Tuesday, September 30, 2014

KTS Days

Two weeks ago, KTS, the local TV station, had their annual "KTS Days" event. This time, it was split between the open area in front of Lotteria in Tenmonkan, and the International Center. The Lotteria part was just an entertainment center for kids, with a jump room and a couple games. The International Center probably had food booths and a live stage outside on the grounds in front of the building, and activities inside for kids to learn what it's like to work in a TV station. I say "probably", because I had to work Saturday, and there was a major thunderstorm on Sunday. So, I only saw the Lotteria space on my way home from work. But, the event never seems to change from year to year.

Chuuri (Tulip).

The KTS logo bird as a bounce room.

This activity lets kids emulate a rakugo experience. Rakugo consists of a comic sitting on a cushion in front of an audience, telling a story. Often, the comic hits himself on the head with a paper fan to show the end of the story. Here, the bamboo pole falls and whacks the kid on the head. It was a very popular activity.

This was an interesting game. Kids, with their parents, man air cannons to shoot nets at creatures floating in a water tank. I assume that were were prizes based on the size of the creature captured, but no one caught anything while I was watching.

This was a lucky shot, but the camera had trouble getting it right. I hit the button just as the cannon went off, and you can see the air stream from the green one in the back. The faint red blur to the left, in front of the white tent wall, above the wall of the tank, is the net.

A failed attempt to catch a creature.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 15

Diving Capsule

Returning by ferry to Dolphin Port, we pass by the aquarium, where I notice the submersible on the lawn nearby. I wonder if they left the keys inside...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 14

Trip End

It's now getting close to 4:30. I've been on my feet since 12:30 or so, and according to the street signs I've gone 8 km (4 miles), but I'd like to think it's at least closer to 6 miles. Anyway, I haven't eaten anything other than the peanut brittle cookie thing since breakfast, and there's no stores in the area selling real food. I'm reminded of the Haisoki manga, and the inability to find a good ramen restaurant. Occasionally I'd passed bus stops, and the next one would be coming some time around now. The sidewalks have been getting narrower, and I'm now at a spot along a bridge where there's not a lot of shoulder space along the street. When I do find the next bus stop, I decide it's time to head back. But...

(I wonder if it has a hiking trail?)

There are two concerns. First is that the next bus is supposed to arrive at 4:34 PM, but I don't know if it keeps the same schedule on Sundays as on the rest of the week (if not, there may be no bus). Second is that I'm just now realizing that I spent my last 1,000 yen bill at the gift shop on puddings and yuzu squash, and all I have left is a 5,000 yen note ($50 USD). In the time remaining, I try hiking farther along the road to find a store or something to get change. There's another gas station, but this one is closed, too. I return to the bus stop, and pour water from my 2 liter bottle into a smaller bottle to make it easier to carry. As I'm trying to put the caps back on the bottles, the bus arrives. I scoop up the bottles, backpack and cameras and race to get on board, then try to ask the driver about the fare. It takes a couple of minutes for him to understand my question, then he answers, "No, I can't accept 5,000 yen bills". I'm getting ready to get back off the bus when he adds that I can get change from one of the gift shops next to the ferry port building at the end of the ride.

(Red - where I planned to go. Blue, where I went. The bus stop was named "Kawa ana" (River Hole), but it doesn't show up as a place name on google maps.)

15 minutes later, we reach the ferry port. The driver tells me that the fare is 260 yen ($2.60 USD), and points me to a konbini across the street. There, I try finding a sandwich, but the place is sold out. I buy a can coffee instead, and return to the bus, where the driver is loading on about 20 passengers. He seems relieved to see me, and happily thanks me for the money. I'm just happy I didn't have to spend another 2 hours backtracking my route on foot.

What I really wanted with my actual route was to go around the southern end of Sakurajima and get far enough to the other side to be able to see the volcano cone. Maybe next time. Since the fare was only 260 yen, I may take the bus both ways and save myself some time.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 13

Time Capsule

Small housing areas dot the coast. The main road running by one of them took me past this monument spot.

