Tag Archives: Japan

GDC 2015


Another Game Developers Conference (GDC) has come and gone. As I left San Francisco, all that was left was its shell: the white Moscone Center and the yellow and orange GDC banners that still proudly hung in support of a conference that has recently transpired.

“TT4_0398” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.
TT4_0398” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.

Observing this, I experienced both sadness and happiness. I am sad that I won’t get to see friends and exchange conversations with some of the most intelligent people I know in the industry on a regular basis.  However, I am happy to see that there is a bright future for the games industry. The attendees of GDC are the people who will change the industry. Being surrounded by them at GDC greatly inspires me to do my best in chasing my dreams and ambitions.

At the end of 2014, I moved to Japan to pursue my passion. I wanted to immerse myself more into game localization, a craft I wanted to specialize in, and become proficient in the language and culture. Everything seemingly was going to plan, but, perhaps inevitably, I ran into hurdles and roadblocks during my brief time here in Japan. These moments left a bitter taste in my mouth and I found myself feeling discouraged and my confidence was wavering. I was still determined to accomplish my goal, but my morale was at an all-time low.

“TT4_0398” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.
General” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.

Luckily, GDC was right around the corner. Since I was living across the Pacific Ocean in another country, I truly wondered if I could attend GDC again this year. It was tight, but I was able to make it happen. I don’t regret it at all. Like my previous GDC experiences, this year proved to be memorable and life-changing.

This year I prioritized face-to-face meetings plus sessions and roundtables which would not be recorded and uploaded onto the GDC Vault. It was an excellent decision. I met and befriended incredibly talented people who I would love to work with in the future. I also learned so much about aspects of the industry I’ve had yet to experience. In particular, the “Acting and Talent for Games: From Indie to AAA” roundtables were my favorite events to attend. These talks explored aspects of game development that I wanted to learn the most about at GDC: localization, writing, and voice acting.

I got access to a fair amount of parties too, but the award for “GDC 2015 Best Party Attended” goes to IGN’s Indie Mixer. The IGN party was great for meeting people and getting to see many incredible indie titles. Just from observation, Spider: Rite of Shrouded Moon looked very fun. I also had my first VR experience and played Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes using the Oculus. All the games at the event looked pretty great, to be honest. While I am talking about indie games, let me plug in some titles from the GDC floor. Metamorphabet and Killer Queen, the two titles I did play, were also really fun. I must also mention Butt Sniffin’ Pugs. Yes, you heard that right. Butt Sniffin’ Pugs.

This was my third GDC, but for a second time I was invited to join the Conference Associates who are also known as the CAs.  The CA program is the best volunteer program I have ever experienced. I would not hesitate to claim it to be the best in the world. Working as a CA this year made me realize just how great this program is. It manages to bring together 400 people across a wide range of disciplines and they all work together harmoniously to run the largest event designed to inform and educate game industry professionals.


The head of the CA program must have a great sense for people, because the CAs consist of some of the most friendly, most enthusiastic, most helpful human beings I know. Not only that, the program is structured to support and include everyone. The work environment generated by the CA program is nearly utopian. Through careful observation, I think this can be credited to the established chain of service. It is one that prioritizes the attendee followed by the CAs, the CA staff, the CA head, and finally UBM. This structure and the acceptance of everyone’s opinions and ideas is, what I believe, the secret to the success of the CA program. Support from CAs does not only last during GDC, but forever. Joining the CAs is like joining a family, and I am proud and very grateful to be part of this amazing family.

Speaking of family, I am lucky enough to be joining another one. It was during GDC that I got to visit the IGN office to talk about a freelance job. I am very happy to announce that I will be working with IGN as their Japan correspondent. I’m now working with a company that I’ve been admiring, following, and reading their material since the release of the original The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in 2000. I’ve been told it’s like being in another CA family and I cannot be more thrilled.


America I’ll miss you, but now I return to Japan reinvigorated and excited. My new life in Japan begins now.

Brace Yourself, Yo-kai Watch is Coming

For decades, Pokémon monopolized the collectible monster scene. However, amid the Pokémon Centers of Japan emerges a brand new monster mania — Yo-kai Watch. Level-5 created a multimedia franchise that is now taking Japan by storm. Next is the world.

Japan may still love Pokémon, but with Yo-kai Watch’s booming success in Japan and inevitable release in the West, this is the largest rival to challenge Pokémon’s supremacy yet.

Imagine Pokémon mixed with Ni no Kuni, add a splash of Japanese folklore, sprinkle in some childhood reminiscence, and you got yourself the essence of Level-5’s Yo-kai Watch.

While Pokémon’s fantasy world is vaguely based on the real world, Yo-kai Watch definitely takes place in Japan. Of course, that means localization challenges are aplenty. Yo-kai Watch is so strongly rooted in Japanese culture, even its title requires a bit of a cultural lesson.


What are Youkai?

One of many youkai, Gashadokuro (がしゃどくろ) are large skeletons formed by the bones of people who have died from starvation.

