Typhoon Wipha & Takashi Yanase’s Anpanman

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Typhoon Wipha swept through Japan yesterday. Not only did it bear down heavily upon its capital of 30 million-Tokyo- this ‘once in a decade storm’ unleashed its fury upon Honshu and its surrounding islands, leaving in its wake 17 dead, 50 missing, 350 homes destroyed with over 60 000 passengers affected by the 450 canceled flights.

Perhaps that is why when Takashi Yanase’s death was announced in the news yesterday, it was not met with as much fanfare. The creator of ‘Anpanman’-a Japanese cartoon character beloved by all Japanese children- Takashi Yanase was 94 when he died on Sunday.

Takashi Yanase wrote the Anpanman series in the late 1960s, but it was not until 1988 that the series was adapted for TV. The franchise has been heavily merchandised, but perhaps as a result of that, there is not a child (or adult) in Japan who does not know about Anpanman today.

Anpanman is a superhero cartoon character with a bread head made of sweet red bean paste. Although the concept of a main character with a head made of bread (and even breaks pieces of it off to feed those he rescues) in a children’s cartoon seems strange, Takashi Yanase nevertheless got the inspiration for the creation of Anpanman through his personal experience. As a solider during WW2, he often went hungry and would daydream about eating Anpan – the traditional Japanese sweet red bean pastry.

Anpanman is the defender of the weak, and his arch rival is Baikinman (Bacteria Man). Just as all heroes have their nemeses, Anpanman’s is WATER. Anpanman’s bread head breaks apart and he starts to die when he encounters water. But as soon as ‘Uncle Jam’ bakes him a new head, he is resurrected and with the help of his friends, he is able to defeat Baikinman and his cohorts. Anpanman was registered in the Guiness Book of World Records in 2009 as having the most characters found in an animation series-1768 different characters in total (NTV press release July 2009).

Voice actress Keiko Toda describes Takashi Yanase as a gentle and sharing man, and  laments the loss of a ‘guiding post’. But perhaps Takashi Yanase can rest at peace knowing that the mark he left on generations of Japanese children is indelible, and that his spirit of kindness and sharing live on in the Anpanman characters he created.

Kitaro Chaya-Gegege no Kitaro & Shigeru Mizuki

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This month sees the 10th anniversary of Kitaro Chaya (teahouse). Situated within the vicinity of the idyllic Jindaiji Temple in Chofu- an area west of Tokyo-this unique themed cafe and souvenir shop is perhaps little known to those outside of Japan. Gegege no Kitaro is a series of Manga created by celebrated Manga artist, Shigeru Mizuki, popularizing Japanese folklore creatures (Yokai).

Gegege no Kitaro’s stories center around its protagonist, Kitaro, a 350 years old yokai boy and his horde of ‘Yokai’ (spirit monsters) and are well loved by Japanese children and adults alike since its creation in 1959. The series have also been adapted for the screen as anime, live action and video games. Local residents will tell you that Shigeru Mizuki lived in the Chofu area for years so it is no wonder to see Kitaro’s foot prints in these parts.

As you approach the Chaya, you can see Kitaro’s giant yellow and red remote-controlled ‘geta’ (sandals) on its rooftop. Welcoming you into the Yokai Gallery is Nezumi Otoko- the ever scheming and fuming, half human/yokai/rat character of the series. Aside from Manga books from the Gegege no Kitaro series, you can find paraphernalia such as Yokai themed T-shirts, pens, fridge magnets, writing pads on the souvenir display shelves in the front part of the Chaya. There are even Yokai shaped snacks such as mochi (rice cake) snacks in the shape of Medama Oyaji- the anthropomorphic eyeball version of Kitaro’s father, etc.

When you tire of roaming the souvenir shop and gallery, sit down at the cafe and order Yokai themed snacks and drinks. Perhaps you fancy an eye ball or two floating in sweet red bean soup top with ice cream? Or perhaps blocks of black jello in the shape of Nuricabe (plaster wall monster)? One thing’s for sure- you’ll have a good time at Kitaro Chaya while being spooked!

(Chofu station is a 30 minute train ride on the Keio line from Shinjuku station. To get to Jindaiji, go to the north side of Chofu station when you arrive and take bus no.34 at bus stop14. Alternatively, bus 5,6, 31 or 56 from bus stop 13 also go that direction but stop at ‘Jindaiji Iriguchi’, which is only a short walk to Jindaiji Temple.)

Robot Restaurant in Tokyo

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The main feature of this restaurant- situated in Kabuchicho, a part of Tokyo well known for its quirky and entertaining nightlife- is its 2 meter tall giant female robots. Each complete with pneumatic breasts and a seat for its operator, these ‘Fembots’ are said to be worth 10 million yen each.

Nothing will quite prepare you for the plethora of colours, sights and sounds that hit you when you step into this robot themed restaurant. In the land where ancient mysticism meets pop culture, for a mere fee of 4000yen (USD40), this two hour ‘dinner show’ dazzles you with its ancient art of Taiko drumming, cabaret style dances and mock battles of ‘bikini-clad women versus giant robots’. Yes siree, there will be plenty display of female flesh and some exciting robot entertainment!

The show may be a feast on the eyes and senses but do not expect too much of the dinner. The skimpy, cold Bento (Japanese lunch box) and a 300ml bottle of green tea that are included in the fee leaves the ‘dinner’ part of the show something to be desired. A selected choice of booze (canned chuhai & beer) is also available at 500 yen each.

My advice to getting the most out of the evening out is to eat before you get there and party elsewhere after the show.