Anime Recommendations: Gegege no Kitaro 6

Featured photo credit: http://www.infogranny.com/gegege-no-kitaro-anime-2018/

Gegege no Kitaro was originally a series of comics created by Shigeru Mizuki in the 1960’s. It follows the half-human half-yokai (monster/spirit from Japanese folklore) boy, Kitaro, as he helps humans that are being hurt or haunted by various yokai.

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Image source: https://otakukart.com/review/gegege-no-kitaro-episode-1-review/

Since its original release, the story has been adapted for both live action movies and animated TV shows. The most recent adaptation is the ongoing 2018 animated series, Gegege no Kitaro 6.

Kitaro’s story is an old favorite of mine because I absolutely love stories about yokai. This most recent adaptation of the series, however, is too good not to recommend for more than one reason.

Like many kids shows, the episodes often switch narrative styles between episodes centering on Kitaro and some plot, and filler episodes that show some extra adventures without advancing a plot.

Usually, I don’t care for filler episodes, but the fillers in Gegege no Kitaro 6 have actually been some of my favorite episodes.

Aside from being a good way to learn a little bit about Japanese folklore, this show, and many of the filler episodes released so far, are packed with social commentary that I’ve rarely seen in kids’ shows today. Moreover, the show presents these commentaries in ways that I’ve never seen a kids’ show deal with issues before. These episodes are memorable, engaging, and most importantly, they’re relevant.

For example, episode 7 was one of the scariest, most intense, most profound episodes I’ve ever seen in a kids’ show.

The main lesson of this episode is, “What goes around, comes around.” The story arc follows the boss of a small company and one of his employees making their way home after a night out eating and drinking. Very early on, it’s established that this boss is a terrible person. He cares little to nothing for his employees outside of what they can do for him, and even kicks Kitaro into a row of trash cans, saying that he looks at home with all the trash. By the way, although Kitaro is half yokai, he looks like a human child, and this boss we’re following throughout the episode doesn’t believe in yokai, so this scene establishes that this boss not above harassing a child he doesn’t even know. Anyway, after a warning from Kitaro that a person’s karma always comes back to them sooner or later, the boss and his employee arrive at the train station to find that there’s only one train left running for the night. Having no other choice, they board the train, and quickly realize they haven’t boarded an ordinary train.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THE END OF EPISODE 7 UNTIL THE END OF THE NEXT PARAGRAPH

 

 

 

The main lesson of the episode comes full circle when it’s revealed that, in truth, the boss and his employee have boarded a train to hell. It turns out that the boss of this company is such an abusive person, that he’s caused multiple employees of his to commit suicide…including the employee that’s been following him around all night. In fact, both the boss and the employee that we meet at the beginning of this episode have been dead for some time. The employee died from his suicide, and the boss died because the souls of everyone he tormented came back and pushed him into the path of a train. Now, the boss’s actions have come back to haunt him, and the people whose suicides he caused will take him to hell on this train.

 

 

 

 

END OF SPOILER ALERT

I was completely floored by the end of this episode and how they brought about the main lesson. It took a completely different turn than I was expecting, and, at least for me, was incredibly effective at getting me to think about everything I’ve done in my life and how one thing or another might have harmed someone else. Rather than presenting a simple resolution, the story in this filler episode gives you a painfully blunt consequence in order to make sure you understand the gravity of what it’s trying to say: if you’re not careful, your actions and lifestyle can literally mean the difference between life and death for some people.

I just realized another layer of genius episode 7 uses to drive its point. Before you meet the boss and his employee, you meet a young girl who, along with her friends, has been bullying a classmate. The story of the boss and his employee ends up being a cautionary tale to this girl about what she might be doing to her classmate, and what might ultimately happen to her if she doesn’t change her actions. I love that the writers of Gegege no Kitaro 6 included this, because it removes distance and age barriers from the episode’s message. It isn’t just abusive bosses who need to seriously think about how they treat others, but maybe also the young people who are watching this show every week.

When I was in elementary school and middle school, being bullied was part of a normal week for me and many of my friends. The most frustrating thing about this situation, though, was that the teachers at my schools seemed to have no idea how to talk to us about what consequences bullying can actually have. I distinctly remember having an assembly where one of the teachers stood in front of us and said, “We’ve gotten the impression that you all aren’t treating each other respectfully,” and I thought, “No duh.” It wasn’t until high school that we touched on what abuse or bullying can do to a person, but even then, the conversations were pretty glossed over. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve developed a vocabulary and knowledge to talk to people about why the way we treat others matters, but I don’t think I could have put it as clearly as episode 7 did.

