Sunday, February 28, 2010

Flock of Turtles

Some gardens get infested with snails, some with turtles.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sakamoto Ryoma

I mentioned in the Japan Times Sake Dinner entry that one of the items given to us as thank you gifts at the end of the evening was a pair of volumes of a book on Ryoma Sakamoto. Since I had it, I figured that I may as well read it and find out what it was like. Following that, I may as well give my opinion here.

Ryoma was one of the primary leaders of the rebellion against the Tokugawa shoganate that led to the Meiji Restoration, the fall of the samurai classes and ultimately to anime and manga as we know it today. The latter because it was Ryoma's push to trade with the west in order to get weapons and ships for forcing outsiders back out of Japan that indirectly resulted in an influx of western printing methods and materials that then turned into the Japanese magazine industry that I've written about before.

Essentially, Ryoma was a lower class samurai who hated the way the upper classes would bully him as a kid (according to the book). When Admiral Perry arrived with his black ships, Ryoma and the other rebels saw this as a chance to side with the Emperor and bring down the shoganate, which they saw as corrupt and weak. While he did succeed in leading the way to reform, as well as authoring the document that would allow the shogun to step down without a civil war erupting that could have given western countries a chance to step in and take over, he was killed in an attack by supporters of the shogunate and the fighting continued a while later in spite of his efforts. Born on Jan. 3, 1836, he died at age 31 on Dec. 10, 1867 from multiple sword wounds.

The Japan Times bookclub offers a shorter version of Romulus Hillsborough's fictionalized biography of Ryoma as a tool for Japanese speakers wanting to learn English. The English text has been simplified and the sentences mostly kept short. Footnotes accompany each page giving Japanese translations of key words and phrases, and the full Japanese text appears at the end of each chapter. The two accompanying CDs are audio book versions of the text. They're not bad, but the narrator really sounds like he's speaking down to 5-year-olds, and there was only so much of that I could take before killing the media player.

The author, Romulus, has a reputation as a historian, having spent 16 years in Japan studying his subjects. So, I can't fault his factual knowledge. And I haven't seen the full book that these two are based on, so I can't comment on the readability of that one. What I can say is that with these two books, Romulus is not going to be winning the Pulitzer in this lifetime. The problem is that the narrative and dialog read like a bad soap opera. Early on in the first book, Ryoma's older sister tries to teach the boy how to fight with a sword and he gets banged up pretty good. ""Oh, Ryoma, this will never do," Otome said." Ugh. Phrases like this appear all over the place.

The illustrations by Emi Masaki primarily consist of the black and white cover drawing of Ryoma himself, a couple supporting drawings of Otome and Oryo (Ryoma's wife) as part of the cast list, and two men used as "guy A" and "guy B". "B" supposedly lived during Ryoma's time, and answers "A"'s questions about Ryoma and the shoganate, having been born later on. It's a weak narrative device used to fill in gaps in the reader's knowledge of the period.

Japan is in the middle of a Ryoma craze right now, and these books play into that. Plus, they're intended for a Japanese audience as English teaching tools. As such, these books are fine. If you're looking for something to read as part of your English studies, and you want to learn a little more about the years leading up to the Meiji Restoration, I can recommend these books (1400 yen each). But, if you're already a native speaker, I suggest that you keep looking for something less melodramatic.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I like picking up the Hiragana Times magazine occasionally to increase the number of methods available to me for Japanese reading and grammar practice. On the whole, their infrequent articles on anime subculture, cosplay and manga, are poorly written and semi-biased against their subjects. Which is part of the reason why I don't normally mention them in this blog. But this time, it's worth repeating.

Manga no Shimbun is exactly what the name says; an online newspaper that relates its stories in manga form. Check it out. Japanese only.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Small adventures 11

Being in Tokyo, you're more likely to encounter certain situations than you would in most smaller cities. This trait is shared by places like New York City and LA. Specifically I'm talking about location shoots for movies. I run into this occasionally because I ride my bike along the Tamagawa river, close by one of the commercial film schools near Noborito. So, there'll be students out practicing lighting, framing, acting and filming on the banks of the river. Sometimes, the shoot will be right on the bike trail and I'll have to make my way through the crowds as they're talking out the scene. I've never seen the results of these kinds of shots.

On the other hand, about once a month, a TV crew will descend on the office building I work in during the weekend. They'll shoot in the 4th floor lobby, and they'll block the one running elevator until the shot is done. Kind of runs the risk of my getting back to my desk late and starting my next online business lesson behind schedule (hasn't happened yet, though) because they won't let me upstairs right away. It looks like they're currently shooting for a new series. I was once told that the filming was for "Tokyo Tower". 2 weeks ago, it was for the legal drama "Magerarenai Onna". Here's the official page. I haven't been able to watch this show yet, but I kind of look forward to seeing the lobby show up on TV some time (there are a few episodes on youtube now).

