Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pluto - A commentary

(Image from Amazon, for review purposes only.)

Pluto, by Naoki Urasawa, Grade: A-

When I visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum for the Tezuka 80th Anniversary exhibit, I grabbed a copy of the museum's monthly newsletter. Inside was the curator's message regarding the exhibit (a description, plus the curator's thoughts overall) and I decided that my next translation practice project would be to tackle this article. As I was doing this, I came across a line that stated that Tetsuwan Atomu (Atom Boy), while having been embraced as a hero by children, had some more serious elements to it. That Atom Boy was created to replace the genius scientist's dead son, and that the series was a clarion call to alert us that we shouldn't just blindly embrace science as a cure-all. That "progress" was causing damage to both the planet and society.

I hadn't read the original Tetsuwan Atomu manga and hadn't been aware of Atom's origins. But, when I got to the end of the exhibit at the museum, I'd seen the start of the U.S. CG version of Atom Boy (where the scientist tries to bring his son back) and there was a poster for Urasawa's "Pluto". On checking the wiki entry, I learned that "Pluto" was Naoki Urasawa's take on Atom's alternate world, and that it was really a pretty dark place to start with. (Urasawa wrote "Yawara", "Monster" and "20th Century Boys".)

The curator's point in the article was that since Atom was so popular with children, Tezuka hadn't been able to explore various ideas that he might have wanted to. But, there was one episode in the anime where several robots were brought together to fight each other, and Atom wonders why humans create robots for this purpose. Urasawa based "Pluto" on this question, and so I started reading "Pluto".

The manga starts out with a big, lumbering robot named Montblanc, out fighting a raging forest fire in Switzerland. Suddenly, he's attacked and quickly destroyed by an unknown force. Elsewhere, an advocate of robots' rights is found dead. Both cases are linked by the fact that the "corpses" have had horns stuck on their heads. From here, a murder mystery unfolds, with Europol agent Gesicht being assigned to the case.

The story is set in a future not too far off, where robots have become accepted members of society, and the technology advanced enough where they can pretty much pass themselves off as human. But, this future has some ugly sides. Many humans are prejudiced against robots; there's an anti-robot society based on the KKK actively trying to destroy all robots; and most humans are still convinced that robots don't have feelings or understand the concepts of "love" and "death".

The story also has close parallels to our recent past. The western country of "The United States of Thracia" (whose president looks a little like Ronald Reagan) invades "Persia" (whose leader looks a little like Saddam Hussein) with the purported purpose of stopping the slaying of thousands of robot "victims". During the resulting war, seven "robots of mass destruction" are brought into Persia from the west (countries involved in the attack on Persia include Germany, Japan, Thracia, Switzerland, Australia, Greece and something like Romania) and they wipe out Persia's forces, while also killing lots of civilians and pretty much destroying the countryside. One difference from the Iraq invasion though is that the leader of Persia is captured and held in a Thracian prison for several years before going on trial.

The U.S. comes out looking thuggish and arrogant in this portrayal, which shouldn't be too surprising, and there are plot twists within plot twists. The seven robots of mass destruction include Gesicht, Montblanc and Atom. And now, the killer is stalking these seven, plus their creators, who were also part of the UN inspection group that had entered Persia and "found evidence" that led to the war.

One underpinning concept is that robots can't override their programming. They can't kill humans, they can't lie and they can't feel emotions. Yet, Gesicht's nightmares stem from the thought that he may have killed a criminal suspect out of hate, and the current serial killer seems to be a robot. Urasawa uses this story to question just what it is that makes us human, and whether strong negative emotions like hatred, fear and sorrow are required to turn robots into "the perfect A.I.'s." That is, if Atom is to become perfect, as Dr. Tenma, his creator believes, does he need to be so overcome by hatred that he's willing to kill someone? And if so, is there anything that could stop him from turning into a cold-blooded "human" killer?

In the original manga, Tezuka has the scientific genius, Dr. Tenma, create Atom out of grief for the loss of Tobio, as an exact replica of his dead son. However, Atom can't grow physically, and is therefore deemed by Tenma to be a failure. Tenma sells Atom to a circus and then disappears from the series. Fellow genius Professor Ochanomizu buys Atom back and then creates a robot "family" (parents, sister and little brother) to give Atom a semblance of a human relationship. "Pluto" makes some changes - Atom doesn't have parents or a little brother, and Dr. Tenma rejects Atom for being the exact opposite of Tobio (clean instead of messy, studious instead of being a laggard). However, Tenma does make repeated appearances in "Pluto", and it turns out that some of his creations were developed for Persia's government prior to the invasion. Tenma's own flaw is that he's become "more robot than human" due to the suppression of his personal emotions while embracing science to pursue an impossible goal.

