Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Traditional Japanese Dango Sweets

Mitarashi Dango
A dango (prouounced "dahn-go") is a traditional Japanese sweet made from a small ball of rice flour. Several balls are placed on a skewer, and the whole thing is grilled for a few minutes. Different flavors can be added, such as soy sauce. My favorite is a thick, malty, sweet sauce called "mitarashi."
Not too many places in Tokyo sell dango anymore, and the quality can vary. One excellent stall is conveniently located for toy shoppers. It's right across the alley from the Mister Donut that is near the entrance way to Nakano Broadway.
Some types of Dango available at the shop:

Shou yu = Soy Sauce
Mitarashi = Sweet, thick sauce
Anko = Red Bean Paste

If you have a chance, the place is worth trying. Dango are only 100 yen each, and he'll hand you a beautiful ceramic plate that you hand back once you're done. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Paper Board Dice Games

In my previous post, I talked about the possible origin of Chicken Fever. One of the sources I referred to was a paper board game played with a pair of dice. Here are a few more of these colorful, portable games which seem to have enjoyed some popularity in the 1970s. I'm not sure of the rules, but they're still fun to look at.

The above pic is of an Ultra Seven game. It's got a lot of action sequences and kaiju illustrations. Here are some closeups:
I guess you got points as you moved across the board. (?)

Maybe landing on 105 got you fried and you had to go back some spaces? I dunno. My guess is kids made up the rules, which is a lot more fun anyway!
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The origin of Sin + Wombat's Chicken Fever?

Chicken Fever, a figure by Sin + Wombat, debuted in the early waves of indie sofubi toys, back in the mid-2000s. Not too many versions of the toy were released, but there were some nice ones, including collaborations with other toy makers like Cronic and Super7. One of the releases is shown above. (It isn't my pic, since I haven't got any of the figures on hand.)

Many indie toys can be traced to earlier characters, concepts, or designs from the 1960s-1970s. I believe I may have uncovered the origin of Chicken Fever, or at least the inspiration for the figure.

A short while ago, I came across this postcard-sized item, which I believe is from the 1970s. It's called a "Kaiju Siri E" which means "kaiju scratch illustration." The image is slightly raised, with a felt-like texture. Basically you put your blank sheet of paper over it, rub it with a pencil, and produce the image.

More after the jump:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Shirahama + Kaiju Ken Interviews + Super Festival report in MAT 11

The new issue of Monster Attack Team has an article I wrote about Super Festval 64. In it I go into depth about how the event is put together and what you might see at one of the shows. There's also a section about the tokusatsu actors who appeared at SF 64.
Besides my article, the magazine has pieces on Kamen Rider Amazon, Hedorah, Juspion, and a lot more. You can buy a copy on the site.
Shirahama's Dennis Hamman holding a Kumon.
For the piece, I also interviewed Dennis Hamman of Shirahama and Abe Toru of Kaiju Ken. There wasn't space to fit these in the magazine, so MAT uploaded them to their website.
Abe-san holding two Kaiju Ken figures.

For my Shirahama interview, click here.

For my Kaiju Ken interview, click here.

Once again I'd like to thank Dennis and Abe-san for their time. I'd also like to give a big shout out to Yukie and Gordon for helping with the translation for the Kaiju Ken interview. Putting these things together takes a huge amount of time. I hope everyone enjoys them!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tokyo Vegefood Festa

This weekend at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, a small but well attended veggie food festival was held. (The much larger Spain Festa going on nearby was huge.) At the Tokyo Vegefood Festa, there were a few dozen stalls selling Indian, Japanese, Taiwanese, and other types of veggie, vegan, and macrobiotic food.
Events like this are rare in Japan, so it was nice being able to walk around and try food from different vendors.
Most of the food was good. Portions were small, though. On the bright side, that made it easier to sample a number of stalls. Some things were reasonably priced, while others were out there, even for Japan.
No complaints from this happy dude.
 More after the jump:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vintage Boxed Astro Mu Mars Man

Astro Mu is one of those vintage lines that excites and confounds collectors. The legendary toys are important in the history of tokusatsu and other 70s toys, and homages continue to appear in modern indie toys. Finding them loose is difficult enough. One rarely sees them complete. Seeing a boxed example has become a once in a blue moon event. So when I saw one boxed and unused recently, I considered myself lucky. Fortunately I had my camera and was allowed to take detailed photos, which I thought would make a nice viewing and reference for fans and collectors.
The back of the box

The vinyl has turned from blue to green
 More after the jump:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Design Festa 40: Steampunk

In my report on the indie toys of Design Festa 40, I touched on the explosive growth of Steampunk in Japan. Besides people in full-on Steampunk outfits, there were a number of booths selling things like accessories, jewelry, and toys.

With full and upfront admission that I'm not an expert in the area (so apologies in advance if some of the images don't fit exactly in the genre), here's a look at more of the Steampunkery of DF40. (I've carried over a couple of the pics from the indie toy report.)
This company is called Lunago. Website: luna-bear.com

They seem to combine steampunk with other design elements. Pretty cool.
 More after the jump:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Design Festa 40: Indie Toys

Welcome to the Kaiju Korner indie toy report for Design Festa 40. As always, booths will be arranged alphabetically. That's to make it easier for you to find the pics from your favorite toy makers, and it creates a better reference for the future if people want to go back and see who did what at past shows.

One thing I am doing differently is expanding the spectrum by including makers that we don't normally focus on. I feel we tend to get too myopic when looking at indie toys - so 80-90% of the makers are the same at every show, with a couple of debut makers and infrequent exhibitors added for good measure. But that can create a sort of tunnel vision when what you see is too prescripted or limited. It can create a false sense that collectors should only be looking at a narrow range of "seal of approval" makers or toy materials.

So let's see if we can break apart or at least expand that model a bit. Recently I've noticed some fantastic work done with needle felt toys and other materials, so I'm going to work in some unfamiliar names this time. Let's see how it goes.

Black Rabbit

 120 pics after the jump:

Design Festa 60: Preramble

After missing the previous Design Festa, I was interested to see how indie toys were represented at the show. There were a few big trends. First, the booths were spread out around the Big Sight, but mostly in clumps. So on the 1st floor you had the old school crew - Max Toys, Blobpus, Yamomark, Sunguts, and Pico Pico - all together again, and they were in eye shot of Marmit.

Then on the 4th floor, you had the long Jungle table (representing many toy makers) right next to the Rampage booth. And then there were a few other booths like Chima scattered around the Big Sight. Personally, I liked it better when most of the toy makers were together, so we'll see if that might happen again in the future.

Another trend I noticed is how interlinked makers within these groups are. So in the Max Toys + friends group, you had makers customizing one another's toys, accessory makers putting things out for multiple lines across companies, and so on. Over on the Jungle table, although many different makers were there, it had the look and feel of an umbrella brand.

A final note I'd say is it's becoming clearer to me that the separation between Japanese sofubi and American sofubi is becoming stronger all the time. At the Rampage booth, you had a bunch of different Western toy makers represented in some way, by an American toy seller. But for the most part, that was it. Recently at SDCC and NYCC, I got the opposite sense. There were very few Japanese makers there at all (Gargamel was a big exception at SDCC).

My sense is that's because the American indie toy scene has grown so much that there are plenty of makers at US events to fill booths and find customers. At the same time, Japanese makers know what their local customers like, and there's plenty of product put out at shows and through other channels to meet that demand.

Of course it isn't black and white. There is still plenty of interchange, especially with Japanese toys making their way overseas. And there has been a lot of movement with the attention that D-Con is getting for toy makers from all over the place. But in general right now I'd say we're looking at a mature market. It's downright easy for Western designers to get their toys made in sofubi, so all those old channels and gateways have come tumbling down. With sites like Big Cartel, "lottery" sales via e-mail lists, and so on, it's easier than ever for makers to find collectors. So if you can't get a hold of new stuff from one place, there's plenty of other stuff on the other side of the world to catch your attention.

