Wednesday, February 29, 2012


"Infinity. The sky is a limit. Since 2011."
Not sure this is the image the car owner really wanted to project.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Site of Gessho's Stay

I've written before that just about the time I think I've covered all of the memorial markers in Kagoshima, I stumble on a new one in a completely unexpected place. I was down at the east end of the city, revisiting the brand shop that I'd gone to for the walking guide playtest, in order to spend a little more time to see what else was in the building (mostly offices). On my way back to the Tenmonkan shopping district, I noticed a futuristic-looking building that had a playground in the back. Thinking it was a daycare center, I walked down the half-block to the front of the building, where I discovered that it's a medical beauty clinic. After I took a few photos, I looked across the street and farther down the block and saw an old bank building. It's kind of rare to see old granite buildings here, and I wanted to know if it dated back to the 1800's. As I got closer, I noticed the memorial sign, and the fact that the building has been closed off (the bank moved its offices to a newer building directly across the street. This location is 1 block east of Izuro Street, near the Yamakataya department store. (I didn't see the date for when the building was constructed, though.)

From the sign:
"Memorial of Priest Gessho's Histrical [sic] Site
This is a place of the TawarayaInn where Buddhist Priest Gessho of the Kiyomizu Temple of Kyoto stayed. When he left Kyoto for Kagoshima to flee from the Shogunate's persecution, Gessho relied on protection from Saigo Takamori. After their arrival in Kagoshima on November 8th, 1858, Saigo and Gessho were betrayed by local officials and were transferred to Tawaraya, where they stayed until they jumped into Kagoshima Bay on the dawn of November16th. Although Saigo was revived, Gessho could not be saved."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stairway to heaven

A few blocks west of my apartment, along the main drag, there's a staircase leading up the side of one of the hills. Probably hasn't been used at all for at least a year. Since the top of the hill is completely taken over by a cemetery and the bottom is part of the waterworks company and is closed to the public, I'm not sure what the rationale was for building it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Commentary: AltimaA

Billing itself as the "Ultimate magazine that you are...", AltimaA isn't particularly well-known right now. It's associated with Young Ace, and is more technically known as "Altima Ace", according to an ANN article. The article also states that AA was launched back in October, so there's only been 6-7 issues to date.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Not much to say about this title, I guess. I was looking for something to review, and most of the other magazines didn't have freebies, so I got this one mainly because I knew it was one I hadn't reviewed yet (I left my list of magazines at home that day). The stories seem to be aimed at college students, with genres including adventure, fantasy, school life and street fighting. Some comments:


Biburia Used Book Temple Incident Notebook (ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖) just started in this issue. In the first chapter, the son of a book-based temple has been tasked to return rare old books to their owners. So far, it's just a slice of life story with emphasis on authors like Natsume Soseki.

Baka ga Zenra de Yattekuru is by Hiroto Ida (Dragon Revive), based on Hitoma Iruma's story. The title translates roughly to "the arrival of the nude idiot", and in this chapter that's pretty much what we get - a nude guy crashes at a stranger's house and the two of them get into a fight.


Lirarycle doesn't come up on a google search at all, but it looks promising. In this chapter, a boy runs into Lira's house carrying the planet Saturn in his hands. He gives it to a kind of fairy who places it on a table next to another planet. The rest of the pages are mostly visuals. Clean artwork, not sure what the story is, yet.

Every Detective Agency After This! (各探偵部この後すぐ!) is also starting up in this issue. The artwork isn't that good, and initially it's just a group of students eating lunch on the roof of the school and rough-housing each other.

Kamakura Deco and Kofu Life seems to be a slice of life story set in a retro-style restaurant/cafe. Nice, light clean lines for the artwork, although the character designs are too cartoony and static. No real story in this chapter.

Scissor Sisters (by Daigo (Eiki Eiki's sister and lead singer for the band BREAKERZ) and Marico (apparently one of the artists on the Tiger and Bunny franchise)). Three guesses from the title what this one is about. Ok, time's up. A shrine dedicated to the magical scissors girls is under attack by giant frogs, and the magical girls have to use their powers to protect it (in this chapter, anyway). The artwork is pretty good, again with nice,light clean lines. The characters are drawn pretty well, but unlike most stories in this genre, most of the girls look to be in their 20's, although the main character is still in school. Not too bad, if you can get past the idea that all of the girls wear scissor necklaces to show their affiliation with the shrine (and the shrine has a pair of scissors ornament on the roof.)

Fate/Zero (Black). Another in the Fate franchise. Marginal artwork. No story yet.


Buratto Blood Lad - a silly series of short gags parodying the Blood Lad manga.


Overall, there's not a whole lot worth paying attention to in this issue of AltimaA. The artwork is mostly average and none of the stories really stand out. The only one I have any real interest in is LiraRycle, and it was one of the shorter stories in the magazine. The only freebie this time is a sheet of plastic bookmarks featuring the characters from Biburia, Baka Yattekuru and B.A.D. (B.A.D. seems to be an evil magical goth-loli title. Decent artwork, if not on the overly dark side.) Not recommended yet, but that's primarily because it's still a new magazine and most of the artists are just starting out.

630 pages, 580 yen. Monthly.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Atom Tummy

Tezuka has two high-recognizable heroes - Astro Boy and Blackjack, although he created a full stable of characters that he would select from for his various stories. Astro Boy is the one that gets marketed the most. Here, we have a posted describing various stomach ailments, with the instruction to see your doctor if you have one or more of these symptoms. (Taken from the outside of a pharmacy, through the glass door.)

Tezuka's Black Jack is enlisted to tell kids to not smoke (seen on the door of a different pharmacy). Given that the Japanese government runs the tobacco industry, and that most pharmacies sell cigarettes, this might be an uphill battle.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Flower rip-out

Central Park has several long strips of ground used for displaying flowers. I've kind of wondered how they can continue looking so "in-bloom" for months at a time. Now I know the answer - grounds workers rip out the old flowers periodically and plant new ones. The garbage bags above are all packed with the old flowers. I'd like to hope that they're going to be composted, rather than being tossed into an incinerator or a garbage dump.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

When the Seagulls Cry

Umineko no Naku Koro Ni (When the Seagulls Cry) is one of the largest franchise stories I've encountered so far (although I haven't really been paying attention, so there may be bigger ones that I'm not aware of). Initially released as a PC game series, it has been remade into light novels, manga and an 26-episode TV anime series. There are 8 games, and so far Manga Fox has 6 of the matching manga titles at least partially started as fan scanilations. If you've already played all of the games, then you know what's going on. As for the manga, parts 1 and 4 has been completed, while all the other sequels are still in progress (meaning that you can't learn how part 2 ends before starting part 3 unless you get all the volumes in the original Japanese).

