Tag: Shibuya

PITB Reviews: Ghostwire Tokyo: Cats Play A Central Role In This Japanese Horror Game

The premise of Ghostwire: Tokyo is simple: The entire human population of the city has vanished in some mysterious, cataclysmic supernatural event, leaving the heart of Tokyo silent, vacant and draped in an ethereal fog.

Instead of the bustle of humanity, the city is now populated by demons and yōkai, which are roughly equivalent to ghosts in Japanese folklore.

Only one human survives: Akito, our protagonist. He remains alive due to pure luck after a spirit named KK inhabits his body, intending to use it to fight the supernatural forces that have emptied Tokyo of its human inhabitants.

Akito and KK come to an uneasy truce sharing one body due to their aligned goals. KK’s presence not only allows Akito to survive the malevolent forces at work, but also imbues him with fantastic elemental powers to wield against the yōkai prowling the otherwise empty streets: He can summon wind, fire and water, and cleanse spirits and locations with Shinto prayer rituals.

Akito is set on rescuing his sister from sharing the same fate as hundreds of thousands of others, while KK spent his human life — and now his afterlife — trying to stop the mysterious figure behind the spirit invasion from harvesting human souls. For Akito to do the former, he and KK must do the latter.

Oh, and there are animals — lots of scared, confused cats and dogs who don’t know what to make of the city’s supernatural new inhabitants and don’t understand why the humans have gone missing. KK’s powers allow Akito to read animals’ thoughts.

“I can’t smell my buddy anywhere,” a confused dog tells me early in the game, whimpering as he wanders near the Shibuya scramble crossing.

It’s worth paying attention to Ghostwire’s lost pets. Feed a dog and the good boy could lead you to a cache of cash or a Jizo statue where you can say a prayer and augment your powers. Stop to pet and talk to a cat, and she might tell you a yokai is hiding nearby, disguising itself as an every day object.

True to a country obsessed with felines going back centuries, a cat isn’t always just a cat in the world of Ghostwire: Tokyo.

There are your regular domestic pets and strays, which are simply called neko, the Japanese word for cat. Akito encounters them often, comforts them and can read their thoughts with KK’s powers. Like the dogs, they’re confused, scared and hungry.

Then there are nekomata, which are the spirits of domestic cats who have become yōkai. Nekomata have made themselves at home in the absence of humans, showing their entrepreneurial spirit. The ghost cats have taken over every convenience store and kiosk in the city, urging Akito and KK to buy their snacks and supernatural wares to “be purrpared” for what awaits them.

“You’ve gotta spend money to make money,” one nekomata tells me, “so why not spend it here with meow?”

Nekomata are not to be confused with bakeneko, who are also yōkai but differ from their spirit cat cousins in subtle ways. Bakeneko can be friendly, mischievous or ambivalent, they can move without making a sound, and like nekomata they can speak and understand human language. Unlike nekomata, which have two tails, bakeneko only have one.

Finally, there are maneki neko. You’ve seen maneki neko even if you don’t realize it, probably on the counter of your local Japanese grocery, sushi house or Chinese restaurant. They’re the smiling, beckoning cats who are said to bring good fortune, health and other benefits. They’re based on the legend of a friendly cat who led a road-weary Japanese feudal lord and his men to a sanctuary just before a violent thunderstorm centuries ago, and have become ubiquitous in Japan and wider Asian culture.

For a game with a grim premise set in an empty but lived-in city, there’s plenty of bizarre humor as well. One mission has you delivering toilet paper to a human spirit who really, really needs to wipe after an epic bowel movement before he can move on and rest easy in the afterlife.

On another occasion I stopped to admire the detail and near-photorealistic beauty of a street bordering a shrine when I heard a nekomata hilariously meowing a cheerful song out of tune. When I turned toward the little cat, I saw him floating in the air and bouncing to his happy song.

As Akito, the player is tasked with lifting the fog from neighborhoods of central Tokyo, rescuing the spirits of deceased humans before they can be harvested by the demons and yōkai, and investigating the what, why and how of Tokyo’s takeover by malevolent spirits.

