Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tamagawa Weir Bike Ride


(Bridge near Ome, over the Tamagawa)

Golden Week is one of two major holiday periods in Japan, the other being Obon Yasumi during the Summer. Golden Week is made up of a handful of one-day holidays, all strung one after the other, culminating in Children's Day on May 5. Generally, the Japanese take this time to travel to various sights around the world, or possibly return to the family home. Usually, the airports and trains are congested because of it.


(Tamagawa, near the Weir)

I had been thinking of cycling the 80 miles to Mount Fuji and back, which would be a 2-day excursion. On April 30, I was forced out of the apartment for 6 hours, so I figured I'd try doing a practice ride to Mt. Takao, 36 miles away. The problem with both the Fuji and Takao rides is that large stretches would be on narrow, busy streets, packed with cars. But, both would also start along the Tamagawa. So, I figured that I'd try riding the Tamagawa from Noborito all the way north as far as I could for 3 hours, then turn around and come back. If I could find signs pointing west to Takao, I'd try going that way until the traffic turned unbearable.


(Old commerce channel leading to Edo)

As it was, I could follow the bike trail about 25 miles north (no signs for Takao that I saw) until it deadended at a "weir". According to the dictionary, a weir is a dam placed across a river to divert it for some reason. Apparently, a few hundred years ago, the Japanese diverted the Tamagawa into a man-made side river to create a commercial route leading into old Edo (now modern Tokyo). I couldn't see the damn, but I did find the old river.



I then took some side roads out to Ome, which brought me past several shrines and temples. At one point, I found myself on a road leading into the hills, and on impulse I rode past the chain onto a dirt track. I didn't know it at the time, but I was entering the back end of a hiking trail. The trail was mostly well-kept up, ignoring various wash-out points. And, it was empty except for 2 hikers that I encountered an hour later near the main trail head.



Interestingly, there was an old building along the side of the trail, and the path leading to the front door was overgrown with bushes and small trees. It have been unused for 5 years. The door had rotted off the lock but it still opened smoothly. Inside, there was an electric organ, an amplifier and a snare drum. Plus lots of lumber still in good condition. Strange, since the maintenance on part of the trail elsewhere looked to be no more than a few months old.



The hiking trail was steep in several places, with lots of exposed roots. My bike isn't designed for this kind of trail so I ended up walking stretches of it. Eventually, I reached the trail head, and rode back to the Tamagawa Weir. From there, it was an easy, scenic 2 hour ride back to Noborito. Unfortunately, by the time I got back home, I'd been riding pretty much all of the 6 hours, and I was overheating when I got to the apartment. It took me an hour to recover, and I was so wiped out that I had to take a nap for an hour afterwards. Of course, I took a shower just to knock all the salt off my face. In all, I'd consumed 2 Balance bars, an energy jelly pack and 3 bottles of water. When I got home, I went through another bottle of water, a carton of juice, and a package of Calorie Mate.


(Abandoned building near hiking trail)

I'm thinking that Mount Fuji is completely out of the question, and if I'd only covered 50 miles or so on this trip, then maybe even Takao is unattainable. It's too easy to blame my age, my being out of shape, or my bike not being a $2000 Trek road bike. The bottom line is that even though I spent maybe one hour talking to people along the way, I can't have covered more than 60 miles in 5 hours, and at the end of it I was wiped. Sigh.


(Daruma drinking water)

At least I had sunscreen this time. Visit the photo album here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interesting Place Names, 042909

It's too easy to ridicule people's English skills, especially if they're just trying to use English for marketing to other Japanese. So, I'm not posting these pictures to make fun of them. I'm doing it because I like them. Both places here are in Akihabara.



First is Saotomi Fooding. I guess if native speakers can turn any kind of noun into a verb (e-mail, FedEx, google) by adding "-ing", everyone else can too.



Then we have Mikaku Bar and Junk. Mikaku has a bar.



And it has junk. I'm just not sure, though, if they have junk food.

Ramen home delivery

You're a small restaurant owner specializing in ramen (noodles in broth, possibly with vegetables and/or a slice of beef), and you want to deliver your dishes to offices and homes in the area. But, you have three problems. 1) You're trying to transport bowls of steaming hot soup. 2) With the narrow twisty streets, and high fuel and parking costs, you can't afford to use a car or van. 3) The crazy drivers (your own and the others on the streets) will cause the soup to spill if there's a sudden stop or swerve.



Answer? Put a swing shelf on the back of a scooter. The shelf moves naturally in the turns. You can put the bowl of soup in an insulated styrofoam box to keep it hot. And shock absorbers at the top of the swing reduce the impacts from speed bumps and the such. Ramen bikes are not quite as common now as they were a few years ago, since more people have been choosing to eat at Denny's or other family restaurants, but they're still out there and the scooters keep getting updated to look more stylish.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gakken Kit 15 - Movie

As I wrote in the review article on Gakken's movie projector kit (Otona no Kagaku #15), that kit's pretty much infinitely modifiable in that you can make as many of your own movies as you like. Unfortunately, it's not like all that many people can watch the movie at one time since there's only one copy, and the projector uses paper "film" rather than real film, making the projection kind of faint. Further, it's easier to make and watch an animation if it's intended to be viewed directly in Flash to begin with. Bottom line is that while we *can* make as many "films" as we like for this kit, it's not that likely that we will.



