Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tokyo Trip Part 5: The Quirks and Final Thoughts

Tokyo Tower
 I am always eager to see how the world looks through the eyes of another person and how that person chooses to express his or her vision. There was once a very poignant line from perhaps the most soul-touching anime/manga that I have ever seen, when the protagonist Takemoto Yuuto wishes "How I wonder what it is like to see the world through Hagu's (his main love interest and fellow artist) eyes." That is why I love animation so much, because it is one medium that is a direction interpretation of the director's vision and needs to be planned out panel by panel; nothing is left to chance whereas in say a movie, each actor, set conditions, etc. all bring in their vision and interpretation into how a certain scene will unfold. In animation, there is really nothing left to chance, every little movement, every blink of eye, every little bird and critters in the backdrop, are all planned (save the limitations caused by budget restrictions). A friend once commented that the ingenuity of Japanese animators and mangaka is that they have taken a landscape that is very ordinary to the Japanese people and made them great symbols and landmarks. Miyazaki Hayao can take the idyllic country side or something so simple like a girl going up stairs and somehow reinterpret the mundane into something charming and new, or the way Makoto Shinkai uses light filtered into the classroom or trains takes the everyday and transforms it into a surreal, brilliant world which makes your heart ache a little bit because its so beautiful. Whenever I see a Ferris wheel, I cannot help being reminded of Honey & Clover (the circularity of life being a major theme), and when I saw Tokyo Tower and Rainbow Bridge, I couldn't help being reminded of CLAMP (and destruction).

And life goes on... Odaiba Ferris Wheel
Fuji TV in Odaiba
I had so much fun in Tokyo, and this trip really was just an overview trip, where I could see, do and eat as much as I can in a limited time, hence it was like a preview trip. Now that I got a good preview, I would love to return and see all the places I didn't get to see and delve into places in detail. Though it's really hard to choose what my favorite place was, I think Odaiba was the most impressionable to me. There's something strangely surreal, a bit futuristic about Odaiba, which is an artificial island made in the Tokyo Bay. It was tourist friendly with shopping, dining, onsen and great scenery, and yet, it was still more quirky than commercial. There was a cat cafe (the Japanese love cats), the strangely eerie (in my opinion) Fuji Television building with the globe, the Urikamome monorail which gives you an awesome view of the Bay area, the Ferris Wheel, supposedly one of the largest in the world, and the great view of Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower and the Statue of Liberty's mini-me. There was even an onsen called Oedo Onsen Monogatori, which is designed in 1800 Edo-style, where we got to wear a yukata and soak our poor, tired feet. There are many cute shops in there as well.  

Cat Cafe in Odaiba... Reminded me of the Nekobasu in Totoro ^^
Urikamome Train Station
Oeda Onsen Monogatori
I actually understood a lot more Japanese than I thought I would (thanks to all the anime and drama I watched), but I think this trip really taught me the more practical languages used when shopping or ordering food. After all, being able to say "You are my most important person" or "the hurt in my heart could be heard like the sound of rain" or something nonsensical like that is of of no practical use. The single most useful word I found was "sumimasen" which an translate to "I'm sorry" or "excuse me" depending on the situation, whether you are calling a waiter, or you are pushing through a crowd of people up the stairs in the subway, or you are about to ask a question. On the first day we arrived in Tokyo, my friend and I were walking down the street late at night and a man, a bit drunk, started up a conversation with us, first asking us (the tourists) directions, then tried to invite us to karaoke. We said "sumimasen" and we excused ourselves. After many failed prior attempts to take a good shot, I was able to snap that full shot of the Ferris wheel dangerously sticking my head out of the taxi window on my way to the airport. "Sumimasen," I told the taxi driver and he chuckled. 

CLAMP Manga Galore in Shibuya
Wall of mangaka in Shibuya... I didn't see the no photo sign until after I took the photo. Can you spot a mangaka you know?