(Image taken from Manga Fox. Used for review purposes only.)

!--!! Spoiler Alert !!!--

The premise starts out as a basic gothic horror murder mystery - 18 people staying on a secluded island in 1986 start dying in a gruesome and macabre way. Most of them are branch members of a wealthy family while the rest are servants or hired help. Three of the family members are central to the story - Kinzo Ushiromiya, the head of the family and a devoted occultist attempting to satisfy the beautiful witch Beatrice; Maria - a young girl that claims to be able to see Beatrice and occasionally channels her spirit; and Battler - a teenage boy who tries to use logic to solve the mystery. The primary clue is an "epitaph" under Beatrice's portrait that hints at a fixed number of deaths a night before everyone gets wiped out. If the mystery is solved before the end, the victims will be revived and the winner will get all of Beatrice's gold that Kinzo has been using to fund the family's expansion in Japan. Given that all of Kinzo's adult children are facing money troubles in one form or another, the story becomes a race to see who can get his gold first. However, Battler is the only one really focused on understanding Beatrice's motives in all of this. In the PC games, the player has the option to decide whether the murderer is Beatrice using occult magic, or an outside killer using traditional physical attacks. This then sets up a battle of wits between Battler, who doesn't believe in magic, and whoever the killer really is.

As mentioned above, Manga Fox is currently running 6 manga titles, most of which are still ongoing (they're all completed in Japanese). Each title has a different artist, and each tells the story from a slightly different perspective. Most of the setups for the crimes show a magical influence, with hands reaching through doors, and blessed talismans blocking off the attack attempts. Various characters, including Battler, actually talk to metaphysical characters identified as witches or their assistants. It's pretty obvious that magic exists here, but the question is whether the killer is using it to commit the murders. In each title, the mystery is advanced a bit, but the results are the same - Battler fails to reveal the mystery and everyone dies, only to have everything restart from the beginning in the next sequel.

In this kind of setup, the quality of the artwork is critical, as what we see in one chapter influences our expectations of the artwork in the next. I read story 1 (Legend of the Golden Witch) first, and was pulled in by the semi-realistic portrayal of the characters. Things do get cartoony or unnaturally distorted when a given character goes insane, but that's part of the appeal to me. Unfortunately, the next 1-2 stories look really childish and I dismissed them out of hand. Story 6 is almost impossible to follow without knowing what went on before (explaining why there are witches all over the place and how Battler can keep experiencing a "Groundhog Day" event after losing to Beatrice), so I'm kind of forced to go through each of the stories sequentially, no matter how much I dislike the character designs, if I want to know how it all fits together.

!--!! LOTS of Spoilers Alert !!!--

Story 1: Legend of the Golden Witch
This is where it all starts, with the various family members coming out to Kinzo's island and being introduced to the reader. Battler is kind of an outsider, so he learns secrets about the family at the same time the reader does. He's told of the epitaph, and little Maria steps forward as a devoted believer in the witch. The murders start, unfold as predicted in the epitaph, and the story ends with Battler's complete failure. (Good artwork. 24 chapters. Artist: Natsumi Kei. Completed.)

Story 2: Turn of the Golden Witch
One of the underlying themes of Umineko is that the servants of the mansion are "furniture", and must accept what the family members do to them as part of their fate. A second theme is that the second generation members of the family treat everyone else, including each other, as trash. Shannon is one of the maids, and is in love with one of the third generation - George. The story starts with her on a date with George, then breaking a mirror in a shrine on the island to help free up Beatrice's power. From this point, love goes head-to-head with "outside imposed duties", resulting in one secret couple, and two pairs of failed loves. When the families start arriving on the island again, it isn't until chapter 10 that we see Beatrice sitting with Battler and announcing the start of the next "game". She states that she'll repeat this game as many times as it takes to get Battler to acknowledge her as a witch. In this particular turn, Beatrice places herself "on the board" and appears before several of the family members and servants, primarily as a sadist that manipulates people's love. After the heads of the family branches recognize her as the family "adviser", she kills all 6 of them in a "locked room mystery" that can only have happened through magic. This story also marks the first time Beatrice openly kills people using accomplices (witches "Lust" and "Wrath" plus several goat-headed demons), while she also states that when she speaks in a red font, she is saying the absolute truth without needing to give further expository supporting explanations (Such as "there are only the 18 people you know of on the island, no one else"). After a few more people die and the main suspect is Shannon's friend, Kanon, Battler caves in and announces that he believes Beatrice is real, in order to avoid having to suspect one of the servants. Maria intervenes and gets Battler to focus on the epitaph, which is what Beatrice really wants solved. (Marginal artwork. 23 chapters as of Dec. 21. Artist: Jirou Suzuki. Not completed.)

Story 3: Banquet of the Golden Witch
Things start off with a small girl (Eva) deciding that she wants to learn magic from "Beatrice the Witch", and the witch waking up later saying that she inherited her title and now, like most witches, is supremely bored. This implies that Beatrice is playing with Battler (who she resurrects from the last game) just to keep amused a little longer. Beatrice challenges the boy to explain the mystery of the second murder, and when he gets it wrong, she throws darts at him, similar to those used to kill the victims in story 2. But now, we get to see the darts change shape to the "Seven Stakes of Purgatory", two of which (Lust and Wrath) we've seen in story 2.) He dies again and she brings him back again in time to start the next game. The story then sees the branch families going to the island in 1986. Now, though, the focus is on Eva, one of Kinzo's daughters, but because she was born female, is stuck in the role of marrying someone and bearing a male heir. She hates being second to her brother, Krauss, and makes a promise with Beatrice to become the next primary head of the family. We also get to meet another of Beatrice's magical servants, this one Ronove, an elegant male demon (#27 of 72) wearing a monocle. Beatrice adds that now that her powers are coming back (probably because of the broken mirror), the rest of her "family" will be showing up soon. The twist this time around is that we learn that there was a 19th person on the island - Kinzo had trapped the soul of the 1000-year-old witch Beatrice and trapped it in a human body, caging it in a second mansion hidden on the island. Rosa, the youngest daughter, had stumbled across the mansion one day and shown the human Beatrice how to get outside. Unfortunately, human Beatrice slipped at the edge of a cliff, fell on to a rock and died in 1966 (freeing her soul and letting her remember that she's a witch). In 1986, Rosa thinks that Beatrice has come back to haunt her. The story becomes a race for Kinzo's gold, and Eva exercising her claim to power over the Ushiromiya name. (As in story 2, Kanon has a fight in which he uses a magic sword, but this time he's joined by Shannon, who has a magic shield. It's a clue for Battler, but the boy fails to figure it out. The two servants die anyway. In story 2, the first six sacrifices are Kinzo and the 5 servants. This time, the oldest female servant turns out to be Beatrice's former teacher, the original Beatrice.) (Decent artwork. 8 chapters. Artist: Natsumi Kei. Not completed.)

