Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gakken Japanino + LCD Shield

I originally wanted to write about my Japanino/Edo clock project first, but I ended up waiting for the opportunity to make a youtube video for it.
Edit: I added a link to the youtube video. It's pretty shaky and not all that informative, but I think it conveys the application of the dual-axis accelerometer, and some of the graphics that can be generated using it.

Back at the beginning of August, I got some kits and components that I'd asked for my birthday. I wanted to do some experimenting with the Gakken Japanino kit, which is just the Arduino microcontroller with a couple of extra power pins. The presents I received were all from Sparkfun, so this is going to look kind of like an ad for them, but it isn't (not until they start paying me to talk about them here, anyway).

Three of the items are the color LCD Shield, the Proto Shield and the 2-axis accelerometer. I started out trying to get the LCD Shield to work first. It's a 132x132 pixel display from Nokia, that is used in cell phones. There's no code supplied with the kit for making it work, so I had to surf the net to find working examples. Sparkfun does have a link to one site that has example code for drawing lines, dots, raw RGB images and a Mandelbrot. But, the code is designed more for the Arduino Mega, and doesn't fit in the Japanino's limited memory space. So I ripped the Mandelbrot and raw RGB stuff out, plus the code for supporting both the Epson and Philips controller hardware (my board has the Epson hardware so I don't care about Philips support). Then I found the example of an analog/digital clock using the one-wire real-time clock, which gave me functions for drawing circles and writing text. After pulling out the 1-wire code and adding Japanese characters to the font table, I set to work to make a digital version of the Edo clock (pictures of that to come later).

The bottom line regarding using the LCD Shield with the Japanino is that you're limited to small programs - 1K of variables and 14K of code. This means simple block-graphic games, clocks, and line-drawing "screen-savers". On the other hand, it's also good for code debugging, because now you can display text to the screen. However, it can go through batteries fast. I bought a block of 10 AAA batteries for 300 yen ($3.30 USD), and drained 3 of them down to nothing by letting the digital Edo clock program run for 24 hours non-stop.

Additionally, there's no real graphics library for the LCD shield. You need to take what's available, clean it up for your own purposes, and use that. Meaning that you need to know some C++ programming.

(Protoshield with the accelerometer breakout board mounted)

Next, I focused on the 2-axis accelerometer. This is a microelectromechanical system (MEMS) with two small sensors that measure the force applied to them either through movement of the circuit, or the pull of gravity. These things are used in the Wii controller for interfacing to games, and in the Mac laptops to shutdown power if it gets dropped while being carried (they're also good for stabilizer circuits for robots). The 2-axis version can measure motion left and right, back and forth (the 3-axis one adds up and down) as a voltage value between 0.5V and 2.5V. By mounting the breakout board on the Protoshield and then wiring it up to analog pins A0 and A1, I was able to combine it with the Japanino and the LCD shield. Then I just wrote a short sketch to read the two analog pins and display the result on the screen as either a real-time line, or a single dot. This gives me an earthquake sensor. If I wanted to, I could connect the kit to my PC and output serial data to it for real-time data logging. Right now, I'm just drawing pretty pictures with it as I tilt the assembly back and forth.

The LCD shield has 3 push button switches, which I'm reading on pins D3-D5 for toggling text display on and off, and for switching between the line display and the real-time dot.

One more program variant that I'm considering writing is to monitor the accelerometer pins for a big, fast change, then freezing the display, showing the time and amplitude of the change. Again, for earthquake tracking. It'd be a simple routine. The only two drawbacks are that we haven't really had any earthquakes here for a while, and the batteries would probably die out long before the quake hit.

In conclusion, the LCD shield, the proto shield and the 2-axis accelerometer all played together well with the Japanino. They're a fun combination, and it'd be really easy to plug in a speaker to one of the remaining PWM pins to add an audio alarm to the earthquake sensor, or to turn the tilt sensors into a kind of motion-controlled theremin. Good stuff, Maynard.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Garo 55

Garo #55, Jan., '69. Cover by Sampei Shirato. 234 pages.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #46

By Sampei Shirato (白土三平). 37 pages.
Things have turned really ugly really fast in the village. Packs of wolves team up to attack wild boars, and are in turn swarmed by flocks of crows. An old man leaves the village to hang himself, allowing more food for his aged wife and daughter, and has to knock the daughter unconscious in order to get enough time to do the deed. But, when the daughter returns home, she spots a thief escaping with a bale of their rice. She chases the thief, which attracts other villagers who beat the guy to death and then steal the remaining rice, leaving the daughter and her mother without food anyway. Shousuke encounters another man trying to throw a baby into a flowing river. When he tries to stop the man, the guy pelts him with rocks until the infant is gone, then breaks down and cries over the loss.

