Saturday, March 31, 2012

Car Vending

Car vending machine parking lots are amazing places, given the technology for moving vehicles around on elevators, they're really compact in terms of footprint. The drawback, though surfaces when several people all want their cars from the same silo at the same time, creating a waiting line (since the elevator can only transfer one car at a time). Doesn't help if it's raining, too.

(Another parking silo across the street.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Beauty Clinic

Near City Hall, I found this building, which at this angle looks like a face to me. It's a medical beauty clinic. Unfortunately, the mode dial on the camera got jostled in my pocket and was moved to "auto", which always makes the photos blue. I didn't notice this until later.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Short review: Garouden

Initially, my intention was to go through all of the Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei volumes I have one after the other, but now I'm kind of hobbled and don't have the option to stand over the scanner. So, I'm going to comment on some new (to me) stories that I've found on Manga Fox. As always, the expectation is that if you like a manga, you should buy the paper copy to reward the artist. But, we all know the odds of that happening.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.
Image taken from Manga Fox.)

Garouden, story by Baku Yumemakura, art by Jiro Taniguchi. Grade: B+
Jiro is a very established manga artist, having debuted in 1970 with "A Desiccated Summer". The wiki entry lists close to 50 titles for him, none of which I recognize, though. He has a very strong, defined style in Garouden that is realistic and somewhat similar to that of Katsuhiro Otomo. Baku is an SF writer that has collaborated with Jiro a few times. Baku's wiki entry is very short, just mentioning one award-winning story, "The Lion that Ate the Crescent Moon".

Garouden is a very short story, only going two volumes, but it's very intense and violent. Bunshichi Tanba had once been a calm, normal young guy, but his friend, a karate student, gets into a street brawl with two yakuza, and the friend gets his throat cut. The thugs get ready to kill Tanba next, and he is forced to go full-out to save himself. The sensation of bone crunching under his fist gives him a thrill and he then sets out to be a dojo challenger - a wandering fighter that goes to different places and fights the strongest person there. He eventually comes up against Kajiwara, a wall of mass of a guy that is training to be a pro wrestler. Kajiwara's sole feature is in having a resilient body, but he can't bring himself to break joints. Tanba goes full out, but is eventually trapped in a stranglehold that causes him to pass out. This is the only time he's been defeated, and Tanba spends the next 6 years in making himself stronger for revenge, while Kajiwara climbs through the pro wrestling ranks.

The manga is then the story of Tanba trying to meet Kajiwara for a rematch, and culminates with the actual battle in Yamashita Park in Yokohama. The backgrounds are realistic, and the character designs are mostly consistent. There is a heavy emphasis on karate and wrestling moves, but most of the attacks look convincing. When someone is in pain, you can almost feel it. Still, it is a short series, and I would have liked to see what the long-term repercussions of the match would have been. If you like stuff like Tough, then you'll like Garouden Recommended.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sierpinski and Me

I brought the Sierpinski Pyramid to the Lunchtime English Lesson at the International Center one Friday, and one of the women there really liked it. These are 2 of the photos that she took with her cell phone and forwarded to me.

(The little disk to the right of the pyramid is the Gakken vacuum cleaning robot.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Da Rulez

Rule 1) When two objects try to occupy the same space at the same time, the one with the most metal wins.
Rule 2) Pain hurts.
Rule 3) Do not try to disprove either Rule 1 or 2.
Rule 4) When in doubt, refer to Rule 2.

Last Sunday, I was running across the street in the crosswalk before the Don't Walk sign lit up, when a woman driving a car thought that she had the turn light. She gunned her car to make the turn through my crosswalk. The result was the creation of the above 4 rules. I came out of it pretty well, with scrapes on my right knee and hand, and my left palm and big toe. I definitely went into shock for a minute or two, but there were several people standing at the corner, and they helped me out of the street. The driver also got out and asked whether she should call an ambulance or the police. No idea who actually made the call, but the ambulance showed up and took me to a hospital half a mile away. And there, I got the full medical treatment, with x-rays, sonograms and all. The diagnosis was that there were no internal injuries, but I broke one of the small bones in my left foot. So now I'm wearing a boot cast for the next month. The woman was waiting for me in the lobby to apologize, but she still thinks that she's the one that had the right of way (when in doubt, refer to Rule 1 above. I guess she's right. On the other hand, the witnesses verified my account and the police seem to have sided with them. Hopefully, they'll convince the driver's insurance company to pay for my bills.)

(This had been a perfectly good new shoe until I slide across the road in it.)

The boot cast is cool. They brought out a long silvery sheet and hacked through it with a pruning shears. The doctor removed a length of plaster cloth and molded it to my foot and calf. It solidified in a couple of minutes. Then he wrapped it to my leg with gauze. Very fast and efficient. The plaster cloth is packaged inside a gauze towel, so it's pretty comfortable to wear.

Monday, my toes had gone as purple as a grape. Tuesday, back to normal. The swelling and bruising on the back of my right hand has also recovered pretty much overnight. Still some stiffness and sensitivity in my wrist and palm, but much better than the day before, meaning I can use the crutches better now. Even the scrape on my left palm is healing faster than I'd expect. All this is lending itself to a false hope that I can put weight on the left foot. Then I refer to rule #2 above and stop being stupid again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sanji Poster Board

UFO Catcher machines aren't that common in Kagoshima, and I've been wishing that I could find a video arcade here. When I first came to Japan in '92, video arcades were very common, and I liked hanging out in the one a few blocks from my apartment. In '95, I was on contract with Hitachi in Kudamatsu, and one of the arcades within walking distance had Vampire Hunter machines that I liked to play. I was in a nostalgic mood a few weeks ago when I crossed Tram Street and visited a section of Tenmonkan I normally don't go to. There, I found a 5-floor arcade, with UFO Catchers at ground level, and mahjong machines at the top.

Some of the UFO Catchers had One Piece figurines, and in the stairwell was a life-size Sanji poster board advertising them.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

March edition of the "related articles in the media"

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

Generic New News

Daily Yomiuri

Shinkai engages intl anime fans

Remembering a manga pioneer (Junzo Ishiko)

Anime songs popular abroad

Indie anime opens doors for female creators

Samurai mangaka Ueki a legend at 90


'The Great Rabbit' wins Silver Bear at Berlin film festival

Original 'Tsuritama' anime series to premiere in April

Hello Kitty and Evangelion to team up

Kyoto hopes traditional houses will breed manga talent

Anime expo to feature over 30 live shows

Japan Media Arts Festival under way in Tokyo

JAM Project, Animetal USA unite for Japan tour

Kobe pins hopes on 9 cute girls

382 works throw hat in ring for Tokyo Anime Award

'Eureka Seven AO' to start in April

'Sing In My Own Way' to be honored at Tokyo Anime Awards

Exhibition to showcase work of 'AKIRA' creator

Gundam theme park to open in Odaiba in April

'Proto Anime Cut' exhibition visits Spain

Middle East Film and Comic Con to be held in April in Dubai

'Arrietty' becomes Ghibli's biggest hit in United States

'One Piece' thrives by staying loyal to manga principles

Madhouse producing 'Peanuts' animation

Evangelion store features Nagisa Kaworu, racing items

FTISLAND set to sing opening theme for Matsumoto's 'Ozuma'

Top manga talents contribute to collection themed on March 11

Anichara Style 2012 to hold live stage shows

Yokohama city to promote 'Precure' movie

Suginami Animation Museum presents Madhouse retrospective

'Library War' adaptation to hit theaters in early summer

izuki nabs 2nd straight Billboard Japan Music Award

Piece by piece, a full picture of ONE PIECE

Doraemon social networking game to debut in spring

Gundam Cafe scores red hot hit with spicy 'Char' curry

'Poppy Hill' picks up top prize at Tokyo Anime Awards

Anime series gets kids pumped on plastic modeling

Shibuya exhibition celebrates Gundam box art

May'n, KOTOKO to sing theme songs for 'Accel World'

