Category: Japan

While in Kōchi, I came across some manga (comic art) on the street, outside a school.  I originally posted them here, and while the meaning may in some cases be self-evident, the cultural differences can sometimes affect the interpretation:

In revisiting this post, I have, after some requests, translated the relevant text which should facilitate a better literal and cultural interpretation.  As my knowledge of Kanji is somewhat limited, I enlisted the aid of a japanese friend to assist.

The basic premise for this series of photos centres around an annual manga high school competition.  Each year, a different theme is chosen, and a winner is selected from the competing schools.  Let’s start with a basic overview by using one of the pictures as an example:

Below each photo, I have included the theme as a caption.  And now, on with the translation:

– 1992 –

Manga Contest

"The Most Important Day"

TV Audio:  “Today the last nuclear weapon in the world has been destroyed – no more nukes!”
The picture on the wall is of her son, who died in the war.

– 1993 –

Manga Contest


Vending Machine – ” Family Alpha”
Image on Side of Vending Machine – “Add hot water, ready in three minutes”
Vending Machine Audio – “Thank you very much”
Concept – Instant Family for a boy without one.

– 1994 –

Manga Contest

New Style Countryside

Sign – “Robot Farm”, “Do Not Enter”
Concept – More Farmers Needed

– 1995 – 

Manga Contest

New Media

Tombstone – Someones family cemetery (name written on top)
Girl’s Caption – “I wanna come and visit you grandmother”
Grandmother – “Oh, you cane come, but when you’re much older”
Concept – She’s calling her grandmother beyond the grave
Cultural Reference – White Kimono and white triangle cloth on her forehead means she has passed.

– 1996 –

Manga Contest


Concept – The kanji and face are morphed in this picture, with his expression mirroring the meaning of the kanji – in this case “to frown on, to be grim-faced, to look sullen”.

– 1997 –

Manga Contest

Carry Something

Upper Square – The dog cathers are saying “A stray dog!  Catch it!”
The dog expresses – “Uh oh!” and quickly brings out a ballon of the owner and blows it up
Dog Catchers – “Oh well, I guess he had an owner after-all”.

– 1998 –  

Manga Contest


Concept – A teacher uses a manual to try and nurture/teach a student (the plant) to grow a certain way, rather than letting it grow naturally.

– 1999 – 

Manga Contest

Power of Seniors

Caption – “Ah, you’re not ripe yet”
Concept – Pickled plums versus fresh plums (umeboshi) – takes a long time to get tasty
Cultural – Blue in Japanese (and Chineses) is also interpreted as green – i.e., immature.

– 2000 –

Manga Contest

17 Years Old

Caption – “Live Longer” – I hope you live longer, or keep on living
Concept – At 17, a dog is near the end of his life whereas for a person, they’re just starting it.

– 2001 –

Manga Contest


Mother – “Let’s stop this tradition”, while crying.
Father – “Ahhh… we have to do it”
Cub – “Papa!”, not really knowing what’s happening.
Concept – Time to grow up.  You need to let your child go, so that they can become stronger.

– 2002 –

Manga Contest

Real Intentions

Captions Left to Right
– “You can count on us, allow us to take responsibility” to retiring politicians,
– “Ah, I actually wanted to continue on”
– “Why do you get to stay, you don’t even have a moustache” – a moustache is a sign of a respected, mature member of society.

– 2003 –

Manga Contest

One of a Kind

Poster – Miss Art Contest
Comment Bubble(s) – “Everyone has good aspects”, “Yes, Yes, I agree”, “It’s natural that you cannot choose just one”
Concept – Judges can’t decide, since all are one of a kind.

– 2004 –

Manga Contest

Bushido - Samurai Way

Sign – Japan Carway (way rhymes – ‘do’, bushido)
Banner (left) – “Be careful speeding, go slow”
Banner (right) – “Safety is most important”.  The yellow/green chevron indicates a “beginner” driver in Japan.
Road Sign – Speed limit is 24

– 2005 –

Manga Contest


At work – While talking with your boss, the smile is fake, forced, a show of respect
Taking a walk – Tired of working, sees a both with his mother with a genuine smile
Thinking to himself – ‘What does it mean to smile?’

