Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jealous yet?

Roast Beef... made from Kobe Beef! Mouth-watering, but $10 a slice!!

But it helps when you live in Kobe and your brother-in-law's best friend from childhood is one of the most renowned butchers in the city!!

What Doesn't Kill You...

Ever since The Simpsons brought fugu, the oh so deadly blowfish, to the attention of mainstream America, people have been asking me if I've ever eaten it. And when I tell them I have and that I really enjoy it, some folks still think I'm screwing with them. I posted pics from one of our earlier fugu meals a few weeks back, but here are a few other images looking at it from a different perspective... from the supermarket. Yes, fugu always has to be prepared by a licensed chef here in Japan, but that doesn't mean they can't cut fast, package and sell it for general consumption. So here's a look at the different forms you can buy it in at the market, especially now around New Years when it's very popular. The two most common ways fugu is served are as 'tesa', which is when it's sliced and eaten raw as sashimi, and 'techiri' where it's made into a stew. But those aren't the only ways it's prepared and you can pretty much cook and serve it just like you would any other fish once it's cleaned. You can even buy "the guts" for about $40.00 if you wanna really live dangerously!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Dinner 2008 - Japanese Style!

There was shabu shabu too!

Meanwhile, back in Kobe...

Since returning from Tokyo, my last few days here in Kobe can be described much more simply...

- Unpacked and gave Mutsumi her gifts from Tokyo, which she enjoyed.
- Went out on Christmas Eve with Mutsumi and her mom and had a nice yakitori and raw chicken meal.
- Slept till noon on Christmas. Santa didn't come. :(
- Talked to my family over Skype as they drank and decorated the tree at my brother's house.
- Read the new issue on INC. mag and had some new branding and marketing ideas for 2009.
- After a few vivid dreams, started seriously self-analyzing and began a list of New Years Resolutions.
- Had a wonderful Christmas dinner with Mutsumi, her mom and my buddy Izumi.
- Then went out with an old friend we hadn't seen in 13 years. Spent the evening catching up and getting very drunk with him.
- Spent most of the 26th hungover.
- More self-reflection followed between naps and episodes of Battlestar Galactica Season 3.
- Got into an online fight with my mom, of all people. Worked it out over e-mail and Skype.
- Vowed to get more work done when I woke up on the 27th.
- Wrote more Astonishing Tales.
- Had a new screenplay idea I jotted down notes on.
- Read a fascinating article about the growing popularity of foreign pop culture in Taiwan, which gave me a few ideas of my own.
- Watched an entertaining series of Japanese coffee commercials starring Tommy Lee Jones on YouTube.
- Finished BSG Season 4.0, as well as Razor and all the webisodes.
- Went to a local game center to check things out.
- Had homemade katsu kare for dinner.
- Found and made gummy takoyaki. Pics soon.
- Read GQ's Men of Year issue.
- Realized I have never read a Philip Roth novel and want to change that.
- Talked to Tom Brevoort over Skype and got caught up on things at home and on the Marvel front.
- Found out my brother was hurt in a skiing accident but will be OK.
- Talked to my sister before she flew to Atlanta for New Years.
- Went out on the 28th for a nice Italian meal with Mutsumi's old high school friends.
- Watched the four women polish six bottles of wine between them.
- Hit a ramen joint at 1AM as everyone was still hungry.
- Ended the evening on a depressing note over a sad incident involving our taxi and a cat. :(
- Realized how much we miss Lotto and Clyde.
- Brother and sister-in-law flew home for the holidays today.
- Called out the owner of my local bakery on his love of Hall & Oates.
- Caught up on football scores and highlights over the internet. Go Dolphins!
- Spoke with my folks for a bit this morning about their year end plans.
- Sent out a few Tokyo thank you notes.
- Took a long, contemplative shower.
- Blogged, Twittered and Facebooked.
- Heading out for our first Japanese family dinner in over two years now.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Post-Christmas Post

Although there have been some stupid intermittent posts here about random BS over the past week, I think it's about time for a better bit of Japanese catch-up...

Tokyo Day Two began with an early hook up with Aki, who also works for Marvel in several different capacities in Japan, and we went and met a few popular manga artists who will hopefully soon be collaborating on a new project for Marvel in 2009. We worked everything out and the future looks bright, but their names have to be withheld pending a formal future announcement unfortunately. Sorry!

