Monday, August 31, 2015

Kagoshima Marching Band




For the last week, there had been a small event advertised for the open area next to the Lotteria in Tenmonkan. I hadn't tried translating the kanji, but it seemed to be something safety related, and was only going to run from 2 PM to 2:30 on Saturday, the 29th. That's generally when I would be teaching English classes, but I didn't have my regular 2 PM class that day, so I got out of the school as quickly as I could and made my way straight for the Lotteria to see what was going on.



Turned out that the Kagoshima Fire Department was hosting some kind of fire safety awareness raising event, and along with the fliers, brochures and free balloons, they had their marching band playing several songs. They started with a classical medley, then did the theme song for Kiki's Delivery Service. I tried recording the following song, which was a variation on the opening theme for Meitanei Shonen Conan, but that's when the battery on the new camera ran out. In part, I had been testing how long the battery would last straight out of the box, but I should have known better and recharged it right away. Regardless, the new pocket camera is doing pretty well. I'm not all that happy with the pictures I get when the sun is behind the subject on a rainy day, but I'm still trying to get used to what this model of Canon Powershot can do, so maybe I'm not quite doing it right.



Direct youtube link


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Camera Test




I took the opportunity last week to buy a replacement pocket camera.



The old one just wouldn't fully turn on or off, so my initial thought was that I'd get a similar model, which would let me keep the battery as a back-up. But, none of the cameras I looked at used compatible batteries, and I figured I might as well get the best camera in the price range and have something that would last for a while and possibly give me better photos. Based on the reviews at cnet.com, I settled on the Canon Powershot SX710HS, which has a x30 optical zoom, compared to the x18 I'd had with the other camera (and the x50 zoom of the big camera). As I was going to work that afternoon, I took a few sample shots of the moon. Not too bad for a pocket camera. It was fairly shaky and I would have been better off using a tripod. But still, pretty decent.



The sky had some interesting coloration on the clouds, too. Most of the cameras I'd had before haven't shot clouds well, so this is the best I've gotten so far.





The next day, the moon was a bit higher, a bit later in the afternoon sky, providing a little more contrast.



Going by a construction site where one of the buildings is being cleaned up. One of the drawbacks to this camera is that it doesn't have aperture control on the automatic setting, so the moon gets really washed out when on a low zoom factor.



Auto focusing doesn't help. Still, not sure if this is much better than the previous Powershot or not. I'll have to keep experimenting.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

July-Aug. articles in the media

Here's the batch of articles to show up in the media from July-Aug., regarding anime, manga and related stuff.

Japan Times

Famed director Miyazaki calls Abe's move to revise Constitution 'despicable'

Hayao Miyazaki cleans up Japan

'One Piece' sets Guinness record for manga

Project Anime asks the right questions

Tokyo bar transformed into Sailor Moon cafe until the end of September

Cannibalism and confusion in live-action 'Attack on Titan'

Daily Yomiuri

A final brush with calligraphy

Animax to air special program on 'Dokaben'

Chibi Maruko-chan: 25 years of happy TV hijinks

The Origin' Episode 2 to start two-week theatrical run on Oct. 31st

New 'Yokai Watch' anime starts with new characters

A cloned legend is Baki's latest challenge

Scaling walls: Anime and voice acting

Manga, anime invigorate transportation

Ugly guys don’t always finish last

'Charlotte' puts powerful spin on teenage life

Daijiro Morohoshi's manga enjoys a quiet boom

Bokudake ga Inai Machi (The Town Where Only I Am Missing)

Ichigo Senso (Strawberry War)

Kobo-chan statue unveiled in Tokyo

Unearthing parent-child ties in a monster world

Gin no Saji (Silver Spoon)

Otakon: Driven by passion for otaku culture

Yoshitaka Amano’s fantastic, elegant drawings

Asahi

Exhibition honoring 'Gundam' designer Okawara to be held from August

Hayao Miyazaki at work on computer graphics short

Giant 'Gundam' robots planned for Inagi promotion center

Traditional puppetry in Nose conjures up cute characters to attract young audiences

