Sunday, September 13, 2009


What does a sore shoulder, the smell of sweat and a heavy float in the heat have in common? Fun of course! Or something called Omatsuri in Japan.

Omatsuri is a practice in which a shrine is carried around town once a year to allow that town's deity to venture outside of the stationary place of worship. This would fall in line with the Shinto side to the Japanese religion. But I think the major point about omatsuri is not necessarily the worship side to it, but rather the community building omatsuri requires of the town. I was once told by a good friend of mine that omatsuri is a metaphor, a good metaphor, of Japanese culture. You see, it takes a tone of people with endurance to lift and carry these floats and if a few people slack, everyone else can feel it. Even food and water (and of course sake) providers have their role in helping omatsuri carry out. Everyone must pitch in and together they achieve something grand: Carry a heavy float around town in the heat.

The fun part about today is that I got to participate in it, and I had not a clue I was going to when I first rose from my bed at late-o-clock on my much needed lazy Sunday.

I started to hear a parade of sorts marching down the street not far away while I was in the shower, of all places. Because usually being in the restroom is the signal for important things to happen, like that phone call you had been waiting for, or ya know, some crazy Japanese parade you can't see because you're in the bathroom. So it passed. And I didn't get to see it. But I knew I heard something, so rushing (with clothes on, please give me credit there) with my camera I was able to catch up to the music I could hear.

At first I was tentative to get close, being the foreigner and all I was unsure how much I was accepted into this parade. An Australian friend of mine told me he annually participates in omatsuri, but one can never know the full situation of when crashing a party is appropriate. So I stalked, and played the “Dur, I am visiting foreigner taking pictures, don't mind me” card. Ah, I do love playing the clueless foreigner card in Japan. It lets you pass go on many mistakes.

But eventually they caught on to my stalking. I guess walking behind them for twenty minutes or so warrants suspicion. An elder guy started talking to me (in Japanese) and I was able to handle the conversation mildly. Next thing I knew, I'm being poured sake and encouraged to drink up. I faked drinking, not being able to tell them no (since that's sorta against Japanese culture to refuse a drink). Heh, sorry mom and dad, but I still just can't get myself to drink alcohol.

Shortly after, I was pushed towards the float and given a position to help carry it. It was actually a lot of fun. I think what I enjoyed the most about that moment was being a part of the group and helping everyone. After all, I am living in this town, so while I'm here I am a part of it. And carrying that float, despite all the hard times of being a stranger in a strange land, this one golden moment, I could just be a part of the group. I could forget that I was a stranger.

Granted I kept stepping on the heels of the person in front of me and my clothing was sorely out of place. But I did my best, and I meet some nice people. From an elder man who escorted me around and lent me his happi jacket and obi (sash) to a girl my age who I swear is a real life version of Rukia from Bleach. I must thank the elder man, effusively, because of his generosity and inviting me into the parade (actually there were about three elder men that encouraged me to participate, but one made sure I was ok and acted as a host for the whole day).

I still hear the shouts and chants of the group, everyone shouting out to help raise the spirits of those carrying the float. I can still feel the weight of the float on my shoulder (certainly my shoulder is still complaining) and the times we'd have to retrace a few steps back because we didn't reach our rest point in a straight line (indeed the foreman/woman would tell us to go back three or four times over because we did not reach our rest point in a straight line). I can certainly still smell the sake that was literally sweating out of everyone.

Towards the end, as the float reached the shrine, I was told to step back because of the danger. Things get a little dangerous as people “fight” for the position near the nose of the float. Though at one point I got dragged back into carry the float, near the front of all places, and I swear it felt like a Three Stooges doorway jam moment. Everyone was squeezing in and it was no longer the float that hurt, but the people sandwiching you. I think next time I'll just stay away towards the end, thanks.

