Category Archives: Random Japan

Get your own pancake drink…

Apparently the folks at online importer j-list have started selling cans of the pancake drink, or as they call it “Dydo Hot Cake Mix Drink ~ Pancake Essence Beverage”. If you’ll recall, this is the beverage that I heard about and became obsessed with finding on my trip to Japan this past fall. I found it, drank it, and it’s delicious. It’s like tea-with-milk that tastes exactly like buttery pancakes and syrup.

It’s also worth noting that I found it served piping hot (in the can!) at a different vending machine, and it might’ve actually tasted even better warm. Anyway, you can now get a can of your very own! Or two or three. I actually brought back 5 or 6 with me, and they’re in the fridge waiting for a perfect moment to relax and enjoy one…

Maybe that moment is now.

Head over to http://www.jlist.com/product/DRK014 to spend $2.80 on a beverage that your friends will think less of you for having drunk.

– Christopher

Cheese Kit Kats now in stock at AsianFoodGrocer.com

An email in my inbox this morning has alerted me to the fact that the quizzical “Cheese Kit-Kat” is now in stock andavailable for sale at AsianFoodGrocer.com. While I can’t recommend this concoction for the taste–it’s a curious mix of gouda, white cheddar, and white chocolate–it is something to be experienced, and those 10 pieces that come in the box will quite happily satisfy the curiosity of you and 8 friends (you’ll want to try it twice, just cuz).

Check it out at http://www.asianfoodgrocer.com/product/japanese-ki-kat-white-chocolate-cheese. They’ve also got the really good “Adult Dark Chocolate” flavour in stock as well.

– Chris

Random Japan: The Kit Kat Post

So before I set about giving away at Christmastime the massive collection of different flavours of Kit Kat that I’d amassed (56, give or take), I decided to catalogue and take a few photos. I owned everything you see in the photos, at one point or another.

Shown flavours include Green Tea, Cola/Lemon Soda dbl pack, Cherry Blossom Green Tea, Bitter Almond, Sweetened toasted soy flour with mochi (I think), Cherry, Raspberry, Cherry Blossom Milk Tea, Semi-Sweet, Sparkling Strawberry (different than regular strawberry), vanilla, royal milk tea.

This might be a better view. Here at the left we can see apple and Melon, and along the bottom we see Ginger Ale, Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Chunky, Green Tea Chunky, Sweet Potato Chunky, Banana Chunky.

I had amassed a lot of some flavours, and very few of others. Some were rarer and harder to find. Some were given as gifts. Some are… well, they’re old. I mean I’ve kept them in the fridge, but I might’ve been keeping Ginger Ale in the fridge since it was released 3 years ago. Luckily shitty chocolate has infinite shelf life.

Here’s a few of the single ones I have. That’s regular (yeah, they’ve got regular Kit Kats in Japan), Sweet Potato, Chestnut maybe, Anin dofu (a desert made of tofu that tastes like marzipan), and the ubiqutous cheese.

These little mini-kit-kats would be sold by the bag, 20 a piece. It’s part of the culture of Japan, of sharing things particularly in the workplace. You bring in a bag of unique candy, and they’re usually themed by season (warm sweet potatoes for the winter) or by location, and then you bring back a ‘to-share’ bag to the office to show and tell and share about wherever it is you went.

The Cheese Kit Kats come in a gift-box.

Here we have… well, the giftsets of Kit Kat. They come in pretty boxes with 12 little mini Kit Kats in them, and these are the upscale buy-them and share-them Kit Kats. They’re awesome.

Also notice: they have city or region names on them. Funny story, this is because these are generally only sold in the area listed. Go to Yokohama, get the Strawberry Cheese Cake Kit Kat. Or, apparently, Anin Dofu is also a Yokohama flavour. Kawagoe for Sweet Potato, Shizuoka for Wasabi. I’m sure there is greater cultural significance to this that’s lost on me, but frankly? It’s not that important.

You see, all of these items are ALSO available at Narita Airport. All of the gift-set flavours shown, plus a healthy assortment of the small bar/boxes. There’s a specialty foods shop or candy shop, near the food court, on the 4t floor of Terminal 1. It is import Kit Kat mecha. I found 4 flavours in Tokyo that they didn’t have at this shop. I found 14 flavours at that shop that I never saw anywhere in Tokyo. It’s worth finding, and don’t stop at the first shop that sells Wasabi or Sakura Kit Kats. Keep up the search!

