Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Masumitsu Yukiyasu

And here I'd started thinking I'd found all the historical markers within walking distance...
There's a direct route from my apartment to the San-El building that I nomally don't take.  Just go out from the apartment, turn left, go half a block to the first major street, turn left, and walk about a kilometer.  Cross the Kotsuki river, and when you get to the Lawson's on the corner, turn left again and San-El will be one block farther down, on the left.  However, I usually go up to the Chuo train station and then take the diagonal road southeast until reaching the Lawson's.  This let's me see if there are any events taking place in the Amu plaza.  One morning, though, I decided to take the straight route, and there was this previously unknown marker between the sidewalk and a parking lot.

"Masumitsu Yukiyasu (1846-1878)

Masumitsu Yukiyasu, the brother of Masumitsu Kyunosuke, arranged the meetings between Saigo Takamori and Katsu Kaishu during the planning of the all-out attack on Edo Castle.
After playing an active part in the Boshin Civil War at the age of 22, Yukiyasu was promoted to major, and later to lieutenant colonel. In 1873, he was ordered by the Government to study military affairs in Germany but shortly before graduation, he died from disease at the age of 33. Because he was such a gifted military strategist, Yukiyasu was bereaved by many people."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tenpark Renewal

I ran a photo of this area a few weeks ago, showing the night lights set up to illuminate the construction site.  Basically, they were just "renewing" the area, with a new brick walk and little patches of grass and bushes.  What's the first thing they do when they open the area up to pedestrians? Drive over the grass after a heavy rain storm and kill everything.

Nearby, a pigeon decided to stake out its little piece of land and sun itself.  Initially, it's left wing was fully extended, giving the impression that it was protecting its nest, or some nearby chicks.  I'm hoping that it doesn't expect to be allowed to stay there for the long term.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Commentary: Champion Red

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

Monthly Champion Red, 750 yen, 620 pages
Champion Red is aimed at college-age adult males, so there's going to be a certain amount of sex and violence.  Of the two magazines I picked up at the same time (along with ManSun), Red has more violence and reader service, but less outright gratuitous sex.  The overall art quality is somewhat above average, and genres include SF, giant robots, horror and fantasy.  According to the wiki entry, Red started in 2002, making it one of the longer-running magazines that I've looked at for a while.  Interspersed with the regular manga are write-ups of newly-released movies, such as The Avengers and Total Recall.

There are a few titles that are recognizable to western fans, and one of my personal favorites had run in here from 2006 to Feb, 2012 - Franken Fran (which I've reviewed in the past).

Current recognizable titles include:

Devilman Grimoire, based on a story by Go Nagai
Shin Mazinger Zero, also based on a story by Go Nagai
Kurogane Linebarrel
Giant Robo: The Seige of Babel

Manga with potential:

Ekuzosukare Zero, by Takayuki Yamaguchi
Takayuki also wrote Apocalypse Zero.  Here, two people, one male, one female, use weird super suits to fight enemies.  The artwork is clean with interesting character designs, although the acting is a bit overblown.

The Consumer Electronics Detective Quietly Laughs (家電探偵は静かに嗤う), by Yasutaka Fujimi and Iwasawa Shiuru.
As can be guessed from the title, this is one of the sillier concepts in the magazine.  A pair of detectives, and an electronics geek, use off the shelf compenents to foil crime.  In this chapter, the detectives modify a credit card scanner to catch a businessman skimming victims' bank accounts.  Moderately decent artwork, cartoony character designs.

It's Good to Hear the Voices of the Dead (死人の声をきくがよい), by Shouko Hiyodori.
This horror story currently takes place in a mansion filled with spirits, with kind of a Psycho vibe.  The character designs are part Umezz and part Yousuke Takahashi.  Very dark and atmospheric, with some graphic violence.

The really etchi stuff is generic big-breasted fetishistic domination, on the whole, and isn't all that interesting.

The one freebie is a massive 3'x4' poster on cross-hatch patterned plastic of Stigma of Quesar (聖痕のクェイサー).