The other villagers are forced to comb the woods for food to be turned over to the castle. A fight breaks out between two brothers and ends up with a bystander being accidentally killed. The villagers blame their ills on the samurai in the castle and form into a lynch mob leading up the hill. Shousuke sees this from a distance, as well as the armored troops descending on horseback farther up the road. He tries to stop the mob before it's too late, but they kick and beat him into the ground. A little later, they're all slaughtered. As Shousuke lies limply on the ground, Ryounoshin rides up to ask why he's stopped moving.

おはぐろどぶ (Tooth Blackening Water Ditch)

By Yuu Takita (滝田ゆう). 35 pages.
This is the second in the "寺島町奇譚" tales set in the Don Stand bar from the last volume. Kiyoshi and two friends start out by trying to float a paper boat down one of the street gutters, but two drunk workers sink it when they relieve themselves along the wall. A policeman arrives and asks why the kids aren't in school, and two escape while the third gets collared. Kiyoshi arrives home at the bar, where his father has just gotten in, drunk. His mother refuses to talk to the guy, and then takes her fury out on the cat, Tama. Through a series of clashes, the cat panics and escapes the house, only to fall through the street tiles into the gutters below. Later that evening, the bar is crowded, and the father is working the kitchen. He tries talking to his wife and she ignores him. He fantasizes about a beautiful woman who'd asked him to do some carpentry work for her. Later, the same woman (supposedly the one with blackened teeth) sees Kiyoshi and pats him on the head. Kiyoshi finds what he thinks is Tama and takes the cat home to clean it up, only to discover it's a different cat. Immediately after, Tama shows up and the boy kicks him out of frustration.

The next night, his father is no where to be seen and his mother has buried herself up in her bed. Kiyoshi is directed to clean up the bar and prepare it for opening. An early customer comes in, orders the most expensive thing on the shelf and then throws some change on the bar, which the boy keeps. When the mother does come down to the bar, the boy talks about the woman that had patted him on the head, making his mother angry and she clocks him one, sending him outside to do more chores. Outside, he remembers the money and uses it to watch a samurai movie. Back at the house, the father comes home drunk again and his wife berates him for it. He's in a foul mode and bangs her up before chasing her out of the house. She forlornly goes to the local onsen to take a bath, encountering Kiyoshi along the way. She quietly grabs his hand and takes him to the onsen with her, to the women's side of the baths.

つる (Tsuru)

By Shinji Nagashima (永島慎二). 24 pages.
This is a retelling of the "White Crane" story. A farmer happens across a wounded Japanese crane, and pulls the arrow out of its wing. The crane (called a "tsuru"), flies off. A little later, a beautiful woman, named Tsuu, appears at the farmer's door and asks to stay the night. In the morning, the hut has been completely cleaned. The woman offers to marry the farmer, and promises to provide him with some luxurious cloth that can be sold at a massive profit, if only the farmer promises to not open the door to her room during her down time. At one point, the farmer starts asking himself why such a wonderful woman would be interested in him, and looks through the door only to discover the crane that he had helped. He recoils in surprise. The crane turns back into Tsuu long enough for her to explain that she'd only wanted to thank him for his kindness, but now that he's seen her original form she has to leave. She flies off as the farmer calls for her to come back. Later, Summer rolls around and the farmer resigns himself to working in the fields alone.

大衆-ことば-マンガ (General Public Word Manga)
By Yoshiharu Tsuge (つげ義春). 6 pages.
This is actually a 6-page article co-written with author/poet Shiroyasu Suzuki, (鈴木 志郎康) where Tsuge and Suzuki alternate writing paragraphs.

[騒乱]について (About "Rioting") #46
By Koshi Ueno (上野昂志). 2 pages.

遭難 (Accident)

By Manabu Ohyama (大山学). 27 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
A blond westerner, presumably an American in Japan from the fighting in Vietnam, wakes up in some guy's car. He'd been out drinking the night before and had passed out. The driver had jacked the car and they're now having a joyride. The blond panics, wondering what will happen if they get caught. Soon after, they encounter a traffic stop, and the Japanese cop calls over his superior to help with the language barrier. The driver laughs and floors the pedal, tearing away from the stop. Suddenly, a bike rider pulls in front of the car, and the driver hits him before plowing into a tree. The blond exits the car, sees the accident victim struggling to get to his feet, takes the driver's gun and has a flashback. He was a greenhorn on a patrol in 'nam when they got ambushed. He was trapped out in the open and his buddies tried to reach him from their foxhole. A sniper above them in a tree picked off the rest of the patrol until some other soldiers arrived and took the sniper out. Back in the present, the blond shoots the cyclist 4 times in the chest. The driver recovers and the two of them run away from the scene.