World Beyblade championship to be streamed online

Kamishibai storytelling takes center stage at Tokyo museum


Dates for 3/26 to 4/1:

Birthdays (11):
Leonard Nimoy, 3/26/1931
John R. (coined word "transistor") Pierce, 3/27/1910
A. Bertram Chandler, 3/28/1912
Eric Idle, 3/29/1943
Jackie Vernon, 3/29/1924
Vincent van Gogh, 3/30/1853
Joseph Haydn, 3/31/1732
John ("The Crown Family Saga") Jakes, 3/31/1932
Gabe Kaplan, 3/31/1945
Lon Chaney Sr., 4/1/1883
Samuel R. Delany, 4/1/1942

Died (4):
Ludwig van Beethoven, 3/26/1827
M.C. Escher, 3/27/1972
Stanislaw Lem, 3/27/2006
Dudley Moore, 3/27/2002

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Duel Masters Card

One of the lesser-known benefits of living in Japan is that occasionally some boy that likes collecting TCG game cards will either lose or throw surplus cards away on the ground. This one was the best of the five cards I found lying on a side street one afternoon.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Salt Shrine

As mentioned in an earlier post, many shops and offices will put little trays of salt outside their doors to "purify" the grounds.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Short Review: Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei, vol. 22

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

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, vol 22. By Kouji Kumeta.
I pretty much wrote what I want to about Zetsubo last week (which is going to make the next 4 blog entries something of a challenge). I should add, I guess, that each character in the series is named based on a specific characteristic. The one above is Meru Otonashi (i.e. - Soundless E-mail), and she is addicted to cellphone text messaging. (Last week's was Kaere Kimura, a returnee that may have spent time in Russia. Her first name means "Return". She suffers from identity disorder, and waffles between loving and hating both sides of her cultural identity.)

(Book title: Ningen Shikkaku. This is a famous novel, marketed in English as "No Longer Human".)

(Back under cover. Ai Kaga, again. We last saw her in the previous week being influenced by a pair of sagging boots.)

(Part 2 of the funeral project.)

One of the chapters this time has two of the school girls moonlighting as idol singers parodying AKB48. The gag in the story is that everyone is chained by other people's expectations, or by their own weaknesses. The last page is an advertisement to buy "AKaBaNe84" goods. This is also a pretty good satire on the products offered by @Home, one of the maid cafe chains in Akihabara.

A little background on the joke, for those of you interested and unfamiliar with it now. According to most sources, the current station stop on the Japan Rail system was originally a bit of undeveloped land called by the locals "akibahara" - "field of autumn leaves". Over time, though, people began mis-pronouncing it as "akihabara". The Japanese also like shortening words, and by convention, kind of moved it back to the original word as "Akiba". Using the hiragana characters, this is pronounced "a-ki-ba", and if you take the first letter of each character in romaji, you get "AKB". A TV writer and lyricist, Yasushi Akimoto, came up with the idea of using 48 female stage performers in a small theater in Akihabara to give musical performances in a setting where the fans can meet the idols. AKB48 has gotten insanely popular since then, and rabid fans will buy anything with their pictures on it (hence the joke about being "chained" to other people's expectations). (Yasushi has created 5 other "48" groups as well, based in Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka and Jakarta in Indonesia.) "Akabane" is just another way that older people refer to "Akibahara".Link

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

After the storm

One day, there was a heavy rain in the morning, which tapered off during the afternoon. I had to go to a conversation school to teach a lesson at 2 PM, and the western half of the sky had pretty much been blown clear by the strong winds, while the eastern half was still pretty dark. When I got to the school, I could see part of Sakura-jima, and the top of the mountain was lost in the clouds. The open plaza here in front of City Hall is just half a block from the school, so I walked over to take these pictures. I really wanted to go to the end of the plaza to get a better shot, but my lesson was going to start in 5 minutes and I didn't have the choice.

The lessons ended at 4 PM, and I immediately returned to the plaza to take more photos, and of course the sky had cleared further to the point of destroying the shot.

From Dolphin Port. The top of the mountain is still lost in the clouds.

