Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tory's Extra Honey

Torys is a brand of whiskey made by Suntory. It's ok, tastes like regular whiskey, anyway. Their Torys Extra costs about 450 yen for a half-pint bottle. If you like whiskey, you're better off getting a 700ml bottle of Johnny Walker for 1400 yen at the Daiei department store. What we have here, though, is Torys Extra Honey. I was wondering what this tastes like, but I waited too long and it disappeared from nearly every store in the city. By accident, I found a FamilyMart on the other side of downtown that still had a bottle and picked it up. It's about 500 yen ($5 USD) for 300ml (0.6 pints) and is 20% alcohol (40 proof). It tastes like honey-flavored throat lozenges. If you mix it with Calpis Water, you can't taste the alcohol at all, but it'll still hit you pretty good.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Marlboro Clear

"Clear" tobacco. I don't know how that works. I guess it's no stranger than the iBoost "smart" cigarettes. The numbers under the boxes on the sign allow you to pick how much tar you want - 3, 6 or 8 mg. If these were "smart" cigarettes, there'd be an app for that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 Myouenji Walk

(Stamp booklet front cover.)

The Myouenji Mairi takes place in Ijuin on the 4th weekend of October. "Mairi" translates to "temple visit", and the festival commemorates a forced march of Satsuma retainers following a battle near the old castle site in Kagoshima to what is now Ijuin, in 1600 AD. The route starts at Terukuni Shrine, in Kagoshima City (near Central Park) and runs 20 km (12 miles) to Myouenji shrine in Ijuin. I did the walk 2 years ago, and finished at around 3 hours and 40 minutes. The following March, I was hit by a car and broke a bone in my foot. I was hoping to do the walk again last year to see if my foot was really healed, but I got the date wrong and I ended up not going. I did do a practice walk last Spring, and followed the route pretty much from memory, so I knew I could do it this time. I just wanted the certificate for finishing the walk again. Thing is, there was little advertising for the fest this year, and I really had to dig on the net to get information on it. One site mentioned that registration would open at 7:30, so that's when I planned to be out the door at the latest.

(Two of the support staff, already going back into the shrine grounds.)

In fact, I got out at 7:40 AM, and reached Terukuni at 7:50. At that point, the walk was officially starting and the two leaders in armor at the head of the walkers were passing me as I neared the shrine entrance. Some of the other support staff had only gone 2 blocks from the shrine before turning around and going back. This was very different from what happened 2 years ago, and I was surprised to learn that there's no insurance fee this time. I signed in at the registration table, received my stamp booklet, and started out.


2 years ago, there was a 500 yen insurance fee ($5 USD), and in return we each got a bottle of water, a kind of jersey to alert drivers to not hit us when the street gets narrow, a bandana, a map, and a stamp rally sheet. There are 3 water/rest stops along the way and the idea was to get stamps from each rest stop, then turn in the stamp sheet at the end for a certificate of completion, and a chance at a lottery for various prizes. I ended up winning a 50 cent rice cake, and I was hoping to be a little luckier this year. However, after talking to one of my English students, who had done the walk last year, it sounded like the route organizers had stopped doing the lottery, so I wasn't holding out much hope now.

Most Kagoshima residents do the walk once or twice as elementary school students and refuse to ever do it again. A guy I know says that when he went as a child, they were only allowed to eat 1 rice ball along the way, and there was an official Myouenji walk song they had to sing. The song is printed in the stamp booklet.

(Terukuni Jinja (shrine).)

I set out at a fast walking pace, hoping to average around 3.5 to 4 miles an hour. Generally I'm closer to 3 or 2.8 mph. Almost immediately, the two lead walkers in armor passed me on their way back into the shrine. 2 years ago, they'd walked at least 2 km of the route, to the other side of the Kotsuki river. This time, they'd gone less than 5 blocks. Regardless, there were clumps of people all the way to the backside of the main train station, so I stayed on the opposite side of the street to pass them. I ended up talking to a few people along the way, just to make conversation, but for the most part I was significantly faster than all but the joggers and was mostly just by myself.