Manabu Ohyama (1947-) apparently was a fairly prolific artist, but he's not all that well-known. I'm not finding entries on him in either the English or Japanese wikis, but there is a Japanese fan page on him that lists many of his titles and includes some sample artwork.

勝又進 作品集 (Katsumata's Creation Collection) #32

By Susumu Katsumata (勝又進). 6 pages.
Just the one part this time. 3- and 4-panel gag strips.

新日本書紀 (The New Old Chronicles) #5

By Mamoru Sasaki & Satsuko Okamoto (佐々木 守 & 岡本 颯子). 6 pages.

花の紋章 (Rose Crest, Final) #4

By Seiichi Hayashi (林静一). 22 pages.
The gangster and the boy's father face off against each other, with the older man holding a gun and telling the knife-wielding yakuza to leave him alone. The gangster lunges and the gun goes off. The boy races home and curls himself up in a ball in the corner of his room. His mother comes in, learns what has happened and runs to the hill. Turns out that the bullet had only shattered the left lens of the gangster's sunglasses. They tangle again, this time killing each other. The gangster's girlfriend pines for him, while the boy's mother screams over what will happen to her now. Things get a little surreal at this point, with a stage show crew telling them to come to Tokyo. The boy's mother runs away from the house and the boy just stands in the living room looking out the open door.

懐かしのメロディ (Longing Melody)

By Tadao Tsuge (つげ忠男). 23 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
This looks like another autobiographical tale with Yoshiharu's younger brother, Tadao, sitting at a bar while an old man reminisces about a friend of his, Sabu, back during the days of the university unrest. Sabu had lived in a rundown shack along with a prostitute. His only rule for her was that she not sleep with foreigners. At the time, some local punks were terrorizing the neighborhood, and Sabu took it on himself to chase them out. At one point, three of them ganged up on him and beat him up pretty badly. Realizing that he couldn't take them on all at one time, Sabu disappeared. Rumor was that he was slowly eliminating the punks one by one. Eventually, he does surface again, missing his right eye and looking much meaner. Unfortunately, he runs into the prostitute, who is in the company of an American serviceman. Sabu snaps and tries to kill the guy, while the girl yells that he has the wrong idea. A crowd gathers to watch the American get pummeled, then they start wondering if Sabu is really going to kill him. Finally, some police arrive and they catch the girl. She yells at Sabu to run and never come back. He bolts. Back in the bar, Tadao and the old man have gotten very drunk, and Tadao staggers off home. He turns back to ask if Sabu was ever seen after that and the old man says he doesn't know, but isn't it better this way? Tadao laughs and agrees with him, leaving the bar as the old man sits there looking pensive.

ヴェトナム討論 (Vietnam Debate)

By Maki Sasaki (佐々木まき). 20 pages.
We have another series of iconic images, but at least this time there are words in the balloons. Nonsense words, and apparently largely in Chinese, but at least the balloons aren't empty now.

鬼太郎夜話 (Kitaro Night Stories) #19

By Shigeru Mizuki (水木しげる). 16 pages.
Nezumi Otoko tells the yokai duke that Gama has disappeared, maybe with the help of Kitaro. The two of them team up to get rid of Kitaro. As they're plotting their next move, Nezumi Otoko suddenly finds himself with a big boil on his cheek, but it subsides. The duke leaves and Kitaro comes back to the room to ask where his father is. Nezumi stalls for time, convincing Kitaro to eat manju. Kitaro does, but they're laced with poison and he collapses. The duke returns and they pack the body up in a suitcase and take it out on a boat in the bay. Since yokai can't die, Kitaro isn't actually dead, but if they wrap the case up in enough chains and rocks it will take him down to hell, where it will be hard for him to get back. The boil returns and moves all over Nezumi's face before disappearing. The case is thrown in the bay, and a couple of days later returns to Nezumi's apartment, via hell mail delivery, with Kitaro as the sender. The case is empty, and a formless blob floats around, laughing spookily. Another package arrives, with Kitaro's geta and there's more laughter. Nezumi and the duke go outside to track down the mailing address that Kitaro listed as the sender of the package.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Seen around town, 5

There are only two street car lines still running in Tokyo. I wrote about the one in Setagaya a long time ago. This is the other one, which runs along Waseda Dori towards Waseda University. The line is right next to a fairly busy street so there aren't that many chances to get interesting photos of the cars while they're running.

A few weeks ago, the Japan Times ran an article on a new project starting up in Tokyo. Certain select train stations are getting spy TVs. You can almost make out the little camera in the top middle part of the TV frame. The camera observes people as they're walking by and determines how many are focused on looking at any given ad running on the display at the time. Supposedly the TV doesn't gather info on the people themselves, and is just intended to bring us one step closer to Minority Report. This one is in Shinjuku station.

