Sunday, September 30, 2012


The Lupin III anime have generally had a lot of good music, and there's something of a following for the Jazz band in Tokyo that plays it in live venues.  I'm not sure if Lupintic is the same group or not, but they're coming to Kagoshima in December for a one-night show.  4000 yen for tickets ($48 USD).  Kind of expensive, but still cheaper than the 8000 yen Houzan Hall charged for the Ventures concert last year.  If it hadn't been so pricey, I would have gone to that.  I'd like to try seeing Lupintic if they're not sold out by the time I know what my schedule is for that month.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Go West

I'm going to try something new and show the route for one of my long walks (taken from google maps).  The "A" mark shows the location for City Hall, about 15 minutes from me). The route starts near the Kotsuki River, about 5 minutes north of the Kagoshima-chuo station.

While I've stated that I've pretty much covered all of the places I can get to by foot, that's not exactly true. I've been following major roads in between the big hills, and that kind of limits where I can easily reach. But there are cross streets that I haven't gone down yet, and I figured that I could try checking out one possibility for my next walk.  This time, I went straight out from the apartment to the Kotsuki River, crossed it and kept going until I ran into a T-intersection at an elementary school. I then headed north for a few blocks until I got to the next major cross street and turned west again. A few blocks later, there was a sign for a memorial marker 150 meters away pointing to the left. I've given up on actively trying to find all of the markers, because there's just so much history in this area. But, if I do come across a sign, I will check it out.

"The Komatsu Tatewaki Residence
In 1835, Komatsu Tatewaki was born into the Kimotsuki family, a fuedal lord of the Kiire domain. At the age of twenty, Tatewaki was adopted by the Komatsu family, another lord of the Yoshitoshi domain. From childhood, Tatewaki excelled in both his studies and in the martial arts. At the age of 27, he bacame a retainer, putting many brilliant, younger, lower-class samurai, like Saigo Takamori, Okubo Toshimichi, and others into important positions. He weathered the crises of the Anglo-Satsuma War, the Teradaya Incident, tied the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, and paved the way for the establishment of the Meiji Restoration after which he held the position of diplomatic official. Tatewaki died at the early age of 34."

The house at the top of the wall is hidden behind bushes, and it may not be the one that Tatewaki moved into.  But, it is an older neighborhood butting up against the foot of one of the hills.

Behind the house is a weird little alley running another 30 meters to some other houses, a few which look to be abandoned. I thought that this staircase was interesting enough to photograph it.

Back at the main road, I followed it between two more hills (the one here is the one backing Tatewaki's house). One thing I've noticed about Kagoshima is that neighborhoods change feel very quickly. Just walking a few blocks in some direction can take you from a very modern residential district into an older area made up of taxi companies and ramen shops.  And this road is no different. The sidewalk disappears on both sides and the shoulder is just wide enough to keep you from getting hit by the cars if you press up against a wall and don't try to squeeze around a light pole until the road is clear. There's a couple of nice-looking coffee shops and bakeries here that I'd visit more often if they were closer to the apartment, or if I had a bike.

At one point, I encountered some sealed-up tunnel entrances in the hill face, at the back side of a parking lot. I doubt they were part of the city's old water system (too far away from the original spring), so I'm curious as to whether they date back to WW II.  They could have been military in origin, or maybe fallout shelters.  I'd love to come back some night with a shovel and a flashlight, if the chances of getting caught weren't so high...

Just a little past this parking lot, I came to another T-intersection, with one leg heading to the right up the hill, and the main bar continuing straight across the valley floor. I turned right. About halfway up the hill, I noticed a wild board (inoshishi) trying to cross the road. I went to pull the camera out of my backpack as I heard approaching traffic. The inoshishi turned around and trotted back to the hillside and clambered up into the trees. I just had time for one shot before the approaching car caused it to dash away faster.  I waited for 10 minutes after this, but the traffic never stopped for longer than a few seconds. Finally, though, I can say that I've actually seen an inoshishi. Now, if I could only find a mamushi (pit viper)...

At the top of the hill was this topiary. The house in back is the offices of a stock trading company.

Sakura-jima is easily visible from the top of this hill. I'm far enough back now that the bay is hidden. The Kagoshima-chuo train station, with its ferris wheel on top, is somewhere between me and the volcano, probably towards the right edge of the photo, but not visible from this angle.

Continuing west at the top of the hill, I eventually came to the entrance of Meiwa Junior High. This is a huge school, possibly one of the largest in the city. I circled the grounds clockwise, which brought me to the edge of the hill on the south side.  It looks like I'm at the edge of the city, here. The main expressway is in the valley below, somewhere.

