Thursday, April 30, 2020

Hot Staff

Here's a company that doesn't let you know what it does without asking.
Hot Staff, Good Communication.
Got you coming and going.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Dydo Retro

Dydo is one of the less popular drink brands, and I kind of have to go out of my way to find machines for them. The machine itself is ugly and retro-looking, and I don't think any of the drinks, or product packaging have changed in the many years I've been here.

Which is why I had to take a picture of the artwork for the blog. "Saa, hotto to isho ni" (Well, let's go hot together.) Earmuffs in space. I guess JAXA's budget got slashed again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

X-Bitter, Wonda

I'd been at a Family Mart Konbini, where I saw X-Bitter for the first time. It's a big can, nearly twice the amount of coffee as the regular cans, but for only 130 yen ($1.10 USD). The smaller cans usually go between 100 and 130 yen, depending on the machine they're in. A couple days later, I had to get up early, and I really needed the caffeine, so when I found a Wonda vending machine with X-Bitter in it, I decided to get a can. (The text partly reads "Umaniga de". This is short for "Umai Nigai" or "deliciously bitter.")

Oh man, this stuff is foul. It's like they took the cheapest, most tasteless, most bitter beans they could get, and roasted the hell out of them, and then added a whole bunch of caffeine, which is itself bitter. Never, never again. Nope. Never.

(Just as an FYI - there are two primary kinds of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the good stuff, very flavorful and fruity, or earthy and thick, depending on which country it's grown in. Unfortunately, it has to be grown on the sides of mountains at high altitudes, so it's hard to harvest, and it's very susceptible to diseases and pests. Robusta grows at lower altitudes on flatter land, so it's easier to harvest, and it's more robust against diseases and pests, so it's much cheaper. But, it has little flavor, more caffeine, and is much more bitter. Many coffee shops blend robusta with Arabica to mask some of the bitterness, while trying to keep the overall product cheap. I think X-Bitter is nothing but the worst of the worst robusta. Feh.)

Monday, April 27, 2020

Mixed Messages

"Pink Lover. Keep out."

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Yamakataya Ad - Petal Power

"No, really, I can't feel my face! Help me! Please..."

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sweets Day March 12th

Vent Vert, the hair salon that has a chalk art board out front with info on the events of the day had this one for 3-12.
"Su (3) i (1) tsu (2) = "Sweets."

Friday, April 24, 2020

Trombone Cafe Spring Chalk Art

"Eat delicious foods. And stuff."

"We're waiting for you."

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Reimeikan Gate, March 10

I saw a poster in Tenmonkan announcing that the new gate here in front of the Reimeikan history museum was scheduled to open in late-March. I took these photos on March 10th. It's getting closer.

No idea what this little booth is for. The more I think about it, though, the more it might be for a local shrine of some kind.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Puzzle and Dragons Z comments

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

Puzzle and Dragons Z (GungHo Online, 2013)
There's a good possibility that you have already played Puzzle and Dragons. If not, it was originally developed by GungHo Online Entertainment for smartphones in 2012 in Japan. It came out in the U.S. about 9 months later, and Europe the following year. There have been a few sequels since then. The one I bought is "Puzudora Zeto" (the Japanese name for Puzzle and Dragons Z). This spin-off was paired with Super Mario Bros. Edition for a Nintendo 3DS release during a Fan Appreciation Festival in 2013. I'd been seeing a used copy of Pazudora Z in Book Off for a couple of years, but it looked fairly uninteresting as an RPG, and I kept passing on the game. Recently, though, Book Off has been pulling 3DS games from the shelves of most of its stores, making it harder to find ANY RPG of any kind now. The few used RPGs they do still carry are either ones I already have, or are still in the 2,000 to 4,000 yen range. (This strikes me as strange, in that they don't think there's a market for used 3DS games, but that the games they think people will still buy are still really popular.) Anyway, I had a little free time one night, and the Book Off nearest me had one copy for 280 yen ($2.50 USD). So, what the heck, I got it to review on the blog.

Visually, PaD-Z is a stunning, well-drawn game. The dungeons look good, the backgrounds in the main town are very high-tech, and the dragons are fairly unique. The game itself could have been made better, though...

