Fun Fact #1 - Golden Week is one of only three sets of long holiday periods on the Japanese calendar, as it's usually a 4 or 5 day weekend.
Fun Fact #2 - Golden Week gets its name from the cinema industry, which coined the term to describe the record ticket sales it has during that time period every year.
Fun Fact #3 - Ticket prices increase by 250% between May 1st and May 2nd. A $200 ticket on the 1st will cost you over $500 on the 2nd.
Fun Fact #4 - Japanese actually has hiragana and katakana symbols for "we" and "wi", but they were phased out of common use over 70 years ago, which is why the "week" in Golden Week is spelled with a U. The only common use for the "wi" symbol these days is in the advertising for Nikka Whiskey
Fun Fact #5 - I'm going to be gone the entire weekend on a trip, and spent much of the past week in preparation of same, so sorry for the delays this week and the next.
It had to happen someday. Cyberdyne, a Japanese engineering company specializing in prosthetics and exoskeletons, has unveiled its soon-to-be commercially available powered exoskeleton.
This is the SF nerd's dream come true -- a fully powered robotic exoskeleton designed to read nerve impulses via the skin, and translate them into augmented physical actions. It's (relatively) light-weight, and has learned reflexes, i.e. it can be made to repeat an action or motion that it has previously been put through. And for the low rental price of $1500 a month, minimum price, you too can experience the advent of Age of Giant Robots -- but only in Japan, for the moment.
Granted, this suit was designed with physical therapy in mind, but you know it's just a matter of time before they come up with something like this:
For the appropriate article, look here.
Well, strategy games dominate the RPG scene this week, with three out of five games in that format. It's nice to see so many RPGs in the top 25% of sales, though.
It's no secret that the Japanese mobile phone market is huge, and game companies would have to be fully -- rather than partially -- staffed with morons in order for them to miss giving the inherent opportunities a try. Here, we can see some of what Square-Enix has coming up.
The left-hand scan page is pretty much all about Dragon Quest: Battle Road, the new mobile version of Dragon Quest 8's monster colisseum. Scout, train and battle against other monster tamers across the national network. This looks to be an adaptation of the popular card-based arcade game, with new cards and apparently some trading options as well.
At the top of the right-hand scan, we get a glimpse of Chapter 3 of The After. This time Yang is the center of attention, accompanied by the veteran warrior monks of Fabul and his own teenage daughter, Ursula. Massive kung-fu action must commence now. Boot to the head!
Below that, we have a glimpse at Square's multiplayer battle royale game Crystal Guardians for Yahoo! Keitai. Players work cooperatively to defend the crystal in the middle of the level from hordes of invaders.
And finally, we have some new additions to the Square-Enix Gallery, available via the mobile phone networks. This month, Star Ocean 2, Front Mission 2089, Sigma Harmonics, and the new FF4 - The After all have promotional art available for download.
We also have some screens to share with you, for The After's fourth chapter, "Journey to the City of Forest and Water." This time, we have Parom of Mysidia teaming up with the novice priestess Leonora of Toroia to teach her magic and help the homeland. And again, I am quietly cursing Square-Enix for not bringing this to the Softbank mobile phone system yet.
There's a rumble in Shibuya tonight, with front-row seats for the neighborhood fight -- Japanese gang warfare at its most pixelated. Take a trip down the back streets of Tokyo, and experience Yanki-damashi (Hoodlum Spirit).
Yanki is one of those random bits of linguistic coincidence from time to time. It has no relation to the American word "yankee." It's actually a Japanese word for juvenile delinquent, namely rowdy junior high or high school gangsters who want to be yakuza when they grow up, and for some reason often become the heroes of various manga and video games (e.g. Urameshi and Kuwabara from Yuu-Yuu Hakusho, Kaneda from Akira, or half the male cast of Revelations: Persona).
So release your inner delinquent and go shake down some old folks, vandalize a wall, or rev your chopper to ear-splitting decibel levels as you avoid the police and rival gangs. Who wants to live forever anyway?
I'm dying to find out what that kaijuu-esque fight scene in the scan is about, however.
It seems as if everyone's going back to school these days. Swords, soccer, sorcery, alchemy, incarnated Jungian archetypes -- where was all this stuff when I was in high school? Why couldn't the fate of the world have hung in the balance whenever we had a quiz bowl? Why couldn't we get a baseball game with fireballs instead of fast balls? Why?
I guess we'll all have to do the next best thing, and live the adventure vicariously through video games. And Acquire Games has just the thing for us coming up this June for the PSP. Tsurugi to Mahou no Gakuen-mono (A School of Sword and Sorcery) is a dungeon-based RPG set in an academy for adventurers. A huge series of labyrinths exists below the kingdom, and someone apparently decided that the best way to deal with it was to attract tons of adventurers, hence the school. As part of their education, the students must delve into the depths, searching for treasure and hidden knowledge. While there doesn't seem to be one main character, players have the option of enrolling up to 100 students into the Academy, which hopefully implies that a good deal of customization is available.
There is a total of 8 races available. Aside from the ubiquitous humans, elves, and dwarves (who look suspiciously puppy-like here), we also have the Felpa (cat people), Bahamun (half-dragons), green-haired fairies, little blonde hobbits, and the Gnomes (here, dolls animated by spirits). Characters may specialize in melee or ranged combat, attack or supportive magic, or general sneakiness.
In any case, we'll be on the lookout for more info in the future.