Continuing to the far west side of the school, there's a massive apartment building complex that takes up several blocks. I'm assuming the "36", "37", "38" on the sides of the buildings are building numbers. There's a shopping complex in the middle of the area as well, with a bank, fitness center, and various other stores. The picture above is at the far west end of the hilltop, looking west.

After completely encircling the school, I went back down the inoshishi hill and turned right at the T-intersection to go farther south along the valley floor.  After a number of blocks, the road started going uphill. There was a middle-aged woman also hugging the side of the road (no sidewalks here, either) and we got to talking along the way. Turns out that she'd gone all the way to Tenmonkan to do some shopping at Maruya Gardens and was heading back home. (Maruya Gardens is 1 kilometer past my route starting point). At the top of the hill, we parted ways, with me turning right and finding myself back at the entrance to Meiwa Junior High. So I went back down Inoshishi hill a second time.  About halfway, there's a side street that goes through a short tunnel. I decided to follow the street in the hopes that it would join a cross street that would go straight down to the Kotsuki river. Unfortunately, the street continued to hug the side of the hill, and the road that did go downhill just deadends into a construction supplies yard.  But, from here, you can see the hill I was on for the "roundabout" walk (to the left in the far distance). The round building to the right in the middle distance is the Arena event center.

A closer view of the Arena, the big round building at the lower middle right.  Since I couldn't easily get down the hill from here, I doubled back through the tunnel and backtracked the way I'd come back to the apartment. Total trip time, 3 hours.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A few minor announcements

A couple minor announcements this time.
First, I finally cleared 300,000 hits last night (11:50 PM my time).  So, that's cool.

Second, Gakken released their latest Adult Science kit on Tuesday, and copies made their way down to Kyushu on Thursday, where I bought it. This one is a modernized version of Edison's wax cylinder voice recorder (which itself was an enhancement on his pioneering invention from 1877, which used tinfoil and had a smaller speaker cone).

(All rights belong to their owners. Gakken kit cover image used for review purposes only.)

This is also the 10th anniversary issue, marking 10 years of the Otona no Kagaku line.  One of the articles in the mook this time is a 2-page photo spread of mods that readers have made to the various kits.  One of my photos (of the reflective movie projector) was used in the article (middle photo below).

(Paraphrased, the paragraph reads: "Curtis Hoffmann-san x Reflective Film Projector. He added a 3V DC adapter and a larger white LED for additional light power. Hoffmann-san's website has reviews of all the back issue kits!" The link is to my list of kit mods.)

The next item is much longer term, and I have no idea when things will start happening, but I'll mention it now just to make this entry a little longer. Greg Cravens, creator of the Hubris webcomic, is in the process of planning a future story arc where different teams of outdoors enthusiasts compete against each other in events like cycling, skateboarding, rock climbing, endurance duct taping, etc. He's going to have cameo appearances in the strip of people from his paintball team, etc., as well as some of the readers from GoComics.  I might be in one of the lesser visible teams in the background, maybe. But the storyline may not start running for some weeks yet, so there's no guarantee one way or the other. He may make an announcement when the arc begins.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

KTS TV, Day 2

On the second day of the KTS TV event, the weather was much better, but the crowd was about at the same level as the day before. Over 100 kids and their parents stood in front of the stage to watch the rubber suit show, forcing me to walk behind the food stalls and enter the Volunteer Center building via the stairs to the second floor deck.  Fortunately, there was a large enough gap between the people on the deck to let me get some shots from about 100 feet from the stage. The Kagoshima mascot, with the Satsuma logo on his chest, is the black super hero on the left. The photo is kind of spoiled by the misters running at the front corner of the stage. It was a rather cool day, so the misters weren't really needed.

The reason I'd come back on Sunday was that, again, I'd been specifically asked by the International Exchange Center personnel to attend the other event they were hosting as part of the 40th anniversary of normalized relations with China. This time, it was the Chinese version of Kiri-e (paper cutting art. It was a free event.) Since I'd attended the one kiri-e class in the San-L building last Spring, I figured I'd try this one and compare the two styles.

There were about 20 people participating, with a Chinese woman acting as the main instructor, and another 3-4 staff members assisting. Initially, I was really confused about what we were supposed to do. In the Japanese class, the pattern was xeroxed on a piece of paper and stapled to a sheet of black cotton paper. You cut both the pattern and the black sheet to make the outline design, removing the white pattern sheet as you go, then glue colored pieces into the gaps of the black outline to make the finished colored picture. This time, though, we got a sheet of red plastic attached to a sheet of white paper, and the design was xeroxed on the paper side. I thought that the plastic sheet peeled off the paper as kind of an adhesive layer. I tried asking if we were supposed to cut through both sheets, and no one could understand my question. It wasn't until half an hour later that I realized that the paper and plastic were one piece. You flip the sheet over paper-side up and cut along the lines, working from the center of the image out. When you're done, just flip the sheet red plastic-side up.