Summary: Champion Red is a sex and violence magazine aimed at college-aged males.  The sex part is typical over-the-top school boy fantasizing.  The violence roams from various forms of horror, to robot combat.  While I really liked Franken Fran, that's ended and there's not much here that takes its place.  Most of the above-mentioned recognizable stuff are remakes and sequels, so not much appeal there.  I do find the character designs of Voices of the Dead to be intriguing, and I'd be interested in following that a bit longer.  Otherwise, this magazine isn't really recommended.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Waffle Sando

Maruya Gardens is a department store along Tram Street, at the east end of Tenmonkan.  It has the Junkudo bookstore on the 5th and 6th floors.  There's a little indie movie theater on the 7th floor, squeezed in between some restaurants.  One of those shops specializes in waffles, and they advertise a waffle sando set, including ice coffee, for 700 yen ($8.40 USD).  Wondering if this was anything like the crepe sandwiches in Harajuku, I ordered the ham and avocado.  It was thinly-sliced prosciuto between two halves of freshly made waffle.  It tasted good, but with the avocado and dressing, the waffle had gotten kind of mushy.  Nice idea, and it looks good, but not a great success.  The pickled carrot and cucumber were very spicy, though, and that made up for the sando.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kagoshima Graffiti

Hand-painted wall just inside the door to a small men's fashion shop. Signed by manga artist Santa Inoue (Tokyo Tribes, Tokyo Graffiti).  A few days ago, I was at the bookstore in Maruya Garden, and they had the exact same drawing on an autograph board hanging over a stack of new volumes of Tokyo Tribes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Brutus and Pen

One of the best parts about being in Japan is that you have access to various magazines that run anime and/or manga-related feature articles.  And, if you're lucky, the bookstores keep backissues on the shelves long enough for you to decide to pick up a copy.

First up, Brutus.  I first mentioned Brutus, a men's fashion and current events magazine, back on July 19, 2010, when they ran a feature on Miyazaki to tie in with the (at the time) release of "Arriety the Borrower".  In April, they ran a feature on Katsuhiro Otomo and Akira.  It's a big mag, at 130 pages, and a 650 yen cover price.  At least half the mag is taken up with interviews with Otomo and some of the people he's worked with, plus overviews of all of his works, and storyboards and concept art.  There's also some teaser material from his latest works, including Short Peace (specifically, "Combustable").  This issue includes a sheet of Akira stickers.  A must-have for Otomo fans.

(Otomo at left.)

At the same time, I picked up Pen, with New Attitude, 600 yen, 180 pages.  This magazine is very similar to Brutus, but with more advertising on products like whiskey and watches.  The June issue has a feature on Monkey Punch and Lupin III, as a tie-in to the newest Lupin special.  Again, at least half the mag is taken up with interviews with Monkey Punch and the actors and directors on the anime, storyboards, action figures, and examples of the vehicles and weapons used throughout the franchise. Because the main focus is on Lupin, there's a section on how the character designs changed over time, and summaries of all the TV episodes and movies.  There's a two-page foldout showing the relationships between Lupin and all of the major anime characters, and examples of classic artwork from the old manga.  No stickers, though.  Again, this issue of Pen is a must-have for Lupin III fans.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pachinko Banners

The latest banners advertising pachinko machines outside one of the parlors near Tenmonkan.
How many of the anime/manga characters can you recognize?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Japanese accidents

The Japanese system as it applies to traffic accidents hasn't been particularly visible in the past.  It's not something that shows up in the newspapers (that I'm aware of) and you don't really know there's something going on until you're directly affected by it.  I've heard anecdotal stories from foreigners in Tokyo about how someone riding a scooter or a bicycle will be hit by a car and the police will automatically assume that the car driver is blameless.  But, that's mostly just rumor and I can't substantiate it.

Recently, though, I was talking to a Japanese guy I know, and he'd just gotten his car totaled by another driver.  He was driving the main road south of Kagoshima, where it's four lanes.  The other driver, a woman, had decided to make the turn across his lane to enter a convenience store on the opposite side of the road from her.  She ran smack into the side of his car, giving him a slight whiplash.  She was unscathed.  The police had to make the trip from the main station in Kagoshima, which took forty minutes.  They took both sides's stories and let both of them go.  Later, he saw a doctor to have his neck examined and treated.

