Wanyûdô, The Wheel Monk

fairy-tale-contest-winnersJasmin Boehm writes about an encounter with one of Japan’s ancient haunters, the Wheel Monk.

This story won our Japanese Fairy Tale Contest. She won the book Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.

It is a strange event that I will tell you of, a moments when I was brushed by the shadow of something other. Do not shake your head. You know what I mean. I am sure of it; you, too, have once inadvertently hurried your step when you found yourself alone, in a silent place, in the murky light of an overcast sky, or you felt a strange shudder passing a bridge, or you saw something, in the corner of your eye, and then told yourself there was nothing, that there could not possibly have been anything… Am I right?

But they are rare, now. With every passing century, the twilight beings have receded further; I think they need a loneliness and silence lost to us. Who knows, now, what real darkness feels like, or utter silence? So, they no longer parade the streets or terrorize the traveller. But sometimes, I believe, they still lurk in the corners of our world, at borders and crossroads; when day turns to night, when summer’s heat and night’s cool intermingle in the streets during the short nights of summer, or when the sun blinds you over New Year’s snow. They may be without form, but they are waiting. Still waiting, on the threshold to elsewhere, to claim those foolish or ignorant enough to challenge them.

I was the happiest person on the planet the day they told me I won the scholarship for an exchange semester in Kyôto. Five months to explore the city, its countless temples and shrines – I would walk through the incense-infused half-light glimmering on the arms of a thousand thousand-armed gilded statues of Kannon, and sweat on the steep steps of Fushimi Inari’s mountain trek rimmed by Torii shrine gates, orange and red in the lush emerald forest, during the plum rain. And so I did. Every weekday was spent in language school, one day of every weekend I was round and about, exploring.

kyoto-streetOne day in July, I was on my way back from the south of the city, cycling up Higashi Ôji, the Great Eastern Road. It was dreadfully hot, this stuffy kind of heat you get in a city walled in by mountains, and the sun was blazing on the concrete. Then something caught my eye. It was a plastic GeGeGe no Kitarô figurine, perhaps half a metre tall, which was mounted on a sort of balcony around the first floor of one of the shops ahead. Coming nearer, I saw that this balcony was more than odd. The house was panelled with dark wood all over the first floor, and a curious mixture of old, discoloured and broken things was stacked along the slim balcony which ran all around the house. Next to the Kitarô figurine hung a couple of Tengu masks, a broken clock and what appeared to be steel helmets of American WWII soldiers. Around the corner were a number of carriage wheels, the head of a Buddha, some faded anime character posters, a beckoning cat, and a blue robot statue.

I was intrigued. Even more so, I was fascinated, for myth and fantasy have always been a subject close to my heart. So, although I had no idea what I hoped to find in the shop, I just dragged by bike up to the pavement, locked it to a cable pole and walked up to the entrance.

I looked in.

No, I can’t tell you what I saw, my memory is all but blank. Sometimes I think there was a man behind the counter, and another man he was talking to, standing with his back to me. But I don’t remember their faces, and I don’t remember hearing their voices either. All I can recall, so vividly it still gives me nausea when I remember it, is a wave of repulsion washing over me, an impulse so strong I was driven off like a leaf before the wind. I took a step backwards, turned, and almost broke into a run, my heart clutched by an invisible fist of fear. Unlocking my bike, I swung onto it, and tread the pedals like someone hunted by something invisible. And maybe I was. It did not occur to me to question my behaviour until I had reached the student accommodation where I lived. I guess I should have been glad they were content to scare me away… But that’s now how people are, right?

kyoto-cornerSo, the strange shop stayed in my mind, and curiosity reared its head, as soon as fear stopped barking. I could not understand what had happened to me, and that made me even more keen to return, so, after dinner, I was back on my bike. Down Teramachi Road I went, with the wind whispering in the trees of the Imperial Gardens, probably whispering about my folly; then I turned left into Marutamachi and crossed Kamo River. There were still a lot of people around, enjoying the cool at the waterside. I turned right after the bridge and followed the Kamo southward for a while.

Kyôto has a long, rich and sometimes bloody history, and I wondered – had it been a summer night like this, near to a hundred and fifty years ago, when Kondô Isami took a fraction of the men of the Shinsengumi militia into what should be their most famous fight – the slaughter of the rônin conspirators at the Ikedaya Inn? They were only up against men, and they were trained warriors, while I was but a nosey girl; yet here I was, going to confront what might be anything from yakuza to yôkai. Gangsters or Monsters! What the hell am I doing, I thought, but at that point going back would have felt even more foolish.

