Saturday, January 20, 2018

Owl Key

Someone lost their key on the sidewalk near Tenmonkan. I'd be more upset about losing my owl...

Friday, January 19, 2018

Kago Crash

There's a TV screen in the walkway area in front of Kagoshima Bank in Tenmonkan. Usually it plays video of scenery around Kyushu, or advertisements for house loans.

"Error reading drive D:." Never a good sign when you want to project the image of stability and trustworthiness...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hot Wheels

Found an old blue van with the Hot Wheels sticker on the side. The owner really should find out where the friction is coming from and do something about it before the tires get damaged...

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shiro's Year of the Dog

Shiro is a hair salon near Tenmonkan. They have a chalk sign board out front, and occasionally they'll have art I'll run on the blog. This time, they combined a Chinese Foo dog puppet with a regular dog to celebrate the start of the new Year of the Dog.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The many faces of Saigo

I've talked about Saigo Takamori many times before. He was born in Satsuma (the name of Kagoshima before the 1900's) and grew up in what is now Kagoshima City. He eventually ended up leading part of the rebellion against the shogun and his government in the 1860's to reinstate the Emperor as the true political and military leader of Japan. He died during a battle against the new government's forces, when there was a falling out between him and his childhood friend, Toshimichi Okubo. To prevent the government from claiming a pure victory, Saigo's second cut off Saigo's head and buried it somewhere, so that it's never been found. In short, Saigo is a local legend, and "native son." He's also a very easy marketing gimmick, and has been used for selling a lot of stuff, including shochu.

What started me to write this blog entry, is when I saw the above billboard for shochu, showing Saigo and Toshimichi as ultra-macho drinkers. It's kind of the opposite of what most artistic directors shoot for. That got me thinking about compiling a bunch of photos of Saigo, Toshimichi, and a few other local figures that get used occasionally.

Toshimichi Okubo turned into a master statesman and politician when the new government was formed. Unfortunately, once the shogun was defeated and the Emperor returned to power, Saigo recommended that Japan immediately invade Korea to expand their power base. Toshimichi was against the idea. Saigo returned to Satsuma, with the intention of living quietly in the countryside. However, his students talked him into leading them against the new government, with Saigo essentially fighting against Toshimichi, and Saigo's eventual death.

(Common portrayal of Saigo, as a foamhead.)

(Foreign university students posing with a cut-out of Saigo at Dolphin Port.)

(Ad with Saigo and a revised version of his pet dog.)

According to a story that ran in the Japan Times, Saigo's favorite dog had big, floppy ears, and may have been a western breed. After Saigo's death, the artist that made the most famous bronze statue of him, made a statue of the dog as well, with floppy ears. There was a big backlash, with critics complaining that the dog looked Chinese. The artist redid the dog's statue, giving it smaller, more pointed ears, and that's what everyone in Japan associates with Saigo's dog now.

(Close-up of the chalk artwork, with prices for a food table selling sausages and beef tongue.)

(A pillow version of Saigo and his dog, available for sale at Makino fabrics and crafts.)

(Bank poster advertising savings accounts. The black dog is the bank's mascot character.)

(I think this was an ad for health insurance, or something. Features Atsuhime and Toshimichi.)

(More shochu.)

(Advertising for a pachinko parlor. Toshimichi has been turned into a sweet potato used for making shochu, the dog is a pachinko ball, Saigo is the Sakurajima volcano, and Atsuhime represents Kagoshima's main farming product - black-skinned pigs.)

(Stylized ad for the Tokyu Hands department store. I assume the dog's name is "Tsun." I haven't seen an official name for it anywhere. The slogan "Revere heaven, love people," refers to giving respect to the Emperor (heaven), while treating your fellow Japanese properly. Saigo is holding the volcano as if it's an Admiral's hat.)

150th Anniversary Celebrations

Now, having run the above photos, the reason I'm doing this blog entry NOW is that Kagoshima is preparing for the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Emperor ascended the throne on Feb. 3rd, 1868. The city erected the pseudo Christmas tree last December, and they've been tweaking the decorations on it ever since.

The character designs here were actually made for the new NHK TV drama that's supposed to start running this month - Sego-don. ("Sego" is the local dialect pronunciation of "Saigo.") This ad promotes Kagoshima goods and travel. It includes Nariakira Shimadzu (lord of Satsuma that was instrumental in giving Saigo power), Atsuhime (a woman who had been adopted by the Shimadzu clan before marrying the shogun at the time), Saigo, Toshimichi and (not sure).