Not all episodes of Gegege no Kitaro 6 deal with topics this intense. Some are exactly what you would think a monster of the week show would be. Some focus specifically on Kitaro and his growing friendship with different humans. Others, though, go a little bit further than that and test the waters of what a kids’ show can actually do. Episode 6 touched on Japan’s problem of rural towns slowly being abandoned by younger generations, and episode 1 took jabs at vloggers who do stupid things for views on their channel (the most impressive thing about this episode was that it criticized misuse of technology without saying technology is inherently bad). It’s a combination of all these different kinds of stories that make Gegege no Kitaro 6 so compelling for me, and if you decide to give the anime a try, I hope you enjoy it too.

Side note, apparently Shigeru Mizuki grew up in Sakaiminato, a tiny coastal town not too far from where I live. The street in front of the train station is dedicated to the show, and they even have a museum. I’m absolutely stopping by Sakaiminato soon!

If you want to hear a bit more about the social commentary in episode 1 of the newest adaptation of Gegege no Kitaro, Gaijin Goombah over on YouTube has a great episode on the subject.

Thanks for reading this recommendation! I hope I’ve gotten you interested!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vogel Park: Of Birds and Beautiful Flowers

Vogel Park sits just outside of Matsue on the shore of Lake Shinji. The park draws people in with promises of lush greenhouses and close encounters with birds. As it turns out, the park makes good on those promises, and more!

Before you even buy a ticket, the front entrance offers you the chance to observe several different species of owls.When I went, I spent so long just looking at all the birds in this area and getting to see some of their personalities. Some of the owls were sleeping, some stood still, watching every passerby, and some were much more active.

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Some of my favorite owls to observe were two Great Horned Owls. One of them sat on the perch furthest from the front of the enclosure and critically watched the owl on the perch closest to the front of the enclosure. The owl at the front of the enclosure shifted from talon to talon, bobbing her head, constantly moving. Then suddenly, she launched herself from the perch and ran straight into the enclosure wall. She changed her course and flew to land on the back perch. The owl that had been watching her screeched as if to say, “What did you think was going to happen?”

If you can manage to tear yourself away from these owls, you can finally enter the park. The ticket counters sits inside one of the main attractions of Vogel Park; a greenhouse that specializes in begonias and fuchsia.

These flowers, along with many more types, hang from the ceiling, float in a pond, and sit on risers.

If you want to pause and take all of this in, you can stop by Cafe Flora, which is just to the left of the ticket counters. They offer light snacks, and specialty desserts like begonia ice cream!

Don’t worry about taking too much time here, though. The walking route for the park runs in a circle. You start at the front of this greenhouse, wander around through other spots in the park, and then eventually return to the greenhouse from the back entrance. There are signs all around the park that keep you walking on the right track. Make sure you follow them so that you don’t crowd the area.

When you exit the greenhouse, the first thing you encounter is a moving walkway heading up a hill. Hop on for a ride, and enjoy the forest around you. Along the covered walkway, you’ll see several different signs picturing wild birds you might see if you look closely.

At the top of the hill is an observation tower. There are no birds in this tower, but I cannot recommend stopping inside enough. Standing at the top of this tower gives you what is honestly the best view of Lake Shinji I’ve ever seen!

Windows on all sides of the tower give you a three hundred and sixty degree view of the lake, surrounding cities, and mountains. Lake Shinji is huge, but this tower lets you see it from one end to the other. You can also view the entirety of Vogel Park from up here.

After a walk under a covered pathway, you’ll come to the Waterfall Aviary. Here, you’ll find water birds such as ducks, swans, and ibises. This was one of my favorite places to stop by far because it was so much fun to feed the ibises!

Just drop 100 yen into the box and take a cup of food. The ibises will come to you even before the food is in your hand.

The Tropical Aviary comes up next. This aviary features a koi pond and leafy garden along with colorful, tropical birds.

If you want to, you can buy food to feed the koi fish. The main attraction, though, is the smaller aviary attached to this one where you can actually hold some of the birds. When I stopped in here, I got to hand feed a toucan sitting on my arm. The birds in this aviary are very used to people, and they’re so friendly!

