Saturday, July 31, 2010


Unagi, or eel, is very popular in Japan. Certain regions maintain that unagi is a perfect summer food, because the high levels of protein can help you fight off "summer lethargy". Even my local sushi shop has gotten in the act, setting up a special sign advertising that they have unagi on the menu. Personally, I think unagi is too fatty.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ice Cream

Near my apartment is a taiyaki shop - the place that makes fish-shaped pancakes with different kinds of fillings. Taiyaki is a popular winter snack because you eat them while they're still fresh and hot. But, it's hard to sell taiyaki during the summer when customers want something cold to eat. Sure, there are frozen taiyaki, but it's not the same.

So, it's only natural for taiyaki shops to also offer ice cream. The problem now is how to provide any kind of variety, to compete against regular ice cream shops, or even against McDonald's McFlurries, when almost half of your shop is taken up by griddles.

You know those one-pack coffee packets that are popular in offices in the U.S. now? Pop a flavored packet, maybe in with a milk or syrup packet, into a special coffee machine, and all of the heating and mixing in with the water takes place inside the packet itself? After the coffee is dispensed, just throw away the packet. Right? Well, same idea here.

The ice cream is individually packed in styrofoam cups. Just put one cup in the press, pull down really hard on the lever, and viola, you have yourself a nice little cone or cup serving. And you can have as many flavors as you have room in the little freezers. This one is pineapple, with little fruit chunks mixed in. Delicious.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Japanino-driven Aurorarium

For those of you dropping by here to get an early review of Gakken's new kit, #28, the Edo-era clock with Japanino leaf switch, I apologize. My birthday is coming up and there's a slight possibility that I may be getting this as a gift. If not, I'll definitely buy it. Either way, I should have the review posted by the end of the week of the 7th.

In the meantime , I was thinking of chopping up the Aurorarium kit and showing you how to make your own, using the Japanino.

The Aurorarium is an earlier kit produced by Gakken as part of their unnumbered mook series for kids which teaches the principles of the northern lights. The concept is very simple - 3 LEDs (red, blue and green) are aimed down at a slowly rotating sheet of reflective mylar, and then bounced up to a smoked sheet of plastic wrapped into a cone around the kit. Or, you can take the cone off and let the lights play on the walls and ceiling. Since the mylar holds creases really well, you can fold, or write on the sheet and let this be part of the design.

The Aurorarium kit has just a small handful of important parts: A AA-battery case, a small holder with the three LEDs, a geared-down 3V DC motor, a microswitch, and the controller circuit board. The microswitch acts as both an ON-OFF switch, and for selecting between color schemes (mostly red, mostly blue, and white with shades of gray). The LEDs fade on and off to create the different color combinations.

If you already have a Japanino, making the Aurorarium is simple. Just pick up three LEDs, one red, one blue and one green, and hook them up one-each to the PWM pins of the Japanino. Next, take the sketch that I have for fading three LEDs on the Japanino knol and modify it for the fade patterns you want for your aurorarium. The last step, if you choose to take it, is to connect a 3V DC motor to one of the other PWM pins, and use AnalogWrite() to control the voltage of the motor, to set the speed you want.

As I said, I was thinking about doing this. But, Gakken beat me to the punch. Their next kit, #29, is an origami-style paper lamp that uses the the red-blue-green LED combination from the Aurorarium, driven by the Japanino. The only thing missing here is the DC motor and rotating disk. Due out in October.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glass Effects

I was sitting at a restaurant, and when I looked down at the table, this is what I saw. If I was short of material for this blog, I'd run the photo by itself one day, and challenge you to figure out what it is on your own, then give the answer later on. But, I'm definitely not hurting for material here (I just can't get to it all. ;-( )

Chopsticks seen through a water glass.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fussa sake brewery

I wasn't been able to go bike riding much this past winter (yes, this is an old post), largely because of the poor weather. Generally, it was either been too chilly for the ride to be any fun, or it was raining. When the weather had been good, it was usually on the weekends when I worked all day. But, back last fall, I'd decided to try to get out to Fussa, which is about an hour and a half north of Noborito in the direction of Oome, at the point where the bike trail along the Tamagawa ends in the big weir. The intent was to track down the Shojo Manga Library in the area, but since the library is only open on Saturdays (when I work) and closed from about October to May, even if I'd found it I wouldn't have been able to go inside.

