Lars Martinson's Blog

July 27, 2014


Whoops! Forgot to write a blog entry this week, so instead, here’s a kanji I studied recently that looks like Groucho Marx.

See you next week!

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Published on July 27, 2014 18:03

July 20, 2014


Here are some pictures of the new Tonoharu: Part One paperback, as well as a few notes about them:

You can order a signed copy of the new paperback right now, and I’ll ship it out this week:

Or if you prefer, you can pick it up at your favorite retailer this fall. In fact, Amazon pre-orders are now open if that’s your preference!

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Published on July 20, 2014 15:25

July 13, 2014


Exciting news! I finally got my hands on some advance copies of the Tonoharu: Part One paperback, and it looks great! But don’t take my word for it–here’s your chance to get your hands on a copy a few weeks ahead of the official release in September!

I’ll have a very limited number of copies I’ll be bringing back to the States when I head back for a visit this week. Right now I’m thinking I’ll be bringing back about 20 copies. If there seems to be enough demand I might bring back as many as 30, but I probably won’t have room in my luggage for more than that.

I’m coming back this Thursday, July 17th, so copies ordered by then will be sent out by Saturday July 19th via first class mail.


For books shipping within the US: $20 USD ($15 for the book plus $5 for shipping)

For books shipping internationally: $30 USD ($15 for the book plus $15 for shipping*)


Within the USA $20.00 USD

International $30.00 USD

As I say supplies are severely limited, so if you want a copy order now!

*Note: If you live in Japan and don’t mind waiting until mid-to-late August for a book, it might behoove you to hold off on your order; I’ll probably have some copies for sale when I return to Japan for a lower shipping cost.

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Published on July 13, 2014 04:51 • 1 view

July 7, 2014

The Japanese language has stock phrases that are always used in certain situations. Before you start eating a meal, you say “Itadakimasu” and when you’re done you say “Gochisosama deshita”. These phrases are so entrenched that Japanese people even say them when they’re by themselves and no one is around to hear them.

There are also stock phrases for when you leave and return home. When you go, you say “Ittekimasu!” (I’m leaving) and the whoever’s still at home says “Itterasshi” (Have a safe trip). Then when you come back you say “Tadaima” (I’m home) and whoever’s home says “Okaeri” (Welcome back).

I was surprised to hear from a Japanese friend who lives alone that she still says “Ittekimasu!” and “Tadaima”, even though there’s no one to hear her and offer the reply phrases. I couldn’t help but laugh, because imagining doing the same thing in English comes off as a little sad.


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Published on July 07, 2014 00:57 • 4 views

June 30, 2014

Anyone who’s had the misfortune to see me navigate knows I have a terrible sense of direction. East/West/Left/Right… just can’t keep them straight.

So one thing that really drives me nuts is how free-and-easy they play with the cardinal directions on the “you are here” maps at train stations in Japan.

To my mind, north should pretty much always be “up” on a map, especially if it’s a map designed for people unfamiliar with an area (i.e. anyone using a “you are here” map). But in Japan, north can be any damn direction you can think of.


On this map, north is what would traditionally be northwest, thereby making all the streets unnecessarily slanted.


Here’s a map where north is what would traditionally be west.


And finally, here’s a map where north is pointing straight down (pardon the crappy blurry photo). What possible reason could you have to design a map like this? For the one where north is pointing left, maybe they had a landscape-orientated map but wanted to show more to the north and south. Still a bad idea, but I can at least I can imagine a justification. But to have north pointed towards literally the opposite direction you’d expect? What the hell Japan?

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Published on June 30, 2014 07:00 • 1 view

June 23, 2014

1511053_10152360322023913_6136997578168569964_nI’m currently studying for the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The test is intended for non-native speakers, so even though it’s the “highest” level, you really only need the reading comprehension of a typical Japanese high school grad to pass, and most of the vocab and kanji seem pretty practical.

That said, it’s sort of hard to not feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel of when I’m studying the kanji for “immortal mountain fairy”. Oh well, at least it will come in handy for all the Japanese language “Twilight” knockoffs I’m intending to write!

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Published on June 23, 2014 07:00 • 2 views

June 16, 2014

Post by Lars Martinson.

I’ve lived in Japan off-and-on for a total of eight years now. At this point I’m pretty desensitized to weird Engrish and wacky Japanese tv shows and such, so I rarely find them amusing like I did when I first got here.

But once in a blue moon, something comes along that’s bizarre in just the right way to really tickle me. The Soy Song is a prime example.

One of my elementary schools inexplicably decided to have English lessons centered around beans. The above song was the centerpiece of the lesson. It was one of the few times in class that I’ve had to fight with all my might to stifle my laughter.

Here’s what they’re singing in case you can’t make them out:



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Published on June 16, 2014 07:00 • 1 view

June 9, 2014

Direct YouTube Link

I’ve been trying to keep the weekly updates to this blog “on topic” (that topic of course being ME, ME, ME!!), but last week was busy and exhausting so I didn’t really have time to write anything.

