Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Small Adventure 51

A few days before Donald Trump's inauguration speech, one of the local TV stations started calling the English schools in Kagoshima, asking to interview teachers from the U.S. to get their opinions on the new president, to ask if anyone was going to listen to his speech, and to find out what part of the speech would be the most important to that person. The owner of my school asked me to participate in the hopes of getting the name of the school on TV for free, and I said, "ok." A day later, a small TV crew came to the school and set up in one of the classrooms, consisting of the interviewer, the cameraman and the guy to hold the overhead mike. The interviewer said that he'd be asking 4 questions, and I'd have the option of saying "I don't want to answer that," if so desired. He added that the station really wanted to have people from both sides of the argument, but that they couldn't find anyone in the city that supported Trump. The interview ran 15 minutes, and the questions were pretty simple to answer. Then, as the crew started putting their equipment away, the interviewer asked me a few more questions about what I thought the trade situation between Japan and the U.S. was going to be like, and after a few minutes, the interviewer told his crew to get the camera back out to capture my answers again.

I was told that the station was interviewing a lot of people and that my chances of being included in the broadcast were very slim. Because I don't own a TV, I went up to Bic Camera to look at the TVs they have on the floor. When the broadcast special started, they were interviewing someone else. A couple minutes later, I showed up on-screen, and I kind of dominated the special, taking up over 60% of the air time of the show. Which, granted, was only 5-6 minutes long in total, but, still. The station put up Japanese subtitles on the screen, and had some voice actor dubbing a Japanese voice over me. Made me sound very sophisticated. The next day, I talked to my students in class. Only one of them actually saw the interview, and her only comment was that, even in Japanese, I was using words that were too big for her to follow.

Such has been my 15 minutes of fame.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Marugoto Fair Jan. 27, 2017

Amu Plaza had yet another local products fair from the 27th to the 29th. I don't really know which regions were represented this time. The kanji on the sign says "Hokusatsu", which might be north Satsuma, but I've never heard of that name before.

There were a lot of different foods and crafts, but nothing I really wanted this time. I got up to Amu Plaza on Friday, and the crowds were pretty light. The weather hasn't been very good - cool and rainy, which may have been part of the reason.

Again, they had a live event stage. The MC on Friday and Saturday was Kodai, the guy playing guitar in the photos. I've talked to him a few times before, and I've put a couple videos of his performances on youtube. I wanted to get a photo with him, but the event organizers kept him on a pretty short leash when he wasn't on the stage singing or advertising the produce tables. Oh well, maybe next time.

I had to work all day Saturday, and on Sunday there was a separate event at the Tourist Information Center a few blocks away. The event was kind of a New Year's gathering of foreigners living in Kagoshima, and locals that wanted to meet other people. They provided red bean soup and tea, and people took turns introducing themselves and their interests (I brought my two little drones and a new metal puzzle along just in case, and those went over with the kids in the group). That ran from 1 to 3:30 PM. After that I hiked over to Amu Plaza, where the MC was Hikarin again. There was only one band left to play on stage for the day, and they weren't very good. So, I didn't take any photos, and Hikarin didn't notice me. Instead, I went inside the department store to get free sample coffee, before going home to work on the computer for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Quiet weekend.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Nose Bleed

I walk by this building occasionally, but I'm usually on the other side of the street so I've never paid attention to the front of it before. Suddenly, the name caught my eye.

It's only 10 stories tall, but it's still famous for giving you nose bleeds. Maybe there's something about how fast their elevator is.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chibi Sticker

A few weeks ago, I wrote that there'd been a Chibi Maruko-chan branded products store in the exhibit space on the 6th floor of the Takapla building. At the time I was there, I participated in the stamp rally, which consisted of getting 4 stamps from locations close to the escalators on different floors. Finishing the rally netted me this 2"x3" sticker. Nothing spectacular, but it's a nice sticker if you like the TV series.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Doraemon Movie Board

New Doraemon movie coming out in March. "Nobitaro and the Really Cold Time."

One week after I took this photo, the advertising board disappeared. No idea where they moved it to.

Isolated from the world

Apparently, there's something wrong with the Yahoo server that's preventing people from various parts of the world from accessing it. I can't get to the main yahoo page (Yahoo Japan is just fine), and I can't get to mail. If you want to contact me in the interim, leave me a comment here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How Many Bars?