Akito and KK accomplish the former by “cleansing” Tokyo’s many shrines using a ritual performed at the shrine torii gates. Once a torii gate is cleansed, the fog around it subsides and more of Tokyo opens up for exploration and investigation. Meanwhile, Akito and KK must fight off yōkai to reach the floating spirits of Tokyo’s citizens, using a talisman to secure them. The duo can then “wire” the spirits to an ally outside the city, who helps return them to their bodies. The game keeps track of how many souls are saved, with the count rising to the hundreds of thousands for adept players.

The game remains true to Japanese folklore in the way it presents enemies, who are usually corruptions of human souls who have deep regrets about their lives. The spirits represent anxieties unique to, or prevalent in, Japanese society.

There are Rain Walkers, unnaturally thin salarymen toting umbrellas who advance on you inexorably, representing the angry spirits of men who spent their entire lives in service to a corporation, hardly spending time with their families or raising their kids because they work so much.

There are the Students of Pain and Misery, headless schoolgirls and schoolboys representing the spirits of teenagers whose grades couldn’t carry them into good universities, damning them to a life of tedious, low-paying jobs. Those are real concerns in a country where students spend in excess of 10 hours a day, six days a week in school. Teenagers are under enormous pressure to get top grades, and teen suicide is a major contributor to the country’s unusually high suicide rates.

Spirits of Lamentation are dangerous and move in sickeningly unnatural ways as spirits of people who were estranged from loved ones, while the small, raincoat-clad Forsaken are the spirits of abused children.

These malevolent spirits and others wander the streets, linger in alleys and leap across rooftops, but they also form groups called Hyakki Yagyo, which are parades of oni and yōkai who march through the streets of Japanese cities on summer nights, according to folklore.

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You’ll hear the Hyakki Yagyo before you see it, tipped off by the booming taiko drums that accompany the ghostly parade.

The arrival of Hyakki Yagyo in Ghostwire is impressively atmospheric: Lights and neon signs flicker and die out, while taiko drums boom from the mists. Then you see the spirits — yōkai with their umbrellas, massive demons, bizarre apparitions.

The first time I encountered a Hyakki Yagyo, I was so engrossed in watching the procession that I didn’t realize I was in its path until it was too late. I learned that if you get too close, the spirits yank you into an ethereal plane and surround you in numbers, determined to end your physical existence and make you one of them. Those encounters are among the most difficult in the game, but they’re also a fun test of skill.

Ghostwire gives us the most complete recreation of Tokyo in any game to date, and it’s magnificent. The metropolis extends seemingly forever in every direction, with 36 million people living a metro area that sprawls for almost 1,000 square miles. (That’s three times the size of New York with all its boroughs.)

Because of that, no game studio can handle the challenge of recreating the entire city on a 1:1 scale, and Ghostwire doesn’t attempt it. Instead the game world encompasses the famous Shibuya district and part of Minato City, two of the most bustling and famous districts in the heart of Tokyo. It’s a massive playground stretching from west of the scramble crossing, through Roppongi and all the way to Tokyo Tower.

Ghostwire is beautiful, polished and a hell of a lot of fun to play. You’re not going to find the gloriously intuitive combat of a game like Control, or even an experience like the fluid melee action of Shadow Warrior 2. Ghostwire’s combat is pedestrian compared to those games, but it becomes more fun and interesting as the game progresses and you’re given different powers and options to deal with a growing variety of ghastly enemies.

The lure of a game like this is its moody atmosphere, magnificent visuals, tense sound design and a plot that weaves hundreds of years of Japanese folklore into the mix, creating a world unlike anything else in gaming.

The writing deftly transitions between serious and funny, tense and lighthearded, and the partnership between Akito and KK allows for a running dialogue throughout the game, with the two of them asking each other questions, arguing over tasks and reacting to the craziness around them. What starts out as an uneasy alliance held together by necessity becomes grudging mutual respect and eventually friendship.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Mari, Rinko, KK’s friend Ed, and the masked protagonist. Rinko is the spirit of a woman who worked with KK in their human lives. Rinko and KK were killed for their determination, and in death they continue the fight against the malevolent spirits. Ed is a weirdo: He’s KK’s man on the outside, helping to reunite the severed souls of Tokyo with their human bodies when Akito and KK rescue them, but the only way to talk to Ed is by payphone — and even then, he only answers in recordings.