Story 4: Alliance of the Golden Witch
A new twist is added when we learn that Battler has a half-sister, Ange, who hadn't been on the island in 1986. At the end of story 3, Eva survived by being in the second mansion where the gold was found, became the head of the family, adopted Ange and shipped the girl to a boarding school where her life is a living hell. Eva is dead now, leaving Ange with no answers. Her only respite is the Book of Maria - Maria's diary. When trying to escape Eva's evil sister, Ange is approached by Berkenstal, Witch of Miracles, and bestowed with the name Ange-Beatrice - the 1998 witch intended to defeat the 1986 witch. She then receives 2 sets of papers that had been found floating in the sea in bottles, each describing two different murders, both where Eva is a victim and written in Beatrice's handwriting. This brings her back to when she was a child and the apprentice witch under Maria learning to control Beatrice's 7 Stakes. She joins with Berkenstal and they go to the island in 1986 so she can act as Battler's adviser under the name Gretel. As before, the family arrives at the island, quarrels, and people start dying. Battler still struggles in the game against Beatrice, even with Gretel's help, so the witch adds a new power - by making a statement that denies witches, using blue font, he can force Beatrice into answering in red. As Battler is starting to make strides, Lambdadelta appears as Beatrice's supporting witch and tells Ange that Berk lied - the only way Battler can return to Ange is if they have an eternal stalemate. On the other hand, as part of the test to see who will succeed Kinzo, Battler is asked to remember his "sin" of 6 years ago (when he broke from the family because his father remarried). He can't remember, and it turns out that Battler isn't actually Kinzo's blood relative. Beatrice states that she created this game specifically to play against Battler and if the person in front of her isn't Kinzo's grandson Battler, there's no point in continuing. Battler is erased from existence, but then brought back by her "furniture". Ange realizes the need to give Battler an incentive to win the game and exit this purgatory, so she reveals her identity to her brother and gets slowly torn to pieces. As she disappears, she rewords Beatrice's accusation such that while Battler was not born to Rudolph's wife, he is still a pawn manipulated by Rudolph and therefore can be argued to be Kinzo's grandson. Beatrice gets forced to start the next game, and she secretly pleads with Battler to hurry up and defeat her once and for all to end her own suffering. However, while Battler does succeed in "killing" her by developing real-world explanations for the deaths, he can't completely eradicate her by answering her final riddle - "who am I?". (Variable artwork. 26 chapters. Artist: Soichirou. Completed.)

It's only with story 4 that the real nature of the "game" surfaces. Battler makes a supposition, such as "Kinzo has been dead all along, so while there really are only the fixed number of 18 people on the island, one of them is the unknown killer". Beatrice responds by playing out the killings based on that supposition and while supported by whatever magical beings (Stakes, demons) she has at her disposal. As time goes by, more of her power returns to her. Meaning that the details of who dies and by what means changes with each successive "game". What really matters to us as readers is: when different magics (red font, blue font) or creatures (Lambadelta, Ange) appear that will reappear in later stories. The details of the murders themselves are irrelevant because they change with each successive game. Conversely, as Battler develops more logical theories about how the murders were committed (people stealing room keys, small bombs in the food for blowing off people's faces), he backs Beatrice into a corner and strips away the magic facade, forcing all new strategies on the part of the "gamemaster".

Story 5: End of the Golden Witch
The story picks up with Beatrice as a living doll. In the recap at the beginning, we're told that she had given up on playing the game and given her place to the other witches, leaving Battler to play against an auto-pilot. Lambdadelta takes Beatrice's role, and Bern fills in for Battler up to the second day, putting herself on the island as a child detective. The game this time assumes that Kinzo is dead and that Krauss's wife, Natsuhi, has been abetting her husband in a fraud against the other family members to hide the fact that Kinzo's already gone. Bern accuses Natsuhi of wanting to be Kinzo's successor and being the killer. The twist now, introduced by Lambda, is that Kinzo had given Natsuhi a child to raise as her own, and it and its nurse supposedly died in a fall 19 years ago. The child, or its ghost, calls Natsuhi on the phone on the island and sets up the murders. As part of the prelude, though, Bern assists Battler in finding Kinzo's gold ("where" is unimportant), which then triggers the fight for succession and Natsuhi being framed by Lambda as the killer. (Decent artwork. 12 chapters. Artist: Taka Aki. Not completed.)

Story 6: Dawn of the Golden Witch
Because a lot of the previous stories still haven't been fully fan scanilated, the backstory for #6 is incomplete. In #5, it's implied that 1998-Ange was killed in #4 by her evil aunt. At the beginning of #6, it's stated that there have been 4 messages in bottles (two of them written on the internet), the best fake one being written by a female mystery writer - Hachijo Toya, AKA Itoukukuro Reigonamu. #6 starts with Battler completely chained up in a locked room mystery he'd created himself at the end of #5 by defeating Lambdadelta and being named the new Gamemaster. This is followed by Ange, in 1998, meeting Toya. Toya claims to have read the previous Golden Witch stories, and she's pieced together what really happened on the island in 1986. Toya is also a witch, Featherine, and she uses Ange as the reader of her story to bypass the interference from Lambdadelta, Bern and Beatrice. As the next Gamemaster, Battler performed a ceremony to resurrect Beatrice, proving that she is the embodiment of the rules of the game, and was initially created by whatever "sin" it was that Battler committed in 1982. However, since she's only 3 days old now, she has no personality, and this enrages Battler, who demands the return of the 1000-year-old witch. (Average artwork. 6 chapters. Artist: Hinase Momoyama. Not completed.)

Summary: An action in 1982 taken by someone called "Battler Ushiromiya" triggered the birth of something called "Beatrice the Golden Witch". In turn, Beatrice sets up a chess board in a frozen dimension where she attempts to trap Battler into a corner so that he must accept that magic is real. Each game on the board consists of a serial murder on Rokkenjima island, but the details of the murders, the order and the list of victims depends on Battler's suppositions as to how Beatrice performs her tricks. With each successive game, the number of supernatural creatures joining in the fun increases, while Beatrice herself loses her powers, and eventually Battler replaces her as the magician Gamemaster. Told in 6 parts, with varying levels in the quality of the artwork. Most of the parts haven't been fully scanilated yet. Grudgingly recommended since there are such big gaping holes in the continuity right now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kagoshima Mac Mural

There's a McDonald's drive-thru just the other side of the river from Tecc-Land. They've got a Kagoshima-based mural on the wall lining the parking lot.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Old Bikes

There's a small motorcycle shop along my route to Tecc.Land. I go this way when I need to stock up on toilet paper, kitchen towels and tissues (since Tecc.Land has the cheapest prices.) The back of the shop is where old bikes go to die.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pole Wiring

Japan is notorious for having rats-nest utility poles. Here's another example at the back of a new office building.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jan.-Feb. edition of the "related articles in the media"

Here's the batch of articles to show up in the media from January, regarding anime, manga and related stuff.

