Tokyo Travelogue

February 3rd, 1999

...99/02/02 (Tue)
99/02/03 (Wed)
Time Place Event
15:00 = 08:00 base woke up
We needed to wake up early today to be ready for the February 3rd festival at Asakusa. The festival celebrates the casting out of demons by throwing beans at them. Catching the beans is good luck.

In some versions, children run around, wearing face masks of demons. At Asakusa (), there were no children taking part, but monks from the temple and guest celebrities cast the beans to the waiting crowd. However, we hear that the ceremony takes place twice at Asakusa, and the later one is attended by more famous people. Whom, we didn't find out.

19:15 = 12:15 Asakusa () Bought a yutaka ()
¥3160, from a shop about two blocks north of the temple. It was a nice one, blue with white designs. It's still too cold outside to wear it, but I might consider wearing it to work one day. At least it'll give me something to wear for a cosplay or Halloween. ^_^
19:45 - 20:30 = 12:45 - 13:30 Asakusa temple Bean-throwing festival
Pictures available:

During the festival, people throw beans to ward off the spirits, but the bystanders must catch the beans for good luck. This is a festival children sometimes particpate in by wearing masks of demons. In some anime, you may have seen festival kiosks selling masks with the shapes of faces of popular anime characters and demons - those are the kind that were also for sale near this temple.

The festival began about 30-40 minutes late because of an improperly parked car or two. There were two announced requests for the driver to remove the car, but still the start was delayed.

Then, finally, men arrived carrying paper lanterns on poles, who then fastened them onto the railings of the temple balcony above the crowd. After about ten more minutes, the abbot and a couple of luminaries, including a politician, arrived to begin the ceremony.

The ceremony involved the monks and special guests throwing beans into the crowd, who were supposed to catch them. Apparently, children are not directly involved in this version of the festival.

21:00 - 21:15 = 14:00 - 14:15 Nandaro Shop Shopping!
To my surprise, near the entrance of the Asakusa temple, there is a Nandaro shop. "Nandaro" is the name of the Nihon TV ({er) mascot Miyazaki designed for them. Although the mascot is used by Nihon TV, the shop is filled to the brim with Studio Ghibli merchandise, rather than Nihon TV. I bought pins there, each with the name of and recognizable character from a Ghibli film: Kiki, Mononoke Hime, Porco, and Totoro.
21:30 - 22:00 = 14:30 - 15:00 Arrived at Mitaka-eki Meeting people on the way to Gainax
We arrived at Mitaka-eki (Ow) with 20 minutes to spare before our scheduled visit to the Gainax studio. We first had to meet up with Machiko's husband, then meet the person who had arranged our visit.

Because Niko was a little hungry, we went to a standing-only udon shop. Niko had a mini-curry dish, and Machiko and Bryan also had something to eat. Ordering was interesting, in that outside of the restaurant doors, there was a vending machine with the restaurant's menu on it. Each dish offered could be ordered and paid for at the same time, before entering the restaurant. The machine accepted coins and bills, and presumably gave change, too, but I took that for granted and forgot to look.

Niko and Machiko were finished quickly, but Bryan was last to order. Machiko went to ask for directions at a kouban (), a local police station which has only one or two officers on duty. Their purpose is mainly to provide visitors with directions and assistance, rather than crime-prevention, although their presence is certainly a deterrent.

21:30 - 22:00 = 14:30 - 15:00 Mitaka-eki Waiting for Toshi
We're waiting in the train station just outside of the ticket gates for Toshi to arrive to help us find the person who kindly arranged our visit to Gainax.

Bryan was taking some video of the people walking by as a snapshot of everyday people. Because it was Saturday afternoon, some of the people travelling through the station were school students returning home after a half-day at school. Of course, they were wearing uniforms of the style we learned to expect in anime. Although it may appear obvious and natural to some of you, my impression of everything we saw in Japan that matched what I had seen in anime was changing my impression of the country and its culture. What I came to realize is how accurately anime portrays many elements of Japanese culture. This means that I had to reevaluate the impression of Japan that anime had given me, and look more closely at what I had previously not considered accurate portrayals of everyday life: the sound crows make, the layout of city streets and railways, the hustle and bustle of daily life at a train station, the zoning laws, what people wear, what they look like, how they color their hair (^_^), what they eat for breakfast, the size and thickness of one slice of bread (^_^), and so on.

Okay, you can think me hopelessly naïve to have had this kind of reaction, and you of course have the right to stop reading and dismiss what I've written as the horribly misinformed scribbles of an Ugly American Tourist. ^_^ Don't get me wrong, however. I have the utmost respect for this country and its culture. I'm just using this travelogue as a way of describing to you how my visit to Japan helped me understand it better and misunderstand it less. Of course there is a lot more that I haven't learned yet, and I may return to Japan someday to follow up on that. In the meantime, this visit was an eye-opener; I'll never watch anime in the same way ever again. I'll be better prepared to recognize which parts are grounded in fact, and which are the departures from the norm that the writer/animator has chosen to use as shortcuts, as emphasis, or as significant story elements.

In short, I'll enjoy it more.

22:00 - 01:00 = 15:00 - 17:00 Gainax Touring Gainax
Gainax has offices in a couple of buildings on a street a few blocks away from Mitaka station. There is a building with a sign indicating "2F: GAiNAX", but that's not the main studio building. I don't have many shots of the outside of the main building, which is two stories tall, but there are two shots of the entry way: through a circular opening in the wall to the right of the front door, and of the UCC vending machine flanking the entrance.

I don't have many written notes during the tour, of course, since I was busy looking around, but I'll relate what I remember of the visit.

