Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Tokyo Decadance at Fbar Roppongi

On June 25th I went to the Tokyo Youtube Gathering at the Sports Cafe in Roppongi. Got there late but got my butt kicked by a couple of Oolong Hi’s (or was it 4 or 5?) Tokyo Decadance that eclectic hodge-podge of Japanese underground subculture happened to be going on the same night a few blocks away so I donned my samurai armor (which got me a discount at the door) and took a couple of Youtubers over there after the Youtube meet-up.

We had a good time and saw some wild stuff which some of it can’t be shown here for the obvious reasons but take out word for it – it was wild! Youtubers in attendance: http://www.youtube.com/edtomorrow
http://www.youtube.com/StreetEnglishTV

July 29, 2011 Posted by | clubbing, cosplay, cute, dance, japan, Japanese girls, party, sexy, subculture, tokyo, tokyo decadance, WTF | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gods, Devils, and Geisha – Setsubun in Kyoto and Nara

Gods, Devils, and Geisha
Setsubun in Kyoto and Nara



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A Devil arrives with sword and torch at a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto

Setsubun (Feb 3rd) is a Japanese Spring ritual where Japanese drive bad luck in the form of Oni (devils) out of their homes with a handful of tossed beans. At temples and shrines, they do mame maki which is throwing beans and other things to gathered crowds. 

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Mame Maki (bean-throwing) with Geisha

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Setsubun is one of my favorite Japanese holidays and I’ve been celebrating it for the past 6 years or more. In the past I always celebrated it at temples and shrines in or around Tokyo. This year I headed for Kyoto taking in Nara in the evening as well. I started Setsubun on the 2nd with some Geisha mame maki (geisha were throwing beans that is, not that they were throwing geisha). 

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On February 2nd, while Americans watch groundhogs watching for their shadows, Japanese, or at least those in Kyoto, watch Geisha throw beans to gathered crowds at Yasaka Shrine. The Geisha actually are maiko who are Geisha apprentices. There were two groups of maiko, one from the Pontocho district and the other from the Miyagawacho district. Before doing mame maki they graced us with a brief dance performance – a rare treat.

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In the evening I went to Mibu-dera, a temple famous for its association with the Shinsengumi, a militaristic police group for the old Shogunate in the mid-19th Century, and for kyogen plays. Kyogen is type of comical play which was often performed as intermission pieces of more serious Noh dramas. Unfortunately for the visitor, no photography or video making was allowed. This was either to protect the performance or to keep away the distraction of camera shutters clicking, video cameras beeping, and those idiots who don’t know how to turn off the flash on their pocket cameras.

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Setsubun Devils are distinguishable by their horns and fetching tiger pants

Mibu-dera put on a special Setsubun kyogen for the occasion about a widow who encounters a Setsubun devil. The widow is visited by a devil in the guise of a traveler. He has a magic hammer which he makes an expensive kimono for himself and the widow. They begin drinking sake and the devil drinking too much falls asleep. The widow gets greedy and decides to make off with the hammer and kimono. As she strips away the “traveler’s” kimono she sees his true self and screams. The devil awakes and comes after her. Panicked, the widow reaches for the first thing to defend herself and throws it at the devil. What she threw at him was dried soybeans, the traditional beans of Setsubun. Devils hate beans for some reason and so the widow was able to drive the devil away. It was easy to understand the story despite my limited Japanese because it was all done through pantomime. 

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Setsubun Devils often wield huge iron-studded clubs

On the next day, Setsubun proper, I went to six places starting with Yasaka Shrine for a brief mame maki by people in old court costumes from the Heian Era (794-1192). The men wore a kariginu, the everyday wear of a court noble, which would later become the formal wear of the samurai in later ages. The women wore the costume of a Shirabyoshi dancer. Shirabyoshi were female dancers who wore men’s clothing and performed slow rhythmic dances that influenced later Noh performers. The Shirabyoshi tradition began in 12th Century, the last century of the Heian Period and until 1868 the last century in which governmental power would reside within the Imperial Court.

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Mame Maki participants wearing old court costumes

From Yasaka, I made use of my all day bus pass and leapt onto a northbound bus to Heian Shrine. Heian Shrine was built just over a hundred years ago as a replica of the old Imperial Palace. There I got a snatch of a Kyogen performance which thankfully allowed photography and video. What caught my attention was that one of the performers was female. Traditionally Kyogen like Kabuki and Noh was performed solely by males including the female roles. As this was a festival performance perhaps the rules were relaxed.

