Saturday, April 30, 2011

More Regional Kitkats

(Satsuma imo-flavored soft ice cream.)

I've written before about the regional Kitkat flavors. Basically, the Kitkat brand has specific flavors that can only be found in certain prefectures. The idea being that you and your friends can collect and mail them to each other. In Tokyo, the sakura (cherry blossom) Kitkats are sold in the post office as kind of post cards, with space on the boxes for writing addresses and applying postage. I found the Yuzu Kosho and Satsuma Imo Kitkats in the airport gift shop in Kagoshima, Kyushu. 840 yen ($10 USD) for a small box of 12 mini bars.

Yuzu is a kind of citrus fruit, looking a bit like a mandarin orange. Kosho is pepper, typically black pepper, but not always. Yuzu Kosho combined is a Japanese condiment made up of yuzu peel, red pepper and salt. The picture on the Yuzu Kosho-flavored Kitkat box is that of a lemon-colored orange, wasabe and green peppers. The taste? Imagine candied mandarin peal, cayenne pepper and chocolate. There's a bit of a burn at the back of the throat, and the candied mandarin flavor is actually pretty good (I love chocolate-coated candied mandarin slices). The overall effect is good, although I wish the burn was stronger.

Satsuma is a region in Kyushu renowned for its sweet potatoes ("imo" = "potato"). Satsuma imo ice cream is very popular here (see photo above), so Satsuma Imo Kitkats are an obvious choice. Initially, I didn't feel like dropping another $10 just to get 12 little bars of Kitkats, since I don't like Kitkats that much. But, it's only money. Actually, I'm not really sure what Satsuma imo is supposed to taste like. I've had the ice cream cones and the flavor didn't strike me as being all that intense. The Kitkats just seem to be vanilla cream-flavored crunchy wafer cookies. A little overly sweet, so they may have added too much sweetener this time (but that's generally been my complaint with the other special flavors, too). Definitely not worth the price if all you want is a snack candy.

At this point, I had intended to stop writing about Kitkats for a while. However, I encountered the Cola and Lemon Squash package in a Coco! convenience store in Kagoshima City a couple of days later, and it was only 100 yen. Essentially, it's two packages in the box, one cola flavored and the other lemon squash (think 7-Up with the emphasis on the lemon flavoring).

The packaging asks "Which will you eat first?" The cola bar does taste like flat generic cola. Not too bad, if you really, really need a cola fix.

The lemon squash bar, on the other hand, tastes less like a soda and more like a melted lemon drop hard candy, with that sharp spike of artificial lemon flavoring, which quickly disappears behind the sweetener. Ignorable.

There's a new set of costumed super hero TV show-derived soft drink cans in the vending machines now. Very similar to the ones for Ultra Man, these are the Go-Ranger lemon squash drinks. (Ref. - lemon squash Kitkat bar.) Here we have "Mido-ranger" (midori = green) and Ao Ranger (aoi = blue). The "go" of Go-Ranger can be either the English word "go", or the Japanese word for the number "5", since there are 5 members of the team. Go-Ranger was originally a manga created by the overly prolific artist Shotaro Ishinomori (Cyber 009, Hotel).

Roots coffee seems to like teaming up with Lupin III. This is the third or fourth series of Lupin images in the last couple of years. This time, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the TV anime (the first TV series ran from Oct. 1971 to Mar., 1972). I can't confirm the "10" part yet, but it may be for the Roots brand itself. There are two sets of artwork that I've seen so far - the full-color set on the Aroma Black cans, and the sepia tones on Aroma Revolut. As always, the coffee itself is just marginal. 120 or 130 yen depending on the brand.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Photos backlog 12

Restaurant in Fuchinobe that deliberately plays on the rusted out, derelict look.

Artwork on the side of a cross-under at the train line in Shimo-Kitazawa.

Spiderweb at a park in Tokyo. Camera just does not like taking photos of spiders.