But it was very fun, and I was glad I was able to experience this fascinating part about Japan. I've even been invited to two more of these, but we shall see what my shoulder says in the morning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tokyo DisneySea

I know. I fail. I said there was going to be a post about how the job is and all, but hey, with the lack of posts that equally says how things are going at work. Right? Right? Okay just roll with me here. Work is busy good, emphasis on the busy. Wait. Let me make that Japanese busy, which is entirely a whole new concept to being busy.

Anyhoo! Since the NDA is still looming over my head with the first project just now wrapping up, and with Golden Week* giving us a breather, let’s talk about DisneySea! So for mother’s day my mum and I went to the Tokyo DisneySea Park and just...Wow. The $4 billion and the about 20 years of planning spent on that park surely shows through. Here are the seven areas plus the night show:

Mediterranean Harbor

I’d like to go to the Mediterranean in real life one day, but the Disney faux version was a joy to see and pretend I was actually there.

Mysterious Island

This Jules Verne inspired area was well crafted and my favorite area of the whole park. It definitely rang true to Verne’s style of the Victorian era of exploration and the birth of science fiction in the vein of science crashes with raw nature. Upon entering explorers find themselves in the womb of a collapsed volcano creating an inward sea with the sister volcano looming over you giving warnings of a near eruption. Teal colored second story walkways over the inner sea and the various instruments of science mark the presence of human’s conquest over the island, but of course something can go wrong at any minute as two rides pit you through not only the consequences of reaching too far (or below as is the case in the sea ride) but also facing huge lava monsters about to eat you.

Featuring three of Verne's novels: Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Mysterious Island. It was a relief that Brendan Fraser's mug could not be found anywhere from the Journey of the Center of the Earth remake. The only Disney movie reminder was the Disney 1954 film adaptaion of Captain Nemo's ship, the Nautilus.

Mermaid Lagoon

Had I been a little girl, the playground cove inside full of all things The Little Mermaid (rides, games, shows) would have been my ascend into heaven. Though that was then and this is now and today’s ascend into heaven would have to involve a world entirely of Star Wars with real Jedi training. …though I suppose I’m too old now to train as a Jedi.

Inside they had a small play of the Little Mermaid in the style of the Lion King Broadway in terms of costume designs. Was really nifty to see and ended up being my mom’s favorite attraction.

The Arabian Coast

While not full of fun rides or interesting shows, this area is just fun to walk around and be immersed in an Arabic setting. Every angle within this area feels like a well thought out layout background for a movie and even at night the light has a romantic feel to it.

Lost River Delta

Ah, but what would Disneyland be without Indiana Jones? Taking after the travel location of Central America, this area features the fun Indiana Jones ride (this one called “The Crystal Skull” though had no resemblance to the movie having been created before it) and a so-so roller coaster called Raging Spirits.

Port of Discovery

Somewhere between “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “Steamboy,” and, well, Disney, this area resembles a rendition of what the future would be like from a 1920s artist. And what’s more exciting is the style of this port feels very reachable, as though in ten years this is what ports could look like. Featuring a Storm Chaser ride and some other small rides connected to science, one wonders if this is the result of Captain Nemo’s team of conquest…

American Waterfront

Yay America! I was excited to get a faux taste of home, and then about five minutes in I was ready to go back to Mysterious Island. Why you might ask? Aside from enjoying the historic elements they had in one area, the big cruise ship and the Tokyo version of the Tower of Terror aren’t that fascinating. The best Tower of Terror ride is the one in Florida where it stays true to the Twilight Zone episode. The Tokyo version has nothing to do with the Twilight Zone and makes one question why some old rich white guy from the 1880s has an elevator in his home for the mad little African voodoo doll to kill him with. Crazy wooden voodoo doll that comes to life? Sure, I can believe that. Magical green killing smoke? Sure, I can believe that. An old mansion predating the use of modern technology having a modern, LARGE elevator? No.

The Fire and Water Show

Ok. All I gotta say is: Japan. Can the closing show just be fireworks for them? No. They have to have some epic battle between two larger-than-life monsters (Fire Godzilla and the Water Maiden) that ends in some odd love courtship and then fireworks. That’s right. "Fireworks."

