Monday, December 31, 2012

Yoi otoshi o

It's now New Year's Day, 2013, in Japan. Welcome to the future.

I've mentioned before, although it's been a while, that Japan and the West have opposite traditions regarding Christmas and New Year's. For the Japanese, Christmas is a time for couples to go out and have a romantic night together, while the period from roughly Dec. 28 to Jan. 4 is a time to travel back home and celebrate with one's family. Meaning that the time right around Jan. 1 is when all the stores close, people stay inside with each other and there's nothing to watch on TV. Some of the main traditions include going out to a restaurant to eat soba noodles (symbolic of longevity) on New Year's Eve, to watch the Red vs. White Song Battle program on NHK, to visit a shrine and pray for good fortune in the year ahead, and for adults to give envelopes of money to children. There are also certain dishes that are eaten at this time, including red bean soup, red beans with rice, and nabe (a soup with boiled beef).

In Tokyo, soba restaurants are open 24 hours on Dec. 31 to accomodate the demand, so my group figured it would be a good idea to start out at 5 PM yesterday to have an early dinner. Unfortunately, the one soba restaurant that we wanted to go to near the apartment was already closed for the holiday. So, we tried a second option a few blocks away and it was also closed. Seems that Kagoshima doesn't view soba eating as that important a part of the season. Eventually, we settled on the Royal Host family restaurant closer to the apartment, and ate spaghetti as a soba-alternative.

So much for the idea that everyone in Japan is the same.

Happy Chinese Lunar Calendar Year of the Snake.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Building Up, 120812

Remember that construction site where I wrote about the process of putting in an anti-earthquake base?  This is the same site a few weeks later (12/08). They seem to be in a hurry to get this building finished.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

More Pipes

Ok, I'm back. Problem is, the weather's turned rainy here in Kagoshima, and there haven't been as many photo ops recently. Plus, my camera got dropped and I'm still waiting to get an estimate on how much the repair will be. Additionally, I'm running low on my backlogged articles and with the New Year holiday (typically the first 3-4 days of January), there's less going on outside to write about. So, being back doesn't necessarily mean I'll have that much to work with for writing new blog entries.

Sometimes, I just find the boxes at the back of buildings rather artistic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Secret Ashtray

This concrete block is one of those bases you see used to anchor a plastic pole for holding some kind of advertising banner (such as for promoting City Hunter pachinko machines outside a parlor). Here, it's in an office building parking garage to conceal an empty coffee can repurposed as an ashtray.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Amupla XMas, 2012

Amu Plaza has its Christmas display back up. The stage to the left had some live music one Saturday afternoon.

The 4 women were playing western Christmas songs.

Seems that it was either an open exhibition, or some kind of competition. A second group of sax players stood to the left of the stage to wait their turn, while a third group to stage right had just finished and was standing and watching the others perform.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Japanese Collectors' Coins

One of the more under-promoted campaigns taking place in Japan is the release of the 47 Prefectures Coin Program. Supposedly created to mark the 60th anniversary of the Local Autonomy Law, the Bank of Japan is minting 500 yen coins with designs associated with each prefecture. It started in 2008, and there have been 24 coins since then. The first I noticed anything about it was at the end of November when I was in the Bank of Kagoshima, and I saw a poster on one wall showing this year's designs. The bank only had the last three of the coins - Kanagawa, Miyazaki and Okinawa. They are regular 500 yen coins and can be traded in stores for face value, but they don't work in vending machines.

(My camera won't focus on them. I'll try scanning them if I get the chance).

What was weird was just how many hoops I had to jump through to buy them. They're just like the U.S. State Quarters, but I had to fill out paperwork, giving my phone number and address, just as if I was opening a new bank account, even though they're only worth a total of 1500 yen ($18 USD). It took over 15 minutes for the teller to come out with them, and he presented them as if they were made of gold. Makes me hesitant to try getting the 2013 coins, because of the hassle. Also, I tried visiting the bookstores to find collector books to put the coins in, but came up empty.  This is nothing like coin collecting in the U.S....