After that we headed over to Baker Bounce for what Aki promised was one of the best burgers in Japan, and he wasn't wrong. As I posted previously, it was one of the four best burgers I've ever had anywhere in the world. Simply incredible! It was one of those burgers that you did not need any condiments on. It was perfect just as it was as it came off the grill. The texture, fat content and flavoring of the meat really did make it a burger that will not soon be forgotten! For those who read Japanese, you can check out more about the joint and its food here:

After checking in on the Chesterfest Tokyo restaurant reservation, we popped over to what's become known as Japan's geek paradise, Akihabara. We started in Radio Kaikan and made our way from shop to shop looking for manga and toys. I actually didn't buy too much this time around. The trend in Japan now leans towards these sexily-posed, panty-showing female figures and that's not my cup of tea. We dropped by the Kotobukiya store and the Kaiyodo shop as well. Kaiyodo's big push these days is for Assemble Borg, which is an action figure line that's a cross between Micronauts, Transformers and model kits, where you can take them apart and build them back in any form you want, combining man and machine. They're actually designed by Trigun's very own Yasuhiro Nightow. (You can find more Assemble Borg info here.) Kaiyodo also has a big Oh My Goddess display up with was surprising as you don't tend to hear too much about that series anymore.

Next we made our way over to the new Mandarake Akiba Superstore which was huge! Here I found a rare Japanese Star Wars Fan Club membership kit that I picked up for $80.00 which I thought was cheap. Then disappointment set in as we found my favorite dojinshi shop was no more. Dojinshi are technically fan-produced/self-published comics, but several big name manga artists also create them, kind of like U.S. artists putting out sketchbooks in the States, and they usually contain exclusive images and such. However, we then visited a different shop, another manga megaplex and had more luck. I was able to get new dojinshi from Range Murata, Yoshitoshi ABe, Hakua Ugetsu, Akaikiba and a few other folks I'm a fan of. After that, Aki wanted to check for some old school video game cartridges, so we made the rounds there and bumped into plenty of fellow gaijin. With Akiba and otaku in all the news of late, the area has become a mecca for international geeks and you could see it everywhere you looked.

Then we hooked up with Kei Kobayashi, artist of Spider-Man Fairy Tales and Marvel Ai, who I truly believe is one of the finest illustrators working on the planet at the moment. And I truly mean that. His new work was mind-blowing! He also brought along two other artists who wanted to show me their portfolios and I was damn impressed. Then it was on to Chesterfest Tokyo 2008!

I think this was the fourth year I've been doing my annual Chesterfest bash in Tokyo and it was bigger than ever. Marvel artists, like Gurihiru, Sana Takeda, Takeshi Miyazawa and Kei to name a few, all come and get to mingle with Marvel's friends and partners from the Japanese toy, anime, publishing and video game industries. We had over 30 people this year and it was a wonderful and productive night of sharing plans and ideas for the Marvel characters over a meal, chanko nabe this year, in a more relaxed environment. And much like any Japanese bonenkai, Chesterfest was followed by an after-party, a nijikai as they say, and even a sanjikai, which went till the wee hours of the morning. Rumor has some folks getting home well after 6AM!!

Tokyo Day Three, Saturday, was pretty much a personal day for me. After being out till after 4AM I knew I'd be sleeping in and didn't plan much for the day till well after noon. Then hooked up with another old friend manga-ka for a nice ramen lunch, went back to the hotel and wrote a little, caught up with few other Tokyo folks via phone conversations, and then met a prominent manga artist for dinner. And again, I'm sorry I can't name names just yet but I assure you people are going to be surprised by some of the Japanese artists you'll see working at Marvel this coming year!

Tokyo Day Four began with me going to meet Wolverine SNIKT! artist Tsutomu Nihei and his family for lunch. Hadn't seen them in about two years so it was a lovely afternoon of catching up and reconnecting. Man, kids grow up so fast! After that we went over to his studio, talked some business, he showed me some of the new BioMega pages he was working on, and gave me some insider info on what he's going to be doing next in Japan. Hopefully, you'll be seeing more of Nihei-san's work at Marvel as well in the coming months. Also scored a copy of his new full color collection of "BLAME! Gakuen: And So On..." which is a must for fans to see how one of Japan's ground-breaking artists is using the digital medium to the fullest extent in his work!