'Attack on Titan' mini-series to stream on dTV from August

Cinema legend Miyazaki joins protests against move to widen SDF role

'Naruto' exhibition headed for Osaka this weekend

Translator of Chinese 'Barefoot Gen' manga looking for publisher

Seibu Railway begins campaign to reintroduce 'Galaxy Express 999' train

Anima(tor) Exhibition gains worldwide attention with Screenings, Streaming Music

Record crowd attends Anime Expo in Los Angeles

Nippon Animation celebrates 40 years with Sinbad film

English version of 'Attack on Titan' tops 2.5 million copies in print

First 'Chibi Maruko-chan' movie in 23 years to open Dec. 23

Kabuki adaptation of 'One Piece' manga will feature flashy action, play to families

'Art of Gundam' exhibition now running in Tokyo's Roppongi

Hosoda's 'The Boy and the Beast' eyes 7 billion yen at box office

Monstrous manga titan looks down on commuters and visitors at Oita Station

'Ita-beya' anime, manga rooms a hit with overseas tourists

Asahi Shimbun promotes 'Attack on Titan' movie with scary insert

All 'Doraemon' comics go digital to celebrate 45th anniversary

Kawasaki museum screening war films, propaganda anime movie

Shinji Higuchi: Live-action 'Attack on Titan' faithful to Manga

'Fruits Basket' sequel to hit HanaLala website from Sept. 4

Tokyo International Film Festival to offer special 'Gundam' screening

Gundam robots on menu for anime fans at Fukushima roadside station

36th Doraemon movie set for release in spring 2016

Cartoon train cars promote Kyoto anime fair

'Doraemon' heads to 'prime time' morning slot for kids on British

'Evangelion' train to run on Sanyo Shinkansen Line this fall

Lionsgate secures rights to make live-action 'Naruto' film

'Chibi Maruko-chan' train attracts anime fans in Shizuoka

'Mobile Suit Gundam' to be showcased at Tokyo International Film Festival

Anime film starring Yokohama's Hikawa-Maru liner to cast off on Aug. 22

Monstrous humanoid floats down to Oita, adds manga muscle to tourist drive

'Miss Hokusai' scoops up 3 awards at Montreal film festival

Phoenix Hall gets its own jewel-encrusted phoenix

Kodansha to expand U.S. English manga titles to 2,000 in 2 years

Doraemon train gets a new three-year lease of life

'Dragon Quest XI' goes offline for 3DS, PS4 by May 2017

Shaft to hold exhibition to celebrate 40 years ofimaginative storytelling

Japanese battleships morphed into cute schoolgirls to hit the big screen

New 'Dragon Ball Z' film among top 10 highest-grossing anime films in U.S.

Mario Bros. morph into deities to celebrate 400th anniversary of Rimpa painting school

Boy who lost his entire family to atomic bomb in Nagasaki featured in manga series

Friday, August 28, 2015

24 Hour TV




Sunday was a busy day, which was unfortunate. I had translation clean-up work that I had to finish, meaning that I didn't get out the door until about 3 PM, and then I had to meet up with some people at 4:30, giving me only an hour and a half to go outside and then get back home. After seeing the anti-war demonstration at Central Park, and then going down to Dolphin Port, I made my way up to Daiei, near the main train station. I'd been told that there was going to be some doctor giving a speech in the auditorium on the 8th floor of the department store at 5 PM, and I wanted to see if I could get a look at the schedule before I went back home. I got to the 8th floor a little after 4 PM, and a group of people were just coming out of the room. According to the sign, they were there for a JDSF (Japan Dance Sport Federation) "sport dance". Not sure what that means. Anyway, there weren't any announcements regarding the 5 o'clock thing, but as I was going to the escalators to go downstairs, I looked out the window and saw a crowd in front of a stage in the open area at Amuplaza. Turns out it was part of a "24 hour TV event" to "put smiles on people's faces".



The group playing at that point was a high school brass band. The music was too slow for me, but they at least had a big audience. The next band up was another school group, so I went downstairs to get some free sample coffee from Kaldi and then returned home. So, yeah, there was a "blink and you miss it " moment here, but not one that I minded missing. The rest of the evening was spent at home finishing the last of my translation clean-up work (due Monday morning) and typing up the blog entries for the past week.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Anti-War



Ok, so Sunday comes along and I want to take the big camera out to see if auto-focus is going to continue to be a problem. I'd been hoping that the little neighborhood matsuri down on the boulevard in front of City Hall was still going on, but that turned out to apparently have been just a 1-day affair, or something. Regardless, when I got there, the stage and all the booths were gone. On the other hand, there was a big rally in Central Park.



