Friday, June 22, 2012

Anpanman Museum... It's Not Easy Being Edible

18th August, 2010 - Yokohama's Anpanman Children's Museum and Hall....or perhaps known better as just the Apanman Museum. Now first things first, I suppose I should tell you a little about who Anpanman is, and why the hell he'd have his own museum (let alone, why are we visiting it). 

Anpanman is (if you hadn't guessed it by now) a Japanese children's character that started life back ... well... let's just say he's only slightly younger than myself (only slightly).... anyhow he started life as a picture book and then around 1988 transitioned to the world of moving pictures. And of course, merchandising. But it all started with a funny looking character with a bun for a noggin... not just any bun, but an anpan (which is a small bun filled with anko, which is made by sweet red azuki beans). And indeed, such is the popularity of Anpanman, that he's been shown on tv continuously since it's start. Not bad for a smiling bun boy.

Now... Yokonhama is also where you'll find the Anpanman Museum... though you might not find that high on the list of places you must see in most guide books. For good reason too. Anpanman is a distinctly Japanese phenomenon and they don't really care if he translates across to a broader market or not. Indeed they don't bother even providing non-Japanese information on the web-site. Now having said all of that, if you wanted to experience something very Japanese with your young children, then perhaps it's not a bad idea at all (just prepared to go along with the experience).Now the museum itself is perhaps poorly named... it's half free shopping centre (where you can buy any number of Anpnanman related paraphenalia) or there's the mini theme-park (that's where you're coughing up 1000 ¥ per person... for three floors of fun and games). The first section has a number of diorama's depicting all number of stories... some of which are "animated"....

Because it was bon odori time there was of course a special bon odori scene as well... and we'll return to this a bit later.

But without doubt, it's all about Anpanman... and L-kun was a pretty big Anpanman fan!

But it wasn't just Anpanman... oh no... there was a cast of thousands of characters. Ok... not 1000's, but a Guinness World Record of 768 unique characters....

Of all sorts and sizes... well lets face it, when you've hit 700 the remaining 70 odd must be a real killer to find something to have a character based on .... hey look, it's mister inanimate-rod!

But whilst they go to extremes here, it's nice to see so many different characters of different styles... and as I said, it's distinctly Japanese.... after all, where else would you find Onigiri-man (onigiri = rice ball).

And death never looked so good... ok. no, it's not death catching a ride, but rather Horrorman (yes, that's right). The orange (uni-horned) character is Dokin-chan... his partner in crime. We'll meet their leader in mayhem, Baikin-man later.

Now... it's nice to show this sort of photo. A happy smiling child always makes you feel good. Unfortunately, it had been a long, hot day... and L-kun had also reached the end of his energy (sweated out most likely), so he didn't quite get into it as much as he perhaps wanted to.

But there were lots of things to do... all of course having a very Anpanman slant to them... but the good thing about the museum is that there's always something just around the corner for them to explore in/on/around.

 There's also an open play area where parents and kids can get some rest, or regenerate some energy for the next onslaught (and of course, they can also watch streaming Anpanman videos as well).

There's also craft sessions, where children and parents get to make some of the characters (in this case, Dokin-chan).

And there's also a number of "rides" that children can enjoy (with a little imagination)... looking out...

And looking in...

Though I'm not sure he was taken with the artwork.... everyone's a critic.

Whilst there were a few hands-on activities to keep L-kun busy, he did manage to perk up when we reached the bottom floor with the slides. He's a simple boy at heart.

There are a number of live shows semi-regularly throughout the day in a large auditorium... this one was MC'd by Melonpanna-chan, Anpanman's close friend (and some might say love interest?....)

We awaited the start of the show with much expectation...

Melonpanna has some support from a very enthusiastic staff... and she knew just how to get the children to near exploding point in anticipation of the big man himself....

