Out & About: Rainy Sunday

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Sundays we don’t normally have any set plans, and usually find ourselves loafing around until we finally venture outside in the late afternoon. This Sunday was no different except that it literally started raining as soon as we decided to head out to Shibuya to pick up a few things. OK, so we’ll bring the umbrellas.

We walked to the nearest station, only to find it closed for construction.

OK. At this point it was pretty tempting to head back and hole ourselves up and get takeout, but we were going to leave ourselves open to a 3rd strike from forces outside of our control. We decided to walk to the second closest station, but this time we took a huge detour down a street we weren’t familiar with. Time for some exploring!

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This town is absolutely #blessed with some incredible displays of sakura trees, and we found this one tucked in between some residential buildings and a parking lot.

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A closer look.


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We found a narrow entrance way (?) to a small path that acted as a road connecting two streets. We were the only ones around and didn’t have to worry about cars, so we took our time exploring.


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Another little alley way.


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Moving forward, we stumbled on this massive tree that is part of a children’s playground. As much as New England loves their #foliage, I don’t remember having a dedicated preserved tree as part of playgrounds where I grew up. Probably a liability or doomed to vandalism.


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The play area immediately opposite of the sakura tree.


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Down another alley way, we were interrupted by excessive bird chirping. For whatever reason one residence had a shit ton of birds hanging around its trees.


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The station finally in sight, we still had to regularly stop and marvel at the line of sakura trees leading up to its entrance. (Locals didn’t seem fazed at all by the surrounding beauty however.) I love the large sakura tree branch hanging straight out over the road. Our town back in America regularly had these type of branches trimmed back to avoid interference with power lines, so I’m not used to seeing something like this.


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Roy noticed this branch growing under and over this bus stop enclosure. Nature! Sometimes you just gotta get lost in it.

Flickr Gallery:

Forever Hungry: Takara Shikuwasa Highball

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That’s right: we’re venturing into booze territory. Our first stop is this Takara shikuwasa-flavored Shochu Highball. I mostly got it because I love shikuwasa, a tart lemon-lime sort of deal mostly found in Okinawa. This particular canned shochu is limited to the Tokyo area for the spring season (you can see the full lineup on their site) and contains 7% alcohol.

I love the packaging on the can but unfortunately didn’t think to take some close up shots. Still, you can see the dimpled texture on the can that makes it look kind of sparkly in the light. I love dimpled cans! It makes the drinking process feel much fancier. The artwork featured is different depending on the region and season too.

This limited edition can boasted no added artificial sweeteners, which works for me since I much prefer sugar or stevia over stuff like sucralose which is a goddamned nightmare for me every time I consume it. It also has 0% purine, which is normally very high in beer and can contribute to gout*.

Just as advertised, the highball was not that sweet at all compared to most canned alcohol such as chu-his, which I’m pretty sure were engineered to get toddlers drunk. It tasted more like shikuwasa juice mixed with seltzer. Might be off-putting to some people who prefer their fruit-flavored drinks a little sweeter. It was just right for me though! Felt just like spring time.


* I had to look this up because the word for “purine” in Japanese is identical to the word for “pudding”. Kept wondering why alcohols showcased 0% pudding levels!

Stuff! Draw ‘Em With the Pointy End: A Game of Thrones Art Book

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Signal boost! This is the first Kickstarter I’ve backed since we moved and I’m shooting for the physical book. I’ve been in the habit of getting digital versions of Kickstarted books just due to lack of space combined with moving, but this time I paid extra for international shipping because I think this would look awesome sitting in our sparsely-filled bookcase (I’ve been really picky about what books to fill it with since moving). Roy and I are huge Game of Thrones fans, so it’ll be fun to flip through together and see how different artists interpret our favorite characters.

The book is packed with gorgeous artwork from an awesome lineup of artists, and I love waking up and checking my email to see previews tucked inside Kickstarter updates. Not to mention longtime internet pal (and award-winning!) Nilah Magruder has a badass contribution inside.

Please consider donating to get this book made! Do it for the artists, but more importantly: do it for me.

Some samples:

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Source: kelly-nelly


 
Source: danikruse

Source: danikruse


 
Source: natalie hall

Source: natalie hall


 
Source: solusn

Source: solusn

Convinced yet? Reserve your copy now!

Forever Hungry: Meiji Macademia Dark

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Testing out my new lightbox* with some snacks! Roy randomly got me these Meiji Macademia Dark chocolates one day after work. I love Meijii chocolates, which is good because they practically have a monopoly on the cheap chocolate market in Japan.