Unsurprisingly, Gion was still pretty lively. I hadn’t done much exploring in the ancient pleasure quarters yet, but I had visited the Yasaka Shrine only a few hours ago. As I passed it again, the doglike stone lions atop the stairs watching the main entrance seemed more significant to me, and less ridiculous. I retraced my steps northward on the Great Eastern Road and finally left my bike at a lamp post in a side street, a crossing or two before the weird shop. There was a great big sign telling me it was forbidden to leave bikes there, but I just hoped the Kyôto Police wouldn’t come around in the next half hour or so. Slowly, I walked on, my heart suddenly beating in my mouth as those cartwheels came back into my mind. I knew which yôkai that could be, from a book entry I had read back home. Wanyûdô, the head of a man, perhaps a monk, sitting in the middle of a burning wheel, who had murdered a woman’s child because she looked at the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons, instead of her baby. Probably there was a sutra to defend against him. Not that that would help me, now.

There were still a few pedestrians about, even though the shops were closed, and occasionally a car passed by. Yet I felt quite alone when the place I was looking for came in sight. Generally, the Japanese lit their cities as brightly as Christmas trees – but this particular house was sitting in what must have been the only comparably dark corner between here and the Pacific Ocean! That did not bode well. Warily, I approached, looking out for – what, foxfires? But no. It was just a dark, closed shop and quite prosaic on second glance, Kitarô figurine and all. I had probably only felt compelled to leave because the owner had glared at me, disapproving of a blue-eyed ginger Westerner sticking her head into his premises, I reasoned.

So I stood there for a minute or two, feeling both embarrassed and embarrassingly relieved. I had been so quick in running away before, I hadn’t even noticed what kind of shop this was! The sign, half-hidden by the junk around the upper level, was written in fading white paint, hard to read in the dark. I crossed the street, went up to the front to see better, and raised an eyebrow. The paint was not just faded; it was more like someone had tried to scrub it off, and given up halfway. But it definitely said ‘eye’ and ‘way’, and I remembered that the latter character was used in a couple of yôkai names, Wanyûdô among them. What was worse, up close the thing looked a lot like the signs used to indicate the names of temples. Where they selling leftovers from a dismantled holy site? When I went to the other side of the shop-front, squinting my eyes to peer through the gloom, I found some familiar-looking broken up carved boards up there, too. Not grey like this, but painted, brilliantly blue and green, offset with white against the orange building, such boards formed the eaves of many a temple. What might have happened to bring them here?

‘Hey, you.’

Every hair on my back stood on end. Someone had just addressed me in not-too-respectful Japanese, and there was a soft orange glow coming from behind me, a light which had not been there before and which was just strong enough to highlight a few items on the façade in front of me… and one grey, naked space. In front of the blue robot, a cartwheel was missing.

I did not turn. I did not think. I ran.

If I had been afraid in this afternoon, that was nothing compared to what I felt now. Judging by the flicker, the flames were already right behind me when I wrenched open my bike lock and jumped into the saddle, and I rushed down the street as fast as I possibly could. I did not even pause to put away my lock, instead holding it in my hand as I flew through the brightly lit streets, unaware of direction – until the steps with the stone lions appeared to my left.

This was the wrong way! I was going south, not north; away from the fragile promise of shelter in my home, instead of towards it. Panic had me in its claws, sharp and bitter. I didn’t bother to lock my bike anywhere, just left it on the side and ran up the steps, two at a time, no matter how steep they were. As I flew past bewildered late-hour shrine visitors, dark heads turned and someone said something in a disapproving tone, but I just kept going. I had no plan, no notion of where I was headed. I don’t think my conscious self had anything to do with it.

When I finally ran out of breath and clutched a stone torii for support, I found myself at a small Inari Shrine. The light of a single lamp shone on two white stone foxes guarding the entrance. Composing myself, I entered through the torii gate and walked up to them.

I have always likes these shrines. Foxes are the messengers of Inari, the god (or sometimes goddess) of rice – or alternatively, s/he likes to take their form her/himself. So, the shrines are guarded by stone foxes instead of the usual lions, making them easy to recognize. I was fond of foxes even before I came to Japan, and learning about the magic powers of the Japanese kitsune and how it grows an extra tail every hundred years of its long life, had quite intrigued me. I knew that foxes were often tricksters and shape-shifters and not exactly cuddly. But looking now upon the snarling jaws, the muscular bodies and strangely alive eyes of Inari’s foxes, I felt much safer than before. I passed the statues and walked up to the shrine proper. A small building of wood it was, of orange lacquered beams, filled in with white, their tips painted black, and the traditional bulky bronze roof was clean and shiny. Atop the miniature stairs of the shrine, in front of the gold-inlayed doors of the sanctuary housing the deity, stood a perfectly round polished mirror in a wooden stand. It reflected nothing but the bell on the rope which hung above the wooden box of offerings, but I wondered if I was looking upon a shintai – mirrors, like jewels and swords, often serve as such ‘god-bodies’ and become inhabited by the deity in rites and festivals. But would the priests expose it this way, instead of keeping it inside the sanctuary, behind the tiny golden doors?