Anyway, I did make one film, just for the experience. I call it "Hi Ki Yama". It's a demonstration of how some Japanese kanji have been derived from real things. Print out the sheet, cut out the strips, tape the strips together, punch out the sprocket holes, and there you have it - a finished paper movie. Or, ask me to e-mail you a copy of the finished Flash .swf file.

"Hi" = "sun"; ""ki" = "tree"; "yama" = "mountain". It's hand-drawn frame-by-frame, and is intended to look a a little unsteady when played back. It took roughly one day to create.

------------------------

In the initial review, I wrote that I couldn't find references to "reflective-style" projectors. Turns out that I should have studied the Japanese mook more closely. Kit #15 is based on the REFCY projector, which was produced in Japan in 1931. It was unusual at the time because it was the one of the few projectors to use "paper film". A picture of the projector can be found here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Acid - DuoRama



There's this stretch of corridor that runs between Yodobashi Camera and the JR train station in Akihabara. It contains a donut shop, a couple coffee and juice shops, and the entrance to Yodobashi. It forms an "L", and at the short end of the leg there's an empty stretch of wall that is occasionally used for staging special events. Back in January, it's where the Love Hige Girls made their appearance. For the last week or two, there's been a booth for the American Express card. I was thinking that the AmEx booth had become permanent, and I even walked by it on Friday night



But on Saturday, a stage had been erected for promoting Sony's new Acid music editing software. Appearances included Jett Edwards, DuoRama, horizon and Cafe "the Sun". Because I could only visit during my breaks, I only got to see DuoRama.



DuoRama consisted of Toshiki Nunokawa on lead, Koichi Osamu on bass, and Acid on drums, rhythm and percussion. (Acid can be seen running on the big flat screen monitors). I had a chance to talk to Toshiki briefly before his set on Sunday, and was told that DuoRama plays contemporary jazz, that he's been playing professionally for 20 years and that he's got 13 albums out (One is "Ultraman Jazz"). DuoRama2 just hit the shelves on April 21.



The music's good, and I was able to catch a little of it on my camera. I apologize in advance for the poor video quality - I really need a good video camera phone.

Yo-chan



To be honest, I don't know her name. But, she's the new logo for Yodobashi Camera's Akihabara store. I'm thinking that her tunic is designed based on the Yamanote train line's lead car. The green outer circle is the Yamanote line, and the two red circles at each side are Shinjuku and Akihabara stations (which both have Yodobashi stores). The yellow line running through the center is the Sobu line, and the orange stub on the right is the Chuo line.



She's cute, and I just saw her for the first time last week.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

SX-150 Keyboard




Of all the Gakken kits I know of, the SX-150 analog synthesizer is the only one that really lets you modify it even before you have the kit in your hands. Because people have been using synths in a hobbiest capacity for well over 20 years, most of the standard circuits and sound modules have long been available on the market, and it's a simple matter to determine what the SX-150 is missing, and how to add it. A case in point is the MIDI controller. One person posted a home-made controller video on youtube before the SX-150 even hit the shelves back last August.

After going through all of the youtube videos featuring the SX-150 that I could find, I decided that I'd make the fingertip keyboard in advance of buying the synth itself. This was both a good and a bad idea. First, it gave me something to keep busy with for over a week, from sketching up the initial layout to trying to find which parts were available where, to actually building it. Secondly, it broke the bank. I've been foregoing snacks and Tully's coffee in order to redirect the money into buying the Gakken kits. I can generally scrape up $25 a week this way, but I've been getting really sleepy during the day, and hungry before I finish work at night. Normally, I'd just buy 1 Gakken kit a month, and the remaining money would go to paying off the "debt" I'd accumulated when buying all of the older Gakken kits in January and February prior to them going out of print. I'd gotten my debt down to $90, and then the keyboard circuit single-handedly more than doubled that.

The single biggest cost were the relays. I wanted 12 switches, and I wanted each switch to turn LEDs on and off along with making sounds from the synth. I tried going with a mini 3V relay, but the shops only had 1-pole 3V relays, meaning that I couldn't use the LEDs with it. The next higher voltage relay I could find was 5V, and there were double-pole double-throw relays in this range, but they cost about $1 more. 12 relays at $3.80 each ran me almost $48 right there. The circuit board was $6, and the 2 terminal blocks were $7 each. All of the other hardware, resistors, and LEDs totaled about $30 all together. At least two of the LEDs burned out for some reason and needed replacing, but at 30 cents each, that's the least of my worries. The LEDs are only cosmetic, anyway. The potentiometers are what actually drive the synth.

The next biggest expense will be the 50 K ohm potentiometers, since I need 12 of them, and they're about $2.50 apiece, and the plastic knobs will be another $1.50 each. But, I'm not really sure how to wire them in so I'm holding off on buying them until I have the synth in my hands. So that's going to be another $45-$50 right there. Anyway, I now have a working keyboard and relay bank, sans the synth.