The instructor had about 20 pictures affixed to the wall to demonstrate the concept. 12 of the pictures were animals from the Chinese lunar calendar. Pictured here are the fish and tiger...

Snake and horse. I like the horse best. The other 8 pictures were from the Chinese "Son Goku, Legend of the Monkey King" story. With those, the artist attached the finished cut out on a clear plastic sheet and filled in the details with colored acrylic paints.

We started with a brief history of the art (initially, China didn't have paper, so kiri-e was performed with animal skins), and then we did two "snowflake" designs, with origami paper and a pair of scissors. Fold the paper in half, then in quarters, trace the design on the paper and cut along the lines. Unfold to get the design below to the left. Second, fold the paper in half length-wise, then half again length-wise. Draw the design in pencil and cut along the lines to make the character used in Chinese weddings, below right.

We were told to take a pattern from one of 10 different designs on the table, sorted from easiest to hardest. I picked a simplified variation of the lunar calendar rabbit because it was one of the harder ones, while still looking attractive to me. The event ran from 2 to 4 PM, and the first 30 minutes were spent on the snowflakes. I expected to need every minute of the 2 hours, and having to wait 30 minutes to get started on the main project was rather irritating. Halfway through, the people working on the simpler kiri-e designs (Santa Claus, Minnie Mouse) finished and some of them started a second project. I'd just finished cutting the last of the interior on mine when the instructor said we were out of time. She gave us 4 more minutes to wrap up, and I quickly made the cuts along the exterior of the rabbit, vase and webbing to remove the outside paper. The support staff laminated everyone's cut-outs. The lamination will preserve the kiri-e, but it reflects the overhead lights too much for taking a good photo. It was a fun experience, and we were allowed to take some of the remaining sheets to work on at home.

(My rabbit)

I grabbed one sheet that I tackled that night. Chinese Dancing Girl. Took about 90 minutes to complete, and since I didn't have access to a laminator, I just put it in a clear file for protection. The paper is fairly thin, and as I'm working on it, turning the design around to cut out circles and such, the little detail parts, like fingers, fur and hair ornamentations, tend to hang up on the edges of the table or cutting board, which bends them up. I expect that the much more elaborate designs, like the lunar zodiac characters above, are much trickier to handle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

KTS Festival, Day 1

The KTS TV station partnered with the Yamakataya department store to present a two-day festival on the 22nd and 23rd, on the grounds of the Volunteer Center (same building where the International Exchange Center hosts the Japanese classroom on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the English Lunchtime Lessons on Fridays). Concurrently, Kagoshima City is hosting month-long events to mark the 40th anniversary of normalized relations with China. In spite of the tensions raised because of the wrangling over the Senkaku Islands, China agreed to participate in various events across Japan. Kagoshima, specifically, was to invite participants from its sister city, Changsha, China. However, the only Chinese people I encountered over the weekend have been living in Kagoshima and working for the Exchange Center for 2-3 years.

At the entrance. Saturday started ok, but the sky quickly clouded over and there was rain all afternoon.

KTS had a full camera crew following reporters and TV talent around the food stalls, interviewing visitors and sampling the various dishes on sale. Most of the interviews were taped-delayed and replayed on the big screen on stage.

The stage announcers were taped as well, on Saturday.  I didn't notice anyone running the cameras on Sunday.

(Anpanman and JA welcome you to play games.)

The booths were about 1/2 food stalls (ramen, roasted fish, beer, soft drinks, sausages, etc.), 1/4 children's play areas and general seating) and the rest made of advertising (car tires, cars, travel agencies), public service booths (breast screening) and import stores. One of the food stalls was run by Praha and Gen, the shochu maker and Czech embassy combo that's located a few blocks from the monthly apartment building I stayed at near the airport last year. I decided to get a sausage and cup of beer from them; it was good but the total came to 900 yen ($11 USD), which was twice what it was worth. All of the other stalls were equally expensive, but none of the visitors were complaining about it.

Inside the Volunteer Center, KTS had events and activities set up in the main exhibition and secondary presentation halls on the second floor. Coca Cola hosted a dance competition in the main hall on the first floor, but it was packed and no one else was being allowed in to watch). One of the activities was a virtual reality game where children competed to hit the coins flying on the screen. The camera under the screen both captures the players to display on the screen with the coins, and maps their actions to determine if the players' hands are "hitting" the coins.