Generic New News

Japan Times

Akihabara opens subculture center

Figurines become art at event

Updated 'Ninja Hattori-kun' to be made in India

'TeZukA' animates the stage

Okinawa summit gets animated

Daily Yomiuri

Global crossroad for Japanese anime

Learning about cosplay by getting into character

Akihabara: A symbol of hope for the future of the nation

Cyberworld collides with reality in '.hack' film


Manga prominent in literary magazine's top 10

50 shops join hands to show what otaku culture Akiba can offer

'Thermae Romae' wins spot in popular anime TV program

Digital manga contest plays on high school theme

Pony Canyon to hold auditions for voice actors

Classic manga taking off in digital market

'Madoka Magica' to be made into online game

'Tatsumi' wins big at Dubai Int'l filmfest

Paris to host manga exhibition in February

'Uchu Kyodai' animated TV series to air in April

JAL to offer world's first in-flight manga service

'Medaka Box' anime to air next spring

Experience the world of 'ONE PIECE' at Tokyo exhibit in March

Okinawa to host anime summit

Ueda's 'Ocean Chronicles' wins Nihon SF Taisho Award

Kyoto museum is a paradise for manga mavens

Japan Media Arts Festival exhibition hits Sendai

'K-On!' nominated for top animation prize

Livedoor opens multilingual WorldCosplay site

'Silver Spoon' among 15 in running for manga prize

Brazilian cartoonist to publish manga with Osamu Tezuka

Tottori to host manga summit in November

Kodansha makes manga available online in Taiwan

Three Japanese shorts nominated for Berlin awards

Akihabara's iconic Radio Kaikan goes online

Mosaic of virtual star raises funds for Tohoku

Kinema Junpo releases customizable personal film database Kinenote

Ghibli's 'The Secret World of Arrietty' to hit U.S. cinemas Feb. 17

'Drifting Life' and 'Bride's Story' honored at Angouleme

VIZ Media releases disaster-relief 'Art for Hope'

'Inazuma Eleven' takes Shogakukan manga prize

Fujiko Museum offers manga-themed sweets

Multi-label anime song album to hit stores in February

Kazu character to appear in 'Conan' film


Dates for 2/20 to 2/27:

Birthdays (19):
Joel Hodgson, 2/20/1960
Larry Hovis, 2/20/1936
Richard ("What Drams May Come") Matheson, 2/20/1926
Dwight Frye, 2/22/1899
Edward Gorey, 2/22/1925
Joanna ("And Chaos Died") Russ, 2/22/1937
Majel (Nurse Chapel) Barrett, 2/23/1932
George Freideric Handel, 2/23/1685
Miki (Anywhere but here) Tori, 2/23/1958
August Derleth, 2/24/1909
James Farentino, 2/24/1938
Steve Jobs, 2/24/1955
Anthony ("A Clockwork Orange") Burgess, 2/25/1917
Edgar ("West of the Sun") Pangorn, 2/25/1909
Tex Avery, 2/26/1098
Godfrey Cambridge, 2/26/1933
Johnny Cash, 2/26/1932
Jackie Gleason, 2/26/1916
Theodore Sturgeon, 2/26/1918

Died (10):
Walter Winchell, 2/20/1972
Chuck Jones, 2/22/2002
Andy Warhol, 2/22/1987
Carl Friedrich Gauss, 2/23/1855
Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy, 2/23/1945
Octavia E. ("Lilith's Brood") Butler, 2/24/2006
Don Knotts, 2/24/2006
Henny Youngman, 2/24/1998
Philip Jose Farmer, 2/25/2009
Spike Milligan, 2/27/2002

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wig Shop

Initially, when I saw this window, especially since there was a patrol car parked in front, I thought this was some kind of new police station "crime stopper" bulletin board with 3D mock-ups of the most wanted villains.

Then I realized it's just advertising for the hair salon on the second floor. Maybe the cop was just stopping by to buy a "back up piece".

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yakult Inside

Yakult is a so-called "probiotic" drink first developed in Japan in the early 1930's. It's basically skim milk powder mixed with water, sugar and live Lactobacillus casei cultures. The name reportedly comes from the Esperanto word for yogurt, and is claimed to have similar health benefits. In Tokyo, I've seen saleswomen hand-pushing little refrigerator carts from one office building to the next to restock the "honor system" stocks of Yakult and Glico products in office break rooms.

In Kagoshima, it's more common to see these little scooters zipping around on the streets, or parked on the sidewalk with a delivery being made inside. I finally discovered the Kagoshima Yakult distribution point in a seedy section of town a couple of short blocks north of the International Exchange Center.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei

Kouji Kumeta is probably one of the wildest artists working in manga today. He's had a couple of long-running titles, including the oddly named Go!! Southern Ice Hockey Club.

Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, by Kouji Kumeta, Grade: A.
The story in this title (which translates to "Goodbye, Despair-filled Teacher") is really fairly irrelevant. In a nutshell, Nozomu Itoshiki is a high school teacher who goes into depressions at the drop of a hat and constantly threatens to commit suicide (usually by hanging himself), but he's not actually serious about it. Every one of his students represents some kind of phobia, disorder, or social function (such as the overly cheerful Kafuka Fuura, the tail-pulling Abiru Kobushi, and the hikikomori (reclusive) Kiri Komori. Each chapter starts out with either Nozomu or one of the students trying to do something normal (like going to a festival or sitting in class) and then devolves into a series of off-the-wall puns and gags riffing on everything from video games to political scandals.

Eventually the gags push one of the characters into yelling out that they're in despair over something, followed by a list of obliquely-relevant current events (generally again about political scandals, or TV "talents"). The point of the manga, then, is skewering pop culture and whatever is on TV at the moment. The character designs are minimalistic, with very clean, thin lines and detailed costumes. The background art is very detailed, and each of the characters can easily be identified, even though there are so many of them. Be warned, though, that there's a LOT of "reader service" in each chapter, so this manga is not recommended for children in the (un)civilized western countries.

