HYPER JAPAN is back for Christmas!


22f58ccc-89d5-453c-bbad-2b41fb4bc2e7It’s back! The HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market is officially returning to London for Christmas this year! You can buy your tickets here.

From Friday 14 to Sunday 16 November, you’ll be able to get all your Japan-themed Christmas shopping done (and indulge yourself!) at the Kensington Olympia’s National Hall.

Bringing together diverse exhibitors, sellers, performers and fans, HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market will show off the best of both traditional and contemporary Japan in the heart of London. Visitors will be able to experience diverse elements of Japan’s culture in a single venue, and HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market particularly focuses on gift ideas and exclusive goods with a Japanese theme to them, timed just right for one’s seasonal shopping.

Whether it’s shopping, food and drink, fashion or entertainment, you can get it all at HYPER JAPAN.

This event is a firm favourite of mine. I was disappointed I couldn’t make the one in July, so doubly looking forward to November!

Tickets on sale tomorrow! Final Fantasy: A New World


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A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY returns to London for an up-close and personal Halloween performance, featuring the extraordinary music, characters, and settings of over 25 years of FINAL FANTASY, scored for a variety of chamber ensembles. Limited number VIP tickets for best seats and post-show meet and greet with Arnie Roth and Nobuo Uematsu available!

This most intimate experience of FINAL FANTASY music promises many of the favorites from last February’s London World Premiere concerts and recording as well as the World Premiere of FINAL FANTASY V: Home Sweet Home, plus so much more!

The concert is taking place on Friday 31 October at St. John’s Smith Square. Tickets for the concert only are priced at £25, 45, 50.

Tickets go on sale on Friday 29 August at 10am, so get in quick as they won’t be there long!

I’m posting this from a computer that won’t accept hyperlinks, so please make do with an unprofessional long link to the website for ticket sales: http://www.sjss.org.uk/events/new-world-intimate-music-final-fantasy

6 Japanese restaurants for £60!


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That’s £10 for a meal per restaurant! Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not!

This year’s London Restaurant Festival, a city wide celebration of eating out, presents “Japanese Journey”. For £60 (plus a £3.30 booking fee), you can visit six of London’s best ramen bars, sushi restaurants and Japanese izakayas in one day. You will enjoy a range of specialist Japanese dishes and Suntory whisky highball drinks (a refreshing blend of whisky, soda and ice – perfect with this food). There is no better nor authentic way to experience the variety of a wonderful nation’s cuisine.

Venues confirmed so far are Tonkotsu, Shoryu Soho, Kurobuta, Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, Kanada-Ya – one more still to be confirmed. The event is sponsored by Suntory Whiskey, which will also be offering special cocktails to accompany the Japanese Journey.

The Japanese journey is running on three different days: Saturday 11 October, Saturday 18 October and Saturday 25 October. So, why not persuade a friend to go with you and sample some of London’s best Japanese delights? £10 per restaurant works out to be a very good deal!

You can also explore the rest of the London Restaurant Festival website to see what other events take your fancy!

We’re going to Japan!


It’s true! The flights and (most of) the hotels are booked. I’ll be heading to Japan with my wonderful uni friend Oana at the end of March next year, so you can expect lots of blog content post-trip next year. In the meantime, I thought I’d turn to the internet for a bit of travel inspiration. We know where we’re going but not exactly what we’re doing, as there are a few places neither of us have been to before. So, here’s a list of the places we’re going to next year. Inspire us!

Tokyo

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You can’t go to Japan without going to Tokyo! I’m lucky enough to have been before, so have a good idea of the main places to visit and have also identified a few new things to do:

- The new Final Fantasy cafe

- A cat cafe!

- Odaiba and the giant Gundam!

Also on the list are the Ghibli Museum, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa and Ueno!

Sendai

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We’re having one day in Sendai, one of the cities I’ve been wanting to go to for years. Of course, that’s just because it’s the hometown of one of my favourite samurai – Date Masamune. On the list for this one is to try gyutan, the local ‘beef tongue’ speciality, Aoba Castle and catching the Date re-enactment troupe if we’re lucky. We don’t really know what to expect here, so pop your suggestions below!

Kyoto

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I’ve been told Kyoto doesn’t have much of a night life, so most of our activities will be done during the day here. Temples, restaurants and shopping are on the list here. We’re staying in a ryokan with a cat and a dog here right next to the Fushimi Inari shrine! We’ll also be having a day trip to Nara, home of the deer!

Osaka

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All we know about Osaka is that it’s amazing, exciting and massive. We’re staying near Osaka Castle here, so right in the tourist heartland, and will also be venturing out to the beautiful Minoo Park. Tips for night life much appreciated!

Takayama

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We hope we’ll be getting another taste of traditional Japanese culture here. We’ll be staying in another ryokan here near the Higashiyama Walk, a walking route through the temple town. There’s also a morning market to visit and side-trip to the beautiful Shirakawa-go, another place I’ve always wanted to go to.