When I pushed my hands into my pockets, I found a few coins. Small change from one of the rice cakes, mochi, I had become addicted to and bought far too often, no doubt. I bowed twice before the mirror and prayed, as good as I could. Inari-sama. I might have offended someone, but I am very sorry. Please help me. Protect me. I did not know the right words, and I was pretty sure you were supposed to address a deity in the most elaborate polite speech, but this way the extent of my Japanese proficiency, especially under duress. So I pulled the money out of my pocket, threw it into the offertory box and pulled the rope so that the bell rang merrily. Then I bowed again, took a deep breath and passed the stone foxes, leaving the way I came.

The thing was waiting for me as I stepped onto the walkway.

It was a grotesquely huge male head, twice the size of a human’s, mounted in the middle of a cartwheel; the spikes sprang from his cheeks, his temples, his chin, the crown of his head. Weirdly enough, I wasn’t even afraid now, despite the orange, strangely silent flames dancing all over the wheel, the spikes, and the grim face with its rolling eyes and enormous, yellow teeth.

‘You cannot run away!’, he said. His voice rumbled, like, well, like a cart on a bad road, and his speech was old-fashioned (or as I later assumed, regional dialect), but I recognized the word stem and the negation suffix.

‘It looks like it’, I replied after a pause. That seemed to surprise him. He stared rolling, circling me, drawing closer, and I stated back. ‘The barbarian girl speaks?!’ he thundered. Or maybe, ‘can speak?’ Evidently he had not expected me to be able to understand him, or even respond. Hope flickered up in my heart.

‘Yes.’ I lowered my head, then remembered I was in Japan and bowed, deeply, without rising. ‘I am sorry.’

He said something I didn’t quite understand, but he sounded more puzzled than angry. So I put everything on the line. I went down to my knees and cowered on the ground. ‘I am sorry I tried to enter the shop. I am sorry I came back to look at it. I am sorry I have… (I could not remember what ‘to offend’ meant) made you angry. Please forgive me.’ My heart was beating painfully now. Please, please, let this work… Please, make him go away.

‘Quite impressive’, a different voice said. Startled, I looked up, followed the gaze of the Wheel Monk, who looked surprised himself, and found a slender little fox sitting on top of Inari’s shrine gate. Now it descended, running down the post vertically for a bit, like a cat, before it jumped onto the footpath. Its red and white fur glistened in the light of the lamps in copper, gold and silver.

‘Do you still have a quarrel with this human, Wheel Monk?’ the fox asked. It spoke in the same, old-fashioned regional dialect as the Monk, but from now on I understood every word, although afterwards I have never been able to recall the words, only the meaning.

The Monk’s fiery brilliance seemed somewhat dimmed. ‘No’, he finally said. ‘I accept the apology.’

‘Then be gone’, the fox told him. ‘Your place is not here.’

So he rolled away, shimmering and fading as he went, until he was gone, like a mirage born of summer heat on the streets.

‘Thank you, thank you so much’, I said to the fox. It tilted its head and look up into my face.

‘You did well, all things considered’, it said. ‘But you called for help, and so I came. Be more careful from now on.’

‘Yes, I will. I promise.’ I put a hand on my heart.

‘Good. Remember.’ It beckoned me with its left forepaw, and as I crouched down, my braid slid over my shoulder. The fox came up to me, stood with its front legs on my thighs, the claws digging sharply into the thin jeans fabric, and sniffed. Its breath tickled my neck, smelling of sweet tofu. ‘No, you’re human’, it said. ‘With that hair, I thought you might be a granddaughter of ours.’ It sat down on its hind legs, again reminding me of a cat, and held its left paw before me. When I stretched out my hand, it put the paw in my palm, let it rest there for a moment, and then pulled back. Looking at my hand, I found a tiny bag made of silk brocade, tied with an elaborate symmetrical knot – a mamori or protective charm. ‘Thank you!’ I called out again – but the footpath was empty now, and only silent stone statues guarded Inari’s shrine.

Hugging the charm to my breast, I bowed again to the shrine a couple of times, and then I stumbled back, out of the shrine precinct, down the steep steps to the Great Eastern Road. Miraculously, my bike was still where I had left it.

I cycled home and went straight to bed. The next morning, I wondered if I had dreamt the whole thing. You may choose to believe that. But sometimes, when I show a certain green mamori to friends, they all say the same thing about the embroidered image.

‘A fox chasing a wheel? Curious!’

Legend of the Twin Baku

fairy-tale-contest-winnersDavid L. Simon accounts a tale of brothers who ate dreams.