– 2006 –

Manga Contest


Concept – The development of man, from Hunter -> Gatherer -> Samurai (Nobleman) -> Warrior -> Businessman -> Otaku (Geek)

– 2007 –

Manga Contest

Generation Change

Concept – Times change, but the people don’t.
On TV – A Japanese Samurai Drama – a popular soap opera that’s been running for 20+ years

– 2008 – 

Manga Contest


Husband – “Delicious!”
Wife – making a homemade boxed lunch out of store bought pre-made lunches (bento box).
Concept – Who cooks anymore?

– end –

Last Day in Osaka

Saturday had arrived.  Tomorrow, I would be heading off early to Tokyo to catch a plane back to Toronto.  Today, was it.  Time to buy souvenirs, finish shopping, and eat my last meal.

I started out the day looking for tea.  I had planned to stop in Kyoto and go to a shop I knew there, but ran out of time – instead, I headed into the shopping area around Shinsaibashi and much further north.  I didn’t know where to find it, so after picking up some food items for the office decided to ask and got pointed in the right direction towards a speciality shop.  Along the way, I tried to locate a couple camera stores I had come across while browsing, and finding two of them took a look – but no luck.

It was a busy shopping day, being a weekend, and the shopping arcades were quite crowded.  Okonomiyaki being a speciality, I decided I should at least try it.  After trying it a few times earlier in my trip, I had decided it wasn’t top of my list – I think mainly because of the yakisoba which generally was piled on.  The local variety was less yakisoba and more pancake texture, which as it turns out is much more to my liking.

On my way towards Nankai Namba station and Den Den Town, I happened upon a small temple with a moss-covered Fudō-myōō statue, Hōzen-ji.  Apparently this is a favourite temple for people involved in “water trade”.

Making my way to Nankai Station, I located a camera store that I had missed my previous trip (bad map), and then headed into the station and up to the roof top garden, with views out over the city.

There were a couple of items I was still looking for in Den Den Town, so I headed there to Melon Books and then took to walking the streets a bit, before heading back to the hotel to pack.  Around one corner I stumbled upon a maid cafe, oddly at ground level.  In Akihabara, they were almost always several floors up, out of view – here, at least two or three could be found at ground level, and in this one case with windows sufficient to provide both privacy and a view.  I have yet to partake, but at least I got a glimpse of what was on offer.

Back at the hotel, I would pack until late – and then rise early on Sunday to pack some more.  As I expected, I had too much stuff – and books are indeed heavy.  It was a gruelling trip back to Tokyo, and I’m surprised my luggage actually made it in one piece.  I left Osaka early – the trip to Tokyo wasn’t long on the Shinkansen, but as it turned out the Narita Express was not running, and getting to the airport was to be delayed over an hour from my planned itinerary.  In the end I arrived in time – 3 hours ahead of my departure.  Just enough time to repack everything – three carry ons were not to be allowed this trip (unlike many other people I saw, of course) – grab some food, and get to the gate.

Thus ends 6 1/2 weeks of travel through Japan, at a time when Japan is still recovering from earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis.  To think that all this occurred while I was there causes one to reflect on things, and perhaps find new perspectives.  All the best.

Osaka – Time to Shop

With only two more days left in Osaka, I decided to stick around Namba and spend the day shopping.  And primarily that meant searching for manga in nearby Den Den Town.

Not yet able to read Kanji or comprehend a lot, “reading” isn’t exactly straightforward.  Rather than just pick up whatever “looked” good”, I figured I should first spend some time in the morning figuring out what was supposed to be good – make a list, essentially, one that included pictures of covers where possible to help with identification.

It also meant only buying manga that had furigana, allowing me to at least “read” the kanji.  Basically, furigana marks Kanji with its pronunciation, also making it easier to look up in dictionaries.   With this, I’d have at least a fighting chance to read the manga and hopefully pick up things with the effort.  Manga with no furigana didn’t get bought, no matter how good it might have looked – there will always be another trip and chance to purchase, when my japanese skills have improved sufficiently.