African penguins are also a big feature of the Tropical Aviary. At different times during the day (once in the morning and once in the afternoon), the penguins will be let out of their enclosure and allowed to walk around the park. During these parades, the penguins will be dressed up in different outfits to match the current season. I didn’t get a chance to see the penguin parade on my visit, but right now, the penguins get dressed up in outfits inspired by the anime, Evangellion, since there’s a temporary exhibit on the anime being displayed at the Shimane Art Museum.

From here, after you pass by the park’s duck pond and soba restaurant, you arrive back at the flower greenhouse. Coming in from the back entrance, you’ll walk right into the owl show venue. Every day from 3:00, park visitors gather here to watch some of the park’s owls and other birds fly. If you can make it in time, this show is absolutely worth seeing! The venue is small and the bird handlers move all around the area throughout the show. This means just about everyone has a chance to have huge birds flying over their heads!

A similar show happens every day at the grassy clearing between the Waterfall Aviary and Tropical Aviary. All of the shows plus the penguin parade are spaced out throughout the day so that no matter what time you arrive at the park, it’s possible for you to catch at least one of them.

Before you leave the park, there are still a few things inside the greenhouse to see, like the owl house, the Seat of Happiness, and the Heart of Happiness. The Seat and the Heart are flower displays created to be En-Musubi spots. The Heart (a giant heart made from flowers) is an especially popular spot for couple to take pictures.

All in all, I can’t name a bad thing about this park! Especially since I love birds and I’m quickly growing fond of flower parks. Vogel Park is small, but there’s a lot to see. You can easily spend hours exploring the buildings and watching the birds. Also, since most of the park is indoors, you can visit it any time of year! I’ll definitely be back later, and I’m so happy I finally got around to visiting!

Mingeikan: Izumo’s Folk Craft Museum

A while ago, I made a post about Shussai Gama, a pottery studio that produces Mingei artwork. If you didn’t catch that post, you can brush up on what Mingei art is here.

Today, I thought I’d talk a little more about Izumo’s culture of Mingei art through the Izumo Folk Craft Museum.

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The museum sits inside of buildings that once belonged to the Yamamoto family, previously some of the wealthiest landowners in the Izumo area. Some of the buildings on this property have stood since the eighteenth century, but today, it’s a museum showcasing some of Izumo’s contemporary artworks.

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The main building, a converted rice storehouse, sits just next to the museum entrance. Inside, you can find wood works from the late Edo (1603-1868) and early Showa (1926-1989) Periods as well as pottery and hand-dyed textiles.

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Many of the arts you see in this hall are still hand made in Izumo today. The first time I came into this building, I walked around it twice to make sure I took everything in. I especially loved the textiles. The color of dye used in the threads is unique to the area. Also, they’re just incredibly detailed and beautiful!

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Some of the museum staff explained to me that the textiles’ designs are made using a batik technique; designs are drawn on white fabric with wax, and then dyed. The wax is washed out later, leaving clear lines behind.

Along with all of the crafts, the main hall itself is a work of art for more than one reason. Aside from being a historical building, this hall was built using a style of architecture not commonly seen today. If you look at the rafters in the ceiling, you’ll notice that they’re curved like a tree might be. That’s because each rafter is made out of an entire tree, and natural curves are allowed to remain in the wood even after the trees are cut down and processed. You’ll sometimes see this style of architecture in old houses, the shop at Shussai Gama is one other example besides this museum, but newer buildings don’t use this technique. The reason for this is obvious, it’s takes centuries for a tree to grow big enough to make one rafter.

I’ve only found a couple of examples of this kind of building in Izumo so far, but I’m really happy if I can find one. Because the rafters aren’t completely straight or smooth, they give buildings a more organic atmosphere. It’s like the architecture reminds you that you’re not cut off from nature once you step inside the walls of a building, you’re simply out of nature’s view for a time.

The west hall of the museum, a converted lumber storehouse, is just across the courtyard from the main hall and displays current Mingei artworks. I almost missed the entrance to this hall the first time I came; the path leading up to the door is a trail of large stepping stones leading you through the grass.

Many of the works in this hall are similar to those in the main hall, but you can find many more diverse artworks as well. One of my favorite pieces was a wooden sculpture of a folded kagura (traditional Japanese drama) outfit. I thought it was real before I realized it was a sculpture! Even after I realized this, though, my eyes still tricked me into believing that I could pick up this outfit and put it on.

