Imaginatorium Shop

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Blog posts in 2009

May — Forum added

I have at last installed a forum, where you can make comments, or ask questions. There is also a section for my blog, which should help me provide rather more commentary than twice a year!

You will need to sign up to post: please remember you are writing in public, not just sending me a message.

This is not yet customised or integrated—the software I'm using is the standard version of phpBB3. For the time being you need to let it open in a new browser tab (or window) otherwise there's no way back.

June — New puzzles!

Big pile of new Epoch titles arrived last week, so I'm trying to get cracking on the ones still waiting in the queue.

I updated the Shu fantasy art page, or rather pages now, since I've split off the smaller (300/500) puzzles. We sell overwhelmingly more puzzles in the 1000+ piece range, but we do also get customers who are just looking for smaller puzzles. So increasingly I'm aiming to get the complete manufacturer range on display. (One of the backroom things I've been busy on recently is our system for updating from the manufacturer online catalogs, at least where this is possible.)

Then next in line is a whole page of "military history" - paintings of famous battle incidents, including Suwahara's portrayal of the battle of red cliffs, subject of new Chinese blockbuster. Japanese history is entwined with that of China, just as English and French history are, and as always easily-romanticised incident get picked out from wherever they happened.

Then the fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano makes a comeback with two new puzzles from Appleone, and we'll also have a new page featuring trains and the romance of steam. And more...

July — Tokyo Toy Show 2009

Thursday was our annual trip to the Toy Show in the flashy exhibition centre in Toyko Bay known as "Big Sight". We have been having the first blazing hot days of summer recently, and the first thing we noticed as we walked through the futuristic landfill streetscape, was that the steamy heat really was rather less oppressive than here in Sano.

Into the exhibition building, with our "RETAILER" doggy tags. I couldn't avoid a feeling that the atmosphere was a bit "down" -- which is hardly surprising given the state of the economy. There just seemed to be larger empty areas around the stands. But down at the nitty-gritty level, there was lots to be positive about.

Of the eight (known!) manufacturers, six are always to be seen at the show. The missing two are Road, very reclusive, no website even, and Appleone, also a very small, but adventurous, company.

The first puzzle company we found, Epoch, is in the second rank of the Japan toy market -- big, but not enormous -- just below the giants Bandai and Takara-Tomy. They are the only one of the six for whom puzzles are a small proportion (perhaps 20-25%?) of their total product range. Given their huge puzzle range, I thought the display a little disappointing, but a couple of years ago Epoch pioneered the "small-piece" revolution, so the product range is very stable at present. The main new product was the new series of frames, with a UV filter layer to preserve the puzzle almost for ever. We had an interesting chat with one of the sales staff, including reminiscences of the puzzle craze of the late 80s and early 90s, and the various brands -- Bon, Sunbird, and Central Hobby -- which found their way into the Epoch stable.

Next came Beverly, one of the most dynamic puzzle companies. They produce conventional jigsaws, but also a range of mechanical puzzles, 3-D jigsaw puzzles and other novelties. Their stand seemed to be packed to bursting with products, and showed off the range of images brilliantly. Their latest puzzles are the tiny piece ones with included magnifying glass, and we'll be getting lots of these in stock soon. One particular puzzle we've already had enquiries for, after its appearance in yesterday's Singapore newspapers, is a mosaic version of the Mona Lisa. New, but also where it all started in 1973, when Yanoman sold the first imported Mona Lisa puzzle to coincide with the painting's visit to Tokyo.

On to Yanoman, where my impression was much zingier than last year. A number of exciting new puzzles: more mandalas, some tattoed ladies by Kaname, and the Kagaya zodiac is back in a new 1000-piece version.

Next the Apollo and Ensky (Artbox) stands: these are both smaller companies. Apollo has a relatively small range, but it includes the immensely successful Peanuts puzzles, and there are a couple more new designs we will have soon. Artbox specialises in anime (which is not my speciality!), with the large Ghibli range and many others. If you are looking for particular characters, just ask...

