It's almost May, and you know what that means? It's Tsuchinoko season!
Huh? What's a Tsuchinoko?
A mysterious, mythical, legendary... snake with a weight problem.
No, seriously. An enduring Japanese folk legacy, something like an alpine version of Nessie, the Tsuchinoko is said to inhabit Japanese mountain areas. They're from one to two feet long, usually a mottled gray or tan color, sport bulbously distended bodies, tiny tails, and -- here's the clincher, the reason why they're definitely mysterious and not, like, say, a drunken mis-interpretation of a garter snake -- they move by jumping or rolling in a hoop rather than slithering. Some reports say they even tumble end-over-end (as seen in the illustrations at the bottom of this page.)
I can hear you now. Yeah, yeah, whatever -- rice wine plus country bumpkins equals the birth of an obscure local legend nobody cares about, right? Wrong. Because the Tsuchinoko is big business in Japan. Well, sorta. Similar to the clione (which has the advantage of being a real organism), the Tsuchinoko has a serious cult of personality over here, complete with its own merchandise. Kaiyodo sculpted Tsuchinoko gashapon figures for Furuta's Choco Eggs (the limited-edition black version will set you back 15,000 yen on Yahoo Auctions these days.) Here's a Tsuchinoko hot water bottle. The city of Aikawa bottled its own Tsuchinoko-label wine. And you know the Tsuchinoko's hit the supernatural big-time when there's even a Hello Kitty pen-topper available.
Tsuchinoko sightings have been around for about as long as the Japanese have been around. They're called "Nozuchi" and "Bachi-Hebi" in Akita prefecture, "Tsuchi-Hebi" in Osaka, "Koro" in Fukui, and have been sighted all over Japan save for Hokkaido and the Okinawan islands. Some even claim that there are references to them in Jomon-era (10,000 B.C. - 300 B.C.) art. A few reference sources categorize them as yokai, those ethereal monsters of premodern Japan's nights, but most fans nowadays classify them as UMA, "unidentified mysterious animals" along the lines of Bigfoot.
If you're feeling lucky, the Tsuchinoko Search Team is offering a cool one million yen to anyone who brings evidence of one of the creatures back from an expedition to Niigata prefecture in June of this year. Want to join up? The details are right here, the entry fee's a paltry 3,000 yen, and the deadline's May 31, so time's a-wasting.
The two-foot long, ultra tricked out model kit of the Space Battleship Yamato released by Bandai earlier this year comes with a thick, full-color pamphlet titled "Yamato Style." It's full of interviews with the people involved with the kit's production and commentary from a wide variety of anime luminaries, including a terse "interview" with Hideaki Anno (sample: Q: "What's the most interesting thing about the Yamato series?" A: "All of it." Q: "What's your favorite perspective of the ship?" A: "All of them." )
Best part: a brief introduction written by a guy named Leiji Matsumoto. Perhaps you've heard of him.
The other day, I had the opportunity to ride aboard a Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Aegis cruiser. The cruiser's bridge looked just like that of the Yamato. When I asked about it, I was told that "the designers grew up watching 'Yamato,' so it's only natural it turned out this way." The Yamato's phased array radar screen, the enemy detection stations, even the Cosmo Radar (which we all used to call the "breast radar") -- it was all there. What had been imprinted on the designers' consciousness during their youths found its expression when they built what amounted to the real thing.
Other highlights include a two-page spread on identifying the various versions of the ship that appeared in the series. Anime funk at its finest... And proof that the Yamato generation has grown into adults more than willing to plunk down close to $500 on a toy. Not to mention redesigning their armed forces to resemble the Star Force. Could this mean that the Ground Self Defense Forces have a Gundam in the works...?
Proof positive that Hello, Please! style "working characters" can get down and dirty with the best of them, from the sordid back alleys of Tokyo's Nakano. The condom's Con-kun; the l'il vibrator goes by the name of Puru-Puru-chan.
Even power-nerds generally never venture beyond the Mandarakes there, but just a few short steps outside of the otaku womb known as Nakano Broadway is a whirlwind of ramen-ya, "super adult conbini," tiny resturants serving obscure cuisines, and shady love hotels. The funky architecture on the World Kaikan (above) is a masterpiece of '70s architecture. May the shag carpeting inside still be as fluffy as the day it was laid.
