Random Fun 3 – The K-on! School

BACKGROUND

As I mentioned in my previous post, Day 33 was very unique as we were going to go to a place where no grown men with balls would go to unless they were tasered and brought against their will. Luckily J.C. and I couldn’t care less (can’t say the same about Brownie though). Ladies and gentlemen, we were going to the K-on! school! Well…more specifically we were going to Toyosato, home of the school that inspired the school setting in the K-on! anime series.

What is k-on
“You would actually spend half a day of your precious trip to come visit a school featuring characters that do not exist? -_-“

For those who do not know, K-on! is one of the most popular anime series in Japan from 2009 to 2011. It featured a group of four high school girls who reformed the “light-music” club…just so that they can spend their days drinking tea and eating cake, talking about nothing, and being cute just for the sake of being cute. Oh yeah, it also features a teacher who has a screw loose in her head, and Azu’nyan’ (the fifth member of the group that joined in its second year). The series does not fall to the level of having flower petals mysteriously falling from nowhere, but there is enough fluffiness to make a billion woolen sweaters.

HTT_group_image_2From left to right – Mugi, Mio, Yui, Azusa and Ritsu

THE POINT OF NO RETURN

The moment we got off the train in Toyosato, we knew that there was no turning back. Right away we saw a large amount of fliers advertising events such as birthday parties for the K-on! characters at the school on the windows of many shops in the area. There were also a number of street markings featuring the K-on! characters. It was time to shed away our manly spirits, and become fan-boys for the next few hours.

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Posters of events for fans of the series, and various road signs, shows that K-on! has definitely overtaken the town!

THE SCHOOL EXTERIOR

The K-on! school was based off the old Toyosato elementary school, which has since been converted to a library. The exterior of the old elementary school was definitely reminiscent of the main school building from the K-on! anime series. There was also a statue of a man who I presumed was either the founder or the principle of the school. It was very similar to that from the K-on! series too.

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It was almost as if we had just crossed dimensions into the K-on! universe!

THE HALLWAYS AND STAIRWELLS

We entered the school building, and slowly walked along its hallways. It was a strange feeling exploring the school, as I slowly recalled the many scenes from the anime series that took place in these locations. A lot of detail was captured in the series, such as the yellow semicircle around doors, the rabbit sculpture on the stair railings, the arrangement of windows, and much more. Even the green frog statue that Yui kept on displaying outside the clubroom to try and recruit more students to join the club was there (probably left there by a fan)!

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So many memorable scenes…it was quite strange walking around these halls!

THE CLUB ROOM

We entered the door right next to the green frog and stepped into the “club room”. It was almost as if we had stepped straight into the anime series itself. Majority of the scenes in the anime series were based in this room, as the girls would often sit at the group of tables at the back and have tea and snacks. Some visitors had left an array of wax food models and tea cups to bring the atmosphere to life.

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The whole school was reminiscent of so many great scenes from the show, but the club room has to take the cake!

The blackboard in the club room was full of messages from fans and visitors alike. Just shows how popular this place has become. No doubt that tourism in Toyosato has increased significantly since the release of the anime series. There was a corner with figurines of the characters and other small items.

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Some of those figurines are expensive! In many countries in the world they would probably be stolen by now…

Die-hard fans have left hilarious homages to the series lying about the room. This included a tank with a small toy turtle in it (representing Ton-chan, the turtle mascot of the second season of the series), and a model of Azusa’s tea cup.

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Bits of shenanigans around the club room.

One of the stranger homages that Brownie had no idea what it was about was an electric fan sitting in a corner with a triangular headband on it (usually worn by the deceased). This was a homage to an episode in the second season where Ritsu hogged the fan to herself and turned it on max, causing the fan to break and the blade to go flying around the room, almost decapitating Ritsu in the process.

DSC07876  School08
…R.I.P poor fan that almost ripped Ritsu’s head off…

There was a small hallway connecting the club room to an adjacent room. In there, there was a clothes rack featuring many cosplay outfits. This was a homage to that owned by Sawako, the club’s advisor and home-room teacher of the four original band members’ final year at school in the anime series, as she likes dressing the girls up (particularly Mio and Azusa) in these outfits.