I have no expectations of my ever getting a walk-on scene.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Japan Times Sake dinner

Although I wrote that I wasn't going to update this blog until I got my new PC, there are still things happening worth writing about. Specifically, this time, dinner. I just won't be able to include photos right now...

2 weeks ago, the Japan Times newspaper ran a small column mentioning that they were hosting a tasting of the season's new sake from Takara, Co., and that they'd accept requests from anyone interested in joining in. There were 50 open slots, and if more people submitted their names and e-mail addresses, we'd be put into a lottery. The deadline for entry was Feb. 15, and on Feb. 16 I received an e-mail saying that I made the cut, and if I wanted I could bring friends with me. There was no mention of an upper limit on who could come with, but it looked like 1 table had been set aside for 5 people. The tasting was set for Feb. 24, in Sake Bistro W, near the Roppongi district, not that far from the Tokyo Tower.

I went with a partner, and we arrived a little ahead of the 7 PM start time. We wandered around looking at the outside of the Japan Patent office a block away just because we could. A few minutes before 7, we went inside and were seated with a Canadian/Taiwanese couple that have been in Japan for 20+ years. We enjoyed talking with them, but I expect that my part of the conversation was probably not all that interesting.

Representatives of both the Japan Times and Takara gave short speeches, and then the food came out. We'd been expecting the opportunity to sample several sakes from one brewer, but it turned out that it was an "all you can drink" event for just the Shirakabegura label. Which was fine, because it's a mild, semi-sweet sake that was served slightly chilled, and complemented the meal well. The meal itself consisted of about 8 courses, with a salad, a meat dish, a fish dish, cream cheese (made from the water used to make the sake), rice balls and a miso soup. Before the niku jaga (boiled beef with boiled potatoes) dish came out, the Takara rep made a bad pun about Mick Jager that I had to have explained to me, and then the restaurant played the Rolling Stone's "Honky Tonk Woman" as we ate the niku jaga. I'll let you imagine the groans from the people that got the joke. The food was very good, especially the thinly slices sections of Kobe beef.

At the end, we were given a feedback form to fill out, asking our opinions of the sake, and we got to keep the Japan Times ballpoint pens. Then it was time to leave. As we exited, the staff gave us our "thank you presents" - a shopping bag with a Japan Times review of Sake Bistro W, two volumes of the story of Ryoma Sakamoto - from the Japan Times press, in English and with audiobook CDs - and a bottle of the Shochikubai Shirakabegura sake, each. Definitely worth the effort of responding to the drawing.


I do have to say that the Japan Times contests have been good to me. Back when I first lived here, there was a drawing for a bottle of wine that I won, and more recently, I got 2 free tickets to the Osamu Tezuka exhibit last Summer that I'd wrote about at the time. A lot of the giveaways don't appeal to me (especially the ones for museum exhibits of western artists), but of the 4 drawings that I've responded to, I've won 3 of them. I like those odds. Thank you for a nice evening of good food and sake, Japan Times!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Small adventures 9

Some months ago, my laptop started running slow. It'd take about 15 minutes just to power up, and if there was a windows or firefox update, it'd just run dog slow for an hour or two. Initially, I thought it had something to do with Norton, or some Windows version, and I just put up with it. It's 6 years old, and the idea of getting a new PC and having to buy all new software didn't appeal to me (mainly because of the cost of the new software). Then, a few days ago, I was working on the Control Panel and accidently brought up the system stats. It said that I only had 256 meg of RAM on board. I found the user manual from the manufacturer's website, and it said that there was only one expansion slot, which could take up to 512 meg max. Along with the 256 onboard, that would give me 768 meg, which would be better than nothing. So, Sunday, after work, I ran the 2 blocks to Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, and picked up a 512 meg memory stick for 5000 yen ($55 USD) a few minutes before closing. Monday, I opened up the laptop only to find that the expansion slot already had 256 meg installed from when I bought it. Apparently, the memory just stopped being recognized by the PC at some point, which explained the eventual slowdown. I put in the new card and the laptop ran just as fast as back when I first bought it. Yay, me!

Unfortunately, this morning the screen came up blank. This had also happened once or twice before, but restarting the laptop usually fixed the problem. Not this time. So, I'm now on someone else's PC, and am looking for a new machine after all. Sigh. What this all means is that until I get this situation resolved one way or another, I'm not going to be able to maintain my blogs for a while. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yattaman, DVD and theater

Yattaman (in the U.S., released as Yatterman) has been around as a TV anime for a long time. In 2009, there was a live action film version, which was then released on DVD during the Summer. Here, we have the special display that was set up in front of Yodabashi Camera next to the Akihabara station. Including the costume worn by the villain in the film.

