A week or two back I was taking a "long cut" through Hachioji-machi, an old neighborhood that lies directly between my apartment and one of the major local thoroughfares. For straightline distance, it looks like a pretty short walk, but Hachioji is a veritable warren of small roads and alleys, none of which go straight. It's a nice place to walk if you don't care much about getting anywhere soon.
This particular time, I found myself in front of the local junior high school. That's of no particular interest, since Japanese public schools tend to be pretty nondescript. It's what I saw at the school's front gate that was interesting.
At first glance it's a normal religious marker of some sort, a two-meter tall slab of rock. What struck me as odd were the symbols inscribed upon it. They weren't kanji, nor were they hiragana or katakana. The inscription was in fact not technically Japanese at all. It was in bonji.
Bonji are an oddity in Japanese writing. They resemble absolutely nothing else used in this culture, and for good reason. They're actually a variation of Sanskrit called siddham that was imported over twelve centuries ago by early supporters of Buddhism. This marker was most likely dedicated to the Shingon or Tendai schools, since those are the only branches of modern Japanese Buddhism to still use bonji.
In modern times, bonji have made a comeback. You can buy them as car decals, on t-shirts, and as a variety of other accessories. Odds are that many RPGamers have seen these as well. I know they appear in several games, most notably in the MegaTen series (they appear in every variation of the mudo spell animation).
So how old is this marker? I had to look pretty hard, but I finally found a weathered date along one side of the stone. It said that the stone was put in place in the 14th year of the Tenmon Period. According to my history text, that's around the year 1545 AD.
Even after all these years in Japan, it's still easy to forget just how old this place is.
It's fun to see what can be found in the used game stores in Japan. Last year, I found something interesting in a local Geo-Geo media outlet, but I held off buying it for quite a while. I went through a bit of a bad patch this past summer, though, and it made for a good pity purchase for myself. It's actually a special box for a game, but I got it at a severe discount. The sticker price when I first found it was about $14, but by the time I actually bought it, the price had been reduced to a mere $4.
All in all, a better than decent price, wouldn't you say? The GBC editions of Atelier Marie/Elie aren't really anything to write home about, but the clock makes for a nice collectible.
Last week, our dedicated media maven Nyx posted a few screenshots for Pokémon Heart Gold / Soul Silver, and one creature in particular dominated the scene. Here's an image for reference:
Considering the extreme rarity of the pokémon in question, some folks on the forums wondered if perhaps this might be connected to some promotional deal from Nintendo.
The 21st of this month just so happens to be the 10th anniversary of the original release of Pokémon Gold / Silver, and in commemoration of the event, it's Mews for everyone! The pink little bugger will be available from all DS Wi-Fi stations and MacDonald's outlets from January 29th to February 11th of next year (available for all DS Pokémon cartridges), and from November 11th to November 23rd of this year for all Heart Gold / Soul Silver cartridges.
But that's not all!
Nintendo has a second promotion, solely for the HG/SS crowd. From November 27th to January 11th, players can download a "Mysterious Crystal" which will let them encounter those jetsetters of the Pokémon world, Latios (HG) and Latias(SS). Again, this is only for those cartridges, and not Diamond, Pearl, or Platinum.
Gonna catch 'em all?
Here's something that might interest you all: Shin Megami Tensei - Strange Journey has a password system. Not for saving, but for demon access. Say you have fused a demon with a special skillset, and you want to share. From the Demon Index, you can get a password specific to that demon. Give the password to a friend and he'll be able to get that demon for himself from the Demon Recall section of the index.
Quite a few special demons are included as easter eggs this way, with the names of the developers often serving as passwords. In a recent issue of Famitsu, one such "easter egg" demon was revealed.
Jack Frost just loves to imitate protagonists, doesn't he? For the record, the password is "naitariwarattaridekinakushiteyaru" in hiragana with no spaces. It means, roughly, "Laughing or crying, I will try." At least, I'm pretty sure that's what it means. There's a little grammatical twist in the middle that's still got me puzzled, though. Hi-ho-demoniho!
As I've mentioned in previous columns, Mega Man Battle Network - Operation Shooting Star is supposed to have content connecting to the Star Force series. Now we have some screens to back it up.
A new, special programming chip -- the SS Chip -- has been added to MegaMan.EXE's arsenal. This chip allows the erstwhile virus-buster to switch out tag-team style, giving the player the chance to use Star Force Mega Man instead for a period of time.
In addition, a powerful new chip combo is now available. I'm sure this is also a reference to the Star Force subseries, but I have no idea what it might be since I've never played that one.
Here's a little something I forgot to share last week in the saabisu column -- cosplayers! While I was unfortunately unable to attend the Tokyo Game Show this year, Famitsu was kind enough to have a two-page spread dedicated solely to people who went around dressed as characters from Dragon Quest IX. I thought I should share.
This month's going to be a little hectic for updates, I'm afraid. I'm going to be covering for one of the teachers at my school, essentially doing double-shifts three days a week for the rest of the month, so I'm going to have to put the column on the back-burner for the duration. I'll put one up when I've got it ready, but I can't make any promises to an actual date. There'll be at least one more column this month for sure, though.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,