So I realize this is crazy.

I don’t really collect much of anything more. I’ve stopped buying most comics, I get rid of graphic novels as often as I buy new ones. I kinda hit critical mass on the toys, and I only picked up one or two on each of the last few trips to Japan. But the urge to collect hasn’t gone away. For example: I also have a slightly disturbing collection of miniature foods… I buy them when I miss being in Japan, or just to cheer me up. Kind of like the Kit Kats. Though I assure you my current weight has almost nothing to do with them. The irony of my insane collection of chocolate? I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’m much more of a fan of potato chips than cookies.

I just like unique and strange things, and unique and strange flavours, and the combination of the familiar and the outre and the fact that a lot of them taste pretty delicious.

But to the outside observer, like my husband whom I dragged into no fewer than 100 Japanese convenience stores looking for “rare Kit Kats”, this must seem insane. I am, literally, hoarding food. That’s the kind of behaviour that gets you put on special television shows.

I don’t want to be on a special television show.

So at Christmas I put one of every flavour I had into a bag and put that away, collection intact. Then I spent a month giving away everything else. Sharing it with friends in the spirit of the season. Except for a small bowl of singles sitting on the table leftover from my Christmas party, they’re all gone now. They were delicious, and weird, and outre. Adventurous friends tried some, less-adventurous friends pretended to (I found a sealed Wasabi Kit Kat on my bookshelf a few days ago). But yeah, now I am no longer… Well alright maybe I am crazy because I still kept one of each, but at least that’s a blogging project.

Oh, I will blog each flavour individually soonish. I just wanna make sure I have the time to do it first.

So that is the story of the Kit Kats. Or at least as much as I can explain. The rest I seriously recommend tracking down for yourself, at your local Asian candy store, importer, or online at http://www.asianfoodgrocer.com/ every once in a while.

But honestly? Get yourself to Japan, even if only to the airport gift shops.

– Chris

Illustrated Gay Club Flyers & Ephemera from Japan

It occurs to me, this being a comic-book website, that not all of my readers may be familiar with club flyers, and may think them to be a mysterious gay-Japanese invention. Let me assure you–clubs all over the world advertise themselves and upcoming events with bright, colourful flyers. But the Japanese ones tend to use manga-style illustrations as a primary attention-getting tool in a way most North American clubs don’t, and that’s awesome.

What we have here is a big (8.5×11″ or so) flyer for an upcoming party at the gay club Arch, a surprisingly big club space in a Tokyo district where most bars comfortably fit 6, and max out at 12. You know it’s a big deal because I was there the first week of November, and they already had the glitz-and-glam advertisements out for a party happening December 11th…!

This is a party for “Gachi-muchi”, or chubby-muscly, a sort of Japanese-only gay subculture that’s kinda like bears but kinda not, too. It’s the type or look typified by the characters in Jiraya manga or in G-Men Magazine, and occasionally by notable names like Genoroh Tagame. The reverse of this flyer features all kinds of photographs–real life versions of the idealized figure shown here. But since there are no illustrations I left it alone. After all, some of those gents might want their privacy.

For more, check out http://www.clubarch.net/schedule/index.html.

Speaking of which, one of the sponsors of the Gachi-Muchi disco party is BIG GYM, a gay bookstore chain (!) specializing in gachi-muchi, bears, and manly men. As such, their stores aren’t generally found in the Shinjuku gay district, but out and about around Tokyo. This here is a free pamphlet they were giving away illustrating the proper way to tie and wear Fundoshi, or traditional Japanese underwear. Check out Big Gym online at http://www.biggym.co.jp/, they’re an awesome, awesome store.

This flyer was picked up from a tourist-friendly shop in Shinjuku ni-chome, and it talks about Rokushaku, a specific type of Fundoshi, and with English instructions…! Interestingly, while a chubby guy is shown here this shop was very ‘twink’ oriented (look it up if you don’t know), I dunno if they’d ever seen anyone this size walk through the door… heh. Until we showed up anyway.

Ah, I totally loved this flyer. This is for a bar in Okinawa called “clutch”, with accounts for the Pacific-islander theming. Basically just a great big fun party scene with all different kinds of guys, letting you know that everyone’s welcome. That’s the bartender, or master/mama, in the center there. I learned that owners of similar bars across the continent will send each other packages of flyers to display and distribute. It’s kind of confusing when you don’t speak the language and see an ad for a bar that you’ve never heard of before, and find out its a thousand km away. Still, it’s only ever a thousand km away…!

