And the winner is…


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Who is the lucky winner of two tickets to HYPER JAPAN on Sunday 27th July?

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Congratulations, Charlotte! Check your inbox for details of how to claim your prize. Thanks very much to everyone who entered – if I could have given you all tickets, I would have. Also, big thanks to the guys at HYPER JAPAN for providing tickets.

If you’re yet to organise your trip to HYPER JAPAN, here are a couple of very good reasons to persuade you:

I’ve just picked out a few things from the impressive schedule, so have a browse of the website and see what takes your fancy. I’ve always enjoyed HYPER JAPAN and there’s always something different to see/try/eat every time, so you should really get your skates on and book your tickets.

I’d love to go this year but academic duty calls. Come August, I’ll have handed in my diploma so will return properly to the world of blogging.

All that’s left to say is – have fun!

WIN! Two tickets to HYPER JAPAN!


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Great news, everyone! It’s competition time again - and this one’s pretty awesome.

This is your chance to win two (adult) tickets to the UK’s greatest celebration of all things Japanese – HYPER JAPAN – on Sunday 27 July.

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The rules are simple, just like HYPER JAPAN on Facebook and comment on this blog post below. The competition closes on Sunday 29 June and your tickets will be posted out to you. You’ll need to be living in the UK to enter. Remember that HYPER JAPAN runs from Friday 25 to Sunday 27 July and these tickets are for the Sunday only!

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The excitement continues to build for this summer’s HYPER JAPAN 2014! With new guests and exhibitors constantly being confirmed, the team are now starting to put together a provisional main stage timetable, which you can see hereMasked Ninja HIROKI will be flipping, twirling and spinning his way onstage, while traditional Japanese stage arts meet modern choreography and production values with the DEN Entertainment show “The Sake”.  HYPER JAPAN will have a very different meeting of cutting-edge tech and Japanese tradition in the form of Opera: AOI‘s debut, where synthesised singing gives voice to Bunraku puppetry. July’s HYPER JAPAN will also feature the return of crowd-favourite “KimoCos” duo YANAKIKU to London! There’s so much going on, and so much more to be added still, so as always, check out the website for the latest updates.ImageProxy

If you follow this blog, you’ll know I’m currently on hiatus while I focus on my work-related diploma. HYPER JAPAN falls on the final weekend I have to put on the finishing touches, so I sadly won’t be able to make it this year… but thanks to the wonderful people at HYPER JAPAN, one lucky person and their friend will (technically) be going in my place!

A quick announcement…


cat_statue_japanHi, everyone! If you’re particularly observant you might have noticed that I haven’t posted for a few weeks now. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to take a break for a slightly longer period of time than usual. Without boring you to death, I’ll be doing research for a diploma which will be keeping me busy right through until August.

Don’t worry, I’m not stopping blogging per se, but I will be posting on an ‘as and when’ basis rather than weekly. I do have a few films and DVDs to review, and will be making a trip to the famous Japan-inspired cat cafe in London next month, so don’t go away just yet!

Image source: obeythekitty

 

By SengokuSophie Posted in Other

Date for your diary: Tokaido Road at the Cheltenham Music Festival!


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Those of you who love your traditional Japanese music and performing arts might want to make a trip to the Cheltenham Music Festival this July. Tokaido Road, a new multi-media opera based on the Japanese artist Hiroshige’s iconic 53 Stations of the Tokaido, will premier at the festival on Sunday 6 July before touring seven other high profile venues in the UK.
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Okeanos, a UK Western-Japanese music ensemble, is behind this intriguing new performance. Visual art, mime, dance, music and poetry will be combined with traditional Japanese instruments, such as the koto and shamisen, with western ones.
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The premier event will open with a taste of traditional Japanese music, before composer Nicola LeFanu and librettist Nancy Gaffield discuss how this distinctive soundworld influenced the creation of this new multimedia opera, Tokaido Road.

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Taking its name from the series of vivid woodblock prints by Japanese artist Hiroshige, the opera brings Hiro – the figure present in every picture – to life. Journeying from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto against a backdrop of old and new images, Hiro tells of his encounters – humorous, amorous, tragic – through mime, dance, speech and song.

Tokaido Road looks like it will be a real treat, and as a regular to the Cheltenham festivals I really recommend you make a whole weekend out of it if you can! The tickets go on sale on 24 March, and you can buy them on the festival website.

Image credits: Greg Trezise, Cheltenham Festivals

WIN Hakuouki seasons 1, 2 and 3!


