Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: Disappearance Diary, Part 2

Disappearance Diary, Part 2, The Ward for Alcoholics, by Hideo Azuma, Grade: A
Azuma's sequel to Disappearance Diary was just released in October. If you're familiar with his work, then you know that he was a popular gag artist in the 70's, and popularized the lolicon manga style. However, he cracked under the constant pressure from his editors, and their insistence that he drink sake with them. He ran away from his house and family several times to live as one of the homeless, but he was located and dragged back to "civilization" each time.

(Azuma talks about his past.)

Finally, his family gave him an intervention and he was checked into a detox program. This volume picks up where the other left off, detailing his daily routines in the hospital, talking about some of the staff and various members of the inmates. Occasionally, as they progressed through the program, they'd be allowed outside for day trips on their own or in groups, but the staff would inspect them for signs of drinking when they got back in the evening. A few of the inmates would fall off the wagon while outside and were then kicked out of the program.

(Azuma realizes that he can't write kanji anymore.)

There's not a lot of stand-out sequences here. Mostly it's just conversations between inmates talking about their philosophies or the backgrounds leading to their problems with alcohol, or Azuma's narration when he goes outside and panics at what he expects everyone else to be thinking about him. The artwork is good and solid, the character designs are distinct and varied, and all of the women look cute. The book ends with Azuma still in the hospital. And, there's an interview at the back between Azuma and Tori Miki (Tori is a big fan and supporter of his).

(Life in the commons room.)

If you liked the first Disappearance Diary volume, then you'll want to get this one. If you have a drinking problem, it's worth reading this manga when it gets translated. Highly recommended.

(One of the day trips is to the Jindaiji shrine in Chofu. I've been here a few times.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Azuma Hideo Best Selection Sampler

I've mentioned Hideo Azuma before. He's the author of the Disappearance Diary and A Fish Crawls on Land. He's a gag manga artist, who had done most of his work in the 70's through to the 90's. At a couple points, the pressure from his editors to meet his deadlines was so great that he chucked it all and became a homeless person (as detailed in Disappearance Diary). However, he's a really good artist, and he pretty much defined the lolicon (cute girl) genre. One of his bigger fans is Tori Miki (Anywhere But Here; Frozen Food Agent), and Tori wrote an article that appears at the back of the Azuma Hideo Best Selection volume. Most of the stories in this collection are from the early 70's. The artwork is simplistic, but very consistent throughout. There's no real story or plot in any of the chapters, basically just a bunch of visual gags and toilet humor. I want to show two sample strips here as examples. Unfortunately, the cover is kind of inappropriate for U.S. audiences, so I won't include it. It's also completely unrelated to all of the content in the book, so I'm not sure why the publishers chose to use it.

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

I'm a Ghost Smoker is a series of running gags about a ghost who likes to smoke. Generally, each strip is 1 or 2 pages long.

Mimi is a one-shot about the daughter of a martial arts master. The teacher that appears below is a self-parody of the artist.

Azuma has a very clean, simple art style at the beginning of his career. If you're interested in the older artists, or manga history, this is a good book to get. Recommended.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kent Jet Filter

The Japanese marketing machine never sleeps. From iBoost, to Clear cigarettes to "jet filters". What will they come up with next?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Building up, 131005

About a year ago, I started taking photos of a construction site, where they were just beginning preparation for the anti-earthquake rock bed. I took a few other shots over several months, then stopped in July when the protective screening went up and blocked all view of the work. Well, most of the external work is done and the screening is starting to come down on what's turned out to be another upscale apartment building. I think this is a partial sign that the economy is recovering a little bit.

Removal of the scaffolding.

One side of the building can now be seen from the street. Sometimes.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gun Gun Gurt

Gungun Gurt LX is a yogurt-based health drink available in vending machines everywhere, from the Calpis company. 120 yen for a small bottle. Normally, if I get anything from a vending machine, it's can coffee. However, one day, when I was outside and feeling thirsty, I got Gungun on a whim just to see what it was. (It tastes like what you'd expect drinkable yogurt to taste like.) What caught my eye, though, was the picture of the guy in face makeup on the back. The first time I saw Tekken was in the magazine for the Adult Science Flip Clock kit, back about 6 months ago (in April). He's a comic illustrator who specializes in 4-panel gags and huge phonebook-sized flip books. I'd hadn't heard about him before that, and hadn't seen anything about him since then. And now, here he is, drawing one-panel gags on the back of yogurt drink bottles.