Instead, I just wanted to see what the area around the Fussa train station looked like (crowded, lots of buildings and too much traffic) and find out how far it is from the river (about 2 km). On the way back to the river, I noticed a sign advertising a sake brewery a couple of blocks farther north, on a bluff overlooking the river. The brewery had a small office (none of the people inside paid me any attention) and across the parking lot was a gift shop that was locked up tight. I'm assuming that tours are by invitation only and only for groups of 20 or more. The gift shop may not be open during the week.

Right across the little street in front of the brewery is a big parking lot that serves both the brewery and the shrine next door.

Not a big shrine, but it has a nice view overlooking the river.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kawasaki cats

Kawasaki has a fair number of cats living in the red light district. It's hard to tell how many are domestic but free-living, and how many are feral. A few of them are definitely shy, to say the least. These are the 4 that didn't flee when I tried to get close.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Garo 48

Garo #48, July, '68. Cover by Sampei Shirato. 202 pages.
Two points here. First, this is the second issue to drop back down to 202 pages, after having been up at 230+ pages for several months. Second, there's something funny with the issue numbering. We went from #46 in June to #48 in July. I can't find anything online right away to indicate that there was a special edition for #47, but there's a good probability that's what's happened.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #42

By Sampei Shirato (白土三平). 60 pages.
The story returns to the hard life of the villagers in Kamui's home town. This time, they've been forced to work cutting down trees from the surrounding hillsides in order to supply the demand for rebuilding Edo following the last big fire. They really resent being controlled by some of the vagrants, and a misstep results in one of the villagers being crushed under a falling tree. They demand time off to show respect to the newly dead, but the merchant driving them has promised 3000 logs to be delivered when the ships arrive to pick them up in 3 days, and he's going to hold the villagers to that promise. At some point, the villagers notice that the body is missing and they run off to find it. Turns out that it was taken by a Japanese version of Robin Hood - Ryounoshin in a disguise as a one-eyed bandit.

Ryounoshin is terrorizing the local merchants and righting wrongs. He enters the house of the lumber merchant and takes all of his money, which is then given to the villagers. When a samurai tries to interfere and haul the villagers in front of a court, Ryounoshin returns, captures the samurai and lynches him.

Kazuma and his uncle decide to get involved and lay a trap for Ryounoshin by taking over an inn and threatening some girls. Ryounoshin falls for it and his men are slaughtered. He finds himself up against two of the most fearsome fighters in the area at the moment. In the final attack, it looks like Kazuma has killed Ryounoshin just to get him out of the way (the uncle wanted to capture him). In the end, the villagers are back to harvesting lumber, but now there are several sets of eyes hiding, watching them from the shadows.

ゲンセンカン主人 (The Head of Gensenkan Household)

By Yoshiharu Tsuge (つげ義春). 29 pages.
Yet another story from the Neji-shiki collection I'd reviewed before. This one is something of a horror story, with a Jimmy Stewart-like character returning to his home town to receive a religious ceremonial blessing from the local crazy woman who supposedly will do anything he asks for. He assaults her during the ceremony and she resists until she understands what he's asking for. She doesn't mind having sex as long as she is dressed up for it. At the end, the guy's doppelganger arrives wearing a mask, terrifying everyone.

「報道者の問われていること」 (A question for journalists) #40
By Koshi Ueno (上野昂志). 2 pages.

日本忍法伝 (Japan Ninja Arts Legend) #30

By Mamoru Sasaki & Satsuko Okamoto (佐々木 守 & 岡本 颯子). 6 pages.
Subtitled (玄海讃歌 (Genkai Eulogy), Part 26). Genkai can either refer to the city, which was in Saga Prefecture near Fukuoka, Kyuushu, or the nearby Genkai Sea.

勝又進 作品集 (Katsumata's Creation Collection) #25

By Susumu Katsumata (勝又進). 8 pages.
Just the one part this time. 3- and 4-panel gag strips.

