Dutch-Japanese Foods Part 3: My Own Experiment

Nattou, that Japanese food which divides families and shatters nations but which I love immensely, is hard to come by in the Netherlands, so when a friend said he knew a way to get some, I knew what had to be done. Upon receiving it, I had a strange epiphany, to combine it with another food which embodies cultural adaptation and assimilation: The McKroket.

The McKroket is a sandwich from McDonald’s available only in the Netherlands, taking the Dutch fondness for fried meaty goop and shaping it into a disc suitable for bunnery. Just as a word of advice, be careful when eating all krokets and kroket-like products, as the ragout can and will burn your tongue if you bite in too suddenly.

Anyway, I opened up my pack of nattou, added the soy sauce and mustard, and gave it a mighty stir before placing some on top of the kroket part of the sandwich. With the top bun back on my culinary Frankenstein monster was complete.

And you know what? It was fantastic. I know 99% of people reading won’t believe me, even the people who do like nattou, but I am completely serious when I say I would do this again if given the opportunity. It is a complex mix of savory flavors between the ragout and the strong nuttiness of the nattou, and the combination of the crunchiness of the fried crust and the chewiness of the fermented soy beans made each bite strangely satisfying, hough keep in mind that I find nattou itself to be a purveyor of contentment, so your mileage may vary.

I guess if you’re in Japan, you could just buy some nattou and put it on a croquet pan but it wouldn’t be quite the same. Maybe you should fly to Europe just to do this.

Dutch-Japanese Foods Part 2: They Made a Hello Kitty Cereal

One day I went to the supermarket with a mission: buy a relatively inexpensive cereal because I’d been eating out too much. That quickly went out the window once I laid my eyes on this:

Now I’m not much of a Hello Kitty fan, and I have never been a collector of Hello Kitty merchandise, but the combination of the very existence of this cereal and the fact that its full name is actually “Hello Kitty Fruity Chocs” meant I had to try it at least once.

According to the box it is chocolate cereal outside with strawberry-flavored inside, which is kind of surprising given that the cereal actually isn’t that sweet. I probably won’t buy it again, but I’m definitely keeping the box.

Dutch-Japanese Foods Part 1: Japanmarkt 2012

The city of Leiden has an annual outdoor market called the “Japanmarkt” (Japan Market), where people and booths gather along one of the canals of the city in order to celebrate all things Japanese. I actually went last year but forgot to bring my camera, so I made sure this year not to forget and to also actually report on the danged thing because it’s pretty cool overall.

Held this year on May 25th, Japanmarkt is not terribly different from any of the Japan-themed festivals I’ve attended back in the US, but what is very clear is that the festival reflects to some degree the unique history the Netherlands has with Japan. Back when foreigners were for the most part not allowed in Japan, it was the Dutch merchants who were the rare exception. Moreover, the first Japanologist, Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, was a German living in Leiden, and his old house is now a Japanese museum on the same street as Japanmarkt. And of course, there are a good amount of Dutch anime fans mixed in there, creating this convergence of Japan-loving generations that’s different from an anime convention. That said, there were actually anime con booths there as well.

Food was a popular item, and for my part I tried two things in particular. The first was a curry (for charity!). The second was something that could only have come out of a Dutch-based celebration of Japanese culture.

If you don’t know takoyaki, they’re essentially fried chewy balls of batter stuffed with bits of octopus and covered in savory sauces, a kind of convenient comfort food (and quite delicious if I do say so myself). There was a takoyaki stand at Japanmarkt, but it had a twist, mixing the concept of takoyaki with that of “poffertjes,” tiny pancake-like snacks typically served with powdered sugar.

These “takoyaki poffertjes” were something I felt I could never get elsewhere, their uniqueness compelling me to try them out. I can’t complain.

At one of the tables which was selling manga, I overheard a girl helping her friend out by finding volumes of My Girlfriend is a Geek (Fujoshi Kanojo). I don’t often see people interested in those otaku/fujoshi romance manga, especially ones giving lists to their friends to hunt down those books wherever possible, so that put a bit of a smile on my face.

