花火

On April 28, 2017, in Uncategorized, English, Life in Japan, Travel, by 02. Ruben
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With Summer around the corner I feel it is time to go one of the most exciting events in Japan, 花火(hanabi, firework) season. During summer in Japan there are many firework displays all over Japan and they are both beautiful and entertaining no matter where you see them. The one that has come to my mind today happens to be the Sumida festival. This festival is one of the biggest in Tokyo with around 20,000 displays sent to the sky on one gorgeous summer night. Located next to the Sumida river in Asakusa this event is said to be the second biggest display in Tokyo with over 2million in attendance year after year.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Sumida festival last year by a friend and to this day that night is engraved into my memory. We arrived in Asakusa station that day at around three pm and I will warn you is a little late. Even though the fireworks do not start until 7pm for many in Japan hanabi is treated like Hanami (flower viewing) in which people arrive early in the morning to pick a place to sit. For many the idea behind enjoying the festival is to grab a good spot early and then spend the day eating, drinking, and just having fun with friends and family before the actual displays begin. Due to this slightly overlooked fact and the alleged 2million people in attendance for the festival we consider ourselves lucky to have found a spot in with we were able to see most of the fireworks once they began.although I will not be going into explaining the actual fireworks (due my lack of worthy words to do them justice), I will say that the crowds and noise are well worth dealing with for this experience. After the fireworks have ended though is when the real fun can begin.

As mentioned over 2million people are said to have been in attendance, which becomes apparent once the festivities have ended. The only thing that must be said about the ending of festivities is that returning to the train stations can and will be a real pain. The group that I was with that day waited out some of the crowd before moving from our spot. However after about 30mins we realized that the crowd would not be thinning out for a while so we packed up and attempted to leave. The problem we ran into was that once we were captured by the crowd of people we had no choice but to go with the flow of traffic and as a result ended up lost. Due to this and the pile of people waiting for trains that overflowed the stations we decided to get late dinner at coco’s curry before eventually waiting out a train and heading home.

The Sumida festival takes place in late July or early August and is definitely one of the many must sees in Tokyo. I hope this quick outline of the Sumida festival has at least scratched an interest and made you think about attending. Sadly I can not put into words just how amazing this festival is for I feel it is something that must be experienced in person. So if you do go this year I will hopefully see you there, for I plan to enjoy this event once more while I have the chance.

 

Hatsune Miku concert

On April 27, 2017, in Uncategorized, English, Life in Japan, Travel, by 02. Ruben
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Hatsune Miku, You see her all over Tokyo, hear her many places that you go, she stars in commercials and billboards. She is one of the biggest idols and the biggest humanoid in Japan and to some effect has become famous the world over. She has concerts that seem to sell out every time along side her merchandise they offer at said concerts. Fortunately this past month me and my friend were able to obtain tickets to a concert that featured both Hatsune Miku and Kodō, a famous taiko drum band. The concert was at the NHK hall in Shibuya and was my first vocaloid concert.

As we arrived at the hall we noticed the people flooding in, many of whom had plush figures or other merchandise supporting their favourite vocaloids. We immediately tried in vain to purchase merchandise of our own at the stalls outside of the venue unfortunately they were sold out. We then walked in to the arena where they had posters and billboards set up for those who wanted to take pictures. However due to the long Line of people waiting we decided to just find our seats and take pictures later. As we walked towards the seating area we stopped at a table where we would receive a light up wand for the concert that was included with the price of admission. When we found our seats we began to test out our new Wands switching between the three colors while we waited for the concert to start.

When the concert started I was amazed be how most of the crowd was moving in unison as they waved their wands to the beat of the songs. Then the first images of Hatsune Miku came on stage the place erupted with excitement. The atmosphere that her presence created was very surprising and overwhelming at the same time. The part that completely blew me away though was when the taiko drums would begin to play the rhythm for the songs while Miku sang. This combination of traditional Japanese instruments and the modern voice and style of vocaloid was simply incredible. Unfortunately at time you did get the feeling that the drums over powered the rest of the instruments. however all thoughts of this went away as soon as the vocals would begin, for once you heard the combination of the two, you couldn’t help but to be taken away by the sound. The concert lasted a few hours and included not only Hatsune Miku but also other vocaloids. After the concert my friend and I went and she got pictures with the previously mentioned posters and billboards before we were ushered out of the building as it closed.