Then again, one of the interesting things about this entire set-up is that I could use the keyboard to drive multiple synths. Program 3 synths to three different sounds, then wire them to 4 each of the pads on the keyboard and route the outputs through a mixer to a single amp. This makes for a decent little drum kit. Unfortunately, the SX-150s are $35 each ($28 from a used book shop via Amazon + $3 for shipping). So, getting 3 of them would put me another 3 weeks into "the hole of no snacks, no lunch and no breakfast on weekends". Not to mention that the little mixer I've been eying is $75 to $98...

Shinjuku Monster

"Hello Everyone. My name is Bikkuri Boshi (Surprising Star). Do you recognize me? The truth is, I was in a TV commercial from some famous group, along side Mr. Kimura Takuya."



Bikkuri-kun was seen in the entrance way next to the Docomo cell phone store on the south side of Shinjuku station. The photo on the sign shows 4 Docomo phones, with shots from the TV ad.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Sound Warriors - Part 5, Page 2

The rest of page 2 of The Sound Warriors.

この瞬間、人類は初めて機械から出る人の声を聞いたのだ。人々は歓喜し、この『しゃべる機械』を発明したエジソンに驚異を感じた。

この しゅんかん、じんるい は はじめて きかい から でる ひと の こえ を きいた のだ。ひとびと は かんきし、この "しゃべる きかい" を はつめい した エジソン にきょうい を かんじた。

この しゅんかん - This moment
じんるい - mankind
は はじめて- is started
きかい から - machine from
でる ひと の こえ - come out person's voice
を きいた - heard
のだ - nominalizer + was
ひとびと は - people is
かんきし - delight among other things
この - this
しゃべる きかい - talking machine
を はつめい した - invented
エジソン - Edison
にきょうい - wonder
を かんじた - to experience (past tense)

This moment . mankind . is started . machine from . come out person's voice . heard . was.
people is . delight among other things . this . "talking machine" . invented . Edison . wonder . to experience (past tense)

"This was the first moment that mankind had heard someone's voice come out of a machine. People delighted in experiencing Edison's miracle "talking machine".

I'm not a grammar specialist (in English or Japanese) so don't quote me here. But the apparent idea of the nominalizer is to turn an entire phrase into a noun. So, the "no da" portion applied "was" to "This moment that mankind first heard a person's voice come from a machine".

"-shi" means "among other things". "samui-shi" would then be "among other things, it was cold". Here, "かんきし" indicates that being delighted by the machine was just one reason why people came to Menlo Park.

For space purposes, I decided to go with:

"This was the first time anyone heard someone's voice come out of a machine. People flocked to marvel at Edison's miracle "talking machine.""

-----

エジソンは『メンローパークの魔術帥』 と呼ばれ、以前にも増して人々の絶賛と注目をあびることとなる。

エジソン は 『メンローパーク の まじゅつすい』 と よばれ、いぜん にも まして ひとびと の ぜっさん と ちゅうもこ を あびる こと と なる。

エジソンは - Edison is
メンローパーク の - Menlo Park's
まじゅつすい - Black Magic Leader
と よばれ - is called
いぜん に - since, before
も - also
まして - to increase
ひとびと の - people's
ぜっさん と ちゅうもこ - great praise and attention
あびる こと - to bask in thing
と なる - and become

Edison is . "Menlo Park's Wizard" . is called . since . also . to increase . people's . great praise and admiration . to bask in . and become

"Edison was already known as the "Wizard of Menlo Park" and he basked in people's increased praise and admiration."

"帥" could be treated as "the director of the Bakufu" (the Shogan's advisory council). But, if read as "sui", it becomes "general, commander or leader". Since Edison had been called "the wizrd of Menlo Park" by the English-speaking press, and that's what Maki was translating from, I decided to go with the English original.

The two phrases above are: "Edison was known as the wizard of Menlo Park" and "increasing from before, he basked in people's praise and admiration". That is, the amount of praise and admiration increased over what he received before the phonograph.

For readability, I went with:

"Edison was known as the "Wizard of Menlo Park, and he basked in the increased fame and adulation."

------

しかし、当のエジソンは、発明はしてみたものの、この蓄音機(フォノグラフ)の用途を見いだせずにいた。そして急速に関心を失ったという。。。

しかし、とう の エジソン は、はつめい は して みた もの の、この ちくおんき (フォノグラフ) の よう と を みいだせずにいた。そして きゅうそく に かんしん を うしったという。。。

しかし - but
とう の エジソン は - Edison himself
はつめい - invention
して みた - try to do (past tense)
もの の - thing's
この ちくおんき の - this gramophone's
フォノグラフ - phonograph
よう と - usefulness
みいだせずに - to see (?)
いた - state of
そして - therefore
きゅうそく - rapid
かんしん - concern, interest
を うしった - lost
という - is said

but . Edison himself . invention . tried to do thing's . this gramophone's . (phonograph) . usefulness . to see (?) . in state of . therefore . rapid . interest . losing . is said

"But, Edison himself tried to prove the usefulness of his gramophone (i.e. - the phonograph), and it was said that he was rapidly losing interest in it..."

Used as-is.

-----

音を記録していったい何の役に立つんだろう。。。

おと を きろくして いったい なん の やく に たつん だろう。。。

おと - sound
を きろくして - to record
いったい - what in the world
なん の - what kind of
やく に たつ ん - to be useful + contraction
だろう - I wonder

sound . to record . what in the world . what kind of . to be useful . I wonder

"What in the heck use is there in recording sound, I wonder..."

