Boom – Edogawa Fireworks Festival

Of the twenty or so fireworks festivals in Tokyo, Edogawa is simply the best.  There are no buildings obstructing the view.  There is plenty of seating along the cool riverbank. It usually has the second most fireworks for a single show in the Kanto area.  And probably best of all, I can get there by cab for a reasonable fare.

In other words:

*14,000 fireworks

*perfect view

*1,000 – 2,000 yen and I can arrive any time in a splendid yukata

Most of these points will apply to you, so if you find yourself in Tokyo one August, choose Edogawa.  Of course, there will probably be close to a million people there, and like any fireworks display, things will be quite crowded.  But even if you arrive late to Edogawa, you’ll still be able to see the show!  No ducking around buildings, straining to see through trees.  No need to pay for a boat or helicopter ride.  That may sound like a joke, but I assure you it is not.

This year was my fourth time attending the show in Edogawa, and even though many parts are remarkably similar from program to program, I honestly anticipate this day all year long.  BOOM!  I like to sit as close as possible, reveling in the light and reeling in the shock-waves from each explosion.  Camera vaguely pointed at the sky, I more or less hold the shutter to take a continuous stream of photos – as if the majestic awe of the moment could somehow be captured.

Here is a video, documenting my favorite part of the show:

No one ever photographs me… save for the local bar visited on the way home.  And usually, no one photographs the food I prepare; however, this year someone managed to capture some it.  Even though it’s not a great picture, it makes me happy.

So now, though there’s not much to do but wait for next year, I can still take a look at these photos and know without doubt that Edogawa could beat the pants off of any other fireworks display.  Since I alluded to living in the area, let me admit that these are my proud tax monies at work.  BOOM!  I hope you all take to time to enjoy this spectacular evening; don’t worry, it’s on me.

The Baby’s Doll

Looking for fairy tales by Finnish scholar Zachris Topelius, I just so happened to stumble upon a free library of children’s books.  Most of them modern, but many digital scans of antique works as well – some accompanied by beautiful illustrations.  Abandoning hope of finding Topelius in a language I could read (at least for today), there is still one treasure I came across.


With no real understanding of French, I was immediately taken by the illustrations of G. Ripart.  They provide my only window into the story, “The Baby’s Doll.”  That is, until someday when perhaps I’m able to read it.


the baby's doll

the baby's doll 1

the baby's doll 2

the baby's doll 3

Broken Alice


Batsu saw this figure back in December at the Volks shop in Akihabara – truly a beautiful sculpt.  She goes by the name “Alice in Neverland” – and as far as I can tell, she is an original character sculpt (no pre-existing anime, game, etc.).  Pre-orders opened in late January, but the figure won’t be released until late April.

Slender, broken body, part woman and part girl, dream and nightmare, innocence and corruption – simply captivating.  According to the Questioners, LLC website, each eyelash is painstakingly affixed one at a time.  Her crown doubles as a ring, and her little storage box is lined with luxuriant black velvet.  (Watch the video on the link above.)  The latch and detailing of the case is as almost as exquisite as the figure itself.

The artist, Sakarako Iwanaga is one of few recognized female shoujo sculptors.  Reading an interview with her was like reading excepts of a feminist manifesto – not that she seemed overtly militant, but perhaps a bit weathered by sexism in the industry.  This would seem to be coupled by the perception of a woman sculpting – let alone specializing in – female characters.

Of couse Iwanaga has done many other beautiful sculpts as well – apparently one I just missed of Kanako from Mouryou no Hako (click for more pics).  It’s a raw “garage kit” – meaning just parts, no paint, perhaps even independantly produced – made for Wonder Festival Summer 2009.  There may, perhaps, still be a way.


tama @ vanilla

It was a while ago, but batsu got the opportunity to meet tama at Vanilla Gallery in Ginza.

I arrived about 30 minutes until closing on the last day, wandering about the gallery forever deciding which paintings I liked best, and what I wanted to say to tama as she signed my book.  All of her work is so breathtakingly perfect – not a drop of water out of place; even the frames are gorgeous.  The time really flew, so after my purchases there were about 5 minutes left.  One more person was standing in line, and the timing seemed great.