A few years back, Nightmare of Druaga came as a bit of a surprise to what few gamers remembered the original. As a sequel to a largely forgotten action/adventure game for the NES, it made one wonder "why?" Why resurrect a dead title, 20 years later, for a system as far removed from the NES as an ancient lungfish was from a white rhinoceros?
Well, be prepared to ask the question again. Namco has had an online RPG based on the Playstation 2 release available for about 2 months now, and even as you read this, an anime is in the final stages of production.
I let this get passed over by more pressing items for a while, since it was just another Japanese MMORPG (and Heaven knows there are enough of those), but on a recent trip to the local Namcoland game center, I came across something I'd yet to see done with online games: a remote terminal.
That, my friends, is a game terminal allowing limited access to a person's Tower of Druaga Online game from any major Namcoland outlet. I'm hazy on the details, but it would seem that there are some aspects of the game which are only available from these terminals. It's an interesting idea, to say the least.
She's into superstition...
I'm not sure that I can think of something to say, but I'm hoping that by saying that I'll invoke whatever law it is that keeps things from turning out how they're predicted to. Oh, I have an idea? Are Japanese people any more or less superstitious than people in the U.S.? I'm not very superstitious, but I know a lot of people who knock on wood so it makes me wonder if there is anything similar in Japan. Wow, I actually wrote a short letter for once!
Honestly, I don't mind longer letters. I have yet to receive a letter that was too long (note: this is not an invitation to send epic-length correspondence to my address!). It's actually a little more annoying to consistently make replies that are longer than the original letters.
As for superstition... I asked my girlfriend about this, and all she would do was nod her head and laugh a lot. So, let's present some examples:
In business - beckoning cats and tanuki statues are very common good-luck charms for businesses. Most will also place little dishes of salt outside the front door. This was originally for customers' horses, but nowadays, it's just for good luck.
In school - honestly, if you told a Japanese high school student that castration improved test scores, they might just try it. Like most people in high-stress, high-competition situations, Japanese high school students tend to collect good luck items. Often these are o-mamori (amulets) from various shrines dedicated to scholastics, like Dazaifu Shrine in Fukuoka, but can be pretty much anything.
In love - every few years, it seems, there's a fad among junior high and high school girls for love spells, to attract or confirm an attraction to a boy they're otherwise too shy to talk to. For example, clipping a boy's nametag to their underwear.
In life - fortune-tellers can make a fortune in Japan. Love-struck teenagers, stressed-out test-takers, disgruntled housewives, all frequent patrons of the prognostic arts. Tarot, chiromancy (palm-reading), runes, astrology, blood-typing, I Ching - you name the method, it's practiced by someone over here.
In gardening - while Japanese love fuji (wisteria) flowers, they rarely grow them in their personal gardens, because the flowers grow downward, which is bad feng shui.
In politics - speaking of feng shui, the Chinese discipline was used as an excuse to move the imperial capital from Nara to Kyoto, back in the 9th century. The real reasons were more complicated, and resulted in several major religious leaders getting themselves trapped into staying at Nara indefinitely, but the site of the new capital did have a better feng shui profile.
Well, I think my point has been made, no? On top of all the home-grown stuff (and I didn't even get into the ghost-stories), the Japanese have borrowed many of the better known superstitions from the West as well - broken mirrors and black cats, for example.
Sir Gaijin, I greet you once more. My current dispensation makes me inquire: how does Japan's health care system differ from the US model, or indeed any other model with which you might be familiar? And as a more frivolous line of inquiry, I ask how popular the Super Robot Taisen titles are and whether you might have any inkling of how likely Atlus would be to translate more Original Generation entries.
Mike 'JuMeSyn' Moehnke
Well, between last year's arm injury and this spring's marathon of respiratory ailments, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the Japanese insurance setup.
First, it depends on your employment situation in Japan. If you work for a big company, then most likely you'll be getting your insurance through your employer's prefered plan. This can be good or bad for you, depending on how the company operates. My previous employer managed to burn me a bit on the insurance side, but that's how they operated on most every level, and they got in massive trouble for it last year, at least.
For those who are too young or too old for regular employment, who are self-employed, part-timers, or just working for a small company (like me), there is kokumin houken, or Citizen's Insurance. It's processed through the local government offices, and the premiums are based on your previous year's income.
With insurance of any kind, you get a major discount on any hospital trips - typically you pay only 30% of the tab, no matter what. When I had to go in for pneumonia, I paid for the doctor's visit, two chest x-rays, hospital processing, and three prescriptions. Total cost with insurance was less than $50. If it weren't for the awful hours (closed by 6:00), I'd have to say I'm quite content with Japanese medicine right now. Ask me again next year, and I may think differently.
As for Super Robot Taisen... OK, visit any large-ish anime fan forum, and see how many "versus" topics you can find, especially for characters from completely different series. Japanese fans are no different, and the SRT series is the ultimate extension of this. It would be hard to imagine this series not having a serious following among the gamer community. As to the odds of another title jumping the Pacific, all I can state is the obvious: that Atlus is bringing over more titles, that they've already brought over one SRT title, that SRT is one of Banpresto's major series, and that the popularity of anime and giant robots in general is growing in America. I can only make magic 8-ball predictions right now, however, and say that "the future looks hopeful."
And that's that. I'm off to Huis Ten Bosch for the weekend. If you've never heard of it, which is likely, Huis Ten Bosch is a replica Renaissance Dutch town in northern Nagasaki Prefecture. While the idea sounds a bit odd, I've heard it's really a nice place to visit. If anyone wants to know more about it, be sure to email me about it next week!
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,