We met Toshi at the train station and he led us to a Sizzler restaurant (yes, the American steak restaurant chain) on the corner across the street from Gainax, where we met Ogata-san, an editor for ASCII magazine, a Japanese computer industry magazine, whose wife AOKI Mitsue (–،b) is a manga artist whose original stories and characters are due to appear in an upcoming series to be animated by Gainax. (!) Machiko, our host, knew of them through her own work as a contributing writer for ASCII magazine, in two issues of which she wrote about my roommates and I as examples of anime fans in the United States after hearing about me and my anime gatherings at work, through her husband, who is also a Microsoft employee, and met us while they were living in the States, at my 24th birthday party! Bryan had corresponded with Ogata-san in the past, trading books about comics and manga with him, but this was our first face-to-face meeting.

22:30 - 01:00 = 15:30 - 18:00 Gainax Spoke with Muramatsu-san
Muramatsu-san (?), the Assistant Producer of the Gainax TV series Kare-Kano, guided us upstairs after we removed our shoes and put on some slippers for guests. The ground floor, which we didn't see much of, was where development of computer games takes place. The second floor was where the animators worked, and the third floor was for management. We spent most of our time on the second floor letting it all sink in. We were inside Gainax! The studio that produced Wings of Honneamise, Nadia - the Secret of Blue Water, Gunbuster, and of course, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

A note about Kare-Kano

Kare-Kano's full title is Kareshi Kanojo no Jijyou (ގޏ̎), and was written by TSUDA Masami (Óc). The manga began running in the shoujo magazine Lala in December of 1995, and has been compiled into at least 6 tankoubon/volumes (Ps{).

Thanks go to Thea's Kare-Kano Webpage for the information used here.

Some things we learned while speaking with the assistant producer:

  • Kare-kano had no OP animation because the story of each of those episodes was too long to allow time for it.
  • The live camera ED scenes for the first 14 episodes were done by dragging a cameraman on a wheeled cart.
  • The change from live camera to animation for the ED sequences coincides with the change in directorship from Anno to Sato, which has an interesting story behind it (see below).
  • There are ~60 people who work in the main Gainax building. Twenty on each floor.
  • There were only four or five animators present when we visited, because they generally work during night until the morning. We got the impression that this is common practice at animation studios. However, Studio Ghibli has encouraged people to work during normal business hours instead of at night to avoid having its employees' personal lives completely disrupted by work. ^_^
  • Animators' desks were very closely crowded together, and often had many personal belongings strewn among the storyboards, character model sheets, backgrounds, prop models, and drawing equipment. Sadly, I don't have pictures of the messier desks, so the pictures you see linked above are cleaner than normal. ^_^
  • At the time of our visit, they were working on episode 26, although the most recent episode to be broadcast on TV was 19, and the one undergoing postproduction was 23. The studio works on a handful of episodes at once, in various stages (planning, storyboarding, key animation, outsourced animation, audio recording, and broadcast), to streamline production.
  • The picture of the animation desk mentioned earlier actually turned out to be of extra interest, because it contained props that were used in the making of episode 19, which was to air the next day! Note the paper cutout, backgrounds, character model sheets, and storyboards in this annotated photo. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the tray on the floor which had the large panning backgrounds. I didn't know how significant they were (they were just lying there on the floor, after all!) until the next day, after watching the episode in question!
  • There were receipts for Pizza-La (a popular pizza-delivery chain) here and there on some desks. It appears that pizza is just as popular in Japan as in the US for late-night fare.
What I wish I had asked, but didn't remember to:
  • Why is it that every time there is a cut from one scene to another, the cel after the cut jumps down, left, then up? This is most noticable when the scene after the cut is static for at least a second or two. Then again, in Anno's anime, this is almost always the case, so it's particularly noticable and becomes annoying if you're sensitive to that sort of thing (and I am). This frame-centering problem is present not only in Kare-Kano, but in Evangelion.

Why we think Anno left the production of Kare-Kano

Note: I'm not absolutely certain these are the reasons, nor are they necessarily the sole reasons, for Anno's departure from the production of Kare-Kano.

Anno objected to the restrictions placed on TV anime by TV Tokyo after the Pocket Monster incident, so in protest, he decided to have nothing more to do with TV Tokyo and left the production of Kare-Kano in the hands of Sato, who joined Gainax after having worked for the government in a public works management position.

00:00 - 01:00 = 17:00 - 18:00 Sizzler Tea with Ogata-san
After visiting Gainax, and meeting the Kare-kano Asst. Producer Muramatsu, we went with Ogata-san to a Sizzler restaurant just down the block from Gainax, at the intersection. There we had drinks and asked Ogata-san some questions. Well, Bryan and Niko mostly, as I did not know this person, and had no intelligent questions to ask of him.

During this time, I was jotting down the answers to the questions that we had asked at Gainax. He noticed this, and asked me if it was a Palm Pilot. I said that it was a little different from a Palm Pilot, and handed it over to him while Toshi explained that it was a Windows CE device similar to a more common model found in Japan: the Casio Cassiopia.

Meanwhile, Ogata-san's 1.5-year-old daughter, Shun, was attracting a bit of attention by knocking over drink glasses, playing with the sugar packets, and chewing on the non-smoking signs on the table.

02:30 - 03:30 = 19:30 - 20:30 Ogata's house Dinner and Microman Show & Tell
Mr. Ogata and Toshihiro went to Mr. Ogata's house, where Bryan showed off his Microman toys, and helped Mr. Ogata's wife with a problem she was having with E-Bay. Bryan also promised Mr. Ogata's wife that he would ask his friends in Los Angeles to find information about a monthly Barbie flea market. Also check into Betty Boop, which she likes very much.
99/02/04 (Thu)...