One of the fun things about the collected volumes is that they include "omake" (extras) pages occasionally, with different papercraft projects. Fun stuff. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


As mentioned a few weeks ago, there are a number of webcomics I like to read that are hosted on GoComics. There are a couple more on other sites that are a little more inconvenient to access so I normally don't read them consistently anymore (Funky Winkerbean and Tumbleweeds). What I don't like about GoComics is the lack of a way to organize the strips that I want to read on a daily basis, and having to read comments from other readers that seem to think that they are funny and/or original. Naturally, I don't HAVE to read the comments, but sometimes it's unintentional.

The idea of automating the process of obtaining the strips that I want had been sitting at the back of my mind, and a few days ago, I decided to act on it. Visual Basic Scripting works well enough that I could get the majority of the code running in about an hour. The two key elements were: How to read an html file from a URL, and How to extract the picture filename from the html. After that, it was a simple matter of looping through an array of comic strip names, grabbing each img src name, and putting an html wrapper around it all for reading within a browser. The code's not that elegant, but it works well enough, and having all of the strips in one page makes it almost like reading a newspaper. Additionally, I added Funky Winkerbean to the list and now I can read that along with the rest, again. Cool.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Doraemon Ticket Campaign

New Doraemon movie coming out. The local Taiyo grocery store had an advertisement up over the candy section for the "Pair Ticket Campaign".

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tenmonkan Banners

The Tenmonkan shopping complex has new banners up. I think it's related to the Chinese lunar New Year of the Dragon celebrations.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Monthly Shonen Magazine

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

As mentioned a long time back, Jump, Sunday, Champion and Magazine used to all have both a weekly and a monthly version of each title. But, due to a lack of sales, or a decision to rebrand the title, Jump and Sunday dropped the monthly half. I've compared the two versions of Champion side by side, and now it's time to do the same for Magazine.

(Capeta splashpage)

According to the wiki entry, Weekly Shonen Magazine skews to a slightly older audience, which can explain the harder edge. Monthly Shonen Magazine continues this trend, with subjects that include dance contests and people playing koto. There's still an emphasis on sports (car racing, soccer, mixed arts, baseball and basketball), but we're also getting cooking, the occult and mystery solving. The artwork on the whole is below par. Masatoshi Kawahara's human characters in particular tend to the misshaped and grotesque in both of the titles he has in this issue (Shura no Mon and Fudekage). Capeta is like an updated Speed Racer, but without the gimmicked car). On the other hand, there is some good artwork (Noragami, Capeta, Tenman ala Carte), and some decent stories (Noragami, C.M.B.) Personally, there are certain kinds of stories that just don't work for me. I've never understood ballet or modern dance, and drawing a picture of someone eating food or playing music just can not convey the sensations of taste, smell and sound produced by the real things. So, obviously, I'm not going to be pulled in by a cooking comic, among other things. Which kind of eliminates at least 20% of this manga. And I've written before about how I don't care for sports comics, cutting out another 40% right there.

(Ballroom Youkoso)

On the other hand, there are a couple of titles that show promise. C.M.B., drawn by Motohiro Katou, is very similar to his earlier work, QED, but with a different setting. A young genius that is heir to three of Britain's greatest natural history scientists is trying to create his own museum in Japan. He's eventually pushed into solving murder mysteries by a school girl that initially encounters him by accident (the price for each solution is some item that can be added to his exhibits). The primary difference from QED is that the hero draws on historical artifacts and animal nature to explain his findings. Another interesting title is Noragami, drawn by the same duo that created Alive! Yato is a minor god without a shrine or a single worshiper to his name. So, he spraypaints ads around town with his cell phone number. Only people in dire need of help can call him, and his going rate is 5 yen (the coin donated to shrines by worshipers). To fight, he needs a partner that can turn into a weapon, but his attitude is so bad that they all quit on him after a while. Rather dark-humored, but still funny.

The titles westerners may recognize:

Pumpkin Scissors, Ryoutarou Iwanaga
C.M.B., Motohiro Katou (Q.E.D.)
Dear Boys, Hiroki Yagami


Monthly Shonen Magazines' genres include:

Racing (Capeta)
Mixed Martial Arts (Shura no Mon)
Occult (Noragami)
Basketball (Dear Boys)
Baseball (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Sora no Planatus)
Cooking (Tenman ala Carte)
Soccer (Fudekage)
Music (Mashiro no Oto, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso)
Edo era Drama - kendo (Kuro Neko Dance)
Dancing (Ballroom Youkoso)
Crime Solving (C.M.B.)
Samurai Drama (Shana Ou Yoshitsune)
Combat (Pumpkin Scissors)
Kung Fu (Tekken Chinmi Legends)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Legend of the Dragon's Son)
Heroes (Shin Kamen Rider Spirits)

(Mashiro no Oto, about a young man lured back into playing the koto.)

The price per page rate isn't too bad, and there are enough titles worth reading to justify getting this magazine once a month. No freebies in this issue, though. 460 yen, 874 pages


Dates for 2/13 to 2/20:

Birthdays (21):
Oliver Reed, 2/13/1938
William Shockley, 2/13/1910
Peter Tork, 2/13/1942
Jack Benny, 2/14/1894
Gwyneth ("Kairos") Jones, 2/14/1952
Raymond (Penn and Teller) Teller, 2/14/1948
John Barrymore, 2/15/1882
Galileo Galilei, 2/15/1564
George Harrison, 2/15/1943
Harvey Korman, 2/15/1927
Brendon ("Dethklok") Small, 2/15/1975
Kim Jong-Il, 2/16/1941
Andre ("Beast Master") Norton, 2/17/1912
Elizabeth Taylor, 2/17/1932
Ernst Mach, 2/18/1838
Jack Palance, 2/18/1919
Alessandro (Scientist) Volta, 2/18/1745
Gahan Wilson, 2/18/1930
Joel Hodgson, 2/20/1960
Larry Hovis, 2/20/1936
Richard ("What Drams May Come") Matheson, 2/20/1926

Died (8):
Stan Laurel, 2/13/1965
Dick ("Dead Cert") Francis, 2/14/2010
David (mathematician) Hilbert, 2/14/1943
Richard Feynman, 2/15/1988
J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2/18/1967
Michelangelo Simoni, 2/18/1564
Ernst Mach, 2/19/1916
Walter Winchell, 2/20/1972

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Just a short post this time. Got my results for the JLPT.

13 out of 60 for vocabulary, 21 of 60 for reading and 36 of 60 for listening. 70 of 180 total. Annoying, given how much time I put into studying for vocab/grammar, and the fact that I'm usually reading. I kind of left listening for last, and that's the one that I had the biggest improvements in.