At its heart, this is a three-in-a-row matching jewel puzzle game. The playing field is a black screen with a border frame, in the field are different-colored spherical jewels in a 6x5 rectangle. On the 3DS, you use the stylus to drag one specific jewel around the screen within a fixed time period (about 15 seconds). As you drag the one jewel, it switches places with the next one you take it to. You use this switching action to make the jewels line up 3 (or more) of the same color in a row or column. When you lift the stylus, or when the timer times out, whatever jewels are in a connected straight line will flash out and be replaced with new gems. The goal is to have multiple combos of jewels triggering one after the other. The more combos total, the greater the effects of whatever jewels you eliminated from the screen. A lot of this is purely random, and even though I once racked up a full 21 combos once, it was just plain luck, and had nothing to do with what I'd done to set it up.

To give the puzzle section more structure, you have an RPG-style story to go along with a world map, multiple dungeons, and a plot. The plot: You live in a high-tech world occupied by dragon tamers. When you fight dragons in the dungeons, you can pick up eggs, which you can then choose to hatch and raise, or use for leveling up existing monsters. One day, an evil humanoid dragon arrives on the planet along with minions and henchlings, and turns the place into a giant jigsaw puzzle. The jigsaw pieces represent part of the main town, and large groups of dungeons. Your goal is to go into the dungeons as they are recovered, return the planet back to normal, and defeat the final boss.

The town has several places to visit, but there's effectively zero treasure hunting to be had. You can choose to play one of two characters, a boy or a girl. I picked the girl, Tetsuko. You get two friends, Nick and Sara. Sara occasionally becomes available to add to your party as a supporting NPC. Her ability is minor healing at the end of each round. You can enter the houses of Nick and Sara, as well as your own, to talk to the NPCs inside, but that just gives you a bit of backstory for the plot. No treasures or items. There are other NPCs scattered around the town. Some give you subquests for minor item rewards. One woman near a red cross sign will tell you if any subquests have opened, and where to find the people for them (not really necessary, since those people have "quest" floating over their heads at that time). Next to her is a guy that rewards you for finding dragon stones (fragments of rocks with dragon carvings on them). In the far southeast corner of town is a machine that gives you random items in return for energy. Tetsuko's father has a Shinto shrine at the northeastern part of town, where you can get a scroll good for visiting a special dungeon once per day. Giving scrolls to the assistant in front of the shrine lets you visit those special dungeons. There's a warehouse at the southwestern corner, and a Colosseum at the south end, near the exit. One more visitable location is a school grounds at the northwestern corner, but I haven't found anything to do there.

The main dragon tamer complex is at the middle northern part of the town. The complex has two halves. The left half lets you play against anyone else that bought a copy of the game, plus there are a couple practice dungeons for learning how to play the puzzle game, and a library for talking to NPCs for backstory. The main part of the building has Nick and Sara, plus the head of the dragon tamers, who gives you your marching orders against the enemy. The right half of the building has 3 machines, which become operational as you progress through the game. The first machine lets you hatch any eggs you receive. If an egg is new, it will have "???" in the name. It's worth hatching one (and only one) of each new egg, to get the starting-level version of that dragon. The second machine lets you evolve your dragons to the next stage, assuming you have the right chips for it (see below). The third machine uses energy to consume spare eggs to let you level up your dragons faster than if you simply ran through the dungeons and amassed exp.
[Edit]: I've been told by someone else that you level up better if you match the color of the egg used to the color of the monster using it. I need to try this out.]

Item drops and stuff
PaD-Z doesn't use money or gold. Instead, you receive energy (ene) (along with exp.) from each battle. The more difficult the enemy, the more exp. and/or ene. Occasionally, enemy will drop eggs or chips. Each enemy will drop an egg or chip of their species. Eggs can be hatched to give you dragons for your party, or consumed for leveling up (99 cap). Ene is used for running the leveling up machine in the main HQ (500 ene per egg consumed). Or, if you go to the random prize machine in the southeast corner of town, you can spend 5,000 ene each to get random chips, scrolls and eggs. In the original online smartphone game, these random prizes were in-game purchases.

