Tokyo Diary: 11/25/12 – Stranger in a Strange Land

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This edition is all about Tokyo conspiring to keep me from getting too comfortable.

We had an earthquake here yesterday, one of about 4 or 5 since I’ve been here that have been strong enough to really feel.  This one, though, was the first one that’s really caught my attention.  I was at the suupaa at the time, and it was one of those short but violent ones – they feel like the building was hit by a truck, rather than the slow, rolling kind.  It was a 4.9 centered in Chiba, hardly a big one, but it was very uncomfortable.  Everyone in the store sort of froze, stared at each other for a moment, some fruit rolled away, and everyone kept shopping.

After snapping a few shots in my ‘hood, Kagurazaka – a pocket Inari Shrine (I just about passed out from sheer delight), a fish festival at the major shrine, Akagi, etc –  paid a quick visit to the Eva shop in Harajuku (a neighborhood I find a bit silly, to be honest, but rather entertaining) and damn – talk about a scene.  Lines out the door just to browse, and $60 t-shirts.  Eva is still Eva, but it’s become the cash cow with the golden teat.  Across the road at the 5-story 100 Yen shop Daiso (more my speed, really) they had a wide assortment of Space Bros. related drinks from Sapporo – Mutta, Hibito (child and adult) and Apo were everywhere.

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Today was a bit of historical landmark – my first doujin fair, Comic City 130.  I went to TAF at Big Sight a couple of years ago – before the whole Bill 156 thing damaged it – and this was a relatively small show by comparison.  But as my first doujin fair I was really looking forward to it, and it’s a sort of dry run for the big one – Winter Comiket next month – which is itself a preamble to the really, big one, summer Comiket.  Those of you who’ve seen TM8 will understand why I was a bit edgy going to Big Sight the day after an unsettling quake, but that was soon forgotten when the festivities started.

That’s when things got interesting.  As I waited for the doors to open, I noticed an oddity in the demographic composition of my fellow attendees.  It occurred to me at this point that I might perhaps not have ascertained the nature of the event with the acuity that I might have desired.  In short, the line was at least 97% female, and once I got inside my suspicions were confirmed.  Let’s just say I know have some understanding of how Joshu-kun felt.

I was tempted to deploy my usual strategy when finding myself in an embarrassing situation in Japan – say “Nihon-go wa tabemasen” and back away, slowly. But, I was there – and at the very least, it was sure to provide an interesting social experiment.  As indeed it did.  The first two songs I heard on the PR were the OPs from Sakamichi no Apollon and Ginga e Kickoff, and it was very interesting indeed to see the sort of literature that appeals to this demographic up close.  Instinctively I want to be puzzled and ask, what is it about seeing young boys deflowering each other than appeals to these women?  But then I remember that widespread fascination with yuri that exists among male otaku – one which honesty compels me to admit I’m not entirely free from myself – and I just chalk it up to human nature. 

I’m not sure what lessons there are to take away from this except that fusjoshi adore cute shotas in soccer uniforms (in addition to a bit of Ginga, Inazuma Eleven was probably the second-most popular parody on display) though any athletic uniform will do in a pinch.  And that Tiger & Bunny is the undisputed king of this marketplace.  And judging by the number of series that I’ve enjoyed that also showed up in those exhibition halls, I’m forced to confront the possibility that in fact, I may have been a fujoshi myself all along without even realizing it.

I was certainly interested to watch the dynamics of the event, too – I have no idea if all doujin fairs work this way, but there’s a certain commonality when being in a large group of people who share the same obsession.  There was a very purposeful air to the place – people seemed to know exactly what they wanted, and they were making the rounds as quickly as they possibly could.  The “A List” circles seemed to be assigned to the walls, corners, even outside – while the aisles in the center were the smaller circles looking to impress new fans.  It was definitely an experience – uncomfortable to be sure at times, but educational.  And no, no pictures – they weren’t allowed for starters, and TBH I would have felt extremely creepy taking them anyway.

Afterwards,a brief stop at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, the highest observation deck in Tokyo (45 stories) that you can visit for free.  Actually two of them as there are two separate towers.  It was a very nice day for it – I could see Fuji-san, though with the low cloud and glass, it doesn’t really show up on the photo.  Tokyo is still not nearly at prime fall colors yet, and it’s almost December.  It’s definitely getting chillier, though. 

I discovered to my delight that my neighborhood has a sento, and I stopped there afterwards.  It was your classic local public bath as you probably imagined it – an old obaa-san at the counter who takes your money and can see into both the men’s and ladies changing areas (a bit odd, that), a divider between the two baths that I would describe as just barely high enough not to see over if you’re of average height, and a hot – and I do mean HOT – bath.  I’ve been to many onsen and I could only take a couple of minutes.  The clientele was as you’d imagine, too – mostly older Japanese guys who walked around naked after their bath and chatted with the Obaa-san as if it were the most natural thing ever as sumo played on the old TV.  The local sento has been on the decline for decades, but there’s been a bit of a nostalgia boom for them – and while this was my first neighborhood sento visit, I suspect this one has changed very, very little over the last 60 years.

