Military recruiting efforts

Curzon over at Cominganarchy just posted his impressions of his visit to a new Japanese Self Defense Force recruiting center in hip Shibuya (verdict: fail). Just the other day I happened to run into another rather sad attempt at recruiting in Osaka’s Hankyu Umeda Station.

SDF Recruiters in Umeda Station, Osaka
SDF Recruiters in Umeda Station, Osaka

Instead of the ordinary but silly strategy of letting visitors play dress-up, the attraction here was something a little on the bizarre side – a block of ice from Antarctica.

A block of ice from Antactica
A block of ice from Antactica

Indeed, it was very cold. The message seemed to be something about how joining the Navy lets you travel to faraway and exotic places, but I’m not sure that a block of ice was the best way to convey that, even with the helpful diagrams explaining how striation in Antarctic ice is different from that which you grow in your own freezer.

Smiling SDF recruiter
Smiling SDF recruiter

I’m not actually quite sure who does join the SDF in Japan. Back in the US I had quite a few friends from high school who either joined the military proper or the reserves, or had simply been ROTC members before graduation, and in college I again knew plenty of people who were either paying for school through the reserves or were getting scholarships from previous military service, but I can’t say I actually know a single person in Japan who is either a current or past member of the postwar military.

In fact, practicaly the only Japanese person I’ve ever met who wanted to join the SDF here was a guy I met briefly in a youth hostel in Beijin when I visited back in 2004 with my then-girlfriend. 20 years old, buzzcut dressed entirely in camo, giant thick glasses, scrawny, and big black combat boots, he was the perfect incarnation of the stereotypical military nerd who wants to be Rambo but would be lucky to even pass the basic training and get a desk job. The military was quite literally the only thing he could discuss, and even the briefest attempts at smalltalk were immediately sidelined into military talk.

One real exchange I remember:

Me: I’m from New Jersey.

Him: East coast right?

Me: Yeah, right by New York City.

Him: New York… That’s where West Point is. And it’s only a few hours drive from the big naval bases in Virginia.

Me: Uhh, yeah… that’s right. We’re gonna go check out that famous Beijing duck restaurant now – see you later.

And speaking of military otaku, the government sponsored Taiwan Journal has a rather interesting look at the niche publiching market of military themed magazines in that country, which look to me rather similar to the same type of periodical in Japan. Of course, in a country where all adult males are drafted (until they complete the ongoing transition to an all volunteer force sometime in the future) you would expect that the average level of knowledge and interest in the subject might be a lot higher.

Japanese cultural influence in Taiwan- cosplay

Just after I wrote my post the other day on Japan’s influence on place names in Taiwan, I saw this article at Yahoo News on the popularity of Japanese style “cosplay” in Taiwan.

As the fashion catches on across the island, experts have said that it could help Taiwan‘s young people break out of the strictures forced on them by the traditional Chinese pressure to conform.

Since “cosplay” first hit Taiwan little over a decade ago, its enthusiasts have been dressing up like their favourite manga characters and gathering at cafes, parks and manga expos across the island.


In Taiwan, role-playing dates back to around 1995 but has been gaining in popularity in recent years largely thanks to the Internet, said Mio Chang, supervising editor of bi-monthly cosplay magazine “Cosmore”.

“Cosers admire the ‘manga’ or ‘anime’ characters and want to imitate them. It is a passion for them to recreate the looks, the costumes and props,” said Chang, herself a coser for many years.

I don’t normally post about this sort of thing, except that while I was living in Taipei I just happened to stumble across one of the very events described in the article.

At a recent expo at National Taiwan University’s stadium, cosers were seen portraying a wide variety of roles from princesses to maids, space warriors, martial arts masters and even Death.

When I was studying at NTNU and considering switching to the program at National Taiwan University, I was riding my bike around, checking out the area one day, and just happened to ride through the campus right into the middle of a massive cosplay convention, which was taking place in and around the main gymnasium/hall building. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, but it was a highly amusing thing to run across at random.