Starting out
You start out by picking your player character, and then running into a small light-blue dragon that becomes your sidekick. The bad guys divide up the planet, and the dragon tamer president tasks you with fixing everything. You get to run through a practice dungeon to figure out how the puzzle battles work, and you get a couple eggs to hatch and add to your party. The first jigsaw piece that's restored represents Chapter One of the story. Chapter one gives you 6 dungeons, which each can have between 1 and 3 stages (some of the later chapter dungeons can have as many as five). You have to go through the dungeons sequentially, and each stage in the dungeons in order. Each stage is one puzzle battle. As you win the puzzle battles, you open up the next stage, and ultimately the next dungeon. The final dungeon of each chapter gives you a big Boss Dragon battle. If you defeat the enemy controlling that boss, the boss will thank you for liberating it and give you a special stone to put in inventory for use at the end of the game.

You can have up to 5 dragons in your party, plus one more temporary supporting dragon that levels up with you, but is part of a randomly selected list you pick from when you're prepping for the battle. You can create three different teams, and select one of those three teams for the battle (I think there is only one place where this is a useful thing in the game, outside of having different teams for playing against your friends). Each dragon has a color, which has a rock-scissors-paper relationship (I think it's fire beats wood, wood beats water, water beats fire; light and dark beat each other). The puzzle frame is 6x5, and can have different combinations of the red, green, blue, yellow (light) and purple (dark) stones, plus pink hearts for healing. Not all dungeon stages contain all of the colors, or hearts. You go first. Drag one of the jewels around the frame to get the other jewels to form 3-in-a-row or 3-in-a-column patterns. When you let go or time-out the game will eliminate all of the matches, and replace them with new jewels. The more combos you have, the more damage any particular color will dish out. Say you only do one combo of 3 red jewels (called "drops"). If your monster has been leveled up and has a decent strength stat, any red dragons you have in your party will damage the enemy for a few hundred HP of damage. If you don't have a red dragon, nothing happens. If you complete a 3-drop heart combo, you get a little healing of your health bar. If you have 10 combos of all colors and hearts, then each of your dragons will dish out that much more damage. Damage does depend on the color of the enemy. Green enemies are damaged more by red attacks than anything else. Blue has a higher immunity from red damage.

Each dragon has three main stats: Atk, Def, and HP. HP and Def are totaled up to create an overall party stat. That is, if each dragon in your party has an HP of 100, you as the player have 500 HP on the health bar, plus whatever you get from the supporting NPC dragon. Def does seem to be a total party stat. Atk is per dragon, and is affected by how many drops of the same color are eliminated, and what your final combo number is. After you attack, the enemy attacks back, if they can. Each enemy dragon has a little number next to their head which represents how many turns before they can take a move. Moves can be stat buffs, party debuffs, or actual attacks. As a note, some enemy dragons have very high Def, making it hard to defeat them with fewer than 7 combos of the opposing color. But, they're generally extremely vulnerable to poison attacks (look for dark party dragons with the poison skill).

Each dungeon stage is made up of a map that may have branch points, and various combat type points. When you get to a branch point, you will be shown the directions you can go, and what drop color you need for that direction. Play like you would for a regular battle. Whatever color has the most eliminated drops is the one for the direction you go. Say you can go right (red) or left (blue). Take your attack turn and eliminate at least three drops of one color. For example, maybe the result is 2 combos, for a total of 4 red, 0 blue and 3 green. There are more red than blue drops eliminated, so you go right. Combat points can be regular battles, challenges (dragons worth more exp), "imps", "ene ghosts", dragon statues, chests or bosses. "Imps" are special gem dragons (gold, sapphire, ruby), which offer large amounts of exp, and gem eggs that are great for leveling up with the machine in town. Ene ghosts are ghost dragons that are harder to kill, but give you more ene (energy) or ene chips (drop items that add 100 to 1,500 ene to your bar total). Chests can be steel or wood, and can contain scrolls for the shrine dungeons, or ene chips. Dragon statues give you rock fragments for redemption in town.