(The walk leaders not leading.)

2 years ago, I had a cheap $50 Korean MP3 player from a company called Green River. I'd started the walk with the player fully charged, and the battery ran out after 2 hours. During the second trip, the battery lasted about 3 hours. However, in the last few weeks, it wasn't holding a charge any more, and would go dead within 15 minutes. Sometimes, I'd charge it one night and it would already be dead when I turned it on the next day. So, I figured I might as well get a new MP3 player before the walk. I went to Bic Camera at the main train station and got a 4 GB E-Series Sony Walkman player for about $100, then copied 20 CDs onto it. That helped make the walk go by much faster, and I'd only heard about 30% of the music by the time I got back home

I was surprised at the lack of variety for MP3 players. The main choices were just Sony and Apple, and there was nothing in the $50 range. I guess the popularity of smartphones and tablets is making smaller, stand-alone MP3 players obsolete.

The first water stop is at about 5 km. Just past that, I encountered 3 more guys wearing full armor. They let me take a photo, and one of them mentioned that they planned on walking  30 km. I don't know if this means that they started early outside of Kagoshima, or if they began at Terukuni shrine and were going to turn around at Myouenji and walk back to the halfway point. It's tough enough to go 12 miles; doing 18 miles while wearing armor and bamboo sandals can't have been any easier.

(Entering Ijuin. The watch tower in Joyama Park is barely visible at the top of the hill, center-right)

The rest of the walk was uneventful, although I had been fading at the halfway point (I hadn't had breakfast before starting out). The rest stop had little servings of pickled radish, baked Japanese sweet potato (yaki imo), hard candies, brown sugar, tea and water. The other two stops only had water and hard candies. After getting solid food to eat, I recovered enough to make it into Ijuin. There, a number of restaurants had tables set up on the street to hand out free baked potato, cookies and more brown sugar. That helped a lot. Actually, pressed brown sugar is a popular snack in Kagoshima, anyway. The city is relatively close to Amami island, which grows a lot of sugar cane. It tastes a lot better than American brown sugar, and is easier to eat than "sugar in the raw".

(Looking back out from Ijuin.)

Getting into Ijuin, I got caught up in the traffic lights. I had to spend maybe 5 minutes waiting for the various lights to change. A few people did catch up to me then, but I dropped them after the lights turned green. Ijuin looks almost abandoned, even though there were lots of people on the route, having started at different schools or temples along the way. At this point, the street is still open to traffic. An hour later, it was closed off for the marching bands. I didn't see any mascots this time, though.

Just short of Myouenji, the organizers had set up the final check point. This year, instead of handing out separate certificates of completion, they just stamped the one printed in the rally booklet. The headbands were available for sale for 200 yen, music CDs for 1,000, and event t-shirts for 2,200 yen ($22 USD). I already have enough t-shirts, so I didn't buy another one. And, instead of the lottery, they just gave me a bottle of water and two small rice cakes for finishing the walk. My final time was close to 3.5 hours.

(Inside Myouenji.)

The Myouenji Mairi Fest runs both Saturday and Sunday, while the walk is only on Sunday. There are stalls displaying local products, tables with ikebana, and places for people to sit down and drink tea.

A very popular spot is the sumo arena. Myouenji holds children's sumo competitions every year. The local school kids participate during the weekend.

On the other side of the grounds, there's a stage set up where various singing, dancing and entertainment acts perform. I didn't catch the name of this group, but I guess they have been competing in dance contests at the national level. You can see a video of them below.

Here, we have a recreation society dressed up as samurai warriors, with training on "Tanegashima". When Japan was closed to outside trade, some of the ships from the Kagoshima area would sail south to Tanega island, and conduct trade with the Portuguese merchants there. One of the prime products purchased were fuse-lit rifles. Because the rifles came from Tanegashima, that's the name they were known by on the main Japanese island. There's a video of the group, below.

The food court is next to the main stage. I was hungry at this point and I got a package of yaki soba for 400 yen. There was no place to sit down, so I wandered over to the side of the court and ate standing up. I didn't need to buy anything to drink because I had the water from the final check point. The yaki soba was plain and greasy, but it still tasted good.

I could have gotten an ear of corn or grilled pork kebabs for $3, but that seemed just a bit too overpriced. Maybe next time. Besides, it was a lot of yaki soba.

Myouenji also has an archery range, and they hold contests during the fest. Japanese archery, called kyu-do, is not very similar to the western style, and is as much about tradition as it is about hitting the target.

The judges sit on the sidelines and the contestants each shoot 4 arrows. The arrows have different colored feathers to show which contestant they belong to. When the 4 flights of arrows are shot, the judges place the white boxes in front of the targets, with the number of arrows to hit the target facing the contestants. Someone records the numbers, then the arrows are collected and the range cleared for the next set of contestants.

The first goal of the visitors during the fest, whether they do the walking route or just drive to the grounds, is to go to the shrine and pray. There's a fairly long line, and the wait is about 15 minutes. After spending about an hour here, I walked to the Ijuin station to take the train back to Kagoshima. 340 yen fare one-way. The trains don't run very often, so I had to wait 30 minutes for the next one to arrive, and it was maybe a 20 minute ride back home. My legs weren't happy, but I wasn't in real pain. Yet.

Youtube video of the J-Pop dance show

Youtube video of the traditional rifle demo

(Certificate of completion in the booklet stamped.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hirakawa Dobutsuen

On Oct. 20, rather than going back to Honganji for day 2 of the Bouzu Meets Fes, we took a 1-hour bus ride out to Hirakawa Zoo (fare was 430 yen each way, with entry into the zoo an additional 500 yen per person). It had been over a year since we had last come to the zoo, and the white Siberian tiger cubs were growing up fast. We wanted to see the cubs while they were still cute-looking, but we'd be getting to the zoo at 1 PM, and by that point they'd be scheduled to be back in their holding area for the afternoon. Instead, we just stayed around the African and Big Cats zones. We did make a special side trip to see the lesser pandas, but the zoo isn't really designed to allow for good photos of the best animals.

Ostriches and zebra butts

The zookeeper is on a ladder to reach the giraffe's feeding bucket.

The Kinko-wan Park is half a mile from the zoo. At some point, I have to visit there to see what they have beyond the model rocket.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bouzu Meets Fes

As mentioned in last week's entry, the Honganji Buddhist temple near Tenmonkan held a "Bouzu Meets Fes" (Meet a Priest Fest) on Oct. 19 and 20.  It was kind of an open house, with a chance to mingle with various priests, look at booths selling arts and crafts, get some food and watch some stage shows. A wedding ceremony was scheduled for Sunday, but I was busy that day and had to skip that.

Balloon figures for the kids.

Arts and crafts booths.

The bamboo stands are apparently for flowers for use in a Buddhist ceremony.

One of the priests. The entire event was pretty friendly, and several priests approached me to talk while I was standing around. They gave me some leaf-shaped bookmarks and a post card.

A view of the stage area. At the time, they had a table set up for a live radio broadcast for Mu FM, with interviews with a couple of the priests. Later, they had a rock band playing, but the song was interrupted midway because of technical issues. It was a good thing that the covered tent was set up, because the wind shifted at around noon, blowing a huge ash cloud into the city. I had my umbrella with me, and it was weird hearing the "pat-pat" sounds of a brisk rain and looking up and seeing an absolutely dry umbrella.

The Honganji mascot.

The two Mu FM co-hosts and one of the Honganji senior priests. The first priest just read the history of the Kagoshima temple from a prepared statement, which was boring.

One of the press photographers working the event. Overall, the event was ok, but the heavy ash fall probably contributed to the light turn-out while I was there.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Q.E.D. volume 42 review

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

Q.E.D., vol. 42, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Kurozumi says "If I say "white", you better find a white vase".)