Here’s a picture of the flyer that Andrew took, hanging up at a bar. I think this was in a washroom, so… uh. This photo could be worse? 🙂

Finally, here’s a very cool thing. This is a free-giveaway from Big Gym (mentioned above) of an illustration by Gengoroh Tagame. They did this neat thing last year, where every month they gave away a free calendar with an original illustration by a famous gay manga-ka. It encouraged people to come back at least once a month, and hey, free calendar!

Totally gonna steal that idea.

Alright, that’s everything I grabbed on the last trip. Hope you enjoyed, folks!

Best,

– Christopher

Illustrated HIV/AIDS Pamphlets from Japan

In observance of World AIDS day December 1st, I thought it might be appropriate (and fun!) to dig out some of the “souvenirs” of my last trip to Japan.

I’m a comics guy, and if I’m out at a bar and see an illustrated club advertisement, I’ll grab it. I like illustrations, and I particularly like Japan’s specific brand of hot-chubby-bear illustrators, and so I came home with a treasure-trove of cool flyers and booklets. Unfortunately, new cases of HIV and AIDS are seeing a dramatic upswing in Japan right now (and amongst gay men in particular), and a number of organizations are doing great work to make people aware of the disease, how to prevent it, and how to live with it if you become HIV positive. And one of the many ways they’re doing so is by enlisting a huge selection of amazing gay comics artists, in a variety of different ways.

First up you see this collection of 9 illustrations and an info card called, so far as I can tell, “FACE TO REAL”, put out by the folks at http://www.hiv-map.net/. This was actually available as a bagged set of ‘postcards’ at a bar I visited (it was actually a gift from the bartender, once he found out I liked comics…!), and it features some of my favourite comic artists doing original pieces of work, including Jiraya (top left) and Sansuke Yamada (top right). You can click on the image for a slightly bigger-view, but to see the images in all of their glory, I strongly recommend you head to the Real Living Together portal at http://www.real-lt.net/dekiru/ and click on the image in the center. You’ll see an interactive Flash index of all of the images, and each image features information about HIV and AIDS. Unfortunately it’s all Japanese text, but the images are great.

I think it’s kind of amazing that this thing was mass-produced as a collectable, available at distribution points like bars! What a wonderful idea.

This next image is of the outside and inside of a little flyer with just the most adorable illustrations on it. Click to see it larger. Again, it’s a cool flyer with basic HIV/AIDS info on it, as well as a QR code that you can scan with your phone to get more info.  Unfortunately I don’t have any idea who the illustrator is on this one, and I apologize for the quality of the scan. If you can believe it, all of those illustrations are even cuter on the original. 🙂

For more information (in Japanese) and to see more of these illustrations, head over http://hiv-map.net/.

This last one though? This is utterly amazing. This is an HIV/AIDS info guide, but also a fully illustrated safe-sex guide. Better still, they enlisted the artistic skills of renown gay/bear manga-ka Echigoya Shinnosuke to illustrate the whole thing! Unfortunately most of the interior illustrations take this blog from “Not Safe For Work” right into “Oh, he’s posting actual porn now” territory, so I’m gonna err on the side of caution and stay away for now. Which isn’t to say that an instructional image of a little cartoon man rolling a condom onto his erect little cartoon dick is porn. It’s not. But the images of the dudes fucking is, albeit highly relevant and entertaining! So, yeah, until enough of you cry foul and demand scans, I’m going to hold off posting for now.

Did you notice the hole-punches by the way? This booklet is 30 pages (including the covers), with detatchable pages, and it’s meant to be inserted into a day-planner! Just because you’re a workaholic salaryman dropping by the gay bar on your way home from work doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a bunch of illustrated guides to putting on a condom, safe anal intercourse, and std info at your fingertips…!

Also? Printed in 1999. There’s no website info in the contact information. Pre-web!

I couldn’t resist, that image was adorable.

This is just one of the ways that comics (manga) and illustrated art are a part of daily life in Japan, in a way that they wouldn’t be here in North America. There’s a push-and-pull between fans who think the streets are paved with manga, and been-there-done-that-fans who insist that anyone who still likes comics, even in Japan, is a big old ostracized nerd (otaku), but the reality is somewhere between those two extremes. Comics are everywhere, illustrations are everywhere, and incredibly popular at conveying information in a direct and fun way.