There's continued, and growing, opposition to the LDP's, and Prime Minster Abe's, push to gut the existing Japanese constitution to allow the Japan Self-Defence Forces to engage in direct military operations. The rally here was a protest against Abe's attempts to ramrod the "reforms" through the Diet.



I'm pretty sure that the "nukes" in this case aren't just weapons, but also the reactors that are being restarted across the country.



About half an hour later, the protestors took to the streets to parade through Tenmonkan.



The banner says (roughly), "Don't kill more children." The following day, the English newspapers all reported "thousands of young people rallying across the country for the protests, while Kagoshima wasn't mentioned at all. Just about everyone here was over the age of 60; very few "young people" in attendance.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Car Show




The Saturday following the Hawai'ian fest, the area in front of Lotteria was set up for a small car show. This has happened a few times over the past year, but this was the first time that the organizers had activities for kids, and a booth bunny. Previously, it had just been the tent and a handful of cars and sales reps.



Doraemon was a minor draw for the adults.



The sign says that kids can make a "mokku car", but I don't know what "mokku" means.



It's a good year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sakurajima




Ok, the reason for going down to the boulevard in front of City Hall on Saturday was to see if I could get a shot of the volcano. A week ago, it had burped, and the swelling in the ground had been enough to trigger a level 4 evacuation warning of all the residents on the island. The ferries stopped running, as did the bullet train out of the main train station, and planes stopped flying overhead. By about Wednesday, the city cancelled the big fireworks event scheduled for the end of the month, while two of the national English newspapers were running conflicting stories (the Japan Times said that the volcano was calming down, and the Asahi Shimbum claimed government officials were in the process of elevating the warning and predicting things were going to get a lot worse in the next couple of days). By Saturday, the warning had been lifted, allowing people to return home to the island and the ferries to run again, but it was too late for re-permitting the fireworks to happen this year.


(Nope, no eruptions here.)

The weather was perfect, and I wanted to take photos to show that the volcano had settled down, finally, but now the camera wouldn't focus right. I managed to get two pictures during my break, anyway. The rest of the break period was spent buying, and then losing, the Area 51 manga.



Saturday night, I pulled the battery out of the camera to see if that would make a difference. I also went into the menu and did a "reset to factory defaults". Sunday, I went down to City Hall, where I found out that the matsuri from the day before had apparently ended the day before. I continued down to Dolphin Port and took a few more test photos.



At the moment, it seems the camera is ok, but I had trouble Sunday night when I tried taking shots of the moon. But, the clouds were rolling back in again and they were partly obscuring the half-moon. So, I still don't know if the inability to focus on the moon is because of the clouds, or the camera.



There's no ash coming up from the volcano in this shot, at least.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Local Matsuri




I had a 90 minute break on Saturday between English lessons, and the approaching typhoon had blown all the clouds out, making for one of the clearest skies we've had all summer. I took the big camera with me and headed for the boulevard in front of City Hall  to see if I could get photos of the volcano. Along the way I discovered that a local neighborhood group was putting on a small matsuri (festival) in the same area.



This is when I found out that the big camera was acting up. I'd be able to take one or two photos, and then everything would go all out of focus. I'd turn the camera off, then on again, and it would be fine for a few seconds before going out of control again. In terms of the festival, I didn't miss anything because of the camera itself. There was nothing scheduled on stage right away, and no one walking around to buy food from the stalls. I had to go back to work at 4:30 and didn't get out again until after 7. I'd figured that I'd go home for dinner, and then return to the park on Sunday when I had more time. Unfortunately, on Sunday, the stage and booths were gone. I don't know if this had been just a one-day thing, or what. Anyway, I blinked, and it wasn't directly because of the camera.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hawai'ian Fest




In yesterday's Small Adventure post, I mentioned that I'd possibly messed up the big camera. During the entire week last week, the Yamakataya department store had hosted an Hawai'ian festa. There were 3-4 venue spots: the auditorium in the store itself, some other location around the store, the space in front of Lotteria, and the space in front of 7-11 at the other end of Tenmonkan. Most of the major stage acts required buying tickets, and were held in the store. According to the schedule there had been live music outside at 7-11 on Monday, but I'd missed that. The rest of the events were amateur hula dancers practicing on stage in front of Lotteria, and one band that played for about 30 minutes on Thursday.