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…I still wonder who brought those clothes…

THE STORAGE ROOM

Finally, the adjacent room featured a small stage at one end, and storage of musical instruments at the other. This room was featured in several episodes of the anime series. Most notably, the tea party for Mio’s fanclub was held in this room in the second season.

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The episode where Mio was the guest-of-honour at the gathering of her fan club was one of the highlights of the series in my opinion!

THE LIBRARY

After exploring for a while longer, we headed down to the public library on the ground floor (the real library, not the one from the anime). We spent a surprising amount of time here just looking through several books in the library. The new Toyosato Elementary school lies just across the courtyard from the old school building, and can be viewed from the library. Just as we were heading back to the train station, we noticed another building to the right that appeared to resemble the library from the anime series. We entered that building and were greeted with a collection of goods from the anime series. This ranged from showcasing models of the guitars used in the anime series, figurines and cardboard cut-outs of the main girls, and a collection of cards sent by fans.

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I want those! What? No…of course I am referring to the guitars, not the cutout of Yui and Azusa in swimsuits at the back!

There was also a shop selling some goods from the anime series, such as ton-chan shaped red bean buns, plagues with designs of the main characters, and also a bowl with a very familiar pattern…

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I see what you did there Kyoani!

BACK TO THE TRAIN STATION

As we were heading out, we came across some girls cosplaying as characters from the anime series. J.C. and I were half-tempted to go stalk these girls, but Brownie got completely freaked out by the cosplaying that he demanded we return back to the train station! J.C. and I had explored enough anyway, so we headed back. Unfortunately we completely missed the school hall in the process, and just missed the train, but we had heaps of fun nonetheless!

???????????????????????????????They do look kind of cold. Japanese school girls must have it rough with those miniskirts…

CONCLUSION

Safe to say that this side trip we took is not for everyone, especially for those who are not familiar with K-on! But for those who are, I highly recommend taking some time out of your schedule and come visit, especially if you are on the JR pass so that majority of your train costs are covered. There is nothing more special than wandering around a location you have seen many times in series which you love, and being right there in person makes it that much more meaningful. I wasn’t a huge fan of the series prior to the trip (though I have seen all the episodes), but now that I have visited the school, it has climbed up my favourites list quite significantly. Anyways, I will end this post with Azunyan…just cause I can:)

Azu_nyan_by_nyanplz
…ni…~nyaaaa~

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Random Fun 2 – Eyes Wide Open

Those who had visited my Youtube Channel featuring videos I had taken from Japan might have come across a video called “Eyes Wide Open“. This was a video I made as a trailer to my youtube channel, and features a compilation of videos I took during my trip. The song used in the video was composed entirely by myself under the alias of a virtual band “Contradicting Illusions“. I want to share my experiences and thoughts that went into the making of both the video and the song, which will hopefully help guide you to find your own inspiration for creativity.

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The virtual band logo I created back in 2005

REVIVAL OF CONTRADICTING ILLUSIONS

I had been writing music since 2004 using Guitar Pro, and gradually got better and better at it over the years. Since starting my second year of university in 2008 however, the opportunities I had to sit down and spend some hours composing new music had significantly decreased. In the meantime, I had started using the Vocaloid software (particularly the Hatsune Miku voice bank) to add vocals to my older compositions. During this time, my creativity ran completely dry, and I found it hard to compose anything new that I actually liked.

Guitar-Pro-5  hatsune-miku-1
My tools for creativity – guitar pro and Hatsune Miku’s Vocaloid voice bank

One of my goals of the 2012 trip to Japan was to get inspiration to compose new songs. I had a few ideas after visiting the Peace Museums in Nagasaki and Hiroshima (regarding war and its aftermath), and the Room of Living Dolls ride at Hep Five in Osaka (one based on horrors of life). The latter idea had grown into the “House of Living Dolls” project which is close to completion. However, I had wanted to write a song that reflects the feeling of traveling, but no matter what I did I couldn’t compose something I like.

photo
My virtual band’s current avatar on Google+ and Youtube, inspired by the Room of Living Doll attraction at Osaka Hep Five

FINDING INSPIRATION

For over a year since returning from my trip to Japan in 2012, I was very busy with my postgraduate research, attending local and international conferences, and conducting experimental work. During this time, I found very little inspiration to write songs. The only new song I managed to write was Empty Spaces, which I only got inspiration for by walking through a near empty carpark to my car at university (amazing the strangest ways to get inspiration for things). The rest I had published were modifications of past songs I’ve written. It wasn’t until my 2013 trip to Japan with my family did I manage to come up with something new. I think it was because I had just been there just over a year ago, and I didn’t do anything new as I was just showing my family around places I had already been. I also did not get up to anything stupid like I did with Brownie and J.C. The thrill and excitement from the year before was missing. It was only when I returned from my family trip and started comparing photos between the 2012 and 2013 trips did I realize the feelings and emotion that was missing, and immediately came up with lyrical ideas for Eyes Wide Open.

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You can even tell the difference in feeling and mood from the outcomes of my photos
(2012 on left, 2013 on right)

TRANSLATING EXPERIENCES TO WORDS

For most of the songs I had written up to this point, I usually started off with composing the backing tracks then fitting lyrics to match the mood and theme of the song. In this case however, I had trouble coming up with the basic music melody, so I started off with the lyrics instead. I must admit it is one of the sappiest songs I had written (and I’ve written plenty of sappy crap), but it is the most meaningful to me. The verses were by far the easiest part. The first verse was based on how excited we were to be traveling despite how absolutely tired we were majority of the time, and also our experiences in Sapporo and Otaru.

It’s time, my body wants to sleep
But my mind is awake, the excitement runs deep
The cold winter mornings, the streets covered in snow
The feeling of loneliness in this city of old

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The next verse was based on our eagerness to see as much of Japan as possible, which often lead to plenty of train rides to places that we had no idea what to expect. This was something I did not do on my family trip, as I cut down the amount of traveling to take an easier approach to the trip. We often looked forward to the next stop on our journey, no matter how much we missed the place we just left.

I pack my bags, I’m leaving this town
The train ride destination unknown
I feel I want to see something new
Goodbye to the world I have known

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The final verse was based on some of our experiences in Kyushu and Chugoku. It also reflected the nervousness of traveling knowing that one wrong move could end up getting us lost, injured, or even behind bars…not that we did anything that dodgy! I also reflected upon how much this trip helped me recover from anxiety issues, which I was diagnosed with a few months leading to our trip.

I sit by the sea watching the sunset
Hoping I don’t end up in a place of regret
I let the emotions succumb to the atmosphere
Let it wash away the worries of yesterday

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The toughest part was coming up with a chorus to tie it all together. In the end, what the trip did the most for me was changed the way I viewed the world. I gained a lot of experience from planning this trip, interacting with people I’ve never met, and finding myself in places I would never have dreamt I would go. In short, the trip helped me open my eyes to view the world differently.To cap it off, I was glad I went with my close friends Brownie and J.C., as the trip would not have been as fun without them!

Hey, now you’ve opened my eyes
Forever I will see the world in a brand new light
Just come with me
Forwards along this road of our own

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ITS ALL IN THE MELODY

Possibly the hardest part of writing this song was finding the key melody to match the lyrics and general feel of the song I was after. After having a think about it, I wanted something upbeat, yet ends with a bitter sweet sorrow once the melody ends. It would relate to us feeling excitement whenever we arrive at a new area, enjoying ourselves, then saying goodbye as we move on to the next place. I ended up drawing some inspiration from the theme to Chariots of Fire, which I was reminded about during the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. I also decided to use the koto soundbank available on Guitar Pro to give it a slight Japanese feel to the song.

UntitledThis was the main melody I settled for in the end

The next part was composing the tracks for the backing instruments. I wanted the backing tracks to slowly build up with time to reflect the experiences we gained with each new area we went to, before fading away at the end signalling the end of our trip. I intentionally made the song quite repetitive as I found that the tune was quite catchy and pleasant to listen to, and that once the song ended, I found myself left with a satisfied feeling, yet with some eagerness to listen to it again. It more or less matched our feeling when our trip ended. We were happy and amazed with what we managed to accomplish and knew it was time for the trip to end, yet felt like we wanted to go and do everything all over again.