I spent the better part of the day wandering through stores looking at new and used manga and related items.  The concept of “will it fit in my luggage” had pretty much gone out the window – I would deal with that later.

That evening, I dropped my stuff off at the hotel and headed out looking for some dinner.  Nearing the end of my trip, and after sampling so much of the local food, I had pretty much settled on my favourites – yakiniku, ramen, and sashimi.  Tonight would be a healthy portion of ramen, done tonkotsu-miso style, at a popular spot along the main street paralleling Dōtombori-gawa.

I wandered around the street and shopping arcade after polishing off dinner, looking for something to point my camera at.


A few people were picking up dinner.  A sign over the opening to a bar piqued my interest enough to attempt a photo – no, I didn’t go in.

Heading back to the hotel, I wandered under the streets along Namba Walk which connected into the building my hotel was atop of.  Tomorrow was to be a busy day.

Osaka – Kita (Umeda)

While the Minami area seemed to be the place for manga, electronics, restaurants and nightlife, the Kita (Umeda) area near Osaka JR station seemed to be more the business centre by day, with a few shopping arcades and department stores mixed in.

I had done some research looking for second hand camera stores to look for some filters and lenses, hoping to find a couple lenses in good shop (at a good price).  Many of the well regarded ones appeared to be located near Osaka Station, rather than in Namba, so I decided to head up and wander about.

Luck would not be on my side – many of the shops that I had rough maps too weren’t where they were supposed to be, either having moved or been closed.  I was able to find a half dozen or so, however, and came close to finding something worth picking up on a couple of occasions.  But the price and selection just wasn’t up to par with Tokyo, and in the end I decided to keep my money to spend on other things.

Much of the streets near the station were lined with either office towers or street level businesses, the later being closed until early evening when the salary men would be done work.  In the middle of the ‘concrete jungle’ I stumbled upon a shrine and hung out for a bit before heading off to find the local Mandarake, located in a nearby shopping arcade.

The Mandarake proved difficult to find, and I ended up wandering far afield through some residential neighbourhoods before making my way back towards the station, and stumbled upon this ferris wheel which appeared to be smack dab in the middle of some downtown mid-rises.

I wonder what the view was like.  And I’m not sure what King Kong and his brother were doing above this hardware store, either.


I stumbled into the arcade after getting my bearings again, and finally located the (rather small) Mandarake.  There wasn’t much to do afterwards, and rather than stick around the area to see the sights, I headed back to Namba, dropped my stuff off, and ended the evening with some ramen for dinner.

This morning I decided to head out mid-morning, and see if I could find one of the two Mandarake stores in Osaka.  Oddly, its location wasn’t with the rest of the manga in Den Den Town – rather, it was in the shopping district just north of the hotel called Amerika-Mura (historically where american goods were sold), and Shinsaibashi station.

Most of the shops were still closed – I gathered that some opened at 11am, but most opened at noon, so there wasn’t much to do except wander around.  In so doing, I came across several interesting shop fronts, including some creative graffiti I thought I’d capture and share.

I also came across one that almost blinded me:

Apparently this Pet Salon (store) was sponsored by Donkey Kong?

More interesting store fronts and graffiti:


The rest of the day was spent browsing the local Mandarake, Melon Books, and several other similar stores looking for anything interesting to fill up my already overflowing suitcases with.  Books are light, aren’t they?

Nagoya to Osaka

Osaka would be my last stop before heading back to Toronto via Tokyo.  Originally I had planned to spend my last week in Tokyo – not to sight see, but to shop, eat, and visit familiar territory.  With Fukushima still somewhat unresolved, and my plans changed as a result, I decided to push Osaka to the end of my trip and do any shopping I needed/wanted to then.  Osaka, while certainly not as large as Tokyo, has its share to offer both near Osaka station and Namba station, the later being where I decided to get a hotel (the area known as Minami).