Cosplay store in Harajuku...
The problem is, I can utter enough of the language to minimally get by, but that's it. And then, they begin speaking so rapidly that I lose track. On my way back, at Haneda Airport, I was checking in my bags and the man assisting me rapidly began listing off all these questions, to which I just replied, "Hai, hai." I did understand the first couple, but then, I completely lost track of what he was saying. Either way, when I arrived back in Seoul, my luggage was the third one out because it was labeled with a "Priority" sticker. I have no idea why, but I can assume it must be thanks to my lack of language skills.

Maneki Neko... (Lucky Cats)  everywhere!!! I wasn't supposed to take photos in this certain store in Asakusa.
Lastly, on our way back, I was unluckily in the center aisle seat, but I was able to catch the timing to see Mt. Fuji. The seat belt signs hadn't gone off yet, and the flight attendant initially told me I couldn't go over to the window area, but I went "Sashin o kudasai" which was the only words that I could think of. And the flight attendant understood right away and went, "Ah, Fuji-san..." And so, I was able to snap this beautiful shot of Mt. Fuji up from the sky.  
Mt. Fuji submersed in clouds...
I don't know why, but still, the best part of a trip is coming home. "There is no place like home." 

Tokyo Trip Part 1:The Places
Tokyo Trip Part 2:  The Shopping
Tokyo Trip Part 3: CLAMP x Blythe Dolls
Tokyo Trip Part 4: Food
Tokyo Trip Part 5: Final Thoughts

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Trials CD Drama

Exciting news, winxc1ub from the New Trials Yahoo Group is holding auditions for a New Trials CD Drama! Discussion is going on at the Yahoo Group. If you are interested in lending your voice to the characters of Card Captor Sakura and New Trials, then contact her. Check out her lovely New Trials AMVs on her channel and her CCS fanfic and fanart on her deviantart account.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tokyo Trip Part 4: The Food

Harajuku Crepes

The Savory
There is literally so much good food to each in Japan. It's hard to choose, but I would saw the shabu-shabu was the best food I had in Japan. Shabu-shabu is basicially a thinly sliced beef and vegetable hotpot.  We went to a very traditional place and was served in a tatami room, which was expensive but worth experiencing once. The beef literally melts in your mouth and everything is very traditional and formal. I especially enjoyed the konnyaku with was moist and chewy. 

Japanese pasta is delicious as well, different from the typical Italian style because they often put their own twist like adding fish roe or the likes. The second night, my friends and I were so weary and hungry we stumbled into any restaurant in Odaiba. It was a chance find, but it's a place I would definitely go back again. The night view of the harbor was gorgeous, and I ordered a salmon and spinach cream sauce pasta which was heavenly--abundant salmon. Usually, cream sauce makes me queasy after a while, but this was not too heavy, and I finished the entire dish. Plus, the staff was super friendly and seeing that we were tourists, they let us enter the back portion of the restaurant which was closed off, and let us take pictures of the gorgeous backdrop of Rainbow Bridge, seen below.  

Of course, more casual eating can be done at local izakayas. I especially love gyoza, pan-fried meat-filled dumplings, which can be found in China and Korea too, but I still love all variants of dumplings. I wanted to to go Tsukiji Fish Market known for their fresh sashimi, but there was no way I was waking up before 5AM and eating raw fish first thing in the morning. But all the sushi I did have was delicious--melted in my mouth. I didn't get a chance to go to a proper donkatsu or ramen place, but hopefully next time. 

The Sweets
Japan is known for its sweets. Their delicious puddings and mochi and crepes and cakes. If I had more time, I would have tried everything, but the room in my stomach was limited. I tried sweet potato soft-serve ice cream in Asakusa which was delicious. I'm an ice cream mania. I've even tried wasabi-flavored ice cream before. The best soft-serve ice-cream I've ever tried was during the Hokkaido Fair at Mitsuwa, New Jersey, a Japanese market in New Jersey. I had milk-flavored and pear-flavored swirled together, and I swear, it was the softest, silkiest ice cream I had ever had. (Hokkaido is known for its milk-flavored stuff), and I loved the rich, round, milky taste left in my mouth afterwords. I do love anko (red-bean) and black sesame and kinako (soy) and green tea flavored ice cream out of the Japanese flavors, but not so much wasabi. 

