Japanese Culture in New York City is a Train Ride Away

This is a guest article by Linda, a Writer and Contributer at Anime Diet

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“Spring Street Mosaic” by HorsePunchKid – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spring_Street_Mosaic.jpg#/media/File:Spring_Street_Mosaic.jpg

Similar to Japan’s vibrant array of trains and buses, one feature of New York City is its public transportation system. New York City’s subway has the distinction of being the second oldest running subway system in the world, and is one of the few that runs on a twenty four hour schedule.

Waku Waku +NYC is located near the G train, which is the only train line in New York currently connecting the borough of Brooklyn to Queens. With the exception of the G and the Staten Island train system, nearly every other train line has to run through Manhattan for travel between the five boroughs. There is a shuttle running between the convention locations (http://wakuwakunyc.com/locations.html), but for visitors who want to also see more of New York City before or after Waku Waku +NYC, the subway and bus are great options.

The base fare for the subway is $2.75 and there would be a $1 surcharge for a new Metro Card. While there is no unlimited day pass, there is a weekly pass for $31. Savvy riders should know that you can make one free transfer between bus and subway within a two hour period.

Have a subway map either in paper or electronically, and be aware that on the weekend, New York City has the weekender service (http://web.mta.info/weekender.html) in effect. The subway system is generally under repair overnight or during the weekend to repair an aging transportation system that sustains six million+ residents and visitors.

If you’re visiting beyond this weekend, and may not want to head to the regular tourist spots, consider these other Japanese/Asian interest spots that entertain the locals.

Lower East Side

Meow Parlour: This is New York City’s first cat café. This place very often does not allow walk-ins, but you can pass by and take a peek in at the cute kitties that reside here. Closest subway station is either F train, East Broadway or D train to Grand Street.

Baby, the Stars Shine Bright/Tokyo Rebel: This is the New York City Location for this sweet Lolita and gothic Lolita boutique. The closest subway to this location is either the F train to Delancey Street or the J, M, Z to Essex Street. If you’re okay to walking, the East Village is within the area. Don’t forget, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright will be holding a fashion show at Waku Waku +NYC!

Around St. Marks, there are plenty of Japanese eateries and ramen spots that include restaurants like Ippudo NY and Spot Dessert Bar.  The closest stop is Astor Place on the 6 train. This area is often referred to as Little Tokyo.

Midtown

Many places of interest can be accessed by either N, Q, R, 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, 7, and S (the S stands for Shuttle) lines to Time Square, the B, D, F, M, and 7 lines to 42nd Street Bryant Park, or the 4, 5, 6, 7, and S lines to 42nd street Grand Central station. In addition to Midtown Comics (http://www.midtowncomics.com/), there’s Muji (http://www.muji.com/us/) which is a Japanese lifestyle store.

Across the street from Bryant Park, there is Kinokuniya Bookstore, the world’s premiere Japanese bookstore, and within walking distance is Lady M, noted for their lovely Mille Crepes cakes. A couple of blocks away, there’s BookOff, Japan’s largest used bookstore, and walking further north there’s Nintendo World and Uniqlo around Rockefeller Center. Down south in Times Square, there’s a Sanrio Popup store (http://ny.racked.com/2015/8/5/9100287/hello-kitty-pop-up-times-square) around 47nd street as well as the Disney Store, where you are bound to find Tsum Tsum products.

While this list of places is focused more specifically on lovers of Japanese culture, this is only the tip of the iceberg to what New York City has to offer. So enjoy Waku Waku +NYC and travel a bit around New York City if you have the time!

Waku Waku +NYC is a brand-new Japanese pop culture festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th to 30th that celebrates video games, anime, manga, music, food, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!

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Collecting Kami: Pokémon and the Crossroads of Pop Culture and Folklore.

This is a guest blog from writer, presenter, and scholar of Japanese culture Charles Dunbar. You can find more of his work at Study of Anime.