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You can see just how the number of instruments builds up over time

Now, I am usually pretty horrible when it comes to writing guitar solos, but I felt that this song deserved one. I did not have a clear idea what I wanted from the solo, and I came up with several iterations. I ended up going with one that starts of pretty slow with plenty of long notes, before speeding up and playing higher notes with plenty of bends, hammer ons, and sliding. Pretty happy with the end result in the end, as I felt it did manage to capture the feeling of the built up and release of excitement very well.

UntitledMy finished attempt at a solo for the song!

THE VISUAL MEMORIES

The final part of the process was making the accompanying video to the song. I used a compilation of videos I had taken during the trip with my camcorder. The model I had was the HDR-PJ50 from Sony. The specs for it can be found on here. In addition to being a great camcorder, it was also able to take great photos in areas with bright light and in the daytime (not so well for night time). Majority of the photos on my blog were taken using this camcorder. The camcorder was also quite small and light, which made it quite easy to bring around.

HDR-PJ50This is an example of the same trusty model I used while in Japan

I went through my video collection, and selected one video for each main attraction/city/area we went to. I then selected about 4 seconds from each video which I could use, trim out the parts I did not want, then combined it all together on Windows Movie Maker. I tried to select videos that matches the lyrics where possible. It was very difficult and time consuming, but fun all the same.

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Be sure to check out my TaiaInJapan Youtube Channel to watch some of the videos I took during this trip!

EYES WIDE OPEN

After all the frustration of starting to lose my creativity in song writing, I realized just how much my trip to Japan has inspired me to pick it back up again. Since writing Eyes Wide Open, I had managed to write another 8 songs (some of which were clearly inspired by the Japan trip), with another one currently in the works to finish off my House of Living Dolls project. Sometimes all that is needed to reignite the flame of inspiration is to look at a few photographs, some old diary entries, or recall awesome memories. The trip to Japan has definitely opened my eyes to the world.

Random Fun 1 – The Pocky Challenge

Sometimes when travelling, you need to have some fun goals to accomplish. Whether it be tasting certain types of food or climbing up a mountain in every region you visit, having an achievement list adds a different dynamic to your travels. As such, I want to share one of the challenges I set for myself during this trip – the Pocky Challenge!

pockyplease“All worship the Pocky!”

Pocky is a very popular snack in Japan. The original version consists of a long and thin biscuit stick coated in chocolate. Due to the immense popularity of the snack, many variations have since been produced. A quick search on Google Images will show just how many variations there were. As a fan of the original version, I decided to take on a challenge to find and try at least 10 different Pocky flavours throughout this trip. The summary of my challenge and review of each variation is as listed below.
[Note: I will use a rating from 1 – 10, where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highets. A rating of 5 would imply that the flavour is average and I would not buy it again.]

UntitledLook at all the amazing things Pocky brings to the world!
(Taken from http://pocky.glico.com/)

Flavour 1 – Original
Location bought: Kyoto on 01/02/2012
Rating: 7/10

Nothing much to say about this. Its just the usual Pocky. Slightly fresher though compared to some which I can get back in New Zealand.

01 - Original

Flavour 2 – Almond Crush
Location bought: Kyoto on 03/02/2012
Rating: 7/10

Also a common flavour which is available outside of Japan. The almonds definitely enhanced the flavour, but the reduced amount of sticks was disappointing.

02 - Almond Crush

Flavour 3 – Cookies and Cream
Location bought: Sapporo on 06/02/2012
Rating: 3/10

I love cookies and cream. It is a very popular ice cream flavour in New Zealand. However, despite the cute packaging, this was one of the worst flavours I tried during the trip. The supposedly chocolate flavoured biscuit did not have a chocolate cookie taste to it, and the cream tasted like pure sugar. Way too sweet for my liking.