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Meiji chocolates usually have some kind of cool packaging with little details I love looking at. On this box they have tiny flaps that you can insert on the sides of the box.

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Opening the box is pretty dramatic, and came with instructions on how to peel off the plastic layer from left to right (seriously). The plastic insert that the chocolates came in was glued to the bottom of the box so it wouldn’t pop out all over the place.

The chocolate was pretty damn good. Meiji chocolate somehow has a “softer” taste that is hard to describe but makes it easy to eat since it doesn’t leave a gross grainy residue in your mouth like say, Hershey’s. I also love macadamia nuts and the snack was pretty much right on the money in terms of chocolate-to-nut ratio. A+ would eat again. You done good, Roy.


* Kudos to Anne from Chic Pixel for the idea! Aside from the box, all the materials I used were picked up from a ¥100 store. I couldn’t find tracing paper so I swapped it out with paper meant for ink brushes.

Out & About: Tokyo Beernista 2015

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Spring has arrived! Not only does it mean the end of bone-chilling weather and the start of beautiful flowers blooming, but for most of Japan it means the following:

It’s officially warm enough to get drunk and eat street food outside all day long.

Think about it for a minute. When it was cold, were you able to do this? I mean, sure, there were the New Year’s festivities, where you could get drunk and eat inside. But spring is when you could do all that and more outside, immersed in a sea of people walking their small dogs with little dog hoodies and little dog backpacks and so on*.

We were invited by Roy’s coworker to join him and some friends to go to the Tokyo Beernista 2015, which ran alongside an Earth Day event that promoted organic and fair trade food and clothing. There’s a point in there somewhere about massive consumption of alcohol mixed with groups of hippies, but I am just a humble observer.

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The Beernista event took place in Yoyogi Park, which is a massive outdoor space the likes of which I have never seen. We took some time to take in the trees before we set our sights on getting some beer.

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Once we set up tent with our paper-thin ¥100 tarp (we classy), we bee-lined it for the Hitachino Nest booth. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try it on tap since Roy was such a big fan back in the States. I got the White Ale, and Roy ordered…the White Ale. (I don’t think he understood how this was supposed to work.)

After another beer from a Minoh sampler pack, we decided we had numbed ourselves just enough to brave the crowds to get some food.

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I got a spinach nikuman (meat bun) for ¥350 and Roy got a miso-yaki don for about ¥700 if I remember right. The steamed bun part of the nikuman tasted like it was mixed with some ~healthy~ ingredients, but I couldn’t pin point what exactly. It’s like when you eat pasta and then realize it was made out of whole wheat. But I love health foods so it was good find for me.

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Can you believe this is street food?

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Hair’s a mess, but hey! Awkward selfies forever. This was from the Minoh sampler pack. Included was the kozaru** IPA, pilsner, white ale, and lager.

By the way, do you know what happens when you’re at a beer festival that’s getting ready to wrap up?

  • Men in uniforms walk around with megaphones and tell you to pack your shit up.
  • Some other men in suits with latex gloves will come by and pick up empty cups but conveniently ignore the ones that have a centimeter of liquid left in it.
  • When you pack up your stuff and have garbage to throw out, said men in uniforms will tell you that you have to bring the garbage home despite holding large plastic bags clearly meant for waste disposal.

Thankfully we found some giant garbage receptacles at an Earth Day booth, but it’s always nerve wracking trying to find places to throw stuff away while you’re walking around. Public trash cans are a rare sight since the sarin gas attack.

In any case the Tokyo Beernista was a lot of fun despite not really getting to try a lot of beers. It was the first time we got to really see the sakura trees in action this year, so it was still quite memorable.

Flickr Gallery:


* Strollers. Little dog strollers.

**Kozaru means baby monkey!!!

Forever Hungry: fineDine.jp Okonomiyaki Takeout

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The simple design caught my eye among all the garish flyers we normally get.

What better way to revive a blog than with a food post? Thanks to some nudging and supportive words from friends, I’ve decided to revive my blog. Now that I live in Tokyo (!), I thought it would be fun to document everyday living. This prompted me to create a new category dedicated to food reviews called Forever Hungry. This will cover restaurants, fast food, conbini finds, and takeout/delivery.