Meanwhile, down in Yokohama, the Another World theater was showing the "Yattaman the 3D" anime.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Garo #27

Nov., 1966: Garo issue #27. The issues are coming pretty consistently at 202 pages at the moment.

Just to let you know, I'm starting to upload the Garo magazine index to the TSOJ website, and it's a little bit ahead of the publishing of these blog entries. I'm also starting to sort the stories by artists on a separate page.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #24

It's hard to keep track of specific characters because of the way Sanpei interweaves the spying and fighting together, such that I can't tell when someone is the actual person, or a ninja disguised as that person. Case in point is Kamui. In the last chapter, he was captured and shot point-blank in the chest by Red Eye. In this chapter, he's confined in the hold of a small boat out in the bay, where Red Eye is checking to see his recovery power. Kamui does eventually heal and tries to return to his village, where the other ninja, who weren't really killed either, attack him. There's more fighting and the other ninja blow up the tree that Kamui goes and hides in, sending bits and chunks of Kamui all over the place just in time for Saesa to come up and mourn his passing. She knifes the ninja leader and he dies again.

However, part of the story moves to Edo (old Tokyo), where Kagamihayato (Kamui's alter ego) confronts the real Ryounoshin, who is laying low as an umbrella repairman. So, is Kamui really dead, and if not, who was shot in the chest and then blown up in the tree? Anyway, Ryounoshin and his partner Ikkaku are plotting to assassinate a child inside a secure compound, when they watch someone else make the hit. Afterwards, the child's father stands over the corpse and laughs, implying that a decoy had been killed instead.

Actually, though, the majority of the 100 pages this time concerns Shousuke and Nana. Although the charges of insurrection had been dropped against him, his declaration of love for Nana sends him back to prison for mingling with members of a lower class. He's a villager and she's a vagrant. This is a no-no, and both of them are shackled and tortured. Nana's tied to a post on a hill, subjected to mosquitoes and crabs coming up from the beach. Several people try to approach and fondle her, but the villagers nearby protect her for Shousuke's sake. Eventually, a group of 5 guys come by and one lets slip that they're the ones that raped Akemi. The villagers hear this, and they beat the 5 to pulp before tying them up and covering them with fish paste for attracting the crabs. The five admit that Yokome, the head vagrant, had ordered them to do the attacks. Following this, someone burns Yokome's house to the ground. When Yokome goes to Guntarou for help. , Guntarou just laughs at his misfortune. Finally, the magistrate not only decides to release Shousuke and Nana, but signs orders allowing for the creation of a new village that Shousuke had been pleading for. Construction of the village starts right away.

Back at Shichibe's fish processing plant, things are going badly. The workers rebel against their former leader, the new plant manager, beating him to a pulp and pulling down the buildings. At the end, Kiku, Shichibe's adopted daughter, is wondering what had happened to Kushiro, who's been missing since the last chapter. Someone looking like Kushiro was leading the attack on the plant, but he still has both of his arms. As I said, it's hard to keep track of specific characters...

『行事』と『運動』 (Function and Motion) #20
Koshi Ueno's (上野昂志) 2 pages.

女 (Woman)

Rather than return to her slapstick SF adventures, Kuniko Tsurita (つりた くにこ) has a 24-page silent drama this time. Set back in the stone age, a cave woman is abandoned by her partner for another woman. She's pregnant and delivers a baby boy, which she raises on her own. Her son grows up strong, then partners with a young woman and they have a child of their own. Unfortunately, the tribe moves out on a long walk through a desert and water becomes scarce. The heroine has aged and weakened and when her son tries to give her water, her daughter-in-law grabs it to give to the young grandson. The tribe discards the aged as they drop in the desert, and the story ends with the heroine being covered by vultures. This is one of the two manga featured on Nihon-go Hunter this week.

反発の平和 (Repelling Peace)

A scientist develops a new potion that turns the human body into a magnetic field that repels metal, using the principle of like-magnetic poles. It's released commercially as a vitamin drink, resulting in the townspeople no longer having accidents by being hit by cars - when the car approaches, they are harmlessly sent into the air ahead of the accident. Happy with the new situation, the townspeople stop making things using metal, and because the entire town drank the potion, any attempt to bomb them causes the bombs to be deflected back at the attackers. Peace reigns. However, the stock prices for mining companies plummets. A metal refinery company president decides to drink the potion, then climbs up into the hills; any time he floats into the air, he marks the spot and digs later to uncover huge veins of metals. He sells the rights to other companies and retires a rich man. Sadly, he finds it difficult to play with his new-found piles of gold bars... 10 pages.