And of course, the topic of Taiwanese cosplay is always a good opportunity to post this amazing photograph of former Taiwan president Lee Teng Hui, dressed as high school principal from a Japanese manga. As his wikipedia entry says on the topic:

The cosplay was centered on Heihachi Edajima (江田島平八 Edajima Heihachi), a hawkish principal of a boarding school in the Japanese manga Sakigake!! Otokojuku (魁!!男塾) (Shonen Jump). The ; this was used as an advertisement on his personal website and “school” (輝!李塾) beginning in late 2004. This manga comic was a comedy centered on a fictitious reform school for contemporary boys, modelled under the Imperial Japanese Army.

Abe down, otaku up?

So, it turns out that Abe Shinzo had supporters the way the fictional band Flight of the Conchords had fans (or rather, “fan”), and yet after managing to survive longer than some expected, still gave up the ghost suddenly and with no clear immediate reason. While most people are probably concerned about such things as when the next lower house election will be called, what this means for Japanese constitutional revision or the future of overseas troop deployment, or whether the grandson of “The Bismarck of Japan” will be the next prime minister, others are speculating on it. That is to say, the prospect of famously geeky Aso Taro assuming the prime minster-ship has sent shares of manga and otaku related stocks soaring.

On Wednesday, shares of manga publisher Broccoli shot up 71 percent, while those of second-hand comic store chain Mandarake climbed 13 percent. Shares of We’ve, which produces a Japanese version of Sesame Street, rose 14 percent.

Although Olympic sharpshooter and manga aficionado Aso Taro would probably be a more entertaining premier than Abe was (although certainly no Koizumi), he would likely still be a disaster and a half. To remind everyone why, I would like to briefly revisit some things we’ve posted about the man in the past.

First of all, here are some items from what Joe described as his “colorful past.”

  • Aso’s father, Takakichi Aso, was a big businessman: he owned a large cement company, Aso Cement. He later entered the Diet and was buddies with Kakuei Tanaka, the Nixonian prime minister of Japan who spent half of his life amassing political capital in Niigata and the other half split between running the LDP from the shadows and fending off prosecution for corruption. (Tanaka’s daughter Makiko is the short-lived foreign minister who called Bush an asshole.)
  • Takakichi’s wife (Taro’s mother) was Shigeru Yoshida’s daughter—Yoshida being the postwar prime minister who set up Japan’s foreign and domestic policy for much of the Cold War era.
  • Yoshida’s wife’s father was Nobuaki Makino, a Meiji-era diplomat and politician; Makino’s father was the famous samurai Okubo Toshimichi.
  • Back to Taro Aso himself: he represented Japan in the shooting events at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, while still president of the cement company he inherited from his father (he gave it up to run for office in 1978, and now his brother runs the company).
  • He was appointed Minister of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications in 2003, and Koizumi apparently likes him, because he’s survived two subsequent cabinet reshuffles.

Then there were these statements:

  • “Japan is one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, one race, none of which can be found in any other country.” (Direct quote)
  • Claimed Koreans wished to change their names to Japanese names during colonial rule (an attempt to justify the Aso Zaibatsu’s colonial-era actions). Also claimed Japan helped spread the use of Hangul writing.
  • When inaugurated as MIC Minister in 2003, made the bold prediction that office paperwork would disappear with the development of information technology and that everything would be done by magical new floppy disks in the future.
  • “Japan is treated like a nouveau-riche child because it has no military power but does have economic power. All the G8 countries are White, and Japan is the only Yellow Race country there. So we teamed up with the best fighter, America. This should be obvious!” (Originally posted here.)

He also made a proposal to “de-religicize” Yasukuni to avoid “all this fuss.”

“It’s about expressing our respect and gratitude for those who died for their country and praying for the peace of the souls of those who died…without all this fuss,” Aso told a news conference.

“The tens of thousands of soldiers who died crying ‘Long Life to the Emperor’ filled those words with deep emotion,” Aso said in a statement outlining his idea. “So I strongly pray that the emperor can visit Yasukuni.”

Since the plan made no mention of removing the Class A war criminals who are the cause of “all this fuss,” I fail to see how taking away the shrine’s tax exempt status or whatever would actually change anything. In another speech, Aso had this to say on the Yasukuni issue:

‘From the viewpoint of the spirits of the war dead, they hailed ‘Banzai’ for the emperor—none of them said ‘prime minister Banzai!’