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  1. S

    I live in an area that was a relief zone for tsunami areas because we are on the other side of the mountain. Even at the slightest clatter of the windows we stop for an earthquake. In the last week we have had very many in the Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. Many measuring in the 4 range and they are always very alarming.

    Don't get complacent with earthquakes.

    Glad to hear you had fun at the doujin fair. I have always wanted to indulge in something like that.

    Very cool that your neighborhood has a bathhouse. I only have the classic country onsen to go to. I'm surprised they let you in ^_^ Many times they are hesitant of foreigners, I hope you leave good impressions to go back to!

  2. Well, TBH I really prefer onsens, and strongly – more variety in the temperatures, and bigger baths. But I was pleased that the obaa-san smiled and none of the old dudes stared or made comments – they were fine. My 'hood has a lot of French and British ex-pats, so I suspect that has something to do with it. Although in onsen proper, I must say in my many visits I've never had any issue with being made to feel unwelcome.

    I've noticed a lot of quakes in Ibaraki, Iwate, etc. in the last few weeks. Very unnerving.

  3. S

    Where I come from it is very different, my family jewels become a show (they always want to know). I know almost all of the foreigners within 30km of where I live (it amounts to only 5).

    Are the bathhouses super cheap?

  4. The standard rate for a sento in Tokyo seems to be 450. Onsen, of course, will be quite a bit more.

  5. B

    Ah haha Enzo ended up at a BL doujin fair. That's awesome. Hopefully you learned a lot and can avoid such things again in the future ;).

    On the plus side, any time the crowd is 97% women, well, you gotta like those odds.

  6. I am not the droid they're looking for.

  7. B

    Luckily the droid they are looking for is far rarer than they are and generally doesn't want anything to do with them, giving you an opportunity to swoop in when reality takes hold for them!

  8. A

    "I may have been a fujoshi myself all along without even realizing it." ~Enzo

    well duh? You do watch every new shojo & josei shows, so what's the use of denying it! Most male folks just don't go there, ever, but you do. Does it make you automatic fujoshi? Not necessary, but you're a lot closer to and comfortable with being it than most of male viewers.

  9. I certainly don't watch every shoujo, but the josei shows are so rare and tend to be excellent, it's hard to avoid them.

    The interesting thing is that the overwhelming majority of material at this fair – and what fujoshi seem to prefer generally – is neither josei nor shoujo, but shounen or even seinen. I knew this already but being at CC130 really illustrated it for me – a sizable chunk of Shounen Jump's readership is surely fujoshi. I don't know the exact numbers, but stuff like KnB, Ao no Exorcist, Sket Dance – female readership is surely a sizable minority if not a majority. And classic SJ series like Hikaru no Go and H x H have huge fujoshi followings as well.

    The irony there, I guess, is that among all the demographics following anime and especially manga, the biggest overlap in tastes is surely between fujoshi and young boys. So half the readership of those titles would like the see the other half in a doujin.

  10. R

    The whole notion of male/female viewership is offensive and disturbing and demographics in general would be useless in a perfect world . I understand it stands mostly for commercial purposes but I am truly sad when viewers or readers themselves support that "logic" by taking sides based on trivialities like which gender a series panders to(and hating the opposite pandering for example) and not the quality of the work and just that.

    I tend to ignore that happens mostly but what that anonymous poster said: "you're a lot closer to and comfortable with being it than most of male viewers." reminded me of that fact.

  11. I certainly agree that we look at demographics the wrong way sometimes. It isn't necessary to fit a series (or a viewer) into a neat gender box (look at Tsuritama or Inu X Boku, as examples) and we should never decide what to watch or read based on it. Still – from a sociological perspective it's quite interesting to look at who makes up the audience for a particular title, or even genre. The mere fact that the audience for so many so-called shounen titles is female makes mockery of the notion of rigid genre classifications.

  12. A

    Part of the appeal for them (fujoshi) is in crossing those lines.

  13. G

    Cannot agree more, I think a label speaks more for the content of the show than the actual demographic it panders to. It's certainly inaccurate to say shonen is for boys and shojo must be for girls. The dichotomous view just doesn't spell out reality in any way. Besides, like you said Enzo, the most famous pairs are from Shonen series, when hot blooded men are bunched together in one place, imagination reigns. I'm not a fujoshi myself, at least I don't think I am, but seeing as how much I enjoyed No.6, I might as well be. I always believed gender runs on a spectrum, we just tend to polarize them for simplify the social structure.

  14. L

    Ah the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building… I went up there at night over the summer, and it was pretty unreal seeing all the lights of Tokyo. And it happened to be behind my hotel, so it was close by.

    And I've only been to an onsen once, but man did it feel nice! I stayed in there for 20 minutes and came out slightly dizzy. xD

  15. N

    "I don't eat Japanese"? does it work?

  16. Well, they certainly don't try and talk to me after I say it…

  17. e

    Well, that'd give the 'you look edible' an extra edge…

    An the other hand… mini-temple! awwwww delightful. Where are my salts and my shrine plushie? No really. If there is one I'd buy it. Think of a shrine version of mameshiba. It.could.happen.
    While we're at it, I'd totally pay for an Enzo plushie. Hotter than a hot sento, baby. <—- yep, I'm on a sugar high, my dear GE. You know what happens in such cases already.

