Saturday, 4 December 2010

Japan Firsthand: Ryohoji & Toromi Part 1 - Photo Journal

Hey DnS readers, Mandi here. As you may or may not know, I've been working "behind the scenes" here for a while, but this is my first article in what will hopefully be a series of firsthand reports and interviews from Japan [ed: many more coming!]. This time my travels brought me to the much talked about "Moe Temple" Ryohoji (了法寺). As reported here before, the cute and creative multi-talented Toromi (とろ美) is the one who adds the moe element in her music, art, and performances. Keep reading for a photo journal of my trip, and in my next article I'll post my first hand interview with Toromi herself, including video!

After embarrassingly going to the wrong station, I finally arrived in Hachiouji, Tokyo. A tip to anybody who wants to make the pilgrimage: you want to make sure to get off at Nishi Hachiouji station, NOT Hachiouji station! Anyway, I recognized Toromi in the station immediately, who was with her brother. At only 4'11", Toromi is so tiny in person, just like I expected. I immediately was impressed by her cuteness, but I managed to talk somehow! After introducing myself, Toromi told me she thought that I was going to be a man from Canada... Oops, I had linked my twitter account when I messaged her, but I guess I wasn't clear enough! Anyway they all thought it was very funny.

After leaving the station, I was given the red carpet treatment as the Toromi decorated Ryohoji itasha pulled up!

It was my first time riding in an itasha, so it was pretty exciting. After a short drive, we pulled up to the temple. The first thing you see upon pulling in is the signboard Toromi illustrated.

A great work with lots of attention to the background setting as well as the characters. It's very eye catching, it's easy to see how Toromi was selected to illustrate it.

Of course, this is a temple, so some places are rather normal for a temple.

While some others only show their "moe" side after a bit of closer inspection.

 A fellow international visitor from Malaysia, deviantart user pcmaniac88

Many of you are probably familiar with the tradition of ema tablets, and have seen similar moe themed ones at shrines like Washinomiya and other various otaku pilgrimage shrines. The ones at Ryohoji have a mix of fanart of Toromi's characters as well as other series. The shrine's guardian deity, Benzaiten, is often associated with music and the arts, so wishes to improve those skills are common. (Toromi's version of Benzaiten is known as "ToroBenten")

Once inside, I met up with the head priest of Ryohoji, Nakazato Nichikou, and some other promotion staff members arrived too. (Not really sure if they want their names written online!) Everyone was very friendly and the atmosphere was very relaxed with lots of joking around. Toromi is very cute and talkative, she really helped me feel at ease. Also, she came off as very smart and knowledgeable about the world and politics... and of course about otaku stuff too! Nakazato was also very quick witted and funny, but when it came to details about the temple and Shinto religion, he was serious and informative.

Inside was ornate and beautiful in a traditional style

As we talked over onigiri, a woman from CLAYZ arrived with a new prototype for the latest goods from Ryohoji: a coin bank using Toromi's snake character, because Benzaiten is often associated with both snakes and money.

They spent some time deciding on lots of details about the color, shape, and usability. They were definitely set on making a good product!

They also showed me the more "traditional" version later outside. I think it's neat to see an update on the classic imagery.

Much to my surprise and delight, I was then invited to come with them to the CLAYZ office later. Before leaving I interviewed Toromi and Nakazato (Their interviews will be included in a separate article.) We then headed out once again in the Ryohoji itasha to the CLAYZ office.

I accidentally left my camera in the car, and I'm not sure if they are OK with showing the faces of their employees, so sorry for just a few cell phone shots from inside. We sat at a meeting table surrounded by completed and prototype figures as a sculptor in the back worked on a new product. I'm always so amazed at the high quality of figures, so it was really cool to see one being sculpted in person.

Soft clay used for the initial sculpting of figures

Careful boobie sculpting

Photos of the shelves didn't come out well..

After more fun chit chat, they brought out a new sample of the headband for Toromi's ToroBenten costume, which everyone tried on and agreed it could make anyone look cute.

Afterwards we returned to Ryohoji where I looked around a bit more. At temples it's traditional to have "omikuji" where you receive a paper with a fortune written on it. At Ryohoji though, things are a little different...

Your fortune comes in the form of a pin from a gachapon machine!

I got "Middle blessing (chū-kichi, 中吉)" complete with Toromi's cute illustration.

At this point it was late in the day and it was closed, but there is a sales booth where you can buy a lot of great merchandise adorned with Toromi's lovely artwork. Some of her unrelated CDs are available too, so if you're a Toromi fan definitely check it out.

T-shirts, mugs, posters... I was kindly given the bottom 2 shirts from the staff at Ryohoji, and a small light with the Ryohoji logo on it from CLAYZ.

I was surprised later when I actually used the light and....

The light actually projects Toromi's artwork in full color!! It's hard to tell from the photo, but the quality is good too! Amazing!! My sister's cat became a big fan of it in particular.

I also got to meet one of the lesser known Ryohoji characters - the head priest's pet turtle!

He does appear briefly in the PV!

I also got to go in a section not generally open to the public, the shrine to Inari.

Inside I learned about Inari, in the center, and his messenger foxes surrounding him.

After that it was time to head off, once again I got star treatment by being escorted to the station in the itasha. Toromi kindly gave me advice for the rest of my trip and said to be sure to let her know next time I visited Japan. Thanks to Toromi and everyone at Ryohoji for a day I'll never forget!

Look forward to part 2 with an interview with Toromi-chan and Nakazato Nichikou, Head Priest of Ryohoji!


電波の世界 said...

Fantastic work Mandi!

- A man from Canada

Paranda said...

Great report. Riding in itasha is ballin. And Toromi's shorter than the van - that's just so weird to me and with only her as scale it's like everything is supersized.

z411 said...

Pretty interesting, sounds like pure fun! Really looking forward to the interview.

mandichan said...

Thanks!! I can't compare to your colorful writing, but I hope I can provide some good content anyway :)

Thanks!! The inside of the itasha was actually normal. I think they updated it since then.
I'm used to being the shortest person in just about any group, but I felt big around little Toromi!

Thanks dude!! The interview will come soon, and obviously it is more music-focused than this article, so I think you will like it!

mandichan said...

I mean Winrar... Sorry for the typo.

ロ-ラ said...

Toromi is sooo cute. :3 Great article.! Very informative. I hope I can visit next time. :)

Anonymous said...

Nice report. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous. She really is so short in person though, I remember that being the first thing that struck me when I saw her. I look forward to the interview.

mandichan said...

Thanks!! I hope you can visit next time too. Tell em your friend Mandi sent ya :D

Thanks! You are a true dedicated Toromi fan so I hope you can see her in concert soon :)