According to the guy, there are two kinds of car insurance, basic (what he called "giri", or "compulsory") and elective.  Most drivers get both, but the woman only had basic insurance, which has a 3,000,000 yen ($30,000) cap.  He was saying that her insurance company was only going to cover $4,500 of the repairs to his car, and there's a limit to what they'd pay for his hospital bills.

The interesting thing is the assignment of blame, which I'd encountered in my police visit.  The police determined that the woman was 9/10's responsible for the accident, but that the guy she rammed into was 1/10 responsible.  Presumably because he didn't react fast enough, it's partly his fault.  While the insurance company would pay him up to $5,000 for the accident, since the female driver was 9/10's responsible, that means the guy would get only $4,500.

This is where things get interesting.  The system rewards the first person to do something boneheaded (like driving without looking around), because the one that gets hit should have noticed something was wrong and gotten out of the way.  In my case, I should have let the car prevent me from crossing the road and returned to the corner to wait the 5 minutes for the light to cycle.  She gets to cut people off as she likes, and everyone else has to accept it.  Identical situation for this guy - he panic swerves to avoid getting broadsided, and she gets her parking space at the convenience store.  Why? Because that 1/10th responsibility for the accident means that the one being hit doesn't automatically receive "compensation for pain and suffering" (saiban).  You need witnesses and a good lawyer in order to take the other person to court, and I don't know how successful that is in Japan (one of the taxi drivers I talked to was pretty adamant about doing so, though).  So, the person getting hit either tries to stand their ground, gets hit and spends months recovering from it with the other driver not really being punished; or, the one about to be hit accepts that the other driver is a bonehead, does everything possible to avoid the accident, and the bonehead doesn't even notice that there was a problem.  Either way, the one to make the first move wins.

What really bothered the guy I was talking to, though, is that the woman never tried to contact him afterward to apologize, make a peace offering, or to see how he was doing.  So, what angered him the most wasn't that she'd totaled his car or that her insurance wasn't going to cover 100% of his expenses, but that she's acting like either she doesn't care, or that it's his fault for letting her hit him.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gionsa Matsuri, 2012

Kagoshima had been gearing up for the annual Gion festival for weeks in advance.  This is one of the bigger local festivals, where Tram Street is closed off to traffic, and several hundred men and women carry portable shrines about a kilometer up the street and then back down the other side.  The bigger shrines are set up around the city leading up to the event day, so people can look at them up close.  The festival itself took place on Sunday, July 22, which was the first full day where I didn't have work and I could walk around with the cast off.  So, naturally, a major storm front blew in right around noon, with lightning and heavy rain.  I was convinced that the event would be cancelled, but after a couple hours, the rain slacked off and I went out for food shopping.  The parade was still in full bore.

I took the opportunity to test the new camera again, but it wasn't until I got home that evening that I realized I'd been messing with the settings a week ago, and had left the camera in 600x480 mode.  So, I think the colors turned out well, but of course all the shots are too small. Sigh.

There was also a group of men and women carrying these really long umbrellas on bamboo poles.  It took several people to get the pole upright, then one would take it and either try to hold it one-handed, or prop it on their forehead or chin.  While the pole would tip over and come dangerously close to taking out the streetcar wires, the rest of the group would run in to try to prevent that from actually happening.

(One of the umbrellas is starting to fall over, and the group is futilely trying to keep it upright.)

The movie mode works really well, though, and I finally got around to downloading movie maker from the Microsoft site to add a title frame.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Commentary: Monthly Comic Rex

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

Monthly Comic Rex, 680 pages, 600 yen.
Rex is one of those rare magazines on the shelves now - one that's older than 12 months.  Having started at the end of 2005, it's aimed at the male crowd, with past titles including Hand+Red, Oni Hime, Soul Gadget Radient, Tales of Legendia and The Idolmaster: Relations.  Of this group, I've already panned Hand+Red, although I'm still following the fan scanilations of Soul Gadget Radient to find out if it gets any better.

Black Clothing Mistress

Unlike Monthly Comic Gene, Rex does have some good artwork, and one or two stories that are somewhat interesting.  But, there's some nudity and implied sex, giving it at least an "R" rating in the U.S, so it's not recommended for the under-18 crowd.  Genres include school life, fantasy, SF and horror.  The first 16 pages are color glossy self-advertisements and video game reviews.  The overall art quality is above average for this kind of magazine, and ranges from the overly childish to the moderately realistic.  However, there's really only 1 or 2 titles that I have much interest in after a passing glance.

