19 February 2015

you better watch out…the namahage comes to town

I got you something...
Last weekend, while many of you were busy enjoying your candy and other gifts bestowed upon you by loved ones (or complete strangers, in which case STOP READING THIS AND RUN), the monsters were silently roaming about. Using the seemingly nonstop swarm of blizzards blanketing the country with snow and forcing any sane individual inside as cover, these hideous monsters crossed into our borders, hiked up their trousers, and began their silent march across the country, eager to dispense their own brand of rough justice. 

Justice you say? Justice for whom? Against whom? 

Well, that’s a good question to ask. Because when it comes to these cold-weather warriors, the justice attached to it can take so many forms, and none of them pleasing. So lock your doors, bar your windows, and begin praying. Because now, as the deep freeze settles in, the namahage have come to town with it. 

Snuggled in between Setsubun and Lunar New Year, the Namahage festival usually falls on or around February 15th, or typically “on the eve of the New Year” (localization be damned). While the festival has its roots in Northern Japan, particularly in Akita prefecture and the Oga Peninsula city, the monsters themselves are of the sort that would not have issue abandoning their traditional posts in order to deliver some serious “oni justice” to anyone who violates their deeply held convictions. 

17 February 2015

a first-timer's guide to katsucon

Kit here! I had not been to Katsucon since Katsucon 2002, so effectively, this was my first time being at Katsucon since it was in the Gaylord National in National Harbor, MD.

So what do you do when it's your first time at a convention? Especially one in what is essentially an indoor resort?

Exploration is better when you're prepared! (Zen and Rei cosplay from Persona Q.)

11 February 2015

modern artifacts: the gazebo

The idea of artifact yokai is still a piece of favorite lore in Japan: these are known collectively as "tsukumogami", and relate to a very old idea that utensils, or teapots, or umbrellas, or any of these everyday things, may in fact have a spirit in them of some kind. They can become yokai - mischievous or malicious - depending on how they are treated (for example, if they're improperly thrown out), and of course, what region you are in: the relatively sedate kasa-obake may in fact spirit you up into the sky instead of just being a one-eyed strange umbrella hopping after you!

These ideas are not completely unknown to us in the West, though. Disney's Beauty and the Beast played on this idea in the film, even though the teapots and clocks and such were a result of a curse instead of old age of the tool/utensil itself.

But what about more modern day things?

I bring to you, the Katsucon Gazebo. Kit (myself) at Study of Anime had the opportunity to speak with the mysterious Administrator of the Katsucon Gazebo's Twitter account recently, and we want to share the interview with you!

09 February 2015

Katsucon incoming

Not even back a full day from Almacon and I'm grabbing my stuff for Katsu. Year 7, and I believe I've got 11 hours of panels this time around. Same as year 6, but this time a lot less straight lectures and a lot more interactive sessions. There will also be a table in the Artist Alley, selling art prints (including a few brand new ones from AJ), copies of Ghostly Tales (I should have 70 this time), tarot card readings (I got a Legend of Zelda deck this past weekend) and information on both book preorders AND support for my upcoming trip to Japan this fall.

As for scheduling:

Game of Phones - Friday - 4pm - JCI Lecture 2: Return of the Culture Trade panel. It's been way too long since I last gave this one, and I've had a chance to shore up more information on Japanese Cool and its impact on the post-bubble economy.

Hyaku Monogatari - Friday - 10pm - JCI Lecture 2: Those ghost story books I'm selling can come in handy here. Bring your favorite tales to tell, art to show, or maybe even a stuffed animal so we can try Kakurenbo. Because we're nuts.

Mononoke Masters - Saturday - 11am - JCI Room 2: Preserving the world of Yokai, this is an exploration of yokai in art and literature, and the people who evolved the concept. For more information, check this out: Yokai Gallery

Kill la Kill: History, Mythology and Allegory - Saturday - 2pm - JCI Lecture 2: All my research and reading comes down to this. History, mythology, literature, culture in transformation AND criticism, and questions about Japan both past and future. It also features the latest art, blending old tales with new friends.

