Category: Escape From Beppu!

Comiket 82 & Odaiba

I just got back from the first day of Comiket 82, the bi-yearly comic market held in the Tokyo Big Sight convention hall. For reference, here is a picture of the iconic Big Sight:

This is a side view, and no, the convention is not held on the second floor of this building. In fact, the actual buildings sprawl out underneath and behind this one (there are six East Halls and four West Halls).

The Comic Market (shortened to Comiket by lazy Japanese people and lazier otaku [anime fans]) is a magical place filled with wonder and amazement. And, of course, beautiful, beautiful art. The thing that makes Comiket so unique is that the entirety of the East Halls and half of the West Halls are devoted to lesser-known artists and smaller companies. While many of them have professional quality work, Comiket is one of the few times where they can both communicate with their fans and make a lot of money selling their products wholesale. The reason many of them cannot be published ‘officially’ is due to copyright laws–many Comiket artists create doujinshi, or fan-created comics.

Doujinshi take fanfiction to a whole new level. They take the universes, characters, or storylines of a ‘mainstream’ original work and provide a different perspective on it. Perhaps in this one, your two favorite characters get into a relationship that was never canon. Or, say, some little plot thread that the original author never followed through on is now embellished and given voice through fan work. Comiket also gives artists a chance to play with the art styles of popular works. See below:

This is the official style of the animation known as Prince of Tennis.

And now, see one of the gorgeous remakes of these characters I found and purchased at Comiket:

Can these possibly be the same characters?! I much prefer this art style to the official one.

So as you can probably tell, a lot of the works available for sale at Comiket are meant as fan-service. That is to say, they make a series more appealing to a broader fan base by providing higher variety. Be warned that you will run into ‘questionable’ subject matter at Comiket and that it’s really not a place to bring small children (I know, I know, comic books for adults? What’s the deal, Japan? We thought that was kid stuff!) Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside of the Big Sight (unless if you specifically ask permission from the staff, and even then, they mostly say no), so I could not get as many as I’d hoped.

One thing you also see a lot of at Comiket are cosplayers. Simply put, cosplayers are people dressed as characters from fictional mediums. And Comiket is world-famous for its amazing cosplayers. Just today I saw creatures from Silent Hill, Sora and Riku from Kingdom Hearts, Vincent from Final Fantasy VI, and countless other detailed and stunning costumes. Here are some pictures, not taken by me, of cosplayers at Comiket 82:

After Comiket closed at 4 (it will open again tomorrow at 10), we wandered on down the train line to the largest shopping mall in Tokyo to get ‘linner’ (you can buy food at Comiket too, but who would when there is so much ELSE to see?) and ran into a life-sized Gundam model:

Just to show you HOW TALL 18 meters are, that guy by the foot is only about 10 feet away.

Even if you’ve never seen Gundam, even if you wonder what the POINT is of a non-working life-size battle robot, you have to admit that this is pretty cool. And the attention to detail… I mean, there’s even serial numbers on each part! Truly a work of art, here.
I will definitely be returning to Odaiba in the future. I haven’t yet explored it as much as I would like–Comiket takes a lot out of a person–and there is still so much more to see. For now, I leave you with some pictures I managed to take on the run between stations and destinations.

I know, I know, le GASP. Today was the Kokura Field Trip run by AP House. As before, allow me to borrow a map for you to see:

The trip takes about two and a half hours by bus, counting a fifteen minute stop in the middle of the trip. AP House runs these trips twice or three times a semester, and offers extreme discounts to residents. For this one, the full price just for the bus fare and lunch would have been over 7000 yen–residents of AP House only pay 3000.

We were supposed to go visit a natural national landmark, an ancient cave, but because of typhoon season it flooded and we had to change plans. So, we went to one of the largest shopping centers in Kokura, also the home of the popular broadcast station for NHK Kyushu (Japan’s leading news and entertainment channels). Have a look:

We also stopped by Kokura Castle and its various surrounding monuments, temples, and to’rii (red gates).

After that, we went and had lunch at a hotel buffet, which was delicious. They had foods from all over the world. America’s? Fries and chicken tenders, of course. 😛 They also had a chocolate fountain, pizza (which was NOT pizza, though it almost could fool someone who wasn’t, well, raised in the pizza capital of the world), and roast pork. And many other types of food from Europe and South America; surprisingly, very little in the way of Japanese food (though of course rice was present and miso soup).

This is only one of two counters. The other one was too crowded for me to get a picture, though that was the one with all of the hot foods.

