“Zombies have to get to the pub somehow.” 21.03.2014

People often note that there are three or four types of foreigner who reside in Japan. Firstly – Language teachers like myself, maybe in conversation schools or at universities or perhaps through the JET scheme, there aren’t as many of us here as there used to be but we are still a common ish breed. Then there are students, students everywhere! Students from everywhere. Next I’d say would be the programmers, the developers, the computer….people. I’d say the third group are a mix of artists, musicians, freelance writers, and bar workers – in my experience they often teach or develop games at the same time. Actually, most people I’ve met do a number of these things at once in some kind of magical life juggling trickery. Lucky for me, because, I get to experience all of the crazy imaginative fun things these folk seem to summon up, for example…

The biggest event in my calendar recently was Bitsummit. Kyoto’s Indie game festival which features both Japanese and global developers. It only cost a couple of quid to get in, and once inside there were almost too many games to try out, on all kinds of medium from ipad to Xbox to PC.

I’ll admit that one of my main objectives of the day was to finally have a go on the Oculus Rift. I can confirm that it would be my sisters worst nightmare and she’d have vomited pretty early on in the game. The Oculus Rift is pretty immersive and so perhaps not the best thing for those prone to motion sickness in games. The guys in the Vitei back room have conjured up a hilarious and addictive game which involves taxiing zombies around town guided by a GPS system almost as irritating as a real life. I have actually passed my driving test but thankfully that had little value as I reversed into bridges and smashed through lamp posts (which gives you more points, woohoo!). At some point I remembered that if I physically turned round I could actually drive backwards and still see where I was going. Fab.

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You can see more of the game and read all about it here. This game won the Vermillion Gate award and we couldn’t be prouder of Chris, Peter, and the rest of the team at Vitei. Vitei itself was founded by this guy called Giles who was practically kidnapped from the uk when he was still in his teens to work on games such as Starfox, Mario 64, and 1080. I shan’t go on and on about Vitei but there’s an awful lot of visually and technically exciting stuff happening that I only wish I had the know-how to write about.. So if you want to know more in terms of the programming side look no further.

Incidentally I started to learn how to code around Christmas, now and then I keep it up, but it’s more of a personal gripe about keeping up with the kids than something I want to use so it’s pretty low on my priorities right now.

Shockingly, Vitei weren’t the only indie game development company at Bitsummit. There were many, but one of the most engaging and bright teams (I mean, yellow t-shirts kind of bright) there was Funktronic labs. I played this….http://youtu.be/gjIOvPn5XYc… Nova 111, which starts off turn-based but evolves into real time as you encounter new foes. At the beginning I hadn’t quite cottoned onto the fact that turn based meant I didn’t have to go in and attack everything immediately, but after some very patient help from the team I worked out the patterns and it started to really click.

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Actually by the end of the event, and certainly by the end of the night, most of Kyoto seemed to be wearing Funktronic labs t-shirts – including Chris, Peter, and Giles. Nova 111 was nominated for the game design award at Bitsummit and you can see some of their other games here. These guys seem to really live by their ideology…’Technology, Love, and Magic.’. Make sure you check out Lotus which uses Leap Motion to make music.

So that was Bitsummit. Tonight I’m trying out a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in town in a bid to discover a new healthy lifestyle. I figure that future Rachel will appreciate me taking care of myself. I’m glad to tell you it’s possible to be even a vegan in Japan! More about that coming up soon…

Smell you later.

Love Rach xoxox

Spring-a-ding-ding! 03.03.2014

Today is Hina-Matsuri (雛祭り) which is the Girls’ festival, or Dolls’ festival. Girls across Japan will be displaying up to around seven layers of dolls – though modern sets often only have the very top layer due to practicality. The dolls represent the imperial family and their servants. The featured set in the image above is my friend and teacher’s daughter’s, Mi-chan’s, set, it’s a very modern one. The set below is one that was displayed at the To-Ji market last Friday.

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The sets are hugely expensive and very precious. As you can see this one has two layers and costs ¥25,000 which is just under £300 I believe. Today families will visit shrines to offer prayers for their daughters.

Shrines and Temples; although very sacred centres are often bustling fun places filled with festivity and entertainment. One of my favourite things in Japan so far has been going to markets which are held in these Temples and
Shrines. When I lived in Essex as a kid my dad used to say we could have all the latest gadgets/trends as soon as they were a “fiver down Romford Market” (£5…). The promise of sifting through stalls of tat to find a gem of a bargain is a thrilling shopping experience unmatched yet by any other market, including Basildon. But Kyoto markets offer tonnes of mystery and intrigue. I’ve not bought anything other than food yet in fear of not having space to move in my apartment, but, one could spend days gawping at beautiful second hand kimonos, baseball cards, dolls, calligraphy, and maps drawn hundreds of years ago.

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Here’s a fella’s armour for example. I’d love to have it, but I don’t get many chances to dress up these days. What folly!

Those of you who are my long suffering Facebook friends will have noticed my sheer relief that spring is here. The second market I went to in the same number of weeks was at Kitano Tenman-gu. It was important that I visit this particular market on this particular day because this place is famous for viewing うめ (plum) blossoms which are blooming (lovely) at the moment.

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Chisato brought Mi-chan with her on her bike and we all ate ‘Jaga Butter’ which is a potato with butter on, that’s right, we ate jacket potatoes. It. Was. Amazing. All of us – Japanese, Scottish, American, and English, enjoyed a jacket potato together. You’ll be pleased to know I tried some new Japanese food too like these sweet roasted rice balls called mitarashi dango, as below..

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Yesterday was my six month Jappaniversary. I spent the day in Osaka shopping with friends, we went on Osaka’s equivalent to the London eye. It’s very very high up as it’s also on top of a shopping mall. There some fantastic views. Yasmin was very brave, we had to practically wrestle her back into her seat.

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Osaka is really very different to Kyoto and reminds me that there’s a different Japan out there that I’ve not experienced just yet. I’m hoping to travel about a bit maybe in April or May to see the bright lights and bunny infested islands.

Thank you all for reading my blog for the past six months. I hope I keep engaging you enough to keep reading!

Lots of love, Rach xoxox