けろりんたん りんたん たん (Kerorintan rintan tan)

By Mitsuo Fujisawa (藤沢光男). 16 pages.
A nonsense story from the sporadic nonsense master. There's no clear story or message in this rambling piece where a fugitive eats part of the person that he hides under, and then gets turned into a balloon.

インドの宝 (Indian Treasure)

By Tamehiro Tashiro (田代為寛). 14 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
The creator of "Mysterious Ball" and "Space Event" is back. A man out drifting on the ocean on a raft encounters a guy from India stranded on an island. The Indian jumps on the raft, and eats half of the guy's food. The guy has a map to a great Indian treasure, which the Indian tries to take. At some point, the Indian talks the guy into diving into the ocean with him, and the guy discovers that the treasure is actually the sunrise as seen from under the water.

The Petit プチ (The Petite Pooch)

By Takako Harada (原田孝子). 10 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
A young girl finds a stray puppy and takes it to school, where the other kids fall in love with it but the teacher objects to having pets in class. She brings it home, and her mother drop kicks it out of the house, making the girl hate her mother. The puppy disappears for a while. Eventually, she finds it again, but when she approaches, it runs away. As she chases after it, the puppy slowly starts treating this all as a game. The girl keeps talking about how she loves the dog. But then it runs into the street and gets hit by a car. The girl hates the dog for bleeding on her hands, which then marks the point where she turns into a grown-up.

Nothing directly coming up for Takako. There's a couple of hits under this name in English as having worked as an ink and paint artist on Vampire Hunter D and Card Capture Sakura, and there's an entry as a model. But no specific bio information for a manga artist of this name that I can find quickly.

殺人者 (Killer)

By Maki Sasaki (佐々木まき). 17 pages.
Supposedly based on an Ernest Hemingway story, a pair of thugs (a man and a boy) enter a bar where the man orders some spaghetti. The two tie up a young bartender and the cook, and make the older bartender wait with them until their target arrives. He's supposed to show up every few days, but always at 6. He fails to appear this day, and the younger bartender runs out to find him. He's apparently a sheriff, but his badge has a dollar sign on it instead of the word sheriff. The target refuses to leave the cell where he's curled up on a bunk, and nothing really gets resolved.

剥製の館 (Stuffed Animal Mansion)

By Yuu Takita (滝田ゆう). 12 pages.
A stranger enters the shop of a taxidermist and offers him a lot of money to do an emergency job. The taxidermist follows the stranger to a building where the task is to stuff a human. The stranger and some companions had been impressed by the quality of the work done on a stuffed eagle, so the taxidermist uses that as inspiration on what is actually a dead general. The stranger is overwhelmed by the reconstruction on the general and asks the taxidermist to take on a second job - fixing up all the corpses of a hill of soldiers in the next room. The guy tries to run away, and we see that the building is actually an American field hospital in Vietnam.

鬼太郎夜話 (Kitaro Night Stories) #14

By Shigeru Mizuki (水木しげる). 24 pages.
Nezumi Otoko goes to a ghost doctor and has the missing piece of his head sewn back on. Now with 100% of his brain functional again, he remembers the vampire plant. He goes to the shop that bought the plant and uses most of the beatnik's money to buy it back, and the remainder of the money to buy a house out on an island in the middle of a river. He has the vampire plant shipped to the house and pours the rest of the monster blood bank blood on it, Later, he finds that there's already a monster living there - a wood cutter ghost. Nezumi Otoko helps the monster saw off a branch of a tree, then discovers that the wood cutter had grabbed the vampire plant in order to chop it up. Nezumi Otoku faints on realizing what he's just done.

Mizuki (the one that had been trapped in hell, not the author) is told that his rent is about to go up. Kitaro and the fake would be evicted too, so they go out to find work. The fake won't take on any shady jobs, but demands to be paid too well, so he and Kitaro go separate ways on their searches. The real Kitaro happens on a company president who knows about him from the Kitaro Night Stories series. The president was just about to go looking for Kitaro himself. Seems that the president wants Kitaro to act as kind of a collections agent for monsters that aren't paying off their loans.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mamoru Oshii and Magicians of Picture Creation

The big exhibit currently running at the Yumebi gallery in Hachioji is "Mamoru Oshii and Magicians of Picture Creation" (July 16 to Sept. 5). This is one that I really wish allowed photos, because mere words aren't enough to let you know what's there. It's definitely worth the 500 yen ($6 USD, for adults) entrance fee.

