Monday, April 30, 2012

Night Light

Night-time construction is pretty common in Japan, so the idea is to keep the noise down and light pollution to a minimum, while providing enough illumination to work under.  What we have here is an interestingly low-tech approach.  A diesel engine powering some lightbulbs inside a torus-shaped sheet of white plastic. The sheet diffuses the light, making it less harsh and spreading it more uniformly around the area.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Commentary: Jump X (Kai)

As more proof that it's impossible to keep up with manga magazines, we have Jump X (actually pronounced, "Jump Kai"), which according to ANN, launched on June 25th last year.  That makes 3 of the magazines I've picked up in the last few months that are less than 1 year old.  As yet, there's no wiki entry for this one.

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

Jump X, monthly, 580 yen, 600 pages.
Kai is aimed at an older male audience, probably men in their 20's and 30's. At least three of the titles have sex scenes, although they're not overly graphic and do kind of play integral parts of the overall stories.  Genres include baseball, school life, office life, fantasy and art studies.  The only title western fans will recognize is Shaman King Zero, which consists of a series of one-shot stories leading up to Shaman King Flowers.  Because I thought the second half of SK was dumb, I kind of lost interest in the entire concept.  The story in this issue doesn't really change my mind.

The artwork tends to the amateurish on the whole, but this plays into a larger sense that Kai is more of an experimental magazine.  There's kind of a Garo vibe in the types of "everyday life" stories, and unusual artstyles this time.  As mentioned above, there's only one title that's at all recognizable, and all the rest are obscure.  But, there is a lot of promise in several of the stories, both in terms of the art, and what the artist is trying to say.

(Welcome to the Winner's Circle)

Idainara, Shurarabon (If you're talking about greatness, then it's Shurarabon).  A young student is changing schools and runs into a lot of strange characters in his new class.  Oddly enough, though, each of them have weird powers that they're just learning about.  Shurarabon is just starting in this issue.  The artwork is good, and the characters are interestingly oddball.

(I am Ridai)

Watashi wa Ridai (I am Ridai). A young boy starts out learning Tea Ceremony.  Good art, lots of history lessons.

Me and Gattameraata. A college-level student is trying to get into an art school, but failing horribly.  Average art, but lots of art theory.

Welcome to the Winner's CircleShinobu Kaitani, from Liar's Game is back with a new story about gambling.

Inu Naki (Late/Lamented Dog).  This is an incredible title, up to chapter 7.  The artwork is very good, and the story tugs at the heartstrings.  In this issue, the narrator talks about a pet dog, probably an Akita, that was very friendly and good-natured.  The owner would draw eyebrows on it in permanent marker to give the dog a more expressive face, and soon it would expect to get new eyebrows when the old ones wore off.  Eventually, the dog, which is being kept outside, gets sick and dies.

Poponepo, the Crime King, by Boichi.  I've seen Boichi in a magazine I reviewed a number of weeks ago, but apparently, I didn't include his name in the article so I can't find the blog entry.  The artwork in Poponepo is pretty good, and the story is a bit off the wall, but this is one of the titles that had a sex scene, so it's not appropriate for minors.  It's set in a prison of sorts, with some of the characters trying to figure out how to escape.

H.E. - The Hunt for Energy, also by Boichi.  The artwork in H.E. is very good, and the characters are incredibly off the wall.  Very promising.  Manga Fox has the first chapter scanilated.  A guy that can see the energy stored within people is in charge of "hunting" for alternative energy sources.

(Young, Alive, in Love)

Young, Alive, in Love. A light-hearted tale of a girl and a ghost (I think).  Very simple, clean artwork.