Imps and ghosts fight like normal enemies. Chests and statues have requirements for opening them. Wood chests could be something like "3 combos" or "4 red drops total" in 3 turns. As you get into the later chapters, the requirements for bigger rewards can be much harder to meet, such as "5 green drops in one column all at one time" AND "6 purple drops in one row at one time" AND 9 combos, in 5 turns. Because of the random nature of the game, these requirements may be impossible to achieve (if you never get any purple drops) and you have to go through the stage several times to get successful. Statues are fixed, but only available once per stage, while imps, ghosts and chests can appear randomly per stage. There are a total of 50 rock fragments in the game.
[Edit: I've also been told that the temple dungeons at the end of each chapter are more likely to have shrine scrolls as chest treasure, and that the scrolls are for the color of the temple. Therefore, if I want to quickly level up a Light dragon, I should find the temple that offers Gold scrolls, so I can go to the town shrine and fight in the Gold dungeon to get Gold dragon eggs for use in the leveling machine in the Tamer Complex.]

When you clear each of the first three chapters, go to the warehouse in the southwest corner of the town. One of the doors will open and you'll be able to loot a few chests for scrolls, chips and eggs. I don't know if there's a loot point for chapter 4. The one for clearing chapter 5 is in the Dragon Tamer complex.

Leveling up your dragons
You get a certain amount of exp from each battle, which is applied to all of your dragons in your party (plus the supporting NPC). You can also use the machine in the Tamer Complex in town to use eggs for exp at 500 ene per egg. Most eggs represent small amounts of exp. What you want are the Metal, Gold, Sapphire, and Ruby dragon eggs, which are worth 3,000 exp or more each, for much faster leveling up. While you can occasionally get these as monster drops from the imp fights in the chapter dungeon stages, you really want to spend more time in the town shrine dungeons. You can get Gold, Ruby, etc. scrolls from the steel chests in the chapter dungeon stages, as rewards for collecting rock fragments, from the warehouse chests, or from the ene prize machine in the southeast corner of town. These scrolls let you run through a short dungeon at the town shrine. The gem dragons are highly susceptible to poison, but you need to build up combos at the beginning of the stage (your skill bar moves as you get combos in the fights, and starts at 2 when you enter the dungeon map. Poison usually costs 4 skill points, and there's an upper cap of 10 skill points at any given time. Although, there's one party dragon that can add +2 to the skill cap.)

Each dragon has an upper level cap. Some are capped at 30, others 50, 60, 70 or 75. The best is 99. As you fight in the dungeons, you'll occasionally receive dragon chips as drop items. Revisit the second machine in the Dragon Tamer building in town, and look for the dragons that have the right chips for evolving to their next stage. Be careful, because some monsters need the same chips, and you don't want to waste them on a monster you don't need. Generally, you want a balanced party of one dragon of each color, and putting them all up to level 99 is pretty much a requirement for finishing the game. However, you don't get chips that often, so the choice of what dragons to evolve is pretty much up to random chance. And, if a particular dungeon stage doesn't include drops of a given color then that dragon can't deliver damage to the enemy in that battle (i.e. - no dark drops, all dark dragons are toothless).

Along the way, the Battle Colosseum will also open up. This lets you try different combat challenges against a timer, minus the supporting NPC. The interior looks like a game arcade, and the machines are in banks of three. One bank has beginning, intermediate and expert machines  where you have to run through a map of 5 battles in under 5 minutes. The better your time, the higher your ranking. So far, I've only been able to complete the beginner run in 2.5 minutes, for a rank of B. I haven't received anything from the game yet. Remember, the battles are the 3-in-a-row puzzle games against enemy dragons, and the longer it takes for you to plan out how to get combos, the worse your ranking will be.

For the most part, PaD-Z is not that challenging. It takes time to figure out the rules, and to learn how to plan out combo attacks, but that's it. Fortunately, the chapter dungeon stages aren't timed, so you can take as long as you like. If a stage proves difficult, (death does not mean "game over") either fight some more at an easier stage, or burn exe and unhatched eggs to level up faster. If possible, collect gem scrolls, and fight in the shrine dungeons to get more gem eggs for greater amounts of exp leveling. If you have rock fragments, turn them in for rewards from the guy near the red cross sign by the town exit. If you've finished any of the chapters, go to the warehouse towards the southwest to loot some of the chests. Evolve your dragons when you can, and have as many level 99 dragons in your party as your circumstances allow.