The Lotteria space was almost deserted, and I guess that made it easier for the hula groups to practice with their instructors uninterrupted.



I made a point of hanging around until the band made their appearance on Thursday. But, it really wasn't my kind of music. Further, the camera started acting up, refusing to auto focus, so I went back home without trying to take any video this time.



And this was the culprit. When I was waiting for the band to set up, I noticed that the humidity was causing a strange sparkling haze around the spotlight. I was hoping that I might catch part of that with the camera, so I zoomed in from about 60 feet away, and tried applying various aperture settings to darken the shot and enhance the hazy part. I assume that the light was simply too strong for the CCD or something, because for the next 3 days, I had a lot of trouble getting it to auto focus right.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Small Adventure 42


I mentioned a while ago that my little pocket camera had overheated while I was recording the Yukata Matsuri live music event at the beginning of August. Well, it's not getting better on its own, and may actually be on its last legs, not wanting to fully turn on or off. I've been looking for a replacement, but I've got the bigger Nikon Coolpix and I've been carrying that around in the meantime. Anyway, Thursday, I was walking through Tenmonkan and I stopped at the open area in front of Lotteria, where the Yamakataya department store was hosting a Hawai'ian music and dance event for the entire week. As I was waiting for some group to set up, I noticed that there was this interesting effect around the spotlight aimed at the stage - the light and humidity were combining to create a sparkling rainbow halo. I knew it was kind of a risk, but I pulled out the Coolpix and took some pictures to see if I could capture the effect somehow. The light was pretty strong and I was zooming right at it. Afterward, I tried taking pictures of the band as they were playing, and the camera started acting up, not wanting to autofocus. I gave up and returned home.

Yesterday, the weather was perfect and the sky was an absolute clear blue. The volcano was quiet and I headed down to Dolphin Port to take photos of it to show that Sakurajima wasn't visibly acting threatening right then. But, the Coolpix just refused to focus right. I turned it off and on a few times, and I'd be able to get a couple pictures before I lost focus again. The annoying thing was that the local merchants in the neighborhood in front of City Hall are putting on a small annual festival this weekend and I couldn't even get shots of the empty stage during the set up. Finally, I again gave up and continued on to Tenmonkan.

It was 3:30 PM, and I had an hour break between lessons, so I went to Maruya Gardens to visit the Junkudo bookstore on the 5th floor. There's this one manga I've been itching to read, and I wanted to see if Junkudo carried the first volume. It's Area 51, and I'd translated one chapter a year ago. I haven't been able to find it in Kinokuniya in Amuplaza. So, I get to Junkudo, track down the Comic Bunch shelves, and they only have volumes 6-10. I want #1 to see how it starts. My next choice is to visit Junkudo's sister store, Maruzen, 3 blocks away. It takes a bit to get the clerk to understand what I'm asking him for, but finally he takes me to the Comic Bunch section, and they've got the entire series, but only one book for each volume. I grab #1 and go to the register to buy it.

I still have 40 minutes for my break, and I decide to spend it at the 7-11 near the school, eating a sandwich with a bottle of ginger ale, and reading the latest issue of the Vocaloid magazine. When I finish that, I reach for Area 51... and it's not in my backpack. I go through everything and I just can not find it. I look around the table, and I don't see it. My first thought was that I forgot to grab the bag with the book when I left the register at Maruzen (I had been focused on pocketing my change, the points card and my wallet). I return to the bookstore, where the clerk I had dealt with isn't anywhere to be seen. I ask someone else if they had my book, but they looked in some notebook and said "nope". It wasn't on the shelf behind the counter, either. Then, I return to 7-11, where the clerks I had bought the sandwich from didn't even recognize me as having been in the store 10 minutes earlier. I asked them if they found a bag from Maruzen, and they also said, "nope". At this point, some older Japanese businessman was sitting where I had been, and he's studiously ignoring the clerks as they're checking the table for anything out of place. And I can not remember the last place where I'd seen the book. Either Maruzen has my book but they have really bad record keeping, or that businessman stole my book and didn't want me to realize it. Regardless, it's not just that I'm out the $5 for the manga; that may have been the only copy of Area 51, vol. 1, in all of Kagoshima.