Finally, the best part of the trip had come. Travel to Mojiko Historic District in Kokura. There are many historic buildings in Kokura, but the Moji district is the largest collection of various Meiji-era structures. For those who don’t know, the Meiji era of Japan took place in the early 20th century and was marked by Japan’s sudden obsession with Westernization. Here are some of the many, many pictures I took of this district:

To end our little tale, how about a bit of a funny story? When the bus pulled over to drop us all off, everyone started heading towards the ferry. Even though it was pouring rain and I could tell just looking at this thing that the rough waves and rain would make it impossible to see anything at all. So, I decided to screw ‘mandatory’ boat rides and go wandering around Moji. I got some amazing photographs, went to the top of the observation tower (31 stories up!), and got so completely soaked that I squelched when I walked.

Anyway, that was great buuut *dun dun DUUUUN* I was found in one of the gift stores (dripping wet and grinning my head off at ‘fugu (blowfish) cookies’) and lectured soundly for not going on the mandatory ferry trip. So I shrugged and apologized and then launched into everything I did during the ferry trip… and instead of getting angrier or lecturing me more, she just went, “Man. We couldn’t see anything from the ferry! You probably made a good choice.” Then looked horrified that she’d *GASP* advocated rule breaking!

This was a good day.

…-sigh- Well, I guess all good things must come to an end. That’s right… Quarter Break’s over. My lovely, lovely trip to Kyoto and Osaka has ended. And now, I’m back among the mountain people.

Don’t get me wrong; Beppu’s a lovely town and the people are wonderful here. It’s just that once you’ve gotten a taste of the big cities of Japan, those places with 1200 years of history and 36-story department stores, you begin to realize what the average Japanese means when they say “Oh, Beppu’s just a small rural town.”

We took the ferry, the only ferry, that leaves every few days out of Beppu and takes a leisurely thirteen hours to get to Osaka. Fare is pretty cheap on the lowest class, and if you have a Co-Op card, you can get one round-trip ticket and one one-day pass to Universal Studios Japan for 16900 JPY. Of course, be prepared for the Japanese lower class, which is known as the “Tourist” class. Your life vest IS your pillow. You share your room with up to 35 strangers, and you have a two foot by six foot rectangle of floor to call your own. If you’re lucky, you can stow your luggage on the overhead shelf. Now, luckily, most of the time, your room will not be full. You can steal any unoccupied beds’ mattress pads (they make APU’s mattresses look like fluffy soft things). On this ferry, there is a restaurant, but it’s expensive and the food is not good. So, stop by the Family Mart before you board and grab a bento box to eat later. Do not buy anything from the hot vending machine. Don’t do it. Seriously. Don’t.

Once you get off the ferry, you will be in one of the main stations of Osaka. From here, you can catch either the subway or the train and find your hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Mikado near Shin-Imamiya station. This is a popular place for college students, as it’s 2100 JPY a night and air conditioned, with deadbolts and without bedbugs. I was happy.

Here is a ‘Western-Style Room’ at the Mikado.

Hey, for 2100 JPY a night? This is niiiiice. Trust me. Hotel Mikado’s even got a non-smoking floor, so my room didn’t stink. The only things you can’t see in this picture are the small TV and refrigerator that are on that black shelf to the left of the doorway. All in all, when you’re on a budget, it’s perfect.

The first day, we just went shopping in Osaka and wandered around the more famous districts, those being DenDen Town (an electronics wonderland) and Doutonburi (shopping and nightlife district–dress to impress) and American Town (Not very American. But, an honorable attempt):

The second day, we hopped on the JR express line for Kyoto. It’s 590 JPY one-way; make sure to buy all your tickets in Osaka, or you won’t get the discount. Kyoto is by far my favorite city in Japan that I’ve visited so far. Everywhere you go, there are shrines and sacred gardens and beautiful scenery. This coexists with some of the most modern architecture in the world. Truly, a beautiful sight:

After a whole day in Kyoto, we had the lamest nomikai (drinking party) ever (yet, somehow, it was still a lot of fun) back at the hotel and collapsed in our rooms. And then Monday, we went to USJ.

Now, I love theme parks. So I may be biased. But USJ was awesome. It’s a pretty small park, but that’s okay since the hours are weird (10 AM – 6 PM) and you only get one day pass with your ferry fare. And hell, they had L’Arc~en~Ciel synced to a roller coaster. Oh yeah, that was possibly the most awesome coaster I’ve ever been on. Here’s a few pictures (Gee, I took a lot this time, huh?):

Why, yes, that IS a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company. …in Japan… Yeah we were (o_O) too. But, we DID eat there, and it was amazingly delicious. Amazingly. Especially the gigantic cookie sundaes. Nom. Those were apparently designed to each serve four people or so. Our party was five people. We ordered four of them. Somehow, nothing was left over… we freaked our waitress out with that stunt, poor thing…

In any case, the trip was so amazingly lovely. I definitely want to return to Kansai at some point.