This story won our Japanese Fairy Tale Contest. He won the book Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide. You can find more of his work on DeviantArt.

Long ago, before the gods had split the world into many lands, there lived twin Baku brothers named Aoi, the Blue and Akai, the Red. The brothers fed on the dreams of mortal creatures, for when mortals such as humans or kappa dream, they create new experiences in their heads. These new experiences created by dreaming do not simply disappear when the mortal awakens, though. As a mortal’s dream goes on, it is turned into a waste product called “Yumebutsu.” In the times before Japan, there was so much Yumebutsu that the gods did not know what to do with it all, and thus the Baku were born.

Every night, the Baku Brothers received permission from the gods to descend from Heaven to seek out delicious dreams to devour. They ventured from person to person, consuming the Yumebutsu as they dreamt and leaving just enough behind so that the mortal could remember the experience in the morning. Sometimes, one of the brothers would consume too much and erase the memory of the mortal’s dream. For the most part, however, they left just enough behind to preserve the delicate memory, and the gods were pleased.

Akai preferred the sweet-tasting Yumebutsu that came from good dreams. Dreams of wealth, family, love, and happiness produced the sweetest, nectar-like byproduct that Akai couldn’t get enough of. Aoi, on the other-hand, preferred the bitter-tasting waste of nightmares. Dreams of terror, anger, agony, and fear caused this kind of waste, and Aoi gorged on it until their was nothing left, allowing the mortals who dreamt to never have to remember the horror of their nightmares. At first, all was well. Akai would leave just a little sweetness for the mortals to wake up with happy memories, and Aoi would consume the nightmares whole so that no one was fearful in the morning.

The sweetness and tenderness of the dreams Akai consumed caused the Baku to grow feelings of love, happiness, and morality. Akai found himself growing ever concerned for the mortals’ well-being. Very often, Akai would plead to the gods to give the peasants fair crop and weather, and to give the nobles guidance to be fair. The gods would agree, and the peasants thanked the Red Baku for their good crops, fair rule, and good dreams.

Aoi, who was consuming dreams of evil, began to develop feelings of hatred, jealousy, vanity, and anger. Aoi was jealous that the peasants worshipped his brother, and not him. After all, it was he who rid the people of their nightmares, the same bad dreams that they once feared with extreme emotion. “How dare they forget the one who stays their worst fears!” Aoi cried out in rage. As he grew more and more vain with every nightmare he devoured, so too did his hatred for mortals. With his feelings of discontent growing more and more, Aoi found himself embracing the darkness that his meals offered him with open arms. At last, Aoi decided to enact revenge upon the ungrateful creatures who he hated so much by eliminating the one they worshipped, his own brother Akai.

Aoi approached his brother, Akai, as he slept peacefully and dreamed of his beloved mortals. Aoi began to consume the dreams of his brother, every last bit. Since Baku eat only dreams, their life essence is made up dreams. As Aoi devoured his brother’s sweet dreams, he also devoured his essence. Aoi ate and ate, until there was nothing left of Akai. The blue Baku laughed in devilish glee, knowing that those he hated would suffer and his revenge would be complete.

The blue Baku flew down to Earth to watch the people suffer. The common folk cried for Akai to return to them, and their crops withered as they starved. Aoi laughed as he flew around and observed the confusion as to what happened to his beloved brother. However, when Aoi came across a young mother and her starving children, who cried and begged to the gods for help, something bubbled up inside of him; regret. Aoi was confused at the feeling, and fled the scene that caused his guilt. As the blue Baku observed more people, the feelings of sadness and guilt grew larger and larger, and Aoi realized that by consuming Akai’s essence. he brought upon himself his brother’s sweet and gentle nature. Aoi began to weep. “What have I done?” The Baku whispered as he cried. “I have murdered my good brother in cold blood for selfishness and vanity! I have allowed the darkness I have consumed to consume me instead! What I would give to have my brother back!” As Aoi repented his evil actions, he flew up to Heaven to give himself up to the gods’ justice.

Susanoo

Susanoo, the Storm God

 

Aoi prostrated himself before the Council of Gods and told them of his grim deeds. “I only ask of you one thing,” Aoi requested, “take me and return my brother to the world, for I have shamed both myself and Heaven.” Susanoo, the Storm God, spoke up first. “While it is true that you have brought shame to Heaven and to the gods,” he began solemnly, “you have also repented and begged for this to be made right. For that, you shall be made to make up for your deeds, not be punished for them.”

“I agree,” spoke Amaterasu, the Goddess of Fire, “There must always be a dream eater to keep the Yumebutsu from building again, but if Baku can be so corrupted by the darkness of nightmares, then how are we to stop this from happening again?”