But immediately following, a friend appeared to help her pack up.  I hesitated for a moment before embarrassingly approaching her for an autograph, thanking her for her beautiful art and the time she had spent.  Whilst I cleaned in her stead, she gave me a “simple sign” (ie “just a signature”) – better than nothing, but it seems everyone else got a personal drawing.  Indeed, all my fault – it was a bad luck day.

I picked up her new book Amairo Romance, some postcards, and – my favorite – a small vanity mirror.  There were a few designs to choose from, but as I generally feel a bit broken and distorted looking at my face in public, this one seemed the most appropriate.


Walking Down Up-Town – Span/Maruzen

In Haruki Murakami’s novel South of the Border, West of the Sun, we find the protagonist caught in a space of liminal reality, entertaining notions of an alternative present – or future – dictated by idealized memories of the past.  A random sighting of a possible childhood friend on the streets of Ginza triggers a maelstrom of introspection, a contemplation of the fabric of reality.


Though on most days, Ginza seems only a juxtaposition of princes and paupers, at certain glances the abundance of modern excess framed with stylized antique trappings would seem to mark the portal to a different world.  Whether it be a simulacrum of capitalist spectacle, or somewhere else betwixt and between, all depends on your perspective (and your wallet).

There are of course, excellent doll shops in Ginza, excellent sweet shops in Ginza, and occasional excellent art exhibits in Ginza. On those rare occasions, batsu carefully maps out where to step as to avoid losing her way, to navigate through the void and into that other world.  As of late, however, there have been many great gallery showings in Ginza, and perhaps it is these more than anything have me feel both lost and found in a new reality…  Or, perhaps just vertigo from the autumnal equinox.

Span Art Gallery – Declaration of the New Japanese Aesthetic


The concept of this gallery showcasing finds itself buried in a 2-page hand-written declaration/manifesto of the same name, penciled on grid-like Japanese school paper, framed right beside the art in modest Plexiglas, mounted to the wall. Outlined briefly, the essay seems to rant about the loss of Japanese cultural identity and the burden of the artist to recreate a semblance of unifying aesthetic sense to redefine a Japanese world pillaged by globalization and the subsequent invasion of other cultural influence – something like that.  As most modern institutions of “traditional Japanese culture” are rather exclusive and prohibitively expensive (kimono, ikebana, tea ceremony, etc.) and incidentally abundant in Ginza, it’s difficult to bow in sympathy to this “plight.”  However, I still liked about half of the art on display, whether it seemed to coherently adhere to the agenda or otherwise.

Span Art Gallery is a relatively small, well-lit space with white walls and glass front, giving the impression that it is actually the patrons that are on display – particularly after dusk.  The first exhibit was from Oct. 5-17, and the latter from Oct. 18-31.  However, even if you are far from Tokyo’s clutches, you can still view the art from both showings at the exhibit page, randomly clicking on links to the right (artists’ names) even if you can’t read Japanese.

I particularly liked the pieces by Keita Tatsuguchi (龍口経太), Trevor Brown (トレヴァー・ブラウン), Yuji Moriguchi (森口裕二), and Takato Yamamoto (山本タカト).  There were many others, and indeed many beautiful works.

It’s difficult to choose an absolute favorite, though I will say that Mr. Brown’s first painting seemed to garner the most attention from other patrons.  Quite large and visually striking, with a stark palette of predominant reds and whites, it incorporates a beautiful arrangement of the difinitive “Japan-esque,” making it patriotic in an almost parodic way – perhaps even a caustic embodiment of the exhibit’s mission statement.

Maruzen – 4th Annual Hitogata Doll Exhibit


Maruzen is about one station away from Ginza, so instead of paying to ride the train during rush-hour, I decided to hoof the 15 minute walk.  It’s a fancy-pants bookshop in the fancy-pants Oazo building in Marunouchi, near the Imperial Palace; the exhibit space is on the 4th floor.

I like it, as it’s connected to Tokyo Station via underground tunnel in the event of incliment weather, and literally across the street from the north exit, just in case you decide not to brave the underground labyrinth.  Aside from that, it’s in a bookshop, with decent magazine, manga, and even English book selections, complete with reading tables in case you want to sit around and kill some time.  There are also a variety of interesting toys and knickknacks lying about if the exhibit turns out to be a dud.