"C" grade for vocab/grammar, "B" for listening. 60% is passing, and I got exactly 60% for listening. 38% total, though. Up 10% from the last test, and I did say I'd be happy if I failed at a higher level this time, but I was hoping for 50%, anyway. I guess this means more of the same studying again. Next test is in July. Have to decide eventually if it's worth taking again.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sierpinski Pyramid

(From the right - Stage 0, Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3)

After making the Sierpinski Triangle on graph paper, the idea of making a 3D version out of construction paper started preying on me. After a day or so, I decided to make a small one just to get it out of my system, by approaching it as a collection of "stage 0" triangles glued together. Stage 1 is just 4 stage 0's held together with wood glue. That worked out fast, so I figured that going to stage 2 would be easy enough. It just meant cutting out 16 equilateral triangle strips (for triangles 2cm to a side), folding and taping them up, then gluing them together. One sheet of construction paper yields 14 strips 1.8cm wide, with 8 substrips of 4 triangles each, plus one 3-triangle substrip left over. Initially, I cut all the individual triangles apart and taped them back together again, until I realized that that step wasn't necessary and I could just use the substrips as a whole. It took roughly 8 hours of cutting and taping (plus the gluing, not including the time for the glue to dry) to get my first stage 3. That used up just a little over half the sheet of paper, for 64 stage 0s. A stage 3 is roughly 16 cm wide, and 13 cm tall (6" x 5"). It's fine as it is, but the Sierpinski effect of having the central section removed repeatedly is just starting to become noticeable. In other words, I couldn't stop until I reached stage 4.

(Stage 4)

Stage 4. 256 stage 0 pyramids. 2.2 large sheets of construction paper. Over 30 hours of work, spread over 2 weeks. It's crooked because my only tools were a straight edge, scissors and a toothpick. But, because of its shape, it is structurally strong, and, with the glue added, it's still just a little over the weight of 2 pieces of thick paper (maybe a couple of grams). I'll stop here. Now, I just need to find a home for it...

(Stage 4 directly from the front.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: RRR

I'm not really a big fan of sports manga. Usually, the action is either not believable, the characters talk to each other too long between swings, or the "miracle last second buzzer beater" shot is just too miraculous. On the other hand, I do like the works of Mitsuru Adachi because it's not really so much about the sport as it is the light-hearted interactions between the characters in daily life. So, while I will read sports manga, it's not because I'm a fan of them or of the sport itself.

(Image from Manga Fox. All rights belong to their owners. Image used here for review purposed only.) (Not sure why the image isn't showing up.)

RRR, by Jun Watanabe, Grade: B+
RRR is short for "Rock'n Roll Ricky", the main character. Rikitarou is a slacker who's managed to slide through life so far. He's a guitarist for an average rock band, and he spends his free time with his girlfriend. But, his carefree attitude finally catches up with him as first his girlfriend drops him for holding back her career, and his band gets signed to a recording agency without him. The worst is about to happen, though, as his older sister dies and the rest of the family refuses to take in her young son. Riki shoulders the burden, but loses his part-time job over having to have the boy at work with him.

At the same time, Japan's top boxer, Oishi, decides to retire out of boredom with the sport, and agrees to host a reality TV show aimed at finding new boxing talent. One night, Oishi is walking past a bar where Rikitarou has gotten into a fight. Riki gets pummeled, but he shows a spark of a kind. Later, Riki goes to a workout gym to lose the gut he's been carrying around, and it just happens to be the gym where Oishi's TV show is being filmed. Through a series of coincidences, Riki then finds himself on the path to becoming a pro boxer while simultaneously acting as a single father to his sister's orphaned kid.

RRR starts out slowly, spending a little too much time on Riki's personal life leading up to the point that the first few introductory boxing matches start. The artwork is very good and the character designs don't look like that of other artists. The backgrounds and fight sequences are also high quality. It's the drama that I don't like, as Riki's boxing partner gets all wrapped up in his own problems, or the child Riki is raising overreacts to his uncle's getting pounded in the ring. Fortunately, so far, none of the characters spend 5 pages taunting each other between swings. There haven't been that many serious matches as of volume 6, but the fights that have been covered have looked pretty brutal. The action artwork is believable, and the punches that connect look like they hurt.

Watanabe has also drawn Emblem Take 2, Kibun wa Super Tough and Montage. I haven't read any of these, but I've at least seen the name for Take 2 before. And his character designs are very recognizable.

Summary: A slacker and a pro boxer team up on a Japanese reality TV show to turn out one of Japan's next new championship-level boxers. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pascal Triangle

Often, my explanations of things tend to get round-about, primarily because I need to explain 2 or 3 unrelated items before getting to my main point. 3 guesses as to what's going to happen next...

First, one of the comics I like reading is Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac. This comic isn't drawn all that well, but the character interactions are fairly bizarre at times, which makes it fun. Lately, some of the strips have been repeats with the art recolored. Richard had left a comment on GoComics to the effect that the better version of one particular strip was on his blog. Now, his blog talks about some of the personal problems he has, one of which is that he suffers from Parkinson's Disease. In one entry, he mentioned that he's going to start physical therapy, which consists of practicing more exaggerated moves, and he accompanied the article with a picture of John Cleese doing the Monty Python "Department of Silly Walks" sketch.

(Department of Silly Walks T-Shirt.)

Now, this poster reminded me of Pascal's Triangle, which I learned about in math class in high school, but hadn't played with recently. The basic idea here is that you offset each row by half a square, so that each square is directly under the 2 squares above it. The value of each square is then the sum of the two squares of the previous row. Of course, the explanation is usually given the other way around, starting with "1" in the top square, and then adding the contents of two adjacent squares to get the value of the square on the subsequent row. Along the edges of the pyramid, you just treat it as "0 + 1" all along the line. It's insanely easy to write up an Excel spreadsheet for this, but the numbers get too large to display in the cells properly after 10 rows or so.

(Animated gif showing how to calculate the pyramid, from the wiki entry.)

What I hadn't known before is that there's a trick where you color the squares based on whether the numbers are even or odd (or divisible by 3, 4, 5 etc. The interesting pattern is base-2.) The result is actually a fascinating little guy that I first encountered when I learned about fractals - the Sierpinski triangle. So, naturally I had to hand-draw it. Actually, it's a very easy process and doesn't require any adding, making it a simple matter of cut and paste. For any cell that you're working on, look at the two cells directly above it. If only one cell is black, color the current one black. Otherwise, if both of the above cells are white or both black, then leave the current cell white. It's an exclusive-OR operation (which I was really hoping I had invented, but hadn't). When you get one triangle, just copy-paste it into the positions of the next two lower triangles. A no-brainer. If you copy-paste enough, you can make a Sierpinski triangle that's visible from space.