And they make for some pretty amazing souvenirs! (Don’t worry, I made sure there were plenty of pamphlets left and got permission from the bartenders first).

So remember to play-safe out there folks, whether you’re in Japan, North America, or anywhere else for that matter. And tomorrow I’m going to post some club advertisements that also use illustrations.

Cheers,

– Christopher

Random Japan: Morinaga Pancake Drink

I’m still in Japan, and I’ve got a whole bunch of little posts on the fantastic beverages I’ve been consuming, but this one took the cake… the hotcake that is! Ha ha ha. This is Morinaga’s Pancake Drink, which I heard about this week and then spent several days searching for in various vending machines.

I found this particular vending machine in Ryogoku, in front of the JeansMate. I bought 5 cans.

As you can see, it has more or less the consistentcy of milk tea. That’s kind of how it drank as well.

How does it taste you ask?

Like a delicious drink of pancakes, butter, and syrup (table, not maple). It’s pretty fantastic. Admittedly, there is no chance of something like this coming to North America, but as far as cult-followings for Japanese snack goods go, I strongly suggest you get on the pancake-drink bandwagon immediately. 🙂

– Chris

Going back to Japan!

So, surprising no one (I guess) I am heading back to Tokyo today for a business trip with as much ‘pleasure’ as I can cram in there as well. Buying more stuff for The Beguiling, hopefully doing a bit of TCAF business, that sort of thing. As always it’s going to be a hoot.

The big change is that all of my photo-taking, and subsequent photo-blogging, will now be done with this beauty of a camera–the Olympus PEN E-PL1–which I am test-driving for the trip. Thanks to various folks for helping me set that one up, I should have some great photos to share this week and next.

Meanwhile, before I had a chance to break out the Olympus (shot with my Fuji Finepix), I spotted this rack at the exceptionally well-stocked-for-graphic-novels airport bookstore. Archie Marries…, Bone and Amulet on the bottom shelf, and… is that?

…yes! This is an airport bookstore that actually stocks Jason Shiga’s MEANWHILE…. That is awesome! I mean, it’s on a shelf with “Herman Classics”, which is less awesome, but still! And just around the corner on the same display…

Scott Pilgrim! Pokemon! And… THE NEW CHARLES BURNS!? This airport bookstore has more copies of these books in-stock and displayed than _most comic book stores_, which is why _most comic book stores_ make me incredibly sad. But wait there’s more!

The staff picks! Since they’re 95% DC, I’m tempted to say that DC’s Cdn distributor bought and paid for this section, but either way, that’s some great, prominent display for these books! That’s pretty incredible and an auspicious start to this trip…

On that note, let me share a couple more pics with you.

These are two pictures that I took of the Taiyo Matsumoto section of my bookshelf, just so they’d be on the camera when I was out shopping and I’d know what I already had!

Top photo (l to r): TekkonKinkreet Animation Book 2-pack, PEN magazine with comic article, 5-issues “Black and WHite” mini-series, Tekkon Kinkreet All-In-One Edition, GoGo Monster, Black & White 1-3, ZERO 1-2, “Brothers of Japan”, a novel Matsumoto did the cover for, Hana-Otoko 1-3 Special box set, Hana-Otoko v1, Blue Spring, Le Samurai Bambou 1-2 (French), Number 5 Omnibus Editions 1-2 & 4, No. 5 v3 (French), No. 5 1-2 (English), No. 5 volume 1 Gift-box edition with figure (Japanese), Cosmic Comix Magazine with Matsumoto interview, 100 & 101 Matsumoto art books, Something(?), French colour comics album.

Bottom photo (l to r): PING PONG Film book box-set edition with Paddle & Rubik’s Cube, Ping Pong 1-2 & 5, Ping Pong Special Edition Oversized version 1-3, and then a bunch of other stuff. Oh, and Bambook Samurai Volume 7 is on the top there, laying on it’s side.

Click for larger!

Alright, I’ve got a plane to catch. Expect lots of blogging this week! Take care!

– Christopher

Gekko Hayashi a.k.a. Goji Ishihara

Last week the excellent Japanese Culture blog Pink Tentacle picked up on the story of illustrator Goji Ishihara, a Showa-period Japanese illustrator who is fondly remembered for his children’s book illustrations… depicting horrific monsters and violence! This illustration is from the aptly named “Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters” from 1972, and if you head over to Pink Tentacle you can see 15 other illustrations from that book and a bunch more. They’re great! He’s clearly an amazing illustrator.