Titles of note:

Black Sweep Sisters: This is a spin-off of Tohru Fujisawa's GTO, featuring two dissimilar exorcist sisters.  Fairly decent artwork, and nice monster designs, but weak storytelling.  There's one panel of one of the sisters firing a gun, and her finger isn't actually pulling back the trigger.  Just started; on chapter 5 in this issue.

Tonnura-san, by Ryousandata Serebi.  Three sisters pick up a fat cat and suddenly find themselves having weird, violent encounters.  There's kind of a "Lucu Lucu" vibe to the character designs, although the backgrounds are solid and some of the animals are drawn realistically.

Shirasunamura, by Kami Imai, creator of Needless.  Same basic character designs as Needless, but maybe more of a ghost or monster hunter story.

Ayakashi Koshoko to Shoujo no Mihou, by Doriyasu Factory.  Nothing in English on this story yet, although it's already up to chapter 9, and there is a fair amount of coverage in Japanese.  Nothing on the artist's name either, except for two passing mentions of doujinshi.  The title roughly translates to "The Strange Rare Book Archives and the Girl Mihou".  The main feature here is that this is the only manga I've ever seen where the artist mimics Shigeru Mizuki (which is the first thing mentioned in each of the Japanese articles).  In this chapter, the boy maintaining the archives encounters a vampire that gets him into trouble.

Summary: Lots of horror and some fantasy, with a bit of nudity and sexual escapades.  Pretty much sums up seinen manga as a whole.  The only stories that I really care about are Shirasunamura, which looks like another Needless, and Ayakashi Koshoko because of its Mizuki-styled character designs.  No freebies.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Accident Aftermath

Right after I was hit by the car, the bystanders called an ambulance and the police.  While I was being strapped into the gurney inside the car, and my insurance information was collected, a senior police officer arrived on the scene and collected preliminary evidence from the driver and the witnesses.  Before we left for the hospital, he entered the ambulance and commented that since I was seen running across the street, it must have been because the Walk light was flashing green before turning red.  I had difficulty remembering enough Japanese at the time to fully describe the sequence of events, but I agreed with his assessment.  From here I go to the hospital, get examined, treated, and released with the brace on my left leg.

Time goes by.  After 1 month, the same officer calls the apartment and sets up a time for us to visit him at the main Kagoshima police station (which is conveniently located right across the street from my hospital).  I go with an interpreter, and the officer greets us, then drives with an assistant to the "scene of the accident".  But, rather than asking me to give my account of the events, the idea is to confront me with the contradictions in everyone's stories.  The flashing Walk light is too short, at 5-6 seconds, so it goes red just as I would have gotten halfway across the street.  The witnesses state that the light was red at the time I was running across.  The driver claims the light was red for me, and that initially, I'd popped out between the cars in front of her without warning, later that she couldn't see me because a bus was in front of her.  Fortunately, the witnesses confirm that I was in the crosswalk up to when I got hit.  The interview ends with me maintaining my story, and the officer remaining skeptical.

Fortunately, because I was in the crosswalk, regardless of anything else, the driver's insurance company agrees to pay for the hospital bills, taxi fare to and from work, and other small incidentals as long as I keep the receipts.  Most of the advice I get during this period is from taxi drivers, who tell me that I should be guaranteed "saiban" (damages for pain and suffering) because it's the driver's responsibility to not hit anything while on the road.  But, with the witnesses saying that the Walk light was red, (and later they amend it to "red at the time of the actual impact") the only way to claim saiban is to find a lawyer and take the driver to court.  In the U.S., that wouldn't have been a problem, but finding an English-speaking lawyer, and then having to tie myself up in legal proceedings makes the outcome iffy at best.