So, we’re both saving up to go to Japan next year and are really looking forward to it! We’re both looking around for trip ideas but if you have any off-the-beaten track suggestions, post them below!

Image sources: Japan Guide

 

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

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

The Evolution of MCM – video time!


Back in October 2013 I went to MCM Comic Con in London on a Sunday. I took a lot of footage from the masquerade, popped it on my laptop and had some fun editing it… then pretty much forgot to finish it. OK, so I knew I had to finish it and kept meaning to go back to it but work, book writing and life itself were jostling to get in my way. I have a schedule to last me until April, you’ll be glad to know!

Anyway, ta-da! Here’s your video!

I’ve been going to MCM events on and off since I was 17 and my first ‘expo’ pretty much initiated me into official Japanese geekdom. While my love for Japanese things has thankfully expanded beyond anime and video games, this is pretty much where it all started. Over time, MCM Expo became MCM Comic Con and I was never really sure why. How did MCM begin? Why did the name change? I put these questions to the helpful guys at the MCM team and hope you nerds will learn something new about “that weird event with all the people in costumes”, as my mum calls it.

When was the first MCM? How many attendees were there? Who were the original organising team behind it?

The first MCM was announced in 2001 and held May 2002. It was attended by 16,000 people. The original founding partners were Paul Miley and Bryan Cooney.

When did MCM start to get really big and popular?

MCM was always a popular show but the major growth start in May 2005 with the addition of new areas, including Anime, Manga, Cosplay and Video Games.

Why did MCM Expo become MCM Comic Con?

The original title was London Expo which did not express what the show was about, it adapted to London MCM Expo, MCM Movie Comic Media, this evolved from 2009 to Incorporate Comic Con in its title as the final transition to a brand identity the fits the modern popular culture show that MCM has become.

Who have been some of your top guests over the years?

Danny DeVito, Bill Paxton, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Ben Barnes, Warwick Davis.

What would you say have been the biggest changes in MCM?

The expansion of the MCM Brand as MCM Comic Con and new regional shows.

What next for MCM? 

MCM will be developing new shows and growing its position as the UK’s Comic Con

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Next week – I’ll be reporting back on what I saw at the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme!

Blog’s Best of 2013


So, 2013’s been pretty busy! Lots of events were attended, shows were watched, videos were edited and guest bloggers came to the rescue. There are a lot of people I want to thank; prize providers, guest bloggers, everyone else who helped put content together in some way and, of course, the readers. I wanted to give this year the send-off it deserved, so I’ve trawled through all of my posts from the last 12 months to bring you some of the highlights!

Book of the year

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This was quite a tough one, as I read a few books I really liked this year. In the end, I went with Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. The story follows one family through post-war Japan to New York after 9/11. This is a fantastic book; it’s not just a book set in Japan but spreads across countries, generations and religions. Curious?

Film of the year

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Shockingly, I’ve not reviewed that many films for the blog even though I’ve watched a lot. In terms of the ones this blog has encountered, the film of the year is Kagemusha by Akira Kurosawa. This is a re-telling of the man who impersonated the daimyo Takeda Shingen after his death. A classic.

Anime of the year

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Hands down, it’s got to be ‘Kids on the Slope’. I love love love love love love this show. Whether you’re an anime fan or not, this is such a brilliant series and everyone should watch it. Read about what it’s actually about here.

DVD distributor of the year

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Obviously, it can only be MVM Entertainment, who have sent me so much anime in the last few months. In terms of prizes, they provided; C for Control, Pumpkin Scissors, Kids on the Slope, Needless, Bodacious Space Pirates, Shana Season 2, Boku X Inu and ef: A Tale of Memories. I’ve seen their release schedule for 2014 and it’s fantastic, meaning there’ll be more reviews and competitions next year, so thanks to them!

Event of the year

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In terms of range of things to see and do, this year’s HYPER JAPAN was a clear winner for me. You can watch the video I made after the weekend here.

Exhibition of the year

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The travelling Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan exhibition at the Wellcome Collection was a clear winner for me. Bizarre and emotional art work with very interesting stories behind each individual piece.

Performance of the year

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This was a toss up between the stage adaption of ‘Shogun’ at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and the Siro-A performance at Leicester Square Theatre. It was a close one but I went with Siro-A in the end because it was so trippy.

Destination of the year

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I should have written a few more travel pieces this year, so that’s a mental note for 2014. Anyway, from the posts this year, the winner is Miyajima Island.

Restaurant of the year

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I think this has to go to Inamo, because I’ve never had so much fun playing at the (interactive) table at dinner.

Video game of the year

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Arguably cheating as I haven’t written a review yet (it’s coming in January), but the absolute best game I have played in 2013 and will probably never be surpassed in my mind is ‘Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies’. I’m obsessed with this series for the Nintendo DS, and the long-awaited latest instalment came out earlier this year. I loved it and will be reviewing it very soon to tell you why I love it so much.

WordPress also gave me a very nice summary of my blog in 2013 too. The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

In 2013, there were 72 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 139 posts. There were 305 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 210 MB. That’s about 6 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was May 31st with 204 views. The most popular post that day was WIN! Kids on the Slope.