I noticed two interesting things on the way to and back from Nihei's place. To get out to where he is, you have to take the Odakyu line, which is a smaller private train line out of Tokyo. As I glanced out the window as the train rolled on, it was hard to miss the graffiti painted everywhere along the tracks. Tokyo has strict laws about graffiti and you usually don't see much, but here, as we moved from station to station, the walls along the line were covered with tags and simplistic spray-painted art. It wasn't anywhere near the level of street art you see in NY or LA, but it was clear here was a rebellious underground culture in this area.

The other thing that surprised me about the Odakyu line was that it was infested with bible thumpers. As I stood there on the train minding my own business, FIVE different people approached me out of the blue. That in itself is strange in Japan as people tend to keep to themselves on trains and also never want to talk to gaijin anyway. But these complete strangers all walked up to me one-by-one at different times during my round-trip ride and had the exact same MO. They started by asking if I spoke English. When I confirmed I did, they asked me if I was Christian. When I replied I wasn't and went to turn away in an attempt to ignore them as I knew what was coming, all five individuals then tried to hand me English literature about how God and the Bible will save my soul. Each time I politely declined and walked away as they pleaded for me to consider Christianity, each time a bit more pissed off by it all, to be honest. But I got curious about it after the fifth time it happened and wondered what was so special about this line that they trolled it looking for converts. I later asked around about it, but everyone I spoke with seemed just as baffled as me. Still, I'm left pondering what it is that brings out these religious zealots in droves on the Odakyu like that...

Next I headed over to one of Japan's newest anime companies, David Productions. One of the folks that runs this quickly growing studio is Taito Okiura, who used to work at anime power-house Gonzo. I met Taito when I was working with Gonzo on Afro Samurai: Resurrection last year and we've kept in touch since. When he heard I was in Tokyo he invited me over to check out his new venture and I was damn impressed. There's confidentiality involved in a lot of what I saw, but I can tell you that David is soon gonna be a major player in the anime industry. One project I can mention that they showed me that blew me away from the anime for the Ultra Jump manga series DOGS! by Shiro Miwa. DOGS! has been a favorite manga series of mine for a while now and they are doing an incredible job of bringing it to animated life!

I then ended up meeting some old friends for a nice Korean dinner, and quick night-time look at Tokyo Tower, and some drinks at a place called Sobar, where they specialized in whiskey and home-made soba noodles. Nice joint!

And before I knew it, it was my last day in Tokyo. I started the day early with a breakfast meeting with one of the Gundam artists who's expressed a desire to do work in the States. I outlined for him how our work-for-hire system differs from the Japanese manga system and left him with a lot of mull over. Fingers crossed...

Then it was off to a lunch meeting with Sana "Drain" Takeda and Ryusuke "Compass" Hamamoto. We went out for some amazing black sesame ramen.

Both Ryu and Sana have schedules that are freeing up soon and both are leaving room for more Marvel and Image work, so you'll be seeing more of them in the States very soon! And be sure to check out Sana's SOULFIRE series with Vince Hernandez from Aspen Comics that's on sale now!

After lunch we all headed over to Nakano Broadway, which is a better place for geek shopping than Akihabara in my opinion. It's still somewhat of a secret location, mostly undiscovered by gaijin, and the prices are cheaper than Akiba, but I have a feeling all that's gonna change soon. There I did a little shopping and finally found my Marvel repainted gashapon (although I didn't get a full set), the new Spider-Man gashapon (another incomplete set), my Evangelion Santa figurines, my Swedish flag Bearbrick, my Die Hard and Predator Bearbricks, and most importantly, a full set of the Pepsi Nex Star Wars Bearbricks! Most places had the full sets for around $150.00, but one stand run by an old woman had hers going for only $25! SCORE!!

I ended the day, and my Tokyo trip, by meeting up with my old buddy Yasuhiro Nightow for dinner. We were also joined by Ultra Man designer Yasuhiro Nitta, who's always a blast to hang out with. They took me out for an amazing and amusing seafood dinner, where you get a grill and some charcoal dumped on your table and then just order whatever seafood you like to cook yourself. And they didn't skimp on the neta on their sushi either!

