Travels Thus Far: Tokyo – Part 1, ComicCon

I was in Tokyo for a total of maybe 16 waking hours. In that time, I saw:

  • Tom Hiddleston
  • Sumo wrestlers at Tokyo Station
  • That Japanese cops still carry revolvers

The first one is kind of cheating, because I saw him at Tokyo ComicCon. But hey, it kinda counts, right?

Tokyo ComicCon

Despite its name, Tokyo ComicCon actually takes place in the neighboring Chiba prefecture. Tokyo Disneyland is also in Chiba prefecture, for that matter, but calling it Chiba Disneyland just doesn’t have the same ring. Anyways, right off the bat: I have been to only one other ComicCon in my life, ComicCon Revolution in Ontario, CA. And believe it or not, this latter unofficial offshoot of ComicCon had actually been bigger than this official ComicCon in Tokyo. There were very few amateur booths where people were selling their products/handmade stuff. There were, however, many official booths (unlike ComicCon Revolution) of some of the biggest players in the comic industry: Marvel, Star Wars, DC, and so on. At the Marvel setup, I got to meet the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics C.B. Cebulski! He was a very nice guy and signed my bag.

 

Tom Hiddleston came as a guest, where he basically answered all Avengers-related questions with “I know the answer but I can’t tell you.” And of course, lots of awesome costumes. The girlfriend and I dressed up as Han and Qi’ra from Solo:

I guess you could skip the rest of this post if you’re not a Star Wars fan. We saw lots of Star Wars costumes, but for brevity I’ll include only cosplays I haven’t seen before:

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Featuring some Mudtroopers from Solo, and an Imperial officer who nails the scowl.
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A Red Guard, in the flesh!
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Rebel troopers from IV, a.k.a. the only ones to ever get beaten by Stormtroopers. Also featuring my friend Shusaku!
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Before and after death sticks.

This post is too long already, so let’s save the next for part 2!

Hiraoka Matsuri: A Japanese Festival

The beating of drums can be heard from miles away. Dozens of men chant and carry around a taikodai, a mobile drum platform as heavy as a car. It’s to celebrate the local god’s birthday, and it’s quite a spectacle to behold.

This festival was in Hiraoka, my girlfriend’s hometown. Each taikodai represents a different section of her hometown, so they are all uniquely decorated, and carried only by residents of that part. Taikodai roughly translates to “drum platform,” conveyed on large logs and housing, of course, a big drum in the center, where several men also sit and beat on it. They parade up and down the pathways of Hiraoka Shrine, to the adulation of many townsmen and women alike, who’ve been attending this festival since they were children.

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It was Packed with a capital P– shoulder-to-shoulder wherever you went. There were at least a dozen taikodai, and as each one went down the street, the other residents would follow. There were designated leaders on both sides, and when they blew their whistles the men would turn the entire thing around. Wow, was it impressive! You can tell just how heavy these are, from how much you can see the carriers struggling. It’s so miserable that it’s tradition to get drunk, because how else can you carry a freaking car on your shoulder? On top of that, the shrine grounds were built into a hill, so you get to see them do a half-drunken, completely human-powered, about-face turn on a 30-degree incline! More than once, some men would lose their footing and they would sway side to side, pushing the crowd into each other and almost knocking over food stalls. It was awesome.

Speaking of food stalls, if you will allow the comparison, a lot of the festival reminded me of LA County Fair, or American county fairs in general. There were whole grilled squids, takoyaki (fried balls of batter with octopus, topped with Kewpie mayonnaise and a teriyaki-like sauce), okonomoyaki (savory cabbage pancakes, usually with pork, squid, and a fried egg), yakisoba (stir fried noodles in soy sauce), karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), freshly-baked rice crackers, castella (Japanese sponge cake), taiyaki (fish-shaped pastries often stuffed with sweet beans or custard) and hell, even corn dogs and French fries. Point is, there was a heck of a lot of traditional Japanese comfort and junk food, and there were even booths to catch goldfish and various games like shooting galleries.

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Of course, it is all to honor the local god to whom Hiraoka Shrine is home. A dazzling spectacle, steeped in hundreds of years of tradition.

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A closeup of Rika’s hometown taikodai.

The Bowingest Deer of Nara Park

Also two weeks ago, I went to Nara Park for the second time in my life. Home to the famous bowing deer, they freely roam around without a care in the world. You can buy a stack of shika senbei (deer rice crackers) for a cool 150 yen, or $1.50 USD. If you can get a deer’s attention, they will usually come up to you and bow. To thank them for their class, hospitality, and manners, you promptly give them a cracker. News of your generosity rapidly spreads, and you soon find yourself surrounded by 5 or 6 more polite deer-samas, machine-gun bowing like you just held a door open for them from 200 feet away. “Senbei all around,” you say, “this round’s on me!”

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Then, you run out. Although bowing truly is one of the epitomes of Japanese respect and politeness, it only goes skin-deep for these deer. If you don’t keep up your end of the bargain, they get pretty aggressive. They will bite, kick, poke with antlers, even threaten your family in the mail. One deer bit me in the love handle, and another one jabbed me in the back with his single antler. So just like life, everyone only wants you for your rice crackers and they will backstab you once you run out.

Travels Thus Far: Osaka

In case you didn’t know this, I am scum. I haven’t traveled half, or even one quarter, as much as I should have. That’s not to say I’ve gone nowhere at all– here are some highlights from my stay in Japan thus far. I’ll dedicate this post to Osaka, the city that started it all.

Osaka Expo Commemoration Park

There’s no way to say it fast– Bampaku Kinnen-koen, or Osaka Expo 70 Commemoration Park, is home to the Tower of the Sun, in my opinion of the most iconic images of Japan. This weird… thing was designed for the World’s Fair when it was held in Osaka in 1970. It now watches over the park like an angel (of the Neon Genesis Evangelion variety). You can’t go inside it and it doesn’t *do* anything other than light up.

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REAL TOWER HOURS

However, if Japan ever does get attacked by giant monsters, the Tower of the Sun will come to life to defend its home.

As for weapons, in addition to its laser-shooting eyes, the Tower can also make a sort of spinning death-disk out of Expo Park’s Ferris wheel, which is the tallest in Japan. This was also the one that got spun by the sheer power of Typhoon 21’s winds alone.

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It also also has Suita City Stadium, which is where Osaka’s soccer team Gamba plays. I’ve watched two of their games now, where this seemingly scrappy second-to-last place team managed to beat both the top team in their league (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) and the #2 team (Kawasaki Frontale)!

Osaka Castle

No longer does entry to Osaka-jo require the killing of several rival clan members. At some point in its nearly 450-year history, it was opened to the public. You are now free to walk the grounds, and it is, also in my opinion, one of the most beautiful sights in the Osaka area, if not Japan. Surrounded by moats, stone barriers, and gardens, it’s surreal to be walking in a place where, centuries ago, people did fight and die just to get to where you are standing now.

Itami Airport

Itami is Osaka’s domestic airport, and there is a cool lookout spot where you can get very up close and personal with arriving planes.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned!