Monday, October 31, 2011

Kotsuki heron

The Kotsuki river runs a couple of blocks from my apartment, and I have to cross over it to get to the main train station, or if I'm going to Taiyo or Tecc.Land. In fact, I walk along it for about a kilometer on the way to Tecc.Land, where I can get things like toilet and tissue paper for 20-40% cheaper than at the supermarkets. I always check the river for birds when I go. There's a small family of ducks that like to rest on one of the sandbars (they're very aggressive and will attack if they sense you have vanilla wafer cookies on your person), and several herons that fish along the banks. The ducks are easy to photograph, but the herons are incredibly skittish and will fly away if they see you looking at them or pointing a camera in their direction. If they do stay still long enough to get a picture, they're usually too far away for me to get a good shot.

This is the ONLY picture of any of the herons on the Kotsuki to come out at all well, to date.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October edition of the "related articles in the media"

Here's the batch of articles to show up in the media from October, regarding anime, manga and related stuff. Nothing from the Japan Times this month, and I've pretty much stopped reading the Metropolis. Note that the Asahi has mostly stopped posting articles on their site, instead just running the first sentence or so and then redirecting the reader to whoever it is hosting the full text.

Daily Yomiuri

Original anime shines in the midnight hour

Port city 'occupied' by yokai


'A Letter to Momo' to be screened in Spain, South Korea

ComiPo! 3D comic drawing software available in English

Nico Nico Musical to present 'Tale of Genji'

Gundam Jabro board game re-released

Kitty, Doraemon outdo homegrown characters in South Korea

"Fate/Zero" TV anime series

Tokyo's Nakano Ward opens anime academy

Struggling young animators draw support from NPO

Voice actors raise funds for blind quake victims

Keio issues spooky train tickets

Mari Okada wins Kobe Animation Award

Singapore AFA to feature live concerts, Hatsune Miku

'Hal's Flute' to premiere at Tokyo film festival

Symposium to discuss future of anime

Local Tohoku superhero gets new life as manga star

Toei's 'Ikkyu-san' anime to promote tourism in Kyoto

Conference to look at the rise of phone anime

Additional cast members announced for live-action adaptation of "Rurouni Kenshin"

Scandal's "Harukaze" picked as 'Bleach' theme

'Blue Exorcist' headed for movie theaters

Chi-Sui Maru, the little bloodsucker, now on DVD

Nagoya drinking establishments feature anime, trains

Sequels to 'Anime Song History' CDs released

"La Detente" wins at Sapporo film festival

Makoto Shinkai's new anime gets APSA nomination

"Sengoku Basara" music player app

Cosplay competition attracts entrants from across Asia

Warner Home Video introduces on-demand video streaming label The Edge

'One Stormy Night' to be made into CG-animated TV series

Evangelion to open flagship store in Harajuku

Movie brings grandfather of 'gekiga' manga to life

Hiroshima to host anime festival next summer

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saigo Vending

Takamori Saigo is to Kagoshima as Abraham Lincoln or George Washington is to the U.S. - a marketing goldmine. Imagine George's face on a coke machine in front of a 7-11 in your neighborhood. Would you buy your cola from it?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flower Lover

The Jigenji Park is in a valley between two of the train stations about 20 minutes south of Kagoshima-chou station (just before you get to Goino, with the shochu factory there). It's a fairly large park, buried under lots of trees. At one end is a little river, with a restaurant on the bank, and a bridge about 10 feet from the restaurant's entrance. As I was walking over the bridge, I caught some movement in the trees over the river. Initially I thought it was a hummingbird sipping nectar from the flowers. Then I noticed another 10 of them flitting around the same tree. I took quite a few photos but the things kept moving too fast for the camera to focus on them.

Finally I got this shot. I think it's some kind of weird huge moth.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Future-Retro Hero Story, vol. 2

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


Future-Retro Hero Story, vol. 2, by Takehiko Itoh, Grade: B+
The madcap slapstick adventures continue. First, Juuji is unable to use the ship because it's going to take 5 years for recharging. He and some of his fellow classmates take on part-time jobs at a nearby family restaurant. Kouryuu, the power-mad teacher stops at the restaurant for lunch and deliberately gets Juuji to throw food at him in order to call the manager out and get Juuji fired. But, everything about the restaurant is too good to be true, from the plentiful portions of good, cheap food, to the fawning owner. Turns out that the boss is a robot that has traveled across the galaxy to set up Earth's first Sky Lark alien franchise as part of a takeover scheme. With his cover blown, the robot, Gooto, retreats to his orbiting death star (with both in-store seating, drive-thru and take-out windows) to force the world's leaders to eat non-stop free food. It's up to Juuji to get the ship running again with Azel's help (for magically powering the reactor), to take the battle to Gooto's doorstep.

(Juuji's wish comes true(?))

In chapter 2, Juuji is struck with a run of bad luck, so he looks for a machine in the ship that grants wishes. The first wish is for a date with Sakumi. A few seconds later, Sakumi arrives to ask him out (it's her father's idea to thank the boy for saving the world again). He takes the machine to school to show off to the class, but Kouryuu steals it and wishes for wealth and fame. He immediately gets a phone call from the States saying that the university there wants him back, since he just won the Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, as he's leaving the school, Kouryuu gets hit by a falling star. Roger rushes up, saying that the machine is really a wishing star summoner. If you wish for something too extreme, you'll get hit by a meteorite. Soon the city is under attack by wishing stars and Juuji has to scramble to find the machine to turn it off.

Hayato Ikazura, the PE teacher, takes the class to his hometown along the slopes of Mt. Fuji in chapter 3. His niece seems to be strangely attracted to Juuji's red hair. After having a nice bath in the outdoor springs and then a big dinner, the class prepares to go skiing on the slopes in the winter. Unfortunately for Juuji, this village and the neighboring one are celebrating a once in a thousand years event - the falling to the ground of a "stone made by god", which requires a sacrifice of a red-headed boy. The two villages fight over who gets to kill Juuji, until he's rescued by Hayato, who is just now remembering the purpose of the festival. Juuji gets his raygun and splits the meteor in two to give both sides each a half. A giant red pearl rolls out and the rival villagers yell out "you lose", then turn and leave. The two towns prepare to wait another 1000 years for another chance at the celestial lottery. But, because the stone was in a cave under Mt. Fuji, the ray gun blast causes the volcano to erupt, and the class needs a rescue team to pull them out of the rubble.

(Kouryuu, after watching Juuji eating mixed chocolates and blowing up.)

With chapter 4, Azel visits Juuji at home, and learns about Valentine's Day from the interloping robot Gooto. The two get into a feud over who can make the better chocolate, with Gooto teaming up with Sakumi to actually deliver the chocolates to Juuji. Kouryuu gets jealous at Juuji's receiving several more times presents than him, and schemes to poison the boy with paralyzing meds placed in some store-bought candies. When Azel and Sakumi arrive, Juuji can't move, and the two stuff magic-imbued, and technology-enhanced "love" down his throat. The result is an explosion that puts the boy into the hospital for 2 months.

(The principal and the evil sensei.)

The final chapter starts out with the school principal entering Kouryuu's secret lair in the school's basement, where the jealous teacher lets her in on his plans to build "Black Ryuu (dragon)" to shoot down Roger's ship. The principal (who's name is never given) goes along with the fantasy until Kouryuu describes her as laughing alongside him maniacally in an unfeminine way. The teacher is brought back to reality, but it's obvious that he at least has a functional ship engine built, so the principal agrees to help him with further work. Meanwhile, Juuji has slipped out of the hospital to try to get the Fortuner up and running again. He's accompanied by Gooto and Azel, who are a little panicked that he may recall what had caused the explosion 2 months earlier. Sakumi looks for him in the hospital, then tracks him down to the launchpad next to the school, and yells out that she's sorry that she and the other two had caused him to blow up. Juuji assaults Gooto and Azel, and as the sparks fly, Roger says that this brings him back to the civil war in the United Kingdom of Texas, which had resulted in the creation of the 51st State. Later, Juuji gets captured by his doctors and injected with antibiotics as revenge for having escaped them. In his room, Sakumi sees all the posters of airplanes and spaceships. She hands over her class notes from the lessons he'd missed, but they just contain insults from Kouryuu. Juuji returns to class the next day to shoot his teacher with his blaster, and discovers that Kouryuu now has a functioning anti-blaster suit of his own.

The last page is a fake preview for volume 3, drawn by Taku Koide.