Overall, I think that a lot of this ground has been covered by Isaac Asimov, in his "I, Robot" stories. Yet, Asimov never got into the fear, paranoia and bigotry that Urasawa presents. As a murder mystery, "Pluto" is hard to follow, and the ending is a bit contrived. But, I enjoyed seeing a different, more updated take on Atom. (I have no interest in seeing the U.S. re-make of "Atom Boy", though.) Atom is more mature, while still retaining his child-like charm.

Summary: "Pluto" is an adult retelling of Tezuka's "Tetsuwan Atomu", set in a world that looks post-9/11. Urasawa asks just what it is that makes us "human", and what it would take for robots to make the small remaining step to "perfect" status. As a murder mystery, the twists are hard to follow, but that just means that you have a reason to re-read the series multiple times. Recommended.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Am Flat

This looks like a really nice apartment building. But I don't know how popular it would be with female renters...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Oh! Powerful Soda

In the category of "weird advertising", we have "Super Lemon Soda". Now, with oral explosions in every can!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tenchi Muyou at TAC

The Tokyo Anime Center (UDX Building, 4th floor, Akihabara) has its promotional section set up to highlight the new Tenchi Muyou DVD release. Running May 12 to June 7.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lawson's Tie-Ins

Previously, I wrote about the promotional items that were specific to Lawson's convenience stores - the ANA flight attendant figures that come with various coffees and teas, and the Dragonball figures that come with Coca Cola soft drinks. Well, unlike the U.S., when the Japanese run with an idea, they push it as far as they can. And, also unlike the U.S., product tie-ins don't produce outraged cries of "you sell outs!". Instead, these products are embraced and accepted for what they're marketed as - a way to get more of your favorite characters on stuff (not everyone feels the need to buy this kind of stuff, though).

No where is this more blatant than with Lawson's June product catalog (available free at all Lawson's stores). "Evangelion's" Rei Ayanami comes out of the convenience store, holding a plastic bag with the logo clearly shown. Inside the catalog, there are ads for Evangelion ramen, curry, gum (gum bot), ballpoint pens, clear files (note paper holders), bread and trading cards. But, it's the "Rei in front of" set that's so mind-boggling. Rei in front of the sandwich case, in front of the cooler shelves, and in front of the "Loppi" automated event ticket ordering machine.

I wonder what would happen if Quentin Tarrentino licensed "Kill Bill" in the U.S. so we'd get figures of The Bride carrying a "7-11" basket and buying wine and cheesewhiz...

MOS Donut Burger

I like MOS Burger. It's one of McDonald's bigger competitors in Japan, and was the only hamburger chain to offer jalapeno peppers on their menu (I think they stopped doing it a while ago, though). They're certainly one of the more playful fast food places when it comes to their placemats. I commented on an earlier placemat back last August, which had printed various versions of "oishii" from around the country.

This time, we have the "donut burger". MOS and mister donut have teamed up to create a burger with a hole in the center. It's otherwise a perfectly normal MOS hamburger, served with MOS's original chili or teriyaki sauces, but with a dollop of mild wasabi sauce placed in the hole. The official brand name is "MOSDO" (MOS donut). The placemat asks the question "how can you have fun with a burger that has a hole in the center?", and answers it by suggesting that you cut out the pictures from the mat, and then wear the donuts glasses while playing "ring toss" with the other two donut patties.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tintin Shop

Tintin isn't insanely popular in Japan, but it is recognized well enough to justify having four goods shops across the country. This one is in Harajuku, just off Omotesando Dori (Omotesando Street).

Osamu Tezuka - Message to the Future

Tezuka, the creator of "Black Jack", "Phoenix", "Buddha", "MW", "Tetsuwan Atomu (Atom Boy)" and many other titles, was born on Nov. 3, 1928. As part of the celebrations of the 80th anniversary of his birth, there are a string of activities and events planned for over the course of the year. One of those events - "Tezuka Gene" - already took place at Parco, in Shibuya, last November. The latest one is "Tezuka Osamu - A Message to the Future".