Resolutions for 2014 are 1) get out more and 2) keep a budget sheet. Blog-wise, I think reviewing more films and writing about more destinations is a good way to go.

And with that, that’s 2013 done. I hope this has been a good year for you all and that 2014 will be even better.

KFC: The Japanese taste of Christmas


th (9)So, you’re probably putting the last touches to the house for Christmas tomorrow; wrapping presents, tidying up, bringing the last bit of food in… but will you be keeping with Japanese tradition and heading to KFC for lunch tomorrow?

That’s right: KFC, as in Kentucky Friend Chicken, as in the fast food place.

Japan has some explaining to do…

The reason that people in Japan visit KFC in droves on Christmas Day is brilliant advertising. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan (only one per cent of the population are Christian), yet a bucket of ‘Christmas Chicken’ is the thing to have over there on 25 December. The first KFC Japan opened in Nagoya in 1970 and quickly gained popularity, thanks largely to the perceived ‘coolness’ of American stuff.

KFC-Christmas-AAFH002133-575-The idea for Christmas=KFC came about in the mid-seventies when a group of tourists were looking for turkey on Christmas Day, a meat that is practically impossible to find in Japan), and opted for fried chicken instead. Yen signs flashed over the marketing team’s head and the ‘kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ campaign, meaning ‘Kentucky for Christmas’, launched in 1974. The first Christmas meal was a costly 2,920 yen ($10). Today the chicken dinner with cake and champagne, costs about 3,336 yen ($40).

Believe it or not, but many people order their KFC dinners months in advance to avoid the queues!

KFC hasn’t just tapped into Christmas. In 2012 it opened a three-story restaurant in Tokyo which includes the company’s first-ever, fully stocked whiskey bar, offering visitors ‘a taste of Good ‘ol America’.

It’s arguably a bit depressing to think that when Japan has all that amazing food, the thing that it wants on Christmas Day is western fast food. Still, this is a rather amusing anecdote (and one to share with your family tomorrow) and just goes to show how powerful marketing is.

So, whether you’re celebrating or not, or eating turkey or nipping to KFC, have a very Merry Christmas!

Image credits: japantodaysmithsonianmag

 

 

Rule Japannia?


downloadI came across an interesting Japan-related article in The Times last week at work, so, naturally, I thought I’d blog about it!

Japan has taken inspiration from a rather unlikely British former politician, Tony Blair, in its latest attempt to promote Japanese pop culture around the world. The Cool Japan Fund has been founded to provide interest-free loans to subsidise the overseas expansion of Japan’s creative industries. 83 per cent of its capital will come from the government, with the rest coming from investors like All-Nippon Airways and advertising giant Dentsu, and its current budget is 60 billion yen (£360m).

So, where does our former Prime Minister have to do with any of this? Japan’s current campaign has taken its inspiration from his 1997 ‘Cool Britannia’ one, which used the likes of Noel Gallagher and Oasis, and marks a trend in countries attempting to combat a dwindling domestic market by looking overseas; in other words, exporting its cool stuff. I don’t need to tell you that Japan has plenty of that!

The Cool Japan Fund is essentially a national re-branding exercise and, like any national project, it’s met with criticism; it’s doing nothing to support emerging artists and is just pumping money into big multi-billion yen corporations. Others are concerned how the rest of the world will react to some of the country’s less conventional sub-cultures, such as the maid cafes, dating sims and, of course, the porn. Honestly, I’m not sure whether Japan even needs a Cool Japan Fund when there are plenty of people in the west who consider themselves ‘Japan fans’ and are borderline obsessed with its pop culture. Some of them even blog about it! *cough cough*

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the Cool Japan campaign evolves. In celebration of what we already know is a cool country, here are some of my favourite Japanese exports! Add yours in the comments below!

th (8)1) Cuisine: Japanese food is ‘tres chic’ over here now. It’s healthy, delicious and exotic. There’s no shortage of Japanese restaurants in the UK!

2) Video games: Sony, Nintendo, Capcom are household console names over here, and series like ‘Pokemon’, ‘Mario’ and ‘Street Fighter’ are names that even your mum will recognise these days.

3) Cars: Toyota, Nissan, Honda

4) High speed passenger trains: The Shinkansen is Japan’s famously fast (and reliable) and its design has influenced engineers overseas

5) CDs: The ever-reliable and trusty Compact Disc was invented by Sony and Philips in the 1970s. Where would we be without them?

6) Pocket calculator: The first portable calculator from Sanyo appeared in Japan in the 1970s and was soon marketed worldwide. Again, where would we be without them?

7) Karaoke: Who hasn’t heard of, and made a fool of themselves singing on, karaoke?

8) Anime and manga: Yes, I’m putting this in here. Allegedly, Ghibli was inspired by Disney’s Bambi’s big eyes, and anime was born! Sort of.

Next week, it’s Christmas in Japan!

Image credits: vcpost