But Aso isn’t all bad. On the plus side, his appointment as Foreign Minister, to replace himself, would apparently be Astroboy.

Wartime propaganda in pop culture

Asahi has a neat article with an unfortunately small, if tantalizing, photograph of an exhibit currently being held at the Marunouchi branch of Maruzen (I’m still bitter over you guys closing the Kyoto store!) in Tokyo until Monday, on the way that kimono designs of the pre-WW2 and wartime period reflected the political consciousness of the time. For example, in this photograph you can see a design reflected the tripartite alliance between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near Tokyo so I’ve asked Adam if he could drop by and get some photos, or perhaps pick up whatever pamphlet or art book they have available because I would love to see more of these, and in some detail.

War-theme designs often mirrored current events. Inui found a kimono that depicted Adm. Heihachiro Togo, who was credited with Japan’s 1905 victory over the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan.

She also found a design that spelled out the name of Yosuke Matsuoka–in romaji alphabet–then ambassador, when he pulled the Japanese delegation out of the League of Nations in Geneva in 1933.

Heartwarming stories and tear-jerkers also made it into kimono.

The story of the heroic Nikudan Sanyushi (Three human bullets), or Bakudan Sanyushi (Three human bombs)–three engineering corps soldiers who reportedly perished in a suicide bombing during the Shanghai incident in 1932–were given sweeping coverage by the media. Headlines and parts of the articles from The Asahi Shimbun and The Mainichi Shimbun became part of kimono designs.

This article  immediately made me think of one I had seen on BBC news a couple of weeks ago, on a similarly unexpected yet unsurprising penetration of wartime propaganda into popular culture: British boardgames of the World War II era.

Take the early wartime game Battle of the River Plate, for example. Based on the first major confrontation between German and British naval forces, it is one of the earliest known games to reflect the international conflict. Players tried to score points by firing wooden sticks at the ship with a spring action. A direct hit caused the gun turrets on the ship to “explode”.

Another, Bomber Command, depicts bombing squadrons and invites players to bomb Berlin, at the centre of the playing board. Players take turns to throw dice to move toward the target. When materials were in short supply, the dice were replaced by a numbered spinning card.

“It was a game you can easily imagine people playing sitting in the air raid shelter while being bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz,” says historian and author, Robert Opie.

The article then goes on to mention the way in which WW2 comic books incorporated anti-Nazi and anti-Japan motifs, a number of examples of which I posted some time ago. And of course, one can’t forget what you must agree is the best comic book cover of the war, if not all time. That is, unless you like Hitler-and you don’t like Hitler, do you?

What would be some good examples of popular culture reflecting enemies and conflicts in the world around us today? Off the top of my head, there’s naturally “24,” which I’ve never seen but I understand is about how Arab terrorists want to kill us. And then of course there’s the video game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, in which a disaffected North Korean general stages a military coup on the eve of reunification with the South in some near future year, or on a similar but slightly more afield topic, take the third season episode of the fairly recent Justice League Unlimited cartoon show, in which a number of DC superheroes travel to a fictitious militaristic Northeast Asian nation, clearly modeled after North Korea, to stop a rampaging nuclear powered robotic monster which they claim they had built “to protect us from the foreigners,” clearly modeled after North Korea’s metaphorically rampaging nuclear (non-robotic) monster.

All of these are in fact less examples of government sponsored propaganda than grass roots, genuinely popular culture expressing such things as a society’s popularly held fears and hatreds regarding their enemies at that time. I recall during the first Gulf War, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I saw someone at a flea-market selling “Desert Shield” branded condoms, which exclaimed on the package something along the lines of “Don’t you wish Saddam Hussein’s father had worn one of these?” Perhaps it is due to the fact that I was out of the country during the early stages of the recent Iraq invasion, but I can think of no examples of similarly popular expressions of support for the current war. Is it wrong of me to think that the initial support for the invasion was, however high the level, generally a grudging and ambivalent sort of support, lacking the level of enthusiasm needed to generate items along the lines of the pro-Axis kimono, the Hitler-face dartboard, or the “Desert Shield” condom?