I distinctly recall the first time I ever saw the Pokémon Golduck. My initial reaction was “what the hell is that, and how is it a duck?”, because to my teenage eyes, no duck that ever existed had a beak that long, feet that webbed, skin that blue (not to mention lack of feathers), arms instead of wings, and a tail that could trip a human up. Despite having the term “duck” in its name, Golduck was no duck I had ever seen, and I laughed about it with my friends as being another one of those “weird Japanese things” I knew nothing about.

It would be some years before I discovered how wrong I was. While researching a panel on Japanese folklore, I turned the page in one of my many yokai books to find Golduck, or at least something that resembled Golduck, staring me in the face. The same rubbery skin, same sharp beak, same tail and webbed digits. And I did a double take. This creature, the book called it a kappa, was obviously of the same ilk as the Pokémon I had once made fun of. And I did what any curious student of folklore would- I set aside my initial panel research, and began checking to see how many other Pokemon shared traits with these wonderful Japanese monsters.

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By myself (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) ], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the “side effects” of acculturation is that we tend to pepper our creations with nods to the culture we are raised in. For example, when we hear characters say “go to hell,” we have a connotative understanding of what that means, and thus it requires no further explanation. But when those terms and ideas appear outside of our home culture, suddenly they become not-so-subtle nods to the ways in which our own cultures differ from others. And this becomes doubly apparent when we start crafting stories using our own folklore. Suddenly those blood drinkers hiding in the shadows become something alien and terrifying to those who have never encountered them, and that receiving audience can either choose to pursue a better understanding of them, or just accept them as particular to the storyteller’s cultural understanding.

For me, this is one of the great joys found within anime. While I still watch the series and play the games for the joy of experiencing them, at the same time I’ve found anime to be an invaluable tool for discovering new paths into the exploration of Japanese culture. Signposts if you will, pointing me towards new ideas, legends, and beckoning me to dig a bit deeper when the series or game is over. And these inspirations are everywhere once one sits down to look for them. For example the game Okami, while being both beautiful and artistic, also shares its narrative with the story of Amaterasu emerging from the cave and driving off monsters through her light. So too does the series Sasami-san@ganbaranai, which takes that same classic legend of the kami in the cave, and dresses it up as an adorable hikikomori schoolgirl spending her days rejecting the outside world. Pokémon, as previously mentioned, shares a lot in common with the yokai indices that started appearing in the mid-Edo period, while still satisfying the historical urge to discover, collect, and catalogue that many Japanese youths practice to this day. And even more overt properties like Natsume Yujincho and Nurarihyon no Mago [Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan] bring those old legends into the present, challenging classical creatures with modern problems to overcome, or at least weather. They breathe new life into old stories, evolving tales once told by candlelight into mass media properties that astound and inspire new generations to look behind the curtain, and into the hidden world around them.

 Sasami-san@Ganbaranai

Pokémon is one of those series that rides this idea incredibly well. For those who play the game without any knowledge of either Japanese folklore or their obsession with cataloguing yokai, the series is a playful romp through catching/grinding pets until they can win fights, with a little plot thrown in to keep the story going. Sure, some of the Pokémon look a little out there, but when a fan discovers that some of those Pokémon share traits with fantastical creatures (as I did with the golduck all those years ago), suddenly the series comes alive with nods to regional legends (like Xerneas, inspired by the shishigami from Tohoku), mighty guardians (Arcanine, taking notes from the Koma-inu), ancient kami (Tornadus, with the same color and disposition as windy Fujin), and supernatural celebrities (Froslass and Mawile, derived from the Yuki- and Futakuchi-onna, respectively). And all the player needs to do at that point is follow the trails deep into the sacred forests of Japanese folklore to discover how far they might lead.

Waku Waku +NYC is a brand-new Japanese pop culture festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th to 30th that celebrates video games, anime, manga, music, food, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!

We All Dance to the Same Beat

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☆Taku Takahashi, the world famous DJ, producer and maestro of Japan’s electronic music scene, will team up with Wyatt Bray, the 2015 American World Champion of Japan’s classic sport Kendama, for an evening of collaborative pyrotechnics at Brooklyn’s Verboten on Saturday, August 29th.