Having said that, I've run into an impasse in chapter 6, with the final boss in the stage 5 dungeons. It's a pair of Anubis-like dogs that are guaranteed to hit your party with instant kills that deliver 2 times your total HP if you can't defeat them within 4 to 6 turns. They have high defense, and I don't have enough gem scrolls or gem eggs to bring any of the other spare dragons I have all up to level 99. I'm thinking that I need at least 3 light dragons at level 99, and to get 7 or more combos with light gems per turn. I am so badly out-matched right now that I've shelved the game so I can get other things done.

Overall, my current impressions are that PaD-Z is a beautifully-drawn game that relies way too much on luck to be really fun to play. Part of this is because the company offered the game for free on smartphones and made their money up on in-game purchases for real money. It's not an RPG per-se, and I don't really like these kinds of puzzle games (with the exception of the original Puyo Puyo.  One of the goals in the game is to collect all 200-some dragon types, but something like 35 of them were only available as timed advertising promotional campaigns, and are now locked out of the game unless you have a memory editor to hack the code with. It takes so long to get chips that evolving that many dragons is not worth the effort, and you only get eggs for the dragons that exist in the dungeons you have access to. Bottom line is, the game's ok, but ultimately is just a plain time sink. Recommended only if you have nothing better to do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

No Leather

Products display case in front of Makino hobby and fabrics shop.
"No Leather, No Life."

I know people like that.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Hurry up, Spring!

New artwork in the signboard in front of the school near city hall. This went up just before the government shutdown all the schools in Japan for "two weeks."

"Haru yo, Koi! Hayaku koi!" (Hey Spring, come! Come already!)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Pink Super Moon

Last Wednesday we had a pink supermoon (moon is closer to Earth, making it look brighter). It doesn't look that way from the photo, but the moon really was pinkish as it was rising in the early evening.

I messed around with various camera settings to try to get the best contrast for the shots, but I couldn't find the aperture settings I've used before.

But, it was fun to try.

I'm not an artist, I just play one on TV.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Hanami 2020 and Covid-19 update

Cherry blossom viewing has been a weird thing this year. First, the winter had been unseasonably warm and short. I think the temps only barely got down to freezing a few nights, and I only saw maybe 5-10 snowflakes total for all of February. We reached t-shirt weather this week. But, the cherry trees have been blossoming really sporadically. I took this photo last week, when the trees along the Kotsuki river were only maybe 25-30% full. They're closer to 75-80% now, but I've been told that elsewhere around the city the petals are already falling off the trees like snow.

Status update:

Abe has declared a national emergency, meaning that travel is restricted, companies are supposed to switch mainly to telecommuting where possible, with a targeted 80% reduction in social contact (it's less than 60% so far), and bars and schools are supposed to close. The primary and secondary public schools have already been closed since the beginning of March, but the new order includes cram schools and independent conversation schools (as well as internet cafes).

The Volunteer Center near Reimeikan has a big open lobby on the first floor, and event spaces and auditoriums on the first and second floors. Normally, it's a busy place, with students studying at all the tables in the lobby, or salarymen or housewives sitting around and talking over lunch. Now, half the tables are gone, and the ones remaining only have one chair each. There are no events, and the staff prevent visitors from sitting together at all. Fast food places like MOS Burger and Tully's coffee shops still let people sit together, but they're putting more space between tables. Any place that serves food is now advertising, in very large letters, that they provide take-out.

Abe has indicated that the emergency may last a minimum of three weeks. Initially, I expected that this would mean that the little school I work at would close its doors on the 18th (Saturday) or 20th (Monday) and stay closed for the full three weeks. That wouldn't bother me that much because I have other work, too. But, I'd forgotten about Golden Week. That's a 1-week national holiday period that starts next Thursday and runs into the first week of May. So, the school would be closed during that time anyway. I'd forgotten because no one can go anywhere with the travel restrictions, and I'm forced to stay in Kagoshima regardless. But, now, everyone is in the same boat, so the entire country has pretty much lost one of the 2 real opportunities to take trips for the year (depending on who you talk to, the other time is either the beginning of the new year, or Obon, in August). Although, the school decided to stay open the first three days of this week, leading up to Golden Week, so I'm still getting paid for those lessons.