On Sunday, Jan. 14th, as I was walking up to Amu Plaza from Tenmonkan, I saw these actors standing in front of Toshimichi's statue. I asked to take their photo and they agreed, but then insisted on including me in the shot. Sigh.

They told me they were there to promote the new Sego-don TV series, in conjunction with the Meiji anniversary. The guy in the top hat is supposed to be Toshimichi. When we posed for the shot, one of the women said I had to put my hand out and say "Sego-don", with emphasis on the "don" to make it sound like an explosion.

I went to Amu Plaza, saw the Osumi Peninsula goods fair and everything that I wrote about yesterday. And after a while I started thinking about the fact that the actors were in front of Toshimichi's statue. The statue of Saigo (top of the blog entry) is close to Tenmonkan, a few blocks west, at the end of Central Park. It's a big tourist draw and easy to get to. I wondered what the odds were that another group of actors were down there, too. After about 2 PM, I left Amu Plaza and walked to Central Park, arriving at maybe 2:30. There was nothing near the statue, but a few actors in Meiji era clothes were posing with themselves for photos, with one stocky woman wearing a Saigo paper cut-out mask, and another in a dog costume.

I tried taking their picture surreptitiously from a distance, but one of them saw me, and then all of them started waving. I took a couple shots, bowed, and left before they tried to get me to pose with them


Ok, last thing. A few years ago, the big city hospital a half mile southeast of the main train station was torn down, and everything was moved to a new location a little closer to the station, but more south. A few months ago, construction on a new museum dedicated to Saigo was started at the old hospital site. It finally opened this week. To get visitors to the museum, they put up trick art posters in the underground walkway that leads from the station and runs under the streets to the department store and hotel at the other side.

I've seen the floor plan for the museum. It looks like it's just one story tall, and maybe 5 rooms total. I may go some day, but I'm not sure it'll be worth the ticket price.

Stairs leading to the train terminal. The advertising is for the 150th anniversary since the start of the Meiji era. Note again the pointy, not-Chinese-looking, inaccurate ears on the dog.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Jan. 14, 2018

Mochi Pounding

I had to work last Friday and Saturday. There wasn't a lot going on that I knew of, and all the places I normally go to on my way into the English school had nothing (not exactly true, the space in front of Lotteria was used for selling 2018 cars, but there weren't any customers or potential buyers when I was in the area).

On the other hand, there were a lot of the above fliers announcing a mochi pounding event on Sunday, at 11 AM, with close to 8 participating locations.

I was looking forward to getting some free mochi (steamed rice pounded into a 5-pound cake, that's then cut up into small pieces, and either sprinkled with kinako (roasted soybean powder) or doused with soy sauce). Then, I got an email from a student wanting a lesson Sunday morning at 10:30 AM. That promised to make things difficult. The lesson would end at 11:30 AM, and when I got into Tenmonkan, most of the mochi would be gone at every single location. On the other hand, I've had this kind of mochi before, and in fact I had grilled mochi with seaweed at home for New Year's. I didn't mind not getting the free mochi this time, I just wanted a few photos for the blog. Additionally, there would be a second pounding at 1 PM, so if I had the time, I could wait for that, get my photos and then go up to Amu Plaza for food shopping.

I get up at 9:30, prepare for the lesson, then wait. At the last second, the student cancelled. So, I'm immediately out the door and on my way into Tenmonkan. I swing by the closest locations I'd expect the pounding to be at, but don't find anything. I had seen a poster some days earlier, indicating what I'd remembered as Taka Plaza as one spot, but I don't find anything there either. Then, I looked down Streetcar Street a little farther and saw a line in front of Shidax (a big karaoke box), next door to KFC. In order to promote themselves, they'd set up a shiruko table with a big pot of sweet red bean soup, with pieces of soft mochi. As people waited in line, Shidax employees tried to sell them discount coupons for groups of karaoke sessions. There weren't many takers that I saw. I got in line, and pretty quickly got to the table, where I was given a pair of chopsticks, a small bowl of shiruko and mochi, and a piece of pickled daikon (Japanese radish). Everything was good (except the chopsticks, I didn't eat those), and warming.

Next, I went to the Tenpara movie complex. The shop owners there had their own pounding station set up, and volunteers could try their hands at using the mallet to pound mochi too, if they wanted. This time, there were two choices: you could either get a bowl of shiruko with one piece of mochi inside, or two pieces of mochi with either kinako or soy sauce. Having just eaten shirako, I asked for the mochi, with both the kinako and soy sauce toppings.