I love watching the air current patterns as they impact the south slope.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coffee Innovate

New coffee shop that opened close to the Kenmin Kaikan, a few blocks northwest of the Tenmonkan shopping complex. The tea room is in a separate space next door. Very Retro artwork. Both rooms are typical open-spaces with a couple metal chairs at the bar, a couch and some stuffed chairs. Comfortable but not interesting enough to photograph. The signs are the best part.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pachinko - Promo

One of the pachinko arcades near the Tenmonkan shopping complex is promoting its new machines.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Commentary: Weekly Manga Times

Back in December, I commented on Manga Times Special. Well, a week ago I was going through one of the convenience stores, looking for the magazines that "conbini" generally carry, and I found Weekly Manga Times, the sister title to Special. It's getting harder to find magazines I want to review, in part because I've done them already. My main consideration is finding ones with freebies that I want to collect, and only a few magazines actually have any. Those that do tend to have the same kinds of things - figures, pens or clear files, and I don't really need another clear file. A secondary factor is cost - the remaining monthly magazines are between 600 and 900 yen ($7.50 and $11 USD) an issue. If there's absolutely nothing in a specific issue I want to read, it feels like a waste of money to get it just to write up a comment. So, I've been going to the various conbini (7-11, Sankus, Cocos, Family Mart) every couple of days to see if there's something cheaper that I've missed up until now. A third consideration is "time and place". Each magazine comes out on a fixed day, like every Monday, or every second and fourth Thursday. Then, there are those mags that everyone has, like Shonen Jump and Shonen Sunday, versus those that can only be found in a conbini, or only in the big stores like Kinokuniya and Maruzen. As mentioned before, there's a good 60-70 mags aimed at just young and adult males, so there's a lot I haven't covered yet, but because of time and place, some of them aren't on the shelves when I'm at Kinokuniya looking to buy one. It's becoming something of a catch-as-catch-can.

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

Weekly Manga Times, every Friday. 300 yen, 260 pages.
According to the wiki article, Times first started in 1956, making it one of the longest-running, if not THE longest-running weekly manga magazine (Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magazine both started in 1959, and are much more popular now). There is a long list of titles that had previously appeared in Times, but there's nothing I recognize just from the title. And in the current issue, there's no story or artist I recognize, either.

(Kowashiya Gen (Roughly translates to "Dissectionist Gen").)

I'd say Times is aimed at older office workers (i.e - salarymen). Genres include fishing, Edo-era drama, salaryman slice-of-life, hospital drama and cooking. The cover story, Tsuki yaaranu is just starting up in this issue, as an Edo-era court drama. The artwork is not bad, but there is a very explicit sex scene where the main character enters the court and seduces one of the higher-ranking women in the family. None of the other stories this time are all that sex-oriented, or particularly violent.

(Tsuribune Misaki Maru ("Fishingboat Misaki").)

Some of the stories are a bit unusual, as compared to what shows up in other magazines. One is set on an open sea fishing boat, another on an ostrich farm, and a third in a train station coin locker room - Coin Locker Monogatari. (There's Barista, about a bartender/coffee vendor, and Nichiyobi wa, neko gohan (Sunday is Cat's Meal), about a couple and their furrball cat.) On the whole, the artwork is about average with nothing really standing out. The stories are fairly sedate, with a soap-opera feel. If I had to pick something that I liked, it would have to be neko gohan, for it's mild What's Michael? appeal.

(Nichi-yobi wa, Neko Gohan)

Bottom line, though, is that Weekly Manga Times isn't going to appeal to the casual western fan. Probably best worth avoiding.