Anpanman! Oh yeah baby.... work that room. And did he ever... which was good, because otherwise he may have had to resort to his secret weapon. When friends are in need of help, or just hungry, Anpanman will offer his head to be eaten... and I mean, not just a nibble, but a full-on feast. Now that's a friend that gives that little bit extra. It's ok however, as his father Jam Ojisan will often bake him a new head. I sometimes wish I could get a new head baked...

The show itself is largely singing and dancing to an Anpanman theme song - and whilst there wasn't much story involved, the children seemed to love it. Once again, don't expect to have much of an idea of what's going on if you don't know Japanese and aren't familiar with the show.

As mentioned earlier... given that it was bon odori time, there was a special focus to the events... including an impromptu taiko performance. I have to admire the people inside these suits... it was still boiling hot (and I mean boiling), and yet they were running around and having a great time.

I also haven't introduced perhaps the second biggest character in the show... it's Baikin-man, where baikin stands for bacteria.... and Baikin-man is the lord of all germs, and hence Anpanman's arch-nemesis (though there's also a strange friendship there at times as well - perhaps as they represent both sides of the same coin). He's cheeky, clever, and oh so naughty - perhaps why he's so popular with children (and our son).

And of course, it wouldn't be an Anpanman Museum without a whole heap of merchandising opportunities available to you. And I mean lot.

One of the more interesting aspects is the bakery... I mean, isn't there something a little disturbing about eating a Shokupanman (shoku pan = white bread, and he's one of Anpanman's closest friends). He's also very tasty. Damn you Jam Ojisan (on the right below)... why did you create your world of delectable super-heroes?

Overall... it was a long day (and not over yet), and whilst I felt that the museum was a little over-priced for what you got (especially considering the merchandising), and perhaps not the best place to go on a hot day, it was interesting to visit anyhow. And L-kun enjoyed too, in between his heat-exhaustion - and still talks about it to this day.

And did I say there were lots of characters?.... let's just say, there's enough to keep birthdays, Christmases and just about every other Sunday occupied with new presents....
(top left to right: Jam Ojisan, Baikin-man, Tendon-man, Anpanman, Omusubi-man;
bottom left to right: Cheese, Dokin-chan, Shokupan-man, Melonpanna-chan, Curry-panman, Kamadoman)


4-3-1, Minato Mirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama, 220-0012
Tel: 045-227-8855
Open : 10:00 -18:00
Cost : 1000 ¥ per person (over 1 year old) 

How to get there: The easiest way is by taking the Minatomirai / Chinatown Line from Yokohama Station, catch the  (180yen) getting off at Shintakashima Station 新高島駅 and then walking about 550 m (7 mins) to the south.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mazu Miao - Temple With a Local Touch

18th of August - The Mazu Miao temple in Yokohama's Chinatown is relatively new - opening up only in 2006. Which just goes to show that not all things in Japan come from antiquity. It's definitely one of the interesting sight-seeing locations in Chinatown (one of the great places to go in Yokohama), and free to enter. You can find it just down from Kanteibyo Temple - or hop-skip-and-jump from the Tenchoumon or Heaven Gate (天長門).

View Tokyo Map in a larger map

Actually, we approached from Kanteibyo Temple, and you first come across a park... a park which has it's own sordid personal tale. My wife and I were busy trying to find a decent restaurant that wasn't closed on a Wednesday. In the mean-time our son had gone off to get a drink from a park public tap (don't forget it's a like about 130% humidity, and about 38degrees Celsius - the century mark in Fahrenheit). There was already an older Japanese child at the faucet playing, whom had decided it would be fun to annoy my son by not letting him drink. At this point, L-kun proceeded to start crying. Never a good moment in the steamy heat of a summer. In a moment of parenting protectiveness I told the boy off in my best stern parenting Japanese... at which point he started to cry (I'm sure he's not been told off by many gaijin before, and it's most probably scarred him for life). The moral of the story... well, there most probably was no moral, but I have to admit that I kinda felt ashamed of myself afterwards. T-chan quietly ignored all of the shenanigans, and was too busy conferring with Okaasan about which restaurants we should try.