Japan loves monsters. They’ve existed in Japanese mythos for ages. In Japan, the term used to refer to these supernatural creatures is “yōkai” (妖怪). There are many different types of youkai: shape-shifting foxes, women with stretchable necks, walking umbrellas, long-nosed avian warriors, mischievous water spirits, and more.

Introducing Gashadokuro (ガシャどくろ) from Yo-kai Watch 2. Its name is actually a word pun. It combines the youkai’s name with Gashapon, the Japanese word for capsule toys.

Yo-kai Watch brings all of these mythical beings together in a universe where they can be befriended and summoned by the press of a button on a special wristwatch.

Welcome to Yo-kai Watch

One day, you’re out trying to catch that one, amazing bug (think Animal Crossing) that will impress all your friends. You come across a large tree and at its base is a suspicious, and awfully old, capsule toy machine. A mysterious voice beckons you to insert a coin which releases the cutesy ghost, Whisper. He bestows upon you the Yo-kai Watch, a wrist strap which unveils the world of youkai that live all around you.

That is the prevailing theme behind Yo-kai Watch: “Everyday life with Youkai.” The game’s setting is an average, Japanese town called Sakura New Town. Even the main 11 year-old protagonists, Keita Amano (boy) or Fumika Kodama (girl), were purposefully designed to be flawed and relatable.


On the outside, Sakura New Town appears completely normal and its residents are going about their normal, daily lives. However, it is actually bustling with all sorts of youkai. Some of them are good and others are causing mischief and mayhem. Which, of course, means youkai battles!

Yo-kai Watch vs. the World


For a franchise with such strong Japanese roots, Level-5 is confident that it can take on the world. Prepping to take their successful monster franchise to the world stage, Level-5 is eyeing the West and have already begun testing the waters:

A trademark has been already filed for in the United States. Plus, Level-5 has clearly announced its plans to bring Yo-kai Watch overseas under the premise that it will be guaranteed to succeed. Japan may still love Pokémon, but with Yo-kai Watch’s booming success in Japan and inevitable release in the West, this is the largest rival to challenge Pokémon‘s supremacy yet.

Will Yo-Kai Watch make it big like Pokémon? Or is it just the latest monster fad? We will soon find out.

京都 (Kyoto)



A glimpse of the lush gardens surrounding Ryouan-ji.
A glimpse of the lush gardens surrounding Ryouan-ji.

We boarded the ひかり (Hikari) shinkansen again to head for the historic and cultural heart of Japan: Kyoto. Upon our arrival, we immediately went to 龍安寺 (りょうあんじ/Ryouan-ji), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and saw its famous Japanese Zen garden. This particular garden is considered the finest example of 枯山水 (かれさんすい/”dry landscape” gardening). These type of gardens are designed to imitate the essence of nature and serve as an aid to meditation. I’ve always pictured this particular garden as small islands among a vast sea. The surrounding temple grounds were just as gorgeous.

Zen Garden
The famous Zen garden at Ryouan-ji.

Nearby was also 金閣寺 (きんかくじ), or the Golden Pavilion. This is probably one of the most famous sites in Japan. For me, it is definitely one of the first that comes to mind when I think of Kyoto. The building itself is three stories, with the top two covered in pure gold leaf.

The beautiful surroundings of Kinkakuji a.k.a the Golden Pavilion.
Black Sesame Ice Cream
ソフトクリーム!This is black sesame flavor. Found at Kinkakuji!

For the Pokémon fans out there, like myself, it is interesting to known that this is the home of ホウオウ(Ho-Oh). Ecruteak City is representative of Kyoto in the Pokémon world.  The Golden Pavilion also has a Pokémon equivalent. The Bell Tower/Tin Tower, where Ho-Oh can be found and captured.

I guess it would be safe to assume that 銀閣寺(ぎんかくじ), the Silver Pavilion, served as the basis for the Burned Tower in the Pokémon series. However, in reality, it was the Golden Pavilion which burned to the ground in 1950 by a monk. The Golden Pavilion as we known it today is the reconstruction of it from 1955. Very symbolic of a phoenix who is reborn from ashes.


The following day was a special one. As part of our printmaking class and service learning project, when went to visit Richard Steiner, a professional woodblock printmaker.  Originally from America, he’s been living in Japan and studying woodblock printing since 1970.

Steiner showing us carving techniques.
Steiner showing us carving techniques.

He studied under woodblock print master, Masahiko Tokumitsu. Originally imitating the representational black-and-white style of his teacher, Steiner has since adopted colorful abstract themes into his work.  After years of study, Richard Steiner was given an artistic license and the artistic name of Tosai. Today, Steiner also teaches at 京都精華大学 (きょうとせかいだいがく/Kyoto Seika University. He also heads the Kyoto International Woodprint Association (KIWA).

His quaint studio is located in central Kyoto in a 町や (まちや/townhouse) with 畳 (tatami) floors and sliding 障子 (しょうじ/shouji) doors. Within this space, he covered a brief history about 木版画 (もくはんが/woodblock prints) and shared with us techniques used in the woodblock printing process. However, since his space was too small to accommodate the entire class, it was necessary for us to break up in groups. Therefore, a good part of the day was spent exploring the surrounding neighborhood of 中京区 (なかぎょうく/Nakagyou-ku).