A big balloon head of one of KTS's TV talents.

A mechanical version of a popular Japanese comedian. The crank in his back just makes him shimmy around a little. Small children are encouraged to hit the blue button to the right to make him move for a few seconds.

In the secondary presentation hall, a news desk was set up at one end to let children take turns pretending to anchor a broadcast show. One of the main purposes of the festival was to promote the new season's TV shows, including the anime version of Robotics;Notes.

A large cylinder in the middle of the room holds photos of the families attending the event. Staff members were busy putting up new photos all day.

In another corner of the room, children could stand in front of a green screen to pretend to present a weather forecast.

The International Exchange Center's event was a music concert presented by a Japanese music professor and at least one Chinese accompanist. The professor played the hammer and strings instrument shown here, while another 5 women played kokyuu (a single-stringed instrument played with a bow, kind of similar in sound to a violin). The main kokyuu player was incredibly good, getting a wide range of notes from just the one string. Unfortunately, the Exchange Center manager specifically asked me to attend in the audience and I felt compelled to sit in the front row to make the seating look less empty, so it was too awkward to take photos during the performance and the performers disappeared immediately after the 20 minute concert so I couldn't ask them to pose with the kokyuu for me.  There were a total of 3 performances, at 11 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM. During the concert, about 40 people gathered to watch, filling all of the chairs that had been set out in the lobby.

Shortly after the concert ended, a huge crowd flooded the main lobby, swarming around some of the actors that had just finished giving a rubber-suit/action-figure show on stage outside. The characters included a Fox God (kitsune)...

A kappa...

And two supporting female characters.

All of the actors mingled with their fans and posed for shots. The kappa (a villain in the show) was a big ham, and mugged in front me as he passed by. The primary hero is the mascot for Kagoshima prefecture, not shown here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Switch - Wolf Children

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

I wrote about Brutus and Pen, two magazines similar to GQ, back in July. Brutus had half an issue dedicated to Otomo and Akira, while Pen assigned half to Lupin III.  There's a third publication in the same market, called Switch, which has had 2 seperate issues featuring anime titles - Fate/Stay and Wolf Children. Switch is more of a photo gallery magazine, with picture spreads of various actors, scenes and musicians, and only a few articles.  A few of the photo spreads may be sponsored by camera companies, in that Aoi Miyazaki walks around Paris with an Olympus OM-D, and Tsutomu Yamazaki is "presented by" Leica.  Other articles in the August issue include a photo essay of the New Balance factory and an interview with Eikichi Yazawa.

Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki, generally translated as "The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki", is a full-length anime movie that was released in France this June, and in Japan a month later. It's directed by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars), and stars Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Haru Kuroki and Yukito Nishii. The story starts with a young woman falling in love with a wolf-man, who then soon dies. She moves to a rural village to raise her young half-wolf son and daughter.  About 40 of the 146 pages are dedicated to the movie, including interviews with the actors and director, sample artwork and a couple pages of storyboards. The magazine is expensive for what you get, at 1000 yen ($12 USD), but there is an audio CD with Aoi narrating part of the story for 10 minutes.  She does have a nice reading voice. Based on the quality of the art, I'd say that Wolf Children is worth watching if you have the chance.

(Sample storyboard page.)

I don't have an interest in Fate/Stay, but there are two other issues that just came out from Brutus and Pen (one on the history of Cyborg 009 to coincide with the release of the new movie, and a retrospective of Fujiko F Fujio (Doreamon)) that I do intend to pick up eventually. In comparison, the Switch issue is similar to the Akira and Lupin III issues, but with half the pages and at least a 25% higher price.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Short Review: Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, vol. 30

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

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, Vol. 30, by Koji Kumeta, Grade A

While Koji continues his parody of contemporary social and political issues, he also dedicates the last half of the volume to finishing off the series.  As such, we're actually getting a real, continuing story, although it is a bit creepy.  Additionally, there's 4 pages of papercrafts this time, adding a few more mourners and the hearse to the funeral party.

The front inside cover returns to the "don't open this" gag, but this time with Nozomu Itoshiki himself as the focus character. The inside back cover is just Kei doing a surrealist painting on a wall.

("Because it's the last book!!" "Don't open it!")

*Spoilers* *Spoilers* *Spoilers* *Spoilers*

If you don't want to know how the series ends, stop reading now!

You have been warned.

(Top panel reads "After 10".)