Essha- Hoteru (Escher Hotel, Monthly Magajin Plus, no year given). 20 years ago, hotel owner Ryousaburou Kurozumi was a brutal, sadistic man driven to install a series of hotels around Japan. When one of the workers tries to put in a non-approved vase in the lobby of the hotel (the specified vase can't be found quickly), Kurozumi smashes it and whips the worker in the face with his cane. At the moment, though, the chief impediment to getting the hotel on the hill finished in time is that the artist living higher up the hill won't sell his property to him. Kurozumi visits the artist, and is attacked with a pallet knife. The artist goes to jail and the hotel is successful for a few years. In the present, Kana has been hired as a part-time reporter to write up the opening of a new hotel where the artist's house had been. Kurozumi's old hotel is now in ruins, but Kurozumi himself has been elected as a cabinet member to the Diet.

(Ely welcomes the reporters to her new hotel.)

The new hotel is fashioned with an Escher motif, with various art pieces based on Escher's designs. The main display is an optical illusion entitled "the Infinite Staircase". The owner is Ely Silver, a young woman that married into European old money and used that to build the hotel. At the opening are: reporter Shuuji Aohara, former friend Moss Green, Moss' current boyfriend Wright Purple, Banker Umihiko Akaji, Kurozumi and his enforcer/bodyguard, Kana and Touma. After the reception, Ely changes clothes to pose for photos for Aohara, but he's disappeared. The guests search for him, and eventually his body, with a rope around his neck, turns up on the Infinite Staircase. The next day, the hotel goes up in flames and Kurozumi's Diet member pin is found in the ashes under the Infinite Staircase. Kurozumi, who had threatened Ely in public, is arrested for the arson.

(Seeing the Infinite Staircase from more than one angle.)

-------------------- Spoilers --------------------

Sometimes, it's impossible to even talk about a mystery without giving away something important. This is one of those times. Back 20 years ago, the reason Kurozumi wanted the artist's house was that it was the source of a spring that Kurozumi intended to use to feed the swimming pool of his hotel. In investigating the earlier crime, Touma is told by one of the detectives that they just "happened" to get a photo showing the artist approaching Kurozumi with the pallet knife. However, the photo was a trick created by placing the camera at exactly the right angle to make it look like two rooms at opposite ends of a long, L-shaped building were connected, just like with the Escher art. The photographer at the time was Aohara, the current murder victim. The artist was convicted, spent 3 years in prison, lost interest in his work and eventually committed suicide. He'd had a child, and of course, that child is now a very angry young adult bent on revenge. Touma unravels the tricks and reveals Aohara's killer, then wishes the perpetrator luck in fighting the charges in court.

(Talking about the man.)

No science, but there is a nice tribute to Escher, plus examples of optical illusions people have used to recreate his pictures in real life. Note that all the character names include the names of colors (Aohara - Blue Field; Kurozumi - Black Dwelling). Also, Motohiro occasionally has fun with the names of coffee shops. One shop in an earlier volume was called "Usui Coffee" ("Watery Coffee"). This time, it's Todouru, with a walrus mascot (Todo = "sea lion"). It's a respelling of Doutoru, which is one of the chains competing against Starbucks).

(Say "hi" to Hulk.)

Ronri no Tou (The Tower of Logic, Created for this book, no year given). Mia Field and Berry Goodman are the two engineers working for Rob Carth on Rindel Corp.'s newest CPU. Berry is trying to get Rob to push the deadline back, but the manager refuses to budge. Overworked, the logic designer, Mia does succeed in finishing in time, but she ends up hospitalized for stress and exhaustion for several weeks. Rob makes a big news announcement in front of reporters, taking all the credit for the CPU intended for use in game machines. When Mia gets out of the hospital, Ravis Logan, her cheating boyfriend, comes home to find her packing up and moving out. He tries to talk her into staying, but Mia comments that he never once came to visit her. However, she'll give him the $500 dollars he's begging for, plus a shot at a huge treasure, if he really listens to her carefully. She designed a new logic core for a new CPU, which is worth millions to whoever owns it, and she's hidden the printout somewhere. All Ravis needs to do is find it and he's set for life. Mia then leaves.

(Trying to get to the darkened room from outside the hotel.)