"Message" is running at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku, Tokyo, just two stops on the Sobu line past Akihabara. The museum is located behind the sumo tournament building in Ryogoku, which is why I saw three sumo wrestlers in yukata and sandals on my way there. "Message" started its run on April 18, and will continue until June 21. Initially, I wasn't planning on going because it would take about 1.5 hours to get there by train from my apartment and then I'd have to pay the 1300 yen ($13) entry fee just to get inside. But, the Japan Times paper ran a promotional giveaway of 5 pairs of tickets, and I ended up winning a pair. On top of that, I had to be out of the apartment for several hours prior to going in to work in Akihabara last Wednesday, so I was just 20 minutes by foot away from the museum with lots of time to kill.

(Getting to the second floor.)

The museum building is huge, and stands up on four legs. There are escalators and elevators for getting up to the second floor, but the Tezuka exhibit was actually in the basement. The museum is more-or-less dedicated to Tokyo's art history, and has a small-scale model recreation of Edo (the original name of Tokyo) on display. There are various Ukiyo-e prints, fans and wall scrolls either currently on display or planned for upcoming exhibits.

(All pictures from the Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage are used for review purposes only.)

"A Message to the Future" takes up about 10 rooms, and has about 250 pieces on display. Naturally, photos are not allowed (they're even prohibited in the gift shop), in part because the museum wants you to buy the $23 souvenir book that has pictures of everything that's in the exhibit. While there is a sampling of several of Tezuka's titles (Vampire, Marvelous Melmo, MW, Gororo, Ribbon Knight, etc.), the bulk of the artwork comes from Tetsuwan Atomu, Black Jack and Phoenix, with original storyboards, character layout sheets, painted cels, and manga rough sketches. There are a handful of DVD players showing scenes from the different series, but the scenes are essentially 2-3 minute loops, rather than full TV episodes.

(Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage, review purposes only.)

The incidental portions of the display include Tezuka's work desk, a recreation of Atomu on the laboratory table, two full-size models of Atomu's enemies, and some silly-looking robots that weren't designed with moving parts.

(Insect sketch book. Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage, review purposes only.)

The exhibit is broken up into zones, starting with Tezuka's early life (family, growing up collecting and drawing insects, going to medical school and getting his degree, and breaking into the manga field), then laying out his manga to illustrate his personal philosophy, going on to discuss his explorations of what it means to be human and how humans fit into the grand scheme of the universe, and finally ending up with related works from other artists (examples include Urasawa's vision of Atom Boy's world in Pluto, and the U.S. CG re-make of Atom Boy). For 500 yen, you can rent a wireless video player to listen to an audio track explaining the different parts of each zone.

(Medical degree. Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage, review purposes only.)

Because the exhibit is so heavily focused on the artwork, with little interactivity and no hands-on, and the videos are just short loops, it's easy to blow through "Message" in about 15 minutes. Very little of the accompanying explanatory text is in English, so there's nothing to just stand in front of and read. Unless you're a Tezuka fan, or an art student, there's not going to be a lot here to appeal to you. BUT, if you ARE a Tezuka fan, a student of manga history, or want to study manga art, then it's easy to get lost in here. There's over 200 pieces of original artwork, with examples of layout, pacing and panel structure, and I just stood in front of some of the pieces trying to understand them for several minutes at a time.

(Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage, review purposes only.)

The exhibit is missing some obvious titles, such as Broken Down Film, and Jumping, which were both well ahead of their time. But, the curator was trying to develop his own message out of Tezuka's full body of work, and therefore chose to exclude things that I'd have preferred to see. With luck, "A Message to the Future" will go on the road internationally, and a future exhibit will be developed to showcase more of Tezuka's other works.

(Black Jack. Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage, review purposes only.)

C.B. Liddell wrote a review of the exhibit for the "Metropolis" weekly magazine in issue 790, whining that it wasn't open to non-Japanese speakers. The argument (which had nothing to do with the curator's intent) was that if Japan wants to overcome the recession and to make Japanese creative efforts more commercially viable internationally, then the museum should really have designed "Message" to be more exploitable. That is, everything should have been in English. While I think that Liddell missed the point ("Message" was designed for the Japanese people as a tribute to one of their heroes), I do agree that English explanations would have been a good idea. I counted about 20-30 people from other countries (China, France, east Europe) while I was there, and none of them could read Japanese. I'm pretty sure that the audio track was also Japanese-only. Tezuka has a strong global fan base and "Message" automatically attracted tourists, so the museum did fail to capitalize on them. Again, I can only hope that the exhibit goes on world tour, which would require that the host countries print up guide books in their own languages.