INSIDER TIP: When in Kyoto, find a bike station and rent a bike for the day. It’s much faster than the trains and you can literally park them ANYWHERE where it makes sense to, since the locks are built into the tires. Plus, it’s 1000 JPY for 24 hours. Not bad at all.

…And about the title to this blog. Blame Ashley. Um… she started calling us all “yamajin” (mountain people) because APU is on top of a mountain and well… the name stuck. ^_^;

I have just gotten back from the Nagasaki Peace Tour, an extremely competitive field trip by the AP House Staff. Over 200 applied; only 38 survived. I was one of the lucky ones. They told us we were fighting for justice, but it was a lie. They told us we were protecting our countrymen… lies, all lies. THEY TOOK ME LEG.

Okay, okay, sorry. No more unsavory war veteran jokes. In all seriousness, this trip was very enlightening and an excellent experience. We went to Nagasaki by bus. For those unfamiliar with Japan’s geography, have a map:

Takes about four hours to get to Nagasaki from Beppu by bus. I mostly listened to music and took pictures of the surrounding countryside. When we arrived, we checked into the Chisun Grand Hotel, a really nice hotel in the heart of Nagasaki:














I have two words for you: REAL. BED. <3.

Now then. The actual trip itself led us first to the Peace Museum, located about 150 meters away from Ground Zero itself. A short history lesson: Nagasaki was the second (and to date, last) city decimated by a nuclear weapon. The weapon’s nickname was Fat Man. It contained 8 kg of plutonium and had the destructive force of 120 tons of TNT. Take a good, long look at this:

Got it memorized? Don’t cheat. Really look at it, and hold it in your head.

Okay. Is it in your mind? Good. Look at this, now:

After visiting the museum and seeing pictures like these, among others, we were brought to both Ground Zero itself and to the Nagasaki Peace Park and given guided tours of each by the son of a survivor of the bombing. Here is the Ground Zero memorial:

It’s a simple black monument, centered directly over the exact place where the bomb exploded over six decades ago. This obelisk is directly in front of the Atomic Bomb Museum, which contains many examples of the damage caused by the bomb. Within the first 500 meters of this spot, the death rate of unprotected citizens was 100% (the flames carbonized human flesh in literally milliseconds; I will spare you the pictures). Those who did not die on the day of the bombing, who were exposed directly or even indirectly in many cases, died soon afterwards of an ‘unknown sickness,’ which is now known to have been radiation poisoning.

The Peace Park is another testament to the lives lost during the war, and not just from the atomic bomb. This park celebrates the importance of peace in all matters, not only nuclear war. It features thirteen statues, twelve of which are from Eurpoean countries and America and one of which is from China. The most famous, of course, is this one:

The one from China is perhaps the most beautiful, in my opinion, though. It says on the back, “Peace” in Chinese, which ironically is the same as in Japanese except for the characters being switched. “Peace” in Japanese is “平和” or “hey-wah.”

The reason there is a fence is because the statue was actually vandalized when it was still new (this is back in the eighties). Of course, Japan apologized profusely to China and then took steps. And when Japan takes steps… well. The statue now has 24-hour security lights, four different cameras, motion sensors, a wrought-iron fence, and three foot thick hedges with sharp pointy things in them all around it. You ain’t getting in there. 😛

After the Peace Park, we went to the famous church. It was also destroyed in the blast, and in fact, one of the original bell towers’ tops is still embedded in the earth 35 meters from the church (blown there at 280 m/s). The bell was blasted from the dome and more or less melted. Here is what remains of the tower:

The other side of this structure is the dome, almost unrecognizable because it is so deeply buried in the earth. This was our last stop before we ate lunch (at Chinatown [it’s a real place, I promise you]) and took our walking tour of Nagasaki. Er. Fair warning. When a Japanese person says “Let’s walk around Nagasaki” they MEAN “Let’s walk around the ENTIRE BLOODY CITY and wander up random hills for six hours and go alllll the way to the top of the mountain to look at creepy giant fish.” But it was still fun. Have a few pictures of Glover Garden, the Japanese equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg:

When we got done sightseeing, we attended a special lecture given by Hirose-sensei, an English teacher who survived the atomic bombing. He was only 15 years old at the time, working in an office in Mitsubishi’s factory. He was only two kilometers from the hypocenter (Ground Zero) at the moment of the bombing, 11:02 on August 9th, 1945. He told us his story.

After this, we all had dinner at the Nagasaki Dejima Wharf Restaurant:

I ate sashimi. And liiiived. I REPEAT: I ATE SASHIMI AND LIVED. The dish you see in the picture contains many different kinds, and the round pearl-like things are the specialty–eel eggs. A bit squishy. I’m not a big fan of thesquid, as it was extraordinarily chewy, but I do like octopus. Nagasaki is gorgeous at night, and is ranked as one of Japan’s top night-scapes.This is not a picture I took, as I was not in Glover Gardens at night, but it is just one example:

This would have been taken from the balcony of the house in front of this koi pond. Almost… ethereal, in a sense.