Did you know buildings in Japan show you the signal strength for smart phone connections for each floor?


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nagashima Marugoto Fair

Edit: I'd made a mistake. The fair was for products in Nagashima, an area within Kagoshima Prefecture, not Nagasaki.

There's another "Marugoto" fair running at Amu Plaza, this one to promote products from Nagashima. They have a poster advertising a flower festival, and maps showing how to get there from Kagoshima City. I assume there's a tour bus running there, but I don't know the details.

Anyway, this fair is running from the 24th to the 26th, putting it right in the middle of the week, so there weren't that many visitors when I got up there Wednesday afternoon. The primary focus is on Nagashima-made shochu, and the table in the middle here was apparently giving away free cocktails. Right after I got here to take the photo, 10 people immediately lined up, and I figured it wasn't worth hanging around just to get one free drink. Then again, I still had to teach another class a few hours later, and I didn't want to do that drunk.

They have an event stage, but the schedule only listed promotions of the product shops (snacks, tea, local foods). I like the backdrop, though. It's in keeping with the flower festival idea.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Legend of Zelda: Mask of Majora 3D comments

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

Mask of Majora 3D, from Grezzo, 2015
Normally, I prefer to buy used games in the under-1,000 yen range ( <$10 USD), but back around Christmas I got a hankering for playing another Zelda game, and I wanted to try one of the sequels designed for the 3DS (the other two used Zeldas had been for the Nintendo DS). So, I knuckled under and payed 2,300 yen for Mask of Majora. If you're not familiar with it, Mask is a re-make of the Nintendo 64, and GameCube games. It's fundamentally the same game, with some of the graphics being reworked, an extra sidequest, and some tweaks to a couple of the dungeons.

(File load screen. It's day 2, 2:35 AM. I've beaten all four main bosses, and collected 19 hearts, the quiver and bow, the best sword in the game, the expanded bomb bag, the mirror shield, all 24 masks and all 8 songs. I don't have any unmatched heart pieces.)

If you haven't played it yet, the story takes a bit of explaining. One day, Link is riding his horse, Epona, through the woods, when he's attacked by a humanoid scarecrow boy named Skull Kid. Skull has two faeries, one of whom gets left behind, and ends up joining forces with Link in order to help save its friend. Skull takes Epona and Link's ocarina, and escapes through the trees to a place called Clock Town. There, Skull Kid goes to the top of one tower and summons down the moon. The moon, which is actually a demon in disguise, will destroy the planet in exactly 3 days. After this point, Link encounters a mask salesman, who says that Skull had stolen the Mask of Majora from him and he wants Link to get it back. In your first attempt, at the end of the third day, you fail at getting the mask, but you do recover the ocarina, while also learning the Song of Time, and being told about the Four Giants that exist outside of Clock Town that have the strength to stop the moon and save the town. After playing the Song of Time, you're taken back three days to the moment you first entered the town at 6 AM, and all of the events that occurred over the last three days in the town are reset. All that you get to keep with you are the songs you learned, the masks you've found, your weapons, and any money you put in the bank, oddly enough.

(In Clock Town, at one of the save/teleport points. Below is part of the town map. Note the camera to the upper left of the lower screen. One of the puzzles for unlocking heart pieces requires "taking photos" of a couple NPCs.)

One of the key elements of the Zelda games is the set of tools you pick up that let you solve successive puzzles, such as the bow, the bomb bag, and the hookshot. So, if you enter the first dungeon carrying only your sword and ocarina, there will be places you can't get into. Later, after getting the hookshot, or the bombchus (little robotic mice-shaped bombs), you need to return to that dungeon, and use those tools to get into the new sections, which may only contain a piece of heart (4 pieces gives you one more heart in your health bar) or more rupees (money). However, in Majora, only the bow gets used all that extensively. The hookshot and bomb bag to a lesser extent, and the bombchus almost not at all (there's one mini-game that requires the bombchus, and one side dungeon at the end of the game that uses exactly two bombchus total). The real "tool focus" is on a few of the masks.