Hanafuda Workshop - Saturday - 4:30pm - JCI Room 2: Learn to play the card game that made Nintendo famous. Decks will be on hand for sale, and (hopefully) a number of tables will be open for play during the workshop.

Yokai Girls Gone Wild - Saturday - 7:30pm - JCI Lecture 2: Female monsters prowling about, scaring the ever-loving beJeezus out of those unlucky enough to cross their paths.

Panel Rewind - Sunday - 12pm - JCI Lecture 2: I need to see which panels I want to offer this time around. Potentially Ghibli, Poke-mythology, or…hell, just look at the list and tell me what you guys want.

Those are all JCI track classes. I also have 2 non-JCI panels for your viewing pleasure:


Elements of Style - Friday - 1PM - Cherry Blossom Ballroom: Anime Openings, structured around style and experimentation. I've had this one in the pool for Katsu ever since I did the first OPs panel in 2012. Now its back on.

See you all at the Gaylord this weekend!

Also, Kit has a few panels this weekend as well!

Just Say It! - 6:30 PM Saturday; about Japanese aesthetics in communication, unspoken incidents in anime and manga, and more.

Traditional Treats - 8:30 PM Saturday; an exploration of the history of treats like amazake and azuki paste, to Sakuma Drops and Pocky!

Utena and Madoka: Gentle Strength - 11:30 AM Sunday; exploring the concept of "yasashii" using the series of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Also explored: witches, femininity, magic, and when heroism goes wrong.

03 February 2015

Setsubun - Oni out, luck in!

Setsubun - more precisely, Risshun/Spring Setsubun (Setsubun just means 'seasonal division', but here means the division from winter into spring) - is known in Japan to be a time of festivals, cleansing, and of soybeans.

...wait, soybeans?

Roasted soybeans - and sometimes, peanuts - are used in celebrations of Setsubun. It used to be that the head of the household would take a handful of roasted soybeans, go to the family altar (the Buddhist altar or the kamidana, or both), pray for good fortune in the oncoming year, and then throw the beans out the door while saying "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi" - a chant loosely meaning "Oni out, luck in!". The idea was that the sanctified beans would help purify the home by catching the attention of any wandering oni or malicious spirits, and the oni or the spirits would go after the beans instead of the home. As Setsubun tended to fall at the start of the New Year in the old lunar calendar, many of these traditions of driving spirits out are related to ensuring good luck in the oncoming year; much like modern New Year celebrations and preparations for a new, fresh start.

However, this is one of those celebrations that have a lot of variations throughout Japan.

Some shrines, like Tsubaki Grand Shrine, set their celebration on February 1st, while people may celebrate on the 2nd or the 3rd. Sometimes, it's adults who put on oni masks and children 'drive' them away with the chant; sometimes, it's a comparatively more orderly festival at a shrine; sometimes, the chant itself varies or peanuts are used instead of soybeans. Sometimes, if soybeans are used, only a few will be thrown, and the remainder eaten for good luck and good health. And even then the custom may be different! Some people eat one bean for each year of their age, while some people are used to the custom of eating one bean for each year of their age PLUS ONE for luck in the new year.

Speaking of food customs, Osaka started a new one: the custom of eating specially rolled makizushi. Apparently, one must face the direction predicted to bring the most fortune for the year (as determined by the Chinese zodiac and corresponding compass directions) and eat one of these specially prepared rolls in silence, to ensure the best possible luck for the oncoming year. This started in Aichi Prefecture, but spread to Osaka, the Japanese home of restaurants and food culture, and is quickly spreading to other areas due to promotions via grocery stores and merchants. It is possible also to make your own makizushi as well! (The lucky directions for 2015 seem to be East/South-East according to the information I found, but we will see if this is correct!)

If you have a tradition for Setsubun, let us know! If not, look forward to the start of spring!