Capsule Adventures in Japan

Strange things are kind of par for the course in Japan. Just take a look at this website completely devoted to showcasing all the weird things that arise from Japanese pop culture. Toys are no exception to the rule, and in a country where toys are only loosely meant for children, some of the things you can buy here are downright bizarre.

The mall near our house recently opened an entire capsule arcade, and in a spurt of forgetting the value of my pocket change, I decided to take a tour and splurge a little. If you’re not familiar with them, capsule machines are those little hand crank, gumball like devices that take your dollars and give you a cheap plastic toy in a plastic bubble in return. They are crazy popular here and can be found in any place where kids are sure to gather. This photo gallery is by no means exhaustive. I’ll probably have to do a follow up some time in the future, but for now, here is a taste of all the strange things you can get from a little plastic ball. Warning: This one is image heavy.

Characters

Obviously in the birth place of anime and manga, character prizes are going to top the list for most popular capsule toy. They certainly are the most common. Anpan Man, which is a show about talking, anthropomorphic red bean donut has a crazy number of capsule machines in the arcade, which leads me to believe that this place is supposed to be for five year-olds. At least until you see the iPhone thong, but we’ll get to that later. Sailor Moon swag is also pretty common, since this is the year of the 20th anniversary and the release of *gag* Sailor Moon Crystal. Many of the rest of these I have no idea what they are. If you know, be sure to tell me in the comments.

Animals

This one is pretty easy to understand. Who doesn’t like adorable little plastic animals adorning every flat surface of their homes? Some of them though, I have to wonder why they have their own toy. Sea cucumbers?!

Food

The obsession with tiny things carries right on to food items. Things like tiny curry and rice, tiny ramen and tiny sushi can be found all over the place in capsule machines. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of storage space before I could document them all.

Animals That Are Food

No, not animals that we eat, but literally cute animals dressed as food. I don’t know, you tell me.

Random Toys & Accessories

Sometimes you don’t want a toy to be a thing. Sometimes you just want a toy to be a toy. Capsule has you covered.

Random Objects

And other times you want your toys to be miniature representations of things you see in your every day life.

???, XXX & WTF, I don’t even

Honestly, I don’t know. Some of the things you can buy in Japan defy explanation. Why does an iPhone need a futon? Probably for the same reason it needs a thong. How did the character advising people to stop stealing movies at the cinema get so popular that he has his own action figure? I honestly couldn’t say. The only comment I’ll leave here is that these were all located in the same store. You can buy toy cigarettes right next to Anpan Man in Japan. I don’t know if that’s innocent or depraved.

The Review That Wasn’t: Perdido Street Station

Last week I finally, finally finished reading Perdido Street Station. It took me a full six months to get through that book, and I wanted the world to know what I thought about it. I rolled up my sleeves put my fingers to the keys and began typing. At about 1,500 words I noticed a speck of dust on my brand new laptop. As I was innocently brushing it off, I must have hit some key combination, or clicked a button that then caused the WordPress editor to refresh. I lost the whole review. Every word. No auto-saves. (All the writers reading this are cringing and hearing phantom screams of “NOOOOOOO!” echoing through their heads right now.) In any case, I decided that for a book that I really didn’t enjoy that much, it wasn’t worth my time to spend another two hours recalling what I had written to recreate the post that I’d lost, so here’s the tl;dr version of the review of a book that, in hindsight, I really wish I’d marked as tl;dr at the 300 page point:

perdido-street-stationone and a half stars

The Good:

– Very imaginative, rich world to explore. Everything feels very tangible.
– Many interesting concepts and world building details.
– The Weaver.
– Lemuel Pigeon.

The Bad:

– 600 pages and only half felt like actual story.
– 250 pages in and the plot finally starts.
– The majority of the characters are bland and uninteresting.
– Two of the three main antagonists are completely unnecessary.
– Tangents, tangents, tangents.
– Emotion bled out of scenes that are reported retroactively.
– Fleetingly interesting characters are never heard from again.
– Several pages of lengthy description that could be (and eventually were) skipped with no detriment to story comprehension.
– The death of Lemuel Pigeon.
– 25 pages of describing laying cables.
– Deus ex Remade.
– Lin and her entire story arc.
– The terribly anticlimactic monster reveal.
– The terribly anticlimactic ending.
– The unresolved Construct Council conflict.
– The unresolved Motley conflict.
– The unresolved Militia conflict.
– The unresolved Yagharek conflict.
– The clumsy inclusion of the dock workers conflict.

In the end, the whole reason why I didn’t just give up on this book was that the writing is pretty good. Is it worth the slog? I don’t know. It depends on what you look for in a book. If deep, rich worlds full of creativity and diversity are your thing, then yeah, this book will probably do it for you. If you prefer characters and tidy plots, then this book is almost guaranteed to frustrate you.

The next book on my reading list is Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner.

Tangent Reviews: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #173

My review of issue #173 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is up on Tangent right now. The stories by Marissa Lingen and Bill Powell are wonderfully written, and if you want to compare your thoughts to mine, I recommend having a look. The audio version of Bill Powell’s “The Punctuality Machine, Or, A Steampunk Libretto” is especially pleasing, and has an extended cast of voices to celebrate the 150th podcast reading. In my opinion, this story is best listened to, rather than read.