As part of the UDX building's summer motif, a small water wall was installed in the plaza in front of the Tully's coffee shop on the first floor, and some of the planters replaced with soft-light lamps with fish painted on them.

Yes, there are separate buildings for the weak unaged and the strong aged. The strong unaged get no respect, just as with most other cultures.

Back of a bar in the Kawasaki red light district.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Seen around town, 4

It's really hard to get a good photo from inside the Akihabara station. The walls are all glossy white metal, and the overhead lighting is harsh fluorescent. It doesn't help when the manga ad on the wall starts out looking pale and washed out. This is an ad for Kadokawa magazine. The main text says "Kado Comi is Summer Comi" (or, our Kadokawa comics are good for the Summer).

Rinky Dink recording studio in Ogikubo, on the way to to the Suginami Animation Museum. I wonder if they know what "rinky dink" means...

Lingerie club Slow Life in Akihabara.

One of the most annoying parts of riding the trains in Tokyo is having to battle with people rushing onto the train to grab one of the open seats. Since I don't like sitting on the train, I really don't like people pushing past me to "beat me" to the seat. It doesn't help when said people have no clue about how they then present themselves to the rest of the car. There's a certain lack of "class" here. So I spend the rest of my ride trying to toss 1 yen coins onto them.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Seen around town, 3

There's a big Keirin stadium in Chofu, right next to the Tamagawa river, and I ride by it every time I go out along the river. One day, I wanted to go into Chofu itself, and I ended up spending a little extra time outside the stadium gates. They were advertising the next big race, but that wasn't going to start for a couple of weeks yet. So, I decided to take some pictures of the place while it was deserted.

The top photo, and this one above, are both of the outside of the Keio-Tama Center train station. The back side of the station is normally closed during the year, but it opens up directly across the street from the keirin stadium. Very convenient if you're here to gamble.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Seen around town, 2

The Kawasaki red light district is an interesting collection of shops, bars, night clubs, restaurants, etc. Here's just a small sampling of the area.

This is the back entrance to the district, for the main street that runs through it. "Back side" is a bit misleading, though, since the entrance here faces a freeway, a major through street and a whole bunch of houses and offices. The front entrance faces the Kawasaki train station. The photo didn't come out well, but with the way the cross streets are laid out here, I didn't have a lot of choices for the camera angle.

Top of the arch over the street.

I hadn't really noticed this detail from the top photo prior to doing the touch-up for this blog entry, or I would have taken a different shot from the other side. The barrier fence is shaped like a chain of people holding hands.

The neon sign above shop Tojou speaks volumes.

Bar Baby Face.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lupin Coffee 2, 2

A few days ago, I uploaded a photo of a recent Roots coffee/Lupin III tie-in, saying that I'd only wanted to buy the Lupin III and Fujiko cans. Well, Jason's has this coffee for 78 yen (88 cents US) per can, (it's regularly 140 yen) and when I went in to pick up my snacks to have something while I'm working, I figured "why not?" So I got the remaining three cans, with Jigen, Zenigata and Goemon.

For work, I like to get a pack or two of cookies, a bowl of instant ramen, a bottle of soda or tea, and a small can of coffee for getting jump-started in the morning. Normally, I just get the Jason's brand of can coffee, which is maybe 6 ounces for 38 yen. But this time, I was willing to spend the extra money in part because the Lupin cans are larger and have more coffee. They taste about the same, though.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yes, it's half empty...

A plastic bottle. Ok... And it's partly full of water. And the reason you took the picture is... what?

Welcome to the world of refillable sake. Specifically in this case, shochu. Shochu is a Japanese alcohol that is made using pretty much anything that you have available. Originating around Kyuushuu in southern Japan, the most common base materials for making shochu are barley, sweet potatoes (ama imo) and brown sugar (although the wiki entry includes rice in the list). Shochu doesn't taste anything like sake, or anything like most western alcohols, really. The smell is stronger, and the flavor is pungent, although there's generally not a lot of range or depth to it. Shocho can be consumed straight, on the rocks, with cold water, or club soda (called a "chu hi").

While it's more common now for sake and shochu to be sold in pre-sealed, pre-labeled bottles, there are still some liquor shops that have a couple small vats of sake or shochu in one part of the room. The idea is that you buy a plastic bottle from the shop, either 900 ml (just short of 1 liter), 2 liter or 3 liter. This one is 900 ml and was 100 yen ($1.15 USD). When you want it refilled, you wash it out, bring it to the shop, and give it to the clerk. The clerk then puts the bottle under the spigot of the desired barrel and fills the bottle for you. The shochu pictured above was made using barley, and was 600 yen ($7 USD) for the 900 ml. The other two bases available at this specific store are brown sugar and sweet potato and they're a bit more expensive.