If you aren't directly familiar with the name Mamoru Oshii, even if you're just a casual anime watcher, you know at least one of the films he's directed: Angel's Egg, Urusai Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, Patlabor 2 and Skycrawlers. The Yumebi exhibit contains a wide variety of multimedia items from many of his key films.

(Mamoru Oshii, from the "Remix" book, used for review purposes only.)

There's rendered CG frames from Innocence, accompanied by various pencil drawings showing each of the layers used to build up the scene, from the backgrounds to the different parts of the character, plus the dog and the weapons. Speaking of the dog, Mamoru has a basset hound named Gabriel, which seems to be the inspiration for supporting characters that show up in several of the films, including Innocence and Skycrawlers. There are lots of pencil drawings from Kerberos, Angel's Egg and Patlabor. This is accompanied by life-sized costumes from Assault Girls and Kerberos, and figure models for many of the different films, some of which were apparently used for animation reference and others that just came from the DVD box sets for Innocence. The only film that was noticeable in its absence was Beautiful Dreamer. There are also some props from Avalon, including weapons and some steam punk-level keyboards and ID card readers.

(Skycrawlers, from the "Remix" book, used for review purposes only.)

I arrived at 10 AM on a Thursday, a few minutes before they opened. This made me the only customer there and I had the gallery to myself, with the exception of one security guard and the woman at the ticket counter. After about 20 minutes, a group of 6 Japanese high school students arrived, apparently part of an on-the-job training program. The boys were positioned at seats in the gallery to make sure no one takes pictures, and the girls sat at the ticket counter (although they weren't allowed to handle sales yet).

("Remix" cover, used for review purposes only.)

Some of the previous Yumebi exhibits had fairly little available in the way of goods for sale in the book shop. That's not a problem this time - all of the DVDs are on sale plus close to 20 different book titles, including some of the manga that Mamoru wrote. I decided to get the "Complete Works of Mamoru Oshii (Remix)", for 2000 yen. ISBN 978-4-87376-687-4. This is a 300-page collection of interviews, overviews of everything that he's ever worked on, a full filmography, etc. There are comparatively few photos, making the book very text-heavy, and if you don't know Japanese you're not going to find too much in here to keep busy with. But the photos that are in the book are all gorgeous.

(Killers and .50 cal Woman, from the "Remix" book, used for review purposes only.)

One last comment on the exhibit - There was a small corner dedicated to the next film Mamoru's working on. It's a live action/CG mix revisiting the world of Tetsujin 28-go (Gigantor). The exhibit shows the full-scale models of the robot controllers, for both #28, and #28 1/2, plus a photo of the woman running #28 1/2. Looks promising.

In the front lobby was a large plasma screen running advertisements for a number of Oshii's DVDs. The one that really caught my eye, so I decided to check out Assault Girls when I have the chance.

(Twilight Q, from the "Remix" book, used for review purposes only.)

Summary - If you're in the Hachioji area, check out the Yumebi exhibit. It's worth the $6.

(Angel's Egg, from the "Remix" book, used for review purposes only.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

God Eater event

On the 11th, or so, there was a release party event for the God Eater FES game for the Nintendo PSP. I swung by the UDX building on Saturday when they were still doing set up.

Sunday morning, there was a line of about 100 people waiting for the doors to open. I wasn't able to get out of work until 5 PM, and by that point, the staff were yelling at the crowds to go home already so they could start cleaning up. I didn't see anything on the outside shelves in terms of goods for sale, and the main stage area was set up primarily for showing videos of the game, although they probably had guest speakers up there talking, as well. The area off to the left of the stage had signed artwork, and posters and stuff. I didn't mind not being able to see more of this particular event, which I think required mailing in a post card to receive a limited number of tickets to get in. Even so, the game itself does look promising, if you liked Monster Hunter.

I wish I had a place to store this bike over night. I don't think it would last long, locked up in front of the apartment building.