Monday, August 31, 2009

Takao Bridge

I haven't been making as many long bike rides as I'd like lately, in part because of various conflicts, and in part because I'm still trying to overcome the bruised areas in my right palm and ribs on my right side (although most of that has finally gotten better now). So, a few days ago I decided to take a stab at it and rode back out to Takao. Another reason for going to Takao is that now that I have an odometer on my bike, I wanted to know the distance I was covering on these rides.

To make the ride more interesting, I chose to try visiting an old historic checkpoint a few miles on the other side of the Takao train station. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn somewhere and found myself riding along some side roads up into the hills. Which was fine by me because I happened on a trailhead for a hiking trail that I wouldn't have known about otherwise, located next to the entrance to a convalescent home.

Also in the area was a major construction project. Getting closer, I realized that there's a new expressway bridge going up (recession? what recession?) The thing that blew me away was the amount of scaffolding around the lead pillar. It's like a giant complex for taking over the world was forming out in the hills. I wonder if they're accepting job applications...

I'll have to go back out to Takao to try to find the checkpoint again. And I never did get the distance for the ride - the odometer only recorded 1.75 hours of what had been a 3.5 hour ride. It's like half the ride had been erased, but I can't be completely sure if it was just exactly half.

(Opposite side of the bridge work.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fujiko F Fujio

As can be easily discovered if you read the wikipedia entry, Hiroshi Fujimoto and Abiko Motoh formed a partnership around the 1950's under the shared pen name of Fujio Fujiko (not to be confused with "Tensai Bakabon's" Fujio Akatsuka). Together, they produced a number of manga, joined Tezuka's Tokiwa-so collective, and co-founded Studio Zero (which later did include Fujio Akatsuka). As manga artists, they had lost their popularity in part because of an incident during which they started missing all of their deadlines. They returned in 1964 with "Obake Q-tarou", and followed that with "Ninja Hattori-Kun", "Perman" and "21-Emon" (a few of which titles were included in the Shonen Sunday-Shonen Magajin DNA exhibit).

Fujimoto started "Doraemon" in 1970, and the two of them drifted along separate paths. They dissolved the partnership in 1988, but kept the pen name, with Fujimoto writing as Fujio F Fujiko, and Abiko writing as Fujio A Fujiko. Fujimoto also created "Esper Mami" and "Chimpui", while Abiko developed "Smiling Salesman" and "Parasol Henbei". Fujimoto died in 1996 at the age of 62. Abiko is still alive. Both artists received special merit awards from the Tokyo Anime Fair (Fujimoto in 2005, Abiko in 2009).

Lawson convenience store decided to run a "Fujiko F Fujio" character goods catalog from July 15 to Aug. 31. Along with featuring lots of Doraemon dolls, toys, and branded items for sale, the catalog also had a write up on the artist, and a timeline for his various manga and anime releases. You can see part of the timeline at the bottom of the second page.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fujio Akatsuka Exhibit

As mentioned in the previous post, I visited two exhibits on Thursday. This was the second one.

Fujio Akatsuka started out working in a chemical factory, while dabbling as a manga artist. He was accepted to work at Tezuka's Tokiwa-so collective, then later struck out on his own. Originally, he was a shojo artist, but his title "Nama-chan" became a hit in 1958, so he switched to boy's gag stories. His influences included Mad magazine and Buster Keaton. His "Osomatsu-kun" won the Shogaku-kan Manga Award in 1964. Two of the phrases he coined went on to enter the general Japanese lexicon, including "kore de ii noda" ("this is all right", and is the URL for his official website) and "shee!" (pronounced "shay", an interjection of astonishment, accompanied by a specific pose). He died in 2008 from pneumonia, at age 72.

"Osomatsu-kun" was one of the manga included in the Shonen Sunday-Shonen Magajin DNA exhibit. "Tensai Bakabon" is probably one of his most well-known popular works, and can be found on youtube. "Himitsu no Akko-chan" was a pioneering magical girl manga, with the young Akko being able to use a special compact to turn into anything she wants. "Akko-chan" was the first popular magical girl manga, but "Mahoutsukai Sunny" (which started running a couple of years later) was the first to be turned into a TV anime, making "Akko" the second magical girl anime to appear on TV.

The exhibit is in the Matsuya Ginza department store, a short walk from the JR Yurakucho station on the Yamanote line. It's placed in a chain of short rooms that snake around one end of the store. The rooms progress through Fujio's works chronologically, and include a fair amount of personal information and family photos. There are a lot of pages from the various manga, showing entire story lines, and some copies of the original manga in glass cases. At one point, instead of sheets of original artwork on the walls, the gallery printed the manga on white hanging banners, one page per banner. There are fun house mirrors at certain points, and next to a key set of panels where the father from "Tensai Bakabon" decides to kill himself and the manga fades off into a series of panels with "nashi" (nothing) written on them, a corner booth that would otherwise be holding a mirror is turned into a plain corridor with "nashi" written on a piece of paper on the floor.

It's obvious that the exhibit director was having fun here. Fujio himself was a king of the cornball gag, and he'd often dress up as the father from Tensai Bakabon (he looked just like that character), or do other silly stuff. One photo had him dragging a giant 3' tall geta (wooden Japanese sandal) on a leash, another had him doing a Milton Berle imitation, dressed up as various middle-aged women. And so on. And the exhibit director got into the act, from the mirrors and cloth banners, to a theater showing the TV anime, and a hallway lined with wooden cutouts of the various manga characters. Another wall consisted of nothing but photos of various TV celebrities doing the "Shee!" pose, interspersed with tribute drawings from many manga artists of their own characters doing the same pose (including Son Goku from Toriyama's "Dragon Ball", Michael from "What's Michael", Kindaichi from "Kindaichi's Case Files", and Monkey Punch's "Lupin III"). A speaker above the wall played "Shee!" on a 60-second loop.

At 2 PM on a Thursday afternoon, the exhibit was packed and people were definitely getting their 1000 yen's worth ($10 admission). It took close to an hour to go through the entire thing (not including the stop to watch the TV anime), and then there was the huge gift shop set up at the end with people lining up to buy a few hundred dollars worth of t-shirts, books, DVDs, snack crackers and toys, each.

Compared to the Amano exhibit, Fujio's won hands-down. Highly recommended. Runs until Sept. 7. Other activities also taking place, so check out the above flier.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Amano Galaxy Exhibit

A couple of days ago, I listed the art exhibits that I knew about that are running in Japan right now. On Thursday, I attended 2 more of them (having already seen the 30 years of mecha drawings, and the Shonen Sunday-Shonen Magajin shows). Then, on Friday, one more exhibit was listed in the Japan Times - Kazuo Umezu x Contemporary Ukiyo-e. This last one is at GAoh! in Shimo-Kitazawa, near my apartment. Umezz is well-known for his horror manga, and "The Drifting Classroom" has been translated in the U.S. No idea how Umezz and Ukiyo-e fit together, but it's probably not going to be a pretty thing. ;-)

Anyway, I'll write up the Amano event here, because it's the one with the shortest run time. Yoshitaka Amano is probably best known in the U.S. as the character designer for the Final Fantasy games, but he's also done character work for Time Bokan, Gatchaman and Vampire Hunter D. He's definitely getting the star artist treatment - some of his signed works were on display in a kind of art gallery setting at the UDX building a few months back, and some of his other stuff was shown at the 101Tokyo art design event (also at the UDX).

The last big show at the UDX was called "Amano Cosmos". The new one at the Omotesando Hills shopping space near Harajuku is "Amano Galaxy". It's not really one of the better shows and "microcosm" might have been a better name for it.

It's almost like Amano's losing his touch. It was a big, flashy show, with formal, well-behaved security staff everywhere, headsets for listening to the commentary about the works, and a kind of movie theater storefront. Inside, the space was set up in one large room with a circular room in the middle, about 30 feet in diameter. The walls of the larger square room were lined with about 30 pieces, mostly automobile paint on steel, which seems to be his medium of choice these days. A few of the bigger pieces were fantasy-based and very conceptual, but not all that attractive. The smaller ones were portraits of the Time Bokan villainess, the Gatchaman hero, and a nameless second guy with a square chin and lots of muscles. You can see most of the artwork in the spinning gallery on Amano's webpage.

Most of his female characters have developed huge eyes and baby-like faces that make them look blobby and unattractive. One of the unnamed hero portraits ("Hero 2") looks very aggressive and battle-ready, but a second portrait of the same character looks like his botox shots turned bad.

Inside the circular room, there's a single painting on a piece of canvas about 10 feet high and maybe 40 feet long. It's a huge mural that's just covered with characters, fantasy beings, and plant-life. It's a very busy piece, and not all of the acrylic paint fills in all the lines. It looks great from a distance, but when you get close it seems kind of rushed.

(From the TV screen next to the gift shop_

Outside, the exhibit shop offers post cards, cell phone strap charms, gallery art books and the like. Some of the items are fairly pricey and might increase in collector's value over time. There were 3 people walking around in the exhibit area, and another 5 or so at the shop. A fairly light attendance, although it was 1 PM on a Thursday.

Overall, unless you're a really hardcore Amano fan, or looking to drop a few thousand dollars on one of his works, this exhibit isn't really worth the 1000 yen ($10) entrance fee. You're better off just going to the shop and buying one of his art books for 2000-3000 yen. Or, grab some of the pics off his website. The show runs until Aug. 31.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Coffee Jellies

I was wandering around Akihabara a few weeks ago, as it occasionally happens, and I happened by this one vending machine that had some canned drinks that I hadn't seen before. Including a "coffee shake" and a "milk coffee jelly". These are both drinks that have gelatin in them. The instructions are to shake well before opening. If you fail to do this, you better have a straw because that jelly isn't coming out on its own.

(Coffee shake on the left, milk coffee jelly on the right.)

It is a strange sensation, drinking chunky coffee that was intended to be chunky from the start. The milk coffee jelly was rather bitter and the coffee flavor was thin. But the coffee shake was sweeter and had more coffee and cream added. I'm not going out of my way to buy more of these, not at 120 yen ($1.20) for a small can, but they are fun to try every so often.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keitai Battle Game

I'm not exactly sure how to read the name here. It looks something like "ke-tai kokudoori kassen", or "cell phone country steal battle". It's apparently a cell phone game, that had been advertised by its maker at a makeshift stall set up on the second floor of the Akihabara JR train station (after 1 week, the stall was taken down. Most stalls only last 1-2 days in this station.)

The artwork's really cute, but no one seems to have wanted to stop at the stall to try the game out.

Another photo pose board.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monster Hunter 3

Monster Hunter 3 came out in Japan on Aug. 1. Lots of people waited outside Yodobashi Camera, across the street from the Akihabara train station, to get inside and buy a copy. Almost all of them were playing games on their PSPs to kill time.

Down the hallway and around the corner, a booth was set up for the press announcement. The booth consisted of a spokesman standing next to a TV screen. Whatever the spokesman was saying was drowned out by the crowd noises, and the TV was just showing game credits when I walked by. The press just ate it up.

Just another typical 9 AM in Akihabara.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Current manga and anime-related art exhibits in Japan

Lately, the media has started picking up again on the galleries and museums that are hosting manga and anime-related exhibits. I've already mentioned the two that I went to (Gundam and DNA), but two more were printed up in the Japan Times last week. Below are the ones that are running right now in Japan. 4 are in the Tokyo area, one is in Kyoto and one in Osaka.

Shonen Sunday/Shonen Magazine DNA
Until Sept. 13

30 years of Gundam Mecha
Hachioji, Tokyo
Until Sept. 6

Yoshitaka Amano: Amano Galaxy
Omotesando Hills, Space O, Floor BF3
This is a collection of artwork from Amano, character designer for the Final Fantasy games, and Vampire Hunter D, among other things. Check out his website for some great art.
Harajuku, Tokyo
Aug. 26-31

Fujio Akatsuka Exhibit
"Tsuito Akatsuka Fujio Ten: Gyagu De Kakenuketa Nanaju-ninen"
("In Memory of the late Fujio Akatsuka: 72 years Spent Cracking Jokes")
Fujio was one half of a manga duo that helped establish the popularity of later children's comics. His primary solo work was "Tensai Bakabon" (The perfect idiot). He died in 2008, and this exhibit is a tribute to his works.
Ginza, Tokyo
Aug. 26 to Sept. 7

Yokai Paradise Nippon
Kyoto International Manga Museum
Pictures and stories regarding Japan's occult and the supernatural.
Until Aug. 31

Studio Ghibli Layout Designs
Suntory Museum Tempozan
The original layout drawings created for such movies as Ponyo, Nausicaa and Totoro.
Until Oct. 12

And, while I'm at it, I might as well mention that the Suginami Animation Museum, just west of Shinjuku near the Ogikubo station on the Chuu-ou line, has announced their next feature anime series - "Minky Momo".

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Tokyo summers are notoriously hot and muggy, but not so much this year. So far, the skies have generally been cloudy and the heat not so bad. But, a few days ago, the weather cleared up and it actually started to feel like summer again.

Apparently, one of the electronics parts shops in Akihabara felt it was time to help its customers out by setting out a block of ice on the street. The sign says "it's ok to touch the ice".

This picture was printed in the Japan Times newspaper in the reader submission section, Aug. 21, 2009.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Itasha in the Flesh

Back some months ago, there was an article in the Japan Times on Itasha - sports cars decorated with big decals or spray painted artwork of female characters from various anime or video games. The article stated that these cars could be commonly found in Akihabara, but in the months following the story, I only saw one such car passing through Akiba, and that was it. However, there was the Macross event at the UDX where one of the highlights was a van being decorated with Macross characters. Anyway, I wouldn't say that Itasha are all that common here.

Then, on Sunday, when I was wandering around on my break, I saw this car. Not exactly a sports car, and not exactly covered in high-quality decals, but at least one of the girls is a character from the Lucky Star anime series.

The following Monday, I went in early to Akihabara (9 AM) to meet up with a friend. As I was walking along Chuu-ou Dori, I found a real Itasha.

I like the way part of the red background art gets included on the windshield wiper. The vampire is really cute, too.

Just as a follow-up comment, in the 5 days since I saw the second itasha, I saw another 3 cars with video game girl character decals on them. Again, not exactly itasha, because the cars weren't very expensive and the decals were boring, but they are starting to become a little more visible at the moment.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Adventure Japan

(Click image to go to AJ website)

I recently visited the Tokyo Anime Center, and found a new tourist brochure at the information counter. This one is called "Adventure Japan" and was only up to volume 4. The cover story was on the traditional performing art of Bunraku, or puppet performance. 21 pages of color photos on the performers in Osaka, plus descriptive text in Japanese, English, Chinese, French and Sanskrit.

Other stories, generally 2 pages or less, cover hiking the Kanda area in Tokyo, a husband-wife team that make commercially-licensed garage kit figures, the Tokyo Anime Center, Suginami Animation Museum, the Kotobuki-ya souvenir shop in Akihabara, the 2010 Tokyo International Anime Fair, Qoo-an (an Osaka company that sells kits teaching you how to make ultra-small satellites), and a piece on buying rice cookers at SofMap in Akihabara. There are ads for various expensive hotels, an ad for Hal Yamashita's onigiri (rice ball) shop, and for the Japan Pop Culture Festival in the Osaka Kansai International Airport (Sept. 26-27).

The website only had issue 3 online (issue 4 "coming soon"), but all of the articles are available in the same languages as in the print copy.

The garage kit models are really well-made.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: Japan Sinks

Back a few months ago when I had a chance to meet gag manga artist Tori Miki, I asked him who his favorite authors are. Tori Miki is a big science fiction fan, and one of his short-gag (4-5 pages each) book collections (SF Taishou) was a parody of over 20 SF movies and western novels (Rose for Algernon, Time Machine, etc.) He replied that he really likes Sakyo Komatsu. The people with me at the event all recognized the name, but I didn't. So, I requested a copy of one or two of Komatsu's books, and one of them arrived at the apartment 2 weeks ago. After finishing the Murakami books, I started on Komatsu.

(From Used for review purposes only.)

Sakyo Komatsu began writing SF in the 1960's, and he has at least 8 novels, over 50 short stories, a manga and several TV programs to his credit (according to the Japanese wikipedia entry). Several of his stories have been turned into movies. But, very little has been published in English in the U.S., being limited to "Japan Sinks" and "Bye Bye, Jupiter" (AKA: "Sayonara, Jupiter"), and the "Savage Mouth" short story (included in an anthology). He's been called the king of Japanese SF, has acted as a technical consultant on a live concert in Austria by Isao Tomita, and was co-guest of honor at the 2007 World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama.

As with most things related to Japanese entertainment, Komatsu is very well-known in Japan and virtually unheard of outside. My copy of "Japan Sinks" was published in Japan in 1973, and in the U.S. in 1976. I started reading SF in 1977, and during all that time up to when I switched to manga in 1992, I'd never come across his name. Most of the SF I saw on the shelves was from the U.S. or England, and what little got translated from other languages came from Russia or the Czech Republic. Back then, no one I knew took Japan seriously for anything other than period romances and zen/martial arts-oriented fantasy. Which is a shame.

"Japan Sinks" is a straight disaster story, and the science fictional elements come strictly from the speculation that plate tectonics around the Japan Trench off the eastern Japanese coast could shift in such a way as to cause all of the islands of Japan to submerge. The science concerns itself with oceanography, the order that the dormant mountains would erupt, and the recording equipment used to monitor the disaster. The most speculative element is a "holographic" display - a clear block of plastic with magnetic particles that can be used as a 3D view of the Japanese topology.

All of the technology in the story is dated. One of the main characters uses a "portable phone" consisting of a handset attached to a suitcase-sized transmitter. To record the eruption simulations, 6 VCRs are placed in front of the holographic display and they "click" as their shutters operate (did VCR cameras ever have shutters?) The data from the analysis simulations is all on paper printouts that need to be hand-delivered to various recipients, and one big block of data is lost when some spies steal the stack of printouts. But, most of the drama in the story would have been lost if the technology was much more advanced, since the problems all revolve around the lack of communications to the outside world.

The story begins with Toshio Onodera, an operator of a mini research sub, coming into Tokyo station and casually observing a crack in the wall next to a water fountain. Onodera is tasked with helping discover why an obscure, unnamed island some hundreds of miles south had sunk 50 feet below the surface of the ocean over the course of 2 days. He's joined by various research specialists, including Professors Yukinaga and Tadokoro, Nakata and a few others. The book then follows this group as they learn that the ocean floor is behaving strangely, up through the point that the Prime Minister needs to decide how to evacuate 110 million people within 1 year (and where to put them all), to the final inevitable conclusion. Along the way, Onodera meets two women (one that is being proposed for an arranged marriage and the other a hostess from a bar in Ginza) that he occasionally runs into again later through twists of fate. While there are some soap opera elements, the plot sticks primarily to order that the mountains blow and the earthquakes hit specific cities.

