July is the season of Gion. One of the most famous festivals of Japan, the Gion parade in Kyoto is a major event in the Japanese religious calendar. In the Gion parade, celebrants carry portable shrines through the city, accompanied by a slow drumbeat. It is slow, stately, dignified, and incredibly Japanese. While Kyoto's is the most famous, smaller versions can be found across Japan.
For a truly unique Gion experience, however, one should visit Hakata, in the middle of Fukuoka City, and see their version. Imagine, if you will: the wide streets of Hakata's Gion-machi lined with spectators; the sounds of the crowd slowly dying down as the cries of "Oisa! Oisa!" can be heard. Suddenly from around the corner comes a controlled stampede of men and children all wearing the same traditional jacket and loincloth. Buckets of water are thrown from the roadside to keep them cool. Then, the parade float -- a two-story, multi-ton diorama of history and mythology being pushed and dragged through the streets at close to 20 mph. From Kushida Shrine it speeds, turning a tight circle in front of Shofukuji Temple before continuing its three-kilometer circuit of old Hakata town. And that's just the first of seven.
Seven groups called nagare have participated in the Hakata Gion Yamakasa for almost 700 years. The most accurate translation would be "krewes," in the New Orleanian sense of the word -- social organizations devoted to keeping the festival going. Throughout the year, the nagare design and construct a new yamakasa float with a strong cultural theme, showing scenes from ancient mythology or the Heike or Genji Monogatari. On July 1st, the seven kakiyama floats which participate in the parade, as well as another dozen or so kazariyama floats which are only for show, are put on display all over central Fukuoka City. On the 14th, they're moved to prepare for the parade on the 15th.
The parade itself is more of a race, with each nagare attempting to finish the course in the best time. Note that none of the yamakasa floats possess wheels -- teams of men carry the things on their shoulders, constantly switching out between the many members of the team to keep everyone fresh. On average, it takes between five and ten minutes to complete the course, and every team has a turn. This means that the yamakasa is also the shortest of the Gion celebrations, usually lasting only forty minutes or so.
You'll have to get up early if you want to see this. The festivities can go on all night, but the event starts with prayers at Kushida Shrine at 4:59 AM. Then, at 5 on the dot, the first nagare start running the course.
Sadly, this summer is the first time in five years that my days off don't synch with July 15th. While I could have caught a late train on Monday and been back in time for class on Tuesday, I doubt I'd have been in any shape to take on a class full of three-year-olds. Shou ga nai.
Anyway, here are some pictures of Yamakasa 2006, courtesy of my former roommate and Australian ambient music maestro, The Journeyman. I'd show you last year's pictures, but... they didn't turn out so well. It could've been because my phone-camera doesn't do well with early morning light, or it could have been the typhoon that arrived at 4:55 that morning. It made for interesting memories, but bad photos.
Anyway, on with the show!
About a month or so ago, Atlus put out Weiß-Schwarz, their first collectible card game (CCG), based on Persona 3 and the anime, Trinity Soul. I've got a few cards, more for the pretty pictures than anything else:
Bundled with copies of Persona 4 is an advert, promising that more cards based on P4 will be revealed at the next Tokyo Game Show in October. Here's the advert:
And the complementary Izanagi card:
#4 on this week's sales list is the nameless game. According to the Dengeki, it sold at least 31k copies in the first three days or so. Allowing for that sales curve to continue and.... Well, I haven't seen any news reports about a mass die-off of the otaku population, so I'd guess that urban legend is busted, no?
Now here's an update that is long overdue. Pokémon Ranger Batonnage hit the stores back in March, and has consistently stayed in the Top 50 sales chart every week since. While we've mentioned some of the download aspects of the game, we haven't really discussed it much. Let's fix that:
Okay, perhaps not so much discuss as look at all the nice screens. The core gameplay hasn't changed that much, so if you liked the first one, then you'll like this one as well. The biggest change that I can see is that you can choose a Pokémon to act as your partner. This gives you new options depending on the Pokémon, and it won't leave after a while like they usually do. In any case, enjoy.
The Steal Princess is at it again, leaving four scans as her calling card. There's no point in hiding the jewelry -- you know she'll find it anyway. Anise is out to infiltrate the Palace of the Demon King and come away with the ultimate prize in the form of Prince Charming, so she's going to need all the funds she can pilfer in order to prepare. Will she make it past cadres of Wizards, gangs of Golems, and randomly labeled groups of other assorted monsters? That's up to the player, since this is a very action-oriented title here.
For added fun, Marvelous has added a Bonus Land feature, unlockable by password. As well, different stages throughout the game can be customized, with terrain features, monsters, items, and "gimmicks" which can be used to access secrets or gain better rewards. For added enjoyment to the story, a drama CD -- basically an add-on anime episode starring Anise and her fairy friend -- will be included with the game.
While this isn't an RPG, I figured there'd be some in the audience who might appreciate this. In September, Capcom will make their famed Blue Bomber available for download on the Wii. Not X, not Zero, not any of the other modern spin-offs, but the original MegaMan in all his glory. So, out of the eight numbered games of the original MegaMan franchise, which one do they choose? Do they go with the classic earlier episodes, or the more advanced later episodes? The answer is...