*Golden Week = Japanese holiday. Not really a week, but three holidays put together. Makes up for not getting weekends.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Move to Japan

December 23, 2008 to January 5th, 2009
Every journey has a call to adventure. My call to adventure came during the 2008 Siggraph in Los Angeles. For a whole year I had been trying to land a full time job as an animator in the industry, and upon an inquiry about the status of my application to my current company I thought I had been turned down, again.

But I wasn’t. And to my ecstatic relief I received my first interview. In Japanese.

When all was said and done, I had landed my first full time job as a CG animator in Japan, a country I had wanted to live in for at least a year or so. When the job offer came to work in Japan as an animator it felt like two great things colliding into each other. But I would not be fooled by the surrealism of it for I knew there would be many challenges ahead.

Leaving home would be challenge number one. I still remember saying goodbye to my mother at the airport and doing everything I could to calm my nerves down. I would have to say that was perhaps the hardest thing: leaving the safety of home (not to mention everyone I was close with--friends, family, Pippin) to set forth on the journey. My father’s decision to travel with me and help me set up is something I will always be grateful for.

After a twelve hour flight full of watching free movies and eating air plane food, we arrived to Japan. Going through immigration wasn't too difficult given I had the necessary paperwork. Most of the time if I don't know what someone is saying to me in Japanese, I just smile and nod saying "Hai, hai hai," and usually get moved along my way. For all I know I could be agreeing to the status of my insanity, which very well might be what others think of this crazy foreigner :P. And yes, I am a foreigner! It feels odd saying and thinking that.

The jetlag made me a morning person for a while. (That is long gone now. Psh, mornings. Who needs them? Though I will admit that I like getting to work early before everyone else. Gasp! Could I be losing my night owl syndrome? *looks at the current late time* Hmm. Naw). My father and I had a day of rest, but then the set-up and settling began.

The best way to describe how the set-up went is by coining it with the name, "The Butterfly Net Quest." For those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, it derived from the "fetch quests" of video games, where in order to receive an item, such as a butterfly net, you have to first get item A, but to get item A you need item B, and before item B you need to get item C. The Butterfly Net Quest is a run around errand task that much reflects a visit to the DMV in scale of frustration. In Japan the Butterfly Net Quest goes in this order: In order to get item A you need item B. To get item B you need item C. But to get item C you need both A and B. Put a language barrier on top of that and I’m sure you can imagine the peachiness of it all. Somehow we were able to set everything up without too many hassles, though I have to thank my company for helping me acquire item C so I could bypass the Catch 22 (specifically item C would be the apartment).

My Apartment! (click to enlarge). I rather like it. I sleep up in the loft area.
Yes, you are seeing the ENTIRE apartment in those photos. Where my dad was standing
to take the picutre in Photo number 2 is where I am standing in Photo number 3.
The only thing you don't see about my apartment is my bathroom, which you can see its
doorhandle on the far lower left corner in Photo #2.

Again, I have to express my thanks to my father for helping me through that interesting time. During the adjustment to the new life my father and I were able to catch some touristy fun, such as the holidays in Japan and Mt. Fuji. I think pictures will best describe those greater parts about the first days in Japan:

Chrismas in Japan. More of a couple's night than religious holiday here.

With my dad in control of the camera of course there's gonna be pictures of buildings. :P Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

Tokyo is one large city. Must...fine...nature...

Le gasp! Even Japan has the Dark Side! the form of Pachinoko!

Tokyo Tower was really pretty on New Years Eve. (Dad took this...I was rolling in the new years with friends over the internet. Whoo! Go technology!)

Laundry Day! ...can't get Dr. Horrible's "Laundry Day" song out of my head now. Yup! My dad had to bow down to get in there.

Appliance shopping! If it weren't for all the Kanji I would have an easier time reading Japanese. (Why must there be four alphabets?)

Mt. Fuji! Wish we could have gotten closer than that. So used to the National Parks in the US.

Imperial Park.

Next up!
Janurary 5th: First day of work and more.