“The answer is simple,” chimed in Fūjin, God of the Winds, “there must be only one Baku who consumes both good dreams and nightmares. If balance is kept, then he shall not be corrupted by the evils of bad dreams.” The rest of the gods agreed to this, and it was decided that in exchange for forgiveness of his actions, Aoi would continue to serve the gods as the only dream eater, eating both good and bad dreams. Susanoo laid out the rules. “From this day, you shall be known as Murasaki, the Purple Baku, for your blue essence will be melded with that of your brother’s red one. You will continue to consume the Yumebutsu of dreams, both bad and good. However, sometimes you must consume whole good dreams and leave a bit of the essence of nightmares, for even though we do not want mortals to only have fear, they cannot grow complacent. Balance must be kept.” Aoi, now known as Murasaki, thanked the gods for their graciousness and returned to Earth to continue consuming the Yumebutsu, both good and bad.

Thus is the reason why the mortals of Japan and beyond have both good dreams and bad dreams, and the reason why we can only remember a fragment of them in the morning. Sometimes, Murasaki leaves us a bit of sweetness, and sometimes a bit of darkness, in order to keep mortal feelings balanced between good and bad. Other times, he consumes our entire dream and we remember nothing. But in all cases, we must learn from the tale of Aoi and Akai that balance is key, and we must keep our feelings of vanity and jealousy under control, for if left unchecked, the emotions of darkness lead to actions we will regret later.

 

The Princess and the Fox

fairy-tale-contest-winnersEdward C. Price won Honorable Mention during our Japanese Fairy Tale Contest.

Once upon many years ago, in the far islands of Japan, a princess was born. Daughter of a brute but very wealthy man, she lived a noble life of seclusion. The princess was raised for the next fourteen years within the best possible environment, and was to become the Emperor’s new wife. Her father was cruel and without affection. He treated and saw the girl merely as a prized ticket to a higher statement. To avoid damaging her beautiful and delicate body, he would punish her mentally, by locking her away for several tortured days. During those times, she would dedicate herself to poetry and whatever form of literature available, enjoying mostly the works of the renowned female poet Ono no Komachi. Even when not locked away, the lonely princess would not see anyone but her trusted maidens. During rare meetings, there would always be a screen between her and the other party.  Still, the lady held no grudge, and grew to be a kind and loving person.

Princess Yaegaki follows the fox fires

Princess Yaegaki follows the fox fires

            Due to her nation-wide famed beauty, there were many marriage proposals, until finally, one came signed by the Emperor himself. There was never a day where the household, specially its master, was so full of joy. A huge banquet was thrown to all the allied families, and the celebration lasted for weeks. But, wherever good news arrive, bad news follow. Just before the beginning of the wedding’s preparations, the ruler fell ill and eventually passed away. The princess’ father was devastated. Rage, strong enough to create any demon, flew within his veins. He blamed it all on the bride-to-be, and exiled her to a manor in the countryside. There, she would not speak or see anyone, for even the servants would hide in the shadows. Rumors spread, and the proposals became more and more scarce. The girl was forgotten in complete loneliness.

            One night, as the princess wept and gazed at the full moon, a fox jumped from the bushes, and was intrigued by the crying figure. “What seems to bother you, my fair lady?” said the fox. The princess replied “I have lived fourteen years of drowning loneliness bestowed upon me by my status and beauty. And now I am completely alone, left here as if dead and buried.” The animal sat next to her, and said “Please do not cry. Tears do not suit your divine image. Let me tell you something: Today is my birthday, and I finally gained a third tail. I shall make you company, as we celebrate in my honor.” As he finished his proposal, the creature whistled, and from the same bush where he came from, several astonishing figures paraded bringing food and drink. They celebrated all night long, and for the moment, the young girl forgot all her problems.

            By dawn, the figures left, as if nothing had ever happened. “Please, my dear fox, do not leave me! It would be torture to experience company for a moment and suddenly be left all alone once more!” cried the princess. “Do not worry, child of men, I have my natural needs, so I must leave during the day. But I promise to come back every night to enjoy your delightful company.” said the fox, before disappearing in the wild. And so, every night, the fox came back. The two would spend whole nights talking about the most distinguished topics, laughing, arguing, and even crying together. Eventually, love fell over their heads, and on her fifteenth birthday, he asked for her hand.

            “A dream this is, indeed! But as sad as it seems, it cannot be fulfilled. We would never be allowed to be together!” replied the princess. “My actual form is no more than an illusion, for I can become a man, as I can become any creature of my pleasing.” explained the fox, in a more aggressive tone. “I am still a princess!” said the girl, “My status haunts me like a black hell hound, and it will never allow me to marry someone without any possessions! Please, I love you more than life itself, so let us stay together the way we are now!”. Without any word, the fox got up and simply left, without being seen again. Heartbroken and blaming herself, the princess wept thru out the next days, having constant episodes of severe depression.