None of the above. Meet Mega Man 9, an all-new entry into the beloved franchise -- at least, "new" within Capcom's limited definition of the word. Number 9 features all new levels, populated with the usual array of new, classic, and rehashed enemies. Capcom must have spent a lot of time digging in the closet before they found all the old Famicom system tools, because this game pracically defines the term "retro" in regards to pretty much everything. For 1000 Wii points though, all I can say is: Rock on.
We have several short items this week, mostly partial-page scans. There's not much info to be had from these, but the pictures look nice.
This is a full-page advert that caught my eye while I was flipping through the magazines. I'm not sure if this Silver Rain is a CCG or some hybrid arcade game like Lord of Vermilion. It looks cool, at any rate.
While it's not really known how "iaru" (Ial? Year? Ear? Yar?) is supposed to come out in English, that's the name of the world in this new PSP game from Gung-Ho Works. The theme of Mimana Iaru Chronicle is "rebirth, healing, life" according to the company, though they don't really elaborate on it. The story centers around the travels of Clayce the soldier and Sephy the minstrel as they search for the mysterious Mage Stones. Unfortunately, the demon clan of Hastur is after the stones as well. What happens next? I don't know, but I'm sure we'll see more of this one later in the year (ear? yar?).
For all those out there who liked to play dress-up with their dolls, we have a new port of Princess Maker 5 for the PSP. The PM series is an odd, long-running RPG-sim hybrid set of games that revolves around a princess who is left in your care. As the player, it's your job to make sure she's fully trained in all the skills required for ruling a kingdom -- you know, like fighting, diplomacy, magic, and cosplay. Characters from various anime, including Evangelion and Guren Lagan, have donated their outfits for her education.
Watch Out for Snakes
Salutations once more, sirrah Gaijin.
Looking at that Wind of Nostalgio information made me wonder: aside from Thousand Arms, what of Red Company's work has made it into English? And a related adjunct to that question is, what untranslated Red titles do you think deserve(d) to have that honor?
Well, looking over their Wiki page, I don't see many RPGs aside from the ones we already know (Sakura Taisen, Thousand Arms, Tengai Makyou). The only new ones of note are Agarest Senki for the PS3 and Bokura wa Kaseki Holidaa for the DS. FYI, apparently they've been calling themselves Red Entertainment for 8 years now.
Minor but niggling thing: peanut butter & chocolate. My time in Europe revealed that this combination appears to not have the universality I had unknowingly assumed it possessed. I wonder what Japan makes of it.
The Japanese aren't that big into peanut butter at all. More often, they'll have this revoltingly light, fluffy goo called "peanut whip" which just doesn't hold a candle to the real stuff.
Another linguistic query now. 'You' seems to be a concept covered by several different words depending upon how one wishes to convey it, just like 'I.' 'Kimi' is the only one I can remember right now, but I know there are more. Does using a different word for the general concept of 'you' indeed convey very different things to the listener, as I presume? And does the phrase 'Kimi tachi' being used so often account for why many translators just get bored and use 'the others' in translating it without regard to how imprecise that term is?
Japanese does not actually have a word that means "you," at least not in the sense that Western languages mean with pronouns. What Japanese has is a set of epithets which have become so usual for reference in the second-person that they have effectively become pronouns. The same thing can be said of "I" in Japanese. Each epithet/pronoun comes with its own set of kanji. Although these are often left unused, they still lend nuances to the words. When at all possible in conversation, use the other person's name instead of a pronoun. Kimi is probably the most neutral of the second-person "pronoun" set, but using anata(too personal), omae (too informal), or (God help you) kisama will probably get you into some linguistic trouble.
Despite Microsoft's prodigious efforts, would I be correct in assuming the 360 is still just an afterthought to the Japanese gaming audience?
They seem to be doing well enough over here. The 360 is still a contender, just not the champion (yet?).
How much material from outside Japan have you encountered in Japanese media that was dubbed into Japanese, and does English-Japanese dubbing produce the same lack of lip syncing the opposite does?
That's all I have for now. Fare thee well!
The lip-synching is usually pretty good for popular imported shows that I've seen. What throws me off most of the time is that Japanese actors have a very different way of expressing themselves, compared to their American counterparts. The voices in Japanese dubs tend to sound a lot more melodramatic than the original sound track. Anyhoo, thanks for writing in! I almost missed your letter, though, because your title this time around looked a little too much like some bad-quality spam that's been hitting my inbox. Good thing I double check, no?
This is an open invitation to all importers and J-gamers. I'm sure that you all have had some interesting experiences while pursuing this fun hobby of ours, and we at Japandemonium would like to hear from you! Nothing spoiler-heavy, please.
In parting, let us spare a prayer for all the poor students stuck in classrooms (not to mention the teachers and ALTs) without air conditioning. Yes, even though Japan usually reaches the high 30s (90 to 100 for you Fahrenheit folks) in the summer, very few schools in Japan have any sort of air conditioning system for the classrooms. Nor are teachers allowed to bring in portable fans, since that "uses too much electricity." Summer vacation cannot come too soon.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,