Yesterday was a lazy Sunday I wrote this on Monday WE DIDN”T DO SHIT ON SUNDAY, so we wanted to take advantage of a takeout flyer we got in the mail*. We do takeout maybe once a week, with meal planning during most of the weekdays and dining out on weekends. Takeout has been standard fast food/pizza delivery, but this flyer promised something unique that I couldn’t help but to try.

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The back shows examples of restaurants you could get takeout from (…even Outback Steakhouse.)

fineDine.jp is a site where you can pick your residential area and town, and they show you local restaurants that offer delivery along with estimated delivery times. The site is actually nicely designed, and every part of the process felt well thought-out. This service is a great option for people who don’t want fast food but are too hungover to dine in somewhere. It also opened a ton of possibilities for us, since a lot of the restaurants in our area are either completely packed all the time or look too intimidating to go in.

After much debate, we decided on okonomiyaki from a restaurant called Syun (actually, the full name translates to “Kyoto Kujo Onion Specialty Store Era Syun”…and their URL is short for “onion fetishist”(!?) Am I seeing this right? Hah.)

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The estimated delivery time was about an hour, but the actual delivery time was much quicker. As the name of their restaurant implies, onions (specifically scallions) are their specialty and they get a shipment delivered every day straight from Kyoto.

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Roy got the okonomiyaki “special”, which had a sunny-side egg up on top.


 
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I got the cheese tonpeiyaki, which was basically a really runny omelet with pork slices inside.


 
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Fresh Kyoto scallions sprinkled on top.


 
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It looks so inviting.

Verdict: the okonomiyaki was amazing, especially with the egg yolk running into it. The tonpeiyaki was great, but cooled off too quickly for me – the okonomiyaki retained its heat much better. I ended up wishing I had gotten the okonomiyaki for myself too, and we both found ourselves still hungry after the meals. (…I’m pretty sure the sauce turns your stomach into a bottomless pit.)

Overall, I’m not sure we will be taking advantage of fineDine that frequently. The price ended up being around $30USD for the two of us, which included a small fee for delivery and 5% coupon** that we got from befriending fineDine on Line. Also, many of the restaurants had an 1-2 hour estimated delivery time, so we wouldn’t be able to pull a “fuck it, let’s just stay in and binge-watch Man Vs. Food”, which is normally when we decide to get takeout. Still, it’s cool to have the option of local restaurants in the area deliver their best stuff right to your door.


* Normally I would throw stuff like this out back in the States, but I’ve been finding myself examining every piece of mail we get at our new apartment. The colors totally lure me in.

**Though, maybe they are generous with discounts? I totally missed the 15% off coupon on the flyer itself, and I received a survey that will give me ¥1,000 off of my next order. HMMMmmm.

Jambox Holiday Special 2013

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Hey there! Sorry I’ve been so inactive on this little blog. I have some holiday music I consolidated so you can pretend I was there for you.


Thanksgiving
by Fletcher C. Johnson

should I take a nap?/or watch the parent trap?/I turn it on as I fall asleep

Lumberjack Christmas/No One Can Save You From Christmases Past
by Sufjan Stevens

if drinking makes it easy/the music’s kind of cheesy/the specials on the tv

This New Year
by Big Tree

everything used to be so easy/now it’s so damn hard

Updates
I already celebrated Japanese New Year with Roy earlier:

So there’s that.

Obviously we have been through some major changes in the past couple of months: Roy is now safely tucked away in Tokyo, and I just recently dove back into working in a corporate environment. Our various podcasts are currently on hiatus.

I did, however, make a small announcement regarding a new comic that we have been working on. The thought behind doing this was multifold:

  • Roy and I always work pretty well together, but so far the work has been towards video game projects. We wanted to try our hand a collaborative comic.
  • A serial comic will be easier to manage with a day job versus producing random short stories, which was originally my goal for 2014
  • We can collaborate on it despite distance and different time zones

It’s still in early stages of development, but the characters and story are something we’ve been talking about for almost a year. Progress pictures are going on my Tumblr as always, but I plan to write about our process more formally on this site so others can see how we’re putting this all together.

2013 Reflections
If I had a one-word takeaway from what this year has taught me, it would be “PATIENCE”. Despite our efforts on the Monster Hunter Beginner’s Guide in the summer and fall of 2012, it wasn’t until spring of this year that we were mentioned on a slew of gaming sites and finally saw some success for our efforts. I stopped Rumbirds to rework my skills as an artist and I’m so glad I did, even though it felt like a huge step backwards. I’ve been making an effort to S L O W D O W N while working because for me the end result is always much better than doing things without really thinking them through.

I went back into comicking carefully – at first submitting my work to a couple of zines I was invited to, and then participating in 24 hour comics day, and then producing a short love story comic. Normally I’m impatient when it comes to creative endeavors, but even the most rudimentary planning makes the work ten times easier to produce. Likewise, I can’t expect instantaneous results for anything I do. Instead of measuring “success” in daily increments, I now try to allot for something to take months before it gains any sort of momentum.

Thoughts for 2014
2014 is shaping up to be an even crazier year, and some major changes are on the horizon that are equally both terrifying and exciting. But let’s focus on things I can actually control.

Aside from producing better work in 2014, I want to start regularly giving to charities, Kickstarters, or small businesses. That was one of the promises I made to myself when I decided to accept a day job again. It’s a well-paying position, so I want to avoid the common pitfalls of wanting more and more: after a certain point, it’s enough. So my aim is to pay off my student loan (or make at least a sizable dent) and give generously to those in need. If you’re in a financially comfortable position, please consider giving to those less fortunate or who are struggling to make their dreams come true.

Well, that’s about that. See you next year! Let’s make it a great one!

Jambox: CHiCKS & NERDZ by Tanaka Alice

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It’s sounds exactly what it looks like: pop-infused “rap” riding the Kpop trend sung by 16 year old Tanaka Alice. No apologies.

Updates from this week

Life can currently be summed up in this tweet:

And it’s about to get crazier (!), but right now everything else is under wraps.

Also I’ve been figuring out a way to deal with ALL THIS CHANGE, and have found the following things help:

  • Self-initiated projects: I started a “24 hour comic” project that is spanning more than 24 hours BUT I have a finished script and some pages penciled. That is better than most weeks.
  • Reading manga & YA books: my friend C lent me her copies of Magic Knight Rayearth and I all but devoured them this week. I totally needed the escape. I also just finished the first volume of Across the Universe lent to me by another friend and am eager to sink into volume two.
  • Muscle men action movies: I’ve been finding myself shunning “thinking” movies in favor of Schwarzenegger, Mark Wahlberg*, etc., BROING IT UP. A friend is bringing over an Arnold movie to watch tonight, and I’m so ready to get lost in a sea of muscles and explosions and questionable one-liners. Maybe I should take up cigars.
  • Video games: Animal Crossing, Pokémon, and Kingdom Hearts HD. Anything with colorful palettes and themes about friendship and change.

Last thing: The Hana Doki Kira Kickstarter has reached its first stretch goal, which means the hard copy books will have a lovely foil print on the cover and us contributors will get more compensation for our work. Yay paid work! I was also featured today on HDK’s Facebook page, so there’s that (hello new readers!).

What will next week hold for us?


* Who I always confuse for Matt Damon. Thankfully Roy has accepted this instead of fighting it and now understands what I mean when I say I want to watch a “Matt Damon movie”.

Jambox: 正常な脳 by 空きっ腹に酒

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I missed last week’s Jambox update since it was my birthday and I was out doing birthday things*, but this is the artist I would’ve posted if I had to make a special birthday Jambox post. The song is Seijou na Nou (Normal Brain) by Akipparanisake (Saké on an Empty Stomach). Crazy rock/punk sound, crazy energy, and I think I’m totally in love with the dude’s voice.

Updates from this week
The Hana Doki Kira Kickstarter is now officially past 100%! If you’ve hesitated to contribute before, think of how now you can be part of a winning team.

I met my goal of finishing Ray of Light by my birthday last week, so I polished it up and made a PDF book that people can download through Gumroad. It was incredibly painless to set up and I like the way it integrates into my site. Definitely plan to use it for future projects.

Aside from that, I’ve been preparing for various possible Day Jobs that inexplicably fell into my lap all at once**. Some of the preparation is answering interview questions and industry research, but the rest of it is just mentally readying myself to dive back into corporate work environments. On top of that, Roy and I are waiting on some news that would entail a Very Big Move down the road, so I’ve been feeling scattered and paralyzed by The Unknown.

I dunno. I need to get some floral pants.


* Birthday things included: attending a Uniqlo opening, eating falafels at a Turkish diner hidden behind a gas station, watching Gravity in 3D, dining out, and spending the night in playing chess and drinking bourbon.