(On a side note, the post office will release #19 of the Anime Heroes series of stamps on Jan. 23, 2013. This one is for Heidi of the Alps.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One Piece Gummis

I was at the International Volunteer Center recently, and stopped at the kiosk on the first floor to get some kind of snack. They had discounted packages of One Piece gummi candies for 85 yen (regular price is probably 100 yen). There's two flavors - melon and lemon sodas. The gimmick is that you don't know which flavor you're getting until you open the bag. It's called "Akuma no Gumi", where "gumi" is spelled with the kanji for "mi" (fruit or seed). So, "Devil Gummy Fruit". Only 10 gummies per pack, but the melon soda flavor is pretty good, if you like that sort of thing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finger LED

You can find capsule ball toy machines almost anywhere in Japan. The nearby supermarket has 4 of them at the main entrance. They generally contain small toys, or figures from some TV anime series. Pictured here is a "space weapon" finger LED. 4 different styles, 100 yen per capsule. Not a bad price for a keychain flashlight. Basically just the LED with the two legs set on opposite sides of 3 button batteries, with a mechanical switch for pushing one leg in to make contact.  It's pretty bright, too.  I may get a few more, one for each finger. Not really sure why I'd do that, though.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Deep Work

Apparently someone pulled the stopper out of the ball and now the planet is slowly deflating. Workers are shown here trying to put the plug back in.

My mistake. There's another 3 legs in the back, so I guess they're just installing a big table.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Google Doodles, 2012

Three Steps Over Japan is going on hiatus for a while. I'll start posting again later.


I'd love to get the animated Moog tribute on my laptop, but the code seems to be hidden behind a firewall. The Japanese windup doll piece is also good. The Star Trek doodle is actually kind of an adventure game - try to get to the end. The Little Nemo one is probably the most elaborate of the group so far.

Hisashige Tanaka (Interactive)

Little Nemo in Slumberland (Interactive)

Niels Bohr

David Unaipons

Star Trek (Interactive)

Alan Turing (Interactive)

Johann Galles


Ruby Payne Scott

Moog (Interactive)

Ramon y Cajal

Muybridge (Interactive)


Anna Pavlova

Charles Dickens


Charles Addams

Friday, December 14, 2012

JASS Demo 1

I've been working on writing a software synthesizer in Java for well over a month now. I'm finally at a convenient breaking point, so I might as well give it a little demo. Code available on my Gakken Otona no Kagaku blog. I didn't really have the time to reshoot these, so when I discovered that the top of my head was cut off in one of the videos, I just kind of ran with it.

Youtube link.

Youtube link.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I first encountered They Might Be Giants when they aired Istanbul (Not Constantinople) on MTV back in the 80's. I'd never heard the original, so I didn't know that this was a cover until someone else told me. I especially liked the stop motion work done on the video. So, I decided to pick up the Flood CD. Most of the songs were ok, but the one I really wanted to memorize was Whistling in the Dark, which I can still recite almost 30 years later. But, I kind of lost track of the The 2 Johns, and it wasn't until this Spring that I figured that I might as well sign up for their secret club email newsletter and catch back up on them. At first, there were announcements and free music about once every couple of weeks, but lately it's just been concert listings once a month. So, I went to iTunes and downloaded every free podcast that came up on a "they might be giants" keyword search. A few hits were unrelated religious programs or video game reviews. Fortunately, there were a few radio show interviews with one or both of the Johns, plus the latest official TMBG podcasts (apparently there's been nothing uploaded there since last May. However, there are a number of other videos directly from their website, and it looks like there may be a second email newsletter.)