Tomohiro Sawada (沢田ともひろ) doesn't seem to have gotten anything else published under this name, and he's only showing up once as a Garo artist. He's got a fairly well-developed style, even though it is rather crude and sketchy, so it's hard to believe that this is the only thing he's ever drawn.

よくあるはなし (A Common Story)

A newscaster announces that it's now legal to eat human flesh. This results in a number of strange situations, such as room service at hotels serving themselves on the trays, and women's magazines running articles on how to prepare their husbands for dinner. The final insult is that foreign explorers deep in the jungles are now putting the cannibals into the stew pots. 4 pages.

Maki Sasaki (佐々木まき) (born in 1946) (real name Toshihiko Hasegawa (長谷川俊彦)) has a large number of titles to his credit, and a slight write-up on the Japanese wiki. The ehon page has a small bio, saying that he was born and raised in Kobe. His early works appeared in Garo and the Asahi Journal. He then pioneered a series of nonsense picture books in 1973 and 1979. He also wrote the "Nemui nemui Nezumi" (The sleepy sleepy mouse) series among others. He is mentioned on Same Hat, and 1 or 2 of his short manga have been scanned by Pink Tentacle.

作品集 (Creation Collection) #6

Various satires on the hypocrisy of society, politicians and wanna-be idol singers, by Susumu Katsumata (勝又進). 6 pages In the first strip above, Katsumata is complaining about not being able to sleep after using pills, drinking or listening to boring music. But, once he gets to work... In the second strip, a ticket window gets no attention from customers until after it closes out of business.

大空と雑草の詩 (Poem of heaven and weeds) #7

Another 18 pages of pontificating by Akira Ogawa (おがわあきら). This time, the main character has taken on a part-time job at a newspaper company, where he is run ragged by his bosses. However, he's exposed to a side of the world he's never seen before, including a number of car accidents and train wrecks around Japan. A man comes to the paper's offices, pleading that the editor not run a story on his son being arresting for theft. The hero wants to go to the chief's office to ask for the story to be pulled, and the editor says it's too late, the evening edition already hit the presses. Depressed, the hero runs to the roof and cries, and the editor tells him that his job is to not turn away from this kind of injustice. The editor takes the hero to a nightclub filled with beatniks dancing to surf and twist music. The youngsters are just living for the moment, waiting for someone else to solve their problems. The hero can't understand this mentality. Later, a girl enters the club, sees the hero and turns and runs back out. The editor asks if the hero knows her, and he says that she's a new transfer student at his school. The editor comments that she's a regular at the club.

いざかや (Izakaya)

Shouhei Kusunoki (楠勝平), who gave us "Famous Sword" in issue #26 now presents "Izakaya" (a drinking place that serves food). In a tavern in old Edo, a workman sits down to drink some hot sake and eat some grilled fish. A police detective and his lackey enter the tavern and the workman looks around at the unsavory characters there with him to see who the detective may be on the trail of. The workman suspects a few people, then dismisses them as targets. Eventually, he starts searching his own conscience, and remembers an event a couple of months back when he and a coworker were doing some road construction, and the son of a samurai rode by on a horse. The horse was bit by an insect and the young man thrown into the mud. The workman and his partner had laughed hard at this, but they'd thought that they'd been unseen. Maybe the samurai's son had filed a complaint against them after all. The workman's panic builds, convinced that the detective is really after him. The detective pulls out his truncheon and accidentally drops it on the ground. At the sound, every single person in the tavern bolts for the door. 13 pages. This is the second of the two manga featured on Nihon-go Hunter this week.

日本忍法伝 (Japan Ninja Arts Legend) #14

Mamoru Sasaki & Satsuko Okamoto (佐々木 守 岡本 颯子). 6 pages.

足跡の怪 (Footsteps Mystery)

Two hikers out in the back reaches of the mountains follow a trail leading past warning signs telling them to "keep out". The shorter of the two presses forward, thinking that there may be a treasure or something interesting that someone doesn't want them to find. They locate a cave under a big rock and go inside, but the passage ends in a huge drop off, so they go back home. A few days later, the short one wakes up and notices that his little finger is missing. He's about to go to a doctor when he encounters his friend. They sit down at a coffee shop and the friend shouts that the short one's ears are gone. His eye falls out of its socket as well and he runs for the door. The friend goes after him, but outside all he sees are some sludgy footprints on the ground. He follows the sludge back to the cave. There, he realizes that his own little finger and ears are gone. Later, an old hermit walking in the hills sees the footsteps and comments that someone else must have entered the cave again.