Not been a really good week. It's probably cheaper to scrap the pocket camera and get something else to replace it. It would be nice if I could get a compatible model, which would then give me a backup battery. I'd like to think that I could take the Coolpix to Bic Camera and have them look at it, but it is out of warranty, and any repairs may be at least 20% of the original $500 purchase price. Decisions, decisions... Volcano eruption warnings. Not a really great week.

Friday, August 21, 2015

2cellos


I know, these guys have been around for a few years, but this is the first time I've heard about 2cellos. They rock. Plus, I love the electronic cellos.

Welcome to the Jungle


Satisfaction


Wake Me Up


They Don't Care About Us


Thunderstruck


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Butterfly




I've been seeing a lot more butterflies in the city than I had before. This one was near city hall.



I had the little camera with me, which usually doesn't do that well on flowers and butterflies. However, I think I got kind of lucky with this shot, given that the subject kept flitting about and tasting the flowers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lights




Just experimenting with some lighting effects.






Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fireworks, not

One of the biggest annual events in Kagoshima has been the 1-hour+ long fireworks display held at Dolphin Port towards the end of August. I think this year it was scheduled for Aug. 28. But, the radio has been filled with news reports and "let's try to get over this" stories all afternoon (as of the 18th). There was some speculation on Monday as to whether the plug was going to get pulled, and the decision was announced around noon on Tuesday.

I'm not really sure what the motivation for cancelling the fireworks event is. The Japan Times newspaper said that the threat level has been reduced because the measured expansion of the volcano has been going back down to normal. The Japan Nuclear Regulatory Agency announced that Sakurajima doesn't pose a threat to the Satsuma-Sendai reactor, which is now online and only 35 miles away. The fireworks event wouldn't be for another 10 days and the city has plenty of time to check the safety of the volcano before committing to setting up the audience grounds around Dolphin Port and up at Kirishima.

I guess part of the idea is to simply acknowledge the danger and say "we're not going to take any risks with this". On the other hand, it's not like the city has evacuation plans in place for getting people out of the region if the top of the mountain DID blow off. Heck, they shut down the bullet train when there was a small rumbling, there's no way they'd be able to get people out that way if things got serious. The streets out would be jammed with car and bus traffic, and there aren't that many regular trains running out of the main station. So, the argument "we can't have the fireworks if there's a chance of the volcano erupting during the event" wouldn't hold water, if the concern was that they'd have to evacuate everyone out of Dolphin Port then - there'd be no place to evacuate them TO.

If the danger is real, then the city should be shutting down and moving the aged and disabled out of the area. Kagoshima has an incredibly large number of hospitals, clinics and senior care centers - in and around the Tenmonkan area it's almost 2 per block. These are the places that would be impossible to evacuate in an emergency, so they should be taken care of right now. If the danger were real.

But, the government is playing that down, while the news media (or at least, the radio stations) keep repeating all the warning messages every hour on the hour. The ferry service is still stopped, as well as the "night ferry cruises". Air flights have been reinstated, if the contrails over the volcano are any indication, and the bullet train is running again.

So, why cancel the fireworks this early? All I can think of is that the city is feeling strapped for cash and is using the situation as an excuse to cut an obvious expense. If true, it would coincide with the dwindling activities for Ogionsa and Obon Odori over the last couple weeks. And it would be further proof that the national government's "economic restart policies" are failing horribly. My feeling is that the cancellation was a financial decision, not a safety one.

On the other hand, I wasn't expecting to have the chance to see the fireworks this year, either, because of my work schedule. So, I'm not so much disappointed over the cancellation as I am curious as to the reasons behind it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Full Moon, 07/31


The weather has been consistently bad for weeks now, so it was quite the shock to see the full moon so clearly back about three weeks ago. I grabbed the big camera and tripod and ran up to the top of Shiroyama to take pictures. This is the one that turned out best.



Meanwhile, down in the bay, the ferry boat company was conducting its "night bay cruise". Only one shot turned out from that. I'd tried doing a time lapse sequence of both the moon and the ferry, but the camera refused to auto-focus for either one.