The joke is that a salaryman goes to a Japanese-style restaurant, and doesn't realize that he has a hole in his sock until after he takes his shoes off and goes inside. He now really needs Gungun Gurt to bring his energy level back up. If you want to see more of Tekken's comics, visit the Gungun Gurt website.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lotteria Fryday

Back when I was first working in Hitachi in Japan, I was in the small town of Kudamatsu. There was almost nothing there, except for a grocery store near the company dorms, and The Mall about a 2 mile hike away. The Mall had one western-style fastfood place - KFC. It was a nice place to visit if you wanted to buy clothes or music, or to play video games, but there were maybe only 4 restaurants to choose from. The nearest big town was Tokuyama, 15 minutes away by train, but the trains didn't run that often. Generally, I'd only go to Tokuyama once or twice a month, during the weekends. But, when I did visit, I almost always made a point of eating at the Lotteria burger shop in the arcade near the station. It was kind of a way to relax, sitting down and eating hamburgers. The burgers were pretty good, but a bit expensive. When I moved back to Tokyo, I stopped eating at Lotteria kind of on principle (the closest location, in Noborito, was rather filthy). But, every so often I'd visit the anime shops in Nakano, and I'd sometimes have a burger at the Lotteria there out of nostalgia. The problem was, at this point, the recipes had changed and the prices had gone up. The burgers didn't taste as good anymore. And now, I'm in Kagoshima and there's a Lotteria in the Tenmonkan shopping complex along the route I take to and from my English school. The prices are much higher than I like and the burgers are too greasy. So the only time I eat there now is when a music event is happening in the open space in front of the Lotteria and I'm waiting for a specific act to start up.

However... A few weeks ago I saw a delux multi-patty burger on the menu and I wanted to get it at some point when I was hungry to take a photo for the blog. But, when I went back, it was off the menu. Recently, Lotteria had posters up promoting two new tall stacks, which were to be available only 2 specific days each. I'd missed the first two days, and on the third day I wasn't hungry. One stack was a 5-patty hamburger, and the other was a 5-patty fried shrimp sandwich. The shrimp stack would go on sale on Friday, Oct. 5th (AKA: Fryday) only, and I made sure to stop by when I was done with all my classes. The poster above is announcing that this location only has materials for 220 orders, and they'd be sold-out after that. The clerk took my order and automatically assumed I'd take it home to share with 4 other people. Instead, I asked for it eat-in, and got a small hot coffee to go with it (500 yen for the sandwich, 200 yen for the small coffee, no refills. Total - $7 USD). Unlike the poster, the actual sandwich has a single thin layer of a mayonnaise-based tartar sauce with onions. Trying to squeeze the sandwich down so you can take bites out of it just causes the buns to tear. Ideally, you want to eat this one patty at a time, using a fork. But they didn't gave me a fork, so I ate it one patty at a time with my fingers, trying to make the bread last as long as possible. Because there's so little sauce, and it's only on the top patty, the entire sandwich becomes very dry very quickly.

The shrimp part of the patties was pretty good, but the overall experience was un-fun. Bottom line, the next time these become available, order one tall stack and then share it with your friends. Bring your own tartar sauce or catsup, and your own forks. In conclusion, I'm not planning on returning to Lotteria for a while.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Aira City View

(The full photo album can be found here.)

Back in September, when I was at the last kiri-e event, the organizer asked if I'd be interested in joining on a bus tour to Aira City, about 20 miles northeast of Kagoshima, at the north end of Kinko Bay. Since the total price would be 500 yen ($5 USD), I said "sure". Taking the train to Aira would cost at least that much, one way. As we got closer to the trip date of Nov. 17, I got an email apologizing and saying that the tour company was tacking on an additional 500 yen as an "insurance fee". It was a little too late to back out, and since I didn't want to alienate anyone that I'd be seeing again at some point, I quietly accepted the increase. It still wasn't that expensive, anyway.