(In the field south of town, being attacked by a blob monster. Battles are real time. The bunny ears mask lets Link move faster, plus I have the bombs assigned to the X button if I want to use them.)

Each giant lives behind where you encounter the main dungeon boss at each of the compass points. That is, there are four main storyline dungeons to the north, south, east and west of Clock Town, and those are element based. The south dungeon is in a poisoned swamp, the north one is in snow-bound mountains, the west one is in the ocean and the east one is in a mummy-infested desert canyon. Each region is populated by its own master race (respectively, the Deku (plant based), the Goron (rock monsters), the Zora (mermen and merwomen) and humans). To survive in the first 3 regions, you pick up a mask that turns you into that creature, giving you their specific abilities. Deku-Link can stun enemies and use flowers to fly across chasms. Goron-Link can roll into enemies, pick up heavy objects, and walk on lava without taking damage. Zora-Link can walk under water, swim very quickly, porpoise-jump onto higher ledges that Link can't get up to, and throw his fins to defeat enemies at a distance. There are 24 masks total, most of which only get used once or twice to obtain a piece of heart, another mask, or an empty bottle (bottles can be used to carry potions, healing faeries, or zora eggs for one of the side quests). Having at least 4 empty bottles can make your life easier. In the 3DS version of the game, you can get 7 bottles total, but I skipped one side quest for one of the bottles, because it just wasn't worth the hassle. Anyway, when you defeat one of the 4 storyline bosses, you unleash one of the giants, and you get that boss's mask so you can repeat the boss battle again without having to go back through the entire dungeon to reach him. You have to go through the dungeons in order (swamp, mountains, ocean, canyon) because each one rewards you with the tool, mask or song that lets you enter the next one. After finishing the fourth dungeon, you get the song that lets you save Skull Kid from the Majora Mask, and then continue on inside the moon for the final boss battle against Majora.

(Deku-Link, next to one of the flowers. Stepping on the flower and pressing the A button causes Deku-Link to pop out and fly using petal propellers for a few seconds, to cross chasms and get to moving platforms.)

To a large extent, I felt frustrated with this game. It's a combination of Radiata Stories, and Groundhog Day. There are somewhere around 40 characters inside Clock Town, and living outside in the surrounding areas. Each character has its own backstory, and daily activity schedule. You need to constantly reset time and discover the things that those characters need from you, either in order to progress the story, or to get masks or pieces of hearts. You can't solve everyone's problems all within the same 3-day stretch, so you end up having to relive those three days multiple times, as in the Groundhog Day movie. The backstories can be very moving, but they get in the way of the game. Basically, the town is preparing for the big Festival of Time, which should take place following the third day (because the moon destroys the town that morning, the festival never happens). A troupe of entertainers has been recruited to dance and play music in the festival, but on the morning of Day 1, the wife of the mayor tells the troupe leader that she's changed her mind and they're now out of a job, because she'd rather hire the Zora merpeople band. The leader drunks (on milk) instead of telling the others, and the other performers are still desperately trying to figure out what dances or music they're going to play in the festival. So, Link must teach the dancers a new dance, help the Zora band conductor do a sound check in the night club, and cheer up the troupe leader. Meanwhile, at a dairy farm outside town, the troupe leader's brothers are stealing milk from the farm, the woman running the farm is trying to keep from going bankrupt, and her daughter is trying to save the cows from aliens that always arrive the night before the Festival of Time to abduct more cows. While at the same time, the woman running the inn the troupe is staying at wants to know what happened to her boyfriend, who has been cursed by a thief and is currently in hiding. The innkeeper's mother and grandmother fight with her over her choice of boyfriend, with the mother trying to push her towards the troupe leader. It's all very melodramatic, and the only way to discover all this is to talk to everyone over and over again through the course of the three days, sometimes while wearing different masks.

So, where do the puzzles come in? Those are largely in the dungeons, which have three segments each. The first segment is to just get through the maze outside the boss palace to the teleport save point (reachable with the ocarina and the Song of Wings). The second segment is in the boss palace, requiring that you get the boss key in order to fight the boss. The third goes hand-in-hand with the second, where you have to locate and collect 15 faeries in each dungeon. Doing so, and then returning them to the faery pool, restores the Great Faery in that palace, and rewards you with extended MP, new physical attacks, or a new sword. To get through these segments, you need to push blocks, activate switches, use your tools to get past chasms or over walls, and get past timed traps.

