Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Window Dolls




Usually, when figures or UFO Catcher dolls are in a bay window like this, they're facing the occupants in the house. These guys look like they want out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Scary Mister Donut



What's the most scary thing about this Mister Donut cookie is that it, plus the donut and cup of coffee (no refills) comes to 450 yen ($6 USD) and everyone here considers this to be a good deal.



First time I've seen a Jack o'Lantern make with purple tinsel.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wan's More




I've written a little bit about Japanese wordplay in advertising. I'm not sure if the following was intentional or not, but it is still fun. In Japan, people consider their pet dog to be part of the family. So, instead of calling the pet "a dog" (as in, "here, doggie, doggie"), it's more common to use "wan-chan" (wan = "bark" or "yap"). In English, it's like saying "little barky". The store calls itself "Wan's More", and offers grooming, kennel services, and other goods. In essence, the name can be treated as "We offer more for your little doggy". However, it's pronounced as "once more". So, "let's go to Wan's More once more".

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Waffle Kitkat




It's been a while since there was a new Kitkat flavor around Kagoshima, so when I saw this bar in Lawson's, I decided to drop the 120 yen ($1.45 USD) for it.  It's supposed to be "crispy waffle flavor", but it looks and tastes like matcha (Japanese green tea) with some kind of sweetener (maybe honey-flavored). The outer layer is very waxy, as is typical for anything that isn't pure chocolate. While it doesn't taste anything like waffles, I do have to admit that I could still taste the matcha and honey for well over 15 minutes later. Not really recommended, though...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Eva shochu




Initially, when I saw this sandwich board out front of an izakaya (bar that serves finger food) I just intended to ignore it as an unauthorized ploy of using a popular anime to promote a local bar. But then I noticed the second board and realized that this is part of a campaign to sell Evangelion-branded shochu in Kagoshima. According to the official website and the below poster, there's only 16,000 bottles made of each flavor.




Friday, October 26, 2012

Kamen Rider Cider




A few months ago, I mentioned that DyDo had the Dragonball orange soda cans in their vending machine.  The Kamen Rider image is one of maybe 8 designs also available from the same machines. They don't actually come out and say what the flavor is supposed to be this time.  I'm guessing it was some kind of lemon soda.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bike Spike




This is either a very adventurous art project, or the owner of this scooter has very serious pigeon issues.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crepe Vending Machine




I haven't seen something like this before. The machine is advertising fresh crepes and other snacks. Most of the flavors are chocolate or cream cheese, with one blueberry crepe. 200 yen each.





The crepe is wrapped in plastic and placed inside a recycled 1-cup sake glass. I got the chocolate and whipped creme crepe. It's 95% whipped cream, with a thin crepe on the outside, and a slice of chocolate bar in the middle.  Not bad, and pretty filling, but I wouldn't pay more than $1 if I were getting something like this in the States. Then again, you'd never find a vending machine selling fresh crepes in recycled sake cups in the States, either... There's a plastic rack next to the machine to put the discard glasses into.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Planters




Flower planters on a stairway leading to a second-floor shop near the Tenmonkan shopping complex.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kaito




The Vocaloid voice synthesizer program, has a male character - Kaito, who has been featured on "fruits soda" flavored ice pops. 124 yen. The ice pops themselves are good - they contain small bits of frozen pineapple (I think) and little balls of lemonade powder. The sticks have three faces of the Vocaloid characters printed on them with different expressions.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Scary Gum




I wrote about a similar product 2 years ago. This is "Scary Stories Gum". 65 yen (80 cents USD) gets you a tiny square of lemonade-flavored gum, and a sealed piece of paper. You read the story on the outside of the paper and then tear it open for the punchline.  It features Junji Inagawa, horror actor, writer and director. The cover advertises a DVD present for 100 winners.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Loco Moco



When I was teaching online English lessons at the school in Akihabara, one of the lessons was about travel English, and featured activities in Hawai'i.  So I ended up talking about Loco Moco a lot, but I'd never had a chance to try it.  The restaurant at the top of the Maruya Gardens department store has it on their menu and I bought it for lunch some weeks back.  It's very promising - an egg on top of a hamburger over a bed of rice.  But the brown gravy lacks flavor and restaurants in Japan rarely provide salt or pepper for seasoning.  At 900 yen ($11 USD) it's not that expensive a lunch and it's very filling. Just overly bland.  Served along with a salad and ice coffee.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Straight Out NW

There is a major street that runs past my apartment and heads northwest a couple miles to intersect the freeway. For the most part, it's right next to the Kotsuki river, which is safely located inside a drainage culvert. The culvert has a decent walkway on either side of the river in most places, so it's more pleasant to go along the river than breathe exhaust fumes from the cars by staying on the sidewalk. The street is lined with small shops, ramen restaurants, pachinko parlors and an occasional discount clothing store (there's a nice Uniqlo shop with cheap jeans in my size). Otherwise, it's pretty boring. Sometimes, there are ducks, heron, cranes and sparrows in the river, but they're generally afraid of people and fly off if you get within camera range.  Basically a 90-minute walk one way out. The street continues another mile or so the other side of the expressway, then turns into a narrow lane with no sidewalks, few buildings, and relatively heavy traffic.