My favorite movie

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I was looking around in the awesome retro video collections of the Internet Archive and thought I would re-watch what actually is my favorite film of the educational short film genre.

<object type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”480″ height=”392″ id=”FlowPlayer” data=””>
<param name=”movie” value=””/>
<param name=”scale” value=”noScale”/>
<param name=”wmode” value=”transparent”/>
<param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”sameDomain”/>
<param name=”quality” value=”high”/>
<param name=”flashvars” value=”config={
loop: false,
initialScale: ‘fit’,
videoFile: ‘’,

Edit: Flash doesn’t seem to be working, so try this link here.

More on fake Harry Potter

Today’s New York Times has published a moderate sized article on the Chinese phenomenon.

No one can say with any certainty what the full tally is, but there are easily a dozen unauthorized Harry Potter titles on the market here already, and that is counting only bound versions that are sold on street corners and can even be found in school libraries. Still more versions exist online.

These include “Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince,” a creation whose name in Chinese closely resembles the title of the genuine sixth book by Ms. Rowling, as well as pure inventions that include “Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon,” “Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire,” “Harry Potter and the Young Heroes,” “Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon,” and “Harry Potter and the Big Funnel.”

Some borrow little more than the names of Ms. Rowling’s characters, lifting plots from other well-known authors, like J. R. R. Tolkien, or placing the famously British protagonist in plots lifted from well-known kung-fu epics and introducing new characters from Chinese literary classics like “Journey to the West.”

Harry Potter and the Big Funnel? I’ve heard of that one somewhere before… 

In related news, of the 100 or so blogs and other websites that linked to my fake Harry Potter post, this post at the blog of the comic book fansite Newsarama may be the only one to offer a substantial contribution. Now, I had posted a couple of pages from a nice, wholesome Harry Potter Japanese fan comic (dojinshi), but someone at Newsarama had apparently dug into their personal bookmarks collection and dug out links to online archives of-ahem-less than wholesome product. The sort of thing that chronicles the sort of activity that English boarding school was famous for before Hogwarts. Am I going to paste the links here? No, but anyone curious enough to click can take that extra step.

The ultimate sequels aka Asia loves you,哈利波特

To tie in with the world-wide media extravaganza that is the release of the final volume of the megaselling Harry Potter series, today I would like present scans from three lesser known sequels in my collection.

First is the China exclusive 2002 release, Harry Potter and the Filler of Big, a title made only slightly less mysterious when one realizes that the Chinese title translates rather more accurately into Harry Potter and the Big Funnel, although you’ll need someone with better Chinese than mine to describe the plot of this gloriously audacious illegally published novel-length fanfiction.

Continue reading The ultimate sequels aka Asia loves you,哈利波特

J-Cast on the new Ghibli movie: A chance to “re-educate” Goro

English-only Ghibli fans might be interested to know how people are reacting to the recently announced new Ghibli film “Ponyo of the Cliff top”. J-Cast has the story:

Hayao Miyazaki to Re-educate Son with New Film
Mar. 20

Director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest project, “Ponyo of the Cliff Top” was announced yesterday for a summer 2008 release. The main character, a 5-year-old boy named “Sosuke” was modeled after Miyazaki’s son Goro. Goro directed the Ghibli project “Tales of Earthsea” in 2006, and while the film was a major hit, many slammed how the film turned out. As a result, Hayao is attempting to re-educate his eldest son, and has included a message in the film of how he wants his eldest to turn out. Or at least that’s what everyone is saying.

The 5-year-old Lead Resembles Hayao’s Son

goro-nni20060814ti7miyzk01.jpgThis will be the first film from Hayao Miyazaki ever since Howl’s Moving Castle achieved huge box office totals of 19.6 billion yen when it was released 4 years ago (November 2004). The new film is a story of Ponyo, a goldfish princess who wants to become human, and the five-year-old Sosuke. Producer Toshio Suzuki explains, “This is kind of like Miyazaki’s version of ‘The Little Mermaid.'” Tales of Earthsea, which came out last year, was supposed to have been directed by Hayao himself — he negotiated the film rights with the original author 20 years ago — but the director changed to his eldest son, Goro (pictured). As J-Cast reported earlier:

“Ghibli’s Suzuki said in an interview ‘(Hayao) said that “it would be inconceivable for Goro to take the helm.” In other words, he was totally against Goro directing it.'”