(Goron-Link, in the desert canyon palace. To get to the building entrance across the gap, you need to create replicas of 3 of the heavier characters so they can stand on the three switches as Link runs across the platforms spanning the gap. The Goron-Link copy is to the right of Goron-Link.)

I have a great fondness for the first Legend of Zelda game, which was complex, yet rather straightforward, and very low pixel count. Majora tries too hard. The world is huge, but you don't need to pay attention to maybe 60% of it to get through the dungeons and puzzles. The buildings and outside landscape are highly detailed and well-thought-out, but places that look like they'd have hidden stuff don't, and close to 80% of the hidden stuff you do find only gives you rupees or bombchus. The bank has an upper cap of 5000 rupees (reaching that gives you a piece of heart), and it's not that difficult to amass that much money in a short time. The shops in town can be a bit expensive if you have to buy arrows or bombs, but you can go outside and chop up clumps of grass to uncover the maximum of arrows and bombs you can carry for free in less than 5 minutes, so money becomes irrelevant halfway through the game, as do the hidden places that only have rupees.

Additionally, there are a LOT of mini-games, and I tend to hate mini-games because the programmers never put as much thought into them as they do into the main portion of the game. A case in point is with merperson Zora-Link when he has to race through hoops in the water. Often, the camera will get confused in confined spaces and just jump back and forth between viewpoints, making it impossible to see where Link is in a tunnel or conduit. Also, Zora-Link can't turn around in a full circle when standing in water. He only flips 180 degrees from front to back and then front again. So, if you miss the entrance to a conduit, or hit the lip of the conduit mouth, you can't simply swim in a tight arc, or turn 10 degrees to the right to enter the conduit at a different angle; it's all or nothing. Screw up once in a timed race, and you just have to stop, wait for the clock to run out, and then try over again from the start. I hate that. On the plus side, though, the mini-games usually only need to be beaten once, and you never have to play them again (generally, you play them to get a piece of heart). The bosses can be equally bad. You only have 3 days to get through the palace to reach the boss there, and if you're having trouble with one puzzle, you can lose a full day just on that. And if you use the wrong weapon, you'll run out of time before beating the boss (that happened to me several times). On the other hand, if you do figure out what the correct weapon is, you only need to stun the boss 4 times to access its weak point, and hitting that 3 times each per stun will kill him in less than 6 hours, game-time. Unfortunately, to learn what the correct weapon is, or where a lot of the stray faeries are, or the secrets to some of the puzzles, requires that you read one of the more complete walkthroughs. There's no way I could have finished this game on my own without a walkthrough.

(Link, preparing to run across the platforms in the desert canyon palace, with the Link copy to the right, on the third switch. Note that the Zora merman mask is assigned to the X button on the lower screen.)

The music is ok, the animated cut scenes are great, and the character designs are very good. I do like the character backstory idea, but as I mentioned above, it gets in the way of playing the game itself. Then there's one more change to the 3DS version - the fishing holes. The 3DS version provides several places where you can go fishing, which I tried a little bit and found to be incredibly boring. You cast out a line, wait, reel the line in, and cast to another part of the pool or ocean. Repeat for a few hours. I assume that the point is that catching the boss fish for each of the 4 fishing holes will give you pieces of heart. The game has 20 hearts total for Link's health bar, and I only managed to get 19. I gave up on several of the other mini-games and didn't even bother with doing the fishing. (I was short 4 pieces of heart, one empty bottle, and the largest quiver upgrade, and I still managed to finish the game without them.)

Summary: I'm happy I finished Mask of Majora, because it is a massive game, and much better thought-out than the other two Zelda games for the DS. But the reliance on mini-games was very irritating, and I came close to throwing the 3DS against the wall more than once. If you prefer the newer Zelda's to the older ones, you'll probably love Majora. That is, if you haven't already played it. I'm now going to wait on buying any more games, but maybe in 3-4 months, I may decide to get one of the other 3DS Zeldas. Maybe.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kagoshima Marugoto Fair, Jan. 22, 2017

(Kirishima onsen mascot)

I've written about the Marugoto Fairs held at Amu Plaza before. Marugoto means "everything" or "all-encompassing". The idea of these fairs is to showcase local products, from tea and shochu to snackfoods and ceramics. There have been 3-day fairs at Amu Plaza for the last two weekends, but most of the live events have been either promotions of the booth sellers, or of the foamhead mascots. What little music they've had wasn't anything I had any interest in. Then again, I've had to work all Friday and Saturday on both weekends, and I've been busy for most of both Sundays.