03 - Cookies and Cream

Flavour 4 – Strawberry
Location bought: Sapporo on 06/02/2012
Rating: 4/10

Another flavour which is popular in other countries, though I had never tried it before. Tastes like the biscuit was dipped in strawberry milk. I felt the flavour was a bit too artificial.

04 - Strawberry

Flavour 5 – Salty
Location bought: Sapporo on 08/02/2012
Rating: 10/10

Japanese seem to love putting salt on sweet things, and I never understood it till I tried the Salty flavoured Pocky. The salt brought out the flavour of the chocolate, which made it the most delicious Pocky I had ever tried. Who knew? Salt with chocolate – it works! Lindt also has chocolates with salt too, so I guess it is kind of common? Bonus that it cost the same as the original and had just as many sticks in it unlike the Almond Crush flavour.

05 - Salty

Flavour 6 – Cafe Coffee
Location bought: Fukuoka on 11/02/2012
Rating: 6/10

This was one of those special limited editions available. The biscuit had a thicker layer of coating than usual. The coffee flavour was nice, but the texture of the coating was almost powdery. The smoothness of the other variations I had tried were definitely better.

06 - Coffee

Flavour 7 – Hot Chocolate
Location bought: Kanazawa on 19/02/2012
Rating: 6/10

It was over a week since the last time I had found a new flavour in a small pack (there were other flavours in large packages which is hard to pack), luckily I had managed to stumble across this flavour. It had a similar texture to the previous one I had, though the flavour of the chocolate was much richer than the original flavour.

07 - Hot Chocolate

Flavour 8 – Sweet Strawberry
Location bought: Kanazawa on 21/02/2012
Rating: 5/10

I had deliberated whether this was cheating or not, since I had previously tried strawberry flavour. However, as this had a different packaging, and the coating was of a different pattern, I decided it was fine. The coating was as thick as the coffee and hot chocolate variations, but was surprisingly smooth. However, the taste was still a tad too artificial for my liking.

08 - Strawberry (Mart edition)

Flavour 9 – Fromage
Location bought: Kanazawa on 21/02/2012
Rating: 9/10

I had bought this together with the Sweet Strawberry flavoured Pocky, and was worried that the flavour would also be too artificial. Surprisingly, it was perhaps the 2nd best flavour I had tried. The coating had a creamy texture, and the lemon cheese cake taste was delicious.

09 - Fromage

Flavour 10 – Caramel
Location bought: Takayama on 24/02/2012
Rating: 1/10

This was the worst Pocky I had during the trip. Similar to Cookies and Cream, the coating was way too sweet. But at least there was some cream flavour to the previous one. This was just sweet and nothing else. The biscuit was also the normal type, so nothing fancy with this flavour. Eating plain sugar would be just as good, though much cheaper too.

10 - Caramel

But despite how bad this flavour was – CHALLENGE COMPLETED!

Flavour 11 – Custard and Orange
Location bought: Toyosato on 02/03/2012
Rating: 5/10

Despite my challenge being complete, I was still looking for new flavours to try. Unfortunately I was unable to find anything for the most part of 2 weeks, until I stumbled in a bakery in Toyosato which sold Custard and Orange flavoured Pocky! Was from the same line of flavours as Sweet Strawberry and Fromage. Definitely tasted better than Sweet Strawberry, but still loses out to the original flavour. Was a tad too sweet as well.

11 - Custard and Orange

Conclusions

The Pocky Challenge was successfully completed! I had always had an impression in my mind that I would be able to complete this before leaving Hokkaido as I thought the many variations were readily available. Most stores however only sold chocolate, almond, and strawberry (if they sell any at all). The rest were really a mission to find. I had thought about giving up and attempting a Kit-Kat challenge instead as we came across dozens of variations! There were melon and green tea flavoured Pocky, but those came in massive boxes of 12 which were hard to pack. Overall, my favourite flavour is Salty, perhaps due to the extremely low expectations I had for it. It was a great challenge, and I look forward to attempting the Kit-Kat challenge the next time I go to Japan!

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Perhaps another challenge is to play the Pocky Game?