Shigatsu no tsuitachi
Ohayo gozaimasu!

Spring has sprung in Japan, and that means many things. Students move up a grade. A fresh crop of college co-eds may be seen in their uniform job interview suits. And, of course, there are the cherry blossoms.

Today though, we're going to take a look at a lesser-known spring tradition in Japan: the Uso-Tsuki Matsuri. Like many familiar words in local dialects, the name has been contracted somewhat, with the word usagi (rabbit) being shortened and mutated into uso, and joined to the word tsuki (moon) directly, without any of the normal connecting grammar. So, the name translates as "Rabbit-Moon Festival."

While Westerners see a Man in the moon, the Japanese see a rabbit -- and a busy little rabbit he is, too. According to legend, the lunar bunny spends all his time pounding mochi (sticky rice gum used in Japanese sweets). This is referenced in many manga, perhaps most famously in an early episode of Dragonball.

Locally, though, there's more to the story. Supposedly, the little mochi-maker once dwelled here in the islands. Once upon a time, his village was set upon by vicious oni (demons or ogres). Tired of the treatment, the rabbit pounded up a batch of super-sticky mochi, and fashioned cakes out of it. Timidly, he presented them to the oni the next time they came to the village.

The greedy oni grabbed the cakes, and chewed... and chewed... and chewed... until they realized that their jaws were firmly stuck together by the sticky mixture. This made them so angry, they grabbed the poor little bunny by the ears, and flung him as far and as hard as they could. So hard, in fact, that he hit the moon.

While the oni eventually starved to death (couldn't use their jaws, after all), the little rabbit went on with his business, sending mochi cakes wrapped in leaves back to Earth, carried by his friends the migrating swallows.

Centuries later, Japanese people still pound mochi the traditional way, in his honor. While it has since worked its way into many Japanese festivals, it's still most popular about a week and a half after the equinox, during the Festival of Uso-Tsuki.

But enough with the culture points, on with the column!

A few weeks back, we were introduced to Dungeons of Windaria, a new DS game based on a 20-year-old movie property. It was a daring idea, rooted in a trust in the power of nostalgia over the game's target otaku demographic.

Now, it seems, other companies are going to take the plunge as well. Studio Ghibli, perhaps the most famous of all anime production companies in Japan, has recently announced its intention to develop one or more of its own movie properties into a game of the Action/RPG genre.

"Our films have a deep-seated popularity in Japan, and around the world," a Ghibli representative was reported as saying to Famitsu magazine. "Their influence on the RPG genre can be seen as far back as the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) period. Clearly, there is potential here."

This is no the studio's first foray into the gaming world -- in 2002, they cooperated with Garakuta Stage on the production of Magic Pengel for the Playstation 2, which was fated for a quiet existence on a game store back shelf, and nothing more. With this project, Studio Ghibli's stated goal is "to adapt one of our past successes to a new medium, and have it remain just as successful."

While there is no word as to which property is to be developed, the list of candidates is not a long one. Barring choices that are legally problematic because of copyright, we have the following possibilities:

#1, The Cat Returns -- This feline fantasy about a girl's trip to Wonderland is the most recent title that's likely under consideration.

#2, Whisper in the Heart -- While not actually fantasy, the movie contains a baroque fairy tale starring Muta and The Baron (later the heroes of The Cat Returns), which could be adapted.

#3, Castle in the Sky -- This is a much more likely prospect. Its hallmark airships, floating island, and amulet of extreme plot significance have been included in many RPG series

#4, Nausicaš -- This film is only a couple of years older than Windaria, and has one of the oldest RPG references of all the Ghibli-related films (the toxic, bug-infested swamp of Crystalis, on the NES). There's a large and varied world hinted at in the film and manga, and this would be my choice in the matter.

Unfortunately, everything is conjecture at this point. We'll let you know as further news emerges.

Source: Famitsu

And, they're baaaaaack.... Nintendo's favorite little moneymaker of a series has received a massive boost in the last few weeks, with the release of their newest Pokémon Ranger title arriving on the coattails of the press release for the next Pokémon movie, due out this summer -- Pokémon - Giratina vs. Sheimi. The results, we can see below.

Position Up / Down Title Publisher Platform
1 New Arrival! Pokémon Ranger 2 - Batonage Nintendo
20 65 Pokémon Diamond Nintendo
25 72 Pokémon Mysterious Dungeon 2 - Explorers of Darkness Nintendo
27 76 Pokémon Mysterious Dungeon 2 - Explorers of Time Nintendo
30 70 Pokémon Pearl Nintendo
Source: Dengeki

While flat or uninteresting characters have been a common complaint in RPGs over the years, Marvelous Interactive has taken the broad step to truly two-dimensional characters in its newly announced Kanji no Kuni Monogatari, or Kanji Kwest.