Of course in Harajuku, we had the crepes filled with strawberry, vanilla custard and whipped cream. It was pretty huge, so three of us shared it. In Japan, be sure to try out the royal milk tea (one of my favorite drinks). They also so have interesting ice cream floats, like the melon float (putridly Shrek-green, but delicious).  

Basically, everything I put in my mouth was delicious. Even the airplane food, and I hate airplane food. I rode All Nippon Airways, a Japanese airlines competitive with JAL, and on my way back, I had for early dinner a little bento-style box complete with vanilla pudding for dessert. I unfortunately did not get to try nearly every that I wanted to try, but hopefully next time, I can try everything I didn't get to this time. Because we walked around so much, I think we burned off all the calories pretty quickly.  Of course, I brought back home half a trunk full of snacks ranging from castella (kasutera), mochi (rice cakes filled with sweet red bean and white bean filling), yokan, a traditional Japanese dessert consisting of sweet jellied azuki beans (I got the ones embedded with chestnuts), Hokkaido Shiroi Koibito, white chocolate sandwiched between two cookies that simply melts in your mouth, hiyoko, savory manju shaped like little chicks filled with sweet white beans (a favorite of mine as a child). If it isn't obvious, food is one of my favorite subjects to talk and write about.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tokyo Trip Part 3: CLAMP x Blythe Dolls Collaboration

Venus Forte
I've always loved dolls. Perhaps I'm a girly-girl or perhaps I love the idea of make-believe or perhaps I see dolls as works of art. Or I just like pretty things. I have an affinity for inanimate objects, it seems, and as a child, I used to believe that my stuffed animals and dolls had souls. It was a very burdensome belief, because I used to feel sorry for a doll when I liked it a little less than the another doll. But surely I'm not the only one who cried a bucket of tears when watching Toy Story 3. Truthfully, I was not a big fan of ever-so-popular Blythe dolls because I personally prefer dainty Victorian-style porcelain dolls, and as Mokono-sensei put it very well in the CLAMP interview from Me & My Blythe "To be honest she appeared very scary at first."

Perchance, I was at Odaiba Venus Forte on my second day in Tokyo (actually, it was not perchance, it was a girl's shopping quest), when I saw the huge banners advertising Blythe Doll's 9th Anniversary Charity Exhibition Manga Girls Inspiration. I first heard of the CLAMP x Blythe collaboration at Chibi Yuuto Chronicles and thought of course our adorable Sakura-chan should be made into a doll. (Tomoyo would approve 100%.) I've always been fascinated by the Sakura-doll in Sakura-chan's room in the CCS anime, that Tomoyo made for her. Admittedly, there is something deliciously creepy about Blythe dolls which surprisingly works with Sakura! I love the original CLAMP design (many thanks for the image to Chibiyuuto) for Kinomoto Sakura, which looks like an evil chibi-Sakura. I've never seen her drawn with that kind of expression before. When I saw the design, I couldn't help thinking, why does that face look so familiar? And then I realized it reminded me of a fanart I drew of chibi-Syaoran many years back for Kirei Blossom (creator of the New Trial Yahoo Group).

I was traveling with two illustration majors who luckily share my penchant for pretty things, hence I pointed to the big poster and asked, "Oh my gosh, is this here?" And we preceded to hunt down the location. The exhibit was originally held in the Omotesando Hills in June, and I did not know it was moved to Venus Forte. And thus, perhaps a quarter of an hour before closing time, we stumbled upon doll's galore
on the first floor of the shopping complex. Mind you, these are not just ordinary play-dolls. They are works of art. The costume, the hair, the concept. This exhibition was themed "Manga Girls Inspiration" hence there were many familiar character designs everywhere. And I knew that Sakura-ninkyo would be somewhere, so it was quite a fun search. Unfortunately, the Watanuki-doll seems to not have made it to this exhibit. 