"ittai" is often used in the stronger sense of "what the hell!?", while it's occasionally softened to "what in the world" or "what in the heck". But, it's used so often in Japanese speech as to have taken on the meaning of "what is that?" While "darou" is more of a potential version of "is"; i.e. - "I guess".

I dislike the amateur fan translators' constant need to use English swear words as so-called "literal" translations of everyday spoken Japanese vulgarities. The level of offensiveness in English is much stronger than in the original Japanese. In some cases, it makes sense to simply ignore "ittai" as an individual word and link it in as part of the overall intent of the sentence or phrase. That's why I went with:

"Just what use is there in recording sounds...?"

To Be Continued.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Manga review - D.Gray-Man, Code Breaker



D.Gray-Man, by Katsura Hoshino, Grade: C+

I'm probably going to make enemies with this, but I'll come right out and say that I don't like D.Grey-Man. Initially, I was attracted to this title because of the Earl. To me, he looks like a big, demented rabbit. The story seemed promising and the artwork wasn't that bad.

D. Gray-Man is set in kind of a gothic medieval world where magic and technology coexist, and a quasi-church has been formed to fight the forces of darkness represented by the Earl, and his family the "Noah". The "good side" uses a strange holy substance called "Innocence" to give them magical weapons to fight with. This is where things get silly. Some innocence is external and takes the form of a hammer or boots, and others are internal, enhancing an arm, teeth or feet. The boundary between good and evil starts out clear enough - the Earl turns humans into mechanical bombs that go on killing sprees and the Church fights to limit the damage and bring down the Earl. Then the line blurs. The Earl is shown to have a loving, devoted relationship to the family of "Noahs" (dark anti-angels), and some of the Noahs actually like the humans they interact with. While the Church turns out to be run by a war-loving madman that treats his followers like they're part of the enemy. This makes it easy to root for the Noahs while hoping that the church will be brought down under it's own weight.

In the midst of all this, we have Allan Walker, who when a young boy had been approached by the Earl and had his wish for his mother to come back from the dead granted. Unfortunately, she came back as a monster, and when Allan became infected by Innocence, he vowed to defeat the Earl. Allan's Innocence is an internal type, taking over one arm and one eye. As he gets stronger, he develops powers that none of the other good guys have, such as being able to sense bad guys from far away. This complicates things because the madman leader of the Church takes this as an additional sign that Allen is evil himself (the fact that Allen turns out to be associated with the "13th Noah" doesn't help either).

D.Gray-Man has just returned from hiatus because Hoshino's health had turned bad last Fall. Leading up to the last year, things in the manga started getting hard to follow. The artwork is dark, and often gets so muddy as to make it impossible to make out what's going on. The story gets sidetracked into really stupid gags that have nothing to do with the main plot (such as when Allan's friends in the Church's research arm get infected with a virus that turns them into zombies). The Church's leadership is pragmatic to the point of insanity and mistreats the Innocence users very casually. But, what I dislike the most is that the weapons people use can get so silly, such as the powered up boots and vampiric teeth.

Summary: "D.Grey-Man" starts out interestingly enough, then bogs down on a surplus of ideas. The artwork is just ok, but the characters and weapons are unbearably silly. I keep hoping that the Earl and the Noahs will win. Recommended only to people that like One Piece, or have lots of time and brain cells to kill.




Code: Breaker, by Akimine Kamijyo, Grade: C-

Ok, here's an easy title for me to dislike. Breakers are people employed by the government that don't officially exist, and who are allowed to break all known laws in order to punish anyone within the system that doesn't follow those laws. Sakura Sakurakouji is a high school girl that has mastered martial arts in order to uphold the laws of her school and society. Basically, she's a self-important, stuck-up vigilante. One night, she sees Rei Oogami, a breaker, as he is in the middle of burning some street thugs to death. The next day, the event is treated by the news media and police as a minor brush fire. Rei shows up in Sakura's school under orders to find out what she knows and to possibly "silence" her if needed. Turns out, though, that Rei's powers have no effect on her.

Breakers seem to have telekinetic powers, such as creating magical fire or ice. They're controlled by a shadowy organization that tells them who to target and when, and then handles media control afterwards. The breakers suffer from internal squabbling, and Rei appears to be in the group more to pursue a personal agenda than for reasons regarding loyalty or job satisfaction.

The artwork quality is good, and the character designs are solid enough. What I hate is Sakura's mindless insistence that the world operates according to her own rules of right and wrong. Rei is wrong for killing bad guys, even though those bad guys are owned by the police and will not themselves stop killing for any reason. If a killer promises to turn himself in to avoid Rei's punishment, Sakura believes him and is then shocked when the guy tries to kill her as well when she turns her back on him. Yet, when Rei kills the bad guy to protect her, Sakura gets angry at him, rather than at her own stupidity. Since this kind of idiocy occurs with some frequency, you'd think that Sakura would catch on that reality doesn't care what she thinks. Unfortunately, Kamijyo has written her as a balancing force against Rei and the organization, and as such she'll probably remain an idiot for the entire series. I've stopped reading this title, so I'll never know if she gets better or not.