So this week’s blog entry is a few links to YouTube videos featuring Nathan Fielder. The above clip is from his current show Nathan For You. It’s essentially a prank show, only funnier and less mean-spirited than the typical fare.

The second season of Nathan For You premieres on Comedy Central on July 1st. Check it! And if you enjoyed the above clip, here are a few segments Fielder did for the CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes:

Direct YouTube Link

Direct YouTube Link

Direct YouTube Link

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Published on June 09, 2014 07:00 • 1 view

June 2, 2014

proofcloseupPictured: Tonoharu: Part One Proof Detail

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, most books were printed on a letterpress. Rows of raised metal letters were arranged on a block, inked, and then pressed into the paper. The pressure required to transfer the ink created an indentations on the printed page. Master printers strived to have the letterpress “kiss the paper”; to use only as much pressure as was strictly necessary to transfer the ink, leaving the paper as smooth and indentation-free as possible.

These days, laypeople reproduce documents on photocopies and laser printers, and most books are printed using offset lithography. These technologies leave no indentations on the page at all, and are considerably cheaper, easier, and more versatile than a letterpress.

So when letterpress printing is employed now, it’s for aesthetic rather than practical reasons. The designer wishes to evoke a traditional/classic feel that letterpress printing imbues. And the main characteristic that distinguishes letterpress printing from modern methods is the indentations.

So rather than try to eliminate them, modern letterpress printers try to make the indentations as obvious as possible. They use durable, thick paper stocks, and apply as much pressure as they can to really dig those letters in. What was once a defect has become a feature.

These thoughts occurred to me as I was preparing files for the forthcoming Tonoharu: Part One paperback. The hardcover editions Tonoharu were printed on cream-colored paper stock, but I’ve since learned there’s a more cost effective way to get a similar effect. It’s actually cheaper to print on the interior pages on standard white paper, and then coat the page with cream-colored ink to simulate cream paper stock.

At first blush this seems completely counterintuitive. Can you imagine trying to save money by doing this on an ink jet printer? But commercial printers play by a different set of rules. And if makes sense when you think about it. Mixing inks is a lot easier and cheaper than making colored paper from scratch, so rather than having small qualities of a million different colored papers, they can just buy white paper in bulk and custom mix ink to whatever hue their customers want.

The simulated cream paper is cheaper than actual cream paper, but it’s not free of course. Giving the pages of Tonoharu the cream treatment added about 10% to my production costs.

So basically, I’m paying a premium to make the pages of Tonoharu look like they’ve been yellowed with age; to give them a more “natural” feel than the artificial, bleached white paper. It’s kind of ironic, right? I’m taking great pains to obscure the actual paper stock in order to foster the appearance of authenticity. I thought that was kind of funny.

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Published on June 02, 2014 07:00 • 1 view

May 26, 2014

tono1thumbsPictured: Images of Tonoharu’s covers at a fraction of their actual size.

The new paperback edition of Tonoharu: Part One sports a completely redesigned cover. One of the main reasons for the overhaul was to fix an issue I had with the original design.

I designed the hardcover in early 2007, so more than seven years ago (wow). This was before the iPhone and Kindle were introduced. MySpace was still the leading social network. I was still in the demographic that marketers care about (ah, 18-34 year olds, how I miss your privileged company).

But in terms of design considerations, the most significant difference is this: in 2007, the vast majority of books were purchased from brick-and-mortar stores, whereas now most are purchased online.

The original Tonoharu hardcover was designed to evoke ordinate nineteenth century etchings. Its strength lies in all the neat little microscopic details waiting to be discovered and lost in. Its weakness is that it’s static and symmetrical, and composed entirely of washed out colors. It lacks dynamism and doesn’t really “pop”.

In short, it’s a design that only works if you can inspect an actual physical copy of the book before you buy it.

Even in 2007, this was less than ideal. But now, most buyers don’t see the actual cover until a book is shipped to them. Prior to that, all they ever see is a “thumbnail” (a postage stamp-sized reproduction) on a computer screen.

The thumbnail presentation obliterates Tonoharu’s hardcover’s one strength. At this reduced size, all of the fancy details turn into mud, leaving just a tombstone-shaped blob.


Tonoharu: Part One detail compared to thumbnail (Click to Enlarge)

So with the new design, I wanted something that would still have a presence even when displayed at a fraction of its actual size. I went with bright primary colors, a san-serif font, and an art-deco inspired design. I also cut down on the ornamentation to give it a more streamlined look.

At the same time I didn’t want it to be too sparse, so I created an intricate background pattern that weaves into the dotted lines that run through the design.

But for all the changes, the new design does harken back to the original design. I brought back the sun motif and illustrations from the hardcover, and used the same serif font for the back cover.

Being a perfectionist, I could tweak the design forever, but for the most part I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I think it strikes the right balance between reducing well and still having some neat details.

I’m curious, dear readers, which version of the cover do you prefer?

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Published on May 26, 2014 07:00 • 1 view

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