Afterward, Suzuki convinced Hayao to go along, but while the production ended up being a hit, the movie received less than favorable reviews from viewers and the original author.

The father-son feud was reported as follows in a March 20, 2007 article in Sports Nippon:

“Sosuke was modeled after Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s 40-year-old eldest son. Goro made his directorial debut with Tales of Earthsea last year, and Hayao interpreted his son’s actions as a rebellion against his father, reportedly expressing remorse: “Things turned out this way because I was working all the time and didn’t spend time with Goro when he was 5 years old. [I’m making this] so there won’t be any more children like Goro.”

It looks like this will be a film about regrets over raising an eldest son.

“Thank goodness it’s Hayao!”

Since Hayao Miyazaki has made several statements indicating he’s retiring from directing, rumors had been circulating on the Internet wondering if there would be another Hayao-directed film. Perhaps influenced by such concerns, there are lots of blog entries from Yahoo, Livedoor, and Excite-hosted blogs placing their hopes in Hayao:

“Thank goodness it’s Hayao!!! But it looks like the kid is modeled after Goro…”
“Yes!!! YES!!!! I LOOOOOOOVEEEE Miyazaki’s movies!! Goro’s movie was just so poorly received I still haven’t watched it [Translator: Same here!], but I wonder how Earthsea turned out? Hayao’s movies almost never fail to please, so I am simply looking forward to it.”
“I am looking forward to this. Since this is coming after Goro Miyazaki seems to have misjudged the public, I am interested to see how people react to this one.”

Will this new film feature the father’s overwhelming dignity and serve to re-educate Goro?

Comment: This looks like a continuation of the human drama initiated and encouraged by Ghibli (who printed Goro’s blog that detailed the feud and an interview with Suzuki that explained more about it) since it was learned that Earthsea would be directed by the inexperienced Goro. Since, as J-Cast notes, Earthsea ended up being a hit despite bad reviews, perhaps the promoters and investors (which include notorious hit-generators Hakuhodo and Dentsu) see this reality-show spectacle as an effective way to generate hype. The personal stories probably resonate with fans of Studio Ghibli, which was voted Japan’s top-ranking brand name in a 2006 poll of consumers conducted by Nikkei BP:

Miyazaki magic

Studio Ghibli stepped up from second place in the 2005 survey, receiving fairly high marks in two of the four categories the survey conductors determined to be key factors in creating brand power. The two categories were friendly and outstanding.

The animation studio has spawned an array of popular films, such as “Howl’s Moving Castle”, released in 2004, successfully connecting with consumers on an emotional basis.

Resonating with consumers is the ultimate goal of corporate marketing.

New Ghibli movie, this time directed by the real Miyazaki

ponyo-20070319at48t.jpgJiji Press reports that Hayao Miyazaki announced that he is directing a new long-form animated film called “Ponyo on the Cliffs” (崖の上のポニョ), a story of a boy’s friendship with a “goldfish princess” who wants to become human.

The production, the first directed by Hayao Miyazaki since 2003’s Howl’s Moving Castle, began last October and will be completely hand-drawn, with no computers used whatsoever. The animation style is simple and childlike (see picture). The scenery is based on the Seto Inland Sea, an area of Japan where Miyazaki stayed in 2005. The 5-year-old hero is based on his son Goro, who directed the poorly-received Earthsea adaptation. The music will be done by Ghibli regular Jo Hisaishi. The final production is scheduled to be released in summer 2008.

An official press release confirms the recent reports and promises more information moving forward.