What boggles my mind is that Kamijyo has also created Silvery Crow and Samurai Deeper Kyo. I've read SDK, and I like the story more-or-less. Again, the main female character is annoyingly narrow-minded, but nowhere near the degree to which Sakura is. Plus, SDK has lots of nice battle sequences, which makes it a better read, although SDK's willingness to resort to the endless "hey, look at the NEXT secret attack I have I've never told the readers about" still detracts from the overall experience. That is, SDK isn't that great of a manga, but it's certainly a lot better than Code: Breaker.

Summary: "Code: Breaker" is a well-drawn comic that suffers from dillusions of adequacy. A shadow group breaks the law to punish criminals ignored by the police and the government. One lone school girl seeks to stop all of this and see everyone behind bars. Not recommended.

The Sound Warriors - Part 4, Page 2

Here's the dialog for page 2. I'll put the English translations in where explanations aren't necessary.

2-1 1877年 - アメリカ。ニュージャーシー州メロン。パーク

1877 ねん - アメリカ。ニュージャーシーしゅう メロン。パーク

"1877, Menlo Park, New Jersey, USA"

---

2-3 アンビリーバボー!

メリ。。。さんの。。。 小さなひつじ、、、

メリ。。。さんの。。。 ちいさなひつじ、、、

"Unbelievable!" "Mary... had a... little lamb..."
-----

[クルクルクル] - [whirr whirr]

2-4 やった! 聞こえるぞ! 大成功た!

やった! きこえるぞ! だいせいこうた!

"You did it! We can hear it! This is a huge success!"
---

エジソン 30歳 (Edison, age 30)

世界最初の蓄音機は、当時すでに発明王として、名をはせていたトーマス。アルバ。エジソンによって大衆に発表された。

エジソン 30さい

せかいさいしょのちくおんきは、とうじすでにはつめいおうとして、なをはせていたトーマス。アルバ。エジソンによってたいしゅうにはっぴょうされた。
---

2-5 この瞬間、人類は初めて機械から出る人の声を聞いたのだ。人々は歓喜し、この『しゃべる機械』を発明したエジソンに驚異を感じた。

エジソンは『メンローパークの魔術帥』 と呼ばれ、以前にも増して人々の絶賛と注目をあびることとなる。

このしゅんかん、じんるいははじめてきかいからでるひとのこえをきいたのだ。ひとびとはかんきし、この"しゃべるきかい"をはつめいしたエジソンにきょういをかんじた。

エジソンは『メンローパークのまじゅつすい』とよばれ、いぜんにもましてひとびとのぜっさんとちゅうもこをあびることとなる。
---

2-6 しかし、当のエジソンは、発明はしてみたものの、この蓄音機(フォノグラフ)の用途を見いだせずにいた。そして急速に関心を失ったという。。。

しかし、とうのエジソンは、はつめいはしてみたものの、このちくおんき(フォノグラフ)のようとをみいだせずにいた。そしてきゅうそくにかんしんをうしったという。。。
---

音を記録していったい何の役に立つんだろう。。。

おとをきろくしていったいなんのやくにたつんだろう。。。



-----------------------------------------

I'll tackle the text in panel 4 here, just because this entry is a little short otherwise.

世界最初の蓄音機は、当時すでに発明王として、名をはせていたトーマス。アルバ。エジソンによって大衆に発表された。

せかい さいしょ の ちくおんき は、とうじ すでに はつめい おう として、な を はせていた トーマス。アルバ。エジソン に よって たいしゅう に はっぴょう された。

せかい - the world
さいしょ - the first
ちくおんき - gramophone
とうじ - at that time
すでに - already
はつめい おお - Invention King
として - in the role of
な を はせていた - The state of having made a name for himself
トーマス。アルバ。エジソン - Thomas Alva Edison
よって - to be caused by
たいしゅう - the general public
はっぴょう された - publication + passive form "was done by"

the world . first's . gramophone . at that time . already . invention king . in the role of . famous as . thomas alva edison . towards . to be caused by . the general public . towards . was done by publication

"By the time of the world's first gramophone, Thomas Alva Edison was already known through publications to the general public as the "Invention King".

The Japanese language is big on passive voice. Instead of saying that someone did something, we get "something was done to someone by someone else". That is "was known to the public by publication", rather than "was published". "shita" becomes "sareta". A more normal version would be:

"Thomas Alva Edison. At the time of the world's first phonograph, he'd already become widely known to the general public as the Invention King."


To Be Continued.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cyborg 009



The Tokyo Anime Center, located on the 4th floor of the UDX building in Akihabara, tends to rotate in new exhibits every so often, depending on tie-ins to the various studios, I guess. Actually, I'm really not sure why they'll highlight one show (the Yattaman movie, Cell Phone Agent 7, Gurren Lagaan, etc.) and not another. It's just that every so often, it happens, with the exhibit hanging around for a few weeks at a stretch.



This time, it's for the DVD release for Cyborg 009. As shown in the photos, the exhibit includes a poster board, anime storyboards, paraphernalia, and large statues of the main cyborg team. I've never watched this show before, so I can't comment on the story or anime quality. But the statues are cool, and if you're in Akihabara at some point in the next couple of weeks, I recommend stopping in and checking it out. If you want, you can stand in front of the projector wall and have your photo taken with a Cyborg 009 picture in the background.