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Kyogen performers

From Heian Shrine I went to Shogo-In, a temple which normally lies off of the tourist trail as there is not much to lend itself to fame amongst so many other temples. However, this small temple puts on one of the more interesting Setsubun rituals. The priests dress as Yamabushi, which are a type of ascetic hermit who are known for often living in the mountains following a creed which is a blend of Buddhism and the native Shintoism.

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A brief snow flurry at Shogo-In Temple prior to the Setsubun exorcism

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Yamabushi were mysterious hermits credited with having supernatural power

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Yamabushi playing seashell horn

After a lengthy but catchy chanting ritual, three devils arrived wielding their massive iron-studded clubs. They were quickly subdued by bean-throwing Yamabushi and tamed into submission. Later the devils participated in mami maki by throwing the beans at us instead.

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An elderly Yamabushi confronts a devil with courage and beans

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Setsubun Devil throwing beans rather than having them thrown at him

At another small temple Rozan-ji, a temple far too small to accommodate the number of visitors that Setsubun brings, three devils arrived bearing weapons while another gave blessings to visitors.

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A Setsubun Devil Bestowing Blessings

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The weapon-bearing devils danced around before going into the temple. An archer came out sometime later to do a kind of archery exorcism ritual in which he shot untipped arrows in the four cardinal directions. Soon after the three devils emerged from the temple sans their weapons. They were staggering about reeling from the effects of the Setsubun exorcism rituals. After that mame maki was done and here they threw hard-shelled sweets and small mochi rice cakes.

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Archer performing archery exorcism ritual

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A Devil going down for the count

After that I took a train to Nara and got there in time to see yet another Setsubun exorcism demonstration in the evening. Nara was the first capital of Japan from 710-784. At Kofuku-ji Temple another lengthy exorcism ritual took place while the crowd shifted restlessly waiting for the main event namely the devils. The crowd was silently shouting in their minds “Get on with it! Bring on the Devils!” as the priests droned on. Finally after an eternity of waiting, the devils arrived both big and small. They pranced about the stage under the night sky waving torches and weapons. 

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A l’il devil

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Here the devils were apparently too tough to be defeated by just mere beans. At Kofuku-ji, they brought out the big guns in the form of Bishamonten or Bishamon, a Buddhist deity and Guardian of the North. Bishamon battles all kinds of evils. North is the direction where Japanese traditionally believe evils come from so the Northern Guardian has to be pretty stout to deal with them. Bishamon took on all the devils by himself. It was like spiritual pro-wrestling with (plastic) weapons.

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Bishamon – the Muhammad Ali of Buddhist Devil Fighters

After that I went to Kasuga Taisha Shrine for a cool down. The shrine’s Setsubun was far more low-key. No gods, devils, geisha, mountain priests, or grasping hands for flying beans. They just had lanterns lit up for the night. It was very beautiful and serene. Whew! After all that I was Setsubuned Out!

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Kasuga Taisha Shrine

February 10, 2010 Posted by | buddhism, devils, Geisha Dance, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, maiko, Nara, oni, Only in Japan, Setsubun, travel, video, vlog, weird | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Welcome to Tokyo Design Festa!

This is a montage of the last Design Festa vol 29.

Design Festa is one wild weird weeked of an eclectic gathering of artistic chaos of artists, musicians, craftsmen, performance artists.

September 26, 2009 Posted by | art, avant-garde, culture, dance, design festa, drums, japan, music, musicians, risque, sexy, taiko, tokyo, Tokyo Design Festa, video, weird, WTF | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

14 Meter Tall Gundam Float and more Giant Gundam in Odaiba

This is a short follow-up to my Gundam vid. Here I talk about a 14 meter tall Gundam float made of Japanese paper – washi – that I saw at a festival in Aomori, the “Gundam Gap” in my Japanese Anime experience, my video game experience with Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon, and a little bit more about this Gundam’s “secret” potential.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Anime, festival, goshogawara, Gundam, japan, Japanese Anime, japanese culture, matsuri, nebuta, neputa, Only in Japan, pop culture, tachi neputa, tohoku, tokyo, travel, vlog, weird, WTF, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant Gundam Robot Model in Tokyo – Video

Embrace your inner geek – in Tokyo a life-size Gundam almost 60 feet tall has been revealed in all its glory. Gundam for those not up on their anime nostalgia was an animated show which started in 1979 about a future where robots or mecha piloted by humans battle for supremacy or something like that (I never saw the show). 