As can be seen in the above list, probably the most prominent artist is Boichi.  But, I think that Jump Kai will start turning out bigger titles within a year or so, so it's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

This issue also has a special supplement, a 50-page booklet dedicated as a remembrance of the 1 year anniversary of the 3-11 earthquake.  Artists include Naoki Urasawa ("20th Century Boys", "Yawara") and Norifusa Mita ("Dragon Zakura").  Stories range from autobiographical accounts of the quakes, to articles describing the rescue work afterward.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fukushima Reactor Report

I'm not sure if "full disclosure" is appropriate here, but it won't hurt.  When I was still in Tokyo, I was working as an online business English instructor for Business Breakthrough (BBT).  BBT was founded by Kenichi Ohmae, a former senior partner at McKinsey & Company, as well as a former nuclear reactor designer at Hitachi.  A few months after the Mar. 11, 2011, earthquake and reactor meltdown at Fukushima, Mr. Ohmae volunteered to put together an independent investigation of the events at Fukushima, separate from the "official" investigation controlled by the government.  The results were formally presented at a press conference last Fall in Japanese, and since then was undergoing translation into English.  Having been part of the BBT team, I was asked to help native check the translation.  The English versions of the files and videos are now available at the Lessons Learned page.

The report is pretty critical of the way Tepco and the government handled events up to and following the disaster.  And I think it goes into more detail than has been reported by the western press.  It certainly indicates that the Japanese press had suppressed some of the information in the months during the height of the meltdown crisis.

Friday, April 27, 2012


In Feb., I got an email from the Kagoshima mailing list announcing a lecture by NASA research scientist Dr. Crisp, to be held on Mar. 5th.  There were only 80 seats available for the free event, and the organizers at the American Center in Fukuoka expected things to fill up fast.  Reservations supposedly were only being taken over the phone (actually, they had a sign-up sheet on the website). So, when I called a few days before the event, I was expecting it to be full.  However, it turned out that the library-planetarium hosting the lecture over at the south side of the city had changed rooms to hold up to 280 people.  I was asked to invite anyone I knew to come along, with an emphasis on school kids wanting to go on an excursion.

The lecture was presented in the planetarium, on the 5th floor of the science half of the building.  Most of the attendees were adults, and I recognized 2 of the people there from the Friday Lunchtime Lessons at the International Exchange Center.  Later, a third LtL person said she saw me there as well.  Judging from the questions at the end in the Q&A session, several of the attendees had science backgrounds.  Essentially, Dr. Crisp was in Japan to lecture in Fukuoka for 3 days, and his schedule opened up enough to allow for a day trip down to Kagoshima (since the Tanegashima launch pad site is in Kagoshima Prefecture, and is reached by ferry from Dolphin Port). His team is working with JAXA to put research satellites in orbit for collecting CO2 data and analyzing climate change patterns.  The lecture was mainly just a history of his group, with overviews of the weather analysis done by earlier satellites.  Fairly dry as lectures go, but pretty well-received by the audience (Crisp had an interpreter working with him on the stage).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Short Review: Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei, vol. 25

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

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, vol 25. By Kouji Kumeta.

(Inside front cover. Looks like an ad parody. Event runs from 7 AM to 8 PM, and the text on the left is "Toukyou-tou Chiji Senkyo", or Tokyo Governor Elections.)

(Inside back cover.)

One of the stories in this volume parodies the concept of "skipping a step", such as breaking up with someone before actually going out with them, or deciding to cancel a cell phone contract before buying the phone.  The omake page for that chapter continues the joke.

Papercraft page for the Zetsubo funeral set.

Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei - less filling, now with 20% more more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Coffee Train

Next up from Boss Coffee - the steam locomotive series, referred to as the "Japan SL Collection".  There are two types - the 7 engine-only, and 6 full-car.  The engine-only are available with single cans of coffee at about 140 yen each.  The full-cars are packed with 2 cans of coffee at 280 yen total.  Available at most conbini.  The engine-only types are specially designed to pull the coffee can itself, and there's a notch in the cap to hold the rear support wheels.  The toys are spring wound, and if you pull them back and let go they'll travel about 3 feet.  You can always use any kind of coffee can you like (assuming it's the small 6 oz cylinder type) but you need to keep the cap to hold the rear wheels.

