Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kabuki and Japan Friends

But first, I would like to talk about Ayame.

Subject: Suzuki Ayame
Position: Best Japanese friend
Most endearing quality: Her laziness/I never know what she’s about to say
Fun fact: She may someday be my business partner

Example conversation:
(After a long string of texts back and forth, around 11 PM)
Me: All right, I’m going to go to bed because I’m a grandma and I want to sleep.
Ayame: True. You need to sleep, Grandma. I have to write papers from now!!!! I’m still very young, I guess.
Me: Yeah, you’ll have to teach me how to be young again, since I frequently mistake you for a CHILD.
Ayame: Shut up, Grandma. You can never be young again. Sorry but it’s too late. Lol

I think the “lol” she tacked on there implies that she’s not actually all that sorry. Regardless, I always start laughing when I think about this conversation. Despite being born and raised in Japan, Ayame's English is quite good (though she refuses to believe me. Which is fair, because I refuse to believe her when she says my Japanese sounds fluent). I've been able to talk to her about both serious and funny things, and she to me as well.

It's weird trying to explain our relationship when I have so many memories to choose from. She's an amazing lunch partner and travel partner. And oh, how she makes me laugh. Like the time she walked towards a door, saw that it wasn't automatic, then walked well out of her way just to find an automatic door so she wouldn't have to take her hands out of her pockets. Whenever we have sleepovers I always find myself incredibly sad when I wake up the next day and have to go home.

Damn, I'm going to miss her.

So instead of continuing to talk about Ayame and the priceless fun we have had together over the last six months, I will talk about the fact I went to Japanese theater - Kabuki.  Kabuki is more or less Japanese theater, where although there are female characters in the plays, all of the characters are played by men. This is a tradition that started long ago when female actresses were banned in the mid-1600s for being too erotic. 

Entering the theater lobby and heading up the escalator.

Going into the theater itself! There were a ton of shops and even restaurants inside this building. I bought two sticks of dango - more or less rice cake on a stick. So, so good.

From left to right; Lisa, Julie, me, and Valerie. These are the French girls I spend a solid amount of my time with. If I could pick a memorable memory from each of them, it would go like this.

Lisa: located directly above my head. Photo booths in Japan make anyone not Japanese look terrifying, and for that, I apologize.

Lisa: There are only five continents.
Me: There are seven.
Lisa: Seven!? Are you crazy? There's five. 
(Thus ensued a great debate as to how many continents existed on planet Earth. In the end, it turned out that France learns there are five continents, not seven. They exclude Antarctica and they combine North and South America into one, "The Americas")

Left to right: Valerie, me, and Julie

Julie: Did you know that the length of your hand is exactly the length of your face?
Me: (Having heard this joke a zillion times) Oh, yeah? Why don't you show me?
Julie: (After giving me a puzzled expression, puts her hand up to her face. I then, like a sensible person, smack her hand so that it hits her face and she recoils back before flipping me the bird. That's a universal sign.)
Me: didn't actually...know that was...a prank, huh?
(Lisa and Valerie at this point were doubled over with laughter. Turns out Julie was being serious, she had never heard of that prank before, and she was legitimately offended that I made her smack herself.)

Julie: I haven't been able to sleep lately. But I don't really like sleeping that much.
Me: (Staring at her as though she's just killed somebody)
Julie: What? It's such a waste of time. I could do so much more if I didn't have to sleep.
Me: (Looks to Valerie, unable to speak myself from shock)
Valerie: It is the next best thing only to eating.
(This actually describes Valerie really well and I feel I have nothing to add for her profile)

So we all went to Kabuki, a Japanese play with only male actors. I wish I could have taken pictures of the play, with the bright colors imitating cherry blossoms on trees and the bright white makeup of the actors. 

Kabuki is hard for even Japanese to understand, as the plays are frequently written in old Japanese (think ye Olde English, like Shakespearean-speak but for Japan), but the energy of the actors and the movement and, most importantly, the English guide that explained each scene, helped me understand what was going on. 