(Hand-drawn Sierpinski triangle made by following the XOR principle. About 3' x 3'.)

I was trying to figure out the best way to make the grid, initially considering hand-drawing it on a sheet of construction paper. But, I stopped by the 100 yen shop on my way home, and found a notebook of graph paper that turned out to be perfect for this project ($1.40 for 50 pages). I picked up a black magic marker at the same time. I tested out the marker on the paper first, and as suspected, it bled through the surrounding paper. Then I confirmed that pre-drawing the grid outline in pen caused the bleeding to stop (or, at least, to be better confined to within the square). So I then spent a couple of hours drawing in the grid lines for the pyramid, and another couple drawing in the actual pyramid following my XOR procedure. The final assembly is 75 rows, and 75 squares wide at the bottom, or about 3' x 3'.

There's an amusing property to each larger triangle. Looking at the above picture, the very top white dot is just 1 square. The next larger white triangle down is 3 squares tall. This is followed by one 7 squares tall, and the next is 15 squares, finally the last one is 31. The question becomes "what's the size of the next larger white triangle being constructed"? Well, 3-1=2. 7-3=4. 15-7=8. 31 -15=16. Presumably if you're adding twice as many rows each time, then 2x16=32, and 31+32=63 (Another way to figure is is 2^n - 1). And, yes, the next triangle in process is in fact 63 squares tall (2^6 - 1). Actually, it should be pretty obvious that what you're doing is rubber-stamping one triangle assembly 4 times to make the next larger one, but leaving out the rubber-stamp in the middle, which doubles the height of each larger assembly. In fact, the Sierpinski triangle is made by taking an equilateral triangle and removing the central 25%, and then repeating the process for all subsequent smaller solids that result, eventually making a sponge that converges on 100% air after 25-30 iterations. You can get the same effect by using a square - it's called the Sierpinski Carpet.

(Printer-ready version, A4 size.)

Because it is such a predicable process, I decided next that I might as well draw up a basic triangle in Gimp. This took another 2 hours, in part because Gimp isn't very good at snap-to-grid when you do a lot of copy-pasting. I was forced to retry the picture several times before I got what I was looking for. This one is the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Just make 100 copies, cut it out along the lines and tape it together to get that "visible from miles away" effect.

Not quite the same as having a 24' x 24' John Cleese poster that you can give to Alice to play with, but close enough.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Last week was a bit busy for me. On Wednesday, the regular Japanese language and culture class got replaced by an event organized by the International Exchange Center, held at the same time, but set on the 7th floor of the Maruya Gardens department store. The event brought foreigners and locals together to discuss family rearing. It was videotaped, and uploaded to ustream. For the most part, it was in Japanese only.

On Thursday, I had the tourist brochure walking guide playtest, which I wrote about a couple of days ago.

Friday was the regular lunchtime English lesson at the Exchange Center, followed by my group English lesson.

Saturday, the Exchange Center organized another event for foreigners, this one to introduce us to the process of checking into a hospital and undergoing a checkup. Since I've been to Japanese clinics before for allergies, it was just a chance to get to talk to some of the foreigners that I normally don't get to see. The entire event was informative, though, and I'm glad I attended the full 2 hours. (It was at the Sagara Hospital on Perth Street.)

One of the other benefits of being at the hospital tour was that I had a chance to talk to one of the judges of the speech contest held last month. He confirmed what I'd already suspected, that there were a large number of good speakers that had entered, and that it was hard to narrow it down from 24 to 10. Again, I was told that I had one of the more interesting subjects, but now, I learned that I was speaking too fast for the audience to follow me easily. Given that I hadn't had a chance to practice in front of an audience leading up to the contest, I was lacking a sense of pacing during the prelim round. And I knew in advance that that was going to hurt my chances. At least now, I know for sure. Sigh.

The coming week will probably be less eventful. The Wednesday culture class is the last one of the series, and we'll be celebrating that with a potluck of sorts. The Exchange staff tells me that there aren't any more events scheduled for the next few months. No idea when the next Japanese language class will be then.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Gakken Kit #33: Desktop Vacuum Cleaning Robot

Kit #33: Desktop Vacuum Cleaning Robot. 2940 yen ($36 USD), Released Jan. 30, 2012

You can find the full review on my Wordpress blog.

There's no mention of the next Sound Gadget yet, and the next mook kit will be an unnumbered addition to the wind-up ornithopter line with the "Twister". The Otona no Kagaku site doesn't have the link for "Next Up" right now, though. From the photo at the back of the mook, the Twister looks fairly similar to the entomopter in kit #31

Summary: A challenging little gear-driven vacuum robot, and a mook with nice photos of the CERN accelerator. Recommended.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Commentary: Weekly Shonen Magazine

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

In the article on Weekly Shonen Jump, I wrote that there are 4 top magazines for young males in the Weekly Shonen line - Jump, Sunday, Champion and Magazine. Magazine and Sunday are the two oldest, having both launched in 1959. They were celebrated with an anniversary exhibit at the Kawasaki City Museum in 2009, and some of the special postage stamps that were released a little later are still available at some remote post offices. Jump may have the top spot now for sales, but all four are still fighting it out by stealing the most popular artists from each other.

(Sherdock - Sherlock Holmes is resurrected as a dog, with a high school boy acting as his caretaker and "Watson".)

Weekly Shonen Magazine has had some of the best artists over the years, including Shigeru Mizuki with "Gegege no Kitaro", Shotaro Ishinomori with "Skull Man" and "Kamen Rider", and Fujio Akatsuka with "Tensai Bakabon". For me, the defining title is "Makaritouru Koutarou" (1982-1994). I haven't bought a copy of Magazine (properly spelled "Magajin") since Tatsuya Hiruta fell ill and stopped writing Koutarou.