Saigo Statue on Building
------------------------


Along the Kotsuki river, 2/3's of the way between my apartment and the expressway entrance, there's an old building with a statue of Saigo sitting on top.



On the other side of the expressway, I decided to follow a little driveway up a slope from the main road, and disappeared into a bamboo grove.  I found several of these dragonflies sunning themselves, and figured it would be a good test of the camera.  Out of 10 shots, these were the only two that were focused right.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tenten




On Sunday, Oct. 15, the Tenmonkan shopping complex had a paired event, combining the anniversary of the complex's mascot with "calcium awareness day". About 400 years ago, the local lord established an astronomy center in this location, giving the shopping complex its name (tenmon = heavens). The mascot is an alien named "Tenten".



A stage was set up in front of one of the shops, with a couple local solo acts performing. In the middle of the walkways, poster boards were erected and volunteers handed out markers for people to write messages to Tenten.





Nearby, the Kagoshima Dairy Association had an event stage for children. A small play was performed using the children, the cow, and "osteoporosis".



The second woman from the left is holding a large plush die. The children are wearing headbands to make them look like playing pieces. They role the die and move markers on the map at the back of the stage. As it looks like the game is over, a threatening voice comes over the PA, and "osteoporosis" (I'm guessing here) shows up from the back of the crowd to start the stage event.





There's also an animation teaching people the importance of dairy products, a table giving away free samples of milk and yogurt drinks, and a calcium screening center. Along with the free milk, there were sheets of stickers and keychains.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

AKB48 Trading Cards




Yes, there are trading cards for just about everything in Japan, including the AKB 48 pop group.  Fortunately, as with all TCGs, there are more of one card than there are other others, and whoever it is that collects them (probably middle-aged salarymen) will throw away the excess cards when they open a new pack. I found two of these cards lying on the sidewalk some time ago.  This one was in the better condition of the two.  The cards are available at most Konbini.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lanterns



Following the Nariakira Rokugatsu-gou festival on July 15 and 16, the city took the smaller handmade lanterns, and hung them along the sidewalk within the Tenmonkan shopping complex.  Most look like children's drawings.  These are the best of the collection.






Monday, October 15, 2012

Ash



Every so often, you wake up to find that the wind had shifted and dumped a blanket of volcanic ash on the city overnight.  It'd be fine if the ash stayed on the ground, instead of being whipped up by the wind and giving you something to crunch on with every breath...



Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Kanboku

Hmm. The google hit counters got zeroed sometime overnight for both this blog and for Nihon-go Hunter. So I've gone from 305,000 visits, back down to 19.  Just at a cursory glance, nothing else seems to be affected, but it is a little annoying.



The International Exchange Center has several presentation rooms on the seond floor, as well as a few tables set up in the lobby space in front.  The lobby table space is usually used to promote one of the local schools.  In this case, the table has works from some medical students, as well as some art students.



Toothpick art seems to have some popularity in Kagoshima.  This time, the picture is constructed just using toothpicks dipped in black ink.  I don't know who the subject is.



The anime-related art looks a bit amateurish, but it's not too bad.  Some of it is paint on paper, but the one in the middle with red flame-like wings is kiri-e, and that looks really well-done.



In the big room just off the escalators, a design school had it's graduation display set up, which they called "The Kanboku".  The majority of the works were Japanese calligraphy in one form or another.  The sake bottles were just used to show off label designs.  I arrived at 2 PM on a Friday, when there were only a few people around to take interest in the show. The woman at the end of the table was trying her hand at the sumi ink and paper they had set out.



Looking in the other direction.



Decorated kimono, plus close-up of the detail work.











Close-up of the scroll.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Watermelon Pepsi and Espressoda

Some of the soft drinks in Japan the last couple of months.

Pepsi Watermelon
----------------


It was summer, time for Pepsi's new "weird flavor".  This one was Salty Watermelon.  I'm assuming that they just put some watermelon flavoring on top of the regular cola flavor, but I can't really taste the cola at all, and the watermelon is actually kind of subtle.  Worth trying once, but nothing really spectacular.