深夜のバス (Late Night Bus)

A salaryman misses the last train home and the regular buses have stopped running. He spies an old, ratty bus and gets on, but it's completely empty, without even a driver. The bus takes the guy to a ruined building, where ghouls come up out of the ground, cut him open, pull his skeleton out of his skin and bury up the innards. One of the ghouls puts on the skin and the others sew him up. That ghoul then returns to the guy's home, where his wife berates him for drinking until dawn and then missing work. The office has already called the house for him. The ghoul grunts, "is that so" and heads back out to get on the train. The narrator says that occasionally monsters or aliens take people over and no one ever seems to notice the difference.

These are two more 8-page short horror stories by Shigeru Mizuki (水木しげる). He's quite the fixture at Garo now. At some point, he's going to switch over to his shinsengumi series, but that won't happen until 1970. I want to see how long he can keep up this pace for horror.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Takao Checkpoint

Back a while ago, I wrote about visiting the ruins of Hachioji Castle, a couple of miles away from the main Takao train station. Well, it turns out that at about the same time the castle existed (1500's), there had been a road running through the hills of Takao leading into Tokyo (which I guess would make it easier for people to get to the castle after a night out drinking sake in Shinjuku). And, there was also a checkpoint in those hills to prevent peasants from wandering the country and getting into places they didn't belong unless they had the proper papers. Unfortunately, after 400 or so years, things like check points have a way of disappearing, especially if they had the poor foresight of placing themselves where someone else would want to put up a playground in the 1960's.

Anyway, there's a marker saying "Here be dragons".

No, wait, wrong book. There's a marker saying "here be nothing, but at one time there be checkpoints here".

Right next to it is a sign saying "watch out for the wild boars". Some parts around Tokyo get pit vipers, others get rampaging inoshishi. Cute rampaging inoshishi.

The house here is right across the street from the park.

(Memorial markers)

Friday, February 19, 2010


Back in the early 1980's, I attended my first and only taiko concert by Kodo, in Orchestra Hall, in St. Paul, Mn. It was an awesome experience, and I'd love to do it again some time here in Japan. I've seen some other taiko performances by amateur drummers, and the ones living in the U.S. are to be commended for giving it a try, but I have to admit that it makes me want to pull my eyes out, watching them. Kind of like watching white belts trying to do blackbelt level kata. It's one of the reasons why I don't bother following taiko now - few groups have a clue as to how to live up to Kodo's level.

Anyway, I was talking to one of my students about music (he's a classical fan) and the topic turned to drums (I used to pretend to play drums, but I was never any good at it). I spent a few minutes teaching him the English names of different kinds of drums, and he asked me if I liked taiko. He followed this up by asking what I thought of Eitetsu Hayashi. I didn't recognize the name, so as soon as the lesson ended I ran to wikipedia and youtube (in that order). Turns out he's a founding member of Kodo, so there's a chance that I'd seen him perform in St. Paul. But, he went solo in '82, so maybe not.

After watching a few of his videos, I realized that I missed watching performances like this. Now I really want to see it live, either Eitetsu himself, or Kodo again. I'd really like to watch either or both on Sado island. As a side note, even if you're not familiar with his name, if you like anime, there's a good chance you may have heard his work, since he's written and performed on a number of sound tracks (Samurai 7, Dagger of Kamui). There's a good article in English on him at the Singapore Magazine site.

I just wish there were more straight solo performances by him on youtube. However, the Ye Shen Chen video, which features a lot of other instruments as well, is still worth listening to. (Disclaimer: none of these videos are mine, of course. I just put them here to draw attention to Eitetstu.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Manga Review: Bartender

(Yakitate Japan cover, from One Manga, for review purposes only.)

Manga about food has a long past. Oishinbo, about a newspaper food critic, started in the '80s, and is still running after 100 volumes. A series called Sommelier follows a wine steward / crime detective through about 12 volumes. Then of course there's Cooking Papa, an ongoing 105-volume series about a family that likes to cook, where each story is resolved with a specific dish, and the recipe for the dish appears at the end of the chapter; Yakitate Japan, with it's adventures of a pastry chef; and many, many others.

(Oishinbo cover, from wikipedia, used for review purposes only.)

As with most sports manga, food manga breaks up into two classes - the fantasy stuff, and the hyper-realistic stuff. With the fantasy stories, such as Yakitate Japan, the foods are semi-mystical and can send the taster into wondrous flights of ecstasy. The storylines tend to be very off-the-wall, and could be said to be aimed primarily at kids. The hyper-realistic stories are closer to comicbook versions of recipe books. The approach to the recipe is very linear, the science behind the recipe or a given ingredient is laid out for us, and the tasters simply react to the final dish with "this is good" or "this is horrible". With hyper-realistic stories, the plotlines usually revolve around the skills, or lack thereof, of the primary chefs.