At least shopping-wise things are getting back to normal. Most stores are restocked for toilet paper, tissue and paper towels again. Most have hand soap, but there's still a shortage of hand sanitizer and face masks. On Friday, I was at Aeon department store, across from Amu Plaza, and there was a line snaking through the store, out the door, and halfway down the block. Eventually, I saw the sign "We have face masks, one package per customer." Looked like a one-hour wait (which I couldn't afford), but that could have been illusory, because everyone in line was standing 6 feet (2 meters) apart from the people in front and behind them. Just about everyone was female, between the ages of 45 and 80.

Close to 75% of everyone walking around outside is wearing masks now. Most are fashion masks, which aren't really intended to fend off Covid-19. Quite a few are also hand-sewn. The rest are the regular paper masks people wear when they have a cold or the flu. Abe has promised to send two washable masks per person (or, maybe it's just per household), and the newspapers are reporting that these are starting to go into the mail now. It's a huge financial cost that seems to be largely a waste of time and money. On the flipside, there's still a shortage of test kits in the hospitals to test for Covid infections. Japan. Gotta love it.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Cortanu's Antivirus Artwork

"Uirusu ni makenai karada tsukuri."
Make a body that won't lose against viruses. Cortanu is an aroma therapy shop. Supposedly, aroma bottles can built up your body's defenses against Covid 19.

"Saigo punch!" "Tsun Tsun guard!"

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Human Academy Poster

New poster artwork for the Human Academy school at Takamibaba, near Tenmonkan. They're promoting their performing arts college, manga and illustration college, and game college. Their nail art college is on a different poster.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Five Minutes Coffee

New coffee brand out from Suntory - Five Minutes. Supposedly, this is for salarymen that aren't given very long breaks. I've tried many of Boss' newer flavors, and they're really all the same thing with different artwork. I'm not going to bother buying this one for a review.

(Notice that the Kilimanjaro can, which has been out for months, is the one with the "new for 2020" sign.)

"Five-minute break brings a good job."

15-minute breaks bring better jobs, but now you know what to expect if you plan to work here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Moon and Ash, Mar. 8, 2020

Near-full moon over Sakurajima late one afternoon.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Wash Laundry Place

Coming up with business names is so much easier when you use a language no one understands.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Japan Lives Pizza

Hand-drawn sign for Italian Next, showing how much Japanese people love Italian food.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Happy+Sugar Poster

Anisong night again at Wicky's House.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Santa Likes Cheese

Found a chicken restaurant the other side of the main train line tracks, heading south. I think this is where the Santa statues go when they're not used in front of Amu Plaza during the Christmas period. There's a sign near the door advertising mozzarella.


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Hotto Motto Doraemon Tie-in

The bento fastfood takeout shop Hotto Motto does love itself its Doraemon. Latest tie-in for the new movie is for buttons and stickers you can get with kid's meals. Let the adventure begin! After lunch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Bright - Love

Bright men's clothing shop has new chalk art again. This time for the L.A. Tigers.
"California Love."

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Janome New Year

Janome is a shop at Takamibaba intersection, near Tenmonkan, that sells sewing machines and supplies. I'm not sure if they do custom work as well, but they have this sign in their window showcasing their embroidery. "Happy Year of the Rat."

(Recently, I started wondering if they'll rent their machines for making home-made masks...)

Monday, April 6, 2020

Daiwa Kitty

Daiwa has a housing showroom near Tenmonkan.
"Kitty says 'Hello'."

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Doraemon Movie Poster - Dinosaur

It's like the Doraemon movies never ever go away. Just as one ends its run in the theaters, the next one comes out. This time, we have "Nobita no Shin Kyouryuu" (Nobita's New Dinosaur).

"You are Nobita."

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Small Adventure 76

I drink coffee. There, I've said it, and I'm not afraid of what anyone else thinks.