"Time capsule.
Sealed: May 11, 2014
Theme: Us after 10 years. If we try, we can do it. Persistent heart.
To be opened: May 5, 2024"

If I'm still here in 2024, I'll have to be present during the opening of the capsule.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Farewell Yamato, vol. 1 review

While I think it's a common belief that Space Battleship Yamato is Leiji Matsumoto's manga, the truth is that he only worked on the first series, and produced art for the original TV anime. The wiki entry talks primarily about the TV anime and movie sequels, ignoring the manga entirely. But, there have been several collections released, including Media Factory's recent "Library" series. Saraba Uchu Senkan Yamato: Ai no Senshitach" (Farewell Galaxy Battleship Yamato: Warriors of Love) is identified as MF's "Uchu Senkan Yamato Library 3".

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

Farewell Yamato, vol. 1 Akira Hio (1978, reprinted by Media Factory in 2005), Grade: C
Very little is written on Akira in English, although he has a fairly extensive entry in the Japanese wiki, with multiple credits on Yamato sequels. He trained under Shoutaro Ishinomori, which is very evident in his character designs. Apparently, the idea was that this manga would coincide with the release of the movie of the same name, but was delayed because Hio had trouble getting the battleship designs done on time.

The story is very straightforward. The young plot, Kodai, brings the Yamato back to Earth, where he meets Yuki and they make their wedding plans. Captain Akita has been buried, and the rest of his crew is trying to decide what to do next. One member, Sanada, reports that he's detected an SOS message coming from a distant white comet. The group brings their findings to the Earth's military council, where the blowhard politicians and paper military leaders simply argue the issue to death. Kodai yells at them to make a decision, which results in his being evicted from the proceedings, and the Yamato's crew being grounded.

(Yuki starts replanning Kodai's apartments.)

In an act of defiance, Kodai reassembles his crew, recruits many new members, and steals the Yamato to return to space, as well as rescuing his former teacher, Hijikata, from the wreckage of a recent space battle. Hijikata formally takes Akita's place as ship's captain. Kodai is not happy to discover that Yuki has boarded the ship as a nurse and they have a falling out that is quickly glossed over; she returns to her position on the bridge as a telemetry officer without an explanation as to why she's not working in the medical bay.

'The crew make their plans to return to space in Akita's honor.)

The SOS message is from a distant location outside the galaxy, and is coming from a spot close to the White Comet. The comet, in fact, is the home of Earth's newest enemy, the White Comet Empire, from Andromeda (the guys that killed everyone under Hijikata's previous command). There are a few battles against the Empirians that tests the crew's faith in Hijikata's leadership skills, but the enemy's squadrons eventually get whittled away.

(Rescuing Hijikata.)

About halfway through the book, the Yamato's next boss enemy steps up - Dessler. The former Gamiras leader survived after all, and is currently working for the Empire. He takes his fleet out and uses a series of "short warps" to pound the Yamato into submission. Just before the final blow can be delivered, though, Kodai figures out Dessler's trick and uses it against him. Dessler and Kodai meet face to face in the same cabin on Dessler's ship where Yuki is treating a wounded soldier.

(Hijikata faces off against the Empirians in a classic space battle.)

(The Empirian Emperor, Dessler, and his consort. The consort is the one that issues all the real orders, and she doesn't trust Dessler.)

Dessler sees Yuki and prepares to surrender. However, a spy that the Emperor attached to Dessler tries to get his revenge against the former Gamirasian, and shoots Yuki by mistake. The volume ends with Dessler killing the spy before opening an airlock to commit suicide. Kodai gets Yuki back to the Yamato for medical treatment, but she's apparently in a bad way and she and Kodai spend their time holding each other and crying.

(The spy shoots Yuki, Dessler shoots the spy (again).)

Comments: If you liked Matsumoto's treatment of Yamato, Hio's version is going to be pretty disappointing. The artwork is completely different, and there's more soap opera scenes between Kodai, Yuki and Hijikata. Dessler's behavior at the end is completely irrational, and there's no guarantee that he's going to remain dead this time, either. The artwork on the Yamato itself is good, though, so that's a plus if you like manga mecha. But, overall, this isn't my kind of story. I can only recommend this book if you liked the second movie.

(Saraba Dessler.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 12

Rest Area

When rest areas go bad.
At one time, this was probably a thriving restaurant and gift shop stop. Now, not so much.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 11


There's a lot to be said about not owning nice sports cars in a place that has volcanoes.