Over all my experience at the concert was better then I had imagined. Many may say that it was not a concert because a vocaloid/humanoid is not much more then a projection on a screen, I don’t agree. I believe a concert is more about the atmosphere and excitement that the artist brings to the arena as they perform, and by that standard this concert was great in my opinion. If anyone still believes going to see a vocaloid concert is not worth it let us not forget that this event also had a taiko drum group which in all honesty was worth the price of admission all on their own. For anyone that has been debating about weather or not to attend a Hatsune Miku concert, I could not stress enough that it is definitely worth going as I will definitely go again once the opportunity comes around.

 

41st Grand Sumo Tournament

On April 26, 2017, in Uncategorized, English, Life in Japan, Travel, by 02. Ruben
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Sumo is possibly one of the most identifiable things when it comes to Japanese traditions. But what is a tournament really like? How long are they, is it violent, is it expensive earlier this year I went and found out here is a small idea of what it is like.

This past February I went to a sumo tournament for the first time and was blown away. The tournament was held in The Ryōgoku Kokugikan, in Sumida Tokyo. The arena was opened in 1985 and is next to the Edo museum in Ryogoku. This area was beautiful on the inside ad s well organized even with the massive crowd on hand for the tournament. The arena lay out is simple and has maps posted by most of the doors that lead to the seating areas. This simple lay out and maps make for easy navigation around the arena even when it is at it’s 13000 person max capacity. The venue also had plenty of food stalls that offer bentos, regular and sumo themed snacks, and drinks. It is important to note that they do sell out quick though. The stalls are important because once you have passed through the main gates you are not allowed to leave if you do then you will not be allowed re entry. As for the actual event, it started at noon and went on until around 5:30pm and consisted of two separate tournaments. The first tournament was for lower division, nicknamed Juryo, and up and coming sumo wrestlers while the second main tournament was for the top sumo stars in the world.

The first tournament lasted around 2 hours and was interesting with a few hard hitting matches and some matches that only lasted a few seconds. This tournament with me mainly for Juryo and the up-and-coming stars of sumo. However this tournament still provided a lot of entertainment, as well as a look into the fundamentals of sumo. The tournament was set up in a single elimination styleThe events following the Juryo tournament included a match featuring two former champions and a comedy skit on the don’t of sumo. After the side events and a 15 minute break it was time for the main event.

The main event on this day was the 41st annual Grand Sumo tournament. This was a one day single elimination tournament in which the last sumo standing would win. The festivities started with a traditional ceremony which was preformed by a Yokozuna. When the ceremony finished the tournament started and it was time for more sumo greatness. In total 38 sumo wrestlers took part in this tournament that lasted around 3 hours. This rightly made this tournament bigger then the juryo tournament that had 27 participants. In the end of the day Kisenosato, a Yokozuna and very popular figure, won the tournament much to the enjoyment of many. As the trophy was handed over, along with some interesting prizes, I took time to reflect on what was an interesting and exciting experience for me.

Sumo wrestlers as mentioned earlier is a very popular cultural aspect of Japan making this an important event for me to attend. The venue is very easy to get to being just a few minutes away from the Ryogoku station off of the Chuo Sobu line. I was surprised to find out that you are allowed to bring your own snacks and food to the venue as this is almost unheard of where I am from. As for the actual event it was very interesting and exciting. I will admit that at times it does get a little stale with some matches ending in very anticlimactic manners but that is to be expected from a day long tournament. The staleness does not take away from the experience overall however as the excitement soon rises again once the next match begins. Overall for a ticket face value of around 4000¥ I do believe that a sumo tournament must be seen by anyone that has ever thought about seeing one.

 

Male Grooming in Japan

On April 25, 2017, in Uncategorized, English, Life in Japan, Travel, Fashion, by 02. Ruben
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Hair cuts for men are often an over looked topic. Many guys just go to the cheapest place available and get a simple buzz cut. Others like myself will go and get a style done and wouldn’t mind spending that little extra for a good experience. What does that mean in Japan, what is the difference not only in price but in service?

Like in all other places you get what you pay for. Many of my friends go to places like QB house, a chain in Japan that offers basic cuts for the low price of 1000¥. While this place is inexpensive and quick there have been complaints about it like all places. The main complaint seems to be the fact that many stylists there tend to be new to the industry. While this is good to help develop new talent and to keep prices low, it does affect consistency and quality. There have been a few times when friends have come to class and had a bad hair cut due to the stylist being new. On the opposite side many have come in with great cuts for there and always go back when a new cut is needed.