            Meanwhile, in the capital, a ship arrived from an overseas country and with it a prince of a far land. His hair was blond, and his eyes of a deep green. All were enchanted by this unique character. He was after a bride, and made a proposal to the forgotten princess’ family. The father was not certain. He didn’t want to marry his daughter to a foreigner without any rewards, especially those that could increase his social status. The young prince then offered one thousand arms of the finest quality, accompanied by many unique accessories from his homeland. The deal was sealed, and the wedding prepared. When the news arrived on the countryside house, the girl became revolted, and refused to marry someone she did not love. Three swordsmen where needed to forcibly carry her to a carriage, and escort her back to the main household. During the preparations, she wouldn’t even bother to look at her future husband.

            On the wedding day, while weeping in her room, the door opened, and her groom stepped in. Without any hesitation, he embraced her as passionately as he could, while she struggle, ordering him to let go. As she fought to set herself free of that forced act of love, he whispered in her ear “Did you really think I would abandon you? How many times have I declared my love?”. She immediately recognized that soft voice. How could she not recognize it? It was her precious fox’s voice. She looked into the prince’s eye and saw the same look she stared at, night after night, during their long talks. “How did you do it?! I knew you could change shapes, but there was a ship! And servants!” she said. “It is all but a mere illusion shaped with the help of my dear friends.” he answered. And so, the wedding was performed, and the two married. When boarding the ship, the fox, still under disguise, instructed the princess’ father to wait four days until a new ship would come with his so wanted rewards. The newlyweds departed, and their ship vanished on the horizon. The two moved to the southern isles under new names as simple country folk. As for the father, rumor has it that the ship with the gifts did arrive exactly four days later. But, it was filled with nothing but leaves and wood sticks.

Ways to get Anime Merchandise in the United States

A while ago I had an article on how to watch anime for cheap, or even free. Inspired by this, I’ve prepared a short list of ways and places to get physical anime and manga merchandise such as figures, DVDs, physical manga, and much more, sometimes for much cheaper than their retail price! These methods buy merchandise in the United States without having to go through the hassle of importing. Here we go!

Off on an adventure!

Off on an adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Official Sites

Official sites from American studios releasing anime here in the States are probably the easiest place to get official merchandise. Companies like FUNimation have their own merchandise shops. Mostly though, the company specific shops have more manga and DVDs, than merchandise like figurines or wall-scrolls.

FUNimation

Viz Media

Pokemon Center

Basically, if a company releases anime and/or manga in the United States, chances are they’ll also have other merchandise.

2. Other Merchandise sites

Other sites that aren’t from specific companies also carry anime merchandise. It is important to check out the legitimacy of the website though (like with any online shopping). One thing I like about these sites personally, is they are in charge of their own sales. Prices are not standardized. For example, someone could find a figure they want on Site A, and Site B is having a site-wide sale where he/she could get the figure much cheaper. Different sites also tend to have a variety of series merchandise, so you’ll be able to find more merchandise from a variety of companies, rather than just one single company.

RightStuf

Japanimation

3.99 Anime Shop

Tokyo Otaku Mode

3. Reseller sites

Sites like Ebay allow people to resell nearly anything they own. These can be a nice way to find older pieces of merchandise that people may have been hiding away in the back of a closet. These sites also give you the chance to maybe get a piece of merchandise that was imported from Japan by its original owner, and now you have the chance to easily buy it yourself and have it shipped right to your doorstep. The major drawback to these sites is bootlegs. You have a high chance if you’re not careful of buying an item, and it turn out to be a bootlegged copy. Typically speaking, if you avoid sellers from China/Taiwan/Hong-Kong/Singapore you’re safe. However, as an overall rule of thumb ALWAYS check the seller’s ratings, and in the end, if you don’t feel safe buying from a particular seller for whatever reason, then DO NOT BUY. Even stateside sellers have a chance of giving a bootleg. Even though you can still get a refund in most cases, there’s nothing worse than spending large amounts of money on something, only to have a fake sent to you.

That's right. FAKE merchandise!!!

That’s right. FAKE merchandise!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Ebay

Amazon

Craigslist

4. Physical Stores

Increasingly, stores in the US are carrying figures and other merchandise.  Several “geek” shops will carry a small selection of merch, as well as some bigger chains like FYE. Personally, I’ve gotten a Majin Buu plushie from an FYE store near me, and it seems like every time I go in the store, they have more of a selection of items. Typically, the big store chains will only carry big name series merchandise. Going back to FYE, the last time I was in the store, they carried Pokemon, Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, and Dragon Ball Z merchandise in addition to their anime DVD selection (that did have other series in it). Your best bet to find lesser known series, is to check your local card shop, game shop, comic book store, etc and see what they have. Who knows, maybe you’ll find some hard to get merch!