School children on a field trip pausing at Noborito station for a head count.

Some of the stamps I've been able to collect recently. The top two are from the Suginami Animation Museum. The middle right stamp is from the Origami Gallery in Ochanomizu and the bottom right came from a stamp rally at one of the Tokyo parks. The bottom left, with One Piece's Usopp and Sanji came from Kinokuniya, which had been offering different stamps in its manga store every week.

Poster board for the more recent Inazuma 11 movie, back at the Tokyo Anime Center before it first closed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Geobreeders, vol. 04

(All rights reserved by their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Geobreeders, vol. 4, by Akihiro Itou - Grade: A
(Published July 15, 1998, first printing.) The first half of the book is essentially a battle pitting Taba and Yuka against two of the were-cats that remain on the plane. The military ground forces have brought out jammers and Patriot missiles with the intent of shooting the jetliner down. Takami's grenades are useless against the armor siding of the jammer truck, and the soldiers in the area are shooting to kill. Fortunately, Takano can maneuver in the smoke thrown up by the grenades and she rescues Takami so the two of them escape.

Initially, one of the were-cats on the plane invades the first Patriot missile and makes it explode harmlessly. Then 10 more missiles are launched and the majority of the were-cats decide to bail, leaving Taki and a friend behind, while their hostage laughs madly at them. The remaining Patriots also blow up, damaging the plane a little bit. Then jets come in with Stinger missiles.

(Takano to the rescue.)

Taba and Yuka are in K-3, trying to get close enough under the jet to get a cell phone signal through to Yu. With no escape path visible to them, Taki decides to return to Ayagame City for an emergency landing on the streets. When his back is turned on her, the hostage pulls out a compact laptop and some protection seals and uses one to blow Taki out of the plane, and another to slow Taki's friend down.

Yu eventually wakes up and takes over control of the plane enough to cause both wings to be smashed off by nearby buildings. The plane careens towards the harbor at the end of the street, with K-3 immediately beneath it. Yuka attempts to grab on to Yu to pull her into the van, but instead manages to accidentally yank herself and Taba up into the plane with Yu. The plane shoots into the harbor and stops standing straight up and down.

Eiko approaches in her helicopter and attempts to lower a bag with seals into the plane, but they're missing a laptop. Yu finds her carry-on bag and madly searches it for cigarettes and a lighter, then stumbles across the laptop that the hostage had hidden in it, running Kagura ver. 5.0 protect software. Taki's friend is deleted and the group comes out mostly unscathed. However, as Yuka climbs out of the harbor and up into the plane, the hostage greets her with "Long time, no see, Yuka".

The scene cuts to the women all taking a soak in the public baths, complaining about how horribly their vacations turned out. They lost the new laptop, used up lots of seals and weapons, and completely trashed K-3. Maki sings an Akagi song, badly, and Yuka discovers the photos of Maki and Ryuu in Maki's clothes basket. Later, Maki is looking at the photos and discovers one of Takami dressed up in cosplay advertising her doujinshii. Outside, Yuka is tearing up the one of Kagura ver. 03, with younger images of Ryuu and what looks like the hostage from the plane (Yuma) and Yuka.

(Maki gets to see Takami as a doujinshii otaku.)

Another scene cut, this time back to the Kagura offices. Eiko continues complaining about the horrid vacation, while Maki and Yuka are shooting each other with plastic BB guns. Eiko confiscates the guns, asking where they came from. Maki replies that they're from someone she knows at Marui. Then two guys (Bokubu and Toyonaga) tell Yuka to not rip the "Hop Up" logo tags off of one of the rifles. Eiko asks who they are, and Maki says "the advertising department at Marui". They continue playing, shooting each other, until Takami asks them to teach Maya how to cook. Only Eiko has any actual skill, so she's forced to take Maya out shopping for ingredients. Initially, she asks "do you want to try Japanese, Chinese or western?" Maya answers "Italian", so Eiko says "ok, how about pasta?" and Taba and Yuka both yell "NO!".