More time goes by.  Occasionally, the officer calls to arrange another meeting to close the case, but then reschedules because of other commitments.  Finally, 3 months after the accident, I go back to the station with my interpreter.  The officer meets us, and guides us to one of the little, concrete interrogation rooms.  He then goes through the papers for the accident report, and describes what everyone else has signed to.  The driver has amended her story, saying that instead of looking around and checking the crosswalk for pedestrians, she was looking up at the street light during her turn (that and there's no longer a bus in front of her).  The witnesses couldn't remember what the Walk light was doing as I was running through the crosswalk, just that it was red at the time I went down.  That is, it turned Don't Walk just as I was reaching the halfway point across the street and about to step into the path of the car.  The car was mostly undamaged, except for a broken passenger-side mirror.  Which confuses me because I was pushed forward by the right front corner of the car and I pretty much went down right away, beside the tire.  I don't have any injuries consistent with impacting the mirror, unless I somehow managed to kick the mirror and broke my foot that way.  Anyway, that's what went into the report.

The officer was very cordial, and we talked for an hour, with the conversation ranging from good restaurants, the inconvenience of having to deal with volcano ash, the rainy season, and so on.  At the end, he asked me if, in the future in similar conditions, that wouldn't it maybe be better if I just stay at the corner and wait the 5 minutes for the light to change again.  It's certainly something I thought about myself right after the accident, that if I had just given up to aggressive drivers, none of this would have happened.  Someone else, from the military, had called it "big boat, little boat".  Whenever big boats and little boats cross paths, it doesn't matter who has the right of way, the big boat is the one that comes out unscathed.  So I tell the officer that I'll be more careful from now on, and he seems satisfied with that.  The driver is identified as being "mostly at fault" for not checking for pedestrians, but there's no talk of saiban now.

The impression I get is that rather that determining whether the driver broke the law with unsafe behavior, the entire system is geared to getting both sides to agree that each bears at least some responsibility for the accident, and for both sides to walk away without wanting to get revenge.  At one point, I was specifically asked if I held a grudge against the driver.  This was the key indicator as to whether the conflict was going to escalate.  By saying "no", I satisfied the officer that his job here was done.  (If I said that I was still unhappy with the driver, the lawyers would have to get involved, and that didn't have a guaranteed ending.)  With this, the conversation was over.  My statement was typed up, and I had to sign it and add my thumb print (since I don't have an official hanko (stamp)).  So, no saiban.  But, I'm not out any real money due to the accident, either.

Friday, July 20, 2012


One month after getting hit, I was given a full fiberglass cast.  A few weeks after that, the front half was removed and it was turned into more of a support for the entire leg.  At 3 months, it was trimmed down to ankle height to act as a simple brace.  Finally, at 4 months, I can get rid of it (the hospital disposed of it for me).  (Still need to use the cane when I walk, though.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Short Review: Dr. Haido's Experiment Note

There are so many manga artists on the scene now, it's impossible to keep track of them all.  Many of them aren't even listed in the Japanese wiki, much less in the English one.  Sites like Manga Baka Updates and Anime News Network do come in handy occasionally, because they'll at least have an entry for an artist, even if there's no detail or title list.  So, when I see a manga for the first time, I'll try doing an artist search to see what else they've done, if anything.  Often, I get nothing.

(Image from Manga Fox)

Dr. Haido's Experiment Note, by Yoshiaki Sukeno, Grade B
I actually discovered Haido (Hyde) by accident a year ago when it got uploaded to Manga Fox.  It's a silly little one-shot about a near-sighted, inept inventor living in his brother's house, with the brother's wife and daughter.  Haido loves making stuff like piggy banks that launch into space and have their own GPS, or flesh-eating godzilla dolls.  He means well, but it never occurs to him to launch the piggy bank OUTSIDE, and this sort of damages the house and inconveniences his brother's family.  One day, his niece, Airi, is kidnapped and held for ransom.  The police are helpless to act, and it's up to Haido to come to the rescue.

The artwork is kind of crude, and Haido's cluelessness gets on my nerves after a while.  Fortunately, it's a mercifully short story at 43 pages, and the rescue scene is funny.  I wouldn't say that this is a great story. but it's not that bad.