The area around Namba has its share of nightlife and restaurants, as well as Den Den Town, which is similar to Akihabara only smaller / less developed.  The hotel I had picked described its location as over Namba JR station, and after arriving at Shin Osaka (the Shinkansen Osaka station from Nagoya), I made the mistake of trying to take JR the whole way there rather than use the subway system.  The route required a couple of transfers, a lot of delay, and probably cost me an hour at a couple of dollar savings.  Lesson learned.

Arriving early afternoon, I checked into the hotel early and decided to crash for a while.  Almost six weeks have passed since I arrived in Japan, and this would be my final leg of the trip.  While Osaka has several sights worth seeing, my focus for the next few days was set on camera shops, comic stores, restaurants, and sleeping in.

Late afternoon arrived and I headed out to get my bearings and eventually take in some dinner and nightlife.  I headed up and down Namba Walk, an underground shopping path that connected several subway/rail stations, checking out the various shops and restaurants on offer before emptying onto the street at Sennichi-mae Arcade and walking towards Dōtombori and Dōtombori-gawa, where most of the restaurants could be found.

As I happened to be in the area, I located the Apple Store and decided to see if I could get my iPhone screen replaced (which I had dropped and shattered in Kobe).  No such luck.  Apparently, in Apples infinite wisdom they decided to essentially glue the screen onto the main assembly board, which meant pretty much the whole phone needed to be replaced just to change the front glass – and since my phone is locked to a carrier in North America, they couldn’t provide me with an ‘unlocked’ replacement.  Even if I was going to pay for it.  My iPhone repairs would have to wait until returning to Canada.

I wandered around exploring for a bit, before deciding to grab some dinner (Yakiniku), and finishing up for the night.

Monday morning started off with an attempt to visit the Noritake Garden, one of Japan’s best-know porcelain makers.  There was once a time when I had planned to purchase Noritake tableware for myself, and I thought it worth a visit.  I was planning to go through the Gallary and see what the gift shop had on sale, but upon arrival I realized my mistake – it was Monday.  While most sights are open on the weekends, galleries, museums, and many sights close Monday as their weekly holiday and I forgot to consider that on my way out the door.

So, instead of visiting the gallery and garden of Noritake, or hang around Nagoya looking for open sights, I figured I’d head to Seto instead.  They couldn’t close the entire city, could they?  Back at the main train station I got directions and headed out.  It’d involve a change of trains at Sakae St., but otherwise would get me there in under an hour.

Seto is one of the 6 oldest Japanese kilns, producing mainly white-based china which is used widely as tableware.  The vast majority of what you get in Seto is the typical tableware, mass produced, identical items, and painted.  Not really what I was looking for, but the history of the city made up for it, certainly.


While it was Monday, not all of the shops were open when I arrived and started my journey through the town.  There were paths through the town of the local sites, kilns, and stores, with the walkway in some places decorated with pottery in a similar manner to Tokoname.  There was even a neko museum on the upper floor of a shop, and a number of shrines and museums dedicated to the local trade.  When I visited the museum, I almost felt like I was their only visitor yet that day – they set me up in an open room to watch a (japanese) video of the history of the town and ceramics, and served me tea.

These signs appear long the road, on fences and houses all over and show a unique way of encouraging citizens to ‘do the right’ thing in as cute a way as possible.  They seem to work better than our signs do, if that’s worth anything.


I managed to find some rather unique porcelain at one of the famous kilns, and spent a good hour sipping tea, eating sugar candies, and talking with the potterer.  Another gentleman was there as well being entertained, although I’m pretty sure they knew each other as he didn’t seem to be shopping, but fortunately he spoke reasonably good english, as he had actually lived and worked in Toronto at one point in his life for a year or two.

AsI made my way out of town, it was nice to see that bikes still out numbered cars even in the small cities.

Back in Nagoya it would be my last evening out, and rather than head back to the hotel directly I decided to head to the local Mandarake instead.  I’ve been crossing them off my list as I traverse Japan, and only have a couple left at this point.  It happens to lie in Ōsu District, and while searching for it I found a temple that fronted onto a covered shopping street.  It was raining that evening, so I tried to stick to the covered streets – finding a temple in one of them was odd, particularly with the obvious and rather tacky sales out front.