Sunday, April 19, 2009

Manga review - Parasyte, Historie

One thing about manga, and about manga reviews, as that often you get multiple titles from the same author, and if you wait long enough, you can do comparison reviews. You may have noticed that I've been doing same-author reviews off and on since I started this blog back in July. As I get farther through One Manga's table of contents, I'm going to be doing more of this. The below reviews are a case in point, being both from Iwaaki Hitoshi.



(Image from the wiki entry, used for review purposes only.)

Parasyte, by Iwaaki Hitoshi, Grade: B+

One day, the Earth is quietly invaded by "parasites", worms that enter the human body through the nose or ear, burrow into the brain, and take over their host. Few people know about their existence, and the controlled hosts then treat other humans as a food source. Shinichi Izumi is a teenage boy living at home. He's sleeping at night with his headphones on, so the parasite that targets him gets confused and burrows into his right hand instead. This causes Shinichi and the parasite "migi" (right) to form an unexpected symbiotic bond. The story then centers around the conflict between the other parasytes and Shinichi/Migi; the other parasites view Shinichi's ability to think independently as a threat, and Shinichi wants them to stop killing and eating humans.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is yet another manga that I hated when I saw it in Japan. I'd only see the covers at the bookstore (couldn't read the books because they were plastic-wrapped) and the images of horribly distorted human faces put me off them. It wasn't until TokyoPop started releasing this series that I was able to look at the artwork inside and find out what the story was. It's still not something I really like, but now I at least realize that it's not the badly-drawn gory horror that I'd thought it was. There is a continuous, on-going, linear story that pits a lone character that turns into a reluctant hero against a race of aliens that are neither good nor bad - just hungry. And as such, Parasyte makes for an interesting read. It's just that I'm not that attracted to the art style, which tends to be rather crude, with cartoony character designs. The background artwork is good, anyway.

Summary: "Parasyte" (The original Japanese name is Kiseijuu) is a human versus alien survival fight series with some humor thrown in. Over time, the bond between Shinichi and Migi develops where they can't live without each other, and this development is as much a central plot element as is the desire to survive in a battle zone. Recommended to those that like gothic horror, and weird artwork.



(Image from the wiki entry, used for review purposes only.)

Historie, by Iwaaki Hitoshi, Grade: A-

Eumenes is a young teenage boy living in a wealthy household as a prized son, granted all the pleasures that power and family offer in ancient Greece at the time of Aristotle. Then, one day, Eumene's "father" is killed and the boy discovers that the old man was a slave trader and had adopted him after killing his family during a slaver raid on Scythia. Suddenly, the rest of his "family" rejects him, turns him into a slave himself and then sells him off to another trader. From this point on, Eumenes embarks on a journey of discovery through the Middle East, to Cardia and points beyond. He's a voracious reader and studies all the scientific and engineering texts he can find, turning into a creative inventor. Occasionally, his inventions get him out of life-threatening situations, such as with the trick fences he constructs around a village about to be invaded by a larger force.

Historie is as much historical fiction as it is the exploration of early scientific discovery. Eumenes meets Aristotle, who is being chased by Persian forces that accuse him of being a spy for Greece. There are other real-world characters that pop up later on as well. The character designs are the same as for Parasyte, but where the artwork and cartoony stretchable faces undermined Parasyte's horror to create a sense of ill-drawn gore, the same characters in Historie come off as being more expressive in showing their emotions. The background artwork is highly detailed, indicating that Hitoshi has done his homework in researching both the countryside the story is placed in, and the architecture of the time. This is a fairly intellectual title, since the battles and warfare of the time don't really factor into the tale. Hitoshi isn't a master of action sequences, and his drawings of racing horses tends to look static. But, this is an easy flaw to overlook. I like reading Historie to see what's going to happen next, but it's not one of the titles in my top ten list.

Summary: "Historie" is just that - a historical fiction title running in Afternoon magazine that follows a young former slave through the Middle East regions during the time of Aristotle. Eumenes is a promising inventor, and his creations often figure into the process of getting himself, and those around him, out of a bind. This manga does get exceedingly violent at times, and Eumenes' Scythian blood allows him to kill without thinking in self-defense. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Day in the life...

I decided to go into Shinjuku this afternoon (20 minutes from my station of Noborito by train), to grab the Metropolis and to visit the Kinokuniya bookstore. While I was there, I went into a stationary shop on a whim and found a sheet of styrofoam board that I felt would work well for a mod I want to try building when I buy the Gakken analog synthesizer kit in a few days. On the return trip to Noborito, I put my backpack on the overhead rack, and I focused on protecting the styrofoam sheet from the press of people to keep it from being snapped in half. On the train, I got to talking with a college student from Montana, and when I got to my stop, I was distracted by the task of getting the styrofoam sheet out safely. It wasn't until I got to the bottom of the stairs leading out of the station that I realized that I'd left my backpack on the train.

Japan has a deserved reputation for safety, and the odds of getting my pack were at least 99%, but I was worried about being the one that fell into that remaining 1%. I went to the train office, and in broken Japanese explained what had happened. The train master pulled up a diagram of the platform and asked me to use it to identify the car I was in, plus a bunch of other stuff. That's where I bogged down in not recalling details that he seemed to really want from me - which side of the car (left or right) the bag was on; the colors of the iPods (I had 2 - one all black, the other maybe green with silver trim) and whether they were really iPods or some other brand; the title of a textbook that I used for work; and so on. The two really important details would have been that my business card case was in the front pocket, as well as my office ID badge with my name on it, but those two seemed to be less relevant to him. In any event, calls were made. Calls were returned. More questions were raised, only to be partially answered.