We saw "The Shiranami Five," a play about five bandits. I remember how much I was impressed with the action scenes, when the bandits would stage-fight the police and how the fighting looked more like dancing. The way someone not far offstage clacked together two pieces of wood to simulate a sword hitting a person, or how the actors that were "killed" flipped onto their backs and toppled into a "river," simulated by waving blue paper. It sounds like it's a low-budget play, and I guess in some ways it is, but it was so easy to watch. The scenery and costumes were incredibly pleasant to look at.

I may not have understood every word, but the experience is something I'll carry with me forever. And frankly, I'm sure I'll say the same thing about being in Japan 13 weeks from now, when I return to the States.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tokyo Weekend

This weekend I went up to Tokyo via bullet train to hang out with Matt and Hiroko.

The last time I'd been to their place was when I first came to Japan, just off the plane. Well, just off the plane, then the bus, then after a walk through the rain, all while horribly jet-lagged and feeling like I had the flu, but yeah. Regardless, the week that followed my landing was an awesome, awesome week, which was thoroughly covered in my blog with many pictures and posts (including the time I got lost on the train for an hour and then walked it off like it was no big deal).

Actually, that's a pretty good place to start. See, if there is anything to range exactly how comfortable I've become with Japan and Japanese, it's my ability to use the train system. First time I got on a train I had no idea about this "express train" business where some stops are skipped, or how to tell what direction it was going, or how to not get lost, etc. But when I went to Tokyo this weekend, I had to find my bullet train in the large station that is Nagoya, get off at Tokyo, then take the trains to Kichijoji to meet Matt. This doesn't sound difficult written out, but in fact, it fucking is. Tokyo's train system looks like a six year old went wild with 50 different crayons and the Tokyo officials were just like, "Yes, this is perfect!" So when I saw Matt waiting for me I was grinning like an idiot I was so proud of myself (and I navigated my way back, as well. YAYEE).

Me under a kotatsu, heated blanket, with my mug of coffee (with a little Godzilla hanging over the side). 
Freaking love kotatsu.

When I arrived and got over the wave of nostalgia from just the smell of their house, Matt told me that I would be meeting the translator of the Kingdom Hearts series.

The Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts.


I immediately started panicking, which was hilarious to Matt and Hiroko, because to them this guy is just a friend. But to ME this guy is a God. Kingdom Hearts was my first-ever role-play game. I distinctly remember that Christmas day when my brother and I received a PS2 and my Uncle Ed helped us hook it up, and we put in my disk first. The swelling of the PS2 song followed by the piano for the opening to Kingdom Hearts is so cut into my memory that every time I replay the game (so many times), I get a wave of nostalgia. For years after I followed the KH series devoutly.

When we actually met up with him and we shook hands, my excitement finally managed to settle in a non-anxious way, and Matt, Brian (first name basis, HA) and I went to a really nice tea shop and drank tea and talked. I got to ask Brian a few things about working with Square Enix and about the voice actors and actresses he came across (since Brian translated the game, he got to meet Hayden Penettiere, Haley Joel Osmont, Mandy Moore, etc) and knew a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff (some of which I'm not even allowed to repeat here, sorry! Uwahahaha). Matt and Brian also discussed a new project that's being passed around, though they kept it vague because they're not allowed to let outsiders know (but one day...I'll be an insider!)

Me totally not flipping out about meeting the guy that worked on my favorite games in the history of RPGs.

That night we relaxed a bit and watched the movie Gantz. And the next day Matt and I walked a bit and took a train to the Sky Scraper area of Tokyo!

Me in front of the Square Enix building (it says pfizer, the male enhancement company, but it's really actually Square Enix. No, really. Anyway, I wouldn't mind working there someday. I wouldn't mind working someday.)

Matt and I decided to get inside this building and take a look around Tokyo.

The picture above...

...Is actually zoomed in on THIS picture. I wanted to see how far I could zoom with my camera. See that sliver of a white stick on the horizon? Yeah, that's the above tower that I zoomed in on. It's Tokyo's Sky Tree, btw.

Me and Tokyo. We're on a first name basis, too.

These guys were outside the 44th floor window. Whaaaat a job.

Meanwhile, inside...

Me with a giant bean mascot. 

 Looking around all the Skyscrapers eventually tired us out, so we got some coffee and headed home to prepare ourselves for a night out with a group of Matt's friends, all of whom are translators.

This is the only picture on my camera from our night out, and frankly, that might be a good thing.