(Coin Locker Monogatari)


Dates for 3/19 to 3/26:

Birthdays (16):
Richard Francis Burton, 3/19/1821
Moms Mabley, 3/19/1894
Pamela ("Earthseed") Sargent, 3/20/1948
Johann Sebastian Bach, 3/21/1685
Werner Klemperer, 3/22/1920
Ross Martin, 3/22/1920
Chico Marx, 3/22/1887
William Shattner, 3/22/1931
Marty (comedian) Allen, 3/23/1922
Akira (Film director) Kurosawa, 3/23/1910
H. Beam ("Paratime") Piper, 3/23/1904
Louie Anderson, 3/24/1953
Robert Carradine, 3/24/1954
Harry Houdini, 3/24/1874
Richard O'Brien, 3/25/1942
Leonard Nimoy, 3/26/1931

Died (7):
Edgar Rice Burroughs, 3/19/1950
Arthur C. Clark, 3/19/2008
Isaac Newton, 3/20/1727
Peter Lorre, 3/23/1964
Elizabeth Taylor, 3/23/2011
Jules Verne, 3/24/1905
Ludwig van Beethoven, 3/26/1827

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Edo Stamps

Ok, kind of a mini-small adventure. I had to go to the main post office near the Tenmonkan shopping complex, and they had a display set up in one corner showing all of the postage stamp designs that were still available for sale, including the new Dragonball Kai stamps. The post office at the Chuo train station didn't have the display, instead relying on a big notebook of the stamps. The Chuo office had a slightly different selection of stamp designs still in stock. So the thought occurred to me that maybe some of the other smaller post offices shown on google maps might still have some rarer anime-heroes stamps. So I set out to look for the office near Tecc.Land, where I get toilet paper, tissues and paper towels. The office is in a weird little location surrounded by houses off the main street, and no signs pointing to it. It's a small office, the size of a one-bedroom apartment, and there's no display of the stamps. I asked one clerk if they had the older stamps in stock, and he just pulled out a handful of sheets from a rolling filing cabinet, saying "here's what we've got". I stated that I only wanted the anime heroes line, but all they had was the Dragonball Kai sheet. The clerk was so intent on showing me all of the stamps that I broke down and got this tribute to Edo-era artwork. 800 yen for the sheet of 10 stamps.

Friday, March 16, 2012

DNA Stamps 3

A few years ago, when Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magazine were celebrating their joint 50th anniversaries, the post office issued a pair of stamp sets, with one sheet each dedicated to the top titles for each magazine. A little later, there was a third sheet issued, which I'd decided to not buy at the time. However, one remote post office in Kagoshima still has sheets of all three sets, so I decided to get #3 after all.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Short Review: Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei, vol. 21

Looks like mediafire is down again. Sorry about that.

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

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, vol 21. By Kouji Kumeta.
I wrote about Zetsubo a few weeks ago, at the time mentioning the scans on Manga Fox. As I was going through those chapters, I found a couple scanned pages of papercraft projects. Since I like building things, I specifically printed out the ones I could locate, and immediately put them together. The drawback, though, was that one of the pages was just one part of a larger collection, and Manga Fox didn't have the rest of the pages for it. So I went over to Book-Off, and checked the Omake (extras) pages of every volume they had. Starting around vol. 19, the papercraft stuff began showing up, including Urapen and Komori-chan. Next was a DVD case to make for the anime series, followed up a pop-up Christmas card. I'm holding off on buying these latter two for later. Then, in volume 21, I located the first part of the big project - the funeral display for Nozomu. It continues up to volume 27 (the latest book to come out), with one piece at a time. This must have been frustrating for those readers buying the books in real-time.

One of the things about Zetsubo (lit. "despair"), is that there's a lot of "reader service", in both senses of the words. First, there are pictures of scantily clad characters (both for the male and female fans), making it kind of difficult to find artwork that I can comfortably include here for the reviews. Second, though, is that there are games and the papercraft to play with. A couple of pages I may run later are of a "despair K1 contest" (where the characters swing in directions away from their opponents), and a "build-it-yourself" face of one of the students. These games are included as part of the regular chapters, rather than as Omake at the back of the books.

Of the volumes I picked up (21 to 27), there are some consistencies, and some variations. Each book has one character on the cover, and on the back a different character is thoughtfully posed examining something (for this volume, it's a magazine titled "norimono" (vehicles)). Vol. 21 is different in that it has this really well-designed color plate page.