A recent trend in Anime: Small production teams (think Homestarrunner or Adult Swim)

An interesting piece from FujiSankei Business-i (in translation):

Animation Produced in Small Teams is a Breath of Fresh Air for the Industry: FROGMAN Co., Others Showcase A Powerful Individuality
March 13, 2007

Animation produced in small teams have been hitting the market one after the other recently, which is a new development as works are usually produced in production teams of dozens or even hundreds of people. The new works, which maintain a high level of quality while showcasing the creators’ intense vision in every nook and cranny, a feat that can only be achieved in a small team, are blowing a new wind throughout Japan’s animation industry. (by Ryuichi Taniguchi)

Improved Performance of PCs Plays a Role

Makoto Shinkai, director of “Five Centimeters Per Second” (秒速5センチメートル) gave thanks before the 200 people who had gathered to watch his animated film shown at Cinema Rise in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on March 3: “I am happy to show a film that I made the way I wanted it in a large space.” This was his first film since his long-form “Beyond the Clouds, at the Promised Location” (雲のむこう、約束の場所) was shown at the same theater in November 2006. He seemed to have felt a positive response from the excited crowd of waiting fans that filled the seats.

In the past, animation production was assumed to require a large staff, but Shinkai released his first 25-minute short “Voices of the Stars” (ほしのこえ) created almost entirely by himself on a PC. The imagery, which measures up to animation made by pros, and the story, about susceptible young men and women, made the piece a hit with the younger generation and gained its creator recognition as a member of the new generation of animation directors.

However, Shinkai did not choose the path of producing his work in a major studio with a large staff at his beck and call. He continued using PCs and producing his films with a small staff to complete his “Beyond” and the more recent “Five”.

Shinkai explains, “For a year and half, I had the animation staff come to my home, and created it at a steady pace using my desktop. He didn’t create the whole thing by himself as in “Voice of the Stars,” but he made drastic staff cuts compared to the number of people involved in “Beyond.” As a result, Shinkai was able to realize a film in which his vision crept into every nook and cranny, from depictions of the lyrical countryside, to the village landscapes, to the endless sky and ocean.

Productions that can make full use of the creator’s individuality because of such a small staff are made possible by high-performance PCs that can be used to draw, color, and even edit finely detailed images. It’s easy to see how individual creators like Shinkai can make it into the animation industry if they have talent and backup in terms of funding.

Product Placement Comes to Anime

The films produced by FROGMAN Co, led by a man who goes by the same name, were also born of superior talent, a PC, and the Internet. The company creates animation using Flash, an animation software that can play simple video on a PC, and began offering programs on the Internet starting in 2004. These short films gained an following, and in April 2006 FROGMAN’s “Falcon’s Claw, Secret Society” (秘密結社鷹の爪) debuted on TV Asahi.

On March 17, “Falcon’s Claw, Secret Society The Movie: The Fuhrer Dies Twice” (総統は二度死ぬ) opens in theaters. FROGMAN spoke at a sneak preview held in Roppongi on March 4: “I’m so happy because cinema is the apex of film.” Just as in the TV version, FROGMAN does almost all the voices himself and drew most of the animation. He was overjoyed to see his brainchild up on the big screen.

The big-screen version of course cost more, but the costs were covered by including product placement within the film. Since it’s a comedy, the film blatantly displays company logos and products to make the crowd laugh. They even included a “budget gauge” on the side of the screen that dips during the more elaborate CGI scenes as a gag for the audience.

Another Internet-based talent is Rareko. She published her work on the Internet and eventually worked into picture books and DVDs after they became popular. As more and more companies seek out dormant talent, it looks as though we’ll keep seeing unique, individual animation.

The Companies Backing up Individual Talent

Individuals’ talents can only blossom fully with the support of a corporation. Shinkai has received support from Comics Wave (headquartered in Shibuya) since he began work on “Voices”. CW is a company that manages publishing rights for content and scouting/development of creators. They contract with manga artists and illustrators and serve as a conduit for bargaining with companies that want to use the creators’ characters.

DLE (HQ: Chiyoda Ward), a company founded in 2001 as a company that provides consulting for the video content industry, serves as FROGMAN’s producer. In addition to producing television programs, the company also aids in Flash animation and helped bring FROGMAN into the limelight.

Fanworks (Shibuya) produces independent animation and supports Rareko, of “The Fragile Tank” (やわらか戦車) fame. When the Internet-based animation took off, they served as a conduit for commercialization demands and helped boost its popularity by forming the “Fragile Tank Coalition Force.”

To close out, here are some YouTube clips of some of the shows mentioned in this article:

Falcon’s Claw Secret Society:

Fragile Tank:

Five Centimeters Per Second: