Aug 212013

If you are an “outstanding artist” who lives outside of Japan, you can now apply for the “Animation Artist in Residence” program.  The program lasts for 70 days, between January 7th and March 17th, 2014 and it covers your travel, living, and accommodations.

You must be between the ages of 20-35 and you must submit a plan for a new animation that’s at least 3 minutes in length.

The deadline to apply is September 9th, 2013.

To apply, visit:

Sep 072012

Osaka Ali rides the Hankyu Line train often and his eye frequently goes a-wandering. Recently, an in-car ad for a University called Ritsumeikan in Kyoto caught his attention. The poster was attractive enough to get him to look at their website. The events page yielded an even more interesting find: a panel discussion with the former president of the Japan Foundation, Kazuo Ogura. The title of the discussion was what hooked him, “Geneology of Anti-Globalism”. Faaascinating …

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Ogura was recently invited to be a visiting professor at Ritsumeikan, a role to which he brings considerable experience. The Japan Foundation is a government organization (part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that promotes Japan and Japanese culture around the world. Their main work includes arts and cultural programs, Japanese language education and intellectual exchange. As president of the Japan Foundation, Ogura oversaw literary symposia on the work of Haruki Murakami, arts exchanges with Afghan craftsmen, educational programs for Chinese students, programs for teens in disater-struck Aceh, Indonesia, co-operation between the US and Japan after Hurricane Katrina and the launch of the Japanese in Anime and Manga website. He additionally served as a deputy foreign minister for the Japanese government as well as an ambassador to three countries. He was joined on the panel by two other professors at the Ritsumeikan College of International Relations.

Osaka Ali decided to check it out, understand his adopted country a little better, and find out from the panel why they think that the world is turning against the idea of globalism. From the sub-prime crisis to the financial meltdown in Europe to the Arab Spring, the global fabric has been straining and tearing. Now grass roots phenomena like the Occupy movement are growing and spreading. “Geneology of Anti-Globalism” sought to learn where these movements came from, what birthed them, how they survive and thrive and how they are influenced by their local conditions.

The discussion covered many topics ranging from the number of democratic countries vs autocratic ones, export and import flows, money transfers, the degree of freedom of expression in various countries, the loss of languages and dialects, the proliferation of Non-governmental Organizations and even the number of foreign films to Japanese films in the Japanese movie market. It was enough to make an amateur researcher’s head spin (are you still with me?). Norihisa Yamashita and GyongSu Mun, both professors at the Ritsumeikan College of International Relations, also enriched the conversation contributing perspectives on the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty and Japan-Korea relations. Luckily all was made understandable by very capable translators commissioned by the University staff.

Who’s down with TPP? (Yeah, you know me)

After the discussion, Ali got a chance to talk to Professor Ogura and was able to ask him what his view of recent activities by anti-Globalist movements meant as well as what it means to be pro-, counter- or even perhaps alterna- globalism. His answer was a surprise in its simplicity. He said, “People reject globalism when they feel that they cannot participate. When you feel that globalism is something being done to you, you might reasonably reject it.” Participation in society, government, the world is the answer when the interconnected world makes life less than ideal and more like a straightjacket. The message Ali took from the conference is that the world will inevitably become smaller, but opportunity and duty require our participation and our voices. Even learning to communicate in a new language is way to participate, to be active and not a passive victim of global changes.

The panel participants with Professor Ogura at far left

After that Osaka Ali realized that he had a international-sized hunger in his belly. Heading home, he stopped in downtown Osaka. He had to reach out for a little bit of familiarity, somewhere, somehow … comfort food. But where to find the right meal after the deep intellectual discussions, amongst throngs of gastronomic choices available in downtown Umeda? Then, turning around after passing through the station, it stood just ahead … a grand announcement of the only kind of meal that could satisfy. The “Big America Grand Canyon” burger at McDonald’s. Osaka Ali made his way into the familiar fast food paradise without reluctance. Globalization 1 – Osaka Ali 0 …

The Monster Truck of Burgers

Jul 092012

Osaka Ali has been told that in the land of the Rising Sun, religion is a taboo subject of conversation. But I find it hard to observe this proscription, especially when spirituality can be so kitschy and cute. So, let’s broach it, shall we? Look at this urban diety:

Kind of makes you want bow to him with a handful of incense and then tickle his feet, don’t you agree? Who is this sidewalk god-ity? His name is Billiken, and he is a sort of patron saint of free wheeling-and-dealing downtown Osaka. If you are thinking what I was thinking the first time that I saw him, you are wondering where he came from. He could be the obscure love-child of an enlightened being and a Kewpie doll, for all we know.

In actual fact, Billiken is not native to Osaka, or Japan, or even Asia. Billiken is American, in a stranger-than-fiction turn of events. He was born in 1908 in St. Louis, Missouri, the brainchild of Florence Pretz, an American art teacher and inventor. Initially, her creation was designed to serve as a charm doll novelty to be marketed to children in the US who were fascinated by all things exotic.

Billiken’s popularity grew, morphed and eventually waned, but not before he made it to the shores of Japan. The figurine’s debut here occurred in 1912 at the opening of Luna Park, a long disappeared Osaka attraction. It has been said that Billiken idols were even installed in some actual Shinto shrines to be honored, but were removed when war clouds emerged over the Pacific and western cultural imports fell out of favor.

As immortalized in the classic film “Waterloo Bridge” (1940), buying a Billiken is good luck, but receiving a Billiken as a gift is better luck still. What are Billiken’s main attributes? It is hard to say, really. One part of the Billiken metaphysical philosophy might be “It’s all good”. Another part might be “No worries, mate”. But my favorite is found in the inscription on the bottom of this Billiken idol found on the streets of Osaka near Yodogawa station: The God of the Way Things Ought to Be. That’s groovy …

So, if you find yourself in Osaka and you are temple-and-shrine-hopping, make sure to make a pilgrimmage to visit the venerable Billiken. Rub his soles for good luck. Then imagine how things ought to be.

The Original Osaka Billiken idol can be found in the historic Tsutenkaku Tower located at 1-18-6 Ebisu-Higashi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka, 556-0002. Admission is 600 for adults, 300 for kids. The tower is open year-round. (

Special thanks to Akie Watanabe of All Star Tours for first enlightening Osaka Ali about the legend of Billiken.

Jul 062012

You see strange things on the streets of Osaka. A professor of art once told me that a defining characteristic of Mexico City was its surrealism. So far in my experience, Osaka hasn’t matched El Districto Federal in the surrealism department, but sometimes it comes close … like the time I was walking through the suburbs surrounding Kansai University and witnessed a man taking a walk with his calico cat … on a retractable leash. He did this without a hint of self-consciousness. But the truly strange thing was that the cat accepted this situation as a completely natural circumstance. Of course, Osaka Ali took this event as proof positive of the imminent end times. Sorry readers, I didn’t have the guts to take his picture and post it here. Perhaps next time.

On the other hands, ummm, hand, I did have the cojones to snap a shot of this:

Easy rider …

Quite a handful an eyeful. Did Salvador Dali design this bicycle seat and forget to license it to Avocet? Well, it appears to be a beautiful accessory attached to an attractive custom “Von Dutch” style pinstriped cruiser bicycle. From what I could tell, the material of this saddle was a black polyurethane surface. I don’t think that it had inscribed handprints and fingerprints, so it wasn’t totally realistic, but I guess it was satisfactorily realistic enough for the owner to install it and presumably ride it. Notice the conveniently placed beer can. Do you think that the bike came from the factory with this seat as a standard option? All that I can say in hindsight *ahem* is that this bicycle seat gives new meaning to the word, “ergonomic”.

Does any reader know who manufactures this saddle?

This artifact was found at approximately 34.706561,135.499287

Jun 192012

Mr. Manners has a friendly message for you…

Mr. Manners (Mister マナー) is your friendly cartoon character offering the uncouth all of the right tips to a civil express-train travel experience.

He greets you from the on-train advertising on the Nankai-Koya line in Osaka with his friendly smile, crisp green-framed glasses and M-logo utility belt. Check out his futuristic gettup with retro moonboots … He seems to point the way to intergalactic societal harmony. And of course, you can tell that he is well schooled in the intricacies of proper commuter etiquette. Obey and absorb what he says because he’s a model futurist.

What kind of soundtrack would you use if you were producing an animated PSA for Mr. Manners? Fusion Jazz? Electronica? Bossa Nova? 60′s era Moog music? ….. Ska?

But back to seriousness, what lessons does Mr. Manners have for us?

1. Keep the headphone volume down, lest you disturb your follow passengers…
2. Line up in two rows while awaiting your train in queue…
3. Throw your trash and recyclables in the proper receptacles (there are four … newspaper & magazines, pet bottles, glass bottles & cans and … other)
4. Mind your oversize bags… Other people need their space too, you know…

Yes, Mr. Manners cheerily offers the way to pleasant train riding for all travelers. Thank you Mr. Manners!


Osaka Ali

Jun 112012

Umeda is one of Osaka’s most exciting neighborhoods. Located in the city’s business and commerce hub, it’s a great place to find cool digs, forward leaning fashion, an urban ferris wheel, the latest flicks, a worldwide sample of foods, fast trains (the JR, Hankyu, Keihan and other lines all meet there), shopping, art galleries and more…

The Entrance to Maruzen / Junkudo in Chayamachi, Umeda, Osaka

Working in Umeda is a stimulating experience. The busy downtown, the pulsing crowds, the traffic rush, and the continuous distraction can be overwhelming. On the other hand the constant buzz can add up to an accumulated blandness, if you know what I mean. My solution to the sensory bombardment and boredom is to head over to Maruzen / Junkudo bookstore. It resides in the first eight floors of the beautiful Chaska Chayamachi Tower. The striking design is another signature reinforced concrete building by Osaka architect Ando Tadao completed in 2010. On hand are literally hundreds of magazine titles, and that’s only counting the Japanese publications. There are 9 floors of books, stationery, manga (this has it’s own basement level floor), and an iPhone / iPad repair and accessories station. There is an extensive collection of foreign language books as well.

Some of the interesting finds include magazines like WonderJapan (ワンダー), a campy guidebook of roadside Japanicana including odd locales, forgotten attractions,abandoned amusement parks, obscure statues of idols, ruins, and other assorted weird worlds for you to discover throughout Japan. Upstairs you’ll find some materials for English language teachers located along with games and puzzles for helping students learn. On three floors there are balconies to sit, read, take in the ambiance and do some discreet people-watching. There are great finds including photography books, children’s books and the latest Japanese literature.

Bookstores are very popular in Japan and perhaps as a result, books can be expensive. Other bookstores I have found can’t afford to provide much space to comfortably scrutinize the books and magazines. However, I can spend hours ( ok, ok … in all honestly days) checking my finds while I, ahem, consider a new purchase at Maruzen / Junkudo because it is so spacious and comfortable.

What is my personal favorite section? I suppose it is the foreign language SF stacks. All the greats are represented here like J.G. Ballard, Ben Bova, Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. I currently have got my eye on a paperback copy of “The Man in the High Castle”. So come on down to Umeda, have a coffee at Tully’s and then pop across the street to Maruzen / Junkudo. I’ll be in the S.F. Section…

Maruzen / Junkudo Bookstore is located at Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Kita-ku, Chayamachi, 7-20. (34.707478,135.500124) Store hours are from 10am – 10pm

Osaka Ali




May 102012

If Ayn Rand re-wrote The Fountainhead with a Japanese setting, Howard Roark’s name would be changed to Ando Tadao. That’s just my opinion, speaking as a recovering architecture fanatic.

The man is a legend. Ando is a former truck driver and prizefighter who made a notable transformation by training himself to be an architect. Winner of the Pritzker Prize ( as close as architect gets to Nobel laureate-hood ), he has been making a name for himself and bringing honors to Japanese design for more than four decades. Anecdotes about his passion for construction excellence abound.If he has built a masterpiece, it is hard to choose it from his wide portfolio. The Church of the Light certainly makes the shortlist. The local people know the church as the Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church, and its presence in the neighborhood is subtle and unobtrusive. The only hint that the building houses something special is a great cruciform window facing the intersection nearby. The cross shaped window served as a beacon to my family and about three dozen other architectural pilgrims who visited this past weekend, the final day of golden week.
The property that the church sits on is small, so Ando-sensei placed the masses of the sanctuary and study hall carefully to create an introverted, contemplative courtyard that forces the mind and body into narrow corners and then suddenly

opens up into sublime spaces that seem to touch and free the soul. The concrete work is exquisite throughout, the surfaces at times glassy smooth. Steel and glass frame and capture the views outside and then seem to disappear behind the surface of the concrete. Wood cabinetwork retains simplicity, utility and humanity, all at once. Light and shadow caress the concrete texture, rendered delicate by the unparalleled craftsmanship.

After digesting the beauty of it all, I met the current pastor of the church, Reverend Ken’ichi Oishi. He’s a kind and gracious host who enjoys taking the time to tell about the people who make up his flock and the history of how they commissioned a maestro-in-the-making to build a special home for their community. He hinted that when the church approached the architect, they weren’t in a position to capture his attention with a spectacular building budget. Ando has said in speeches that he was impressed by the sincerity and intensity of the vision of the church leaders enough to overcome his own reservations about the obstacles that would arise. Together, client and architect overcame those obstacles. What resulted from the courageous union was a bounty of grace and tranquility. Howard Roark would approve.


The Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church is located in Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture, near Bampakukinenkoen (Expo ’70 Park). For more information about the church, location and how to arrange a visit go to

May 312010

Just a stunning HD view into Japan. I really urge you to spend some time to check this video out.

From Brad Kremer:

Hayaku: A time lapse journey through Japan.

Japan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. This is my Japan. This is one of the many reasons why I love Japan. I shot this in many locations around Japan in the summer of 2009. Some of the location include Tokyo, Matsuyama, Imabari, Nagano, Gifu, and Ishizushisan.

I started this as a personal project to try and capture the beauty that I see in Japan. It started as just that…