After about half an hour of this, my bag was found about 10 stops away on the Odakyu. The station master asked if I wanted to wait for a day or two for the bag to be hand delivered to the Noborito station, or if I wanted to go pick it up myself. If so, he'd give me a free round-trip ticket to Sagami-Ono (worth maybe about $3). He gave me the ticket, plus detailed instructions for taking the next local train to Shin Yurigaoka and then transferring to the express to Sagami-Ono. Thus prepared, I headed up to the platform just in time to get the local train.

I easily made the transfer to the rapid train, but the crush of people threatened to damage the styro sheet. I should have paid more attention to the map, but I got off at what I thought was the right station, went outside to the lost and found office, and was told that the bag waiting for me at Sagami-Ono would only be found if I went to the Sagami-Ono station. I needed to go to either platform 1 or 2. Confused, I went back up to the platform, and eventually realized that I was at Machida, and Sagami-Ono was still one stop further on. So, I had to wait for the next train. At Sagami-Ono, which is a big station, I went to the lost and found office right next to the ticket window, and had to go through some red tape (writing down my name, address, phone number, etc.) to get my bag back. After that was done, I returned to the station and immediately got on the next train headed for Noborito (and Shinjuku farther on).

The train sat at the platform for a while, so I re-read the Metropolis, the Japan Times, and Japanzine. I heard the announcement on the PA, and watched a bunch of people hurrying over to the next platform to get the train there, but I didn't catch on to what had been said. My train eventually started moving. The PA announced the next stop as Tamagawa Gakuen-mae (In front of Tama River School) and I got out thinking that somehow I was riding the wrong train AWAY from Noborito. The doors closed behind me just as I discovered that I had been going the right way, but on the local instead of the express. Turned out that the earlier announcement was telling me that the other train at Sagami-ono was the express.

Now, I'm at a station that the express trains don't stop at. And the next local wasn't due for another 15 minutes. So I kept reading my papers. Finally, the local arrived, and I figured that it was safer (both in terms of getting on the right train, for avoiding the crush of people at rush hour; and for not forgetting the sheet or my back pack) to just stay where I was. And I kept reading my papers.

Two hours after realizing that I'd forgotten my bag, I was again back in Noborito. I'd kept the bag on my shoulder the entire trip back, and I cradled the styrofoam sheet in my arms to keep from forgetting that. None of the station people at the Noborito ticket window recognized me, so I just dropped off my free return ticket and kept walking home.

The moral of the story is that Japan is one of the best places in the world to forget your valuables, because you'll probably get them back. But, it's better in the long run to not forget them in the first place. Or, if you do, make sure to bring something to read during the wait.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kyodo no Mori



Kyodo no Mori (Kyodo Forest) is a combination open park, museum, planetarium, and historic house exhibit. The park is near the Tamagawa river, in Fuchuu, on the west side of Tokyo, about a 15 minute walk from the Suntory Brewery. It's also next door to another small park associated with an athletic center. There's a 200 yen ($2) entry fee for adults for the park and museum; 600 yen to get into the planetarium.



The museum has a small curry restaurant, a gift shop, a display of a very famous local festival (Kurayami Matsuri, to be held this year during Golden Week), and an exhibit on Japanese and local history. There's an example of the old-style palanquins that footmen used to carry the upper classes in. The upper classes must have been very tiny, because the compartment is very small and cramped-looking. Maybe they had larger palanquins for adults...



The historic buildings include an old elementary school, a town government building (with post office function), a couple thatch-roofed houses, a daimyo's manor complete with whitewashed wall (now used as a tea shop), and a water wheel house.



The gardens have a wide variety of flowers and trees, including plum and cherry trees. The cherry trees still had a lot of their blossoms on the branches in mid-April, and were quite pretty. There's a wide open field for picnics and hanami viewing, as well as a "green space" for sitting and smoking.



There's a children's park, and an open stage for outdoor performances as well as a water fountain display (you're not allowed to get in and wade around in it right now, though).


(The instructions for tying the old-style sandals are at the lower left of the photo.)

There's one building dedicated to educating children. Inside is an exhibit on weaving bamboo strips to make baskets and instructions for how to wear the traditional woven shoes. Outside are a bunch of stilts for the children to play with.



While I was wandering around, I encountered at least 10 people trimming the trees, sweeping up leaves and petals, and just doing general grounds keeping. I tried asking one older man what he was looking for as he trimmed a tree, and his answer was "I'm looking for/at next year".



At the other end of the park, there are two holes in the ground. One hole apparently is an excavated cooking circle used by indigenous Japanese hundreds of years ago. The other has a spiral walkway that leads down about 20-30 feet to an old well. The well water was probably used primarily for washing and irrigation.



I've got over 70 photos at my Media Fire album.



(Working water wheel house.)


(Open performance stage.)






(Part of the children's playground area.)