(Bartender cover, from One Manga, used for review purposes only.)

There's a series just starting to appear fan scanillated on One Manga, called Bartender. It's a hyper-realistic manga set in the "Rapan Bar" in Ginza, featuring the creator of the "glass of god" cocktail. Actually, the "glass of god" is simply a nickname for whatever drink the customer gets that is closest to what they need to feel happy at the end of a long day. Bartender is by Joh Araki, the creator of Sommelier, and Kenji Nagatomo. It follows Ryu Sasakura as he tries to learn to be a better bartender through his interactions with various "tough nut" customers, and some of the best professionals in the bar business in Japan.

While characters do tend to overreact when given a specific drink, it's nowhere near as over the top as in, say Cooking Papa, or the wine story currently running in Morning magazine. Most reactions tend to revolve around someone's earlier memories of a drink they'd had decades before, or on discovering that a combination of flavors that sounds horrible on paper is actually pretty good.

But, for me, the reason for mentioning Bartender here is the emphasis on the service side of the job. Japanese workers in the service industries tend to be a lot more customer-oriented and "professional" than in the U.S. There's a lot of training involved in reaching that level, and while it looks to be inherent in Japan's genes, it's not something that just "happens". Occasionally, I do editing work for cleaning up translations of Japanese texts, and one such document was an industry report on a tourist spot in the hills of the southern reaches of the main island. In the report was a complaint that the workers running the food stalls were inattentive and unresponsive to the tourists, so sales were down. The solution was to give the workers strict training in service; i.e. - even in Japan, service is a learned skill.

Bartender is essentially a "users manual" for service workers. As such, it's an interesting look at the Japanese mentality for the relationship between a waiter, chef or bartender, and the customer. Service is not one-sided, either. It's just as important for the customer to understand their part of the relationship and to interact with the service professional properly as well.

(The real thing.)

As a final note, there's a reason why I like reading Bartender. The artwork is rather crude, the characters are stiff and cold, but the background art is good. The plots in the first few volumes are just excuses for describing one drink or another. There's no real depth to the stories, which usually consist of the bartender finding out why a customer is so down right now and then finding the right drink for them at that moment. No, the reason I like following Bartender is because I've been to that bar. I wrote about it at the end of last November. It's the "Lupin", in Ginza, based on the Gentleman Thief, Arsene Lupin, and has been very popular with writers, editors, lawyers and doctors for decades. The interior is not the same, and the manga is missing the L-shaped bar counter. Most of the people behind the bar the night I was there were female, while the manga has 3 regular male bartenders and no waitresses. But, it is fun looking at the bars that show up in the stories and trying to see if I've visited them before.

Summary: Bartender presents mixed drinks as a way to soothe people's troubled souls. The insight to the service side of the job is important for anyone in the west trying to understand the Japanese mentality. And the drink recipes are worth trying yourself. Recommended.

Note: There's a new live-drama movie that was just reviewed in the Japan Times, called "Shokudo Katatsumuri", about a woman that can do with food what Ryu Sasakura can do with mixed drinks. The genre will never end.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Demolitions, the Japanese way

Recently, there was a video on Yahoo news showing an 80-year-old bridge being demolished. Using explosives, from start to finish took less than 30 seconds. Meanwhile, in Noborito, close to the main traffic bridge running over the Tamagawa river, along my regular cycling route, was an old factory building also being demolished. From start to finish, it took over 30 days. This is fairly typical for a project like this in Japan.

About day 3. When I first rode by the site, I didn't have my camera. There was just a single gash in the front wall where the shovel had started cutting from the top. The next day, the weather wasn't good so I didn't ride. He'd made a lot of progress in only 2 days.

About day 10. Weather stayed fairly crappy for about a week, so I wasn't able to get out and ride so much.

Day 14. They laid down a bed of gravel. Either this was to move the shovels closer to the roof, or to give the shovels better traction over the bare dirt.

Day 15, they rested. Actually, this was taken on Christmas weekend. Christmas itself isn't a holiday here, but things like construction companies do shut down for the 2 weeks leading up to the end of the year, and the first few days of the new year. Below, the cranes are in "sleep mode" during the holiday period.

Day 26. It's about Jan. 8 or 9 now, and the destruction has started up again.

Day 27. With the big shovel up and running on its own, things are zipping by pretty quickly.

The other shovels are just waiting their turns again. They're so cute when they're sleeping.

Day 30. Now it's a matter of clean up and pulling the bigger chunks out to be placed in the trucks separately.