The first chapter picks up with the mysterious message left over from the last volume. It seems to be an anagram posted by Kagemusha, and the class spends the chapter making up crude anagram jokes.  At the end, Matoi realizes the puzzle just reads "(the series ends) after 10 more chapters". Note that Kagemusha (meaning "body double") was created as a stand-in for Nozomu in volume 29, and it had stolen the class seating roster. It resurfaces a few times in the next few chapters.

There's a break in the flow of the book after chapter 295. Normally, examples of artwork submitted by the readers are included at the end, along with author comments, but those are placed in the middle of the book this time to indicate that the second half is a departure from what's gone on before.

(Nami's funeral ceremony)

Chapter 296 starts out by stating that everyone dies every year (i.e., while in school, the you from the current year has to make room for the you going into the next year of classes). Since Nami has never held a ceremony for the passing of her previous years, the class stages one big funeral for her to make up for lost time. This is followed by an announcement by Nozomu's older brother, Enishi, that he's changing businesses. Enishi had been a divorce lawyer, but now he's holding wedding ceremonies for the dead (e.g. - otaku wanting to marry their favorite anime character after they die). Nozomu wants to know the meaning of this career change and while arguing with his brother, the armor for Kagemusha falls out of a closet. Turns out that Enishi had been Kagemusha, and had stolen the class roster to make graduation scrolls for Nozomu's class.

*Spoilers* *Spoilers* *Spoilers* *Spoilers

Really, stop reading now!

With chapter 298, the class - now only just the female students - graduates, but Majiru, Nozomu's nephew (who's attending in the audience) notices that none of the names being announced are the correct ones (they're gag names again, reflecting each girl's character, like "Meru" (e-mail) turning into "Sending and Receiving Girl"). Even Kiri Komori is wearing a sailor dress and receiving a diploma. In chapter 299, after the ceremony is over, Majiru goes into the classroom where memorials are left on the desks (Chiri's shovel, Meru's cell phone, Nami's ramen bowls) and sees that their names are different in the class roster, too. One of the teachers sees him and replies that it's natural for someone's name to be changed when they die. Nozomu is reassigned to a new school and he takes a ferry out to a small island where he's greeted by the 3.1 students there (3.1 because one of them, Hiroshi, is dead and is attending in spirit, instead). Majiro rushes to the island, expecting to see the monsters that were his uncle's previous class, and is told by Abiru that the girls were just acting as stand-ins for the spirits of those that had died but weren't ready to move on yet. All of the girls in Nozomu's class had attempted suicide for some reason, and the relatives of the dead girls had asked for closure. The class was created to give the spirits structure, the calendar changed to seem like it was still the Showa era, and fake friends were created for the fake bodies of the fake students being taught by a fake teacher. Over the three years, the spirits came to believe in the arrangement and could finally "graduate" to the next life, leaving the bodies behind to continue living. Majiro is the stand-in for Hiroshi. In the distance, Rin and Enishi watch on as their work is now finished.

Chapters 300 and 301 are the wrap-up, where detectives try to figure who "Fuura Kafuka" is. She's been missing from the entire volume, showing up only as a shadow in the background. Turns out that Kafuka had been hit by a car and had died prior to the start of the manga, but was identified as an organ donor. Every one of the girls in the class had received something from her (such as Abiru getting a new cornea, Chiri a new heart and Kiri Komori a new lung) following their attempted suicides, and what we had all thought was Kafuka throughout the series was actually one of the other girls taking turn channeling her spirit.  "Kafuka" was a "penname" taken from the author of her favorite book ("The Metamorphosis") generated to give her an identity, since the original donor was only known as "a 10-year-old from the Kanto region". So, yeah, they've all been slowly turning into Kafuka. However, the girls (women, now) can't actually enter the afterworld without taking one last step - with all of them marrying Nozomu in a mass "after death marriage" ceremony. Unfortunately for them, the island is devoid of young women, and every eligible male tries to propose to them now. Nozomu escapes to a church, where he sees an image of an adult Kafuka in a wedding dress waiting for him.

The special last chapter is set some years later, with a female reporter going out to the island for a story, and seeing Nozomu claiming that a different woman is his wife every day. Rin explains that Nomozu falls in love with a different part of Kafuka every few hours and the women all go through a chain of divorces and marriages to allow him to remain "married" to just Kafuka. The reporter tries to run away in fear, but her boat crashes on the rocks and she's almost killed. The women all donate blood for a transfusion as the ghost of Kafuka sings about adding one more person to the harem.  The end.  Kind of creepy, but still a unique way to finish off the run.

Summary: Dispair Sensei finally marries Kafuka, in a sense, and everyone lives happily ever after. In a sense. The series does turn serious in the final few chapters, but it's still worth following to the very end. Recommended.