There's no specific reason for getting refill shochu - it doesn't taste any fresher than the bottled kind, and it's not from a famous-name distillery. It does mean that you don't have to worry about throwing out old glass bottles if you're a big sake drinker. In either case, it is kind of fun going in to get a shochu refill just like getting bottled water from Safeway in the States.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gakken Kit #28, Edo-era Clock Explained

Ok, having received one question about how Gakken's kit #28, the Edo-era clock, works, I figured it was time to try to answer that for myself. Then, the more I tried to frame the answer simply, the more I realized that this was going to take over the 20 words normally associated with a blog reply. Hence, the dedicated, stand-alone post.

The background:
According to multiple sources, the primary one being the Japanese Clock entry on wikipedia, early time keeping in Japan consisted of burning columns of incense, and marking off the time in units of 6. Numbering for time started at "9" at the top of the new incense column and burned down to "4" at the bottom (numbers 3, 2 and 1 were reserved for Buddhist calls to prayer). What was important at that time was the amount of daylight available for farming. So, a "day" started with sunrise (when the stars were no longer visible in the sky) and ended with sunset (when the first stars became visible again). This led to two different counting systems - the 6 time periods during "day" and the 6 during "night".

Because the length of the day changes with the seasons (the longest "days" being in the Summer and the shortest in the winter), time keeping had to constantly be adjusted every few days to keep up with the actual occurrences of sunrise and sunset. As an example, on August 21st, 2010, sunrise in Tokyo occurred at 5:04 AM. Sunset at 6:24 PM. This gives a "day" of 800 minutes, and a "daytime hour" (800/6) of 133.3 minutes. Plus, a "night" of 640 minutes, with a "nighttime hour" that is 106.6 minutes long. Just 1 week later, on the 27th, sunrise was at 5:09 AM and sunset at 6:16 PM, with the "hours" changing to 131.2 and 108.8 minutes respectively.

"6" was at sunrise and then again at sunset, so a farmer would get up at "6" in the morning, work from "5" to "4" to "9" (when a new column of incense was started) and then back down to "6". It would now be sunset and the end of the "day". "Night" would run from "6" down to "4", then jump back up to "9" again with new incense and work back down. In addition, the hours were given the names of the animals from the Chinese lunar calendar, with "6" being the "hour of the rabbit", "5" being the "hour of the Dragon", etc. (the others being snake, horse, ram and monkey).

Then, in the 1500's, Dutch and Portuguese traders arrived in Japan, bringing with them the technology for western-style clocks. In 1641, Japan entered its isolationist phase, and Japanese clock makers were left on their own to come up with their own timepiece mechanisms. This led to the mechanization of the earlier incense-based time keeping system.

The What:
The Edo-era kit from Gakken has a clock face divided up into 12 equally-spaced units, running from 6 at our "9:00" position on the left, with 9 at "12:00", and 6 again at "3:00". The bottom half of the clock is the same, with 9 at the "6:00" position. The top half represents daytime, and the bottom half is night. The clock only has the "hour" hand, making timekeeping kind of approximate at best. In order to convert Edo time to modern western time, we need to know when sunrise and sunset are. If the clock is at roughly "day" 4.2 on August 21, then that would be 5:04 AM + (6 - 4 + 0.2) * 133.3 = 10:40 AM.

Again, the clock would need to be readjusted every 2 weeks or so to match up with sunrise and sunset as they changed with the seasons (this would usually be done after the clock ran down and needed rewinding).

The How:
Effectively, we need two clocks. One that is calibrated to advance at one rate from sunrise to sunset, and the second calibrated to advance from sunset to sunrise. For the design we're interested in right now, we want to use a horizontally-rotating pendulum, meaning that our clock is going to have two horizontal pendulums. (Stand-mounted clocks were weight-driven; smaller designs for sitting on a shelf or table were wind-up spring-driven).

The trick then is to switch between the two pendulums. This is accomplished by adding a gear that advances whenever the hour hand hits "6". This gear causes a cam rod to rotate 90 degrees. There are two cams on this rod. One cam raises its pendulum bar up out of the way of the escapement, while the second cam lowers its pendulum down into place.

(Sideview of the clock showing the two horizontal pendulums. Underneath them you can see the cylindrical sawtooth gear. The cam ensures that only one pendulum engages the sawtooth gear at a time.)

(Closeup of the sawtooth gear with the "daytime" pendulum engaged.)