(Happy Project)

As for today, at least half of the manga in Magazine are being fan scanilated, and several of the titles are almost as popular as Jump's Naruto. These include:

Fairy Tail
Godhand Teru
Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei
Air Gear
Ace of Diamond
Maho Sensei Negima
Hajime no Ippo

The art is all over the place, but largely average on the whole. "Ippo", "Zero" and "Zeus" are drawn in cartoony styles, while "Negima" and "Air Gear" are almost hyper-realistic. "Zetsubo Sensei" and "Fairy Tail" have very light, clean lines. Being a boy's manga, the genres consist mainly of fighting, fantasy, gags, school life and sports:

Soccer (Area no Kishi)
Basketball (Ahiru no Sora)
Baseball (Ace of Diamond)
Boxing (Hajime no Ippo)
Fantasy (Dragon Collection, Cage of Eden, Negima, Air Gear, Code:Breaker)
Fighting (A-bout)
Gambling (Tobaku Haouden ZERO, by Kaiji author Nobuyuki Fukumoto)
Edo-era Drama (Bakudan, Gamaran)
School life (Again!)
Gags (Zeus no Tane, Zetsubo Sensei)

(Tobaku Haouden ZERO)

"ZERO" might be a little more adult, in that it's a mahjong gambling story, and "Zetsubo Sensei" focuses largely on parody that skewers politicians, celebrities and foreign politics. On the reverse side, "Fairy Tail" is the kind of over-the-top superhero story that appeals to fans of "Spiderman" and "Naruto", while most of the sports titles are pure wish fulfillment. I had been following "Air Gear" for the first 20 volumes or so, primarily because I liked the artwork, but the fight sequences started getting a little too unbelievable and I dropped it a couple of years ago. I'm still following "Fairy Tail" and "Gamaran" just out of morbid curiosity. The two that I still like are "Negima" for the story and some of the girls are cute, and "Zetsubo Sensei" because of the gags, and the occasional papercraft projects.

I think that Magazine tends towards slightly harder-edged stories than either of Sunday or Jump, so it may appeal to slightly older western fans. There's nothing really hardcore here, but there is the occasional sex-related joke and some toilet humor, so you might want to be prepared for that. But, if you already follow "Air Gear", then you know what you're getting into.

260 yen, 500 pages


Dates for 2/6 to 2/13:

Birthdays (16):
Patrick ("The Avengers") Macnee, 2/6/1922
Chris Rock, 2/7/1965
Robert Klein, 2/8/1942
Nick Nolte, 2/8/1941
Jules Verne, 2/8/1828
Mitsuru (Touch) Adachi, 2/9/1951
Frank Frazetta, 2/9/1928
Joe Pesci, 2/9/1943
Lon Chaney Jr., 2/10/1906
Jimmy Durante, 2/10/1893
Leslie Nielsen, 2/11/1926
Burt Reynolds, 2/11/1936
Jane Yolen, 2/11/1939
Oliver Reed, 2/13/1938
William Shockley, 2/13/1910
Peter Tork, 2/13/1942

Died (9):
Danny Thomas, 2/6/1991
Raymond Scott, 2/8/1994
John von Neumann, 2/8/1957
Osamu Tezuka, 2/9/1989
Jim (Ernest P. Worrell) Varney, 2/10/2000
Jack L. ("Well World") Chalker, 2/11/2005
William Conrad, 2/11/1994
Frank Herbert, 2/11/1986
Stan Laurel, 2/13/1965

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Free Lunch

In Small Adventures #24, I mentioned how I'd gotten a phonecall out of the blue for a one-day job to playtest a city guide walking tour brochure. The company making the brochure, a bank, contacted me in email several times to make sure I'd be participating, and to announce changes to the planned start and stop times. On Feb. 2nd, I went to a rental meeting space at a hotel annex near the main train station at just before 11 AM. There were 20 participants, mostly from China and the Philippines, and maybe 10 supporting staff from the bank. 3 of the Filipinos were people I knew from the Japanese language classes at the International Exchange Center (one of them knew the organizer, and had been participating in this kind of seminar in the previous 2 times that the bank had conducted it). At the start time, the organizer welcomed the group, spelled out the rules, and explained the purpose of the event. In essence, the bank had created a city tour map, in English, Chinese and Korean, and sold ad space to about 20 restaurants in the Tenmonkan shopping complex and around the train station. Our jobs were to visit the various sightseeing spots marked on the map, and to take lunch at one of the restaurants. To avoid everyone visiting the exact same locations in one big pack, we were ordered to travel separately and not double up on the restaurants.

The map had the eateries divided up by food types, and I wanted to try the Kagoshima chicken, which was at one specific place at the farthest east end of the map. I'd seen most of the sights highlighted, but there was a "brand shop" at the opposite north end of the map down by city hall that I hadn't known about. We were given from 11:30 to 1:45 to visit as many places as we wanted, as well as having the lunch break. After that, we'd get together again at a different meeting room in a building within Tenmonkan, for debriefing. The payment for this was 8000 yen ($96 USD) minus income tax, and it was to be applied to the meal, so we got the money up front. I started out by going over to an open air market I also hadn't known about, located a few blocks southeast of the station, crossed over the Kotsuki river at the main tourist information center, walked past the Meiji Restoration Museum, and then went the 6 blocks to my restaurant (Zino). The brochure had indicated that lunch was 700 yen, but in fact the meals were between 900 and 1800. I decided on a sliced chicken sizzling platter for 1100 yen, ($13 USD) accompanied by a salad, soup, rice and a cup of coffee at the end. After adding a little salt and pepper, the chicken turned out really well, and the coffee wasn't bad either. Compared to the U.S., the serving size was on the small size, but it was just about enough for me at the time. When I was finished, I had 45 minutes left, so I set out for the brand shop. The brochure indicated that I could watch some of the local products being made (shochu or satsuma-age), but when I got there all I could see was a souvenir shop, and a display of shochu bottles. I returned to Tenmonkan and got to the second meeting point with a couple of minutes to spare. The wind-down consisted of filling out a survey, and then giving our impressions to the support staff. We finished at 4 PM, and me and the 3 other people I knew walked the 50 feet over to another shop to buy fresh doughnuts (made in the shop) for 70 yen apiece. The doughnuts were excellent, and I'm inclined to go back and get another occasionally when I'm in the area, which happens 2-4 times a week.

So, for about 6 hours of doing very little other than walking 2 miles, I got a good meal and about $60. I spent another $10 getting souvenir snacks (a bag of shaved dried fish, and some candied pear slices) at the open air market. Not bad. If the bank decides to do seminar #4 in the future, I hope they contact me.

Mini-Small Adventure: The day before (Feb. 1) my Japanese language class had a special event at the Maruya Gardens department store in Tenmonkan, where the International Exchange Center set up a discussion on family-raising in Japan, and had invited Japanese and foreigners living in the city. There were about 50 people total, and the discussion ran from 10:30 AM to noon. After that, we broke up into groups of 2-3 to give the Japanese visitors a chance to talk to a foreigner. The woman I talked to had mentioned that Kagoshima does get a little snow every year, and my comment was that I didn't think it was going to happen at all this year. At best, the crown of the volcano might turn white, but that would be it. That afternoon, there was a light drizzle that lasted until night. I was thinking that this would make for a miserable walk during the brochure playtest. Actually, the entire walkthrough described above occurred during a light snow fall that was still coming down when I returned home at 5 PM. Silly me.