(Old government office. The two little windows in the lower left front of the building are part of the post office function.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Sound Warriors - Part 3, Page 1

This is the first real block of text for page 1.

わたしたちは今オーディオのスイッを入れるだけで、気軽に音楽を楽しむことができる。 このオーディオ機器の元祖といえば蓄音機だ。 これは、その蓄音機の発明に携わった、三人の男たちの物語である。

わたしたちはいまオーディオのスイッチをいれるだけで、きがるにおんがくをたのしむことができる。 このオーディオききのがんそといえばちくおんきだ。 これは、そのちくおんきのはつめいにたずさわった、さんにんのおとこたちのものがたりである。

わたしたち - us
いま - now
オーディオのスイッチ - audio switch
をいれる - turn on
だけで - by only
きがるに - easily
おんがく - music
をたのしむこと - to enjoy thing
ができる - can do
このオーディオききの - this audio machinery and tools'
がんそ - inventor
といえば - speaking of
ちくおんき - gramophone
これは - this is
そのちくおんきのはつめい - that gramophone's invention
に - towards, of
たずさわった - participate in
さんにんの - three people's
おとこたちの - men's
ものがたり - story
である - to be (formal)

us . now . audio switch . turn on . by only . easily . music . to enjoy thing . can do
This audio machinery and tools . possessive . inventor . speaking of . gramophone . is
this is . that gramophone's invention . in . participate in . three people's . men's . story . to be (exists)

The first thing to mention here is that "chikuonki" is given in the dictionary as "gramophone". But, it's used in this manga as a blanket term for any of the early voice recording machines. It is made up from the kanji for "amass", "sound" and "machine". The actual gramophone isn't introduced in the manga until towards the end, and it's a brand name, rather than a generic term like phonograph. I'm going to use "phonograph" (sound writing) in place of "chikuonki".

A slightly cleaned-up translation of this paragraph would be:

"Now, we can turn on sound with a switch to easily enjoy music. This is speaking of the inventor of the machinery and tools for the gramophone. This is the story of the three men who participated in the gramophone's invention."

I'm going to condense part of the paragraph to make it flow faster, and to make it read more like natural English, without significantly changing the meaning.

"Today, we can easily enjoy music with just the flip of a switch. Of course, we're talking about the phonograph. This story chronicles the three men involved in its invention."

-------------------------------------

その三人の男たちとは、発明王エジソンと、電話機発明で名高いグラハム。ベル、そしてのボク エミール。ベルリナーさ!

そのさんにんのおとこたちとは、はつめいおうエジソンと、でんわきはつめいでなたかいグラハム。ベル、そしてのボク エミール。べるりなーさ!

そのさんにんのおとこたち - those three men
とは - speaking of is
はつめいおうエジソン - invention king Edison
でんわきはつめい - telephone machine invention
なたかい - celebrated
グラハム。ベル - Graham Bell
そしてのボク - plus me
エミール。ベルリナー - Emile Berliner

Those three men . speaking of is . invention king Edison . and . telephone machine invention . celebrated . Graham Bell . plus me . Emile Berliner

"Those three are: The king of inventions, Edison; celebrated telephone inventor Graham Bell; and me - Emile Berliner!"

Used as-is.

-------------------------------------

えっ、ボクだけ知らない?

えっ、ボクだけしらない?

"What, I'm the only one you don't know?"

Used as-is.

-------------------------------------

フフフ、まあいいさ。この物語を読んで知ってくれれば。。。

フフフ、まあいいさ。このものがたりをよんでしってくれれば。。。

"Heh, heh, heh. Well, that's ok. You'll learn if you read this story..."

Emil, when talking about himself, tends to use a lot of sentence softeners, such as "sa". He's also very polite, as with "yonde shitte kurereba" ("if you read + want to learn please"). I pulled out some of the politeness in order to sound more natural to a native English speaker. However, the above translation still feels a little stiff. I'd prefer to use "Heh, heh, heh. Well, that's ok. You'll learn about me if you read this story..."

To Be Continued.

Markets



Japan doesn't really do the "consumer thing" quite the way the U.S. does. Department stores are often 8-story skyscrapers with a variety of high-quality restaurants on the top floor, and just about everything under the sun on the other floors (bikes, bed sheets, fashions, music, books, and even a grocery in the basement).



The market centers around the train stations are a series of little shops and cafes, often operating out of the first floor of a house. You don't see the open air style of farmer's markets that you might in the U.S. or even Korea.


(The classic "armor in a glass case".)

But, you can find this. "This" is a "closed-air" market that almost borders on the flea market concept. This building has 5 long aisles running down the center of it. Each aisle has 30 to 40 little stalls lining it, ranging from stationary to snacks, raw fish to shaved dry fish (bonito), used electronics to pickled plums. It's kind of like the Tsukiji fish market (with its frozen tuna on the band saws) slapped up together with 7-11, and a little Home Depot added for flavor.


(Used stereo corner.)

This market is located in Fuchuu, right next to the Suntory Brewery, near the Tamagawa, west of Tokyo.


(Front entrance to aisle 5.)


(There's more parking on the roof, too. The Suntory Brewery can be seen in the background.)




(Every aisle has at least one rest area for eating lunch and/or smoking.)


(Fresh bamboo sprouts, a delicacy.)


(Dried fish, pre-shaved and block form.)