It's not an abandoned vehicle - the tires aren't flat.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 10


Coming out from the monument site, I reached the main road. In front of me is the volcano. And that cloud? Uh huh, yup. Rain. As the drizzle started, I had to decide if I was going to keep heading south, or go back home.

At first, the drizzle was light. Then it started coming down harder. I didn't mind the idea of walking in the rain, except that eventually it was going to soak through my backpack and damage the cameras and stuff inside. I made the decision to keep going south, hoping that I'd encounter a konbini, where I could either buy an umbrella, or get a large garbage bag that I could put over the backpack. A few minutes later, I reached a gas station, which was out of business and locked up tight. Another 6-8 blocks farther on was a gift shop.



I got in the shop just as the skies opened up and the rain came down hard. The saleswoman had no idea what I was talking about regarding extra big plastic bags I could put over the backpack, so we just chatted a bit, and she mentioned that the rain was expected to stop and start throughout the day. As I waited for a lull, I bought a box of Sakurajima orange puddings (680 yen), and a can of Yuzu Squash (130 yen).

Yuzu is kind of like lime juice, and "squash" is a kind of soda. So, lime soda. Tasted good. The characters on the can are the local marketing mascots that represent Kagoshima. Eventually, the rain stopped and I kept going south.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 9


Now, I've been down to this part of the island before. It's close to where the return road comes out if you walk up to the observatory building and then come back down in a big loop. But, at the time I didn't make the short side trip to the coast line to see this monument. It's called "Portrait of a Shout", and is featured heavily in the advertising for the island. It's only a block or so from the road.

"Portrait of a Shout" Construction Details
The "Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi Sakurajima All-Night Concert" was held on the 21st August 2004 and the quarry site was filled to the brim with 75,000 people gathering from all over Japan on Sakurajima, population 6,000. The concert carried on throughout the night with the fervor of the 75,000 people audience, and its finale was greeted by the rising sun upon Sakurajima. In an act to leave a trace of the emotional charge felt during that night, a "Monument Construction Committee" was established in the spring of 2005, and, with the agreement of the fans and support of many industry groups and organizations, the monument was completed. On the 19th March 2006, it was unveiled before the eyes of 15,000 people, including Nagabuchi and the sculptor himself, Oonari. The completed monument was named the "Portrait of a Shout", and has become a symbolic presence of this place.

The lava rock that is used in this monument was originally a 50t gross volume rock on Sakurajima, until it was reborn as the "Portrait of a Shout" by the hands of sculptor, Hiroshi Oonari. This "Portrait of a Shout" monument expresses the image of "impassioned pulses gathering and resonating with this land, giving rise to a fresh eruption on Sakurajima."

If there is an eruption, Portrait will be the first to know.
As a side note, one of the reasons Nagabuchi had the concert here is that he's a Kagoshima native, hailing from Ijuin, the town that hosts the 20 km walk at the end of October every year.

There's a little pavilion near the monument. This enterprising individual set up a practice spot for himself.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 8


Where old fishing boats go when their time comes.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


I've mentioned before that money is weird in Japan - everything is off by a factor of 5 or 10. If you go to a 7-11 in the U.S. and buy a pack of gum to break a $10 bill, the clerk will look at you dirty. Doing the same thing in Japan doesn't raise an eyebrow, but the clerks will complain if you buy a pack of gum to break a 10,000 yen bill ($100 USD). Getting a $30 dinner in the USD is considered expensive, but 3,000 yen for a meal and drinks is cheap (20,000 yen is expensive). Japanese women will think nothing of dropping $5,000 on a Coach handbag, or a pair of shoes - it's the only way to show that you have money, since bragging about it is considered impolite.

Anyway, I was at the game arcade in Amupla, looking at the UFO Catcher machines (crane arms). I used to play them all the time in the 90's, and could get anime-related plushies within three tries, at 100 yen per try. Back then, the arms were mechanical, and unless the owner broke the springs, or packed the dolls in really hard, you could get several if you were skilled enough. One guy I knew could actually get 2 at a time, by hooking the strings on the dolls with the crane arm. At the time, the dolls cost the arcades about 200-300 yen apiece, so they were losing money on us.

These days, the UFO Catchers are computerized and can be programmed to not pick anything up. The strategy is to watch a specific machine for a while, and if enough people play it without winning anything, then you step in and start playing because it should begin picking the prizes up after 20-30 plays.