Actually, if you can avoid upsetting the local children (like stealing candy from a baby, bwahahahaaaa), then it's worth while checking out the park behind the temple as you'll get a very different view of the main temple building... an unusual octagonal structure. From what I gather, the octagonal design is definitely a throwback to Chinese temple design, as compared to Japanese... reminds me a little of Nan'en-dō in Nara.

Actually the temple derived from a community-based dispute with a proposed housing development... the solution, scrap the development and turn it into a temple. Which is exactly what they did after a mammoth fund-raising drive. Clock one up for community power. A more complete story can be found here.

The front gate is bright and in-your-face, in true Chinese temple style.

The temple gates are guarded by two of the blingiest lions I've ever seen! It's weird to find "metallic" mirror and tassle adorned sculptures, not least as part of a temple grounds.

The temple itself is raised up on an elevated position, a great vantage point from which to hang hundreds of lanterns, and also a providing a great perspective with which to view the intricate series of beams. It's not all gaudy show.

The lanterns are a definite feature, and I'm sure they must be quite a sight at night (and indeed, I've yet to experience Yokohama's Chinatown at night... something for next time perhaps).

For some reason, whenever I see this mural (below) I think of the late 70's tv show, Monkey. Which, as an aside, was one of the first shows that I saw that was Japanese... and turned out to be incredibly popular here in Australia. It was also set against a Chinese story of the pilgrimage to bring Buddhist scrolls to China.... hence, perhaps, the connection. Indeed my wife's parents can't believe just how popular the show was (and indeed remains) here. Of course, if you haven't seen the show, you most probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

Now the name Mazu Miao means the temple to Mazu, or Matsu, who is a Chinese goddess of the sea - but is worshipped all throughout South East Asia amongst the sea-going communities. According to trusty Wikipedia, she was actually born (a real person by the name Lin Moniang) around 960 AD - and as the story goes she somehow saved the lives of her brothers and/or father during a huge typhoon whilst they were at sea through some form of trance-like state.

A closer look at the Mazu statue (shame I didn't put my longer lens on). Mazu is almost always depicted in the distinctive hat reserved for Chinese Emperesses. The custom has the she is associated with two trusty generals, "Thousand Miles Eye" (千里眼, Qianli Yan) and "With-the-Wind Ear" (順風耳 Shunfeng Er). And indeed, Mazu is accompanied by her two friends here....  Thousand Miles Eye being the two-horned red character...

And that leaves With-the-Wind Ear being the one-horned green character, to the right of Mazu herself. Unfortunately I have no idea who or what they were. Indeed, Mazu's ascension to goddesshood is a little vague... or indeed how she came to be the poster-girl for Buddhism (and Taoism). Apparently, she was thought to have been the human incarnation of the god Guan Yin.  Still, it's a nice story that doesn't involve a whole heap of killing and smiting; and indeed you can find temples to Mazu all throughout the south-east Asia.

There's a lot to see in the temple, and not everything is immediately obvious (I have no idea what this object was supposed to be, but it was LARGE).

Oh - and by the way, you'll be expected to pay a small "prayer" fee if you show your camera... and my experience was that the temple staff weren't that pleasant about it either. If you're not interested in donating to the neighbourhood, you can always just enjoy the detail work on the outside of the temple  building itself.

Well, Mazu Miao is definitely worth seeing, but it's perhaps not going to keep you occupied other than as a quick diversion to the other sights and sounds of Yokohama's Chinatown. It does however, despite their slightly less than pleasing style of communicating with tourists (which perhaps are a pain in the butt most of the time), represent what a local community can do against the march of 'development progress'. It may not have as much history as some of the temples in Japan, but it's got a good heart (underneath)... and plenty of over-the-top bling to boot.