It was wonderful way to unwind and catch up with Nightow-san, although the poor guy hadn't slept much as he'd been working to hit a deadline for his new manga series coming from Jump SQ. But he soldiered on, wearing a great T-shirt to boot, and an enjoyable time and unforgettable meal was had by all!

Tight Squeeze

Although I've kinda known about it since before we touched down here in Kobe, it finally hit me today that Mutsumi's older brother and his wife arrive tomorrow. And they're staying with us for almost a week! This cold reality finally sank in when we had to discuss sleeping arrangements and the futons started coming out. This apartment is about to become very cramped. And although I lobbied for a won my bedroom back, it's other things like bathing schedules and personal space issues that now worry me. Having five grown adults, me being the youngest now that I think about it, staying together for six days in one place is not the ideal holiday living situation I usually envision. Too late for a hotel booking?!

Laundry List

I realized today that from now on, when I come to Japan, I only need to bring one change of clothes with me. You see, before I go to bed every night, I put my daily dirty laundry in the hamper in our bathroom here. My early-rising mother-in-law then gets up at the crack of dawn and starts the washing machine with whatever I left there the previous night. So by the time I wake up and shower, the exact same clothes I wore the day before are already washed and dried and waiting for me! Who says there aren't any benefits to staying with your parents?!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Iron Man Gashapon

Even though the movie didn't do very well here, we're still getting more and more awesome Iron Man toys out of Japan! These new gashapon go on sale February 2009. Pretty damn cool, especially that Iron Man mask that reveals Tony's face! What detail for such a small toy...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Not For Everyone

These days, sushi and sashimi are everywhere and eating raw fish is widely accepted and enjoyed in most parts of the world. However, another Japanese delicacy that's lesser known in the Western world but still eaten regularly here is raw chicken. And yesterday, after almost two weeks back, I was finally able to find a place that had it. And not only did I get raw chicken meat, but they also served me up raw heart, raw liver and raw gizzards! I know what you're probably thinking, but when prepared and served properly with sesame oil, ginger and wasabi, raw chicken really is a culinary delight! Trust me, give it a shot if you get the chance!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bear With Me

Watchmen Bearbricks?! You better believe it...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Sale This Week, I Think...

Not sure when new comics go on sale this week given the Christmas holidays and all, but when they do, you'll find Part 4 of "What If the Runaways Had Become the Young Avengers?" by me and Patrick Spaziante in the back of "What If Spider-Man? Back in Black"!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reindeer Games?

Found these on sale in Loft in their Christmas section. Struck me as something more suited for sale in shops specializing in, say... adult novelties, no?!

For Sale

Not sure why but the vending machine here on my floor impressed me. And since I went through the trouble of snapping a few pics, I figured I'd share...

Buy In Bulk!

Why buy by the pint or the fifth when you can simply pick up a two gallon plastic jug for $50!

Night View

It's raining here tonight, but this pic still gives you an idea of the glare that comes into my room...

And you can see the swimming pool a little better in this shot...

As much as I love the snow...

...I'm happy I'm not back in Connecticut having to deal with it like my sister now is!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quickie Update

As expected, Tokyo has been a whirlwind of meetings and appointments which has left me little time for posting more regular updates here, which I apologize for. Here's a quickie post with some fun pics I've snapped over the last few days...

Discovered hidden within a showcase of Japanese toys in Akihabara, the Avengers' very own Yellowjacket! Hank Pym must have come to Japan to hang out with Mickey Rourke and that dog he's holding to try and put the Skrull invasion and Wasp's death behind him...

Darth Vader pachinko is all the rage here now and the Dark Lord of the Sith can seen on many a street corner trying to lure poeple in to gamble away there hard-earned yen. The TV commercials to promote these machines are bizarre as well. Maybe they're up on YouTube?

Popped into to check out the Japanese Dean and Deluca and found this cool looking bottle of wine...

Mitsuko Mitsuoka, Felipe Smith, Akihide Yanagi, me and Sana Takeda at Chesterfest Tokyo. More Chesterfest pics coming soon...

The Tokyo train stations are usually spot on with their English spellings, but we discovered one rare mistake in this sign...

This is one of the four best burgers I've ever eaten in my life! Seriously. At joint called Baker Bounce. I can't get it out of my head. It was that good! A full post coming soon...

And this dude's hat just cracked me up. He was wearing it like there was nothing wrong with it, just like he would any other hat on any other day. Sorry the pic is blurry...