In Japan, just as in most of the world, they number the seasons at four. Again as in most of the world, the official beginnings and ends of these seasons have little to do with the actual weather patterns of the region. If we were to be truly accurate, summer in Japan would be separated into two different seasons. First there'd be the rainy season, which we are just getting out of right now (June and July). Following that, there'd be a five week period that could be called the hot season or the dry season. I prefer to call it the noisy season.
Say hello to my little friend! This is an aburazemi, or "bubbling oil cicada." There are roughly a million of these things flying around Kumamoto City right now, all of them buzzing with glee. Sure, they're short-lived, but one should remember that in Japan there are around thirty species of cicada, of which at least a dozen live in my general vicinity. Supposedly you can learn to tell just what part of late summer it is by the particular drone coming through the window.
Anyone who wants to see more Japanese cicadas and hear what they sound like need only go here, where they have images of twenty-seven varieties of the noisy bugs, plus sound clips for most of them. This one is one of my favorites. When a group of these things are going at full volume outside your apartment, you'd swear you were hearing a car alarm.
Well, time for the column!
It's the end of the month, and time for another update from Hiroyuki Maeda's Lovely Lady Lab! This time we have two lovely ladies, both from RPG franchises.
First up is Miu, Princess of Faria, expert archer, and a major new character in White Knight Chronicles 2. Her competition in long-range combat is Cora, from Metal Max 3. Sporting an ensemble of white dress and black metal artillery, she's not someone to mess around with either.
Starting last Friday everyone's favorite themed pub in Tokyo, Luida's Bar, introduced some new Dragon Quest themed desserts for fannish consumption. These are all available for a limited time only.
Since everyone's out playing Dragon Quest IX these days, you all probably know who Sandy is. The first new item in the menu is all about her -- Sandy's Chocolate Sundae, with a flower, a chocolate butterfly, and a swirl of whipped cream meant to represent her hair. It's yours for 650 G (all prices are quoted in DQ gold pieces, exchange rate to Japanese yen is conveniently 1:1).
For those on the go, Luida's Bar is offering a cute package of Momon sablé cookies. Six to a box for 750 G.
And the last new item on the menu is another special box of cookies, this time in the shape of Loto's Emblem, the very symbol of DQ heroism. These goodies are a little fancier than the Momon cookies, and priced a little higher at 1100 G for a box of 8.
For more fun, customers who visit anytime before the end of August can receive Slime or KingSlime themed pool toys. If they have the appropriate scanning apps on their DSi or cell-phones, there's a free set of Wii avatar download material available as well.
It's been a while since we looked at anything from Lord of Vermilion II. Square Enix has been busy producing cameo materials for many of their properties. Recently, they reprinted a set of four cards taken from Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, Freya, Brahms, and everyone's favorite morally ambiguous sorceror genius, Lezard Valeth.
That's not all they've included, though. New to the game are these four cards, from one of S-E's more successful only-in-Japan games in the Super Famicom period.
Introducing Arakes, Byuunei, Forneus, and Aunas, the four Noble Devils of Romancing SaGa III in their stronger, endgame forms. Again, I have to wonder why S-E is going through the trouble to do full 3D rendering for characters from a series that is technically on the company's B-list. I'm still hoping for more SaGa remakes.
And finally, as a gift to all Famitsu readers out there, Lord of Vermilion 2 presented in last week's issue a special card: the (very) common "Weekly Famitsu" card with its special skill, Cross Review.
I don't know enough about the game to understand the stats and other info on the back of the card, so I can't say how good it is in the game. For all I know it may be more useful than their reviews. Maybe.
When I first saw the title of our next featured game, I almost jumped for joy. Then I calmed down and remembered that Final Fantasy Legend was the US re-title of the original SaGa games. Final Fantasy Legends (with an S) is a new spin-off title from the folks who brought us Final Fantasy IV - The After. Like that game, Legends is (for now) a cell-phone title. Let's take a look:
Well, it looks like a Final Fantasy game. A lot like an FF game. After hitting the nostalgia nerve with a sequel to a game that never really needed one, the devs have apparently decided to create what amounts to a "lost" Super Famicom installment to the series. It's all in there -- an ancient Empire enforcing the peace, something strange going on with the four sacred Crystals, and a job-class system wherein a new job or two is introduced with every installment. The first four screens are pretty plain, with idle chit-chat about people flying dragons in the past, a scene with a Crystal ("No problems here!"), and a battle that could have come straight from Final Fantasy IV. The last screen (taken from a different source) shows an actual boss. The name is partially obscured, but I'm pretty sure from the first two kanji that it's called the Guardian. Even more interesting, the accompanying text in Famitsu suggests that revisiting cleared scenarios later in the game reveals new details or even major alterations to events.