(Gift shop. Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage, review purposes only.)

Overall, it was a good exhibit. Tezuka drew a lot, and being able to see the original art up close was a real thrill. If you're in the area, if you can understand Japanese, and if you like manga, then I highly recommend that you check "Message" out. Otherwise, you may want to spend your money on a sumo match.

(Phoenix. Edo-Tokyo Museum webpage, review purposes only.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Going to Takao, Part 3

Initially, I'd wanted to go to Mt. Fuji at least 2 months ago. As Golden Week approached. I started surfing the net for route maps or cycling suggestions, and one map that turned up was for getting to Mt. Takao from Tokyo, with the starting point about 3 miles from my apartment. During Golden Week, I decided to try getting to Takao without using the map, and that brought me to the Tamagawa Weir at the end of the bike route heading northeast along the Tamagawa. At 50 miles round trip, it also highlighted the fact that I wasn't ready for the 160 mile-round trip for Fuji. But, since Takao is 65 miles or so, it seemed doable. On the other hand, when I did plan on heading out to Takao, it rained for the 3 days at the end of Golden Week.

So, a week later I decided to try Takao again, this time using the map, in order to get in a longer ride during one of my off-days (Thursday). The thing to note is that the areas around Tokyo don't have a lot of really long, paved bike paths. There are stretches around the bigger rivers, but often they only go a few miles from one bridge to the next. Meaning that you have to know when to cross a bridge to pick up the trail on the other side. Then there are the tributaries that branch into the river you're on, and if you're not careful, you'll follow a tributary upstream, drifting away from the one river that you do want. This is a major problem along the Asagawa, which heads towards Takao, and one that the online route map doesn't illustrate very well.

(Hotel New Grand)

The starting point is Chofu, about 3 miles north of Noborito. Follow the Tamagawa on the east side until you go past Kyodo no Mori. The map indicates that you should cross the bridge just past the Kewpie Mayonnaise plant, and just before the Y's Road bike shop (this is a good place to buy Power Bars if you need them). Stay along the west side of the Tamagawa heading north until you hit the Asagawa, and then turn inland. After a couple of miles, the path (which is part of a small local park and has signs saying "No bikes") dead ends in front of the Keiou line monorail terminal. Jog left and pick up the main street heading west. You'll pass the Takahata Fudoson-Kongoji Temple (impossible to miss). Stop across the street to get some manju. Continue west and when you come to a major cross street, turn right, cross the bridge and pick up the Asagawa again.

(A small event space up towards Hachioji.)

From here, you're going to be jumping across bridges every few miles. I pretty much stayed to the right of the river. But, at some point, you'll be forced to the left side, and there will be a tributary merger that will divert you along the wrong river. At the next small bridge, cross over and head to the right to return to the Asagawa. Right around here you'll cross over road number 16 two times. After that is road 32. A few blocks later, you'll get to 20 and another tributary merger. Follow the tributary left. This will put you on or near 20 heading south west. You'll go by Hachioji City from the south and you'll run right in front of the Chuu-ou line Takao train station. Less than a mile after that is the ropeway running up to the top of Takao. You can take road 186 up to the top of the hill and visit the monkey zoo if you like.

(Looking out at Takao station, on the Chuu-ou line.)

The map actually shows a route leading farther southwest along 20, which will take you up into some good-sized hills to Sagamiko, a man-made lake dammed on one side. But, at that point, 20 is mostly just a busy road with little shoulder space and so may not be all that fun to ride up.

The art of getting lost gracefully:

Just simply following someone else's directions, or the suggestions from a guidebook, may be fine some of the time, but a lot of the fun of sightseeing is to discover places by "accident". After all, those places aren't secrets or anything, it's just that if you weren't expecting to see a tribute to the Shinsengumi in the middle of Hino City, and suddenly there it is in front of your face, or to find a pony petting park on the side of the river opposite to what the route map indicates, it's just that much more fun. So, my preference is to use a map as a guideline for the general direction to go, but to then allow myself to make a wrong turn along the way. The next challenge after that is how to get back to "the known universe", which can either be backtracking, or heading roughly in the right direction until you pick the trail up again. Either way, getting lost is not always a bad thing, if you have the free time for it.