Anyway, that's just my sense, and maybe the longest preramble I've written for a show. Next up, indie toys at DF40.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gundam 35th Anniversary 7-11 Promotion

For decades, Japanese convenience stores have been big players in the kidoverse. They've been the home of exclusive toys and packaging variants, countless shokugan releases for candy, chocolate, and other snacks and drinks, as well as seasonal and anniversary promotions.
7-11 has an ongoing Gundam 35th Anniversary promotion There are toys, a super cool spoon + bowl set, and other Gundammy goods.
From what I can gather, it's pretty straightforward. You take one of these tickets to the register, pay 620 yen, and randomly get one of the things on display, based on the letter you pull. At least that's the way they've handled these types of promotion before.

Here are some of the potential prizes:
 More after the jump:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Furoku - 付録 Part 5: Modern Furoku

In past articles, I've written about the history of furoku, furoku in girls' magazines, a close-up look at furoku manga, and a super close-up on a Henshin Ninja Arashi manga given away with a magazine. Now I'd like to take a look at modern furoku.
Freebies continue to be widely given away with all sorts of magazines, and the bundled gifts have become diverse and extravagant over the years. I've even read that women's magazines are using the tactic of giveaways as a way to boost plummeting sales.
Clearly the strategy has traction, as you're seeing everything from anime to sports card to fashion mags wrapped in shrink wrap with one or more alluring prizes.
Some bookstores even have display areas filled with samples of what you can get in new publications.

More after the jump:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

New York Comic Con 2014: Indie Toys

Welcome to Kaiju Korner's NYCC 2014 indie toys report. Once again, most of the indie toy booths were in the corner of the convention center called The Block. That made it nice and compact, and you could jump from booth to booth easily.
One trend this year was booth sharing. Though the number of booths selling indie toys wasn't large, many booths featured toys by more than one maker, so the total number of toy makers represented was pretty decent. This year, though, I noticed the absence of Japanese toy makers. Some of their toys were present (especially at the Kaiju Monster, Lulubell, and Clutter booths), but unlike with previous years, I didn't see any makers manning the booths.

However, there were quite a lot of vinyl, resin, and plush toys by Western makers who were there in person. Some, including Joe Merrill (Splurrt) and James Groman, manned different booths at set times to release their toys.

Here are pics of the indie toy booths, alphabetized by booth name:

481 Universe

 More after the jump:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Interview with James Groman at New York Comic Con 2014

At NYCC 2014, I had a chance to interview James Groman - long-time toy designer and creator of Rotten Rex and other vinyl toys - at the Lulubell booth.

James doing an illustration at the Lulubell booth

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hyperstoic Toy and Print Show with Pushead, Horkey, Usugrow, Benscoter, Lango, Holt

New Pushead toy debuting at Hyperstoic
Yesterday in New York at Toy Tokyo Underground, the Hyperstoic event featured works by Pushead, Aaron Horkey, Usugrow, Benscoter, Lango, and Brandon Holt. There were new toy and print releases, and the artists were on hand. Event pics:

One of several exceptional display only Rebel Captains
 More after the jump:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Batman slot machine

Pachinko parlors are ubiquitous in Japan. They're the one thing you're nearly guaranteed to see near a large train station. These extremely loud places have quite a variety of machines, blending traditional pachinko with slot functions, video, interactive elements, and so on. Previously I've written about the intersection of pachinko machines are pop culture.

The machines I've seen advertised have mostly featured crossovers with Japanese properties like Kamen Rider, Evangelion, pro wrestling, AKB 48, etc. Recently I saw a poster for something that caught my eye - a Batman machine. It's not surprising that out of the thousands of candidates for Western licensed properties, Batman was chosen. There are a good number of fans in Japan, which has a 50-year-plus history of producing some really interesting Batman goods.

Here's a look at a poster with Batman and a bunch of other machines:
 More after the jump:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Super Festival 66 - スーパーフェスティバル 66

Today's Super Festival saw quite a nice range of toys, including lots of familiar faces, new toy makers, and figures making their debut. Here's a rundown of the indie toy booths:


 Around 130 pics after the jump:
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