Sunday, August 16, 2015

Old comedy


Leonard Barr, 1


One of my favorite stand-up comics in the 60's and early 70's was Leonard Barr. He'd appear on late night, and day time variety shows, and had this absolutely deadpan machine gun-like delivery that would have me in stitches. I never caught his name back then, and it wasn't until I saw him in a 007, Diamonds Are Forever, movie, as a Las Vegas character named Shady Tree, that I was able to track his real name down on Wikipedia. The reason I mention him now is that I received The Sting on DVD for my birthday, and as I was watching it, I saw Leonard again for a couple of seconds at the beginning of the movie. I went to youtube and grabbed a couple videos of him there, including one where he was on the Dean Martin Show (Barr was Martin's uncle and helped get Dean started in the movie business).

Leonard Barr Dance


Naturally, with youtube you can't just watch one. I had to check out the Jackie Vernon clip (loved Jackie when I was younger), as well as Frank Gorshin.

Jackie Vernon
(Can't embed video in blog)

Frank Gorshin


In the 70's, there was a short-lived comedy program called Kopycats, that I thought at the time was hilarious. I could only locate a 2 minute opening clip of one episode where Raymond Burr was the guest host. Still, it's good to see Frank Gorshin again.

Kopycats, 1972


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sakurajima Coughing

I may not have mentioned it recently, but there's a live volcano about 2 miles from my apartment. The mountain itself has a different name, but the island it's on is called Sakura-jima (cherry blossom island). It's had 4-5 really major eruptions in it's long history, with one in the 1700's, and the most recent in 1914. The last eruption spewed out so much lava that it filled a valley at least 8 feet deep, and created a land bridge on the east side connecting the island to the Kyushu peninsula. The main cone faces east, away from Kagoshima city, and I expect that if there is another big eruption, the blast will be away from us.

Yesterday, Sakurajima coughed. I felt a small amount of shaking in the apartment at about 2 PM, which apparently was about when the plume shot up from the volcano. At the time I thought it was just another small earthquake, which is pretty normal for this region. But then the radio started going crazy with announcements that the national weather agency was elevating the eruption warning level to 4. All ferry service between Kagoshima and Sakurajima was being suspended until further notice; air traffic from the airport in Kirishima was being diverted and the bullet train wouldn't be running from the main Chuo train station. Inhabitants on the island were also being urged to evacuate.

Sakurajima chuffed a bit back when I was making my time-lapse video in June, but has been mostly quiet since then. However, there have been several surprise eruptions at other volcanoes around Japan in the last year, including Ondake, which killed 57 hikers back on Sept. 27., 2014. Mount Shindake, which is in Kagoshima Prefecture, on an island about 1-2 hours south by ferry, erupted hard enough on May 27, 2015, that all of the islanders were evacuated and after 1 month still hadn't been allowed to return home. So, there's a kind of hyper-awareness of volcanoes right now, and the fact that the Satsuma-Sendai reactor, which is currently being restarted, is only 35 miles from Kagoshima City is making people even jumpier.

I haven't seen any news on Yahoo this time (the June eruption got mentioned because someone got good photos of it for the media), although a quick google search turns up articles on ABC news and the Manila Times about the elevated warning level. The local radio station kept interrupting the normal program broadcasts every 30 minutes to repeat the same announcements, yesterday. I haven't turned it on this morning so I don't know if anything's changed with that. There are 5-6 webcams that are aimed at the island on the internet, and every single one of them was jammed up yesterday when I tried to look at them (I can't see the volcano from my apartment because there's other buildings in the way). Most of the webcams were showing 90+ users connected, although one had 563. None of them were letting me see the feed, so I couldn't look at the volcano right away. I did go out shopping at 4 PM, 2 hours after the eruption, but the sky was so heavily overcast that the entire top of the volcano was covered in clouds (clouds, not ash), and I still couldn't see the extent of the plume.

This morning, all three English Japanese newspapers had articles on the warning upgrade, but no photos. The Asahi Shimbun ran an archive photo from the June event, when the sky was clear, but apparently there was just no way to see the volcano through the clouds yesterday to get any kind of picture this time.