The mochi was a bit chewier than normal, but I wasn't going to complain over free food. Unfortunately, after finishing my mochi, I tried taking a photo of the table to get examples for the blog, and they'd just run out. Instead, I continued on my way further into Tenmonkan. The station at Lotteria didn't have any mochi out, and no one was preparing to pound the next cake. So, I went to the Yamakataya department store, where the staff was handing out pre-wrapped mochi (one red piece, one white per package), and just as I got there, one of the staff put up a sign at the end of the line saying, "no more left." If I'd arrived 5 seconds sooner, I would have been able to get in line ahead of someone else. But, as I said, I wasn't really there to get the mochi, and I still wasn't feeling overly greedy.

There was one more spot, about a block away, that was still handing out mochi and shiruko. The line was much longer, and I decided against getting in at the end. However, the workers here were still in the process of chopping up one of the rice cakes, so I got my photos after all.

It was just short of 11:30 at this point, and the next scheduled poundings would be at 1 PM. Again, still not greedy. So I figured I might as well go up to Amu Plaza and see what they had going. Also, we'd ordered some window curtains from the generic products shop in the basement of Amu Plaza a week ago, and I'd gotten the notice on Friday that they'd come in, so I needed to go there just to pick the curtains up, plus the other shopping.

Osumi Peninsula Marugoto Fair

I got to Amu Plaza at about noon, where they were on day 3 of their Osumi Marugoto Fair. If you look at a map of Kyushu, the bottom end kind of looks like a crab claw pointing south. The left side of the claw is where Kagoshima is located. The right side is Osumi Peninsula, which has the city of Kanoya, famed for its flower gardens. And, "Marugoto" is that "all about" thing. So, the event this time was a food and products market for the cities and farms in Osumi.

Banners promoting Osumi beef and pork.

There were a few booths, not as many as I'd expected, selling vegetables, shochu, juices and tea. The pink block in the middle of the plaza is just a photo display of the Kanoya flowers.

One end of the plaza had the "Kanoya dining area" set up, and was selling kampachi ramen. Kampachi is a fish, either an amberjack or a yellowtail.

I didn't see anything I wanted to buy, so I went into the department store and got some free sample coffee from Kaldi. Then I went to the 6th floor to see if there were any movie fliers, movieboards, or capsule ball dispenser toys that looked interesting (there weren't). After that, I made a swing through Kinokuniya bookstore to look at the new manga releases. Again, nothing I had any interest in.

I got to the second floor and was crossing the walkway to get to the main train station section (to get coffee and a snack at Seattle's Best Coffee, and read the Penrose math book I got for Christmas, when I heard noise coming from the plaza below. Turned out that one of the sushi shops had a table set up, and two of the women were putting on a demonstration for how to fillet a kampachi.

The kampachi wasn't overly enthusiastic about all the attention, but the crowd was eating it up.

I noticed the two foamhead mascots near the table, so I ran down to the plaza to take photos of them

Since I was there, I figured I might as well get better shots of the filleting demo. That's when I saw the other table in the background with the little plastic trays.

I kept telling myself there was no point in being greedy. I could pass up on the free food, and someone else could have it that might enjoy it more. On the other hand, the line was short, there was a lot of fish, and the demo was close to finishing. So, when the rest of the staff switched the tables around, I was actually pretty close to the front of the "line". In fact, it was first come, first served, no lines, and I was near to the middle of the table. When the people in front of me moved out of the way, I grabbed a tray. It was a small, bite-size piece. A bit rubbery, but tasted good.

After this, I continued on my way to Seattle's Best, where I got my coffee and snack, and read my book (the chapter covered Turing machines). After an hour, I went to Central Park to check on a hunch (more about that tomorrow), then returned home to process the photos, wash dishes, and write up the week's blog entries. It was a good day over all.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Snowcap, Jan. 12

Last Wednesday, the southern Kyushu area was getting warnings of a severe snowstorm bearing down on the area, predicted to hit Thursday morning. As a result, two of my English classes got cancelled for the day. Naturally, the bulk of the storm missed Kagoshima, and we just got a light smattering of flakes during the day, that melted before they hit the ground. But, it left a bit of a snowcap on the volcano on Friday. That looked good enough to photograph.

I'd love to climb up into the snow, but Sakurajima is a live volcano, and the government doesn't allow anyone to get within a kilometer or so of the top. Meaning that there aren't any roads or hiking trails at that level. (There is a logging road, and a logging company that has offices up toward the tree line, but that's private property and off limits to hikers.)

The temps have stayed around freezing since then, and the cap is still there 5 days later.
Not worth skiing on, though.