(First stop - tea.)

The tour is called Aira View, which in Japanese sounds a lot like "I Love You", so the bus is pink and covered in little hearts. The stop is on the west side of the main train station, near Bic Camera. The bus was nearly packed, and the only empty seat was next to mine. Many of the people on the ride were English teachers (ALTs) with several that had just come to Japan in August as part of the JET program. I'd met 3-4 of the people previously, mainly at the kiri-e events.

(Part of the tea ceremony.)

The bus set out at 9 AM, passing by Terukuni Shrine, the International Volunteer Center, and then down to Inari river before going through the tunnel in the hill to come out next to Senganen. From this point, we hug the coast up to Aira train station. Unfortunately, the weather was poor all day, with a little scattered drizzling, and the volcano on Sakura-jima was completely hidden in the clouds, so the scenic views weren't that scenic. Along the way, our tour guide kept up a continuous stream of chatter, talking about nearby landmarks, making local jokes, and occasionally singing folk or children's songs. At the Aira station, we picked up one more rider, who sat next to me. She had come from Aira originally, but had been away for a while and was taking the tour to see how the city had changed while she was gone. We talked about a matsuri at a shrine that we'd be visiting, and she recommended watching the taiko players if possible.

(Shrine grounds for the Okutsu festival. The performance stage can be seen in the background.)

(The place was crowded, making it hard to get good photos.)

(The first show I saw was this traditional narrative pantomime. The woman to the right played drums and read out the narration. The guy acted out the story, which was kind of a comedy about a hapless villager.)

After an hour, we got to the shrine, and were allowed out for a little over an hour. The shrine has one of Japan's oldest and biggest camphor trees, and the festival that weekend - Okutsu Donto Matsuri was dedicated to it. Aira also has an active Korean population, and there were Japanese and Korean flags lining the streets through the city.

(A group of Korean high school students. You can see the video for them at the bottom of the page. Be warned, the music is VERY slow.)

We were herded to a small open area near the shrine, where we were treated to a tea ceremony demonstration. All of us received a bowl of very bitter Japanese green tea, and a small snack candy. When we were done, we were all given packages wrapped up in a nice piece of cloth. Inside were chopsticks, two really good rice balls, and a bottle of water. Basically, a free lunch, which may have been a part of the "insurance fee". After this, I ran over to the shrine to watch a traditional folk play, where the drummer also did the narration and the dancer acted out the story. It was really funny to watch. The camphor tree was to the right of the stage, so I took a photo of that as well.

(The giant camphor (okutsu) the festival is dedicated to.)

There's a nearby elementary school that hosted other events, including a duck race that people could bet on (the ducks were busy eating lettuce while I was there), a tree kids could rope up, and three bamboo poles that kids could climb to grab hats placed at the top.

(Bamboo pole climbing.)

(Ducks readying for their next race.)

(The betting table is to the right of the race field.)

(One of the main symbols for this festival. Note the Japanese and Korean flags.)

(The roping tree.)

(Making pine cone Christmas trees.)

(Korean dancers.)

(The music this time was quite a bit faster.)

(The main Taiko group. While most of the performers entered and exited from the back of the stage, this group started at the entrance to the shrine, which was only a few feet from where I was standing at the time.)

(These guys are good. You can see the video at the bottom of the page.)

And, lots of food stalls. The rest of our group wanted to go into the school to get lunch but I hung back to see the drum group at 11:30 AM. So, several of the others stuck around with me. The taiko was really good, and everyone watching cheered at the end. There was also a high school group that played very slow traditional Korean music, dancers and a Korean duet. At 12 PM, we got back on the bus.

(Elementary school grounds. Food stalls to the left, duck race betting table to the right.)