Tenyo was the only company upstairs this year, so up the long escalators in the spacious atrium we went. Tenyo is an interesting company, because it started entirely as a magic shop. The puzzles, almost all Disney, are perhaps half of their business. Again, their range is stable, but they have been persevering with the "crystal" (our name) translucent plastic puzzles they call "Stained art". The original series was rather uncompetitively priced, with 560 large pieces, at 1000-piece dimensions costing more than standard 2000-piece puzzles. But the newer small-piece ones are at more ordinary price levels... and there will also be some attractive heart-shaped ones later this year.

A quick look around at the other stands (including an amazing pogo-stick demonstrator) left us pretty exhausted, so we made the trek back to Sano, stopping only for some beer and yakitori in my old haunt, the Sho-ya in front of Kuki station. A worthwhile day.

September — English titles

I've been attacking the backlog of new puzzles at last: of course there are older puzzles going out of stock all the time, but the number currently available has just reached 670. As well as this "off-the-shelf" count, we have a couple of hundred on special order, and this number should keep rising too.

Anyway, what's involved in adding a new puzzle? Quite a lot of the nitty-gritty information, such as the number of pieces, special features and so on, we can read automatically from the manufacturer's website, so it's not all manual work. But in the end I have to look at the picture and the Japanese title, and decide an English title. This ranges from easy - "Tokyo tower" - to near-impossible, but the change from when we started seven years ago is incredible. Then, it was often not possible to find anything on the web about an artist, a temple name, a dance character, or an anime series, even in Japanese. In the old days I was often completely stuck over the readings of names, for which there are simply no rules, so unless they appear in reference works, the only definitive answer comes from asking the individual concerned. But now, in many cases there is an English Wikipedia article with at least a plausible spelling and some basic data. And the amount of information available in Japanese has exploded too, so that it's extremely rare not to be able to find any reference at all to a subject.

But in between the easy and the genuinely hard to research, there are other problems. Customers may sometimes have wondered why there are occasional changes in our English titles, or why the English title printed on the box is different. Usually I translate the title from the catalog, so I have just the Japanese title and the picture, and I do my best. If the box has a different title, it may just be another possibility, in which case I often change to match it, or it may be the original title of a western artist such as Thomas McKnight: his "Riverside Drive" is not practically translateable into Japanese, since it's just the name of a road (fictional or real, I don't know), so they called it ieroo kauchi ("yello couch") -- but I couldn't know that until the puzzle box arrived.

Meanwhile there are works by Japanese artists, which either have English translated titles on the box, or have titles in Japanese which are made from transliterated English words, but unfortunately using the grammatical and connotational rules of Japanese not English. Yesterday's three new puzzles from Kentaro Nishino are a case in point: I have my titles, and when the boxes arrive, every one is different. "Spring breeze" has been rendered "Spring wind": "Winter wind" definitely, but spring brings a softer touch. The original harukaze is literally "a wind that blows in the spring", but as the dictionary says, this usually refers to a soft, warm wind, which is what we call a breeze. My "Conversation" has become "Chat", which simply has the wrong register to match the Japanese word katarai of the title. Then "Pulse of the savannah" turns up as "Heartbeat of savanna", missing an article (it is genuinely very difficult to learn natural use of articles in English, or any language that has them, which Japanese doesn't). The 'h' in savanna(h) seems to be genuinely optional. Apart from the article error, none of these need be marked "wrong" in a school exercise, but I think mine are all better.

There's no indication where the translations came from, of course; and there is no reason to imagine that they might have been seen at any stage by a person of native speaker ability. Most English (of one sort or another) printed on Japanese products for local use is entirely for decorative purposes, so it doesn't really matter what it says. (Actually the Epoch boxes do have a tiny bit of information which is probably intended to help English readers -- "Panel not included", except that "panel" means frame, and "Paste included", except that "paste" means glue.)

So that's why! I'll stop before this turns into the megaessay on translation.