After we returned to the hotel, we crashed for about seven hours and then were awake again and ready to go help the high school students on their 10,000 Signatures Campaign.

The sign says “High School Students 10,000 Signatures Campaign” and refers to the year-long goal (every year since 1997) of getting 10,000 or more signatures and sending them to the UN. Each year, delegates from this group hand-deliver their petition to the UN, and each year, they have met their goal of 10,000 or more signatures. At this particular campaign, we got 382 signatures in two hours. Oh, and a news special. Yaaay being on TV shouting at people in Japanese. You may not think that 382 is a large number: I didn’t at first. But think of this. There are 52 weeks in a year. Fifty two times three hundred is fifteen thousand six hundred. Quite an impressive number.

Then, we were released from all duties, events, et cetera and given time to explore the station’s department store. I went and bought castella (カステラ) for a souvenir for my friend and some other souvenirs too. Castella is a Nagasaki specialty cake, sold just about everywhere in the city. It’s basically a cake that tastes, astonishingly, like a sugar cookie. It’s a tad bit difficult to describe. Of course it comes in sixteen different flavors, but I like the classic one.

After we had our precious thirty-five minutes of free time to shop, we all walked back to the hotel and boarded our charter bus:

And, now, I am back on top of the mountain. Sadness.

I do believe in the message that was being sent. At no point was America debased or blamed or insulted… nor was any other country that participated in World War II. No, the message here was not to hate or to point fingers; but to learn from past mistakes and to grow more wise because of them. We must all work together to create a peaceful world–a safe world. It won’t be easy. But we can do it. I have to believe this. Call me an optimistic fool if you like.

There is a tradition in Japan, and I shall end my extremely long post with it. If you fold a thousand paper cranes, your wish will be granted. In the museum and indeed all over the memorial sites, there are many strings of paper cranes. A hundred thousand cranes, a hundred wishes, all for peace. I will leave you with this last image.

I won’t apologize for not posting in a while–you wouldn’t have wanted me to, I promise. Basically my days have been going by like this: school, shopping, school, homework, wandering, school, more homework.

But now I have a story to tell. This is the story of the Clueless American and the Ways of the Japanese Hotel System. You see, the quarter break is coming up fast (a whole week of no speaking or kanji tests! Whee!), and I’ve planned a little excursion to Kyoto and Tokyo. Whilst I am staying in Kyoto, I decided to try that purely Japanese experience: the capsule hotel.

Here is what it looks like, basically:

These hotels have been around since the late 1970s, but never really made it outside of Japan. Though they are geared more towards salarymen kept out to obscene hours of the morning by bosses (in Japan, business relationships often include long nights spent drinking with coworkers at bars), I’ve always wanted to try one. Plus, they’re cheap.

Which brings me to my slightly funny story. I’m not sure why this is so, but I discovered that when you make a reservation for 9 Hours (this is a famous capsule hotel in Kyoto, the one pictured above), you pay almost twice as much if you make the reservation in English. Here’s what happened. I went onto the website and clicked “Reservations.” Curiosity led me to click “Japanese reservations” (of course, written in kanji) instead of “Reservations in English.” I filled out the forms and chose my dates and got to the end page… and it said 2500 JPY per night. That’s about 28 USD, which for a hotel in the heart of Kyoto is practically unheard of. Particularly since most capsule hotels do not allow women–9 Hours has separate elevators and floors for women–and since most of them charge by the hour.

Of course, I was thrilled, but wanted to be absolutely certain that I hadn’t done anything wrong. So I went back and followed through the steps via the English reservations… but much to my surpreese (if you recognized that reference, congratulations, you have no life. =D), the price had suddenly jumped from 2500 JPY to 4900 JPY per night. Well! I at first was a little mad. But then I decided to go back through the Japanese language reservation and see what was up with this change in price.

Surprise surprise: the hotel is attempting to draw local people from the surrounding prefectures, so if you can understand Japanese and get online, you get the special “Internet Price” of 2500 JPY per night (except weekends, where it’s 2800). The normal price for everyone IS 4900–the hotel just hasn’t bothered to offer this to English speakers because they don’t get enough business from travelers from outside of Japan to make the effort worthwhile.

I sent an e-mail, wondering, and got back a very nice, lengthy reply that explained how few English speakers ever come to 9 Hours (I sent the e-mail in Japanese of course).

In any case, I cut the price I would have paid in half. Thaaank you, Japanese classes! Whoo.