Below, I have provided plentiful pictures of the whole exhibit, though they do not do justice to the actual dolls. They were indeed a pain to put together, but please enjoy. You can see the little placates for the dolls that were manga-inspired. I wish I read some Japanese. My favorites included the Kiki from Hayao Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service and some of the elaborate Goth looking dolls. It was nostalgic to see Magical Princess Minky Momo, probably the first mahou shoujo series that I ever learned of at age 5 or 6. I used to have a Mink coloring book and hairpin.

Seeing the CLAMP x Blythe Collaboration Sakura-doll was all the more serendipitous because I hadn't planned on seeing this exhibit, hadn't even been thinking about it, and yet stumbled upon because I wanted to ride the Yurikamome (the elevated trains where you can see the awesome night view of Tokyo Bay area and Rainbow Bridge). Hence, at that moment, I thought, ah synchronicity. My trip to Tokyo had been very last minute and was very short, hence it was centered around food/touring/shopping. I didn't get to go to Akihabara and manga/anime stuff was (unfortunately) not a priority at this time. And even so, I was brought to Kinomoto Sakura.

Click on image below to enlarge.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tokyo Trip Part 2: The Shopping

Harajuku (原宿)
As a fan of Japanese street fashion, I definitely had been looking forward to going to Harajuku. Harajuku is definite fun and vibrant and different. On weekends, I heard many cosplayers gather. Unfortunately, it wasn't the weekend. However, there were still many people with very distinctive fashion styles walking down the streets ranging from street-wear sweet lolita to indeed some very strange garbs that I cannot quite describe. I remember receiving a comment on deviantart regarding why I draw the girls' skirts so short. In case anyone was wondering, yes, school girls do wear their uniform skirts that short. Another fashion quirk. During my time in Tokyo, I swear I have never seen more black parasols in my life. Japanese women take very good care of their complexion, hence black parasols and fingerless gloves that come up to their upper arm in the sweltering 36 degrees Celsius heat. It was one of the hottest heat spells in Japan this year while I was there, and I am surprised I did not melt away.


I saw a hoodie with bunny ears and a tail just like the one I drew for Sakura. It was adorable; I was half tempted to buy it. There were many stores where you could buy some quality cosplay outfits. If you go to Harajuku, you must try the delicious crepes. Takeshita Street has a lot of fun stores as well, including a very bling pet store with the most adorable accessories! There are so many teddy bears in Japan. It made me happy.

Omotesando (表参道)
A posh shopping area. Pricey and full of brand names. But if you just walk down the street for 5-10 minutes, you stumble into Harajuku. Omotesando Hills is a shopping complex that was designed by Tadao Ando, Pritzker Architecture Award recipient. Apparently you're not allowed to take pictures in the building.

Ginza (銀座)
Can be considered the "Fifth Avenue" of Tokyo and a luxurious shopping district with several notable departments stores (including Matsuya and Mitsukoshi, under renovations while I was there). It is generally very pricey to shop in the area but the building designs and decorations are worth looking at. On Saturdays, the main road is blocked for the shoppers. The Swarovski building is very pretty and there was a pretty cherry blossom design crystal ornament. Apparently, you're not allowed to take pictures there either.

Roppongi (六本木)
Roppongi is probably best known for its nightlife and Mori Tower. Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend much time in the area and was too pooped in the nighttime and my feet were ready to fall off. The Galleria had many pretty stores and the Suntory Museum of Art. Apparently, the store full of pretty nick-knacks below doesn't allow pictures.

I learned that in Tokyo, there are a lot of places that you are supposed not allowed to take pictures of. I already mentioned Shibuya in Part 1 as a fun shopping area, but I personally preferred the Omotesando/Harajuku area because I think there is a broader range of styles available. I got the cutest floral print lacy sundress for 1900 yen in Harajuku after taking purikura with my friends--and boy these purikura machines make you look like an anime-character. My friend told me that the fabric in Japan is usually very good and durable and lasts for years. There were so many pretty, lacy clothes I was in absolute heaven. Warning, everything runs small in Japan; I'm a US Size 4/small and I'm a "Large" there. There are a lot of "free-size" clothes in Japan, meaning one-size. My feet are somewhere between 6.5 and 7 in US size, but there, I'm 24 "Large." I did manage to find the cutest pumps at the Ginza Marui department store on my last day which were on sale for less than 5000 yen... A good find.