** Potential well-paying job offers from three different sources in one week, just as I hit a lull with my freelance work. Life is definitely trying to tell me something.

Shop Talk: Surefire Ways to Avoid Plateauing & Improve Your Craft Quickly

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When it comes to fitness or weight loss, there are numbers you can track to keep yourself motivated and improving at a consistent rate. If you’re an artist, however, it can be hard to gauge how much you’re improving over time. It’s much easier to plateau and get stuck in a artistic rut. You know that if you put in the hours you’ll improve over time, but there’s no tangible goal to work towards other than “better”. How can we fix this?

Earlier this year I made a conscious decision to stop my on-going webcomic Rumbirds to take a step back and focus on bettering my drawing and color skills. The pace of the comic combined with a busy freelance lifestyle made it impossible to take time to improve and I was unhappy with how the pages were turning out. They looked rushed and sloppy. I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t a matter of “pushing through” or any sort self-disciplining. It was a matter of needing to spend time improving my craft. So I created a new Google document and did what I do best: make lists.

Lists I threw together that cover my strong and weak points as an artist.

I made a list of all of my strengths and weaknesses as an artist and color-coded them according to how urgently I wanted to improve them. If you’re self-critical like me then this should be no problem. If you think God should part the heavens and bestow a gilded kiss on each and every one of your 5-minute Bic pen sketches, then consider really challenging yourself by tackling hard-to-draw subjects like automobiles or animals.

An example from my self-improvement course: a sample of the artist’s work and a short list of qualities I like.

Then I made a list of artists whose work I strongly resonated with. This created a goal of sorts – “Does my work stand up to this artist’s? What areas are they strong in?”

Then, using the color-coded skills as a reference, I logged each skill that I most urgently wanted to improve and looked up tutorials specific to those skills on Tumblr and DeviantArt. Back to the Google doc, I pasted a few links of tutorials under each skill. I was essentially setting up a course for myself so that I had direction in every area I wanted to improve in.

At this point, you should have a firm idea of which areas you want to work in. Don’t spend more than a few hours setting this document up – it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of tutorials* and research, but at this point you’re just trying to figure out a starting point.

The next step is to stick to 1-2 areas, read the tutorials you found, and practice for a month. For example, I really wanted to work on my anatomy and color. So every day I would do 10 minutes of gesture drawing using photo references, followed by 30 minutes of speed painting using techniques I read about or watched in a video.

It also helps to remove any physical/mental barriers from working. The easiest way to do this is make your practice the first thing you do in the day. Since I work digitally, I set up a standard letter-sized 300dpi .psd document reserved just for daily sketches. Each day I would hide the previous layer and add a new one. Didn’t have to think of creating a new document/figuring out where to save it/what to call it/any special formatting.

Some of speed paints done during my 30-day practice.

Some of speed paints done during my 30-day practice.

After about 30 days of doing this you should have gotten significantly better (and faster). You’ve also created a habit for yourself** to draw every day, even if it’s for under an hour. On top of that? You’ve created a system for yourself to improve according to your own guidelines. Which means you can apply this to other areas you want to improve, as large or as minute as you want. Revisit your document and see what areas to improve next and check on your self-imposed goals. If you don’t think you’ve achieved the goal you were aiming for, do another 30 days. For me I stop practicing when I’m more or less happy with my level of skill and want to move on to a different area.

Tips and Tricks

  • Don’t tackle too many things at once. Pick 1-2 areas of focused improvement.
  • For smaller things like body parts (hands, feet, etc), you can forgo the 30-day exercise and instead commit to drawing 50-100 of them using photo references.
  • Get comfortable posting your journey online (if that’s your thing). Get used to posting stuff without expecting any sort of validation or feedback. To me this is the folly of a lot of artists – they mix their egos in with their work (totally understandable) and have a meltdown when people don’t give them the response they want. I overcame this by telling myself that the next thing I post will be better.
  • Don’t sweat it if you don’t make the 30 days. Even a week of focused practice will significantly boost your skills, which is the point of this whole thing.

*Sometimes I see these giant lists of tutorials passed around on Tumblr and think, who actually reads through these? Who has the time? There are so many different styles and opinions. Just pick a few and move on.

**Want to make something a habit for yourself? Try doing it for 30 days straight with no exceptions. After that it will feel “wrong” if you go a day without doing this practice. I’ve started and stopped yoga numerous times, but it always feels “wrong” to go long periods without doing it thanks to an initial 30-day yoga challenge I participated in.