Only one pendulum interfaces with the escapement at any given time. You then adjust the time by turning the threaded weights on the two pendulums to make them rotate faster (weights closer to the center of rotation) or slower (farther from the center). The original Edo-era clocks used standardized weights at fixed locations on the pendulum arms.

The final enhancement is to add a gear mechanism to ring a bell "on the hour", which on the Gakken kit is implemented by connecting the leaf switch to the Japanino (the Japanino then drives a servo which swings a brass rod at the bell).

I hope this is clear enough. For a better understanding of what the actual components look like, check out the Gakken site's assembly instructions.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Garo Jan, '67

Garo Jan, '67, Special. Cover by Sampei Shirato. 198 pages.
CAUTION!!! Violence ahead! If you don't like violence, your country or religion prohibits your looking at it, or you are disturbed by acts of cruelty against animals, stop reading now!!!


A special Garo issue came out in January, 1967, reprinting the first two chapters of Kamui-den. This takes up the entire issue. If you have been following Garo primarily through my reviews/summaries here on TSOJ, then you probably haven't seen the full run of Kamui. And, because the Viz release in the U.S. was only partial, and has long been out of print, you may not have seen much from even that. Well, Mandarake does have 18 volumes of Kamui bundled together for 3500 yen ($40 USD) plus shipping, and you can order it through their website. It's a good deal, and I highly recommend it, even if you can't understand Japanese.

Anyway, if you haven't followed Kamui from the very beginning, then starting up in the middle and going back to the beginning later like I have is kind of an eye-opener. All of the key points are already put in place in the first two chapters. The artwork is a little less developed, and Shirato isn't really comfortable drawing his characters in full-page close-ups yet, but most of the characters are recognizable even though they age considerably through the course of the story arc. And, most of the key characters get introduced right in chapter 1.

Shirato puts a huge amount of effort into drawing parallels between the human social structure of Edo-era Japan, and the animal kingdom. It's all dog-eat-dog, with the fittest and the strongest dominating everyone else. Even so, a certain amount of luck is involved, and even the top dog will eventually grow old and sicken and die, or be the victim of bad luck. In both cases, though, while the weaker ones may be victimized cruelly, it's all according to the natural order of things. And, it's also natural for the victim to fight for their life up until the end and try to protect what's theirs.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #1

By Sampei Shirato (白土三平). 98 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
It is the year that our story is set in, and nature is in full bloom. In the mountains and along the streams, weasels eat mice, hawks eat weasels, birds knock seeds from the trees that are eaten by deer, and the deer get eaten by bears. One rabbit gets hit and killed by a stick thrown by Mountain Man (a big, hairy, dirty sasquatch-like guy with little vocal ability). Mountain Man holds up the dead rabbit and says "kamui" before shuffling off. In Hanamaki Village near the base of the hills, work proceeds on harvesting rice, when the village headman comes up looking for Danzuri, one of the villagers who's carrying in rice stalks for processing. The headman asks a small boy - Shousuke - where his father, Danzuri is. Danzuri is found and requested to represent the village for something coming up.

At the main castle, the feudal lord and a number of ranking samurai are riding horses in the courtyard, shooting arrows at dogs for archery practice. They kill the last of the dogs, and the lord orders a vassal, Yokome, to find more. He and the dog handler go into the seedier part of the village where the vagrants live, and the handler is forced to take his family's pet Akita back to the castle for the practice. Yokome notices an ugly-looking creature in a cage, and ignores the handler's protests. They bring the two animals with them. In the courtyard, the Akita just sits there obediently as the archers turn it into a pincushion. The handler cries silently, while the retainers complain that that was really boring. The lord demands that a brute with real fight in him be brought out. Yokome drags out the second animal, which turns out to be a grizzled, wounded wolf. When the first arrow flies at him, the wolf springs, killing several retainers before escaping back to the mountains. The feudal lord is shaken, not having wanted something with quite that much fight in them.

Danzuri is next seen running into the village, establishing Hanamki as the town with the fastest runner for another year in a row. To celebrate, the headsman invites all his friends and lower-level samurai to a banquet. Danzuri, being a mere villager is relegated to the stables, where a servant gives him and a couple other villagers a stack of rice cakes and a jug of sake. Shousuke protests this treatment, but this is just one more example of the kind of class-level behavior that he'll have to learn to live with. One topic of conversation that comes up between the villagers is that Danzuri had seen Kichibee hiding out in the woods, and the other two go silent. Shousuke asks what a Kichibee is, and his father tells him that there had been an insurrection against the samurai 3 years earlier, and Kichibee was its main leader - there's a death sentence on his head, and the villagers hope that he'll remain free.