Besides, the sky is clear and it's around 70 degrees, although there's a stiff wind from the south and some threatening clouds form later in the day. So, I'm just past road 32 and I pick up Shiroyama-gawa (White Mountain River, which is just another drainage ditch), and I notice that I'm not heading closer to the hills. There are lots of little parks and nice stretches of the creek, and the houses are looking more rural, but nothing too exciting. I reach a construction site where the road snakes up into a hill and I'm thinking that this might be the right direction. There are two road guards nearby, so I ask them the rough direction for Takao. They look at me dumbfounded and shake their heads, saying that I'm not even close. Then they spend the next 5 minutes debating over the easiest path for me to follow to get to Takao. They act even more surprised when I say that I just came from Noborito, so if I can't get to Takao I'll just turn around and head back (they can't imagine anyone riding from Noborito by bike). By this time, I've been on the road for over 2 hours, and I'll be happy if I can make it a leisurely 4-5 hour ride. But, they really want to help, and they spend another couple of minutes making sure I understand their directions. As I head off, they yell "ki-otsukutte!" ("be careful!").

Their directions are good and within 10 minutes I pick up road 20, and the sign for Takao train station. Shortly after that, I'm at the station itself. This is good enough for me, and I turn around and take 20 south a few blocks. Without warning, I pick up another river, and the sign says "Minami Asagawa" (South Asa River). I follow it a ways and suddenly I'm back at the bridge where I first got lost. Right after that is a sign I'd seen before for a small coffee roaster. Hoping to get an iced coffee or something to cool down with, I go into the shop. The place is tiny (the storefront is maybe 10'x10') and all they sell are roasted beans and coffee pots. I start talking with the owner, and end up spending an hour discussing roasting methods, bean flavors, cycling (he likes riding his mountain bike to Fuchu and back), skiing, and the differences between Japan and the U.S. In the end, I get a small bag of ground coffee (570 yen for 100 grams = $24/pound), a carafe and a filter holder. (When I get back home I learn that we already have a larger carafe and filter holder. Sigh. But the coffee still tastes good either way, and the expensive price is in keeping with the high price of living in Tokyo.)

It's an easy ride back, but I'm running out of water. I hit the Kawasaki Throughway (a 4 lane road crossing Minami Asagawa), and veer to the right to look for a convenience store. I find one after a couple of blocks, and buy some canned coffee in order to obtain one of the ANA uniform girl figures, and a big 2 liter bottle of water. I get back on the trail along the right side of the river and it dead ends 2 blocks later. I backtrack, cross the bridge and right in front of my face is the sign for the Tamagawa. Turns out that I'd been paralleling the Asagawa about 1/2 mile away and that mine was an easier route than what the guide map showed. Also, I'm now just south of the Kewpie mayonnaise plant, which puts me 35 minutes from the apartment. Instead of getting a 2 liter bottle of water, I could have gone without buying anything at all. But at least now I have my ANA figure, so it's all good.

It was a very relaxed 6-hour excursion, and probably didn't break the 50 mile mark. I'll try doing it again with a more detailed printout of the map, and see if I can go the additional few miles up into the hills to get to Sagamiko lake. At a minimum, I should be able to get some ways up road 186 on Takao. I'll also take care to use lots of sunscreen. I'd lathered myself up at the beginning of this ride and my right arm still got mildly sunburned.

Going to Takao, Part 2

Tokyo is surrounded on the west by a series of big hills. As a result, there are a lot of rivers cutting across the landscape, the Tamagawa just being one of them. About 5-6 miles north of Noborito, just past Fuchuu and Kyodo no Mori, the Asagawa (Asa River) joins the Tamagawa from the west. Like the Tama, large stretches of the Asa are wide, dry riverbeds. A few small dams cause the river to widen up along the way. The Asa runs back to the Takao train station on the Chuu-ou line.

You can never really know what to expect when wandering around Japan, even if you have a good guide book and a map. I encountered one park that had a raised walkway that made it feel like I was wandering through a swamp. Except that the park was only a couple hundred yards square, and the walkway was made of concrete formed and painted to look like wooden logs.

A little farther on, I found a dog run and pony petting center. There was a small building nearby, but it was locked up, so I don't know who was taking care of Jack and Dandy. These ponies came from Australia and petting them is encouraged. The signs ask that you don't feed them hamburgers, though.