Summary: Juuji gets into trouble as the owner of the Fortuner space ship, and has to save the world in his spare time. Kouryuu remains jealous, and Azel causes problems because she has too much free time. Good stuff. Recommended.

(Back cover detail.)

Note: Crossover jokes and cultural references show up in manga off and on. It's not something that happens all the time, but Tezuka loved putting in pictures of Batman, Superman and Godzilla in his stories back in the '60s and '70s, so there is a long tradition for it. On page 152, Sakumi is wearing a "Dragon Half" shirt.

The Sky Lark restaurant chain may be a tribute to E.E. "Doc" Smith, who wrote the first real space opera SF. He created the "Lensmen" and "Skylark" series.

On page 210, Juuji has a large rubber ducky hanging from his ceiling with "USS Entepi" printed on the side.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Myouen-ji, part 3

And, after having returned to Kagoshima-chou station from the Myouen-ji 20km walk, I found a futsal field set up in the main plaza, with several school teams playing against each other. Around the corner on the plaza stage was a school chorus. Aki is for music and sports.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Myouen-ji Matsuri, Part 2

The Myouen-ji Matsuri, what I saw of it on Sunday, is the prototypical event aimed at the entire family. Of course there's the required food and game stalls, with okonomiyaki on a stick, yaki soba, and shaved ice. But they also had a sumo ring set up on the grounds for teams of elementary kids to compete in, and a stage on the other side of the walkway for a wide variety of other activities.

Ijuin embraces its history as a samurai town (Ijuin castle is about a mile away but I didn't have the energy to visit it), with artwork of samurai around the city covering bridges and tunnel walls.

(Archery competitors)

This also translated into Japanese archery contests and lots of actors wearing armor. (With the way the archery field was set up, there was no way to take a good photo of the competitors shooting at the targets.)

(Children's sumo, easily the most popular spectator sport.)

The stage activities I saw included high school girls creating large banners with Chinese calligraphy, a woman from Gifu here to do some public speaking, and a school orchestra. As mentioned in yesterday's entry, there was also the Ashi-yu, with 20 to 30 people at a time soaking their feet in the spa water.

(Two of the calligraphy students.)

Back out on the main street running through town, there were several brass marching bands, and the Satsuma mascots which would stop and pose for photos with anyone that walked by.

(Line to the shrine to give prayers.)

When I went to the train station to return home, I noticed the large bronze statue in front. It's of one of the early Shimadzu lords, and I'm pretty sure it was made by Nakamura, whose art museum I visited some weeks earlier as part of the Gurutsu stamp rally.

(Mascots on the parade route.)

(Shimadzu lord)

(Front of Ijuin station.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Myouen-ji Matsuri, Part 1

Sometimes, it's hard knowing where to start these blog entries, because there's certain background info that is kind of useful, but not absolutely required. First, I'll start out by saying that I've been taking Japanese conversation lessons at the International Center (Kenmin Kaikan), and one of my classmates is Markus, a guy from Switzerland. He's been studying traditional Japanese archery and sword cutting techniques. Next, I'll move on to "Aki". "Aki" is "Fall", and during the Fall, there's kind of an emphasis on sports, reading, seasonal foods and matsuri (festivals). Naturally, there are festivals year-round all over the country, but things kind of go into overdrive between October and November. Last week, I wrote about the Asian Youth Festival held at Houzan Hall and Central Park. The same week, there was the Horseback Archery Festival in Koyama. I wasn't able to make it out to Koyama, but Marcus did because it relates to his studies, and he said it was fun. There's another matsuri at Terukuni Jinja (Terukuni Shrine) next weekend, but other than seeing a poster showing a basket priest fighting an assailant, I don't know what it's for. The weekend of Nov. 2-3 is Ohara, the massive dance festival along Tram Dori. One of my students tells me that she's been practicing with her coworkers for that one. There is supposed to be a special group specifically for foreigners who want to form a dance troupe for it, but I haven't heard the details for it.

(Takuo Noguchi)

This brings me to the Myouen-ji Matsuri that ran this last weekend. Myouen Jinja is a temple at Ijuin, 4 stops out along the JR line west of Kagoshima-chuo station. It's a little inconvenient to take the train out there, so on Saturday, I went up into Shiroyama to do some prep work for a game I'm writing for learning Java. Then, on Sunday, I walked the 12 miles out to Ijuin.

Actually, one of my other students had photocopied the ad for the Myouen-ji Matsuri and given it to me, telling me about the 6th annual 20 kilometer walk. I don't know if that was because she knows I do a lot of sightseeing on foot, or because she thinks I've gotten too fat. It's 500 yen ($7 USD) to enter, supposedly to cover insurance, and it starts from Terukuni Jinja (a few blocks from my apartment) and runs all the way out to Ijuin roughly parallel to the JR line. Registration opened at 7 AM, the Mayor of Kagoshima gave a speech at 7:30, and there was a guest appearance by Takuo Noguchi, an actor on MBC TV. A Shinto priest blessed the participants and the route, and the two guys wearing armor (I think they were high school principals) teamed up with Noguchi to lead the walk out from the shrine down the 8 blocks to the Kotsuki river. It was a slow start, and as soon as we crossed the bridge a number of us bolted from the pack. The route was marked with signs showing the Satsuma mascot, and each major intersection had one or two people with flags to protect the crosswalks. Otherwise, it was just a matter of following the string of people ahead of me.

I started at the head of the pack, with about 5-6 people that bolted early getting through the yellow street light before I could reach it. I caught up with them fairly quickly, but only one guy managed to pull ahead of me and disappear from sight. What confused me though was that I kept passing packs of 30 to 50 people all along the route. Eventually, it turned out that they were a completely different group that had started at 7 AM, and just happened to be following the same streets to the same destination. There were about 10 joggers that passed me, and some of them turned around at Ijuin and head back to wherever they had come from. There's a half-marathon coming up and they may have been practicing for that. The route was along city streets and not particularly scenic. It went uphill for the first hour, and I got tired fairly fast. There were 3 water stops along the way, which was combined with a stamp rally. Getting the three water stop stamps and the one at the goal point gave you one try at a drawing (I got the lowest level prize - 2 pieces of sweet mochi. They were very good). The first stop just had water refills, so I got the stamp and kept moving. The second stop had lots of Japanese snack food, like salted pickles (sunomono), umeboshi, hard candies, brown sugar candy and ice tea. I spent several minutes stocking up on snacks then moved on.

The third point was just water and hard candies. Then, as we got in closer to the goal point at Ijuin, there were other water stops set up for the second group, with even more pickles, umeboshi and brown sugar. The people in these stops were VERY friendly, and the snacks were great. I spent a lot of time there and stopped worrying about who would finish the 12-mile walk first. Even so, I was one of the first to the goal at the shrine, where the festival was in full swing. Total walk time - about 3 hours and 10 minutes. My legs were killing me, so after visiting the shrine to pay my respects, I went to the Ashi-yu (hot spa water foot bath) to recover.

(Entrance to Myouen-ji, and the goal point for the 12-mile walk.)

Along with getting the drawing booby prize, I got a certificate (#14 according to the stamp on the back). A rough translation is "Congratulations on completing the 20 km walk rally. We know that a fat foreigner like you couldn't do this without hitching a ride in a car, so please give this paper to the driver to thank them for the lift". I didn't see any other foreigners along the route, so I think they printed it up just for me. It makes me feel special.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Commentary: Comic Ran Twins

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

It may not be obvious from my previous commentary entries, but there are magazines that specialize in just one subject, such as fishing, golf, 4-panel gags and pachinko. I have zero interest in these kinds of stories so I'm not going to write about them. However, I'm kind of running out of magazines to sample from the convenience stores, so I figured that I might as well try one of the less-well-known ones of a particular genre.

(How to defuse a bomb, as demonstrated in Shin Kagegari (New Shadow Hunting).)

Comic Ran Twins is a sister magazine to Comic Ran, however neither seem to have English wiki entries. As might be guessed at from the cover, Twins is nothing but Edo-era samurai dramas (some comic, some serious). The cover story is Shotaro Ikenami and Takao Satou's (Golgo 13) Attacker Fujieda Baian.

Soba-ya Gen-an

It surprises me that Satou's art isn't that great this time around. He's been drawing for decades, so he should have his character designs down cold by now. Attacker Baian is kind of a simple "revenger for hire" story in this issue, where a guy dressed up as a monk and his assistant uses an acupuncture needle to kill villains. Most of the stories have average or below-average artwork, and a lot of the characters don't look that good. Two that do stand out are Soba-ya Gen-an, and Shin Kagegari. However, a "soba-ya" is just a person that sells buckwheat noodles, so Gen-an the Soba seller is kind of a light-weight story. And Shin Kagegari follows a group of overly skilled fighters who are up against formidable odds (ninjas and a guy with a bomb), and is silly in an overblown way.

There is a wide mix of stories in this magazine, and a lot of humor. It's just that I'm not a big fan of samurai manga dramas, (outside of Vagabond) and I do require that the artwork and fighting be believable. I don't recognize any of the titles here, and doubt that most other western fans would either. Monthly, 370 yen for 330 pages. No freebies. No recommendations this time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tunnel shrine

The Kagohima area consists of a series of large hills, with the city flowing along the flat spaces in between. In many ways, it's like a dry ocean with islands sticking up. To cope with this arrangement, the city planners have run tunnels through the hills for the east-west streets, about 1 mile apart. This particular street is about half a mile south of Kagoshima-chou station, and to the east runs past the San-eru (3L) building and one of the Book Off stores, into the bay.

What caught my eye here is the shrine above the tunnel roof. Initially, I'd thought that this was the Kagoshima equivalent of the shrine built over the water along the ocean or lake shore lines. But, apparently it's just a shinto shrine that had been here for a while and the tunnel was dug under it.

As shrines go, it's fairly small, but still has a manned good luck charms window to the right.

Inside of the shrine.

Looking back out from the parking lot.

Shrine stones to the left of the parking lot. Just to the right of these stones is a concrete staircase that runs up the rest of the hill a few hundred feet. At the top is the back side of a junior high school. From the condition of the stairs, I didn't think that anyone else used them, but just as I got to the top, several students approached to go back down. Given how winded I was, I doubt that I'd like to have to make this trek every day to go to class in the morning.

Just above the temple roof level, the stairs go by a park bench at a lookout facing the island, and just past that is the entrance to a now-vacant lot. At one time, a family lived here.

From the look-out. The Ferris wheel towards the left of the picture is atop the Kagoshima-chou train station. Continuing up the stairs, there's another set of concrete steps running up and off to the right. If my estimates are right, they come out at the other end of the back of the school. The thing is, the path gets very narrow very quickly, isn't maintained, and is covered over with tree branches.

And just before you get to the top, there's the sign that says "private property, no trespassing". Would have made more sense to put the sign down at the bottom of the turn off...

Now, if you look at the top photo, you may notice the construction site to the left of the main street tunnel. The company, whose name loosely translates to "Expensive Construction Company", is boring a second tunnel through the hill from both sides. According to one worker I talked to, this side has gone about 200 meters in, with 200 left to go. The other side is digging 600 meters, and both sides are expected to meet in 2012, for a 1 km total length. I asked the gate guard if it was ok to take photos, and he waved me through. I made the assumption that I shouldn't actually enter the tunnel so just took the pictures from the mouth. I like tunnels. I wish I could get a job here.

The camera did a surprisingly good job of reaching to the bend at the back.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ueno Castle in Kagoshima

As I was out riding the train west from Kagoshima-chuo station in the direction of Satsuma-Sendai, I noticed a small castle just short of the first stop at Hiroki station. The next day, I came back out specifically to find this castle. It's about a mile in through the hills from Hiroki, right close to the tracks. The street in this area is really narrow and cars have to take turns going in opposite directions.

The lower side door is actually an enclosed shrine.

The main entrance was locked. Fortunately, someone from the building across the street had come out to get some can coffee from the vending machine in front and I was able to talk to him.

Apparently, the statue is of Mr. Ueno, a Kagoshima real estate agent at the beginning of the Showa era. So, the castle is less than 80 years old. He was responsible for some of the larger development projects in the city and probably built the castle himself. The upper floors are deteriorating and have been closed to the public. The first floor is being treated as a real estate office.

And here I was thinking that I'd discovered an actual unknown castle. Sigh.

Sazae-san Restaurant

It's another 1 mile back to Kagoshima-chuo station. Along the way I found a restaurant that's named after one of the biggest anime in Japan. The Sazae-san manga was written by Machiko Hasegawa who originally lived in Taku, in northwest Kyushu. So, maybe the owners here feel some kind of connection to her.