This model is the C62 2, which operated in western Japan from Osaka down towards Fukuoka, built in 1948.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flower Pot

Discarded ornament sitting next to the side of an office building in a parking lot.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bamboo Shop

There's a bamboo shop near my apartment. The tree is used as storage for some of the lighter branches.

Looks like an attempt at making a bamboo sphere that someone gave up on.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Commentary: Comic Beam

I've finally given up on being selective when buying magazines to review, and just grabbed the first 4 on the shelf (including Jump X and SQ Jump). The next one up is Comic Beam. I'm not really sure why I was putting off getting CB. Maybe it was the constant appearance of guy statues on the cover. But, it had carried Desert Punk and Emma, which means it can't be all bad.

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

Comic Beam, monthly. 540 yen, 520 pages.
I'll start right out and say that there's nothing here I recognize. Desert Punk is gone. So is Emma and King of Thorn. What is left is what the wiki entry describes as "an alternative magazine". (Started in 1995, at best its circulation is about 25,000.) And I guess that's the best way to describe it. The artwork is consistently better than that in AX, the current definitive example of alternative manga, but that may not be saying much. The art in CB, like in many of the magazines I've been reviewing lately, is all over the map. The stories are aimed at an older male audience, with genres including history, fantasy, vampires and slice-of-life.

(Wet Moon)

There really is only one popular title right now, and that's Thermae Romae, which has been animated on TV. The live-action film is coming out at the end of this month. The story revolves around a Roman architect who is having trouble coming up with new ideas. He finds a tunnel under a bath house, and it takes him to modern day Japan. He then creates his own spa in his own time, using the technology he gets from the future. The artwork is a little rougher than I was expecting from the cover, and the character's faces look a bit chunky. But, there's a cameo appearance by Lee Van Cleef and that's all I really care about (Van Cleef is one of the greatest western actors of all time).

(Thermae Romae)

I guess it should be expected that for magazines that come out in March, there's going to be at least some commentary on the 3-11 earthquake in most of them. CM has two stories in this issue. The first is 3.11 Friday. The main character goes to a net cafe to watch anime DVDs and fill up on the free soft drinks. As he's considering hitting on the woman working the front counter, the earthquake strikes and all of the books on the shelves come pouring down on him. He goes home to find that all of his belongings are strewn about on the floor of his apartment. The second story is entitled Genpatsu Genma Sakusen (Nuclear Reactor Phantasm War). One year has passed following the Fukushima reactor meltdown and hydrogen explosions. Two guys are doing independent research on what led to the catastrophe. Genpatsu is remarkable in that there are almost no manga artists confronting the government on their culpability leading up to the explosions, of TEPCO's mismanagement or of the nuclear agency's manipulation of the public in having new plants built around the country. It'll be interesting to see where this manga ultimately takes the readers.

As for the rest of the magazine, we have:

Wet Moon, by Kaneko Atsushu
Chapter 1 starts out with a surreal experience revolving around a guy that enters an abandoned building and finds himself talking to an alien in a wheelchair on Georges Meilies "Trip to the Moon" set. Nice art, great concept.

A mild-mannered guy gets bullied by his cro-magnon-like mother.

The Bloody Sukeban Chainsaw, by Rei Mikimoto
Characters with weird faces and huge almond eyes fight each other - one side in steel armor, the other with a chainsaw.

Niwaseki Anhai
In this chapter, a seagull visits a Polynesian village, then dreams of becoming a Bird of Paradise, before finding itself back home and being just a seagull. The villagers are drawn in a very cartoony style, but the seagull is nicely cute.

(Itte Miyoon, Yatte Myoon)

Itte Miyoon, Yatte Miyoon, by Jun Hanyunyuu
I'm not exactly sure about this one. The artwork is along the line of cut woodblocks, and the story appears to be about vampires running a ramen shop and getting into street fights. I like it in a way, I guess.


There's one freebie - a nicely-made folding fan with the artwork from Thermae Romae. Since this summer promises to be hot and humid, a fan that is easy to carry and use will be welcomed. Regarding the rest of the magazine - if you like AX, you'll like Comic Beam.