In one of the samurai houses, Ikkaku is the head of a kendo dojo, where he teaches his sponsor's son, Ryounoshin, the art of sword fighting. At the end of one bout, Ikkaku tells the boy's father that Ryounoshin shows some promise. After the two leave, Ikkaku starts nursing the huge bruise on his ribs that the boy just gave him. Nearby, Shibutare goes to one samurai retainer and tells him that Kichibee has been spotted in the woods. Shibutare is a professional snitch, and this tale nets him a few coins. When he, and the retainer's messenger, leave the household gates, Yokome, who is spying nearby, figures that something is up. The feudal lord is told that Kichibee is still alive, and the order is issued to have him captured. The villagers are told to do the grunt work, but they don't try very hard. Yokome then suggests that the vagrants be enlisted to sweep of the woods. Kichibee is quickly hunted down and imprisoned. The villagers accuse the vagrants of being murderers.

At Ikkaku's dojo, there's a disturbance. A swordsman, Ukon Mizunazuki, is issuing a challenge to see if the dojos, which teach using wooden swords, can really compete against seasoned samurai with battle experience. Ikkaku accepts the challenge and gets thoroughly defeated. When Ukon goes outside, he's challenged by Yokome, who uses a chain and sickle attack. Ukon gets faked out by the chain, and the sickle bites deep into his right ankle. As Yokome drags him in on the chain for the finishing blow, Ukon cuts off his own foot and escapes, screaming in pain.

Finally, out in the mountains, life goes on, with the various animals preying on each other. With one exception. An old wolf lies in a cave, waiting for his arrow wounds to heal. Days pass, and when he can move again, he starts taking out deer with one bite to the neck, and eats only the best parts, leaving the rest of the carcass to the scavengers. He climbs up a hill and calls out to his old pack, which soon gathers up. Winter comes, then turns to Spring. The day of Kichibee's execution arrives and the villagers press up against the barricades to watch in protest. The vagrants are ordered to raise up the wooden cross that Kichibee is tied to, and they're the ones that have to run spears through the man's body to kill him. During this, Kichibee remains silent. Afterward, one of the vagrants that had been handling the spears, Yasuke, sits in the storeroom, thinking that Kichibee had been a great man. Yokome finds him and orders him out. As Yasuke returns home, he's pelted by rocks by villagers that call him a killer. Back at the vagrant village, Yasuke is told to hurry, his wife has just given birth to a son. The man stands there with the infant in his hands, wondering what this world needs with one more vagrant. While, up in the mountains, a female wolf has given birth to a new litter, including one rare white pup.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #2

By Sampei Shirato (白土三平). 98 pages.
The story now follows the trials and tribulations of the white pup. The old one-eyed wolf goes off on his own, leaving the female to tend to the cubs. As they get older, the pack leaves their old territory to find a new place with more food for them. While the wolves prefer to eat deer, there's a problem - a pack needs 5 members to surround the prey to prevent it from escaping, and the white cub can't blend into the foliage, so the deer keep running around the pack. The white cub gets ostracized for both being different and being smaller. The only way it can get enough to eat is to learn to hunt alone, and to find food that it can handle, such as mice and rabbits. It also has to learn which food is safe to eat - a river salamander turns out to be almost deadly. On the other hand, as the cub lies on the ground, weakened, various scavenger birds land on it, waiting for it to pass on, which brings them in close enough for the cub to capture easily. At one point, the cub goes up against a large fox, and the rest of the pack sits to one side to watch the one-sided battle. But, the pack is disappointed when the white cub gets in a lucky bite to the throat and kills the fox, rather than the other way around.

At another point, the white cub encounters two strange wolves, and howls a warning signal. His mother pads up, but instead of siding with the white cub, welcomes the other two into the pack - she'd given birth to them the previous year and they're family. Which just increases the number of wolves picking on the white one. Later, toward the end of winter, the pack chases a mountain goat up a ravine, the goat makes a stand, killing two of the wolves. The fight triggers a small avalanche, which kills the mother. The remaining wolves are still too young to successfully fend for themselves, so things gets a bit tight. The white cub tries going after a deer on his own, but falls into a strong stream and gets washed down to Yasuke's village. A pack of dogs (a new pack raised over the winter) sets on the cub, but get very badly injured.

In the field, a wimpy, whiny villager named Koroku, is commanding his work horse to pull against some ropes to yank out a tree stump. There's an accident, and the horse is crushed under some rocks, which pretty much means that Koroku has lost his main source of income. The body of the horse is carried away, and later some vagrants come in and steal the corpse for the meat. The villagers throw more rocks at them and keep calling the murderers.