Neither Ondake nor Shindake have erupted again after their big events, and I doubt Sakurajima is going to be a threat here, either. But, it's gotten people jumpy, and there's no word on when ferry service to the island is going to be restored. I also doubt this is going to affect the Satsuma-Sendai reactor restart.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Obon Odori




Honganji temple near Tenmonkan had announcements set up a week in advance for their odori taikai (dance festival) on the 8th. That was a Saturday, when I normally have to work. But, one of my classes was cancelled so I got out early. I took a couple photos at 6:30, when things were just getting started. But, most of the activities at that point were in the auditorium inside the building and consisted of a character stage show for the children. I was expecting the taikai to be similar to what they had last year, and I made the mistake of not looking closer at the schedule before heading home to grab supper. I returned to Honganji at 9 PM, and the workers were already half way through tearing the stage down.



Given that the Obon (a one-week period in which people visit their home towns to pay respects to their ancestors) odori usually takes place at night, I was really surprised that it ended so fast. It didn't get dark until maybe 7:30, and there would only have been time for a couple dances if they shut down at 8:30. Yes, this was definitely a "blink and you miss it" event, but still...



This bothers me. It's like with Ogionsa being really under-populated a few weeks ago. I don't know if it's due to a lack of interest, or cutbacks in funding. While the government is claiming that the increase in sales tax, weakening of the yen, and a +1% increase in inflation have resulted in companies increasing salaries to workers, what I'm seeing is a complete stalling of the economy and further belt tightening. I wonder if the reason for the scaling back of certain local events is because the central government is punishing Kagoshima for protesting the Satsuma-Sendai nuclear reactor restart (which started this week) a few miles away.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle: Echoes of Time review



(All images used for review purposes only.)

FFCC: Echoes of Time (Square Enix, 2009)
Echoes of Time is in the Crystal Chronicles line, and along with Ring of Fates is only one of two games released for the DS (the first CC game came out for the GameCube, and the other 3 for the Wii). Echoes has a lot of similarities to Ring, so much so that you could say that it's almost the same game but just with a different storyline. Basically, the crystals give immortality to certain people on the planet, which has led to a situation where someone masquerading in town as a librarian is going around trying to destroy them in order to restore his own city. Unfortunately, he's created a village of ghosts. This village discovers your character and created a second village that you're raised up in, thinking that everything is normal. When the librarian returns and destroys the crystal in the cloned town, your character has to turn into a hero to set things right.

There are several key differences from Ring, one of which is that you can create your character from scratch, male or female, from one of the 4 races. This is one reason why the game instructions don't specifically refer to you by a fixed name (as in most other RPGs). You have the same spells as before (fire, blizzard, thunder, cure, clean, revive), but there's no magicite. Instead, you cast spells as straight magic and use up SP as in other RPGs. The challenge is in getting ethers to restore SP, since you can't buy them in shops or store them in inventory. Monsters and chests drop scrolls, alchemy items, food, HP potions and SP potions (ethers). (Food can restore SP or HP.) There's one town on the world map, and it has a weapons and armor shop (where you can buy a limited selection of equipment and accessories) and an order shop. The order shop lets you create equipment using the scrolls and alchemy items. This time, one scroll can create unlimited pieces of equipment (so you only get one copy of any given scroll), but it's much harder to find rarer items to make the better weapons and armor. Additionally, you can locate gems in some of the dungeons, which can be attached to the equipment to add effects like improved HP recovery, bonuses to experience, and elemental attacks. The weapons level up as you use them, with an ultimate upper cap (for the better weapons) of 20 (from what I understand; my best item is only at level 5). The scrolls for the best weapons are found in the tower near the end of the game. The game is very stingy with money, which is mostly used for ordering and customizing the weapons and armor.


(In town, with the main character wearing a cat ear helmet.)

Two other differences are that you get quests in single player mode now, and there's a mercenary guild where you can either create other party members (4 people in the party maximum), or try to recruit unlockable NPCs. When you go to the quest master moogle, he pops you into one of the regular dungeons and gives you some kind of silly task, such as either putting out fires with barrels of water, saving cows from aliens trying to abduct them, or killing a certain number of one kind of enemy with one kind of magic within 5 or 10 minutes. Quests reward you (sometimes) with accessories, scrolls and/or items, and a small amount of money. I've completed maybe 15 quests, given up on 5 others, and still have 10 in the list that haven't been unlocked (which occurs either when you talk to NPCs in town, read certain signs in the dungeons, or finish some of the other quests) and I'm being told that I've only done 16% of the total. I assume that some quests are only available in New+ and New++ games, or multi-player mode.