Nijou Castle
二条城 二の丸御殿” by taka under CC BY-SA 2.1 JP.

The following day we went to 二条城 (にじょうじょう/Nijou Castle), another UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the morning. On the way there, I had a “Justin Beiber” moment, when I waved to some passerby school girls and then they all unanimously squealed. That was a little surreal.

The castle itself is similar to Nagoya Castle, although, a little smaller. The architecture lends itself very well to the social hierarchy of the Edo period. Therefore, there was many informative displays showcasing this.

Nijou Castle Grounds
One of the beautiful views from with the grounds of Nijou Castle.
Kyoto Imperial Park
This is one of the roads within Kyoto Imperial Park leading to the palace.

After Nijou Castle, we headed for the 京都御所 (きょうとごしょ/Kyoto Imperial Palace). It was the former residence of the Emperor and his family in Kyoto until 1868 when they moved to Tokyo. The palace that exists today is the reconstruction of it in 1855 after it had burned down. Situated within 京都御苑 (きょうとぎょえん/Kyoto Imperial Park), the palace grounds are enormous. I can’t stress how huge this place is.

Within the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the class went on a guided tour. We learned a lot about the castle architecture and daily lives of the royal family. For example, the roof is created using a special bark from a Japanese cypress called 檜 (Hinoki) and the color vermilion is used in 神道 (しんとう/Shinto) to ward off bad spirits. Something I found particularly interesting is that a notch is created in the northeast corner of the palace walls to prevent bad spirits from entering the palace grounds. This is because the northeast is believed to be where they originate from. Also, red tatami is used for lower social status, while white tatami is used for higher class.

Kyoto Imperial Palace
“Kyoto Imperial Palace” by OZinOH under CC BY-NC 2.0.

That night, the class headed to 祇園 (ぎおん/Gion), a district formed in front of the 八坂神社 (やさかじんじゃ/Yasaka Shrine). Gion is well-known for the 芸者(geisha) and their apprentices, the 舞子 (maiko), who walk its streets at night. I was lucky enough to see three maiko walking down the streets. Seeing them in person is actually a pretty awe-inspiring experience.

Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine” by Hardo under CC BY-SA 2.0.

I loved being in Gion. Kyoto for the most part has a quiet a night life in comparison to Tokyo and Nagoya. However, Gion is where Kyoto comes to life at night. I would love to return to Gion in the future.

In Gion, I’ve experienced プリクラ (purikura), a photo sticker booth. Such flawless skin and big eyes. Probably my most popular photo from the trip.


Kyoto Seika University, the school Richard Steiner teaches at, is another college we got to tour during our stay in Japan. I was happy I got the opportunity to visit some colleges since I’m exploring options for the MEXT Scholarship. Something which I may or may not apply for in the near future.

Kyoto Seika University
Kyoto Seika University Campus” by Daniel Goffin under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Kyoto Seika University was particularly interesting since it offered many fields of study within new media: animation, manga, photography, etc. Of course, printmaking as well, which got some of the study abroad students very excited. It really seemed like a school out of ハチミツとクローバー (Honey and Clover). While visiting, there was a group of high school students learning to make 和紙 (washi) paper. As アメリカ人(アメリカじん/Americans), we were quite popular among the high school students.

Later that evening, I was determined to see 任天堂株式会社 (にんてんどうかぶしきがいしゃ/Nintendo Co., Ltd.), headquartered in Kyoto. With a little research, I discovered that Nintendo was located not far from the hotel. Two friends joined me on my quest. It was surprisingly easy to find! There was two buildings. One was obviously an older building, while the other, Nintendo Research and Development, looked much newer.


With the sun setting in the background and through the rose-tinted glasses of a fan, the cubical, white buildings probably looked more amazing than in reality. The locals obviously knew what we were up to, since they were all grinning from ear to ear as they walked past. There was even a little old woman giggling as she was walking her dog.


きつね (fox) statues are everywhere at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This one was cute.

On our last day in Kyoto, once again the familiar band of adventurers assembled and we head for the 伏見稲荷大社 (ふしみいなりたいしゃ/Fushimi Inari Shrine)。This is the head shrine for the fox diety known as Inari, who also apparently loves fried tofu.  いなり寿司 (いなりずし/Inari sushi) is sushi rice in fried tofu. きつねうどん (literally “fox udon” ) is udon noodles with fried tofu. As the god of rice, it is no wonder the Japanese people love him so much.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine isn’t far from Nintendo headquarters actually. In fact, Shigeru Miyamoto said that the shrine helped with the conception of Star Fox and the series’ main character Fox McCloud.

Running through all these torii will make you think you're being transported to another world!
Running through all these torii will make you think you’re being transported to another world!

Aside from foxes, this shrine has lots and lots of 鳥居 (とりい), traditional Japanese gates. There is apparently over 10,000 of them, each one donated from a company or organization. Walking through a tunnel of vermilion-colored gates is not only beautiful, but also other-worldly. There truly is no other place like it. I’m proud that I was able to make it all the way to the top of the hill and see as much of the shrine as I could. I may return to enjoy it more when I return to Kyoto this July.