Dates for 4/23 to 4/30:

Birthdays (10):
Hank ("Simpsons") Azaria, 4/25/1964
Carol Burnett, 4/26/1933
William Shakespeare, 4/26/1564
Philip E. ("No Truce with Terra") High, 4/28/1914
Jay Leno, 4/28/1950
Terry Pratchett, 4/28/1948
Michelle Pfeiffer, 4/29/1958
Jack ("Legion of Space") Williamson, 4/29/1908
Carl Friedrich Gauss, 4/30/1777
Larry Niven, 4/30/1938

Died (12):
William Shakespeare, 4/23/1616
Bud Abbott, 4/24/1974
Pat Paulsen, 4/24/1997
Clifford Simak, 4/25/1988
Lucille Ball, 4/26/1989
Anne ("A Story of O") Desclos, 4/27/1998
George Alec Effinger, 4/27/2002
Benito Mussolini, 4/28/1945
Alfred Hitchcock, 4/29/1980
Joanna ("And Chaos Died") Russ, 4/29/2011
Adolph Hitler, 4/30/1945
Richard (children's writer) Scarry, 4/30/1994

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Smoke Detector

The Volunteer Center downtown near City Hall has a firetruck display in the front lobby. As part of the display is a case promoting the use of smoke detectors in the home. I'm not sure this represents a typical apartment.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The enemy

When you have to use crutches, and you know that accidentally bringing weight down on a broken foot is going to send the bone through the top of your foot, there really are only three things that are at all scary - rain, wet tile, and stairs. In order to get to the school where I teach a few English lessons a week, I have to go up two steps to get to the elevator. And of course, it's a tiled walkway. And there's no handrail to hold on to. The ledge on the left is just short enough that I can't lean on it, and just tall enough to be inconvenient to sit on. Plus, when the wind is blowing towards Kagoshima, everything gets covered in ash, and that's the last thing I want to sit in on my way up to the classroom. I hate those two little steps.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Short Review: Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei, vol. 24

I'm finally able to stand over the scanner again.

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

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, vol 24. By Kouji Kumeta.
Ok, we're back. As I mentioned in the review for volume 22, there's not a whole lot more to add regarding the series itself. It's basically a bunch of short stories that start out with a normal premise (some lesson in a classroom, or a couple of the characters eating shaved ice) and then turn into a parody of modern-day culture or lampooning politicians and TV talent.

The inside covers (the front and and back underneath the wrapper cover) also have joke artwork on them. The front inside cover usually has a pun based on the phrase "akenai de yo" (don't open (this book)). This time, the character is saying "wakenai de yo" (don't part (my hair).)

(Inside back cover.)

(One of the omake pages.)

(Example of some of the best art in this book.)

(The papercraft page, for part of the Zetsubo funeral setup.)

If you can read Japanese, Zetsubo is a great way to learn about Japanese pop culture and it's pretty funny. Otherwise, stick to the fan scans on Manga Fox (until they get licensed in the U.S. and blocked).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Endtown Books!

I've mentioned Endtown before - it's one of the best English webcomics running right now, and it's written by Aaron Neathery. Up until now, Endown has only been available online from GoComics and Modern Tales. However, Aaron has negotiated a deal with Jarlidium Press for the first two volumes. They've just started taking preorders, and are expected to start shipping the books at the beginning of June.

Jarlidium started out as a fanzine, and made the transition to small press publisher a few years ago, specializing in furry comics. As such, they just handle the mechanics of manipulating image files and hammering out contracts. The actual printing of the books is done by another company. The real question is how well Jarlidium can cope with heavy demand for a specific title. Their website doesn't give me much hope, given the layout. There's no link to the preorders page. The only way to even know that you can preorder something is to either subscribe to their twitter feed, or be told about it by someone else.