Thinkin’ Thoughts

Getting anime and manga merchnadise in the Netherlands is actually not that difficult I’ve learned, particularly when you live closer to the bigger cities. Though a lot of material is in Dutch, because a lot of people here know how to read in English already a lot of it is also imported from the US. I could be in worse situations.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss New York City and the amazing amount of access I can get with just a short train ride. When I think about how to spend a summer day in New York for me, it involves going to Kinokuniya first, followed by Bookoff (or vice versa), and then moving on to eat at Go Go Curry. They’re all around the same area so it also makes for an enjoyable walk. The sheer weight of my bookbag as it’s stuffed with manga is also a strangely pleasant and familiar feeling, and even reminds me of my high school days. It’s even more fun to relax on the train ride back, preferably with friends, just sharing everything we got while simultaneously peeling off layers of Bookoff price tags (those things tend to accumulate as the same book gets resold over and over).

Perhaps the New York routine is special mainly because it’s where home is. Probably if I gave myself more time here (and actually went to Amstelveen), I could build up a similar routine, but for now I’m content to wait for the moments I go back.

Blaaaazin’: Anime 2012

This past weekend was my second time attending the unambiguously named “Anime Con” over in Almelo, the Netherlands, only unlike last year I managed to go for more than one day. Truth be told, I had originally planned on skipping out this year for various reasons, but when I saw the guest list it seemed like a must. Not only was anime and manga scholar with a particular fondness for Tezuka Helen McCarthy attending, but there was Initial D opening/ending band m.o.v.e. as well. Another prominent guest was Dutch comics artist Martin Lodewijk, but I was not able to see him because he was only able to attend on Friday (which I skipped out on).

Located near the German border, the train ride to Almelo for me altogether took about two and a half hours, something I felt I should have remembered from the last time I did it, but somehow seemed strangely new. I was unable to procure a hotel at or near the venue, but taking the train back and forth ended up costing less money (and even less than a similar trip by Amtrak back in the US), and it gave me a lot of time back and forth to read manga and even to draw, which I hadn’t done in a long time. So, even aside from the actual convention itself, fun was had. Also quite fortunate was that the weather in Almelo was excellent, and if I hadn’t had to pass through wind and rain to get there I would’ve thought it to have been a waste to wear a jacket.

Before I get into the con itself, I do want to note that there are some interesting parts of the event which didn’t change too much from last year like the game room and the maid cafe, so I’ll refer you again to last year’s report.

Panels

Now I am the type of con-goer who loves to attend panels, and it was very clear to me that Anime Con this year had made a concerted effort to insert more panels into its programming. There were humorous panels, quiz shows, and a number of informative ones, including a Vocaloid panel. Not being terribly interested in Vocaloid myself normally, I walked in on it half an hour after it had begun in order to be around for the next panel, only to realize that in my ignorance I had missed out on what may have been the best Vocaloid panel ever.

Normally, Vocaloid panels seem to be more celebrations of Hatsune Miku and friends, but this panel was actually run by motsu, the rapper from m.o.v.e. Known for such sage wisdom as “I got no impression/ This town made by the imitation/ Wanting your sensation/ In this silly simulation/ I wanna rage my dream,” from the little I caught of it, the whole hour was a little bit of history about Vocaloid and a lot about how it works as a music-making program and its limitations, like how Vocaloids are bad at that double-consonant often found in Japanese, the “kk” in Tekkaman for instance. The band has somewhat close ties to the program, as not only was his fellow bandmate yuri was made into the celebrity Vocaloid “Lily,” but the guy as an active musician uses the program himself, even posting on Nico Nico Douga under the name “Nicormy.”

We learned that motsu likes to use the Gackt-based Vocaloid “Gackpoid,” and that there was originally some trouble with Vocaloid Lily because of yuri’s relatively deeper voice and how the program is better-suited for high-pitched tones a la Hatsune Miku. He also gave some tips for working around the program’s limits, like using the hi-hat (the cymbal?) from a drum machine in order to simulate a “ssst” sound, another weakpoint for Vocaloids, or using a “bend down” to improve the sound of Vocaloid rapping. Even though I don’t know music and had to look up some of these terms after, I really regret not being in there earlier.