    Fujoshi are fun, come on! Both the moderate ones and the extreme ones, as long as they manage to keep some healthy self-humour. And exercising in seeing life thorugh yaoi gogles is a mighty eye-opener (also, a riot. I still remember some amused&amusing tales of RL fantasies by one particular adult woman involving two 'beaaaaaaaatiful and straight out of a fashion magazine, I thought my heart would leap out of my chest' [quote] young boys standing close in the Milan subway… ). Most of the ones I'm on friendly terms with belong in the Tiger&Bunny fandom and are Westerners btw. They are very tolerant with this poor het shipper, as rare as a unicorn among the female portion of this fandom XD.

  18. e

    P.S.: about the deflowering-boys as attractive bit… tl;dr a lot of us western ladies may be interested a) in the male anatomy goodness – a lot of the top BL artists, especially the contemporary ones, tend to arguably draw 'better' and meatier bodies of men and boys compared to male characters and het couples in shoujo titles – b) in the best examples – not necessarily the popular ones – even while featuring the uke&seme roles the relationships is between equals, rape-free and manages to be both sensual and romantic between interesting personalities, unlike in many smut and het titles.
    The bottomline main draw for many Japanese female readers seems to be instead in the relationships dynamics and in a 'romantic' sensuality and sexuality free of pregnancy and RL/smut shoujo/smut josei manga familiar/social obligations/expectations between beautifully attractive creatures that happen to have p&b equipment while hosting an ideally androgynous-to-female-friendly sensibility. Male crust, genderless essence. Might tie into point b) above, accentuated by the social pressure and bias still put on Japanese women's sexuality and self fulfillment outside of marriage and sex trade.
    Suggested online essay reading here: ( from 'The beautiful boy in Japanese girl's manga' . Pages 88-90 aka the final part of the article for cherrypicking purposes should suffice).

  19. Interesting link. But I feel I should point out that it deals mainly with explicitly fujoshi fiction – shounen-ai (a quaint term not heard much these days) etc manga, whereas what I find especially interesting is that the "headline" properties for fujoshi seem to be either shounen (KuroBa, etc) or at least not overtly shoujo or josei (T & B).

  20. e

    Good observation. But I can also tell you one more thing going by some sampling I did regarding those very shounen properties (fearless reader mode ahoy!) plus learning from the masters (or rather mistresses): the characters tend to retain a few of their original core traits and outside resemblance(sometimes), but the dynamics fit with those of that article. Original yaoi fiction or yaoi fanfiction, the workings are the same.
    I still remember the first BL doujin I ever red, it was by IDEA circle and was a FMA one. Ironically enough, I hadn't even started watching or reading the original FMA before that. Edward in their works is this ethereal creature of almost elf-like and androgynous grace… and a uke (!), there was often terminal angst and everything was extreme and absolute: the passion, the devotion, the heartache, the insanity. The colours illustration are always beautiful (in terms of technique: grungy watercolors ) and the drawings always retain this dreamlike quality. Harakawa's baby is totally different. The less strained resemblance or those doujin (by IDEA and a bunch of others) could be with the first anime adaptation, but you really need to stretch it.
    And I've checked out a lot of T&B doujin as well. Most of the popular ones are done by yaoi mangakas btw (Kazuma Kodaka for instance). And even in the less OOC cases you can find similarities with the elements highlighted in that article.
    Well, the fact that a lot of T&B yaoi shipteasing has been encouraged by the creators in some interviews and a few official materials extra-anime series doesn't help. But can't really blame the guys, fujoshi can be extremely loyal buyers of official goodies and tireless evangelizers.
    In terms of labels (yaoi shonen-ai BL) at least among western fans it's up to the preferences of the scanlations groups really. I've picked that article simply because it happened to be quite concise imho.
    BL and yaoi seem to be just the most common umbrella terms at the moment if I had to pick any :), but some groups and even among fans you can find a difference being made between shonen-ai (basically everything between 'it's BL if you squint' and 'kiss&hug' ) and yaoi as ascending degrees of explicit material. There is even a 'hard yaoi' label used in some places – and here my mind boggles. The standard 'yaoi' in such context can be already pretty hardcore -.
    If you ever wish to know more I can ask both my scanlators and professional translators e-colleagues or publishers.

  21. A

    Still at Japan!? Wow, I am glowing green with envy.

    By the way, have you caught Evangelion 3.0 yet?

  22. Saturday. It's "movie day" where theaters are "only" 1000 yen here.

  23. A

    If you do post a spoiler-free review I'll read it. 🙂

  24. A

    Enzo, if I may ask, why are you doing the poll?

    Fed up with us? :'-(

  25. Simple curiosity, mostly, given that very few anime sites I'm aware of allow people to post anonymously. There are times, I admit, where I wonder if the lack of identification and ability to negrep comments makes this a haven for extremely negative commenters who are afraid to post other places, and it does seem there's been a spike in troll-ish posts over the last couple of months. But I'm not going to let the site be degraded by people of that nature, one way or the other.

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