Mari is Akito’s sister, who was unconscious and helpless in a hospital when everyone vanished. More than anything, Akito wants to protect her.

Finally, there’s the man in a oni mask, the mysterious mastermind behind the supernatural takeover of Tokyo. Who is he? What does he want? Can he be defeated?

To answer those questions requires an adventure very much worth having.

Title: Ghostwire: Tokyo
Release date: March 25, 2022
Platforms: PC, Playstation 5
Audience: Mature
Cats: Many

Would Your Cat Wait Outside The Hospital For You?

A story about an extraordinarily loyal dog has touched the hearts of animal lovers all over the world, and probably has many of us thinking: If I had a medical emergency, would my pet chase an ambulance to the hospital and wait there for days until I emerged?

That’s what Boncuk the loyal dog did after her owner, Cemal Senturk, suffered a brain embolism and was taken to a hospital in the northern Turkish city of Trabzon on Jan. 14.

Boncuk waited patiently for her best friend until Aynur Egeli, Senturk’s daughter, took the loving pup home the first night.

The next morning Boncuk was gone, and Egeli knew exactly where she was going.

“She comes every day around 9 a.m. and waits until nightfall,” Muhammet Akdeniz, a security guard at the hospital, told local media. “When the door opens she pokes her head inside,” Akseniz said, but the polite pooch “doesn’t go in.”

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Boncuk poked her head inside but knew she wasn’t allowed inside the hospital.

Boncuk was reunited with Senturk on Wednesday when an orderly wheeled the man out to the hospital entrance. Senturk was later discharged.

In photos and a short video of the reunion, Boncuk is the image of happiness and relief: Her tail wags uncontrollably and she can’t contain her enthusiasm as she literally jumps for joy.

“She’s very used to me,” Senturk said. “And I miss her, too, constantly.”

Boncuk’s story reminds us of Hachiko, the Japanese Akita dog who was so devoted to his owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, that he’d run to Shibuya station every day to greet Ueno as he stepped off the subway. Ueno was in mid-lecture in front of a class of students when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died on the spot.

Hachiko returned to Shibuya every day at the same time for the next 10 years, waiting for his beloved human.

It’s a story of animal devotion that resonates so strongly with people that Hachiko was memorialized with a statue just feet from the spot where he stood every day, waiting for Ueno.

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Boncuk waits for her owner in front of the hospital.

Yes, this wonderful story begs the question: Would my pet do the same for me?

Putting aside the problem of actually getting to the hospital — which would be almost impossible given the distance, traffic and the fact that he’s an indoor cat — if Bud were allowed to stay in a hospital room with me, I believe wholeheartedly that he would remain by my side.

Like other pets who have strong bonds with their people, he knows when I’m not feeling well, and when I was sidelined with Bell’s palsy and a debilitating headache a few years ago, he never left my side.

That is not to say he wouldn’t be his usual incorrigible self. You know that little button that calls the nurse? He would abuse the hell out of it if he knew its function, and he’d probably think the nurses were there to serve him, bring him snacks and fluff his pillow.

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“Nurse! In here! My pillow needs fluffing! Also, could you be a doll and fetch me some Temptations?”

The truth is that pets are not allowed in the vast majority of hospitals. Writing in PetLife, Alicia Beyer notes pets “not only brighten patients’ spirits, but hospitals are reporting that the pet visits can have dramatic effects on patient’s health, recovery and emotional well-being.”

In Canada, there’s an organization called Zachary’s Paws, which was started by Donna Jenkins in honor of her 25-year-old nephew.

“While Zachary was in the hospital for many weeks and very sick after having a stem cell transplant,  he begged to see his dog, Chase,” Jenkins told Bored Panda. “We sneaked Chase into ICU to see him and the effect it had on Zachary was remarkable. When Zachary realized he was not going to survive his cancer, he made me promise to start the organization.

But as PetMD notes, there are good reasons why most hospitals don’t allow pets, including problems pets can pose to patients with compromised immune systems and allergies. Hospitals that do allow pet visits have strict standards, and the animals must be thoroughly cleaned by staff before they’re allowed in.