Our other stops included a small shrine at the top of an overlook, an exercise park, a log cabin camping site, a pottery shop, a city museum and Ryoumon Falls. The primary attraction of the scenic stops is the view of Sakurajima, but since we couldn't see it through the clouds, we spent most of our time talking to each other.

(Gate entrance to the next shrine. This one was just a small white building that was locked up for the off-season. The only thing worth mentioning about it is that it's at the top of a hill that has two flights of stairs to reach. Several of us were panting pretty hard at the end.)

(Unlike the hills around Kagoshima, in Aira several of the tunnels are still unblocked. We weren't sure if this one is just an irrigation pipe, or one of the air raid bomb shelters left over from WW II. I was told that the Kagoshima tunnels were walled-off some time ago after a couple children wandered inside one and died there.)

Behind the pottery shop is a 300-year old kiln that's not in use anymore. The design is interesting, in that it's built on the side of the hill, and consisted of at least 10 chambers. As each chamber aged and the roof caved in, the pottery workers would just build another chamber farther down the hill and keep working. After the owner talked about the kilns, we went into the shop, where little bowls of pickled radish and veggies were waiting for us, along with cups of tea. A number of the group bought ceramic tea cups and chopstick holders.

(Sign showing the layout of the kilns.)

(The chain of kilns used to be longer. I think that it was shortened when a road was built cutting through the hill to reach to the houses on the other side.)

(Inside of one of the kilns.)

(Exercise park. The original plan was for anyone who wanted to, to visit an onsen and everyone else to come to this park. But, because of the Okutsu Matsuri visit, the onsen portion was cut. I'm assuming that during the summer, the water to the falls is turned on and the area in front becomes a small lake.)

(On a clear day, you can see the volcano in the middle of the bay. On a less cloudy day, you can see the bay.)

(Face in the hills. The area around Aira has a number of very interesting "Asian-style" hill shapes. Unfortunately, I could only see some of the best hills from inside the bus while we were on the road, and I couldn't get photos of them.)

Ryoumon Falls was used as a location for the filming of three NHK period dramas, and the Japanese members in the group really wanted to see it.

(The sign on the right lists the three dramas filmed here. I think the most famous is Atsu Hime (Princess Atsu), 2008.)

(Walking sticks, if you need them.)

(Ryoumon Falls.)


The bus dropped us off at the top of a hill. At the entrance of a rock-paved road, slippery with moss and dew, is a box of bamboo walking sticks (you leave them in the box at the bottom of the hill). It's a long hill, and there's a walking path at the bottom that's another 300 meters (about a 1/6th of a mile). I thought that we'd have to return to the top of the hill to get to the bus again, and I wanted enough time to take photos of the falls, so I hopped down the paving blocks as fast as I safely felt I could go, then when I got to the bottom, I jogged to the falls and took a bunch of pictures. As I was jogging back, I saw the bus pulling into a parking lot a block away. This would make things a lot easier, so I walked to the bottom of the hill, where the leaders of the group where just starting to catch up. Then, I walked back to the falls with them, and took a hidden staircase down to the river. The water is pretty cold now, but one of the children knelt down and washed his head off a couple of times. Then it was back to the bus again.

(City museum.)

The final stop was at a small one-room museum that seemed to be next to the Aira city hall. Next door was a small wooden 1-room classroom, with two school kids inside doing homework or something. I didn't see a teacher there at the time. In the museum, the curator talked about Sakurajima, and the 100th anniversary of the last big eruption. The museum has a couple nice katana on display, some military uniforms from WW II, and examples of old rifles. There's also a small scale model of an Edo-era town.

(This might be the original Aira village layout.)

(The curator can be seen at the right, to the back.)

Initially, the tour was to include a stop at an onsen (hot spa) for those that wanted to take a bath, but because of the matsuri that morning, we skipped the onsen part. This meant that we got back to Kagoshima-chuo station 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time of 5 PM. Overall, it was a fun trip. The guide talked about another matsuri coming up next year, for the annual spider-fighting contest. (All the info I can find so far is for last year's event. Looks like it might be held at the beginning of June for this year, maybe.)

Youtube video of a Korean Music Performance

Youtube Video of a taiko performance