This is one reason I don't play UFO Catchers anymore - it's not about the skill. Then again, a lot of the prizes are really big now and worth more money. But, there's nothing in the machines I really want enough to spend more than 500 yen on. However...

As I said, money is weird here. I received several 500 yen coins as part of payments for English lessons from some of my students, and they kind of feel like arcade tokens.I figured I'd spend them if I saw something in a Catcher that looked interesting. For the bigger prizes, it's now 200 yen per try, or 3 tries for 500 yen. When I saw the replica Walther P-32, the pistol used by Lupin III in the manga and anime, I thought "what the heck". The box was laying flat across two rubberized metal bars, so if you picked up one end, the box wouldn't slide off the rod. You have to grab it off-center and kind of twist it so it goes sideways and falls between the bars. At least, that's what I was trying to do. I went through my three 500 yen coins pretty quickly, and it looked like it would take one more try to get the box to drop. I broke a 1000 yen bill in the changer, and kept trying.

But, all I managed to do was to flip the box upside down. At this point, I'd lost the equivalent of $25 USD, and the prize wasn't worth that much, anyway. So, I turned around to leave and noticed an arcade clerk standing next to me. He asked if I wanted him to reposition the box for me, and I answered that I wouldn't be able to win it no matter how long I tried. Then, he opened the case and put the box back on the bars, but this time so that the back end was just barely leaning against the back rod. He even showed me how to grab the box so that it would now fall on the next try. Shrugging, I got more change and put 200 yen in the machine. This time, the box fell into the hopper.

I reached down, pulled the prize out of the hopper, and as I stood up, the clerk, grinning, held out a plastic shopping bag for me to put the box in. He thanked me for playing, and I thanked him for letting me have the toy after all.

It's just a heavy piece of plastic, but the slide pulls back, and the hammer clicks down loud enough to sound like a cap gun. The finish is "pre-aged" to make it look like an old collector's piece, and it comes with its own stand.

It cost me about $27 USD, and normally that would feel like way too much money for something like this. But, money is weird here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cosmo Ship Yamato, vol. 1 review

Leiji Matsumoto (1938-) presents a kind of a problem from the perspective of manga history. Many of the old-school artists (post-WW II) can sort of be clumped together as being either directly influenced by Osamu Tezuka, or coming from the kamishibai (paper theater) field.  We don't really see that here with Leiji, who spent his own money to go to Tokyo in the early-1950's and got his start primarily drawing girl's manga under his original name of Akira Matsumoto. His debut work, "Mitsubachi no Boken" ("A Bee's Adventure"), came out in 1954, in Manga Shonen. This is after the Tokiwa-Sou period, when key figures like Ishinomori, Fujio Fujiko, Fujio Akatsuka and Shinichi Suzuki had worked directly with Tezuka, and a little before kamishibai artists like Shigeru Mizuki came along. Eventually, more women entered the shojo manga market, and forced out many of the male artists. In 1965, Akira worked exclusively under the name "Leiji Matsumoto", but he wasn't really successful until debuting "Otoko Oidon" in 1971, in Shonen Magajin. According to the SF Encyclopedia article, Leiji also produced book illustrations for Japanese collections of the Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry stories by C L Moore. This brought him to the attention of producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who hired him as a concept artist for a planned TV anime project that eventually came out as "Uchu Senkan Yamato" in 1974 (renamed "Star Blazers" in the U.S., and heavily re-edited.)

According to one source, Nishizaki wanted Yamato to be a kind of Lord of the Flies in space, with a group of teenagers stuck on a generation space ship and quickly going after each other's throats. However, Leiji reworked the story, and began producing the manga of the same name, also in 1974. The two of them got into a prolonged legal battle over who owned what, and a court in 2002 ruled that the trademark and basic plot belonged to Nishizaki, but the characters and spaceship design were Leiji's. From this point, Leiji established himself as a space opera manga artist, with grand story arcs appearing in Captain Harlock (1977), Galaxy Express 999 (1977) and Queen Millennia (1980). He's very closely associated with both the Japanese train system, and the JAXA space program.