Before you leave the museum, I recommend taking a look at all of the buildings before you leave. The main house is off limits to tourists, but you can still enjoy the details of the main hall, west hall, and the wall surrounding the museum. Also, have fun imagining what the Yamamoto family residence looked like before it was a museum! According to the museum shop staff, the property used to be much bigger than it is now.

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Speaking of the museum shop, you shouldn’t miss taking a look through it. It sits in a room inside of the long wall that runs around the museum. This shop sells Mingei works from Izumo as well as from studios in Matsue City and Kyushu, one of the large islands just south of Japan’s main island. The shop staff are very friendly and willing to tell you more about the museum and Mingei works in general. You might want to brush up on your Japanese, though. The staff member I talked to could speak a little English, but we mostly talked in Japanese.

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One of the main purposes of this museum is to introduce visitors to the philosophy of Mingei art, and to offer examples of how to incorporate both the art and the philosophy into one’s life. For example, you might notice that though the buildings making up the museum used to be the home of a wealthy family, they are very simply constructed. This is because the Yamamoto family is supposed to have valued simplicity in living. They also supposedly valued the skills of local carpenters and plasterers very highly. The fact that the estate was constructed with these principles in mind makes the museum buildings themselves works of Mingei art that you can live inside of.

While not everyone interested in Mingei art can build a house following its principles, the fact that it is possible to do so raises a lot of interesting ideas about what defines art. If you visit this museum, you’ll get to see several examples of Mingei work that each claim the same thing: art is a thing that is present in your everyday life, that reflects you and the place you are from.

 

Daikonshima Peony Festival

Literally translated, Daikonshima means, “Raddish Island.” From what I’ve read, this name was given to the area to discourage potential thieves. Daikonshima is most famous for its gardens and nurseries. Specifically, Yushien Garden.

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Seasonal flowers and plants are grown in this traditional Japanese garden all year round, but each year, between late April and early May, the Peony Festival is held. If you arrive in Japan too late to see the cherry blossoms, this festival is a must see! Peonies are the official flower of Shimane Prefecture, and this garden takes growing peonies very seriously.

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When you enter the garden during this festival, you’re greeted with thousands of peonies floating in the main pond. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of some gardeners wading through the water to check on the flowers.

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If you can tear yourself away from the garden’s main entrance, there’s much more to see. Paths wind through the garden and take you through forests, over bridges, and if you make sure to look in every corner, you’ll see more than a few waterfalls.

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Among the places you can explore is a peony greenhouse, which is always kept at the perfect temperature and humidity to make the flowers thrive.

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This greenhouse is a work of art straight out of a fantasy novel! I had to stop myself from taking a picture of everything I saw. Around the peonies are carefully selected stones and logs covered in fuzzy moss. In one corner of the area, you can find a water feature made up of a wooden wheel and several wooden waterways. On your way out, you pass through a gate complete with lanterns, and can peer through a window to get one last look at everything before you leave.

Outside the greenhouse, even more peonies are on display for the festival. One spot even offers you the chance to vote for your favorite plant.

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If you come to this garden, make sure you’ve explored everything. Its look changes slightly each time you come, and you might discover something you would have normally missed. Koi swim in the ponds, butterflies rest on the flowers, a few restaurants an tea houses sit in the garden, and during this particular festival, potted peonies and other gifts are available for sale.

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When you eventually reach the end of the garden path, it seems to be over too soon. If you want to take one last look at everything, though, you can have a cup of tea in the main building’s cafe with its view of the front pond.

From what I’ve heard, the peony festival isn’t the only time worth visiting the garden. In June, hydrangeas bloom throughout the grounds. In the winter, the garden is lit up with strings of lights. Aside from the events, though, I can tell Yushien is a nice garden to just visit on any normal day. When you decide to take a bridge or a small path that leads you to a remote corner of the garden, you forget that you’re just a short drive from Matsue City. At times, you can even forget that you’re inside of a garden.

At one point during my visit, I ended up next to a small stream slightly below the main path. Water flowed over mossy rocks above me and sunlight fell through tiny green maple leaves. If I looked upstream, away from the view of the garden’s main building, I could believe I was off in the woods somewhere and had discovered the best hidden corner of the forest. I could have stayed in that one spot for hours.

This definitely won’t be my last time visiting!

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