Right after the Vocaloid panel was Helen McCarthy’s talk on “kawaii” and its origins, tracing it back more generally to a biological human tendency to want to protect doe-eyed creatures be they babies or kittens, as well as more directly how the styles we associate with Japanese cuteness were the result of an intermingling between Japanese and Western cultures. For instance, Helen pointed towards Betty Boop as an influence on kawaii, a mix of cute and sexy and facial proportions which resemble a traditional idea of attractveness in Japan, and talked about the French artist Peynet, whose romantic drawings of Parisian life still persist today.

Of particular note for me was her brief discussion of the artist Macoto Takahashi, whose “Makoto Eyes” (see above) would clearly become an influence on 60s and 70s shoujo manga. In fact, I had to ask Helen about the clear lineage into shoujo, and what might have caused a decline in those types of sparkling eyes, to which she replied that it likely has to do with how the painstaking detail of Makoto Eyes, which can take hours to draw precisely, conflicts with the hectic work schedule of a manga artist.

The last panel I attended was “The Future of Comics is Manga.” Held on the last day of the convention, it drew what I felt was a surprisingly large crowd based on my experience with American conventions, and I have to wonder if there are actually proportionately more anime con attendees interested in industry and creator discussions compared in Dutch conventions. On the panel were Helen McCarthy, Japanese manga and video game pixel artist curently living in the Netherlands Aoki Noriko, writer for the Dutch anime magazine Aniway Rik Spanjers, and Dutch comics writer Sytse Algera. The discussion went to various places, from how it’s faulty to say that comics never appealed to adults around the world and that it’s more an issue of the comics industry not being able to hold onto those readers to the comparatively low salary that most manga artists make, which has to be tempered by an actual passion and enthusiasm for creating comics.

Somewhat unfortunately, the Q&A session turned into primarily a discussion of piracy and copyright, from downloads to doujinshi to everything in between. While I felt that it was in certain ways a fruitful discussion, and everyone agreed that creators cooperating with fans had definite benefits, it also pushed aside all other potential questions. Moreover, a lot of the discussion had to do with artists feeling that they’re being slighted by downloads, and I feel that when you have a panel comprised of mostly artists and creators it skews the discussion in a certain direction, just as a panel of mostly editors might, or a panel of mostly fanfiction writers. All in all, though, it was quite informative.

The Concert

While I’m aware of the fact that m.o.v.e. has performed at at least one anime convention in the US, given my current living situation and the sheer size of the United States it was actually easier for me to go to Anime 2012 to see them than if I were still back in the US and they had visited another state.

Last year I had attended a portion of the Aural Vampire concert, but had to leave early. This year I decided to stay for the full thing, which almost didn’t happen because the concert started 45 minutes late. In spite of not getting home until 1am as a result, it was still really great, with m.o.v.e. playing up the crowd and throwing in their Initial D songs alongside some of their non-anime-related work.

I am no regular concert attendee, so I can’t say if this is anything truly special or not, but I was pretty amazed that the singer yuri actually sounds better live than she does in official recordings. I don’t have the proper musical vocabulary to describe what I mean, but she actually comes off as more powerful on-stage than in music videos. motsu meanwhile rapped up a storm, and in some ways it’s even more special to hear live than yuri’s strong vocals.

There were also some technical difficulties with the microphones during the concert, but m.o.v.e. handled it very well with the help of a supportive crowd. When mics would stop working, the two would share one, and at one point the DJ Remo-con (who also deserves respect) passed over his personal headset to motsu so he could continue.

As might be expected, motsu actually has excellent English (he was even occasionally switching to English in the vocaloid panel prior), and was definitely not working from a script when talking to the audience. My favorite moment was probably when motsu asked if we wanted “A CAT FIGHT” or “ANOTHER KIND OF FIGHT.” Remo-con responded with a cat paw gesture. At another point, motsu also asked what kind of beat we want, giving “flamin'” as one option. Naturally, there was only one choice.

Artist’s Alley

Unlike many of the Dutch cons I’ve attended the artist’s alley this time around was somewhat separate from the dealer’s room. I’ve spoken about this many times before, but I’m still interested in the fact that most of the artists in the alley seem to prioritize making full books, either by themselves or in collaboration with others, as opposed to buttons and other trinkets (though those were still around). I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the Netherlands’ own strong tradition when it comes to publishing (it was known for having very good freedom of publishing centuries back), though that connection may be too tenuous.