Now, let's meet the characters.
The junior members of the cast are Saul (main character), Grave (friendly rival), and Diana (probable love interest). Friends since childhood, they hail from the small kingdom of Lux. Saul's dream is to be accepted into the flying corps of the Avalon Imperial military. We'll just have to see how far he actually gets in fulfilling this dream.
Now we have the senior members. Aigis is Diana's big brother, a strong warrior, champion of Lux, and Saul's mentor. And last, there's Elgo the prophet. Out of everyone else in the realm, only he seems to sense that something is wrong with the great Crystals.
And that's the party. Whether or not the game is worth the effort remains to be seen. Unfortunately, it's following the same release pattern as The After, so it probably won't be coming to my cell-phone provider till 2012. Shikata nai tsutai.
I think I need to pioneer my own branch of anthropology. I'd call it "paleogameology". And in this newly christened field of study, there would be special importance placed upon the video store's bargain bin. Seriously, it seems like everyone is unloading their old PSX games right now, and the sheer variety of material to be found is crazy. The introduction of the CD-based console and workable (if crude) 3D programming makes for a veritable evolutionary bonanza of Burgess Shale proportions, and I'm finding cheap, new, strange titles every time I take a look. Here's two more:
For two bucks, Crime Crackers is a pretty good buy. It's also one of the earliest attempts (if not the earliest) at creating a first-person-shooter RPG. The player goes through the scenarios with a team of three characters. The lead character does the fighting, but can be switched out at any time. The team is balanced between a small-arms specialist, a heavy artillery specialist, and a light-saber specialist, uses weapons charges instead of MP, and has a team-based EXP system. It's also much closer to the original Wolfenstein or Blake Stone games in terms of FPS gameplay, but since I haven't really played any game in that genre since the late '90s, that's about my level of ability anyway. If I end up liking it, I might even get the sequel (also for about two bucks).
At about the same price, Houshin'engi (Annals of the Sealed Deity) provides entertainment in a completely different RPG field. It's mostly a tactical RPG, with some sim-building elements, and gives the player the ability to literally blast parts of the playing field out of existence. I haven't had much time with this one, but it seems interesting enough for me to get into at a later date.
It's summer time, and that means it's time to hit the beach! Hobby Japan and Queen's Blade Partners have teamed up to provide some must-have items for any serious beach-bum otaku. And by that, we mean beach blankets with Queen's Blade characters on them. These aren't the kinds of gals who'd go around in itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikinis, of course. In fact, I'm not even sure if these blankets are safe to view at work. Better take some precautions....
My name is Adrian and I would like to say that I am a big fan of your column. And believe it or not, it is the non-gaming sections that I like the most. I am fascinated with Japan and so you can imagine that I take great delight whenever I discover something new about Japanese customs and culture. At the moment I am playing ‘Boku no Natsuyasumi’ on my PSP and this is a game where you get to experience a virtual Japanese summer vacation. Of course, I would like to turn it into a real one. Anyway, I have noticed in the game that right before the family starts to eat they all shout ‘Itadaki-masu’. After they have finished their meal they say ‘Gochisou-sama’. Is this tradition kept by all Japanese and do you say these phrases as well?
Itadakimasu literally means "I receive" and is the Japanese equivalent of saying grace before meals. At my school, the kids all say "Thank you for the snack, let's eat!" as a compromise version in English. If I'm eating with company in a private home, I'll say it as well. You generally don't have to say it in restaurants, though. Gochisou-sama literally means "An honorable feast" and is a way of expressing satisfaction with the meal. There aren't any direct English equivalents, mainly because it's such a pithy little phrase. I will sometimes use this one in restaurants as well as in private, as a way of thanking the cooks for their efforts.
