Misfortune be gone! Good fortune be welcome! This Tuesday past happened to be one of the best known of the old Shinto holy days, Setsubun. This date, February 3rd, is one of the major dates on the old lunar calendar, and generally marks the turning point where winter begins to give way to spring. Much like spring cleaning in the West, Setsubun is a time to sweep away the problems of yesteryear and make way for new opportunities. This generally involves amateur exorcisms.
It's that part of Setsubun that is sometimes known amongst the gaming and anime-viewing public, as it's referenced frequently in Japanese media. Small children, armed with handfuls of dried or roasted soy beans, drive the "demon" (usually a teacher or someone's dad) out of the school or neighborhood. There are lots of special snacks available this time of year, many packaged with demon masks, Momotaro trinkets, or other cutesy "demon"-related goods. The tempura restaurant near my apartment even offers a special "demon lunch" rice bowl, with fried chikuwa for the horns, fried shiitake mushrooms for the ears, a big cluster of shimeji mushrooms for the nose, and two jumbo fried shrimp for the fangs.
Recently on Dengeki, it was announced that the Playstation 2 version of Utawarerumono, the reworked (and partially bowdlerized) port of a PC game upon which a fairly successful manga and anime franchise was built, would be re-released on the PSP in mid-April. I can't say I know much about this series, except that much of it is based on the old Ainu culture of northern Japan. The PS2 version of the game uses a tactical system developed by Flight Plan, however, so if you like their other stuff, this might be worth a look.
Retro Game Challenge has yet to arrive on U.S. shores, but Japan is already looking forward to a sequel. The premise remains the same. The player has been cast back in time to the late 80s, and the only way back is to complete the assigned tasks involving a wide variety of authentic-looking yet completely fictitious 8-bit games. The player and their best friend need to search through gaming magazines to find clues telling them how to meet the demands of their strange captor. Think of it as Mystery Science Theater with decent (if very difficult) retro games instead of awful movies.
Today, we're only showing a part of the scan, because this is the part that's topical. Some of you may know that the first RGC comes with its own 8-bit RPG, Guardia Quest. The developers have seen fit to bestow upon their loyal fans a sequel within a sequel to RGC: Guardia Quest Saga.
We've mentioned the quirky, comical dungeon-simulator Yuusha no kuse ni namaiki da and its sequel a time or three in the past. Now, everyone's favorite campy Dark Lord has set his sights on the realm of AU's mobile phone network.
Also, Hudson Soft has gifted us with their newest, all-original RPG for Yahoo! Japan's mobile network. Shitsuji to Mazoku to O-Jou-sama (Of Butlers, Demons, and Young Ladies) is a traditional-style RPG centering on the titular young lady, Sue, who has found herself in a tight situation. Namely, her family is about a million gold pieces in debt. The fastest way to earn cash is to hunt monsters, but she's going to need help. Her butler, Soujiro, volunteers to be magically transformed into a sword for her to use in battle. I might check this one out once I'm finally finished with The After. It looks cute, and the art style reminds me of the original Grandia and some other old RPGs that I liked.
Mai, Mai, Mai
I emailed you last year asking about travel in Japan during Obon. You
posted my synopsis of August adventure in Japan. I don't know if I
had mentioned, but I was going to Japan as part of a Sister Cities
exchange program, where each sister city sends over a group of
performers to perform during a local festival. Our group was part of
a clogging dance group and we performed for the Isesaki Summer
Festival. I saw that your latest column had a chat with JuMeSyn where
the word "mai" came up. So here is where my story ties in...
Someone from our dance group thought that is would be cool if we
could all have t-shirts printed with the Japanese symbol for dance.
This person didn't realize that you can't assume an internet search
for a foreign word will yield the exact results you are expecting. So
our whole group walked off the plane in Japan wearing t-shirts
emblazoned with the kanji symbol for "dance". We did get a few
stares. In retrospect I'm sure it was a confusing sight... a large
group of loud American kids is not very graceful sight. Anyways, we
finally learned from several Japanese people that the kanji symbol on
our t-shirts was "mai". And "mai" is a very particular form of dance:
a classical ballet-like form of Japanese traditional dance.
Oh well. But hey, they have Engrish, I guess we are entitled to our
Yeah, mai and its corresponding verb form mau have a kind of formal or ceremonial connotation in Japanese. The symbol is incorporated into several types of traditional dance, both as mai and as bu (the other major pronunciation) in the words kabuki and butoukai (formal dance party, like in "Cinderella"). It's also incorporated into the word for stage. However, if you want to say "I dance" in Japanese, then odoru is the better verb to use, since it implies dancing for entertainment purposes.
Of course, if we're talking about Western modern dance styles, then dansu is good as well.
A funny thing to note is that all of the Pokémon moves that use the word "dance" in their name have the word mai used in the corresponding Japanese name. So, there's Tsurugi no mai (Swords Dance), Ryuu no mai (Dragon Dance), etc.
Well, next week is my school's happyoukai, or big show for the parents. Can my upper-level students perform successfully? I'll let you know next week!
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,