However, on the 22nd, I did get up to Amu Plaza around 3:30 PM, when the MC, Hikarin, started introducing a special guest performer, one of the shopkeepers, who performed on Shamisen. He introduced a pair of folk songs, at least one of which apparently came from Ryukyu (the old name for Okinawa). I don't know if he was Okinawan himself, but I'd expect it. The songs were good to listen to.

Afterward, I went into Amu Plaza to drink coffee and read the Riemann Hypothesis book I'd gotten for Christmas. When I was done with that, I came back outside, where Hikarin recognized me and said "hello." We talked a bit, then I asked her to pose with me for a couple photos.

One of the things about my living so close to Amu Plaza is that I can go there whenever I want, since it's only a 5-10 minute walk away. And pretty much the only way to find out what events are taking place there are to visit in person. So, I'm up there pretty much every Sunday, and if there is some kind of live event taking place, the MCs are likely to at least see me in the audience. Meaning that after a while, I have some kind of face recognition with those MCs that work those events the most often. Eventually, we end up talking about something (which may be as minor as my asking about the event schedule, or turning in someone's forgotten smartphone. Then, that MC is more likely to wave to me when I show up at their event some weeks later.

That's what happened with Hikarin. She was a member of one of the local idol dance groups (not sure which one) and is currently working as an idol talent, which consists of emceeing various events and promoting stores in Kagoshima. I've seen her as an MC for at least the last 3 years, but this is the first time we've posed together.

The Shamisen music was good, too.

Direct youtube link

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tents and Pre-Tents

There was some kind of event back in December, and the event crew was busy prepping the show tents 2 days in advance. I wanted to get a bit artsy with the rectangular and curved shapes, but I'm not sure if I got the effect I wanted or not.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Moon and Venus

I was down at Dolphin Port one Saturday, after my English classes ended, and the sky was unusually clear. I had the big camera with me, but it was giving me more problems shooting the moon than normal. These are the best shots that I could get this time.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Doll Store, Kagoshima

I didn't realize it before, but there's a Japanese doll showroom fairly close to me, located between the aquarium at the bay, and City Hall. I discovered it the same afternoon that I took the cloud/contrail photos. It was close to closing time, and I had to get back to the English school before my break ended, so I didn't go inside. I may try looking around inside some day when I have more time.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Contrail again

Kagoshima is about 30 miles south of the closest local airport, which is in Kirishima. and a lot of the flights out from Kirishima pass over Kagoshima City. Generally, the weather's been bad most of the last year, so it hasn't been all that common to see contrails, especially ones that pass through the clouds near sunset. So, when I had the chance, I took a few photos to capture the contrail shadow against the clouds. Another feature this time was that the winds at that altitude were so strong that the contrail blew several miles to the west in kind of a spiral, within only 1-2 minutes.

I like this photo, because it kind of looks like the antenna is being struck by lightning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


There's an aquarium at the north end of Dolphin Port, and there's kind of a moat that goes around it. A few times a day, the aquarium staff bring out the dolphins to do tricks in the moat for any visitors watching at the time. There are fence nets at each each of the dolphin space to keep them from escaping, but the nets have holes large enough to let in smaller fish seeking the remains of whatever fish chunks the dolphins don't eat.

One day, I was walking around the port for exercise during my break at the English school, and I saw a guy standing next to the moat, with his camera aimed at the water. I'd thought he was just taking photos of a little yellow buoy for some reason, and it took me about a minute to finally see the fish swimming all over the place. I got my big camera out and tried taking photos myself, but the things kept wanting to swim too deep down, and I had a lot of trouble getting any kind of shots at all.

I'm told these are sharks. They averaged at least 3-4 feet long, at a guess.

I must have spent 45 minutes watching them, but it didn't feel that long.