After doing a bit of shopping in Mandarake I grabbed some local food in the covered shopping street, including some karage from the popular Lee’s Taiwan Kitchen, and then headed back to the hotel to pack.

One of the first things you see on the walk along the pottery path are yaki-neko’s, or rather, ceramic cats.  I decided to catalog them all, as I made my way up the hill along the wall they were attached too.  This post is a gallery of them;  for anyone who likes cats, a visit to Tokoname is recommended.

The cats:

Today I managed an earlier start, and actually had time to grab some breakfast at the hotel – a rarity for me.  With two full days left based in Nagoya, I wanted to make sure I got to Tokoname, a popular spot for yakimono, so I set out mid morning with the hope of getting there around noon.  As luck would turn out, finding a bank machine that worked on a Sunday proved somewhat tricky – even the trusty JP machines which I believe are affiliated with Japan Post didn’t seem to like my card.  I ended up having to hike it to the main post office and was fortunate that the card worked there – in a JP machine no less, making me wonder why it hadn’t worked at the one in the station!  A frustrating way to start the day, as with all the extra running around I ended up not arriving in Tokoname until almost 1pm.

It was well worth it though.  A visit to Tokoname involves a walk through the historic pottery center along 1.8km of paved pathway and stairs.  A detailed map of the area, with all the highlights marked was available in the train station and I spent the next four hours traversing the path, which included a few shopping stops.  A side trip across one of main roads took me into an older section of town which appeared to miss the tourist traffic – little was open and what there was didn’t interest the casual tourist.

I wandered for a while and then headed back to the main path, and ultimately the gift shop at the start/end of the route where I had previously noted some attractive pottery being showcased by the potterer himself.  It was in the back of the main shop, and only hosted his wares, allowing for a more personal exploration and explanation as to what had gone into the making of the items and how they’d been decorated.  As I had already picked up a couple of pieces, I limited myself to a couple of items and ended up being the last customer for the day.

Nagoya was to be the last of two major stops before heading back home, and while not on my original itinerary I figured it worth a stop – mainly to visit the nearby pottery towns.  The winding down from two busy days in Takayama conspired to cause me to sleep in without any firm plans for Saturday yet made.

Leaving around lunch time I debated whether to head to one of the pottery towns nearby or wait until the next day.  It was already nearing lunch time, and rather than try and rush an afternoon elsewhere, I figured I’d relax and take in a baseball game instead.  That meant grabbing a quick lunch of Ramen and heading to the ball park to try and get some tickets.  The game wasn’t until 6pm, but everything I had read seemed to indicate that it’d be hard to find tickets and being a Saturday I was inclined to agree.  Nagoya Dome is about a half an hour train ride (four stops) from Nagoya Station, followed by a 15 minute walk from Ozone station – getting there early afternoon was my objective.

I arrived around 2:30pm, hoping to be able to buy a ticket and then wander around for a bit.  The ticket counters weren’t open until 3:30pm, so I ended up waiting in line – the wrong line, as it turned out.  I saw the sign, saw the people, and figured I was ok – but the lineup was to pick up tickets, rather than to purchase.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before finding this out, and the ticket booths to purchase didn’t have anyone waiting.  I had no trouble finding a good seat on the home teams side.

After purchasing the ticket, I wandered through a couple of stores looking for some souvenirs, but didn’t find anything appropriate – that would have to wait until I got inside.  A lineup had formed at the gate, which appeared to be opening after 4pm.  Once inside, I did the tour and picked up some baseball cards and snacks.

Warmup started around 5pm, with the game at 6pm.  The Nagoya Chunichi Dragons versus Osaka Hanshin Tigers was the title card for the evening.

While the game was entertaining, particularly due to the energy created by the fans, it went ‘full-time’ so to speak.  After 11 innings, it ended in a 1-1 draw, something you’d never see in North America.  But 10pm seemed to be the cut-off time, whether it had always been that way or whether it was a way of saving power I’m not sure.  But there you had it.

Back to the hotel, and good night.


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