Billed as an "innovative merger of styles" by its development team, Kanji Kwest takes the normal fantasy tropes of RPGs and renders them into Chinese ideograms -- namely kanji. Trees are not green, leafy masses on trunks, but instead four-line conceptualizations of trees, for example, while in the distance, three-spired mountains of minimalism dominate the horizon.

In battle, characters may hack away with their ideographic idealizations of weapons, or choose to cast spells. In a move similar to Lost Magic a few years back, spell kanji must be drawn out on the DS touchpad, with the difficulty of the symbols increasing in step with the power of the spell. Speed and accuracy are both important in spellcasting -- a shot clock runs while you draw the symbol, and a mistake in stroke order may weaken the final spell or cause it to backfire.

Let's meet the cast:

First, we have Watashi, our main character. He has a twin sister named Atashi, who looks exactly like him. The next two characters are his allies Boku and Ore. Ore is a knight, and a bit of a hot-head. Boku is actually his valet, but acts more like his caretaker, according to the information given. The fourth character is Princess Hime, and the fifth is her father, King Ou. Finally we have the evil lord Ma and his servant Nin, who are out to overthrow the kingdom.

I'll be on the lookout for more info on this one. The story doesn't sound like it'll be much, but I need the kanji drawing practice.

Source: Dengeki Online

Ever since the big merger, a few years back, Square Enix has had more than a few series lying around which lacked sequels. A few of those have been fortunate enough to get an extension or remake on one of the newer systems. Pretty soon, S-E will be adding another series to the list of the fortunate.

Lennus (better known as Paladin's Quest) is one of many games that Enix and its cohorts came up with in the early '90s -- quirky, often experimental RPGs with occasionally massive flaws that somehow got imported to America anyway. Lennus did well enough to merit a sequel in 1994, but then Enix let the series lapse into quiet retirement.

Until now, that is. Square Enix has decided to go retro with its next DS feature. Lennus III - Relics of the Disappearance boasts graphics that intentionally ape those of the mid-SNES period. Little is known about the story as yet, though the game's namesake relics obviously have something to do with it. All that's really known is that the main character's name is Vuray.

Anyway, here are a few screenshots:

Source: Dengeki Online

The first week of May is known as Golden Week in Japan, and makes up a six-day weekend in a country known for reducing the number of public holidays to as few as possible. One day in particular, Children's Day, is celebrated in many ways. This year, Nintendo has decided to reward the really good boys and girls who patronize their games and Pokémon Center stores.

Any kid who walks into a Pokémon Center store (Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Yokohama, or Fukuoka) on Monday, May 5th, with a copy of Pokémon Diamond or Pearl in their DS will get a Mew of their very own. Lucky kids. The news blurb was very specific -- since this is Children's Day, only kids younger than high school age will get their hands on the little pink critter. C'est la vie.

Source: Famitsu
It's Good to Be the Gaijin!

Yo, Gaijin!

I've been thinking about doing the Japan thing next year, and I gotta ask -- are there any perks for foreigners over there? I keep hearing some wild stories, not sure what to believe!

Keepin' it real,



Yo Dude!

Of course there are perks! Why else would so many foreigners stay in a country where they're otherwise completely alienated in terms of language, appearance, beliefs, and cultural norms?

#1, all those finicky, sissy rules about good behavior? Feel free to ignore them at will. No one will get on to you for being rude, 'cause hey, you're a foreigner! Wear your shoes inside, play mad drum beats with your chopsticks, scratch yourself in public -- it doesn't matter!

#2, apparently, immediately upon entering the country, foreigners develop a sort of social force field that keeps Japanese from getting too close. With practice, you can extend it up to four feet in diameter through sheer force of will. Handy for those long train commutes!

And of course, there's #3 -- the potent allure of the tall, foreign stranger. The ladies over here can't get enough of it! Be sure to woo them with flowers. Chrysanthemums are a particular favorite for dates.

So get your butt over here already! This place beats Podunk, USA on pretty much every level. Well, as long as you're a foreigner.

And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni, where the men are men, the women are passionate, people like their horses raw with ginger sauce, the new governor is nick-named "Mr. Hippo", and folks annually set fire to the countryside because "it looks so pretty." Never a dull moment, nosirree!

Your man in Japan,

Gaijin Monogatari

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