Interview: N J Magas

njmagas:

A little while back I was interviewed by Asexual Artists, a blog dedicated to giving exposure to creatives who don’t have any sexual preference. The goal is to promote solidarity among asexuals who may be feeling out of place within a society that is hyper sensitive to all things sexual, as well as showcasing our art, our processes, and our experiences as asexuals. While I don’t often talk about my sexuality as it is such a small part of who I am, I’m in favor of building a voice for those who don’t have much of one, and lent Asexual Artists my experiences toward that end.

Originally posted on Asexual Artists:

Today we’re joined by N J Magas.  N J is a very talented writer who writes fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.  She’s also an amazing painter.  My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror. My themes often center around death or impermanence, and what culturally makes us who we are. Characters are very important to me, so I try to focus more on the players within the story, rather than the world around them. I prefer to work with characters who are or act outside of expectation—characters who have deep, dark secrets, hidden personalities, contradictory hobbies or unusual lifestyles. The goal is to never leave a reader in a position where they can guess what’s going to happen next.

What inspires you?

Living in Kyoto is obviously a huge inspiration…

View original 1,061 more words

Z is for Zlatorog

Zero animals today exist that have solid gold anything, and that’s a shame. I mean, how cool would it be if you could raise a sheep with a literal golden fleece? Intellectually I know this would do nothing to actually end things like poverty and world hunger, but think of how cool it would be to have a field full of gold sheep?

But it goes without saying that you’ve got to be careful what animals and their parts you bling. Fleece and sheep are relative harmless. You wouldn’t want to be hunting the lion with the golden mane, or the elephant with the golden bazooka, and especially not the zlatorog with the golden horns.

The zlatorog is an animal from Slovenian folklore that pretty much looks like a mountain goat with huge golden horns and a sick sense of humor. It has apparently been taking lessons from the roadrunner on how to deal with poachers, as this flighty creature lures potential hunters to their deaths over the edges of cliffs. Yikes. The good news is that it never died in the legends. It was wounded once, and its blood became the first carnations, so if you’ve got a taste for gold and aren’t afraid of a horrible splattery death over the side of a cliff, you could always give this one a shot. Personally, I’m going to wait for science to give me golden guinea pigs.

encyclopedia magical creatures

Y is for Yemeni Vieled Chameleon

You don’t know what a Yemeni veiled chameleon is? That’s ok, we’ll learn together. According to the Smithsonian Handbooks guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, the Yemeni veiled chameleon is a small, extremely laterally compressed species of chameleon native to the humid southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

Fascinating.

The truth is, I love reptiles. I love all the weird exotic pets you can think of: lizards, snakes, tarantulas, giant bugs, squawking parrots, all of them. Lizards especially have turned out to be my ideal pet due to their relatively relaxed nature, being noiseless and more or less odorless, and most of the time completely open to hanging out with a human, so long as that human is 1) warm, 2) not moving and 3) watching something interesting on TV. Before I moved to Japan I had a pair of bearded dragons which were about the most loving pets I’ve ever had, dogs included.

See, the thing about furry pets is that they’re very demanding. Dogs need constant attention or they go mental. Cats will suffocate you if you forget their seventh meal of the day, and rodents reconcile their existential crises by making as much goddamn noise as possible with four teeth and a metal cage.

But lizards are remarkably chill. They’ll tolerate human interaction but they don’t need it. Forget to feed your lizard? You’ll get a reproachful glare, but they’re not going to raise the dead over it. Want some time to sleep in on the weekends? No problem, they’re all for sleeping seventeen hours a day. And the best part of all is that they’re always the right temperature. If it’s a hot day, nothing feels better than a cold lizard belly on your chest. And in the winter? Coming home to a heat lamp warmed reptile is just the thing for those chilly fingers.

So, now that I’ve told you my ideal pet, how’s about you tell me yours?

reptiles and amphibians

X is for Xenon

Xenon has the atomic number 54 on the periodic table of elements, which is something I didn’t know seconds before writing this sentence. I wouldn’t feel so badly about this lack of knowledge in chemistry in general (chemistry kept me from pursuing any sort of medical degree) except that I have a student who has memorize the entire table, plus every element’s atomic number AND knows how to spell them all correctly. This student is five years old. Oh, and English is his second language. Feels like we should all be studying a little more, doesn’t it?

The thing is, though, we’re all hardwired to be good at different things. This isn’t to suggest that the line is drawn between genders because it isn’t, but as individuals we each have a different learning strength, a different exploitative passion, a different path our brains are coded to take. Like most things, it’s a little bit nature and a little bit nurture, but very few people excel at everything. My kindergarten chemistry savant can name any element given only its atomic weight, but ask him to draw a picture of his family and he’ll flip the page over and write complex mathematics equations instead. (Ok, that last bit was an exaggeration, but only a small one. He’ll actually draw molecular compounds instead.)