I'll say it here - Preorder Endtown now! The first edition books are going to be collectors items in a few years. Also, after May 1st, the books go to their full cover price of $12 each. If you preorder both volumes together, you'll save $6. And, if you're a GoComics regular reader, Aaron is offering handsigned book plates as well (details not yet announced).

Endtown is a great series! Help support it by buying the books!
And help me in my quest to crash the Jarlidium servers through sheer demand.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Warau Matsuri

(One of the stages being set up in the main walkway)

The thing about Japan as a whole, and Kagoshima in particular, is that there's always a good chance of discovering something completely by accident. On the 26th, when I was walking in to the IBS graduating student speech event and the associated Design Festa, I had to stop at the grocery store to pick up bread for breakfast the next morning. Rather than follow my regular route downtown 4 blocks farther west, I continued from the store and went into the Tenmonkan shopping complex. Turns out they were having their "Smile Festival" that day, and I would never have known about it if I hadn't gone out of my way to get breakfast rolls.

(Hanging banner made by junior high students)

In the main open space in Tenmonkan, some tables were set up to sell goods for the local pro basketball and soccer teams. In the background, you can see one of the contests being held for prizes - kids trying to see who can kick a soccer ball into the air the most number of times.

A parade of Lucky Gods.

School marching band.

Pounding rice into mochi. Children were encouraged to try their hands at swinging the wooden mallets onto the rice cake, so their parents could take pictures.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Design Festa

(Two boys posing with rabbit ear hats.)

When it rains, it pours... Not only did IBS have their graduating students speeches on the 26th, but there was a Design Festa in the room next door. Mostly it was small companies advertising their products. Very little of it appealed to me. The display of rabbit ear hats above, and the foamcore architecture below were the main two that stood out.

I should have taken pictures of the silk spinning booth, but the silk threads were too thin to be picked up by the camera. The woman running the booth had a bowl with about 20 cocoons sitting in water. She would take one cocoon and lightly rub it with a whisk brush to lift up a single strand of thread about the width of spider webbing. She put the cocoon in another bowl with 8 more cocoons and added the strand to those already running to the pickup spindle. Next, she turned the wooden crank of the spindle and it wrapped all the strands together into one perfect silk thread, while also unwrapping the worm in the cocoon. When one of the worms was completely denuded, she'd replace it with the next full cocoon. A very simple, elegant process for making silk thread. I'd like to see Gakken offer a silk making kit...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Zetsubo Funeral

(Page from #23, completed.)

I started running the reviews of the Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei volumes that I'd picked up specifically for the papercraft pages (#21, 22, 24-27, since #23 is available on Manga Fox), along with the scans of those pages. But, since I'm not going to be able to stand over a scanner to get sample pages of the last few volumes, yet can at least still hold a camera, I figured I might as well get the finished product uploaded.



(Everything including volume #27.)

Note that there's a standing screen that goes along with the lantern in back, but it's got no supporting stand to keep it propped up, so I didn't bother including it here. Maybe if I get around to making the stand prop later.

(Close-up of several of the students, and the incense altar.)


Dates for 4/16 to 4/23:

Birthdays (13):
Charlie Chaplin, 4/16/1889
Henry Mancini, 4/16/1924
Spike Milligan, 4/16/1918
Lucrezia Borgia, 4/18/1480
Conan O'Brien, 4/18/1963
Tim Curry, 4/19/1946
Dudley Moore, 4/19/1935
Adolph Hitler, 4/20/1889
George Takei, 4/20/1937
Yoshito (Crayon Shin-chan) Usui, 4/21/1958
Jack Nicholson, 4/22/1937
J. Robert Oppenheimer, 4/22/1904
Bettie Page, 4/22/1923

Died (9):
Piet Hein, 4/17/1996
Dick Shawn, 4/17/1987
Albert Einstein, 4/18/1955
George ("Don Juan") Byron, 4/19/1824
George (SF editor) Scithers, 4/19/2010
Benny Hill, 4/20/1992
Bram Stoker, 4/20/1912
Samuel (Mark Twain) Clemens, 4/21/1910
William Shakespeare, 4/23/1616