(The Marui advertising department giving Maki a friendly warning.)

At the store, Eiko is going for the gourmet section when Maya spots someone through the windows and runs out to meet them. Turns out it's Socks, but her memories seem to have been erased. Maya runs to the temple where she first met Taba, with Socks in hot pursuit. Taki has a premonition, and he leaves the other were-cats against Kuro-Neko's orders, marking him as a outcast. Taba notices that Eiko has come back alone and he takes Yu along to see if he can find Maya (thinking that Maya may otherwise link back up with Kuro-Neko). And, Captain Yashima is out with Narusawa and the squad leader talking to Irie.

(How to stop a Sidewinder with just a computer monitor.)

Irie tells Yashima that the were-cats had a specific target on the jetliner, and the next target is also associated with Shin-Nihon Avionics, and to remain uninvolved this time, too. Naruzawa is driving her two superiors back to base when she gets lost. Taba realizes that he's in a neighborhood that he had grown up in, and he directs Yu to go down a specific street.

(Although they are partly electric in nature, were-cats can survive being dumped in water. They still don't like it, though.)

Everyone's paths converge as Maya tries to escape from Socks. Taba rescues Maya, and Yu and Yashima try to rescue Taba. Naruzawa gets tangled up in the car's seatbelt and is useless. Socks comes close to killing Taba, but Maya's protective urges kick in and she fights back. Suddenly, Taki streaks in and delivers the trade-marked were-cat slice to the neck, killing Socks. Taki looks fondly at Maya before disappearing. The other were-cats saw everything from one of the roofs and they report back to Kuro-Neko. Maya passes out from exhaustion, and Taba holds her, remembering both Socks' earlier words ("protect Maya") and the temple he now finds himself at. He knows now that he was the one that had left Maya in the box in front of the temple in the rain 11 years ago. Somehow, Maya had turned into a "bake-neko" after that.

Some time passes, and it's now winter. The group is out walking in the snow, with Taba talking about his memories of Maya to Yuka and Takami, while the other three discuss the ridiculous nature of their last battle on the jetliner. Yuka thinks it would make a good movie and even has written down theme lyrics. Maki says that at least three other idiots have had similar ideas for stupid airplane-based action flicks, listing off "Con Air", "Airforce One" and "Turbulence".

(Maya protecting Taba against Socks.)

In his secret hideout, Kuro Neko is watching Vash the Stampede from "Trigun" on TV when Vashuka walks in. She asks if he wants her to chase after Taki, and he tells her he wants her to go to Russia. Meanwhile the latest assault is starting in some processing plant. Kuro-Neko shows Vashuka some surveillance photos he grabbed off the CIA's Keyhole 14 satellite. The soldiers doing the fighting are getting trashed, while Yashima, his colleague, and Irie listen in on the radio chatter. Yashima's radio suddenly loses signal and he states that it's a side-effect of the ongoing data war, since the were-cats ARE data. He also tells his friend to take Narusawa off his hands for more training; if she sticks by Yashima, she's going to get someone killed.


Meanwhile, Takami is happy with the current calm in the office, while Eiko wants work to come in to help pay for the repairs on K-3. Taba is exhausted from editing the company's promotional videos all night. Then Yuka happily hangs up the phone and announces that they have a new client - Ayagane Labs.

Miscellaneous Notes:
Just a few cultural references this time.

Kagura refers to K-3 as "Shuuchou-chan", or "business trip-chan".

The book Yuma is reading on the plane is finally revealed enough to identify it as "闇から生まれた女" ("The Woman Born from Darkness", which is the Japanese title for F. Paul Wilson's "Sibs").

The cap Yu wears while flying the jetliner says "Petty Booka". Her bag is from Vamos, possibly a reference to the 1987 Pixies song, a cover of the Jimi Hendrix original.

One big leap that the Hounds made for the protect seals is to give up serial cables and use IR links.