Tokyo’s Gundam is currently in Odaiba. The big ceremony will be July 10th and it will remain throughout the summer. The Gundam model has 50 points of light, emits steams, and its head revolves left to right and up.

Music by The Exotic Ones:
http://www.myspace.com/exoticones

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Anime, Gundam, japan, Japanese Anime, japanese culture, tokyo, travel, video, vlog, weird, WTF, youtube | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant Gundam Gathers Gawking Geeks in Tokyo

Giant Gundam Gathers Gawking Geeks in Tokyo
59-Foot Tall Model of Iconic Japanese Anime Character Unveiled 

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1:1 scale model of Japanese Anime Icon – Gundam

A giant cultural icon has come to roost in Tokyo this summer. It’s not Godzilla nor UltraMan. It’s the mobile suit known as Gundam, the model RX-78 to be precise. To mark the 30th Anniversary of the popular anime series Gundam, a 1:1 scale model of the iconic mobile suit has been constructed and set up on the island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. The model has 50 points of lights, mist emitting from several places, and a head which revolves left and right and upward. Periodically sound-effects and the theme song to the old animated series plays from the structure itself. The life-size model is composed of fiberglass-reinforced plastic on a steel frame. The Gundam mobile suit stands at 18 meters/59 feet tall.

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Gundam is a giant piloted mobile suit; not a robot

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The animated show debuted in 1979 and has spawned a number of spin-offs, action figures, comics, and video games. Gundam was influential in the robot-style anime. In other shows, robot characters had a quasi-mystical aspect and many were nigh indestructible. In Gundam, the robots were mobile suits piloted by humans. The humans were the focus of the show while their mobile suits were treated like a vehicle rather than a personified entity.

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The Gundam series has had a big impact on Japanese pop-culture

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Mist emits from the Gundam Model

The Gundam model is not a robot as any obsessive follower of the anime and similar anime can tell you. It’s a mecha which is a piloted vehicle not automated or remote controlled. Gundam is a mobile suit piloted by humans. It’s much like a tank or a plane and as such runs on a finite source of energy and can be damaged to the point of destruction unlike the robot/mecha of the semi-mystical type. 

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Say “Cheese!”

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As for myself, prior to coming to Japan there was a significant Gundam Gap in my Japanese anime experience. When I was really young, I used to watch syndicated shows of Speed Racer and Star Blazers which came out before Gundam and in my later youth I watch Voltron and Robotech which followed the Gundam series. I had no idea who or what a Gundam was.

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Gundam – after hours

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There are many mobile suit types in the Gundam series but the RX-78 is the most widely recognizable

My first encounter with Gundam was at the local video arcade in Tokyo. During my first year in Japan, I came across an arcade game where you could fight against two robot opponents alongside a partner. Other people could join in either to become your partner or most times your opponent.

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Gundam It!
Virtual Humiliation
 

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The following is an account of one of my first encounters with Gundam at a video arcade place in Tokyo:

The game begins, my robot (sorry! mecha) lifts gracefully off the ground with its temporary boosters as I look for my foe. Bam! Suddenly I’m falling like a brick. Where the hell did that come from? I wonder. My robot has barely picked himself off the ground before he’s knocked down again. I haven’t even seen the jerk – I mean, my opponent, yet.

When I pick myself up the third time, a hurtling hulk of metal comes out of nowhere and slams into me. My robotic opponent starts twirling some kind of lazer baton which deflects the only shot I manage to get off. Before I can fire again, he’s on top of me carving me up like a Thanksgiving Turkey. This is definitely not a Computer Opponent. There’s a hint of geeky malice and haughty distain for newbies behind the attacks.

Mercifully, my robot explodes before suffering any further degradation. Seconds later, my reincarnated form comes dropping out of the sky and I’m off to avenge my former life. I fire a few shots at my hated enemy which he again deflects with that damn twirly thing. He zaps me by jumping up into the air and firing on the way down so I can’t see the shot till it’s too late.

After peppering me with a few potshots, he moves in for the kill. I valiantly run away as fast as I can. I search for my computer partner who has been nowhere to be found during this virtual Waterloo. I find him napping and kick his robotic butt into the fray. While my human opponent slices and dices my luckless partner, I go in search of his computer partner for a little crap-rolls-down-hill vengeance. I waste the poor computer partner fairly quickly but before I can do a victory dance that damn twirling baton of bullshit lays into me.