Matt and I met up with four others at a pub known for its Okinawa food (Okinawa being a southern island far off the mainland where I live), and it was, to say the least, delicious. I was able to chat with other translators, and I soaked up advice like a sponge.

I learned about Andy, age 30, and his experience about transforming from Wisconsinite (he lived in Oshkosh) to Japanese-English translator. And Cathy, who translates legalities. There was also Carl and Doug, the first who spends free-time playing guitar and the second who gives away inappropriate nicknames to young, impressionable translator-to-be's like myself. 

We talked a bit about what my reverse culture shock is going to be like. That is, when I first got to Japan, things were so different that I was shocked, right? The food, the fashion, the way of thinking, the couples (or lack there of), the squat toilets (shudder). Those are all culture shocks. Well, the thing is, I'm going to have a REVERSE culture shock when I get back to America.

See, I may not have realized it, but I've changed a lot since coming here. My horizon has been broadened, and my mind has been opened. People will shock me when I get back. Wastefulness, fatty foods, how cheap everything is (can't wait for that last one, though) will shock me right out of my system. And a ton of other things, too! 

And the others also made me realize that picking a focus in translating will really help me in the long run. This weekend helped me see that I'd really like to translate in the field of entertainment - movies, video games, novels, etc - even though compared to other areas of translating, it doesn't pay so well. It pays enough to live, though, and with proper saving and spending I feel I can do anything.

I think it was Doug that told me this experience - being in Japan - will change me. And it'll help me realize who is most important to me, and who my real friends are. I meant to tell him that it already has shown me that.

After our first pub, we went to a second, and sat around joking and laughing and drinking until Matt and I had to catch our train.

Unfortunately I had a substantial amount to drink that night, so I wasn't feeling tip-top when I woke up, but by the time we arrived at WonderFest that afternoon, I was feeling better and also completely unprepared for the animeest, terrifyingest, awesomest festival in all of Japan.

How to describe WonderFest...

Wonderfest is a bi-annual event to display and sell "garage kits", which are sculptures that usually replicate anime and game characters, but also popular mecha/sci-fi characters and creatures. These models are extremely detail oriented, and many of these sculptures appear in very small quantities due to the amateur nature of their reproduction. Unusually skilled artisans are promoted specifically during the "wonder showcase" (WSC), in which their works are given special attention and limited quantities of their masterpieces are sold for high prices to avid collectors.

A Godzilla puppet!

Intricate robot figures from a beloved anime, no doubt.

I thought this guy was adorable. It's a baby chupacabra (goat-sucker). But I thought he looked like a Gremlin.

So. Many. Anime girl models.

A huge three-headed dragon, which heads are controlled with strings. 

A 3-d replica of a house in Japan countryside, with a Godzilla foot sticking out in the bushes...

This was the turnout. 

Except there's two HUGE rooms full of the tables, which are covered in displays and toys and models.

Matt's friends, selling their stuff at WonderFest.

I can't even capture the insanity that was WonderFest, with the pushing crowds and table after table of boxes and action figures and anime models and puppets and robots and so much stuff. So I'll just skip to the cosplay.

A girl dressed up as Yuna, from FFX (pic below for reference)

People dress up in the costumes of their favorite characters. They spend literally hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to recreate the outfits and the hair styles and make-up.

And then there's these guys. Dollers. They freak me out. Not just because of their plastic bodies, covered from head to toe in a realistic body, with their big eyes and sheen. But because inside those girl-shaped things are actually guys. All guys, expressing their love for a little kid's TV show by spending a thousand dollars on the mask, wig, and body suit.
Freaking Japan.

I spent the rest of the time avoiding the dollers. They seriously give me the creeps.

We went back inside to appreciate the Expo a bit more.

The other hilarious thing was that people got really serious about the Fest, so that they would be using these thousand-dollar cameras to take pictures of action figures or kit-made anime characters. They are the definition of otaku (geek, nerd, etc). It's kind of hilarious, how serious they get.

We walked a lot, it was a busy day, and I couldn't forget Wonderfest if I tried. We crashed at home, got some soba to eat, rented Gantz 2 and laid back for the night.

The next day I packed up and was back on the bullet train for Nagoya, another amazing weekend in Japan behind me.