I used to drink a lot more, but I have cut back for various reasons. However, I still drink often enough that I try to get the shop points cards where I can to benefit from whatever rewards programs they may have. Case in point is Seattle's Best. They have one shop I know of in Kagoshima, located in the main Chuo train station. I used to drink at Seattle's Best in the U.S. all the time, and I liked them better than Starbuck's. So, when SBC opened in the station, I naturally chose to hang out there when I was up at Amu Plaza for shopping or visiting live events. Over one year ago, I got the SBC points card. One point for 500 yen, 40 points for the full card. On the card are "stage" markers, 6 total.

I made it a practice to stop at SBC on Sundays to read manga or cryptography books for an hour to just relax, and get a coffee plus a cookie or egg biscuit to snack on. As I hit each stage marker, I waited to see if the person at the register would say anything about my getting a present, free coffee, or a dessert or something, but that never happened. The rewards are all in Japanese small print, and I had trouble reading it, so I couldn't get details that way. Finally, a few weeks ago, I filled up the card. The next week, I brought it back, along with a friend who asked about redeeming the card. I got a regular cup of coffee, she got a small, and we both got desserts. The clerk discounted the coffees, and put two stamps on the stage icons on the card. So, that was nice. When I went back a week later, I asked what I could use the remaining 4 stage points for, I was told that I could get free drink toppings, which normally run for 50 yen each. I settled on a dollop of whipped cream, and left to drink my drink and read my manga.

I'm spoiled. American points cards have generally been pretty good to me. And even when I was in Akihabara, having points cards at the maid cafes would get me a free maid photo, free iced coffee or a free dinner much faster than with the SBC card. But, Japan as a whole is horrible with things like points-back rewards cards, averaging 1 point for every 100 to 500 yen, worth 1 yen in store credit. Even so, with the SBC card, and a minimum of 500 yen per point for 40 points, that's a minimum of $200 USD on the card, for rewards of a regular coffee ($3.60), a small ($3.25) and 4 toppings at maybe 40 cents each, giving a total of maybe $10 of store credit. I don't get coffee toppings, and a Japanese "regular" sized cup is an American small.

I realize that I'm not paying for a cup of coffee, I'm paying for rental of a place to sit down and listen to music for an hour, but still, this feels like a rip-off. The coffee at a Japanese SBC doesn't taste as good as in the U.S., and the desserts and sandwiches are smaller than at Starbucks. Admittedly, the only reason I was getting the sandwiches was to get the price up over 500 yen each time (usually between 600 and 750 yen) just to get the points, because I wanted to know what I could get from a full card. And now I know. But I don't like the answer. I think I'll just go back to buying a regular-sized 7-11 hot coffee at 150 yen to drink while I'm walking back and forth between Tenmonkan and Amu Plaza, and eat at home if I want a place to relax and kill time.

Goodbye, SBC. It's not you, it's me.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Small Adventure 75

This isn't really a small adventure in and of itself, just something I wanted to mention that I have nowhere else to put.

One of the things I've noticed since the Covid-19 virus has had more of an impact on Japan is that the Tully's coffee shop chain has stopped selling coffee in-shop in washable coffee cups. If you get coffee to drink in, or take-out, it's all served in paper cups. This would make sense - the staff is at less risk if they don't have to wash and re-wash used porcelain cups all the time. Except, they still serve cake, pie and spaghetti on regular plates and with regular silverware. And none of the other places (Starbucks, MOS Burger, Doutoru or whatever) have changed to drink-in paper cups.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Reimeikan Gate, 200220

The protective construction sheeting is down, showing a little more of the new Reimeikan history museum front gate.

It got big when we weren't looking.

Fish and weird end-post mask thingie.

Dragon fish. Mmm-mm. The best kind.

Looks like they're pre-planning the little unmanned abandoned information booth, too.

One week later, the upper wall has been painted in.

I wonder if the gallery area behind the windows will be open to the public.

"Not quite done yet."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Bart Window

Someone broke the window of a fashion shop in Tenmonkan. Security cameras caught it as it happened. If you recognize the culprit, please contact your local authorities.