So while I try not to feel bad when I’m struggling to find a stimulating learning environment for one student who should be handed a high school science textbook while the rest of my students are struggling with lower case letters, a part of me still feels like I should crack open the Elements Vault, just for a little review.

elements vault

W is for Writing

W-11e finally made it to the big one: writing! As I struggle through this insanely risky venture in the art of letters, naturally the bulk of my non-fiction collection is about writing itself. Writing and Thinking go hand in hand. These days, if I’m not actually putting words on a page, I’m thinking about those words, or those ideas, actively pulling in little bits of inspiration and storing them in the apothecary chest in my brain until maybe one day they’ll be useful. But when I get down to it, to physically sitting in my seat, opening a fresh Word document to put all those ideas down into something more or less resembling a story, there comes a huge moment of Conflict & Suspense. On the one hand, I really want to get this idea out, because it’s OMG the greatest idea ever and will revolutionize the genre, I’m poised and ready and I want to go, go, GO! On the other hand, the ideas that float nebulously in my brain resist condensing into something more decipherable to other, alien heads. In theory, a book is just a series of words artfully arranged in such a way that the reader goes, “oo” and ‘ah’ and in general has a good experience. In practice, however, Plot & Structure get mixed up in these fantastic ideas and create just a jumbled mess that even I can’t understand. And I wrote the damn thing.

It’s a bit like trying to weave a rug. You know basically what a rug looks like, and you know what sort of pattern you want in your rug, and the colors you want use. Except all your yarn is tangled into knots that you have to unwind before you can even start weaving. Oh, and somebody turned out all the lights. Good luck.

Fortunately, The Story Solution to this mess is within arms reach, and it’s so ridiculously obvious that many people overlook it. It comes in two parts: practice, and trial and error. Art has no magic formula, as much as some people would like to sell you one. Art evolves every day, and what works or has worked in the past, won’t do you any good in the future. And yes, there are no more original ideas. There are only 20 Master Plots (depending on who you talk to) and we can only work within the limited structure of what is, in fact, a story. It’s adding our own Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint that makes our own individual stories unique, and some stories sink or swim by their Description & Setting alone.

What we really need is to start a Dialogue. To get together and discuss our Strategies of Fantasy until, as a genre, as small pockets of writing collectives and as individual writers, we each have our own Fantasy Reference guide.

V is for Violence

Very rarely in history do we look back and say, “this is a time and place in which we weren’t trying to kill each other.” The sad reality is that humanity has always been in an arms race against itself. One could argue that this springs from a sort of base, survivalist nature in the primitive reptile portion of our brains but really, we’ve grown up as a species; we should know better by now. But A History of Weapons easily shows us that though we have grown and evolved and achieved great feats as a species, as far as solving conflicts, we’ve really only learned how to make bigger, sharper knives and things that go BOOM on a city eliminating scale. This is a bit like solving the problem of excrement in the drinking water by building elaborate, golden port-a-potties on floating barges in the reservoir. That is to say, it doesn’t, and it’s so ridiculous a notion that why would you even think it?

Humanity’s love affair with Arms & Armor seems to run counter with the basic instincts for survival. I mean, if you invent the technology for a nice boomstick that keeps your neighbor out of your garden, that thought process has to involve the assumption that your neighbor is never going to come to the same boomstick epiphany that you did, or at least, won’t collaborate with other neighbors justifiably scared of what the man with the boomstick and the crazy eyes might do next, to mount a pitchfork attack on your house. Never bring a boomstick to an angry pitchfork mobbing, is what I’m saying.

But that brings me to the subject of Castles which were invented for the sole purpose of 1) protecting your garden and boomstick interests, and 2) discouraging these sorts of armed pitchfork uprisings. The problem with castles though, is that humans have a seemingly limitless imagination for ways to kill each other. Sure the castle walls held back the pitchfork riots, but then humans invented atom bombs and napalm and, well, you don’t see too many occupied castles these days, do you?

U is for Unicorn

Unfortunately, most of my books on this subject are in Canada, due to being either too old or too delicate to ship over with the bulk of my reading collection. Alex sent them to me lovingly many years ago as treasures from her childhood and I’ve been hesitant to put them in any sort of danger because of their dual sentimental value.

The Unicorn is undoubtedly one of the key figures in western mythology, though many countries have some sort of four-legged, hoofed, one-horned creature that can be more or less called a unicorn, depending on how you stretch your definition. I was never much enamored by them in my youth (unless you count My Little Ponies; I liked them before they were cool again, damnit!) as I much preferred dragons, but when Alex and I got a chance to see La Dame à la licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) in Osaka, during one of the only two times they have ever left France, I jumped at the occasion. The first thing I noticed upon entering the museum was how few people were actually there. Granted the Art & Science museum was kind of out of the way, and the building itself was small, but these tapestries are ridiculously famous around the world. The second thing I noticed was the incredible scale of the tapestries, five in total. They are toweringly huge, truly meant to cover a large wall, floor to ceiling. The amount of time that went into the creation of each of them must have been staggering and indeed, touring the tapestries you can see how the artist’s skill evolved between each project. It was a lovely, insightful venture, and definitely one of the best museum trips we’ve ever taken together.