It’s my birthday this week and you know what that means – competition time! This one’s the best one yet and comes courtesy of the fantastic guys at MVM Entertainment, who’ve licensed one of my all-time favourite anime series, ‘Hakuoki’.

Up for grabs is not only the first season, but the second (‘Hakuoki Hekketsuroku’) and third (‘Hakuoki Reimeiroku’) as well! That’s almost the entire series, excluding the OVA, which you will also be able to buy in the near future. Read on for the review and details of how to enter…

Chizuru Yukimura has come to Kyoto looking for her father, a doctor who has gone missing. While there, she witnesses a fight between an Oni and the Shinsengumi. Taking her into custody, the Shinsengumi debates on what to do with Chizuru, when they discover that she is the daughter of the doctor for whom they are also looking. The Shinsengumi then take Chizuru along on their search after the missing doctor, from adventure to adventure.

The ‘Hakuoki’ anime series is loosely based on the history of the Shinsengumi, the ‘secret police’ of the late Tokugawa Shogunate and their struggle against the changing times as western culture permeates Japan. In terms of dates, characters and battles, its fairly accurate, which is good news for history fans. The whole demon thing obviously isn’t accurate but, compared to how ridiculous and over the top other ‘historical action’ series can be (*cough cough* Sengoku Basara) you can’t poke too many holes in it.

In case in wasn’t incredibly accurate by all the beautiful bishounen men on the DVD cover, ‘Hakuoki’ also sits comfortably in the romance category. The TV series is based on a Japanese dating sim video game, ‘Hakuoki ~ Shinsengumi Kitan ~ Demon of the Fleeting Blossom’. Samurai, romance, history? I’m sold!

The good news is this series isn’t just easy on the eye, although I’d definitely say this is one for the girls. It’s got action, great fight scenes, a decent historical backdrop, a fantastic soundtrack and beautiful art. The seasons develop well and each stand out on their own; where the first season sets the scene, the second gets a lot darker and ‘Game of Thrones’-esque, and the third is in fact a prequel to the first series. There are hours of viewing material in each of the DVDs and each episode brings you something new and different, so there’s no lull or time to get bored in between episodes. Out of the lot, season two is by far my personal favourite.

How to enter

Simply like MVM Entertainment on Facebook then leave a comment below this blog post telling us you’ve done so! Get your entries in by 7pm Friday 28 March. So, get liking, sharing and watching!

A massive thanks to MVM Entertainment for providing an amazing prize. You can check out their other fantastic titles here!

‘Another’: anime review


another_animeSince I started studying for a Diploma last month, my anime-watching time has been somewhat reduced and I’ve been a lot more selective in my viewing habits. This was why I chose to watch ‘Another’, a recent release from MVM Entertainment, among all the other great shows available to buy at the moment.

‘Another’ is an unpredictable and, at times, heart-stopping paranormal horror story crammed into just 12 episodes. Right from the first episode, I was hooked and blitzed through the whole series in just two nights. The balance between concise story-telling and not throwing the entire plot in front of the audience in the first 20 minutes, a trap that a lot of short anime series fall into, is almost perfect.

When Kouichi Sasakibara transfers to his new school, he can sense something frightening in the atmosphere of his new class, a secret none of them will talk about. At the center is the beautiful girl Mei Misaki. Kouichi is immediately drawn to her mysterious aura, but then he begins to realize that no one else in the class is aware of her presence.

The less I elaborate on the plot, the better. This really isn’t just because I can’t be bothered to write a long review but because it takes a few episodes to fully comprehend what’s going on in the school and who all the characters are. All I will say is nothing is as it seems and the ending is impactful yet leaves the right amount of mystery, although I did see one or two of the plot twists coming. It is in fact based on a Japanese novel of the same name by Yukito Ayatsuji and, from what my internet research has told me, sticks very close to the plot, so that might also be a read too!

SceneI’m a big fan of the psychological horror anime series which have a good balance of gratuitious blood, hysterical school girls and comedy, like ‘Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’ and ‘Mirai Nikki’, so if you’ve enjoyed either of those shows ‘Another’ will be right up your alley. This show also wins extra points for some very creative deaths and, even if you can end up reading the comments in Youtube and spoil yourself (not recommended!), you’ll spend a lot of your time half-hiding behind a cushion.

The animation and soundtrack also add to the eerie ghost story effect, as does the mysterious character design for Mei herself. The only thing I didn’t like about the show was actually the way it was all wrapped up – I’m all for leaving some mystery but I was actually just confused, and a little bit annoyed. For this reason, ‘Another’ gets an impressive 9/10.

‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’: Japan blogger special book review


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When I heard that fellow Japan blogger Fran Pickering, of Sequins and Cherry Blossoms, had written a novel (a murder mystery set in Japan, no less) I knew I had to read it.

When Tokyo-based Londoner Josie finds a body under the cherry blossom, she sets out to track down the killer.
But she finds that everyone has a secret and no one can be trusted as the questions pile up. What is sinister Ms Kato up to? Who is the strange man who waited for the victim and does glamorous actress Tammy know more than she should? And who could get through the locked door?
Josie must shatter the smooth surface of Japanese life to solve the puzzle and stop the fan club killer striking again.
An entertaining murder mystery that takes you backstage at Japan’s spectacular Takarazuka Revue, as British amateur sleuth Josie tries to expose a murderer, save a priceless treasure and sort out her tangled love life.

Before I delve into my thoughts on Fran’s book, we should take a look at the author herself. Fran is a proud (south) Londoner who has lived and worked in Japan, which has clearly inspired the fantastic regular content her blog. If it wasn’t obvious from the blurb of ‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’, one of her favourite things about Japan is the Takarazuka Revue, the world famous Japanese all-female musical performance group.

My favourite thing about this book was the little details and observations that the main character, Josie, makes throughout her investigation. There’s clearly an autobiographical element to the story that only someone who has spent time in Japan can successfully convey, whether that’s the elderly gentleman sat on the bench, the trinkets in a Japanese family’s home, or the sights and sounds of a festival. This allows the reader to see things through Josie’s eyes, as a foreigner living in Japan who has time to notice the little things, rather than as a bright-eyed tourist who is just passing through, which you don’t always get in novels set in Japan that are written by westerners.

The murder itself is, you’ll be glad to know, juicy. There are plenty of suspects and surprises along the way, so it won’t disappoint fans of the classic ‘whodunnit’ genre. I whizzed through the book in just two days, which is always a sign of a good story!

I really enjoyed ‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’ and am very happy to be sharing the achievements of a fellow Japan blogger with you all. If you aren’t already, you should definitely subscribe to her blog! ‘The Cherry Blossom Murder’ is available in both paperback or for your Kindle, so get your copy today!

London premier of A New World: intimate music from Final Fantasy


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How did you spend your Valentine’s weekend? Romantic dinner out, or sitting in front of the TV eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? I managed to miss out on both of these things and was instead seduced by beautiful music from the ever-popular ‘Final Fantasy’ series, arguably one of Japan’s biggest exports.

In 2012, I was lucky enough to get tickets to the 25th anniversary of the ‘Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds’ concert at the Royal Albert Hall. So, when an email popped up in my inbox saying that the premier concert of ‘A New World: intimate music from Final Fantasy’ would return to London in 2014, I was on stand-by to snap up two tickets!

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The first thing that struck me on entering London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) St Luke’s, compared to the Royal Albert Hall where ‘Distant Worlds’ was held last year, was how much smaller the venue was. The orchestra itself was no larger than 12 people, very much in keeping with the ‘intimate’ feeling. Conductor Arnie Roth explained that ‘A New World’ marked a new direction in the way of Final Fantasy orchestral performances; smaller audience, smaller orchestra, but no less impressive.

Surprisingly, unlike the 2012 ‘Distant Worlds’ concert, there were no programmes for sale. Even more surprisingly, the audience did not even get to see a song list in advance. I was initially a little disappointed by this, but it just meant that we were constantly surprised by the announcement of which song was coming up next.

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Programme:

Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)

Eruyt Village (Final Fantasy XII)

Fight with Seymour (Final Fantasy X)

A New World (Final Fantasy V)

The Red Wings (Final Fantasy IV)

Eliya, the Maiden of Water (Final Fantasy III)

Town (Final Fantasy I)

Chocobo theme medley

Those who Fight (Final Fantasy VII)

Dark World (Final Fantasy VI)

Moogle theme (Final Fantasy IX)

Troya (Final Fantasy IV)

Decisive Battle (Final Fantasy VI)

Gustaberg (Final Fantasy XI)

Blinded by the Light (Final Fantasy XIII)

The Promise (Final Fantasy XIII)

Rebel Army theme (Final Fantasy II)

To Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)

Encore: Force Your Way (Final Fantasy VIII)

My favourite song of the night was undoubtedly ‘Fight with Seymour’, which was performed by a string quartet. Some songs, like ‘Eliya’ and ‘Those Who Fight’, were performed as solos. Every song was different and most of the songs were less mainstream ‘Final Fantasy’ songs, which was great news for connoisseurs of the series.

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All in all, this was a fantastic night, not that we expected any less! ‘Final Fantasy’ music really is my muse; I have the soundtracks on repeat when I’m writing my book (which very appropriately is a YA fantasy). I’ll definitely be buying the soundtrack as soon as it’s out.

Even better news for fans who missed this concert, Arnie Roth and Nobuo Uematsu announced that the ‘Final Fantasy’ concert will be returning to London before the end of this year! We have no more information than that for now, but watch this space!

Why the Tokyo Underground beats London Underground


As London narrowly misses entering week two of the tube strike, and the rest of Britain complains about how London-centric the news is, it seemed appropriate to blog about why Japan beats Britain in every aspect of the Underground transport system! Granted, ours is 150 years old and the first to be built in the world, so other countries have had ample opportunity to improve upon it, but Tokyo takes things to another level of efficiency and awesomeness. Having visited Tokyo twice, I can attest to how superior its Underground system is.

So, whether you love or hate the tube strike, or it doesn’t affect you at all, let’s take a moment to appreciate how fantastic Japan’s tube system is!

Always on time!

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A two minute delay will get you a lot of rolling eyes in London, but in Tokyo it will get you a series of very sincere apologies from the staff and, believe it or not, might even hit the headlines. The Japanese are famous for their efficiency for a reason. Get on it, London!

You know exactly where the doors will be

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With the exception of the Jubilee Line, which is the most futuristic of the London Underground routes with its sliding doors, there’s no telling whether you’ll be standing right in front of, just to the side or nowhere near the next set of doors. Lining up for the tube is impossible at rush hour because the doors stop where they stop, and then you have the good old fashioned London scrum and ‘accidental’ elbowing of queue jumpers. In Tokyo, there are numbered boxes painted on a number of the platforms and, when the tube rolls up, the doors line up perfectly with them! I can’t attest to whether this system works all the time at rush hour in Tokyo, but it certainly did all the time I was there.

Super clean

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No matter which line you get on, the tube looks like it rolled straight out of the factory. I spent five minutes walking up and down my first ever Tokyo tube in sheer awe at the shiny white cleanliness: no banana peels, no spilt coffee, not even a crumpled up newspaper!

Soothing music on your commute

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I kid you not, I heard a lot of bird song when I was walking around the Tokyo Underground. The idea is that the lovely ‘tweet tweet’ lifts your soul as your trudging through the underground darkness, and I’m sure there are plenty of people living in Tokyo who don’t pay attention to it after a while, but it’s a lot better than London’s: ‘The northern line is temporarily suspended due to flooding/signal failure/tube strike/the line’s been suspiciously working too well for a few days/something more creative like concrete completely obliterating our signal equipment’.

The tube is a song!

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Someone we encountered on the Tokyo Underground once told me that, every time the tube stops at a station, it plays a little tune. It’s not your standard ‘ding ding ding’, but an actual song. If you ride the whole line from one end to the other, the train will effectively play a song each time the doors open. I think we should replicate this over here, preferably with a Beatles or Queen song.

Awesome bike storage

Tokyo is such a crowded place that even finding a place to park your bicycle can be a daunting task. But leave it to the Japanese to find a genius solution to this growing space problem. The ECO-Cycle Park is an automated bicycle storage system buried 11 meters under the city streets that can hold up to 200 bikes.

Take that, Boris bikes!

Cute information signs

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Seriously, how can you not abide by the rules with a poster like that? Don’t be ‘that’ person who blasts Rihanna down the tube, please! London really needs its share of these.

Girls only!

Women passengers get on a women-only train car in Tokyo.

There are women-only carriages in Japan, set up to combat a growing number of male perverts (known as ‘chikan’) who use the rush hour as an opportunity to… well, you know. Fortunately, I’ve not witnessed any actual groping on the London Underground yet, but there have been no shortage of very weird guys chatting up girls and guys pretending to fall asleep on women next to them. I remember one guy walking past a line of girls in a carriage and touching each of them with his foot before getting off. No one said anything (this is the London Underground, after all) but it was incredibly weird. I’m all for some girls only carriages to operate at night time especially. I think another weird guy may also have proposed to me on the tube and followed me out at my stop once but, the less I remember about that, the better.

Vending machines 

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Seriously, London, even we can roll out this one! On a lot of the platforms in Tokyo, and even just walking in between them, there are vending machines for not only water but also hot and iced coffee and Pocari Sweat. The daily commute can frustrate even the most patient of people and lugging a big suitcase around can really tire you out, so why we don’t have this one I really don’t know.

As far as the London tube strikes are concerned, I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson in how important the Underground network is in supporting millions of people getting to and from work and, of course, exploring the city and having fun. Our system may be far from perfect and really needs a bit of Japan-ification but, don’t forget, we did do it first, so everyone else has had time to improve on it.

Image credits: mywisewife, thehindu, list25, betterymagazineTokyofashioncollage, thegridto, sushi-suzuki

Treats from the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme


Last week I was lucky enough to catch two films at the beginning of the annual Japan Foundation UK touring film programme, now in its eleventh year. The theme this year is ‘youth’ and there are 11 films on in total, each one looking at a slightly different aspect of Japan’s youth culture.

The two films I went to see were ‘Colourful’, a beautifully-done anime about a sinful spirit who is given a chance of redemption when he is placed in the body of a school boy, and ‘Otakus in Love’, a laugh out loud, insane tale about two social misfits trying to make their way in the world. If I had more time and money, I would have seen more films on the schedule, but you’ll have to make do with an overview of these two films this year!

As the name suggests, this film festival is travelling around England until 27 March, so there’s still time to catch some screenings depending on where you live and how far you’re willing to travel. You can check out the schedule on the Japan Foundation website, so get planning!

‘Colourful’, directed by Keiichi Hara, 2010

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A dejected spirit is given a second chance at life when he is placed in the body of 14-year-old boy Makoto, who has been experiencing a difficult time at home and at school. In a word, this film was charming. I’ve seen my fair share of anime films and ‘Colourful’ got the balance of realism and surrealism just right. The animation itself is somewhat rustic and a lot less ‘polished and shiny’ than your average anime film, for luck of a better phrase, which means that the characters and setting itself felt more realistic and believable.

‘Colourful’ explores the lives and minds of early teens in contemporary Japan, seen through the eyes of the nameless spirit who tries to readjust to life as Makoto. The pressure on Makoto to do well in exams and choose a high school, versus his being bottom in the class and strong feeling of not belonging in the world, is one that is rather familiar in Japan, where academic excellence is everything. Despite this, the spirit inhabiting Makoto wonders why he tried to kill himself when he has a family who loves him. The reason for Makoto’s suicide and the identity of the spirit that has been given a second chance are revealed during the film, and will more than likely stun you.

Luckily, the director was at the screening and took some questions at the end! I didn’t get mine in, and one guy spend five minutes rambling about which bits of the film he didn’t like and didn’t even end with a question, but that is the only complaint I can make. It was fantastic to see the director had come to the UK especially for the festival.

I was very moved by this film and heard a number of people in the audience sniffing, which is always a sign of a good film. ‘Colourful’ sadly isn’t available to buy here, and it really should be, so I highly recommend making a special trip to go and see it at the festival if you can.

‘Otakus in Love’, directed by Suzuki Matsuo, 2004

filmImg1.ddee0a5e920ebdd057eb746d8697b422While ‘Colourful’ might have you tearing up, ‘Otakus in Love’ will more than likely have you doubling over with laughter. This film is in its own category of ‘crazy insane Japanese cinema’.

Two social misfits – ‘rock’ manga artist Mon and cosplay-obsessed Koino – collide in this quirky love-drama, set in the vibrant world of Japanese contemporary pop culture including manga fandom and cosplay conventions. Look out for a number of high-profile cameos, including directors Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto, who appear on screen!

Fans of cosplay, manga and video games will love this film for obvious reasons, but this isn’t just a ‘silly film about two geeks who get up to lots of shenanigans’. Mon and Koino are at odds with the straight-laced world around them, where getting a job and meeting a nice young man/woman are the pillars of social success, and the two are effectively immature adults. Mon sees himself as a ‘rock’ manga artist but no one gets his art, because it’s literally rocks, and Koino obsession with drawing fan manga and making cosplay is putting her dangerously in the red. You probably know some people like that!

I can’t say much more about this film without giving away the good bits, but this is another gem of a film. It’s wacky and ridiculous, but this genre is an important part of contemporary Japanese cinema (yes, really). It’s also not available to buy in the UK, so get yourself over to a screening!

A huge thank you to the Japan Foundation for putting on a fantastic programme, and I look forward to next year!

Below are the trailers for the two films, without subtitles, so enjoy!