Alas, even as more hospitals allow pet visitation or therapy animals, many exclude cats, and a 2015 report by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America says cats “should be excluded.” The report claims cats can’t be trained as well as dogs, the risk of bites and scratches is higher, and more patients may be allergic to cats.

Become Your Kitty’s Twin With A Japanese Company’s Creepy Cat Mask

As we’ve documented quite a bit on this blog — and via my own travels in Japan — the Japanese are absolutely crazy for cats, and their obsession has led to some strange inventions.

From the country that brought you cat shrines, cat train conductors and cat baby carriages comes My Family, a company that can turn you into your cat’s twin with customized kitty masks.

For a paltry $2,700 (we told you they’re obsessed), all you need to provide are some good photos of your feline master, and the totally normal people at My Family will craft and ship your creepy-looking kitty visage right to your home.

Here’s our totally accurate translation:

Step 1: Put on your cat mask:

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Step 2: Pick up your cat and traumatize him or her for life:

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Step 3: Prepare to be bitten and clawed.

Just look at the cat above. He’s not saying “Hey! There’s my beloved owner, and he looks like me now!”

Nope.

That cat is like “WTF dude get away from me! Put me down! I cannot unsee this!”

We ran the idea by Buddy, and while he says my wearing a mask of his face would be an improvement (hey, he is handsome), he would certainly bite me if I spent $2,700 on a Buddy mask instead of a Roomba.

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A normal scene in a Japanese sake bar.

NUDE TRUMP: WTF Is This?!

Now what’s an American tourist to make of this?

What the hell is this place?

An art gallery featuring images of the 45th president in the buff?

“These are terrific! Tremendous! I take the best nudes, I really do, okay folks?”

Maybe some sick theme restaurant? A Trump-owned strip club?

Turns out it’s a vintage clothing store, a place that’s been supplying Shibuya’s trendsetters with bizarre Americana and loud kitsch for several decades.

NUDE TRUMP: Store interior
The interior of NUDE TRUMP, a clothing store that caters to Shibuya’s hipsters.

The name isn’t inspired by President Trump, according to owner Hayao Matsumura: It’s a reference to vintage playing cards decorated with pinup models.

The neighboring Trump room, described as a favorite haunt of Tokyo hipsters, is also unaffiliated with the president.

Shibuya: Where Dogs Rule

Every day on his way home from work, Hidesaburō Ueno would step off the train at Shibuya Station and find his Akita dog, Hachiko, waiting for him.

Hachiko adored Ueno, an agriculture engineering professor at Tokyo Imperial University, now called the University of Tokyo.

Then one day Ueno was in mid-lecture in front of a class of students when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died on the spot.

For the first time, Hachiko went to Shibuya Station and didn’t see his beloved human step off the train to greet him.

The little dog went back the next day. And the next. And the day after that.

Hachiko went to the Shibuya Station every day for the next 10 years, until he died of old age.

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Today the world’s most loyal dog is remembered with a statue at Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection.

It’s a place marked by impermanence — three thousand pedestrians traverse Shibuya’s scramble crossing during every traffic light cycle, and thousands of faces come and go on the array of massive video screens overlooking the intersection.

The one thing that never changes is Hachiko, standing in the same spot he returned to every day, eternally keeping watch for his buddy.

———————

In 2015, the University of Tokyo unveiled a new statue on its campus, reuniting Hachiko with Ueno in the afterlife:

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Photo credit: Joyce Lam/TimeOut Tokyo

Finally, who’s that dapper fellow pouring sake? That’s my man Satoshi, bartender at what he translated as a “little drink box” —- one of Shibuya’s tiny bars, dozens of which are packed into alleys between the main streets.

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Satoshi’s bar seats five people, so we drank with two Tokyo natives who kindly humored me and my questions while my brother did his best at translating. He’s pretty good! I’m proud of him for learning the language so well, even though he insists he’s not very good.

Today I return to Shibuya to help my sister-in-law find a birthday present for my brother, and my next stop is Odaiba to meet a life-size Gundam RX-0 Unicorn.

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Photo credit: Tom Roseveare

Note: All photos by Big Buddy unless noted. The photos of Shibuya Crossing were taken from an observation platform on the rooftop of a nearby building.