Each book also has jokes printed on the undercovers. The front undercover is usually a play on "do not open". The above back under cover has one of the students being unduly influenced by the outside world into bowing to people. As for the rest of the book - well, each chapter consists of some kind of parody of Japanese modern life, with lots of pop culture references. Most of them are on Manga Fox, so there's not much point in summarizing them here. Let's just say that it's really hard for me to catch all of the jokes in Japanese, and that it's becoming something of a learning experience for me. You can see the quality of the art here, which I consider to be very clean and highly polished. Fun stuff. Recommended if you're not easily offended, and of the appropriate age of maturity for your country

(Part 1 of the funeral project.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Goo Bike

No, this is not a sign advertising motorcycles made of goo. It's actually an abbreviation of the word "good" (or, "go-do" in romaji). It's common for people to drop the "do" part and just say "goo", as in "goo job".

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fire Truck

It's a truck. Seen sitting outside my apartment for no particular reason, unmanned. Maybe the occupants were at home, drinking tea and eating senbei.

Monday, March 12, 2012

1 Year after the Quake

As was somewhat reported in the western news media, March 11 was the 1st anniversary of the northeast Japan earthquake and tsunami that wiped out Miyagi and damaged the Fukushima reactors (leading to meltdowns, hydrogen explosions and radioactive release into the air and water). A couple groups organized events to correspond to the anniversary. One was an anti-nuke protest that was to have a parade marching down tram street from the Kagoshima-chuo station to Izuro Dori and back. It also included a small collection of temporary stalls set up next to the main bus terminal, selling organic foods and clothing. One end of the plaza had a stage for a protest demonstration. The turnout was light, maybe about 100 people, in part because very strong winds were whipping up volcano ash from the ground and getting it in people's eyes.

(One of the banners in the protest area. The images on the banners didn't seem to have much of a cohesive theme to them.)

Another group consisted mainly of volunteers trying to collect more money for restoration of Miyagi Prefecture and to help those children orphaned by the disaster. The third was put on by the Amusement Plaza shopping center as "Pass the Genki Baton" (genki = energetic, or cheerful). This last one had a stage show and interactive audience interviews, as well as some performances.

(Some of the nuclear plant protesters.)

Kagoshima is pretty removed from the areas most affected by the tsunami and reactor meltdown, so mostly the reaction is one of distant sadness, and the apprehension that something similar could happen on Kyushu. People have been good about making donations, though.

I didn't stick around to see the protest parade because I was on my way to a cultural event at the San-El building a kilometer away. However, during the conversation at San-El, there was an announcement over the PA that every one in the building should observe a minute of silence at 2:46 PM (the time the quake hit exactly one year earlier). Beyond that, people in the group didn't talk about the disaster at all.

As time goes by, there have slowly been reports released showing just how culpable the government and TEPCO (the company running the plants) are. At neighborhood meetings in previous years, the nuclear agencies had planted employees in the audiences to ask pro-nuke questions to the "experts". TEPCO had repeatedly ignored the need to upgrade facilities or do needed preventative maintenance. People at the plant didn't have sufficient training and ignored instructions given in the Accident Manual (one critical mistake was to leave the loading doors open at reactors undergoing maintenance in order to haul equipment in and out. These doors were supposed to be closed in the event of an earthquake, so when the tsunami hit, the water entered the buildings through the biggest doors and flooded the basements where the DC batteries and generators were stored.) It's pretty clear now that meltdown occurred in Unit 1 three to four hours after the earthquake, and the water level of the reactor dropped enough to expose the fuel rods. Steam reacting with the zirconium in the control rods produced hydrogen, and when the reactor was vented to cool the fuel rods, the hydrogen may have been released to build up in the roof of the building to the point where it self-combusted. Yet, up to a full month later, the government was still claiming that there was no meltdown. As these reports slowly make their way to the news (and the media are afraid of angering the government so are sitting on these reports), the public equally slowly loses its trust with everyone all around. Hence the occasional anti-nuke plant protests.

(Booth for "Pass the Genki Baton".)

(Main Plaza entertainment stage.)

(More pleas for donations.)