Gundam Docks in HK and My Life with Gundam

Gundam.info recently released more details on the Gundam Docks at the Hong Kong II event, which begins Aug 1 through the 31st at Hong Kong Times Square.

A highlight of this activity is the 1:3 scale of Gundam Wing and Gundam Unicorn. I was amazed with the pictures I’ve seen around the Web, so I’ve been deliberating very hard whether or not to go and personally witness the exhibit dedicated to Gundam’s 35th anniversary.

(Times Square Site photos c/o Maker World)

Gundam Wing
Rhythm Emotion cue
Gundam Wing photo
Just Communication cue

gundam the originWhile thinking about the value of going to Hong Kong for this event, I took some time to internalize what the Gundam title means to me.

I don’t consider myself the ultimate  fan, but I have a lot of hobbies related to Gundam. My favorites are Seed and Destiny, and I patronized both seasons of Build Fighters. I also like Wing mostly because of the machines, and not because of the five suicidal pilots—but that’s a topic for another article. Currently, I’m following the Gundam: The Origin manga, and have my favorite bookstore auto-reserve a copy for me whenever a new volume comes out.

Games and Toys

I am not too much into Gunpla modeling kits because I don’t have the time to build them. Currently, my wife and I only own several unassembled kits—a Perfect Gwing zero pefrect graderade Wing Zero I gave her for her birthday 7-8 years ago, an MG (Master Grade)-Proto of Wing, an MG Heavy Arms Endless Waltz we bought from our first trip to Japan back in 2007, a Mobius Zero- mobile armor of my favorite character Mu La Flaga and the Archangel—Seed’s version of the classic’s White Base.


I also play some related games during my free time. I find the Playstation Vita’s Gundam Breaker 1 and 2 to be good—despite being purely Japanese—due to its very intuitive controls.

In addition, I also frequent Gundam Duel Company, a mission-based online game from Bandai Namco, where you can use the cards you get offline from boosters packs to recruit mobile suits and ACE pilots for your army (you should try this if you’re a fan and experience the various mobile suits battle one another). The best part is the organized play wherein players and their home store will get to represent the country, battling other commanders around the globe.

A few years ago, I played the card game Gundam War NEX-A, which appealed to me as a card collector. However, I found it very hard to play as there is no official English translation available, ergo it was difficult to find other players who share the same interest. The cards, though, are very nice and I decided to put them together in a kick-ass binder featuring the various series’ heroines.

Gundam in our Travels

Two of the important stops my wife and I always make whenever we go to Tokyo are Gundam Cafes and Diver City (home of the 1:1 scale RX-78 and the museum, Gundam Front) .

Gundam Cafe in Akihabara

There are two Gundam Cafes in Tokyo; one is in Akihabara and the other one is in Odaiba, just beside the life-size Gundam (more on that later). The Gundam Cafe features themed food that are mostly entertaining—some of them funny. Our favorite is the “Gundam Wing self-destruct,” a meal with a soft-boiled sunny-side up egg.

Gundam Front in Diver City, Odaiba

At the 6th floor of Diver City is Gundam Front, which features a 360 theater featuring exclusive short videos to visitors. When we went there, they showed Gundam Phenex for the first time, battling Banshee in space. There are interactive displays inside the exhibit explaining the various series and a 1:1 life-size bust of Freedom Gundam. There are also sketches of the main characters and cell-shadings. By the exit is the shop, which sells exclusive items ranging from modeling kits and plushies to food and apparel.

And the most badass Gundam display in existence, 1:1 RX 78-2!

RX-78-1
The 18-meter-tall 1:1 scale RX-78-2 is the highlight of Gundam Front. The Gundam faces the bay area, seemingly ready to defend Japan against any threat. The statue lights up at night and performs a light show every 30 minutes from 6 to 8 PM. Smoke from the machine’s exhaust makes it more realistic and the head moves sideways. The main cockpit opens during the night show and the audience get to see Amuro Ray piloting it.