With a title like "Japan Sinks", you know the ending before you even buy the book. Komatsu likes to jump around with his narrative, hopping from Onodera to Yukinaga, to the Prime Minister, to Tadokoro and back. Most of the action is divided up between some offices in Tokyo, some visits to Osaka, and lots of exploring of the southern islands underwater. The book does provide a map of the Japanese islands, but Komatsu expects his audience to already be familiar with the streets and districts of Tokyo and Osaka (you have to get your own maps for those places).

There are some loose ends, with a few key plot elements left unexplained, such as who the power broker funding the scientific research behind the scenes really is. But the main weakness to the story is in Michael Gallagher's translation. Granted, it's hard to go from Japanese to English, since there's a lot of repetition in Japanese, but in the first two pages of the book, when describing how hot and muggy Tokyo is in the summer, Gallagher uses the word sweat 5 times (sweat drenched, dripping with sweat, etc.) And I guess that editors in the 1970's wouldn't catch this at the time, but spelling it "softwear" today is kind of a glaring, silly error. Gallagher doesn't know his oceanography, so his descriptions of the research, equipment and underwater activity comes off as wooden and overly wordy.

Ignoring the problems, though, "Japan Sinks" is a fascinating look at the dangers facing a country situated directly on the Ring of Fire, and some of the descriptions of earthquake damage presaged the Kyoto quake of 1995. Because Komatsu's editor pushed him to get the details right, the book took 9 years to finish, and it shows in the way the governmental leaders behave when faced with the idea of having to move 110 million people in less than a year, to countries that still remember Japan as an aggressor in WWII.

What's really interesting is comparing Komatsu's disaster story to that of modern western film makers. From Hollywood, if an asteroid strikes, there goes New York. Tidal wave? - there goes New York. Lava? - bye bye L.A. From Japan - the entire country has to face monster earthquakes, volcanoes and typhoons. The only thing missing here is the monsters.

I also want to mention something else that caught my attention. In the real-world English newspapers in Japan lately, there's been an ongoing complaint by western foreigners (primarily from the U.S. and Australia) that they've been running into Japanese natives that don't believe that foreigners can fully understand elements of Japanese culture, such as Noh theater or kabuki, because those foreigners didn't grow up in Japan and therefore don't understand the "Japanese heart". The foreigners are upset with this assumption because they've lived here "x number of years" and do so understand this culture, yadda yadda. In "Japan Sinks", Komatsu gets into precisely this argument, asking what's going to happen to the Japanese people, to the "Japanese heart" and what it means "to be Japanese". There's an inbred belief that being "an island nation", with a long history of traditions has led to this "Japanese heart" that no outsider will ever completely understand. 30 years later, the Japanese people still believe this. Komatsu's view here may be one reason why most of his works can't easily find a western audience.

Note that in 2006, a parody film was made entitled "Everything but Japan sinks".

Summary: "Japan Sinks" is a straight disaster story with little in the way of SF elements. It's dated, but is worth reading to gain what little exposure is available in the U.S. to one of Japan's best-known SF writers.

Next up, "Sayonara, Jupiter".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gakken Kits: #18 and #20

I'd been holding off on buying more of the Otona no Kagaku (Adult Science) kits for the last couple of months in order to recover from all the spending I'd done on the synth kit and keyboard. I'd also been keeping myself busy with the microprocessor and synth kits so I hadn't needed to get any of the other kits until now. But, the time has come to start back up again. I'm not going to bother with the out-of-print kits because collectors have jacked the prices up so high on them. What's left are kits 18, 20, 22 and 23. And maybe the speaker.

Kit 20: Bird Organ, 2500 yen (about $25 USD). Looking at the picture on the cover, it's easy to think that this is some kind of mechanical music box. It's not. Like the name implies, this is actually a very small pipe organ. The mechanism is very clever, and is based on a French design dating back to at least 1751. The original box used a hand crank to drive a bellows for air flow, while rotating a wooden cylinder covered with little brass pins, The pins would open up stops on the pipes and air from the bellows through the pipes would produce your music. Change the cylinder to play a different song. This is pretty much the concept of the instrument played by organ grinders for trained monkeys to dance to.

The Gakken kit is a simpler approach. First, start with the hand crank, and set up two separate gear chains - one to pull a sheet of paper through the organ, the other connected to a cam. The cam makes a small piston move up and down, creating the air flow through a chamber to the openings in the base leading to the pipes (thus ensuring even air pressure to all pipes). Holes in the paper allow air flow to specific pipes. The pipes are small, so the sounds are high-pitched like a canary, hence the name "bird organ". A small scissors-like punch is included to punch out the holes in the paper, and there are several pages of sheet music in the mook you can cut out and play. Of course, you can make your own sheet music, too.

Music Sheet List:
Tuning Card
Amazing Grace
Kotori no echuudo (Small Bird Etude)
kokyou no hitobito (Hometown Folks)
Ryoshu (Travel Nostalgia)
Tondetta Banana (Flying Banana)

(Closeup of the underside of the base. The gear on the right advances the paper, and the circular shape on the left is the piston that acts as the bellows for air flow.)

The kit consists of about 20 pieces, not including the screws, and took about 40 minutes to assemble. The authors recommend greasing the moving parts, but I didn't have grease at the time and didn't bother with it. The really time-consuming part is punching out the holes in the sheets. The really difficult part (for someone tone-deaf like myself) is moving the rubber stoppers in the pipes to tune them. There's a "tuning sheet" included in the book that runs through the scales, which didn't help at all.

(Assembled, but without the paper. If you turned the crank now, all of the whistles would sound at one time.)

The mook runs through the history of barrel organs, church organs and wind-up metal music boxes, including lots of nice photos and the theory of wind-produced music. There's a story on Kuricorder Quartet and their reactions to the bird organ, and one article on modding the kit (adding a bellows and putting it into a larger wooden case). Another article takes the reader behind the scenes at the clock tower in Bern, Switzerland. Other pieces describe how different birds produce distinctive songs, and the affects of sound on the human brain. Finally, there's a piece on the Golden Gate Bridge and how it relates to the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson.

(With the tuning card.)

There are a number of links to other websites:

Roller Canary Club (fans of pipe organs)
Kuricorder Quartet (musician page)
Roland (electronic pipe organ)
Jobin Living Museum
Le Musee CIMA
Musee Baud
Museum fur Musikautomaten
Naoki Wakita Organ Company

This is a very cool kit for anyone that likes wind instruments and church organs, but it's not practical as an instrument. Air escapes from the bellows around the paper sheet. If you hold the pipe section down hard enough to prevent air leakage, you prevent the paper from advancing through the organ. Don't press so hard, and while the paper will advance, the air leaks and the music stops. When you hit a section of the paper that doesn't have holes, the air pressure buildup from the piston makes the crank hard to turn and the paper doesn't advance. If you turn the crank fast enough, the music will play, but it will be unrecognizable. This is another nice idea that lends itself to decoration, but will spend all its time on the shelf because it really doesn't work *at all*. Get the mook just to better understand the theory involved, but you can throw the kit into the trash.

Kit 18: Wind-Powered Generator, 2300 yen (about $23 USD). Back in the world of electron flow, we have a small wind-powered electrical generator, which is good for primarily running a night light, if you need a wind-powered night light.

(Front view. Notice the plastic wrap around the neck of the soda bottle. This is to keep the soda from getting on the pipe stem. For reference, the pipe stem is about 4-5" tall.)

Most people have at least a vague understanding of how DC motors work. Wrap wire around a core, and when you connect the wire to a battery, you make an electromagnet. Have real magnets located in a housing and put the coil on a spindle, and when the coil is connected to power it gets attracted to a magnet, but then the connection gets cut. The momentum of the turning spindle brings the spindle back into contact with the current and the process repeats. In essence. Real motors are more sophisticated than that, but this is the way kit #21, the DC car, works.

(From the back.)

Interestingly, the reverse process also works. Pass a magnet near a coil of wire and electricity gets produced through the coil. Put some magnets in a housing, and the coil back on the spindle, but now attach a prop blade to the spindle and when the wind turns the prop, the motor morphs into an electric generator. The Gakken kit produces about 1.5V at normal wind speeds (maybe 5-10 MPH), just enough to make an LED turn on. The kit supplies 1 red LED, but you can use other colors if you like (with the caveat that LEDs of other colors usually have higher turn-on voltages, so the wind will need to be stronger for them).

This is a very simple kit. I was hoping/dreading that I'd have to wrap the wire to make the coil, but it's provided as a standard commercial AC motor. 15 parts, and a suggested 20 minute assembly time. It took me about 20 minutes, too, because I wanted to tape the prop fins on the backing fingers "just right". Applying the double-sided tape to the prop fins and backing fingers took the most time. Really, it's just a motor wired to an LED inside a housing intended to mount onto a soda bottle. There's a little plastic piece underneath the housing that lets you restrict the housing rotation to just a 90-degree swing, or allow a full 360-degree rotation. Suggested mods include decorating the prop fins, mounting the generator on a small child or Christmas tree, connecting the motor to a music chip from a greeting card, and building a bigger coil. Mounting suggestions include the soda bottle or a PVC pipe, or taking the soda bottle and cutting it up to make a support for taping it to a fence railing.

The mook is "green". At least half of the articles concern alternative energy sources (solar panels, super-massive wind generators, geothermal and beamed energy); the theory behind wind-powered generators; the mechanisms behind green house gas production; and, projected global warming temperature maps. Other articles include suggestions for housings for Gakken's speaker kit; theory of operations for Gakken's vacuum tube amplifier (plus a photo showing it connected to the theremin kit); photos of a "baka-robo" (silly robot) contest; and a short story with the editor learning how to weld his own steel chair.

If you want to learn how to make your own, larger, wind-powered generator, this is a great kit to start from. If you want a wind-powered night light, GET THIS KIT. Otherwise, this kit doesn't do much. You need a pretty stiff wind for it to generate enough electricity to turn the LED on. It's an AC motor, so the LED only stays lit for a fraction of the time. I did test it by holding the generator in front of the air conditioner, and the LED does light up within about a foot of the air vent, but there's a very noticeable flicker; ideal for attracting UFOs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kitaro goods shop

Tokyo is a weird place. It's a huge city spread out over many square miles and built up with towering skyscrapers. The commuter system can get you pretty much from anywhere in the city to anywhere else, but the rides may be between 5 minutes and two hours depending on your route, and may require several transfers. And you'll never be able to visit everything that you'd want to, even if you knew that it existed beforehand. Places that you did visit may be closer than you thought they were.

I say this because when I last went to Inokashira Park, home of the Studio Ghibli museum, it took at least 1 hour, and I had to take 2 trains and a bus. So, to me, that park was a long ways away and I never expected to be able to find it on my own. Now, couple this with Jindaiji, a large shinto shrine grounds lined with gift shops, soba restaurants, and a Buddhist cemetery. Jindaiji is actually quite close to Inokashira Koen by bus and had been part of the day trip to Inokashira. Connected to Jindaiji is the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden is a famous conservatory that routinely displays varieties of roses on its open grounds, and has a large green house, and an almost Greek amphitheater seating area at one end. I'd been to the Rose Garden twice, along with Jindaiji itself. But, it was such an involved process to get to that I thought I'd only see it on special occasions.

(Map of Japan)

However. A couple months ago, I was riding my bike along the Keio train line, trying to figure out how to go the 3 miles from my apartment to Chofu. It's easy enough if you're on the train, but the streets are all windy and it was tricky by bike. At one point I got detoured away from Chofu and as I tried doubling back I found myself up in some hills overlooking the area. Coming down the other side of the hill, I rode past a big bus stop area in front of some old wooden buildings and tourist signs. I didn't want to stop at that point, so I kept riding on. Then, 2 weeks ago, one of the people I'd met while riding along the Tamagawa asked if I'd like her to show me some shrine called Jindaiji. I didn't know what the name was at that point and I said "sure". After spending 30 minutes wandering around the twisty little roads again, I'm suddenly speeding right back down that same hill behind Chofu in front of that same bus stop.

This time, we went into the shrine grounds, and I suddenly realize that I've been here before. My partner tells me about this "famous rose garden" I can reach by following a specific path out to the back, and I get this suspicion that I know which one she's talking about. The next day, after studying google maps, I ride back out on my own, taking a more direct route, and sure enough, I'm following the bus route that would take me to Studio Ghibli and Inokashira Koen. I take the turn off that I'd taken from the smaller bus stop before, and now I'm at the green house. A couple of blocks later, I'm at the gift shops and the other, bigger bus stop at the back side of the hill from Chofu. Total trip time from the apartment - 25 minutes.

(The deck for drinking tea can be seen in the back at the left.)

Why do I care? Because one of the gift shops is a goods shop dedicated to "Gegege no Kitaro", and this is what I recognized when my cycling partner brought me here two weeks ago. Turns out that the earlier bus trip to Jindaiji took so long simply because of the times required for the transfers.

(Kitaro and his father are in da House.)

I love "Kitaro", a simple ghost story series by Shigeru Mizuki. It originally ran in Shonen Magazine in the 60's, and is still a TV anime on Sunday mornings. A live-action movie version also aired on TV just a few days ago, so this title is still going strong. Interestingly, there was an event at the Parco department store chain last year that combined Kitaro and Astro Boy on the same t-shirts and posters, and these goods are still available at the goods shop here.

(Post box, notice the tiny footprints...)

The goods shop features statues of the various characters, a little tree house that Kitaro lives in, the ghost post box that delivers letters from children asking Kitaro to help save them from evil ghosts, and a little display room up on the second floor. The display room has some of Mizuki's artwork, paintings of ghosts, masks and a map of the country covered in little figures of ghost monsters representing each of the major cities in Japan. A set of sliding doors exits out onto a deck where you can relax and drink tea.