Pepsi Gundam
------------


Fortunately, Pepsi decided to keep their regular flavor, while putting promotional art for the Gundam franchise on the cans.  Unfortunately, they decided to license this one only through the Lawson's konbini chain, and there aren't that many Lawson's in Kagoshima.  I didn't know where it was being carried, having just noticed it once in one shop, and not wanting to buy it at the time.  I hit roughly 10 konbini on my way to Kagoshima-chuo station, and it wasn't until I got to the Lawson's right in front of the station that I found it again.  It's nice artwork, but since it's wrapped around the can, you can't see all of it in just one photo.  120 yen. If you go to the Pepsi Japan page and scroll to the bottom, you'll see the 8 designs out in July, and the next 8 that came out in Sept.  If you download the postcard, you can put stickers from various Pepsi products on the card and mail it in for a chance to win prizes.


Espressoda
----------


I know how the conversation went in the board room for this one. The Director of Product Research at Kirin Beverage starts talking about how his group is working on the next new flavor, and the Director of Marketing interrupts him, saying that they've already got the next promotional campaign cued up and it's perfect. Meaning that it really doesn't matter what Research gives them, they'll sell it.  An argument ensues. Meanwhile, an intern has taken a jar of cheap instant coffee and dumped it into a carafe of cold water and placed it on the heating plate of the coffee machine.  5 hours later, when the Board still hasn't stopped bickering, the intern removes the carafe, scoops the scorched sludge from the bottom into a glass, pours in a bottle of club soda and stirs it.  Placing the glass in front of the marketing guy, the intern says "here's your next new product".  The Director takes a sip, winces, looks at the intern and replies, "I thought you were going to make this some kind of a challenge."

Friday, October 12, 2012

Inari River Walk

Because I've started drawing my routes up on the google map screen shots, I figured that I might as well start this entry out with a review of where I've been. I apologize that it's going to be a long post, but I don't feel like breaking this one up into two parts.

General Map

This is my normal range. 1 is Terukuni Jinja (Terukuni shrine). 2 is Tenmonkan. 3 is City Hall, near the school I work at part time. 4 is the International Exhange Center, with the English Lunchtime Lessons and the Japanese class. 5 is Kagoshima Chuo train station, Amu Plaza and the Daiei department store. 6 is Dolphin Port. It's about 5 to 10 minutes to Chuo station, depending on how fast I'm walking. 20 minutes to the International Exchange Center (the Reimeikan history museum is across the street from it). Behind Terukuni shrine is the 35-story tall Shiroyama hill.


This was the route for Roundabout, which circled Shiroyama, starting at Reimeikan, and coming out at the other side of the hill at the main street running past my apartment.


This was the route for the Saigo Cemetery walk. 1 is the Christian Cemetery and Buddhist temple ruins. 2 is the shrine where the priest invited me inside and then gave me some snacks and tea. 3 is Saigo's memorial cemetery.



This was the route for the first walk up the Inari river, and the path I took to find some of the other memorial markers. 1 is the Inari shrine. 2 is the school near the ruins of the Shimadzu castle. 3 is the first of the famous shrines the Shimadzu family used to sponsor. 4 is the memorial marker for Japan's first education minister.


This was the route for the walk out to Senganen and the swimming beach, and then back through the tunnel. 1 is the Stone Bridge Park, 2 is the first castle site in Kagoshima, and 3 is Senganen.


Which brings us up to date, with today's route. This one starts with the Reimeikan, continues northeast to the Inari river and then attempts to follow it further upstream.


From the apartment, looking north.


(The hill at the far back, towards the left, has the wind farm.)

The motivation this time was one of the papercraft projects I built last year. The Kumade is a good luck charm for bringing fortune to the household. I'd printed it on thin paper and it was wilting from the humidity in the apartment. It was time to retire it, but rather than just throw it away, I decided to take it to the Inari shrine where they had a few life-size Kumade in the back of the shrine building. It took about 30-40 minutes to this point From here, I was right next to the river, but the road was blocked off for construction. The footbridge looks like it's being prepped to be torn out, and there's no path along the river on the east side. So I hopped the barrier rope and followed the road around the hill to a small waterfall.



Next to the falls, there's a buttress wall that may have been part of the original Shimadzu castle. I can't be sure what it was for, since the entire area is overgrown. But, it looks old enough. At the base, someone set up a small shrine dedicated to Kannon, with some flowers.



There's another wall beside the river itself, but this is just part of an elevated parking lot/ storage area now. It's got some abandoned construction supplies on it.



Looking from the Kannon statue out to the main street running in front of the north hill. The elevated street in the middle of the photo runs past point 1 of the Walk Up Inari map, and to the east encounters the mouth of the Inari river at Kinko bay.



The blue thing blocking the view of the falls is a water line. Because of the bushes lining the river, there's no unobstructed view of the falls.