Also, in one of your columns, you mentioned the fact that you do not eat any dairy products? What do you eat instead? Do the Japanese have other products that are high in calcium, vitamin C and all of the other goodies that milk provides?
Well, I think I have made this mail long enough. Take care now! Bye.
With respect, Adrian
Just to answer this question, I looked up a diet and nutrition blog on the subject of low-dairy diets. Here's a list of major nutrients in milk, and their suggestions on how to make up for a low dairy diet in each example:
For protein: tofu, beans, eggs, whole grains, fish, and meat.
Calcium: fortified juices, tofu, shellfish, beans, and salmon.
Vitamin D: eggs, fish, shellfish, cereals, or a bit of sunlight.
Vitamin B2: leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and whole grains.
Phosphorus: fatty fish, beans, and leavened bread.
Yeah... looking at this list, and looking at my regular diet in Japan, I don't think I have much to worry about. A once-a-week meal at the local sushi restaurant would be enough to cover three out of the five quite handily. I also love Japanese sweet potatoes, and I dedicated a whole column to tofu. Yeah, I feel pretty balanced.
I don't think that I said no dairy though, just "virtually lacking" when compared to how much I used to consume. Seriously, cheese was almost a separate food group for me in school. Nowadays, most of my dairy comes from pasta sauces, little bits on salads, or the occasional yogurt. Sometimes (like the week after I originally mentioned it, in fact) a friend makes a big shopping trip to the CostCo in Hisayama, and I can get him to buy me a block of cheddar. In cases like that, I'll be having a wedge of cheese with breakfast every day for a week or two as well.
Thanks for the concern though!
Sarcasm is one of the services I offer
I was just wondering how big of a deal E3 is in Japan. I know the
Western media goes nuts over it. Is Japan more concerned with the Tokyo
Game Show or do they pay attention to both?
It gets quite a lot of coverage in Japan, actually. I usually have trouble getting good stuff off of Famitsu or Dengeki that time of the year, because it's full of the same stuff that RPGamer's getting direct from E3. This year, Final Fantasy XIV's beta phase and the 3DS starting line-up were both major bits of news that hadn't been seen in Japan before then. So, yeah.
Also, I was curious about one of my favorite things: sarcasm. You used
the phrase "sasuga nihon" sarcastically, but it could also be used in a
normal sense. So I guess the question is: is sarcasm as prevalent in
Japan as it is in the states?
The Japanese don't often like to say rude things directly. Many are also emotionally repressed and passive-aggressive. Subtle sarcasm works well with that. It's a question of whether or not foreigners (or even other Japanese outside of the speaker's inner circle of friends) can even recognize it.
As an example, humor. Japanese humor comes in two forms. There are the over-the-top, sometimes crude styles of manzai or rakugo, and then there's the more understated, literary humor that became popular with the Japanese in the late 19th century. That's about the time the Meiji government started its major social engineering projects, with Victorian England and Kaiser Germany as its main models for proper upper-class society. Take that for what you will.
The literary form is heavy on the irony and sarcasm. Go read some of Akutagawa's short stories, like "The Nose," "Horse Legs," or "Dragon," and you'll see both in action. A lot of the early 20th century writers in Japan were big into subtle sarcasm as a means of social commentary, but sometimes that fact is forgotten. From what I've heard, Masuji Ibuse wrote some very good, very subtle pieces of humor that (when translated) initially gave him a reputation as a dry old fart in Western literary circles because the translator didn't always get that there was a joke.
Thanks for writing in!
Sorry about last week, but after several days of all-day school maintenance work (including two days spent mostly painting, washing windows, and picking bagworms out of trees), I just didn't have the time or the energy to get the column completely together. Also, by last Thursday the only real bit of news I had was the Lord of Vermilion stuff, so it's not like I was swimming in material either. This week was a lot better. Next week has me doing help-shifts for three days, so there's the slim chance that I might have problems with the column. Two weeks from now is Obon holiday, and a one hundred percent guarantee that I'll have problems with the column, though. If at all possible, though, there will be a column next week. It just may be a short one.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,