Day 34. Finally, time to remove the gravel bed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Watchme TV

One of the fliers I picked up at JAM last year was for Fuji TV's anime contest. The dates were from Aug. 10, 2009, to Jan. 12, 2010. Looks like it was open to groups world wide. The main page is in Japanese, but you can scroll down and click on the icons for each of the currently-submitted videos. The site's being hosted on "watchme TV".

Monday, February 15, 2010

TAC - Tenhiro Naoto

I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like the exhibition periods at the Tokyo Anime Center are getting shorter. It wasn't that long ago that the Kamen Rider - Spirits exhibit started, and now we're already one week into the Tenhiro Naoto exhibit. The next exhibit will start up 1 week later. I apologize for the quality of the photos, I need a new camera.

I'd just gotten into the room and started taking pictures when I saw the "no cameras" sign. That's kind of unusual; the TAC normally has a "photos ok" policy. But, I'm trying to get on a better footing with the people there and I didn't want to push my luck, so I put my camera away. Anyway, the exhibit is unusual in two ways. First, the inside wall runs the full length of the exhibit, blocking it from the view of the people sitting at the information desk. As long as you have your flash turned off, they won't know you have a camera out. Second, it's just a bunch of prints, and scanned pencil drawings showing the different stages of the painting process.

The exhibit runs until Feb. 21. The explanation board says that this exhibit is essentially a series of pictures of one girl over the course of time. Looks like it is a tie-in to a video game series.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Garo #26

Oct., 1966: Garo issue #26. Another 202 pager.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #23

Lots more struggling now. Turns out that the merchant, Shichibe has designs of his own. He works with Red Eye and sword master Henyasai to wipe out the ninja trailing after Red Eye, with the ultimate goal of killing Kamui. Along the way, the fishermen working 16 hour days processing fish for Shichibe prepare for a revolt, which the merchant easily stops by making the lead fisherman into the new plant manager. This new manager then treats his own men worse than Shichibe ever did. Additionally, Shichibe's daughter, Kiku, has fallen for Kushiro, a fish diver that hates what Shichibe has done to their village in the pursuit of a fast buck. At the end of the chapter, Shichibe sends Henyasai after Kuroshi, and Kamui runs afoul of Red Eye. It looks like Kuroshi and Kamui have both finally met their fates, with Kamui shot point-blank with a pistol, and Kuroshi missing an arm and impaled with one hundred squid spine fragments.
107 pages.

安全保障の逆説 (Theory of Military Security) #19
Koshi Ueno's (上野昂志) 2 pages.

作品集 (Creation Collection) #5

Susumu Katsumata (勝又進).
Lots of social commentary on thieves pretending to be victims to trick the police, clueless company bosses, bad bus drivers, and overly fawning westerners. In one strip, the 60's surf band The Ventures (bencha-su) praise their audience so much that Susumu changes their name to "obenchara-su" ("the flatterers"). A whopping 13 pages.

ノンセンス (Nonsense)

Kuniko Tsurita (つりた くにこ) is back, but this time with a more serious story. A young man witnesses a hit and run, and tracks down the driver and kills him. From this point on, he acts as a vigilante, tracking those with evil hearts. But, the police catch him and he's executed. His soul enters purgatory, and waits until he decides to move on down to hell where there's more evil hearts to eradicate. Unfortunately, the devil doesn't like the competition and rips out the guy's own heart, leaving him stranded and hoping to be reincarnated to start over again with a better knowledge of what to expect in the next life. 16 pages.

嗚海幸保 (Bad Flower)

U.Narumi (嗚海幸保) last appeared in the July, 1066, issue, with "Nonsense Mystery". This time, it's the last meeting of the "evil deeds society", a variation on an Edogawa Rampo story. The oldest member of the club gets his turn to tell a story, starting out saying that the rest of the group thinks too small. As a child, he'd tortured various insects and animals to death, then worked up to humans. While in school, he caused various deadly accidents, and during the war he staged executions of his own men as well as foreign prisoners. After the war, he got a job in the government at a high enough level that he was no longer able to act secretly. When he finishes his story, one of the other members pulls out a knife, saying that he was the kid that appeared on page 7, panel 3, and was one of the victims. He stabs the old man. The guy falls over and the other club members laugh at how fake it looks. The guy gets up, and apologizes, saying that he'll practice more. The director yells "cut", and the actors for the university stage play take a break.

日本忍法伝 (Japan Ninja Arts Legend) #13

Mamoru Sasaki & Satsuko Okamoto (佐々木 守 岡本 颯子). 6 pages.