Though the photography for most doll events at Maruzen is often dissuading, I’m just as often thankful I made the trip – in this sense, Hitogata was no different.  It featured a diverse representation, showcasing a few international submissions, though Japanese artists were the most prominent.

My favorites were Ryo Arai (荒井良), Seihachi Nakajima (中嶋清八), Rika Imma (因間りか), Akemi Kai (伽井丹彌), and 西織銀.  I don’t know how to read the last name, but the dolls were absolutely beautiful, tiny perfection.

Photos can be seen from the Maruzen blog.

Shooing the Fit

Batsu went to a couple of gothic and lolita fashion exhibits at Parabolica-bis.

The first was billed as “Sawada Tomoko & Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.”


The upper gallery was covered by photos of Sawada Tomoko, taken by Sawada Tomoko.  For those unfamiliar with her artistic vision, Sawada makes digital collages of herself, altering her make-up, hair, and clothing styles to give the impression of multiple individuals.  Quite a few of the goth and loli types that I met as a maid at @home cafe seemed to fit into a snide, self-important mold, so seeing this sort of drama reenacted just struck a note of irony.  Though I respect both Sawada and Baby, it’s like the Louis Vuitton of lolita fashion.

Having visited the lower gallery many times and growing accustomed to the dark and somewhat somber air of the space, it was quite shocking to open the door only to be bombarded by an explosion of pinks and pastels.  It had been made-over to resemble a Baby shop, complete with wide full-length mirrors and mock dressing areas.  Every wall was lined with clothes racks, upon which every Baby design dress, skirt, shirt, bloomers, and pannier hung snugly together.  A show case displayed all accessories ever made.  Intermittently stood mannequins modeling various fashions, paired with matching shoes.  Every inch of the wall space was taken, draped with fabrics, spotted with hats, or strung with night wear.

My personal favorite areas were the dolls and stuffed animals.  I can’t list them all, but they included Super Dollfie, Blythe, Dal, Koitsuki Hime, and even a Living Dead Doll in Baby, the Stars Shine Bright fashions.  There was also a table laid out for pretend tea (all Baby cups, etc.), stacked with books.  Some of the books were just general fashion history, but others included fashion sketches and ad shoots.

Let me just say that in my experience, it’s best not to touch anything at an exhibit, ever.  There are signs everywhere, even if there are no people.  Being foreign layers on an additional paranoia for me, as I’m often targeted for doing things everyone around me is doing, even things that seem legit.  So, walking into this “shop-like” showroom I was too paranoid to touch anything.  On the way out, after a visit to the gallery shop, other visitors had assembled in the gallery.  I watched as girls hanger-modeled dresses in front of the mirrors and thumbed through the literature on the table.  Only then did I find the confidence to examine some of the pieces more closely, but I felt a bit cheated, really.


However, that was soon rectified at the next exhibit, “Victorian Lolita: Takemoto Novala and Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.”  Again, I visited at an unusual hour, having the gallery to myself, only this time all of my favorite dresses from the Baby collection were displayed together.  Indeed, a fortunate coincidence.  This also provided ample opportunity to flip through the various scetch books and fabric samples.

Trevor Brown, an idol of mine who mentioned he sometimes takes the time to read my rantings, will be pleased to know that his “My Alphabet” book lie in the middle of all the frilly lolita goods available for purchase in the gallery shop.  On the other hand, the “component tarot” cards produced for the second exhibit were absolute rubbish.  I purchased Miura Etsuko’s “Bride Doll of Frankenstien” and a couple TB Alice series postcards as a gift for a friend.  Seeing the other related goods for sale at seemingly ridiculous prices just fueld the fire to make my own stuff, though the exhibits alone were inspiration enough.

Garden of Good and Evil

Batsu was in the Akiba branch Don Quijote, moving up the series of escalators that snakes along to a 6th floor arcade when all of a sudden, something caught her eye.  It was a large poster facing the opposing escalator bearing definitive Junko Mizuno art.  There was no mistake about it, I could even make out a bubbly font reading “Mizuno,” somewhere opposite the bubbly font reading “condoms.”

“Wow,” I escaped my lips in astonishment, as I slowly turned 180 degrees in a fixed gaze until the poster was out of sight.