The other option in Japan is to go to a salon. Hair salons are more expensive with average price in Tokyo being 4000¥. This does however include more for your money. The salon I go to for example cost around 4200¥ for a hair cut. This price includes a shampooing, hair treatment, drink, and even a scalp massage. Above all else this option has the benefit of consistency due to the fact that salon stylists are more experienced knowledgeable. For me this makes the price a bargain as you can not put a price on relaxation and consistency. Unfortunately salons also tend to take longer because of all the added amenities. There for making this an option that should be used when you have around 2hours free.

So the next time you have time and are in need of a hair cut know that there are options when it comes to men’s hair. Depending on what your budget and schedule is like you might be able to experience a few hours of relaxation instead of just rushing in and out for a hair cut. On the flip side of course you could go in for a quick cut and not spend as much for a simple quick cut while you run to get your plans done. Which ever you choose I hope this has at least given you a look at a different option when it comes to male grooming.

 

One of the most famous stereotypes about Japan is their love for arcades. It is seen in many different forms of media often in not so well perceived light. Many times it is shown that arcades are full of over the top competitive gamers that spend day and night in these places. Others glamourize arcades and showcase an area where many people go to enjoy themselves and maybe win a prize or two. For some it might be strange that arcades are relevant, for instance in my hometown of Los Angeles, arcades are seen as a thing of the past and often are associated with nerds or retro heavy individuals that can’t let go of the past. While that may be the case for some cities or countries my experiences in Japan have shown that there is no chance of them going away soon.

Media and public perception of arcades have been complex and mixed to say the least. Some see them as a communal space that brings joy and entertainment for all. Unfortunately many people, including parents, view arcades as a waste of both time and money, a location that does nothing for a community but distract the youth. In some cases even the government has stepped in to ease the minds of the worried public. In Japan government intervention came in the form of the Entertainment and Amusement Trades control Act, this law made it illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to enter an arcade after 6pm, even if accompanied by an adult or guardian. I used the word “made” because as of June 23, 2016 this law has been revised. Now most prefectures will allow individuals under 16 in arcades until 10 pm while some, including my old prefecture of Saitama, will allow it until 8pm. While there were still 3 prefectures,(Iwate, Ibaraki, and Tochigi), that kept the old law in place and will still kick out teens and children at 6pm, it is nice to see Japan being more lenient and allowing teens and families the opportunity to enjoy arcades after dinner.

Many people, at least back in the States, would wonder why go so far as to have a law for minors and arcades. In the US arcades have seen a steep downfall to the point of near extinction due to a loss in popularity. Over the years arcades have gone from the place to hang out with friends to a place where you find “nerds and no lives” fixated on a world that does not exist. Luckily this perception has begun to change and arcades now appear to be coming back from near death.  Although now a days arcades have begun to make a come back with round one having arcade and bowling centres pop up around various areas, there is still nowhere near the support for arcades in the States like in Japan.

In Japan arcades are everywhere and seem popular no matter what city you visit. This is partially possible because of the vast selection of games to choose from, from dancing and following a song’s rhythm, to stepping into a capsule and piloting a Gundam to battle, arcades have a lot to offer many different demographics and bring the together in one area. Here in Japan the arcades are energetic and full of life they give joy and excitement. Meanwhile also giving people a wide option on how to spend a day outside of the house or even kill time before going on about their day. There are many different types of games to play at arcades Rhythm, simulation, fighting, prize, to even “gambling” style games. this wide variety of games makes it so that many different age groups and demographics have something they can enjoy when they visit arcades thereby maintaining a steady popularity over time that has continued to bloom.

I feel it is important to mention that gambling style games does not mean pachinko which is very popular in Japan and is restricted to adults only. These games are the same as the ones in pachinko but do not have the gambling features like pachinko parlors. Instead these games will give you tokens that can be used to continue playing in that arcade unlike pachinko machines that give balls or tickets that can be exchanged for prizes. These machines are just one example of how far arcades are going to insure that they have machines that will bring in consumers and enthusiast from different backgrounds and interests.

As the slow but evident resurgence of arcades in the US continues to gain traction, one can only hope that they will look to the success in Japan and try to work off of that template. This method of bringing in and taking chances on different styles of games as well as reaching out to more than just the youth  community has shown to work well. If arcades are to make a comeback it be with not only the support of youth and enthusiast but also the older generations a market that seems to be ignored in this topic overseas. Japan and their Game Centres have the right ideas and mentality when it comes to longevity. Hopefully the countries that have struggled to maintain arcades around the world will look to Japan and try again to bring back these communal entertainment areas in an era where smartphones and mobile games have taken over.