In the next scene, Ravis tells Touma, Kana and Loki that Mia's work is somewhere in an abandoned Las Vegas hotel scheduled to be blown up the next day, and that as Mia's boss at Rindel, he wants their help at getting it back. (Ravis had swiped Mia's cell phone and written down the numbers of the people she called recently.) A few minutes later, Rob and Berry also show up, and an argument ensues over who owns Mia's work. Suddenly, there's a shotgun blast, and a Hulk Hogan-like biker rolls up to take control of the situation. Turns out that Mia had given clues to the three main characters - Ravis, Rob and the biker - which all seem to be contradictory. Things like "the treasure is not on an odd-numbered floor", the "treasure is not on an even-numbered floor" and "the treasure is in a dark, dangerous room". Touma comments that they've entered the realm of the "all liars/all truthtellers". It's a series of logic puzzles where the base is that you have two villages, one of people that only lie, and one of people that only tell the truth. By asking only "yes" and "no" questions, how can you tell which is which (if you ask persons A and B "are you a liar", they'll both answer "no"). The first set of clues point to a room that is boarded over, on the 29th floor. But, the elevators have been deactivated and the doors from the stairwell are bolted shut. The group goes to the roof, and finds a rope and harness. Rob refuses to rappel down, and is eventually forced to tell the truth - Mia designed this new logic core by herself on her own time. He drives away from the hotel empty-handed. Ravis rappels down to the room, rips the plastic from the windows, and finds a suitcase containing only $500 dollars. Crushed, he too just drives away. Berry only wanted to meet Mia one more time, and he doesn't care about the CPU design. Fortunately, Touma talks him into seeing Mia's puzzle to the end.

-------------------- Spoilers ----------------

Touma then asks the biker "can you answer my question with "no"?" Hulk says "yes", proving that he's the "villager that always lies". On the roof is a  tarp covering a switch. Turning the switch on activates a light in a different room. In the room is a box with the printout. The biker relays Mia's instructions, "if you don't want it, burn it. I have no use for it anymore." He then introduces himself as a university professor teaching logic, and Mia's father. The next day, a crowd arrives to watch the building blow up, and the biker gives Berry the address of a small IC design house that Mia has started working at, and they need a system engineer.

The entire chapter revolves around logic puzzles, and does touch lightly on electronics circuits, primarily the CPU and NOT gates. I'm a little annoyed that there's no mention of Raymond Smullyan. Raymond started out as a stage magician, then got his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1959. He basically created the entire "liar-truthteller" genre of logic puzzles (called "knights and knaves"), publishing complete volumes of variations on the theme. I bought the first volume back in the '80s, and I loved it. He's also a concert pianist, and has at least one record out. Given that Motohiro is usually good at mentioning people like Gauss, Leibnitz and Escher in his science-based stories, he really should have credited Raymond, too.

Comments: While I like the artwork in the Escher story, the choice of killers is kind of unsatisfying. The logic story is great, though, although having someone shooting a shotgun in a building packed with explosives prior to being demolished does have its downside (fortunately, this fact is not lost on the other characters in the story). Recommended, if you like Escher or Smullyan. (Final note: To me, "ronri" (logic) sounds like "lonely", making the chapter "Lonely Tower", which I thinks works as well).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Q.E.D. volume 41 review

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

Q.E.D., vol. 41, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: C+

(When Touma met Shinri.)

Barukia no Tokishi (Special Envoy for Balkia, Monthly Shonen Magajin Plus, no year given). Three years earlier, Al Walsh was a computer sciences student at MIT, and was good friends with Touma. His father, Paul, worked with a politician named Mantory for the president of Balkia, Swami. Swami gutted the country's banks and used the money to buy blood diamonds, which he then smuggled into Belgium. Unrest grew and resulted in a civil war, so Swami fled to Europe and Mantory assumed power to try to reunite the people. Swami surfaces in Belgium, where he's given refuge. Mantory gives Paul a letter to take to The Hague on behalf of Balkia in order to demonstrate that Balkia is now stable enough to properly try Swami for swindling the nation, and to have him extradited back. Unfortunately, Paul disappears, so Al enlists Touma to help him present their case to the International Court of Justice in his father's stead. However, the envoy of Belgium, who doesn't trust Balkia to not summarily execute Swami, is assisted by Shinra (from Motohiro's other series, C.M.B.). Without the letter from Mantory, Touma doesn't stand a chance against Shinra's logic. Fortunately, one of Swami's bodyguards sneaks a list of churches to Touma, and he discovers that Swami had hidden packets of the diamonds within angel statues that were sent to each church. Paul sees one of the packets and pockets it to be returned to Balkia.