☆Takahashi, well known for his multi-sensory DJ extravaganzas back in the Motherland, will bring a taste of Japanese electro house and hip-hop to NYC, while creating a rhythmic soundscape for Bray to showcase his acclaimed Kendama tricks. This is a first for the Japanese DJ and American kendama player, and we can hardly wait for what’s in store.

☆Takahashi embarked his musical career in the late 1990s, as part of the Japanese hip hop group “m-flo”. Founding members DJ ☆Takahashi, emcee Verbal and vocalist Lisa were influenced by Japanese hip hop’s nascent days, adapting the same Old School flow and aesthetic as their 1980s predecessors. Though part of a larger cultural movement that began from the underground—virtually ignored by major record labels—m-flo burgeoned into a critically acclaimed pop sensation, enjoying mainstream success all across Asia.

While m-flo began weaving in pop, jazz, R&B and electronica into their sound throughout the 2000s, ☆Takahashi loosened his full-time activities with the group, focusing on his own side projects – like his self-produced Orthosync events, his record labels Tachytelic Records and TCY Recording, and his own radio station Block.FM, Japan’s first and only radio station dedicated to electronic music. Over the decades, ☆Takahashi has brought sounds, concepts and culture from overseas to eager Japanese audiences.

Wyatt Bray, of Portland, Oregon, picked up his first Kendama on a whim. What started as just a boy with a quirky hobby, turned into a young man with professional-level skill. Kendama may appear to be simple game of catch-the-ball-on the-stick, but with enough dedication and patience, it offers its players boundless creative freedom. Bray found his passion in the Japanese toy—a passion that would bring him half way across the world to compete with the best.

Japanese culture is a mash up of fierce Japanese tradition and nuanced Western imitation. ☆Takahashi and Bray are vehicles of this cultural overlap. Whether it’s ☆Takashashi bringing the sounds of America’s EDM to his loyal electronic music fans, or Bray teaching his Kendama skills to aspiring players across the world, the cultural exchange between the shrinking borders of the East and West is what makes us Waku Waku (excited!). August 29th will be a memorable night for Japanese culture, as two residents of the opposite sides of the globe unite to speak a universal language through music, sport and creativity.

-Kaya Sabo

Waku Waku +NYC is an upcoming Japanese pop culture festival in New York City this August 29th to 30th, celebrating the intersection of Japanese music, anime, manga, food, fashion, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!

Wyatt Bray the Kendama World Champion Thanks to J-Pop

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At the Kendama World Cup this past weekend came a moment almost too perfect for fiction. Nervous from being in the spotlight, 19-year-old Wyatt began to flub his routine. It looked like it was the end of the road for the young Oregon native, until the unlikeliest of events transpired. Hearing the opening to Teen Titans—a cartoon from childhood inspired by anime which features a theme by Japanese pop band Puffy AmiYumi—Wyatt reports entering a trance that he has no recollection of otherwise. When he finally came to, he would find himself a world champion and ¥500,000 (approx. $4000) richer.

We caught up with Wyatt and his family to learn about his journey. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Wyatt was a quirky youth. Then, one day, he found something that changed his life: kendama. A Japanese toy dating back centuries, Wyatt quickly learned that performing with kendama was a unique and wonderful experience. His growing passion for the art would lead him years later to Japan, where he would take the 2015 Kendama World Cup this past weekend by storm.

Kendama is the Japanese variation of the “cup-and-ball” toy commonly found throughout the world. Possibly first coming to Japan via the Silk Road in the 18th Century, it was originally used as a drinking game (messing up meant bottoms up), and over the years became a fixture of Japanese youth. Famously, the popular 1978 anime (turned 2009 live-action movie) Yatterman features superheroes who fight using kendama. Much like the yo-yo (which is also very popular in Japan), kendama appear simple yet allow for a wide range of freedom, expression, and athleticism.