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

Uchu Senkan Yamato, vol. 1, by Leiji Matsumoto, Grade: B+
Because Yamato is available in English, there's not a lot of point to giving a full story summary here. Essentially, Earth has been under attack by an alien humanoid race called the Gamiras, who have bombarded the planet with asteroids, turning the surface into a desolate ruins. Most humans have retreated into underground cities, with a research center on Mars. Captain Okita is leading a desperate last attack against the Gamiras fleet in space, and his ship is the only one to make it back to Earth with survivors. At this point, a strange spaceship crashes on Mars, bearing a message capsule from the Queen of the planet Iscandar. She gives the Earthlings the plans for a new warp drive and cannon, and invites them to come visit in order to join forces against the Gamiras. Earth's scientists secretly rebuild the ruins of an ancient space warship, which Okita christens "Yamato". It's staffed with the two boys that found the message capsule - Kodai and Shima (Kodai's older brother was one of Okita's last remaining commanders until he engaged in a kamikaze attack on a Gamiras ship), the alcoholic doctor Sakezou Sado, Sado's pretty assistant Yuki Mori, and the robot Analyzer.

Iscandar offers the promise of something called the Cosmic Cleaner D, which would restore Earth's surface. So, Okita takes the Yamato out into deep space, where the crew has to survive various threats above and beyond attacks by the Gamiras fleet, headed by their leader, Lord Desler. For the most part, the Gamiras are like pre-WW II Germans - militaristic, but completely unable to outwit the wily Japanese good guys.

(All of the main cast prior to being asked to join the Yamato.)

For the most part, the story is pure camp. The ship goes into hyperspace for the first time, and we get to see dinosaurs roaming about there. If they get stuck in hyperspace, they'd be trapped forever like the Flying Dutchman. At another point, the ship loses power in a specific arm of the galaxy which is identified as "the Sea of Sargasso in space", although they're rescued by a pirate emissary from Iscandar that later reappears in his own series as Captain Harlock. In a subsequent chapter, the ship discovers a dark planet orbiting a Gamiras-made sun, and Okita destroys the base there by punching a hole through the star (smashing the control unit inside it).

(The Yamato makes it's maiden voyage into space, where it is threatened by a Gamiras super-missile.)

If we look at the original Star Trek TV series, it was simply a TV western transposed into space. Yamato is the same thing, but as a 1950's sea warfare movie. Most of the terminology comes from ocean-faring ships, as do some of the traps (such as a "space mine field"). The story is aimed at young Japanese boys, and ran in a magazine called Boken Oh (Adventure King) ('74-'75, three volumes), so you can't expect all that much from it.

(Lord Desler, watching the Yamato as it gets trapped too close to a star.)

The volume ends with the Yamato reaching Iscandar, where the crew discovers two things - one, that Iscandar is part of a double-planet system along with the Gamiras home planet; and two, that the Gamiras have trashed their own home, which is why they want to take over Earth. The Gamiras are defeated off-camera, Desler dies in a deus ex-machina trap, and Yamato brings the Cosmic Cleaner back to Earth, saving the planet. While the Yamato does have some casualties during the final battle with Desler, the reason Captain Okita dies before stepping foot on Earth again is that he'd succumbed to old age and injuries incurred from previous battles.

(The Yamato finds itself trapped in the Space Sargasso, with the ruins of other dead ships.)

Comments: If you want a good, hard SF series, Yamato isn't it. The science is laughable and the technology designs are dated. The crew determines that the dark planet's sun is artificial based on the fact that all the plant life on the planet is stunted, showing that the sun is something that was only recently added. Etc., etc. But, if you're interested in manga history, then Leiji Matsumoto is a key figure, ranking up there with Ishinomori and Tezuka himself. In this sense, Yamato represents a turning point in Japanese SF manga, opening up the realm of space operas on the order of Star Trek and Star Wars. If you want an introduction to Matsumoto's work, Yamato is a good start (especially since it ties to his other big series - Harlock and Galaxy Express 999, and 999 connects to Queen Millennia.)

(First appearance of Captain Harlock and his ship. Analyzer tells us that the entire crew are robots, and Harlock himself is over 50% cyborg. Captain Okita gives the impression of at least having an idea as to who Harlock really is. We're told that Yamato is Earth's first and only warp-driven ship, but that the Black Pirate's vessel has technology at least as good as the Yamato's. Kodai speculates that Harlock is really his older brother, somehow saved by Iscandar and rebuilt with machine parts.)