In the vagrant village, the white wolf cub has been rescued by Yasuke and tied up to be domesticated. The cub refuses to eat anything that it hasn't killed itself, and just lies on the ground, unmoving. But, it is befriended by Yasuke's infant son, who shares his food with it. One day, Mountain Man comes down from the hills to the vagrant village, where he discovers Yasuke's infant son sitting in the middle of the road, eating a rice ball. The baby offers the rice ball to the monster, and he happily plays with the baby for a bit, repeating the word "Kamui" before taking the rice ball and leaving. The ruckus caused by Mountain Man had resulted in some barrels and things getting knocked over, and breaking the post the white cub was tied to. The cub escapes the village and makes its way back up into the hills, where it encounters its father, the savage one-eyed wolf, at the top of a windy peak.


That brings us to the end of chapter two. All of the pieces are now in place. All that's remaining is for the feudal lord to order the end of noble Ryounoshin's family; for Koroku to go from a small, weak farmer to a big, raging lunatic; and for the appearance of Gon, Shousuke's friend. Oh yeah, and for the introduction of the entire ninja system that permeates the full storyline from this point on.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bear's Guarana

The brand is apparently "Beware of the Bear's Frequent Appearance, White". "White" is what's referred to as a "white soda", essentially something that tastes a little like carbonated Calpis. I found the text on the bottle to be the most interesting part of this soda.


Only Hokkaido Taste

Not Polar Bear but Ezo Brown Bear of Winter

Bear's Guarana

Wilderness Nature Hokkaido Equipment

Ursus Arctos Yesoensis

North Island - Product Institute Creative Company

Water uses natural water of Mt. Yocots of Donan. Main raw material of saccharide is a potato from Hokkaido.

# When the seal of the drink is cut, it preserves it with the refrigerator. And, please finish drinking ahead of time. # Do not give the high impact because the container might explode. And do not preserve it for a long time in the place that becomes a high temperature. # Please do not cut the body when you cut the seal of the drink. # The element of the liquid might discolor, be precipitated, and float. However, it is safe as the quality of the drink. # Please recycle an empty container without throwing it away. # It takes account to the quality and manufacturing the drink. However, please contact us when there is a problem.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gegege Exhibit

(Ticket to the event)

The Matsuya department store in Ginza helped celebrate Shigeru Mizuki's 88th birthday by hosting the "Gegege Exhibit" in their 8th floor art space. The last exhibit I'd seen there was the Fujio Akatsuka show (Tensai Bakabon) last year, which had been very well-presented, so I figured that I'd better go see the new one before it ended (the exhibit ran from Aug. 11 to the 23rd; 1000 yen for adults.)

(Back of ticket)

In one respect, the Gegege exhibit wasn't quite as satisfying this time around, but that's more to do with the fact that Akatsuka had been an incredibly oddball person, and his show had been designed to reflect that (with popup artwork and arrows on the walls that led pointlessly to the floor). That's a hard act to follow.

Fortunately, Shigeru is a very prolific artist, and the Gegege exhibit had a lot of material to work with. First, the ticket booth is made up to look like the wall monster. Then, in the hallways leading into and out of the display space there are little (6"-8" tall) bronze statues of various creatures, all highly detailed and "life-like". In several areas there are 3-D display pieces, such as the one of Kitaro touching a space egg.

The first display area introduces us to Kitaro, with a bibliography, timeline, original pencil drawings from the manga, and collector's copies of the some of the books. A second area is dedicated to another title, "Akuma-kun". A third is a timeline of Shigeru's own life, with photos of his wedding ceremony, from his childhood, and a few from when he was in the service. The fourth area had more statues, a DVD playing the opening and closing sequences from the various Kitaro TV anime series, and some pencils and cel artwork from the anime. Finally, there was the huge gift shop area, which featured a small restaurant serving snack items (everything was x01 yen, i.e. - 301 yen, 401 yen, 501 yen, etc.) as well as the requisite t-shirts, towels, bento boxes, DVDs, manga and gift boxes of cookies and crackers.

(Looking in at the gift shop.)

I went at 1 PM on a Friday and the place was packed. Lots of elderly people reliving the times when they first read the manga 50 years ago, and children that had seen the latest Gegege no Kitaro TV anime, or the live action movies. Plus of course there were the new fans brought in by Shigeru's wife's book and TV series, "Gegege no Nyobu" (Wife of Gegege) running on NHK. (NHK is a sponsor of the exhibit, BTW). Naturally, photos aren't allowed, which is a shame because some of the bronze statues are lots of fun to look at. I wouldn't say that it was worth the 1000 yen admission, but it was worth the trip. (All the explanations were in Japanese; no English guides or translations anywhere.)

There's also a tie-in to the Legends of Tono, 100th Anniversary, which is going to run on NHK, and is also being serialized as a manga by Shigeru.

Minna de uta wo, gegege no ge.

And, a couple of the bronze statues are of monsters in the closing animation here, including the crab at the beginning.