Now, the reason for mentioning this one is that Sukeno is the creator of Binbougami ga!, and I didn't know they were related until doing the previous review and then trying an author search.  So, if you do like Binbougami ga!, you might as well check out Dr. Haido's Experiment Note while you're at it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nariakira, Day 2

Turns out that the Nariakira Festival (called Rokugatsu-gou) runs two days.  I'd gotten an email from one of my Japanese friends telling me to go visit it before it ended at 10 PM, so I did.  There are a few night-only festivals in Japan, and this seems to be one of them.  This time, I got to Terakuni Shrine at 8 PM, when things were still going at their peak.  Which was kind of the problem - the streets were so crowded and people moving and stopping so randomly, I was constantly guarding against getting stepped on.  The cane became something of a barrier fence, and if anyone got to close (which was all the time) I'd lift the foot to turn it into less of a target.  This time, there were some fireworks, with the launch site to the north side of the temple grounds and lasting about 10 minutes.  Nothing really spectacular, but I was surprised at how much I missed the smell of burned gunpowder.

The ikebana exhibit was still set up, so I decided to try out the new camera on the more interesting displays.  The harsh overhead lighting in the middle of the night sky really washed out the colors, making a couple of the photos useless.

The traditional dances ran a couple of hours, and all of the performers had very colorful outfits.  It was hard getting close enough to the stage to get good shots that weren't blocked by trees or overhead power cords.  Most of the performers looked to be over 40, with many in their 60's or 70's.  In at least one case, a member of the group was called forward by the announcer and handed an envelope.  No idea what was in it, but I'm assuming it was a cash award for performing above a particular skill level.  Some of the groups were all-female, while others were co-ed.

In yesterday's post, I'd included a shot of one of the street stalls.  These stalls tend to be very similar from festival to festival, taking three main forms - food stalls, games of chance, and toys/masks.  The toy stalls this time focused mainly on spinning disks with lots of flashing LEDs; very colorful.  The masks were from popular TV shows or movies, including Anpanman, Purecure and Spiderman.  Games included pulling goldfish or plastic balls out of a pool of water with a paper paddle, rotating a wheel to pop out a black or white marble, and taking a folded piece of paper from a box.  Lots of different foods - from okonomiyaki on a stick, to shaved ice, and grilled squid to chilled pineapple slices.  I'd already eaten dinner, so I wasn't hungry at the time.  Which is ok because most of the food at these stalls is overpriced and konbini quality only.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nariakira Rokugatsu-gou 2012

It's that time of the year again, and Kagoshima celebrated the anniversary of the death of Shimdzu lord Nariakira on July 15.  I'd written up an entry last year, and there's really very little difference in the event from one year to the next.  Vendors set up stalls along the road leading up to the entrance of the Terakuni shrine, with more in Central Park a block away.  A performance stage is set up on the grounds for karaoke or traditional dance groups, and lanterns line the main grounds up to the main shrine.  People come out from a 25 mile radius to hang out, eat, drink, pray and walk around in yukata or plain street clothes.

The primary reason for taking pictures this time is that I finally got a new camera - a discounted Canon Powershot SX230 HS, and I wanted to see how it handled night shots.  I'd dropped my old camera close to 2 years ago, damaging part of the screen.  Initally, only 20% had gone black, but it's now up to 60% unviewable, and I didn't really have much choice any longer.  Additionally, it wasn't taking the kinds of shots I wanted, so I was looking at the replacement as some kind of an upgrade.  I'm finding that the Canon has some interesting, but unnecessary special features (like fish eye and toy camera effects) and that the auto mode tends to over saturate areas that have too much light.  So, I need to start using the manual controls to get better daytime shots.  But, the night shots here came out a lot better than they would have with the old camera.

I arrived close to 9 PM, when the stalls were preparing to tear down, and the crowds had thinned out.  Still lots of people lounging around and chatting with friends, though.  The performance stage was already dark, and the tables displaying bonsai and ikebana were also closed.

The big overhead banners at the front of the shrine grounds are commercially sponsored, adversing local businesses or big corporations.  The rest are handmade by students or local clubs.  The majority of the smaller lanterns are drawn by children and look pretty amateurish.  But there are a few that are worth taking pictures of.

The front of the main shrine.  Note the shelves of sake bottles in the background. Normally, companies donate the large straw-wrapped barrels of sake to the temple to ask for good business in the future.  I haven't seen a display of smaller bottles like this before.