There was a small event center, and a coffee shop that roasts its own beans. I decided to stop in the shop to see if the place sold finished drinks, but they only had roasted beans available. I started talking to the owner, and he turned out to be really friendly, and also a mountain biking enthusiast. So I killed about an hour discussing good places to cycle, different kinds of coffee beans, and the differences between living in the U.S. and Japan. In the end, I bought a small coffee pot, filter, and 100 grams of beans. (3.5 ounces, at 575 yen. For a full pound, that's equivalent to $24. Japan is not a cheap place to live. But when I got home, I made up a cup, and it tasted really good with some milk and sugar added.)

At one stretch, a group of small school children was out on a class field trip, looking at the grasses and trying to find fish.

And, elsewhere, I caught a glimpse of the Ferris wheel from the Tama Tech amusement park. According to the English website, Tama Tech opened in 1961 as a motor sports center. It's now the place for bringing the entire family, and also has its own onsen (hot spring spa). Closer to Hachioji is the Hotel New Grand. It's designed to look Victorian, and the English chapel was actually dismantled and moved to the hotel in 1996. The place conducts weddings, and hosts various events including a Summer Jazz fest.

Finally, we get to Takao station (although we have to switch rivers, and this is where things get confusing). The building itself is designed to resemble a Buddhist temple. There are gift shops all around, as well as parks and museums. And, as you approach from the hills, you get to see a building that I have yet to identify. Next time, I'll see if I can arrive with enough time to actually check it out.

(Looking towards the Takao train station from about 1 mile away.)

Going to Takao, Part 1

This is going to be another multi-part entry, so bear with me. Although, if you want to get a jump on me, you can check out the entire photo album at Media Fire.

First, we'll start with Takahata Fudoson-Kongoji Temple. This is a Buddhist temple located in Takahata, just west of the Takahata Fudou station on the Keiou monorail line, in the city of Hino. It's west of Tokyo, a few miles past the Tamagawa.

(Front gate.)

Takahata Fudoson-Kongoji Temple is one of the larger complexes I've seen in Tokyo, and is spread out over at least one large block. Because it's Buddhist, it has a cemetery function, and I'm pretty sure that one of the buildings was being used to pray for someone's recently departed soul. Inside, a priest was chanting, and someone behind him was pounding on a taiko drum. A few people were standing in front of the priest, praying. Of course, as with all temples and shrines, one building sold omikuji (sheets with your fortune printed on them).

(Map of the grounds.)

According to the Tokyo Tourism office, Fudoson is known for its Daruma doll fair at New Year's Eve. Apparently, it's also known for its chrysanthemums, but I didn't see any while I was there.

(Toshizo Hijikata)

One of the more interesting elements though is that there's a statue dedicated to Hijikata Toshizo, one of the founding members of the Shinsengumi. According to the wiki entry, Hijikata was born in Hino in 1835, and the Shinsengumi was formed in 1863 as a special police force located in Kyoto (the capital of Japan at the time). The group's main purpose was to support the shogun against the Emperor's attempts to eliminate the shogunate. He was ruthless in enforcing the Shinsengumi's rules, and forced anyone trying to leave to commit seppuku, thus garnering him the nickname "the Demon of the Shinsengumi". He eventually died in one of the final battles against the new government's army in Hakodate, when his back was shattered by a bullet. Hijikata's final resting place is unknown, but there's a memorial stone with his name on it near Itabashi station, in Tokyo.

While I was wandering around, one woman asked if I wanted her to take my photo. Initially it didn't seem necessary, but a few seconds later I decided "why not".

(Shinsengumi Manju!)

One thing I found amusing was the building across the street from the temple grounds. It's the Takahashi Manju store. Manju are soft rice-paste balls with a bean paste filling. This place has portraits of the Shinsengumi leaders painted on the front and sides. Shinsengumi manju!

(The street's still being cleared of stalls from the last festival.)

When ya gotta text...

...ya gotta text.

Notice the wind dancers on the guard railing. These are handmade from soft drink bottles, apparently by someone living nearby. There's a house right across the street that has over 20 of these things hanging from it. And, a little while ago, I encountered an old man riding a mamachari along the Tamagawa. His bike had 3 or 4 wind dancers wired to the basket at the front.

Akihabara Street Worker

Some time ago, I was exploring part of Akihabara under the expressway leading towards Ueno and I came across this site where road work was being done. This mannequin was used to alert the traffic to the need to keep to the right. It's right arm moves up and down. Not all robots in Japan are hi-tech.