(Kana is scary.)

This is a bad move, because Swami's sympathizers, mainly angry young mercenaries, notice the missing packet and figure that Paul, who was hiding out at an inn near the church, is the thief. There then ensues a big hand-to-hand combat between Shinra's martial arts-loving friend, Tatsuki Nanasae, Kana, and the mercenaries. Guess who wins? When Paul recovers from the hospital, he delivers the letter to The Hague, and Touma and Kana return home to Japan while Touma leaves the details of confiscating Swami's assets to Shinra.

No science, just a lot of explanation of how the International Court of Justice works, and a mention that all of the world's diamonds originated from one place - Gondwana, some 100 million years ago.

(Caff recalls getting married.)

Kafu no Tsuioku (Caff's Recollections, Written specifically for this book, no year given). The end of the year is coming up again, and the Mizuhara family wants to enlist Touma in their annual house cleaning. This time, Kana's mother offers to give the boy a free meal as a show of thanks, and Kana has to ask what he wants. Rather than picking something easy, like nabe (beef soup), he chooses hand-made gyoza. So, Kana has to spend the next day handmaking gyoza from scratch, and her mother refuses to help. Anyway, dinner is in 20 hours, and Touma suddenly gets a call from someone representing Lin Darby. Lin had come from Taiwan, and Touma had helped her learn English. She asks Touma now to fly to a federal prison in the U.S. to help save her husband, Caff Darby. Touma rushes to the U.S. by jet in the hopes of getting back to Japan before New Year's dinner. At the prison, Caff is an angry, belligerent prisoner that demands better treatment since he had been such a celebrity before. For some reason, Touma doesn't try acting friendly towards him, and keeps showing him a photo of an old man and asking if Caff recognizes him. From here, Touma has Caff explain all the events that culminated in his current situation.

(Kana and her mother, before Kana learns that she's on her own in regards to the gyoza.)

Caff had been a smart kid in Thailand, but rather than stay in school, he left home and did a little globetrotting. He encountered a fortune teller who had a reputation for being really accurate, and she told him to be careful on his way back. By accident, he missed his bus, and the next day he saw a news report that it had run off the road and gone down into a valley. Convinced, Caff went back to the fortune teller, Lin, and studied her as she worked. He published a book on his findings, called "Ultimate Diviner", and from there the two of them got married and became rich and famous. One day, Caff met Floyd, the third son of a family that owned a real estate corporation, and Floyd suggested that he and Caff form an investment company using Lin's predictions to make the investments. Things go great, until someone shoots Lin and Floyd and the gun and a pair of gloves are found in a closet in Caff's mansion. Caff is arrested, convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Questions: Can Lin really predict the future (Touma doesn't think so)? Who was the shooter? Was Caff sentenced for 1 crime, or 2? Why doesn't Lin, who survived the shooting but was crippled) visit Caff in prison? Who is the old man in the photo? With flights being cancelled because of a snow storm, does Touma make it back to Tokyo in time for dinner?

No science. Just a repeat of the selective memory trope.

Comments: What can I say? Two high school girls that know martial arts and 2 guys with no training go up against a gang of mercenaries and win. Granted, the fight scenes look good, and Kana especially looks desperate while facing a guy with a machine gun, but this goes into the box marked "wish fulfillment". And, as mentioned above, the second story recycles a previous plot device to hide the identity of the villain until the end. It's an interesting psychological concept, but it doesn't really work all that well. The only part of this book that makes it worth buying is that we finally get a good view of Kana's mother (she looks much heavier than in previous cameos).