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Wyatt at a family gathering

In the beginning, Wyatt was not naturally talented at kendama, and his family lovingly poked fun at his newfound hobby, according to his cousin Damask Schantz. However, his grandfather, law professor and Portland campaign manager for Richard Nixon Dr. William Schantz, believed in pushing his grandchildren to be their best. Within the environment of a hyper-competitive family, kendama became his path towards success. Suddenly, he could be seen carrying the kendama with him everywhere, and every Christmas when Grandpa Schantz would ask his grandchildren to perform (with the generous gift of monetary compensation!), Wyatt could be seen steadily honing his craft from one year to the next. As he grew from boy to man, Wyatt became calm and collected, a product of his training and dedication.

Eventually, Wyatt’s genuine love for kendama led him to being sponsored by Kendama USA, an organization founded in 2006 to promote kendama throughout the country. Competing at events while also creating videos for YouTube, Wyatt would eventually earn the chance to compete at the Kendama. He did not consider himself the favorite, and saw his friend and teammate, Nic Stodd, as far better than himself. In his own words, Wyatt would have been satisfied with 5th place, because it would mean an opportunity to return next year, but more importantly it would mean finally earning the respect of his friends and family. As it turns out, Wyatt would accomplish much more.

Japanese pop culture was the catalyst for Wyatt to bring out his full potential, but the skill and work had to be there in the first place. From a quirky youth to a devoted practitioner, Wyatt’s journey to Japan was as much internal as it was external, the fruits of his labor and love. Now an inspiration himself for eager aspiring kendama-ists, he now has a new challenge to face: the pride and burden of being at the top.

-Carl

Kendama USA will be at Waku Waku +NYC! Whether you’re entirely new to kendama or are already practicing, stop by and learn from the best!

Waku Waku +NYC at AnimeNext!

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Waku Waku +NYC is the hottest new Japanese anime and pop culture festival coming to New York City, so we had to come to the biggest anime convention in New Jersey, AnimeNext. A few members of our team are headed there this weekend, June 12-14, and we even have a booth in Con Row!

If you’re also attending AnimeNext, and you’ve been curious about Waku Waku +NYC, why not stop by our booth? We’ll be happy to answer any questions you’ll have.

We also have a surprise in store for all AnimeNext attendees, so check your goodies bag after you get your badge!

-Carl

PS: My personal recommendation is that you check out the Studio Trigger panel, Saturday from 9pm-11pm in Panel 1, and the FLOW concert, Friday from 8pm-9:30pm in Main Events. YEEART!

Otaku Counter-Protest Against a Hate Speech Demonstration in Akihabara

May 17th saw a group of demonstrators in Akihabara, the otaku capital of Japan, rallying against the presence of foreigners living in Japan. Declaring that foreigners are “criminals” and should leave the country, as well as targeting international non-profit organizations in Japan, this hate speech was countered by another group who, in a show of camaraderie with the foreigners in Japan, declared that “otaku have no borders.”

Akihabara is no stranger to public displays nor traumatic events. In 2008, Tomohiro Kato killed seven people and injured 10 others in a violent rampage in broad daylight, which resulted in heightened security and a tenser atmosphere in Akihabara until 2011. At the time, criticism arose that the sense of isolation often associated with “otaku behavior” might be having a negative influence on Japanese society.

Although the anti-foreigner demonstration did not appear to have any specific ties to anime and manga fans, it is rather notable that the counter-protest was specifically under the banner of otaku against racism in Japan. While being an otaku does not automatically mean that one is a strong believer in cultural diversity, it does potentially speak to some of the values that underline Akihabara, especially as it has become internationally famous as a spiritual home for geeks and fans of Japanese popular culture over the past 15 to 20 years. It’s as if, by putting their self-identities as otaku at the forefront of the counter-protest, the otaku protesters were declaring that Akihabara is no place for close-minded racism, while also striving to show that being an otaku does not necessarily mean isolation from society.

More pictures of the counter-protest can be seen courtesy of Natsuki Kimura.