The road along the river goes another hundred feet from the statue to deadend at the entrance of an old water plant. This photo is from the entrance looking northwest up the river. There's no road or public walking path on either side of the river at this point, and it disappears up a narrow, tree-filled valley.



The water plant. Note that from here, the only way to parallel the river is to sidetrack east, pick up the elevated main street, and take it up to the top of this hill.



Which I did. I'm now at the top of the hill. (Notice the orange face above the tunnels? That was in the photos from my apartment, above.) The main road cuts through the hill and comes out the other side right next to Senganen. There's a little side road to the left that snakes further up the side of the hill. The tunnel entrance just looks like an accident waiting to happen. A driver late at night, starting to fall asleep at the wheel, veers a little too far to the right, enters the wrong tunnel...



I'm now at the far end of the valley, up somewhere around the bald spot that's visible from my apartment. It's taken at least 1 hour to get this far.



Looking back towards the apartment. The big black rectangle in the middle of the photo is the International Exchange Center. The Ferris wheel is on top of Kagoshima Chuo train station.



At the very top of the hill is the current water treatment plant. From here, I continue to the left, which takes me higher along the spine of the ridge.



Half a kilometer along, I found these three houses (2 are falling apart in the background). There's no road (that I saw), so the only option is to come down the stone steps to the main street on foot. Fortunately, there's a bus stop right there. In fact, since there's nothing else in the area, I assume that the stop is specifically for the residents in the front house.



Looking north. There's really nothing here. The signs point to MOS Burger 3 km farther, and a pachinko parlor 6 km ahead.



Near the top of the ridge, there's the Laputa "harvest restaurant". Doesn't really look like just a restaurant to me.. There's now a few more houses on the flat area behind me. There's also a 1-lane road heading down the hill in the direction of the river. I had 3 choices at this intersection - go east to a park 3km away, continue north to whatever is next to the MOS Burger, or take the road down to the west. I did want to keep close to the river to see if I could pick up another walking path, so I went down.



After a block, the trees opened up on another housing complex.


(*1*)
One of the cross streets turned south and continued a gentle downward slope. The river is somewhere in those trees. The buildings at the top of the hill at the top right of the photo is where I'm eventually heading for my return home.



Looking north. I can actually just barely see the wind farm from the apartment, on a clear day.




The neighborhood is mostly newer houses and duplexes. I skirted the residential areas and crossed over a short bridge. The Inari runs under it and veers west towards the buildings at the back of the photo. It's pretty obvious that the valley is too narrow for a street, and there's no stairway down to pick up a walking path. Meaning that unless I take an inflatable raft up the river, that this is the closest I'm going to get to it here. I continue south, staying on the west side of the river now.




After a few blocks, looking back up the river. The concrete block seems to be a reservoir of some sort. Mostly, it's just filled with muck and populated with a couple cranes.




There's a bus parking lot at the edge of the hill, and I could get a good view down to the river at a waterworks dam. The only road down is gated off with a "Waterworks, No Trespassing" sign.  Sigh. Looks like it could be fun to visit.



The streets head up the hill that I mentioned in photo (*1*), before going over to the other side and joining up with the older part of the city. Looking back north, the wind farm probably is within walking distance for me. But, I'm betting that it's private land and there's no public roads going up there. Looks like mostly trees, anyway. But, still...



If you're on foot, you can never escape the volcano.



Crossing over the hill and heading back south in the direction of the Shimadzu castle site, I've got a lot of twisty little paths to navigate on my way down. This one is actually a sidewalk that passes in front of some houses, with a sheer drop on the right hand side (fortunately, there is a fence). But, I don't understand why it is here. There's a road about 40 feet to the left that people here can drive on and park their cars in their driveways. No one is going to take this sidewalk to visit the neighbors, and it goes at least 8 blocks before coming out at another street. The only thing I can think of is that school kids walk this route to the school on the other side of this valley, instead of walking on the road...  I'd hate to be a kid growing up here if I had to make this walk every day.



Someone threw out a pair of bathtubs for trash pickup.



The one thing that had been driving me crazy is that I've been trying to get pictures of the hawks circling around the hills in Kagoshima for the past year and a half, but they always see the camera and fly off.  Today, either because I was along a street with cars passing by, or the buildings around me confused him, I had several minutes to try to get a good shot. I'm not that far from the top of the hill, so he's fairly close to me. This is the best the camera can do at this distance, with 14x zoom.

The street comes out at the bottom of the hill a few blocks away from the entrance to the Christian cemetery and the Buddhist temple ruins. It's twenty minutes to the International Exchange Center, and another 20 back home. I wasn't paying close attention to the time, but the total trip was about 3.5 hours.