5. Yard Sales/Flea Markets/Reselling “events”

I was going to include this in the reselling section, but I’m giving it it’s own category now. First off, as far as reselling goes, you’re much less likely to get a bootleg item at a yard sale or flea market than you are on a reselling website.  Also, you’ll typically get MUCH cheaper prices than anywhere else. A great benefit to these, is that you can find super old school items, without paying what a collector would pay. Often, people will resell the items at a low price, not knowing what they have.The downfall of buying merchandise like this is your chances of getting anything remotely close to mint condition is extremely low, but if you don’t mind this fact, then buy away!

All in all, your easiest and best bet to get merchandise stateside, is to shop online on US-based sites. As always with online shopping in merchandise (and everything you buy online) check the sites’ legitimacy before you use them, and as always, if something doesn’t feel right from a seller, then don’t buy!

 

Paris Syndrome

You step off the plane in the fabled City of Light. Paris. What do you do first? Find a cab? Book a hotel room? Jump in and visit the Louvre?

If you are Japanese, your first visit may just well be the hospital.

Eiffel_tower_at_dawn_horizontalBetween 12 and 20 Japanese tourists each year are overwhelmed by Paris . They are not overwhelmed by its beauty or art. These tourists are overwhelmed by the realities of Paris: crime, rudeness, obesity, filth, and other realities of urban life. Tourists are felled by delusions, hallucinations, dizziness, sweating, and even complete psychological break down (Chrisafis, 2006; Wyatt, 2006; Fagan, 2011).

Paris Syndrome was first observed by Hiroaki Ota (Mail on Sunday, n.d;  Bremner, 2004; Wyatt, 2006). It is such a problem that the Japanese embassy in France offers a 24-hour hotline to help those experiencing severe culture shock.

Paris Syndrome appears to be rooted in expectation. Japanese media often portrays Paris as an ideal place (Fagan, 2011). Heck, we see the same here in the States. Paris is the City of Love, the place for romance and beautiful people. However, when you get there, you quickly learn it is a city like any other with its own share of problems and rude people.  Fagan (2011) relates how Parisians are especially unaccommodating to foreigners. Well, if you consider how Parisians are expected to be this ideal people, it is somewhat understandable.  However, the difference between expectation and reality can hit some people especially hard.

Many people consider Paris Syndrome to be overblown (Bremner, 2004). However, Paris Syndrome is not completely unique. According to Halim (n.d.), there are many city-syndromes out there. Paris Syndrome is only unique in how it seems to affect only the Japanese. Other cities like Florence and Jerusalem can trigger similar symptoms and psychotic episodes.  The common thread seems to be expectation. In each of the recorded city-syndromes, people have high expectations and then have problems whenever reality or culture shock hits them (Halim, n.d.). For example, Parisians rudeness would annoy us in the States, but we are accustomed to rudeness, crime, and other things. However, the Japanese are accustomed to a polite, helpful society – not to idealize Japanese society, by the way (Wyatt, 2006). So, the contrast can come as a severe shock to those who have high expectations for Paris. Many of these victims are women (Wyatt, 2006).

Media is partially to blame for the problem (Fagan, 2011). Popular media whitewashes cities and other things to the point where they become almost as idealized as heaven. I’m sure you have experienced disappointment over a movie, anime, video game, or place because it did not match the hype. Hype leads to disappointment.

I think of emotions as a sine curve. If you allow yourself to be hyped up, you fall faster and sharper. You also spend less time at the apex of the positive emotion and more time in the negative emotional range. It takes longer to climb a hill than to go down one. The crash from an emotional high to an emotional trough is thought to cause Paris Syndrome.

However if you keep excitement in check, you have less of a drop off, and you spend more time around the apex of the emotion. Likewise, you have a less steep negative hill to climb and a more gentle tumble into the negative emotional valley,

However if you keep excitement in check, you have less of a drop off, and you spend more time around the apex of the emotion. Likewise, you have a less steep negative hill to climb and a more gentle tumble into the negative emotional valley,

Paris Syndrome gives us a lesson in how we consider things. Expectations exist in our minds; reality cannot meet expectation. Hype often creates disappointment. The lesson? It is better not to expect anything or let hype get to us. It is fine to be excited about something. I get excited about each new Legend of Zelda release. However, it is best to keep excitement contained. High emotions naturally lead to a deep crash. Lower emotions lead to low crashes, if you crash at all. It is best to keep your emotions and expectations under control.  This allows you to enjoy your next trip to Paris or to Japan rather than end up in a hospital.

References

Bremner, C. (2004). The culture shock that puts victims in hospital. Times, The (United Kingdom).

Chrisafis, A. (2006). Paris Syndrome hits Japanese. The Guardian.