I ended up getting a bottle of "Gegege no Kitaro" water, which tastes like regular water but costs 40% more. I'm thinking of getting a t-shirt to replace an existing one once the holes get too big and is ready to be thrown away (probably the Soul Calibur shirt I was wearing when I wiped out on my bike that same day on my way home from this trip). I may also get myself a bottle of Kitaro beer, but at 600 yen ($6), I'm hesitant as to whether it's worth the money.

(The sign says "t-shirts Festival")

Getting to Jindaiji requires going along some busy streets with narrow shoulders, and now I'm a bit gun-shy. It'll probably be a while before I go back out. But, now that I know how close it really is, I expect that it won't be too long before my next visit.

Additional links:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunday Magazine DNA, July 18 to Sept. 13

Here's another exhibit that neither the Japan Times nor the Metropolis seem to think is worthy of including in their art exhibit listings. It was advertised heavily in the Akihabara JR train station when it first opened, and fliers for it are included in the "also showing at other museums" section of other museums (I saw this at the Hachioji Yumebi museum a couple of weeks ago during the Gundam mecha drawings exhibit).

Both Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magazine (the weekly manga magazines for boys) were launched in 1959. They have been rivals during that time, running specific types of manga in order to attract larger audiences away from each other, such that they've developed reputations for either being romance- or story-driven publications. Sunday established an early lead by succeeding in signing on Osamu Tezuka and some of his fellow artists at the Tokiwa-so House, while Magazine attracted Chiba Tetsuya (girl's manga artist) and Mizuki Shigeru ("Gegege no Kitaro"). For reference, Shonen Jump started in 1968 and Shonen Champion in 1969.

To commemorate their anniversaries, Sunday and Magazine banded together to help put on the "DNA" exhibit, supplying 100 unique works of art from some of their titles. There were a couple of live appearances, including one by Saito, creator of "Golgo 13", which I missed because I was working that day), and a film schedule of a mix of live-action and anime movies based on some of the manga.

To begin with, the Kawasaki Museum is in Todoroki, about half way between Noborito and the coast line, 10 kilometers south of Noborito (about a 20 minute bike ride). It's 3-4 blocks west of the Tamagawa river in a big open complex of parks and sports centers (tennis, swimming, track, etc.) To get there, you can take the Nambu line to Musashi Shinjou station and then ride the bus in. The Museum is a large airy building that runs several art exhibits at a time, plus a permanent standing "history of Japan" display with statues and carvings. Along with the big theater, there's a smaller theater on the second floor and the main lobby can be treated as an amphitheater, and there's a restaurant, gift shop and a small library open to the public.

While there are coin lockers next to the Special Exhibit 1 area showing "DNA", I was allowed to carry my backpack in with me. Photos aren't allowed, though. 600 yen entrance fee for adults, which is pretty cheap compared to other exhibits of the same size elsewhere in Tokyo. The ticket attendant made a special effort to give me a large 11" x 14" 8-page handout that had all of the Japanese display boards translated into English. There's a huge amount of useful information on the history of the two magazines and short descriptions of the various manga on exhibit and is well worth the price to get it.

Essentially, the exhibit consists of glass cases containing the original artwork used for producing each of the 100 manga titles on display, generally one piece per title. Most pieces are large, 16" to 24", hand-drawn and colored, with the pencil lines still showing. They're very useful if you're a manga collector or would-be artist. In with the artwork are sealed copies of both Sunday and Magazine magazines, and display cases showing toys, small robots, collectors items, video games from some of the manga and a diorama of Tezuka's Tokiwa-so house. The entire display takes up 2 large rooms and can be seen in about 1 hour (longer if you take your time).

The featured titles include: Tezuka's "Zero Man" and "Dororo"; Reiji Matsumoto's "Otoko Oidon"; Rumiko Takahashi's "Urusei Yatsura", "Ranma 1/2" and "Inuyasha"; Hirai and Kuwata's "8 Man"; Mizuki's "Gegege no Kitaro"; and Go Nagai's "Devilman". (I'm not going to list all 100 titles, although maybe half are well-known to manga fans.)

(The "DNA" exhibit is up the far white staircase and around to the left.)

The films are only shown on the weekends, and I arrived on a Thursday, so I wasn't able to see what the theater is like. Generally, there are 2 films per day, 80-100 minutes each), and are about half live dramas and half anime, all based on some given manga. Titles include: "Mister Giants", "Star of the Giants", "Crazy Gold Fight", "Gegege no Kitaro", "Ninpu Kamui Gaiden", "Shonen Jidai", "Our Manga House Tokiwa-so" (a documentary about the artists that lived in Tokiwa-so), "Touch" and "Meitantei Conan" (Case Closed).

"DNA" will run another 4 weeks or so. If you're in the Kawasaki area, I definitely recommend seeing it. Otherwise, it may not be worth your time visiting as it isn't all that large of a display. On the other hand, if you study manga history, or are an art student, this is the exhibit for you.