 10 minute walk away from Nakano Broadway and from the JR station, and I decided to catalogue the walk with my new camera.

If you’d like to check it out–and there’s a tiny little bit of comics content in there too–please head over to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/comics212/sets/72157627680799795/.

Best,

– Chris

 

 

Japan 2010: Kinokuniya Bookstore – Shinjuku JR East Exit

On our walks through Shinjuku, we’ve already been to the flagship Kinokuniya store, located at the New South Entrance of Shinjuku station. Renown for having more-or-less the best collection of English language books available for sale in Japan, nearly a whole floor devoted to them.

But there is… another.

Perhaps this will be shocking to those of you who’ve grown up in North America, but the Kinokuniya bookstore chain has another massive, multi-floor location on the other side of the train station! It’s busy too, and while there is a dearth of English language books the Japanese manga section is perhaps even larger than the flagship.

I thought it might be fun to visit the Kinokuniya found at the East exit (actually, it’s the North End, but you get to it by the East exit), and take you on a walk through yet another bookstore full of delightful treats that will make you ache to visit Japan the way I do. 😉

Ready?

Walking in through the entrance above, I encountered the incredible display. Apparently it was magazine season, and, better still, each of the magazines also came with their own cloth shopping bag. Apparently reusable shopping bag fever had hit Japan, and so with your Yves St. Laurent magazine/catalogue/lifestyle product, you could also get a rare YSL-branded shopping bag. But it was slightly more illustrated periodicals that I was looking for, and so we headed onwards through the store.

So if you walk into the complex pictured at the top, and then walk through it you will come to an annex to the main book store, and it is called “Forest”, and it’s where the manga and the DVDs and all of that reside. It’s pretty fantastic.

Here’s the floor-guide!

By far the grandest display was for the then-newest volume of Thermae Romae, a collection of short stories about the history of bathing and public bathing in manga form! A surprise hit, the first volume featured a roman fella (a senator I think) being magically transported from ancient Rome to present-day Japan, to draw parallels between both sorts of public bathing!

It seems like a fun series, and I love that the book covers all feature the great statue illustrations. I’m kind of hoping that the series eventually makes its way to North America, but given how uniquely and weirdly Japanese it is, I’m not holding my breath.

Here’s a wide shot of the manga floor, with some after-work shoppers lining up with their purchases. It’s an absolutely sprawling store, with shelf after shelf of manga, art books, manga magazines, and other assorted bits and bobs.  You can see a bunch of different signing boards from visiting mangaka, and it’s cool to see them around. I like that even in a ‘corporate’ store, there are great touches like this.

Zooming in closer we get a look at some of the popular art books of the day, including the two One Piece collections, something called “Blue”, the Gelatin collection (sort of like ‘ROBOT’), and more.

And here we have the shelf that’s present in basically every book store or manga store I’ve visited in Japan–the Tezuka shelf. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the reverence with which Tezuka is held in Japan, nor the ubiquity of his manga.

This shelf featured a selection of classic manga, and what looked to be contemporary classics. I was drawn in by these collections of the Speed Racer manga (called Mach Go Go Go in Japanese), available here in 3 volumes (a 2 volume slipcase in North America), but a lot of the manga on this shelf looked really neat, and I had almost no familiarity with any of it. It’s kind of amazing how much is out there, what a huge and great history of material… and how very little of it we’ll ever see in English.

This was a neat shelf, consisting of the work of Shigeru Mizuki. To me, this looked like the Japanese edition of the recent Drawn & Quarterly release Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, but there are three volumes here. I can only wonder if these are additional volumes? Expanded books? Or perhaps text/novelizations of those books? It’s all there, alongside other famous Mizuki works including Kitaro and his recent autobiographical collections. I could have spent a small fortune here.

Speaking of which, this is actually a novelization of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, published in English by Drawn & Quarterly. It never occurred to me that someone might write a novelization of a manga but I guess they do. That’s kinda neat.

Another shot of one of the many large aisles.

More still!

So one of the cool manga-related happenings is that mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku had been adapted into a live-action period drama. Well, sci-fi period drama. This special edition of the first volume had been released featuring the lead actor and his manga counterpart!

The shop even set up this elaborate display, playing episodes from the tv series! Very cool cross promotion and something I kind of wish I had the budget to enact at our store, in some way. Well, actually, it’s not so much the budget as it is the fact that our store is full floor-to-ceiling with product already, and squeezing in a TV would be next-to-impossible. 😉

And that brings us to the end of the store, the check-out counter. I’m not entirely sure if buying a complete set of One Piece for 32,430 yen (about $400) counts as an “impulse purchase” but beggars and chosers. I ended up buying a surprising amount of stuff at this location despite the fact that it was early in my trip, and I was going to spend the rest of the trip in used/discount stores, which is a testament to just how well-stocked and put together this location is! While it is a little tougher to get to than the store at the Shinjuku JR new south exit, it’s worth it anyway.

– Christopher

All photos by Christopher Butcher, except top photo of Kinokuniya Shoten exterior from http://www.essential-japan-guide.com/.

Going back to Japan in November

Shinjuku at night, November 2010

In the lead up to TCAF I was itching to travel. Despite the fact I’d been in Tokyo in October/November 2010, the bug had bit and I wanted to get away from it all for a few weeks. Air Canada was having a last-minute sale on Japan, where I could’ve gone for the first three weeks of may for like $1100, which is a great price if you’re flying Air Canada, and not bad for everyone else.

I didn’t end up going because I realized I might’ve totally fucked TCAF up if I took off for three weeks just a month before the Festival, and then I ended up missing out on the devestating Tohoku Earthquake.

It’s funny, ever since the earthquake my resolve about going back, my interest in returning to a country that has been beset by tragedy and is undergoing some pretty heavy psychological scarring at the moment with radiation fears and continued earthquakes, it hasn’t shaken. I’ve been wondering when the next time I could sneak away…pretty much non-stop. No time in May with TCAF and Anime North, no time in June with the move (ugggggh). I kinda refuse to go in July, August, and September because I’m not built for 40+ degree weather (celcius). And October was looking a little busy.

As soon as the tickets went back on sale (1200!), I booked for the first two weeks of November. I’m very excited.

Shinjuku at night, November 2010

Unexpectedly though, my booking made travelling back real, and reading the news feeds out of Japan right now hit me pretty hard this weekend. Particularly these posts by Danny Choo, detailing the massive devastation and loss of life in Tohoku.

I’ve heard from many friends and writers that while Japan is not yet back to ‘normal’, a ‘new normal’ has taken its place, and people are doing okay… except for the tourism industry, that is. I’ve heard reports from friends that ‘people’ aren’t travelling to Japan at the moment, and within Japan people are staying home a lot and not visiting bars and restaurants, worsening an economic recession that has gripped the country for the past few years.

I’m glad I’m going back, I’m glad that whatever few bucks I can contribute to the economy and to charity will make an impact, and I hope that somehow I can inspires folks like you reading this to do the same.

To that end, I’m going to work very hard to get the rest of my Japan photos up online from my previous trips (I think there are hundreds no one has seen yet), and I’ll try to keep you up to date on my trip planning here on the blog as I get things ready.

Thanks for reading,

– Christopher