An interesting element of this convention’s artist’s alley was that there was this peculiar collectible card game available, where you actually buy cards based on the amount of things you buy in the artist’s alley, which you could use to create an actual deck. I didn’t buy too much from the alley, so I couldn’t experience the game firsthand, but it was apparently the idea of the people running the Manga Kissa (manga cafe) at this convention and many others, and who actually currently have a permanent location in Utrecht.

I also got a chance to talk Aoki Noriko, the Dutch-resident Japanese artist, who is also apparently a huge fan of Saint Seiya given her personal portfolio. As we talked, she mentioned some of the difficulty going from traditional media to digital, which is a topic I’m always interested in. In the end, I bought the comic above and left with a thank you, though looking back I regret not asking her more about her work in video games, as she did sprite graphics in the 8-bit and 16-bit era.

Speaking of art, ever since Nishicon 2011 I’ve been really enjoying the idea of a drawing room at conventions, a place which provides free paper and drawing tools so that people can go nuts. Like at Nishicon, the room was run by “Mangaschool,” the group which also ran various drawing tutorials and workshops throughout the convention. I feel like sometimes the best thing to do to get away from the hustle of a con while still being a part of it is to just sit down and draw, to let the mind wander through the hand. Also robots are cool.

I don’t have a proper scanner on me at the moment so while I’d like to share the drawings I made at the convention, I’m going to save it for a separate post in about a month. Look forward to it!

Storyboards

Also on display at the convention were various anime design work and storyboard pages from a wide variety of shows. I’ve included some below for your enjoyment:


Sakura contemplates revenge

Cosplay

 

Sadly she was not singing the Panty & Stocking opening

Overall

While I may not be the best judge of the long-term progress of “Anime Con,” I noticed many improvements compared to last year, especially in terms of varying the kinds of things that are available to do. Theaterhotel Almelo may only be able to hold 3000 people, but I certainly felt their energy as fans.

Preparing for Anime Con NL 2012

I’m going to be heading to the Dutch con known simply as  “Anime Con” next weekend (May 18-20). Located in the city of Almelo near the German border, I attended for the first time last year, though this time I’ll be attending for more than one day.

Of particular interest at this convention is their musical guest, m.o.v.e., known for their Initial D themes, manga scholar Helen McCarthy, and the famous (actually I believe most famous) Dutch comics artist, Martin Lodewijk.

If you’re in the area but haven’t decided to attend yet, do note that the hotel rooms are all booked, but that you can still get a discount if you register by the 17th.

Gratis! Free Comic Book Day, Netherlands Edition

This past weekend was yet another Free Comic Book Day for the United States, but as it turns out, it was also the first ever Free Comic Book Day for Netherlands and its neighboring country of Belgium (don’t know about Luxembourg). FCBD has been a tradition for my friends and I back in the US for many years now, but sadly I was unable to join in on the fun in 2011 on account of living overseas, so I was glad to see the concept reach all the way over here.

Unlike the complicated Manhattan crawl I’m accustomed to where we’d hit every comic store around, the city I’m living in only has two comic shops so it was a far simpler affair. What I found particularly interesting, though, was the selection of free comics. I typically think of the FCBD giveaways as being a mix of superheroes, some humorous Archie-esque comics, a couple of more experimental works, and then a smattering of manga offerings, and this year appeared to be no exception. In contrast, the comparatively small selection of comics for the Dutch/Belgian FCBD primarily involved European comics, with The Walking Dead being the only American comic as far as I can tell. Of particular note is the Dutch Storm, and the variety of lively artwork in Het beste van Oogachtend FCBD (a compilation of various artists’ work) probably makes it my favorite overall.

Sadly I can’t really read Dutch so I can’t actually tell you how these comics are, but they’re quite pleasant as souvenirs regardless. For those of you familiar with Dutch comics, I currently have as my distant, distant goal for Dutch literacy volumes of Agent 327 and Suske & Wiske, as well as a Dutch-translated issue of Yoko Tsuno. Some day…