So will I be able to visit Times Square to check out the Gundam Docks at Hong Kong II event ? The exhibit is not as extensive as that of Tokyo, but it may be another exciting experience altogether. I hope we find the time to visit in August and would definitely post updates if we push through with it.

(All pictures are by the author unless otherwise specified.)

The Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses: A Link to the Past-ure

When one mentions Osaka, Japan’s third largest city, images of Osaka Castle, Dotonbori, and Universal Studios immediately come to mind. But they aren’t even a handful of what this city has to offer.

Last June, my fiancée and I had the opportunity to visit one of Osaka’s quiet surprises—the Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farmhouses.

Nestled in the Hattori Ryokuchi Park in Toyonaka, this outdoor museum is accessible via a lengthy walk from the Ryokuchi-Koen station of the Kita-Osaka Kyuko Railway line. It is actually connected to the Midosuji Line, but you will need to pay an extra 90 yen as this isn’t covered by the Osaka Amazing Pass.

Map

Being advocates of the immersive-type of museum, we quickly took a liking to the place as it not only reminded us of the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living from our previous trip, but it also went the extra mile with these three words: “moved and rebuilt.”

The last of its kind

Yes, we were looking at 12 actual Edo period farmhouses seemingly plucked from the mists of time all across Japan and restored for display.

This farmhouse from Setsu-Nose, Osaka, is characteristic of the Irimoya-Zukuri style
with a “hip and gable” roof to resist wind and snow. The interior is divided into a wooden half
for sleeping and an earthen half for cooking.
A farmhouse from Hida-Shirakawa in the Gifu province is practically synonymous with the term “Gassho-Zukuri,” or hands held in prayer, due to its distinctive roof.
This is one of the oldest houses on display and it used to fit a family of 20.
This farmhouse from Akiyama, Nagano, looks bundled up because it was originally located in a remote village high up in the mountains and knee-deep in snow.

Each house possesses a certain trademark influenced by the conditions and customs of the area.

In Shirakawa-go farmhouses, the thatching is such that it can repel rain,
keep the interior ventilated, and withstand heavy snowfall.

The interiors are no less striking: From the simple yet efficient design to the “old log cabin” aroma to the creaks and groans of the wooden panels, they are a feast for the senses.

This partitioned area served as the bedroom for the elderly couple.
In certain farmhouses, stables were part of the main dwelling. The L-configuration made it possible
for farmers to watch over their livestock from their quarters.
This staircase leads to a spacious attic which was used for raising silkworms.

Despite being museum pieces, the houses remain functional. The clay ovens are still being used to cook rice while the irori (hearth) continues to be a place for the caretakers and guests to eat.

A caretaker stoking the fire
A lady using the workroom to weave sandals

Of course, rural villages like these were not without leisure. Certain villages had a Kabuki theater that served the dual purpose of entertaining and offering. The performances were used, for example, to give thanks to the farmers’ patron deity prior to rice planting in spring.

The museum experience won’t be complete without the educational materials. Unfortunately, most of these are in Japanese.

The tools, while archaic, may still be of use…
…but staying ensconced in glass would serve them better.
Farming implements too big to be housed in glass

It’s a good thing a volunteer guide approached us as we were looking through Farmhouse 11. The guides are usually seen in the bigger houses (2, 7, 11), and they are very accomodating.

Despite his limited English (and my elementary-level Nihongo comprehension), he was able to explain the workings of a typical minka down to the living arrangements.

Farmhouses aren’t the only thing this museum has to offer. Down the winding path, painters and photographers try to capture the idyllic scenery. Memorial stones sit silently on a tranquil spot. Blue, pink, and purple hydrangeas dot the myriad bushes.

There’s this windmill from Sakai that was used to pump water
during the Taisho period…
… and this bamboo grove.
You can collect these along the way

As with those three words, we left the place with a brief glimpse of how life was back then, a lingering notion of how the farmers made do with what they had, and a lasting impression of the Japanese people’s profound respect for their past.