Tokyo Trip Part 1:The Places
Tokyo Trip Part 2:  The Shopping
Tokyo Trip Part 3: CLAMP x Blythe Dolls
Tokyo Trip Part 4: Food
Tokyo Trip Part 5: Final Thoughts

Tokyo Trip Part 1: The Sights

Asakusa Nakamise Shopping Arcade
I have finally managed to upload and organize my photos and have been pondering the best way to relate my trip. This was my first time in Tokyo and I was staying for such a short time, I wanted to do and see as much as I can, and I don't know how it was possible, but it literally felt like I went for a month. The food was absolutely delicious (there's going to be a separate post on that). The trip itself was decided within two weeks and very sudden for various reasons. And miraculously, it came through. I remember five years ago, I really wanted to go to Hong Kong. Part of the reason was for the tourist in me, but another part was because I definitely needed to see Hong Kong, breathe the air, in order to write the New Trials of CCS Arc 3 season finale. Writing requires research, nee? Hence, going to Tokyo was also important for the writer in me. Who am I kidding though. I'm a girl and when three girls travel, it means shopping, food, and more shopping. And lots of walking. I took over 500 photos in that limited time, so I will just share with you the highlights.

Asakusa (浅草)
I had to take a pic
ture of the konpeitou because it reminded me of Kobato. I used to love these little confectionery treats when I was little. The colors are so pretty and I would take a handful of them and crunch on them behind the sofa. These were sold in the Nakamise shopping arcade in Asakusa leading to the Sensoji, the largest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. You enter through the Thunder Gate (kaminarimon). There is an incense burner (that people breathe in for purification and healing purposes) and there is also a fortune-telling stall and a wooden box to throw in a coin and make wish at the top of the temple. You can also buy lucky charms from stalls.

Shibuya (渋谷区)
In contrast to the traditional ambiance of Asakusa, Shibuya is young, vibrant and modern. If you watch a Japanese drama or movie, the streets of Shibuya are most often shown in representing Tokyo. The streets are bustling with fashionable people who looked like they stepped out of a girl's fashion magazine. Shibuya 109 (Ichi-maru-kyu) is a 9-story building full of cheap, pretty stuff, a shopping haven if you have the energy for it (which frankly I didn't). Shopping advise when traveling: if you let it go, you'll never find it again. Don't think "maybe I'll come back later." Buy it. If it doesn't fit/ you find something else, one less present to find for your sister/friend/mother. Below is the view of the streets of Shibuya, people waiting for the green light to cross, and then green light.

Odaiba (お台場)  
The view from Odaiba is truly beautiful, especially in the nighttime. Odaiba is an artificial island linked through Rainbow Bridge (remember X?). I didn't expect to find a mini-Statue of Liberty there. Somehow standing on the harbor of Aqua City, staring at the Statue of Liberty crossed with the Rainbow Bridge with Tokyo Tower in the backdrop made me smile. Tokyo Tower and Rainbow Bridge are two landmarks that will always make me think of CLAMP, and then jarringly from the Tokyo Bay juts out the Statue of Liberty, the emblem of New York (though this replica is supposedly a shout out to the French-Japanese relationship). The surreal vision somehow made me think of a photoshopped picture or an interpretive pop art. And it made me somehow think of the New York arc of New Trials, and I thought, ah, of course the CCS crew were destined to go to NYC. It was all decided here, in Tokyo.

Much more to follow tomorrow with a little CCS surprise!

Tokyo Trip Part 1:The Places
Tokyo Trip Part 2:  The Shopping
Tokyo Trip Part 3: CLAMP x Blythe Dolls
Tokyo Trip Part 4: Food
Tokyo Trip Part 5: Final Thoughts