Now, for the similarities. All of the non-boss monsters are exactly the same as in Ring. The concept of a limited world map and a handful of dungeons (with your home village and the main big town) are similar, but with slightly better artwork and different designs. The magic system is fundamentally the same, as are the different party member races. The main biggie is that Echoes is also all about the puzzle solving. You have the same jumping, button pushing challenges as in Ring, with a few new variations (including the fact that you can now swim without ever drowning), but now they're trickier. I really, really hate the jumping and short-time limit puzzles, and wish Echoes would just stick to a dungeon crawl format.


(The main screen, which appears both in town, in the fields and in battle, with the party to the left, and the spells to the right. The current area map is in the middle of the screen.)

The game is stingy with money, alchemy scrolls and items. One thing I miss about Ring was the option for getting strong enough weapons to actually beat the chapter bosses more easily as you level up. In fact, one of the quests is to re-face the 4 random stage bosses by yourself, with a 10 minute time limit. I'm finding that as my character gets stronger, it's getting progressively harder to defeat even one boss in under 5 minutes. The bosses develop immunity to freeze and stun when you hit them with thunder or blizzard, and you spend most of the time running around dodging their attacks, waiting to find an opening. I've been dodging so much with this game that I've pinched a nerve in my left thumb, and it keeps going numb after a little while into the battle.

According to the game FAQs, Echoes has the New+ and New++ games (Normal, Hard, Hardest) (unlocked when you beat the final boss each time), and the same secret River Belle dungeon from Ring that's available with New+. But I dislike the puzzles here so much that I have absolutely no interest in going through them again (at least with Ring I didn't mind trying to beat the New++ game to see what the leisure suit armor would do. Not going to bother doing that with Echoes.)


(World map.)

Summary: Echoes of Time is a very clear sequel to Ring of Fates, with much the same system, but the introduction of recruitable party members and single-player quests. It's stingier with money and scrolls for making weapons and armor, and the boss monsters are harder to defeat as a result. I do like some of the ideas here, such as having equipment that levels up as you use it, and unlocking NPC party members, but that's not enough to overcome how much I dislike the puzzle-solving element. The puzzles remind me less of Zelda this time, and more of Tomb Raider. All I want is an RPG like Chrono Trigger... It's a good thing Echoes was only 500 yen ($4 USD) used.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pachinko Wall




One of the pachinko parlors up near the main train station has a big banner wall in front to advertise their current crop of machines. I'd kind of like to try the Hell Girl game, if I knew how to play pachinko...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Yukata Matsuri, Day 2, Yuria




As expected, Yuria had a couple sets during the second day, too. She's the one that demos the Yamaha Electone synthesizer at a local music store. She always opens with the Disney medley, and she's still playing the Yokai Watch theme song. But the rest of her set seems to change from event to event. I just like how much energy she puts into playing the songs. Fortunately so far, youtube hasn't flagged any of the music in these two videos.


Direct youtube link for video 1


Direct youtube link for video 2

Monday, August 10, 2015

Curry Fest




Along with the Tenmonkan Yukata Matsuri, a local group of small merchants decided to put on a curry festival, featuring 7 restaurants selling variations on curry - Thai, Indian, Japanese, veggie, and no nuke.



Things got started at 3 PM, but the food wasn't really ready to be sold until closer to 4 or 5 PM. In the meantime, other booths sold used books, arts, crafts and jewelry.


(Examples of sterling engines, which were used to promote alternative forms of energy.)



One of the other connecting themes for the event was that everyone here is anti nuclear power. It was kind of a protest to the government's push to restart the Satsuma Sendai nuke plant a few miles away from Kagoshima. The organizers had a DJ come in and play reggae music from the back of a small pickup truck. (The protest had no effect, the government is proceeding with the restart this week.)



There were two locations for people to sit and eat, rest and listen to the music. The little tree to the side of the photo was used for people to tie pieces of paper with their messages to the government against the nuke plants.


(Some of the food booths.)




(No Nukes curry)

I guess the organizers considered it a success. There may have been 200-300 people attending, signing petitions and everything. Most of the food was sold out by 7 PM when I returned home, and the remaining booths had lines of 30 people trying to get dinner before it was all gone. (The prices for food with in the 500 to 650 yen range ($4-$5 USD) for one plate. Too pricey by U.S. standards, normal for Japan.