Calling Operator 7G: there's a new official Megazone 23 website for the two-decade-old classic that launched the market for Japanese direct-to-video anime. In an era when every old franchise is mined for potential new I.P., are you really surprised? Still, any site showcasing the old-school robot goodness of this series can't be bad. Not to mention that it drops a tantalizing hint about a possible upcoming Megazone videogame. (If they're REALLY serious, it'll contain a perfect "next-gen" 3-D simulation of Shogo's burger-flipping exploits at the Harajuku McDonald's.)
And for those who have a REAL fever for the Megazone flavor, know that there's going to be a special all-Megazone "talk event" held on May 13 at the venerable Loft Plus One in the heart of lovely Kabukicho. Called "Megazone 23: Revive!," guests include veteran mecha designer Hideki Kakinuma, musical director Yasunori Honda, and "Tomomi" voice actress Miina Tominaga.
This is one of many robot series. Some of them are sexually oriented.
Feast your eyes on this mind-bending video of an '80s fundamentalist Christian broadcast, apparently set in someone's rumpus room, discussing "occultic symbolism" (!) in Voltron and the Transformers. Proof positive that they're tools of the devil is the fact that one of the hosts can't stop fiddling around with his Voltron toy as he denounces the show. I can only imagine what this pair would make of Devliman...!
Spotted in Inokashira Park this afternoon: a quintet of Power Rangers "cold gettin' stoopid" under the cherry blossoms. God bless Kichijoji. The big question: who was defending Tokyo from monsters while these guys were chugging their chu-hi? Another shot of the insanity here.
There's a new beer in town: Yebisu The Hop. It's a supposedly hoppier version of Yebisu, the standard in premium Japanese beers. Being a recovering beer-snob and temporarily forgetting that this is Japan, I dove in expecting the local equivalent of, like, say, Anchor Steam or Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale. Alas, it's but a subtle improvement over the (admittedly very drinkable) Yebisu gold.
On that note, I've always been mildly amused by the Japanese approach to beer, which requires that a brew be thirst-quenching above all other characteristics. In keeping with this fine tradition, one of my pals deliberately dehydrates himself on days when he knows he's going out so that the first beer of the evening is extra crisp and refreshing. Another loves cracking open a cold one after going jogging. Given the preference here for Kirin, Asahi, and other super-light Japanese lagers, it's easy enough to imagine, but if I pulled either of those stunts I'd be in even worse shape than usual at the end of the night.
Beer is also, like so many foods here, viewed seasonally: although you can get it anywhere year round, it's pretty much the traditional beverage of summer. As exemplified by the protagonist of Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase, who only drinks (I'm paraphrasing here) "beer in the summer, whisky in the winter." (Or is that Dance Dance Dance?)
Anyway. Ebisu The Hops. Definitely a notch above the regular stuff, but enough to dethrone my current fave, Suntory Premium Malts? Lemme have another tall-boy and get back to you.
Perennial tabloid favorite WaiWai cuts loose with a translation of an interview with Go Nagai from Japan's Weekly Playboy magazine. The main topic is "Harenchi Gakuen," the 1968 naughty-fest that launched his career. Sample text for classroom discussion: "For boobs, I took particular inspiration from the Venus de Milo." If you're the sort who prefers more mecha than musume, there's an old interview with him discussing the genesis of Mazinger Z here at ToyboxDX.
(And speaking of naughty: I don't know which one of you found this site via a Google search for "Lion Maru panties," but I'm honored. And a little bit frightened.)
Apologies for the hiatus. Hiroko and I are in Vancouver at the moment, producing the voice-recording sessions for an upcoming video game. We'll be back in the Motherland early next week.
In the meantime, enjoy this vintage shot from Washington DC's long-closed Senator theater with a double-feature of the sort they just don't show anymore. And check it out: although the book won't be out until the end of the summer, a listing for Hello, Please! (now officially subtitled "Very Helpful Super Kawaii Characters from Japan") has appeared on Amazon. (What's "Hello, Please?" click here for a taste.) Place them pre-orders, people!