After ranking in the arcade at Drum Master and being humiliated by Mr. A in the Jubeat area, it was time to see the poster again.  “Mizuno Garden – Condoms and Lotions.”  Wow.  It was inappropriate to go shopping with the company at hand, so I postponed further curiosity until browsing the interwebs at home.

Just to make one thing clear, this isn’t a product review – suffice to say that I bought it.  If anything, living in Japan has taught me how to appreciate good packaging, and in extention my own consumer gullibility when it comes to good packaging.  I’d buy almost anything with Junko Mizuno art, even if the product was disposable.  No, especially if that product was disposable.  I could take it all over town and feel cool showing others that I use it.  Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those kind of products for me; but I encourage you to casually drop them at parties and local bars to show other people how classy you are, if that’s your thing.

The condoms… are a box of condoms.  And the lotion…  is packets of lotion.  All of the packaging is covered in art specially designed for Mizuno Garden.  Each box also contains a random trading card, or apparently, sometimes even a free product gift card.  Am I lucky?

You can read more on their English site, but they’re not shipping internationally at the moment.  The art and animation on the page are both great, a very Mizuno styling of cute yet dark, and very suggestive.

*Update:  As of 7/31, the online Mizuno Garden shop has closed.  However, products are still avaialable at participating retailers.  For now, at least.

Beginners’ Luck – Game Market 2009

About six months ago, close friend Sankaku-san invited batsu to a game event, and batsu obliged last weekend at the 2009 Game Market.

Game Market is an annual event centered around board games, including but not limited to table-top RGPs, featuring new, classic, and original games.  The first day was dedicated to actual gaming, and the second for buying and selling.  Not really sure what I was getting into, I agreed to tag-along Sunday to see what a Game Market was all about.

Held in a convention hall with the all the austere ambiance of an abandoned warehouse, Game Market had… well, games.  A lot of them; stacked up on folding tables with price tags.  Admittedly, most of this had no meaning to me but it was still pretty awesome to see people excited, toting around impossibly full bags of board game boxes.  There were a few people in fancy costumes – of note, a potentially cross-dressing willowy Victorian maid – but for the most part just back-pack toting types.  In another area, a group of old men in happi were educating con-goes about a mostly forgotten Edo-era game consisting of hand symbols.  This was particularly appropriate given the stone’s throw proximity to Sensoji Temple.  And even more appropriate given the aforementioned maid’s dedicated study with one of the old guys.

I walked into the con with absolutely no expectations, but somehow from a distance spotted a board covered in tarot shaped cards.  The details were fuzzy, but rounded lines and a predominance of black and white indicated cute maids graced some of the cards.  A closer look only confirmed suspicions.  Of course, I bought it immediately without thinking.

The cards turned out to be DEARS Tsundere Tarot, scheduled for release June 12.  It has cool art, but otherwise a bit more contrivance in history than I care to recognize.  There were two varieties, and choosing the more “moe” of the two, I inevitable ended up with the “guys” version.  Which is fine.  It has better character design and none of the “fujoushi” connotations.

Tsundere means something like “prickly,” and is used to describe a character that inappropriately enacts intent – for example expressing affection in an antagonistic manner.  The tsundere in this instance is hopefully not the cards nor the fortune teller, but rather the enclosed CD voiced by the “Queen of Tsundere,” so styled because of her predominance of tsundere type voice acting roles.  Looking at the art style, tsundere seems only a projected gimmic to appeal to a larger audience.

Victorian Exhibition 4 – Koitsuki Hime

victorian4_2 victorian4_1

The Koitsuki Hime exhibit at Parabolica-bis ended yesterday, though batsu was very fortunate to squeeze in. Doll Show 25, which I was unable to attend, no doubt contributed to the crowd that packed into the small but ornate exhibit space. It was my first time to witness a Koitsuki Hime exhibit in person – something that I’d been anticipating for nearly four years. Despite all of this, it still managed to live up to my very high expectations, based on the various photo albums I’ve encountered over the years.

Entering into the exhibit space was akin to breaking a séance, light from the twilight outside scattering over a tightly coiled snake of people, crouched in the darkness, in awe before the objects of worship. Each piece was individually lit with eerie ambiance, highlighting the delicate curls of fingers and toes and smooth subtleties of facial shading and expression. Every doll was housed in its own open canopy of dark gauzes, giving the impression of a series of portals – mirrors into another world. As they lie very close to the floor, the proper way to pay respect to such objects of reverence was to kneel before them, and revel in both their beauty and mystery.