In any event, I've had to ride the street car recently, and listening to the various podcats on my MP3 player is as good a way to kill the time and catch up with the band as any. For the most part, they're still silly and amusical, but there are a couple songs where they really rock out that I like a lot, including Cyclops Rock, The Rat Patrol and a cover of Chumbawumba's Tubthumping.

I'll just mention here that back around June the band was asking for photos to be uploaded to pinterest for use in a video remix of The Alphabet of Nations song. I got together with a few people at the Volunteer Center and submitted an entry for Japan. The video finally came out a few weeks ago, and lots of the reader-submitted photos are jammed all together into one short burst of frames at the end. I couldn't find the ones I took, and I'm not sure they were included. Sigh. I refuse to buy the free video, just on principle now.

Listen to the TMBGs pods on their official page. Cecil won't throw up on you then.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Landing Docks

Most new construction sites have these landing decks every 5-10 floors. There's no external stairways or elevators for them, so I guess that they're there to give the workers a place to smoke and spit out chewing tobacco on the people below.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bike Garage

Hourly public bike parking. The ramp in back leads to additional parking on the second floor.

Monday, December 10, 2012

New comics

I've been clicking on the What's New links on GoComics on a fairly regular basis. While there have been a large number of strips introduced over the last 6 months, most of them bore me. Either I don't like the artwork, the punchlines are "too cute", or there's just no story to the "storyline". A few days ago, Greg Cravens, of Hubris fame, decided to run his webcomics reading list, so I went through that as well to see if he could suggest something that I'd like. Unfortunately, I came up dry. But, a couple of the newer GoComics strips are good.

What I like:
Basic Instructions
Not a new strip, but I haven't talked about it before. Scott Meyer's M-W-F 4-panel "guide on how to survive life". Contains some wicked punchlines.

Berger and Wyse
A self-named single-panel strip by Pascal Wyse and Joe Berger. An updated version of the Far Side, but with better artwork and snarkier gags.

Dixie Drive
Rich Powell's single-panel gag strip. It's kind of like Far Side, or maybe Pluggers, but with a strong redneck twist (not so strong as to alienate yankees, though).

Legend of Bill
Bill started out as a generic sword and sorcery parody, with something of a Family Guy vibe. But, it's developed into a full-blown serial with supporting characters and unfolding plots. The artwork's pretty good, although it updates very irregularly. Best if you go to the archives and start from the beginning.

Skin Horse
More of an X-Files parody, Skin Horse follows the misadventures of the Skin Horse team of Men in Black social workers. The artwork is marginal, but the characters grew on me after a while. And, the zombie bioweapon-assassin sometimes has lines that make me spit beer out of my nose. Best if you go to the archives and start from the beginning. Some adult themes, so parential discretion may be advised.

Hunter Black
Another in the line of "webcomics based on a Dungeons and Dragons game" (like, Erfworld, or Order of the Stick). Very stylized artwork that may not appeal to everyone. Only updates Tuesdays and Thursdays, so there's not much story yet. Not actually part of GoComics, but I'll mention it here. I'm hoping things will get more interesting in time.

Oyster War
A brand-new entry to GoComics. Updates only on Mondays, and there have only been 4 strips as I write this. So, there's been no development yet. But, the artwork is intriguing, and the story blurb seems promising.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Google Doodles, 2011

Now things are coming together. We get games, music videos and interactive animations (try playing with the Jim Henson muppet).

Robert Noyce

Mark Twain

Stanislaw Lem

Louis Daugerre

Hideyo Noguchi

Marie Curie

Art Clokey

Jm Henson (Interactive)

Freddie Mercury (Interactive)

Jorge Luis Borges


Lucille Ball (Interactive)

Gregor Mendel

Total Lunar Eclipse

Les Paul (Interactive)

Emile Berliner

James Audubon

Yuri Gagarin

Robert Bunsen

Harry Houdini

Will Eisner

Taro Okamoto

Naomi Uemura

Thomas Edison

Jules Verne (Interactive)

Takayanagi Kenjiro