青空太郎の絵日記 (Aozora Tarou's Picture Diary) #6

Another short 4-page story of the bizarre by Mitsuo Fujizawa (藤沢光男). A stranger who whistles with his nose blows snot on a kid. The kid asks for help in beating up the stranger, who then turns out to be an alien. First the kid's friend comes to assist, then the friend's father, and finally the father's wife. The alien is no match for the wife, so it radios for the invasion to begin, and the Earth gets swarmed by butt ships (UFO's in the shape of the human hip area).

電話魔 (Demon Phone)

Shigeo Masai (正井滋魚) also wrote "Shinigami" and "God of the Street". The phone rings and a woman answers it. The voice on the other end says "itadakimasu" (thanks for the meal), then corrects itself, adding that this is the wrong meal and it'll be back in 2 days. The next day, same thing happens, with the caller saying he'll be back tomorrow. The woman comments on this to her husband, who doesn't remember anything from the day before. The husband and wife get into an argument over the call and the wife stomps out, hoping that the phone caller eats her husband. The next day, the phone rings and the wife refuses to answer it. The husband picks it up instead and the caller says "itadakimasu, I'll eat you up clean". The husband is sucked into the phone and when the wife enters the room, she hears chewing sounds coming from the other end of the line. 6 pages. This is one of the two featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.

名刀 (Named Sword)

On a cold, rainy day in old Edo, a group of people gather at an inn for the night. A couple of merchants start chatting, guessing as to where everyone's come from, and this gets a samurai to brag about a famous sword that he's carrying around. He talks about the sword, how it's one of the few with a full name, and the fact that it's so sharp a leaf landing on it will cut itself in two. Eventually, the boy in the group laughs out loud, saying that he's got something even sharper than that sword. The others try to get the boy to shut up and apologize before the samurai gets angry, but the boy won't stop. The samurai demands to see this blade, and when the boy refuses, the samurai cuts him down. Turns out that boy is a carpenter and he was talking about a woodworking plane. In disgust, the samurai throws the plane away and it makes a perfect cut along the top of the floor before landing outside in the mud. The group stands sadly over the boy's corpse. 17 pages. This is the second featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter.

Shouhei Kusunoki (楠勝) (1944-1974) was principally a gekiga artist. According to one website, he debuted in 1960 with "Certain Kill Secrets" (必殺奥義) in "Master Fencer Picture Book" (剣豪画集). His "Senmaru" was serialized in Garo from Oct. 1964 to June, 1965. He then had a series of short manga appearing in both Garo and COM. As yet, there's no entry for him in either the Japanese or English wiki. He seems to be a perfect match for Drawn and Quarterly, but his work apparently hasn't been translated into English commercially yet.

暑い日 (Hot Day)

On a night that's hotter than it's ever been, Shigeru Mizuki finds himself out walking the streets alone, trying to track down a sound that's bothering him. He follows it to a stone cutter's house, where the cutter is just finishing up a tombstone with Mizuki's name, and the day's date on it. They get to talking about how the heat is making people do crazy things, and the cutter's wife invites Mizuki to stay for a beer. There's only 5 minutes left in the day and Mizuki is hoping that the grave stone was just ordered by someone else by mistake. He comments again about how the heat and humidity is making him insane, while the stone cutter is in another room busily sharpening a carving knife, his eyes rolling madly around in their sockets.

昭和百四十一年 (Showa Year 141)

Remember the story of a man that helps a turtle being tortured, is invited to an underwater palace by a princess as thanks, and when he finally returns home finds that 100 years have gone by? Well, this story starts with the guy riding the back of the turtle to the beach. It is now Showa era year 141 (2066 AD). Tokyo is unrecognizable, freeways have been replaced by toll slide ways, and it's a 2000 yen service fee if you look at a beautiful woman. The guy goes to an apartment complex the size of Tokyo Dome to look up his great-grand kid. Turns out that because apartments kept getting smaller, so did the people. He's at least twice the adult grand-kid's size. Of course, this means that meals are smaller also and the family can't afford to feed the guy. Then again, they also eat sausages made up of human meat now, so... The guy hastily leaves, thinking that the Japanese back in 1966 should have been more careful in their planning.

Shigeru Mizuki (水木しげる) went back to running two 8-page stories this issue.

Over all comments: I know that I said I'd only buy issues that were under 500 yen, but I had to make an exception here. This copy was in much better condition that the others, and I was hoping that it would mean that it wouldn't smell as bad. Paper does not age well. Paper discolors, degrades, and degases over the years. If you have a magazine, which started out with cheaper materials to begin with, it will exude something similar to a rotting smell eventually. This wreaks havoc with my sinuses. I may have to cut back on how many old issues of Garo I read per month, just to avoid picking up a nasal infection. Anyway, this was a pretty good issue, and I don't mind paying the higher price, even though it still bothered my nose the same amount.