The entrance fee is 500 yen per person. Museum hours are from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. They are closed on Mondays.

photos by: Robert De Villa

A Weekend of Figures at Bandai Tamashii Features 2015 Taipei

Bandai Tamashii Features 2015, a highly anticipated toy exhibition, was held at Song Shan Cultural Park just a few minutes away from Taipei City Hall MRT Station. The exhibition was only for 2 and a half days (July 17 to 19), and that should give you an idea on how crowded it was when my friend and I were there.

I chose to go on the second day (July 18), thinking it would be less packed than the July 17 grand opening day.  It turned out I was right on the “less crowded” part, however being a day late meant a lot of the merchandise had dwindled considerably – which made me want to hit my head against a brick wall.

IMG_20150718_145842_HDR

Admission was absolutely free, which was a pleasant surprise. Immediately upon entering we were given brochures and a handheld Gundam fan. It was a hot day and the fan was a welcome gift.

The event pretty much looked like a decorated warehouse, which may have disappointed people looking for a grand expo experience. There were also no events or shows. But I was not disappointed. We did go there to look at the toys displayed and admire them, all while wallowing on the inside about how much our wallets would suffer.

The exhibition was composed of 50% Gundam, 30% One Piece, 10% Saint Seiya and sadly 10% of everything else.  The Gundam line-up was immense. I am not a mecha fan, but my friend is. At some point during the event, he had so much fun that he forgot I was with him. I, on the other hand, was hoping to get a glimpse of Sailor Pluto and Sailor V, but they were inexplicably absent from the Sailor Moon S.H. Figuarts line-up. I did, however, see the upcoming Spiral Heart Moon Rod. They also had the upcoming Frozen Figuarts Zero on display.

I love Saint Seiya, and I am fortunate to live in a place that adores Saint Seiya as much as I do. Much of the line-up consisted of the EX line including the new EX Soul of Gold versions. A 1:1 scale of Leo Aiolia’s armor was also on display, which drove a lot of fans crazy.

The Bandai shop was slightly disappointing for me mostly because all Sailor Moon merchandise were gone. No, I’m not talking about leftovers. They were GONE, empty shelves and all. I could have bought a Proplica Crystal Star Brooch if I went on Day 1. (Note that Bandai Taiwan follows the same exact pricing as Bandai Japan. We pay factory price, not retail.)

After spending a considerable amount of time in the expo (staring morosely at the empty Sailor Moon section for who knows how long), we went out into the hot and humid street.

But there was an unexpected surprise. Next door was the Gundam PlaModel (a portmanteau of either plastic and model, or play and model) Exhibition 2015. Yes, I know I’m not a fan, but my friend and I wanted to go inside so badly. So we waited in line under the hot sun for about half an hour.

Upon entering, they make you draw a Gundam lottery. The lottery allowed you to win discount stubs ranging from 5% off up to a whopping 40% off. I got a 20% discount stub and my friend got 25%, much to his delight.

The exhibition looked much more funded than Tamashii Features 2015. There was a Gundam museum, followed by more recent releases. There was also a Gundam assembly contest and some shows with girls wearing skimpy outfits (I consider them a necessary evil in conventions and exhibitions). The store was the craziest section of the Gundam PlaModel Exhibition. Model kits and figurines were flying off the shelves and people can be heard bartering discount stubs with their friends. There was even a store staff who walked around carrying a huge sign that warned people about items that were about to be sold out. I even heard a man scream in agony as if someone died, when the model kit he wanted ran out of stock.

All in all, despite the slight disappointments, it was a good day. Thankfully, my wallet did not suffer much, and I went home with the entire line-up of Super Mario Bros. S.H. Figuarts at a discount –imagine, factory price less another 10% off! My friend bought the GF13-017NJ Shining Gundam Robot Spirits series, as well as Gundam marker pens and a Tallgeese model kit he scored for 25% off at the Gunpla Expo. We look forward to going through this again next year!