Not surprisingly, it looked as if only 3 of the 15 or so dolls had not sold, indicated by a delicate pink ribbon adorning their wrists. In addition to the superiority of her sculpts, and almost uncanny expert blushing, Koitsuki Hime’s clothing really stands out. Many dolls were clad in corsets and other Victorian inspired undergarments, while others wore elegant dresses of regal brocade rippled with gold. Another allure of her craftsmanship are the more creative interpretational pieces found within the sea of classic solemn beauties. On this occasion, a two-headed baby and conjoined twins made appearances. Though, as the exhibit title “Victorian Twins” suggested, these were the predominant themes uniting all of the pieces.

One of my personal favorites was a pair of twins clad in ethereal white dressing gowns. As one of the twins lay in a coffin lined with white satin, the other stood, looking on in attendance. The two dolls featured on the flier were near life-sized, and laid out on a sofa, with their shoes daintily arranged beside them -  a very nice subtle accent. Also amazing were the aforementioned conjoined twins, especially the elegant gown they shared.

As a bonus, I ran into the pair who run “Mother Goose” – a favorite art “circle” who specialize in gothic and Victorian style doll clothing. They had apparently just finished cleaning up from a day of business at Doll Show 25, though no one would have known given the exquisite air of refinement and style in which they carry themselves. I look forward to meeting them again at the next doll bazaar event. As well as seeing their new creations.

Maria Cuore – Rosen Mary

Buried in the posh shopping district of Shibuya is something of an underground lair, the unique doll museum Maria Cuore. Exhibits change about biweekly, featuring artists of all flavors (photographers, painters, illustrators, and doll makers) strewn about the owner’s permanent collection. Modern porcelain ball joint dolls, antique German dolls, classical wax dolls, broken dolls, tendrils of candle, and panels of stained glass decorate a webbed network of ambient lighting, coffin like display cases, and other unique furnishings. Navigating the museum is like carefully tip-toeing through a grandma’s attic. It’s literally full to the brim of priceless collectibles, all precariously placed within reach, some even lining the narrow and winding ribbon-like walkway. The darkness as well as the eerie nostalgia of the pieces, accented through minimalistic ambient Coil-like music laced with brief chant, gives the impression of entering a shrine, still yet awaiting the knowledge of your role in ritual.

Despite the somewhat steep (1,000 yen) price of entrance, visitors are encouraged to wander about and lose themselves in the parallel world for as long as they please. Tea, coffee, beer, and other beverage service is available, though seating, much like the well used space of the museum itself, is extremely limited.

Currently on display, the Rosen Mary (バラの聖母) doll exhibit at Maria Cuore will provide the background for two different visual artists this month, first photographer Sakai Atsushi’s Snake Lips exhibit (Jan. 24 – Feb. 2) and now painter Inagakari Seiji’s Golden Darkness (Feb. 6 – 16). Dolls by artists including Koitsuke Hime, Amano Katan, and Kimura Ryo loosely themed on Mary, mother of Jesus, provide an intense compliment to the images, exemplifying the delicacy and destruction of female form.

Batsu was able to visit Rozen Mary on January 31. At the entrance to the exhibit was a small table, surrounded by 8 or so child-sized coffins made of wax, all filled with broken doll parts. On the periphery lie a few works by Koitsuki Hime and Amano, which divided the gallery space into an entrance and an altar. Beyond the entrance was the seating, arranged much like church pews, finally coming to an elaborate and ornate arrangement of antique hinged glass cases. Strewn with fabric and dried flowers and framed with candles, this was where some of the larger Mary pieces were contained, particularly two beautiful pieces by Koitsuki Hime. I was particularly taken by Mr. Kimura’s work, but as it was my first time to see any of these artists’ pieces firsthand, the entire experience was quite inspiring.

Maria Cuore is open from 1pm to 7pm, closed Tuesdays. It’s bit daunting to find using their pretty map, but can be found on the Dolls in Tokyo map in the Maps of Japan section. Entrance is 1,000 yen, and drinks start from 300 yen. Maria Cuore also hosts a variety of unique performances, which are listed on their homepage.

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