Fagan, C (2011). Paris Syndrome: a first class problem for a first-class vacation. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/10/paris-syndrome-a-first-class-problem-for-a-first-class-vacation/246743/

Halim, N (n.d.) Mad Tourists: the “vectors” and meanings of city-syndromes.

Mail on Sunday. (2014). The A to Z of Unusual Ailments. Mail on Sunday. p. 79.

Wyatt, C. (2006). Paris Syndrome Strikes Japanese. BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6197921.stm

Another

Class 3 had a problem.

People had the nasty habit of dying.

Mei-Izumi-Wallpaper-another-31178267-1600-1000Of course, exchange student Koichi Sakakibara had little idea of this little problem when he joined the middle school class. It seemed strange how a girl with an eye patch was ignored by everyone. It was as if she did not exist. Once people started dying, the mystery of the nonexistent girl, Mei Misaki, became a very real problem.

Another is an interesting horror-suspense story that kept me guessing. Although it was yet-another school story, the interesting ideas and suspense elements pulled me in. The story has some pacing issues and some silliness, but over all I found it interesting.

Spoilers ahead.

another-ep-12-6

Okay, so there is my review. Another has more going for it than being a decent horror-suspense story. Namely, the treatment of Mei Misaki and the way the students turn on each other at the end.

The class decides to act like Mei does not exist in order to push aside the curse that kills members of Class 3 and their families. It worked sometimes in the past where little else did. This, essentially, is an extreme form of bullying. Even the teachers were involved. Mei could come and go as she pleased (sounds cool right?) but was otherwise almost completely isolated until Koichi came along. Now, consider this a moment. Mei was isolated from social contact outside of a few art club students that knew nothing of the curse. She claimed not to be bothered by this, but she quickly draws close to Koichi due to her isolation. This is another form of bullying. In fact, according to a study by the University of British Columbia (2014), being ignored creates more harm in a workplace than traditional harassment, and traditional bullying can end in the young victim committing suicide (Woodard, 2014). Mei was not suicidal, but she was mentally unbalanced from her experiences with her mother and the class curse.

Near the end of the story, the stress of the curse and watching fellow students die around them finally cracks the minds of the students. A previous class left a tape recording of how they ended the curse during their year – killing the source of the curse. The curse is generated by someone in the classroom who did not belong and was already dead (although the person didn’t know it). During a class retreat to a shrine, the tape is played for everyone to hear, and Mei is wrongly accused of being the source of the curse. The students all snap to varying degrees and attempt to kill her. Throughout the story, the stress of their situation points to a nervous breakdown of the students. They show signals of nearing the edge. Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, violent thoughts, lack of energy, and even delusions (Casserly, 2011;  Khan, 2014). They all reach the breaking point when the tape is played. Admittedly, this is rather contrived. Not everyone will became desperate enough to murder Mei and other fellow students, but some will.

another-novel-full-1230526Beyond being an interesting story, Another plays around with what happens when people are bullied and pushed beyond their mental endurance. The lesson to us is not to be in Class 3.  Just kidding. The story uses  very real issues, bullying and nervous breakdowns, to create a horrific situation were all rational thinking disappears. Bullying can lead to suicide. Ostracizing can create nervous breakdowns. And nervous breakdowns can make people snap.

Another plays with themes that are very real problems. It exaggerates them to create a vicious story of revenge and fear. But, really, Another does not exaggerate that much at times. People may not physically kill others, but we can emotionally kill others by ignoring them or adding the final weight of stress. While not physically dead, people who are stomped by others can be dead inside: they lose their zest for life and other people. Despite the abuse, Koichi and Mei were both more concerned about each other than their own welfare. Koichi was also concerned about the lives of his classmates – despite them trying to kill him and Mei. This concern and lack of self-centeredness contrasted with the selfish behavior of the other students. This difference is part of the reason why Koichi and Mei survived the ordeal when so many others died. Another has many lessons for us. First, don’t bully or isolate others. Next, those who are not self-centered are the most likely to survive a curse.

So the moral of the story is to be other-centered instead of self-centered.

References

Casserly, M. (2011). Ten signs you’re heading for a mental break. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/2011/04/11/are-you-headed-for-a-mental-breakdown-forbes-woman-well-being-health_slide.html

Khan, A. (2014). Inside a nervous breakdown. USNews. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/11/14/inside-a-nervous-breakdown.

Robinson, S. (2014). Ostracism more damaging than bullying in the workplace. University of British Columbia. http://news.ubc.ca/2014/05/29/better-to-be-bullied-than-ignored-in-the-workplace-study/

Woodard, B.  (2014). Mom Sues CPS after daughter’s suicide. says school ignored bullying. DNAINFO http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20141009/andersonville/mckenzie-phlipots-mother-files-lawsuit-against-cps-after-her-suicide

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