I get knocked down three times in a row without getting a chance to lay a finger on the guy. I explode yet again this time both onscreen and off as I pound the buttons in rage. I hear a nervous high pitch maniacal giggle from the game console on the other side.

Oh, it was on now! It was a geek-off! I plunk another coin in the machine and get slaughtered before the coin reaches to the bottom of the coin box. $10 and 10 minutes later, I’ve had enough. I go over to the other side to congratulate my opponent on his skills then I smash his youthful pimply face into the video game screen repeatedly. Ok! I’m lying! I just stormed out of the arcade envisioning me smashing my unseen foe’s face into the screen. 
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There are 50 different points of light on the Gundam model

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Recently, they have come out with Arcade pods where you can play in your own enclosed pod and you have more than just a joystick and few buttons to control your mecha. The arcade pod game is based on a credit system in which you can purchase upgrades and weapons. I found it too expensive not to mention too confusing to play very much.

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The Gundam model stands at 18 meters (59 feet) high

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Gundam doing his “Great Balls of Fire” impression

My next encounter with Gundam was a giant Gundam float made of washi – harden Japanese paper – up in the Aomori Prefecture. In August, the town of Goshogawara puts on a festival called Tachi Neputa which has a number of tall floats, some as tall as 22 meters. The year I went they had a 14 meter float in the shape of the classic Gundam model RX-78.

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A 14 meter Tall Gundam Float in Aomori

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The Tokyo Gundam model’s major debut will be July 10th and it will remain standing throughout the summer.

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A Gundam Sunset

June 26, 2009 Posted by | 1970s, Anime, Gundam, japan, Japanese Anime, japanese culture, tokyo, travel, weird, WTF | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Japanese Goldfish Catching Game – Kingyo Sukui

If you come to Japan, you might come across this bizarre festival game that mixes gambling and pet shopping with a little bit of fishing too.

Kingyo Sukui is the Japanese game of goldfish scooping where you can win a pet goldfish should you so desire.

The game goes back to the late Edo Period around the early 19th Century. You can always find Kingyo Sukui stalls at Japanese festivals and other events like hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

You have a bowl and small net scope which has very thin paper. The object is to scoop the goldfish into the bowl without breaking the paper. You can continue scooping up goldfish as long as the paper doesn’t break — even if there is only a thin corner left.

The game stall owner told me that Japanese people like Kingyo Sukui because it’s a form of gambling that requires luck, skill, and patience. Originally it was for children but the popularity of Kingyo Sukui caught on and now there is even a national championship of goldfish scooping for all ages.

The Nintendo Wii has a video game based Japanese Festival games and events in which one of the mini-games is a virtual Kingyo Sukui.

June 10, 2009 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, japanese goldfish scooping, kingyo sukui, travel, video, vlog, weird, WTF, youtube | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hello Kitty Samurai!

Hello Kitty Samurai!!!

Hello Kitty Samurai

I was visiting Hikone which lies an hour north of Kyoto when I chanced upon a unusual figure in samurai armor. What struck me immediately as odd was that it didn’t have the typical scowl I had usually come to associate with statues and the like depicting samurai. On closer inspection I realized it was Japan’s official tourism ambassador, Hello Kitty, all decked out like a samurai warrior of bygone ages.


Hikone Castle is one Japan’s few preserved castles

Hikone was home to Ii clan. The land was given to their first lord Ii Naomasa whose scowling visage can be seen frozen in bronze outside of the train station.


The fierce Ii Naomasa scowls welcomingly to visitors

Naomasa served Tokugawa Ieyasu who became Shogun or military ruler over all of Japan in 1603. Naomasa fought in numerous battles and was wounded scores of times. His men were famous for painting their armor red. They were known as the Red Devils and the sight of them brought out screams of terror from their enemies.


Red Devil Armor

Now the Red Devils are tastefully emasculated with this lovely recreation of them in Hello Kitty dolls and the sight of them brings out squeals of delight from Japanese schoolgirls.


The Hello Kitty Red Devils


Off to storm the castle


Only in Japan!

October 24, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, cute, entertainment, Hello Kitty, Hikone, Ii Naomasa, japan, japanese culture, life, Only in Japan, travel, weird, WTF | , , , , | 2 Comments