He was also immediately recognizable to me as the illustrator of a lovely little chapbook of erotic illustrations that I picked up at Taco Che, the alternative comic/book store in Nakano Broadway. It’s called “Erotic Art of Gekko Hayashi a.k.a. Ishihara Gojin” and it turns out that it was actually published by Taco Che themselves, though in 2005 and is now sadly out of print.

The book is fabulous, focusing on primarily gay erotic works, with some S&M a general erotica thrown in for good measure. From what I can tell, the chapbook acted as a gallery catalogue for an exhibition of his work that the store threw back in 2005. You can still see the event page here.

Slightly Naughty! Click to enlarge.

Looking back at it now with a modern eye, you can see the dedication to the depiction of powerful, lithe, and sexy male forms in his kids illustration work that Pink Tentacle dug up, and it goes to show the sort of coded gay language that was a big part of mainstream culture through the 70s and early 80s.

Unfortunately there’s very little information on Hayashi in English anywhere on the net, so far as I can tell, so any speculation as to whether or not he identified as gay would be up in the air. EDIT: I just found this interview at ComiPress that has a great overview of his career (apparently he worked right up through his 70s, including doing gay work until the end of his career, (including some racy stuff!). He also, apparently has a son who is the administrator of his estate (Hayashi passed away in 1997) so… yeah. Gay is still kind of a sliding scale in Japan. 🙂

The other neat thing is that all of the images that Pink Tentacle ganked came grom a site called “Gojin Fech!” which seems to be a massive repository of his work online, which I can’t seem to navigate at all, Google Chrome/Translate are utterly choking on it. But maybe check it out for yourself, and see if it works out better for you: http://shun50.cool.ne.jp/gojin.htm

Anyway, if you like really attractive illustrations of the male form from 1970s Japan (and who doesn’t?), I highly recommend googling the names “Gekko Hayashi” and “Goji Ishihara”, because there are tons of other fabulous examples of his stuff online.

– Christopher

Random Japan: A Selection of Bars & Restaurants outside of Nakano Broadway Mall

I’ve talked about it before, but one of the most disorienting things about Tokyo is when you move away from the major roads and into the side-streets. It’s also one of the neatest. In Tokyo (and much of Japan), addresses refer to the city block you’re in, not a road address you’re on, so you might be #24 in block #5 of the Chiyodo Ward, and you might be unit #708 of that address, and all that means is you’re in one of 24 non-sequential buildings somewhere in that block on the 7th floor (assuming they count the ground floor as the 1st). Basically, you need to know where you’re going, or call head to have someone from the place you’re going meet you at an easy-to-find intersection/landmark and walk you back to there (really).

Consequently, the roads within these blocks tend to be barely big enough for a Japanese Domestic-sized car (small) or a scooter, or someone walking around trying to avoid both of those things. It also means you get an intense and fantastic density of bars and restaurants, overlapping and right on top of each other, usually with a niche or theme to try and differentiate itself from its neighbours. So the top two pictures? Well, they’ve chosen the humble tanooki (large-testicled racoon) as their symbol… and really, it was hard to miss.

We were in the little area just outside of Nakano Broadway–the amazing nerd mall I wrote about in my first trip to Japan. We had finished shopping for the day around 5:30 or 6pm, and were walking back to the JR station when we decided to take a detour and see what this little area was all about. Because it was so early, most of the bars, restaurants, and izakaya (a combination of both) weren’t open yet. Above, the metal shutter-screen to the second floor bar “B-Prime Video Game Bar” was down, and their LED pixelboard was off. Next to it, a Moomin-themed establishment was also closed.

Here’s a closer look at the Moomin signage, if anyone wants to take a crack at translating I’d appreciate it…! 🙂

It’s not all Video Games and Comic Books though, sometimes you get an authentic nearly-30-year-old Honky-Tonk bar.

Anyway, this is just a sort of scratching-the-surface thing, and neat as they are I don’t think that this little collection is unique, in that these ‘rabbit-warrens’ of bars and restaurants were everywhere we visited in Tokyo, each one holding a hidden treasure or two. If I get to go back, I think I’m going to travel across Japan a little less and get to know some neighbourhoods a little more.

– Christopher