On page 123, when Maki is singing badly, she suddenly announces "JASRAC出9805258-801" to the reader.

The current assault that starts up at the end of the volume is led by a were-cat named Manx.

Summary: If you liked "Con Air" you'll love Geobreeders. Action oozing out of the seams, great artwork, and lots of fan-service shots this time. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Final Photos from Kagoshima Airport

I've finally moved into a new apartment, since things in Tokyo don't seem to want to settle down any time in the near future. It's in the city of Kagoshima, at the south end of Kyushu island, which is 40 minutes by express bus from the airport I'd been staying at (30-40 miles). So, I've decided to wrap things up by posting my remaining airport vicinity photos here.

When I rode the bus to Tachibanakami, there was the fuji matsuri event taking place at the park at the top of the hill near the waterfall. But, the plants (wisteria) weren't in bloom yet. A few days later, I was walking from a drug store to the long-stay hotel and I passed a small garden in the front of someone's house. They look much more impressive now.

Just some daisies in someone's yard.

Most communities have someone or some group that maintains the flowers that are grown on public land near the streets. This is one such garden.

On the other hand, there are a lot of privately-owned gardens. This is one for daikon, the large Japanese radish.

I've run pictures of tea plants before. A couple of weeks later, all of the plants were being covered up for some reason unknown to me. What I found interesting about this is that the covers are 100-200 feet long, and are used to cover more than one row of plants each. Notice at the bottom left of the photo, where the cover has been twisted up before being extended to the next row. I wonder how the farmers handle the covers given the really narrow spaces between rows.

Generally, it's expensive to discard large appliances. In Tokyo, you have to call a trash service, arrange for the pick-up, and pay a fee that can easily go $50 USD for one item. Which is why so many people will just toss stuff randomly, especially old bicycles, to avoid the fees. To protect against trash dumping, Mizube prefecture has a free drop off service at an empty lot.

Saigo Takamori is a major historic figure in Kagoshima, and his likeness is used all over the place, for snack cracker packaging, warning people to drive slowly on the expressway, etc. Here, he's the mascot for Oidon car rental.

Back in the entry on the walk to the People's Prefectural Forest park, I commented on the stilt structure buildings that seem to be a popular style here. This is the one near the airport. It's still being used, apparently for some kind of business. But, the metal's all rusted out.

When I first saw this structure, I thought it was unfinished. Turns out it's a signal tower that's supposed to look this way.

On my second to last day living at the airport, I decided to explore a little bit more in a direction that I hadn't tried earlier. A couple of blocks away, down a small hill, was a fire department building. As I was taking pictures, an ambulance pulled up to park in the main building, and one of the occupants motioned me to come over and look around the place. The problem was that I was running short on time and had to be back in the hotel shortly. So, I begged off, but the people there seemed really friendly and happy to have visitors.

Banners reminding people to make sure their smoke detectors are working properly.

Wooden barrier walls at the end of the parking lot.

The text on the side of the building says "Beware of fires."

The next day, I came back out to try to take the guys up on their offer of looking around the place. But, it was earlier in the morning, and a different group was just exiting as part of a shift change. These guys thought that I was there to talk to management and kept asking who I was there to see. When I said I just wanted to take pictures of the trucks, they were happy to let me just stay in the parking lot with the camera.

This one's for you, Elsie.

Finally, a set up for a future blog post. When I first arrived at the airport mansion, I wanted to explore the area at the south end of the airport, which is where the Sunkus convenience store is located along a relatively busy farm road. After going about 3 kilometers southwest, the road started veering down a hill into a valley. In the distance I could see some big hill, or small mountain, with a smoke plume coming off one side. It looked fairly far away and I decided not to try walking the full distance to it (which turned out to be a good choice, since it would have represented at least 20 miles of hiking). Unless I'm mistaken, this is Sakurajima, (Sakura island). It's still active, throwing off smoke periodically.