Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sakurajima Daikon Fair

Sakurajima (Cherry blossom island) across the bay from Kagoshima City, gets a LOT of volcano ash, which is good for growing Japan radish (daikon). There have been very few events in Tenmonkan in the last year, and one of the first in recent weeks was the Sakurajima Daikon Fair, this last Saturday and Sunday.

And, it pretty much was what the name implied. A bunch of very large Japanese radishes displayed for sale, plus some tables selling daikon-related products, like salted pickles and udon toppings. The biggest of these things are close to 16" in diameter, and weigh several pounds.

Prices for the ones here range from 1,500 to 3,000 yen ($14 to $28 USD). I can't see many households wanting to get more than one, if any at all. I'd expect that the main market would be sushi, soba and ramen restaurants.

They even had a beauty contest.

"Look at the gams on that one."
(Inside joke: For a long time, Japanese houses didn't have chairs, and the families would sit on pillows at low tables, often with the women in "seiza" position (with the legs bent under them in a kind of kneeling sit). This put a lot of pressure on their calves, and their legs would lose definition such that they just looked like stuffed sausage casings. There's a different type of daikon that's more like a really big white carrot, and when women are said to have "daikon ashi" (radish legs), that's what's meant. So, the daikon in the contest above do indeed have "radish legs.")

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Theory 11 Cards

After I finished playing Neil Patrick Harris' BoxOne, I received an auto-reply email from NPH promoting his deck of cards from Theory 11, and the challenge puzzle attached to it. Eventually, I broke down and went to the site to see what would appeal to me. Once I got started, I decided on getting three decks - Provision, Animal Kingdom and NPH. Provision was designed as a tribute to Philadelphia. Animal Kingdom has fairly simple artwork, but the fact the company donates $1 to the World Wildlife Federation was a plus. NPH worked with a Theory 11 artist to design his cards, which are largely traditional. All three decks have the same card stock and finish. The backs have the same artwork as the boxes. They're all popular with card magicians and cardistry artists. $9.95 each. But, to get them to Japan cost another $10. So, $40 for the three decks. I can get a deck in Japan for $10 as well, but the paper quality for Japanese decks is just "average."

(Animal Kingdom cards)

(Provision cards)

(NPH cards)

The Provision deck does come with one "gaffe" card, which has two backs, one of a different color. NPH has two "eye" jokers, the challenge card and an "instruction card." There are a few little touches on some of the face cards that can be used for card reveals (like one queen holding a scroll with 3 "upright" and 3 reversed pips (for revealing a Three, or a Six). But, I haven't noticed anything else more blatant, like one card actually holding a different card in its hand).

But, I really got the NPH deck specifically for the puzzle. It starts out with the challenge and instruction cards. From here, everything switches to an online site. After playing BoxOne, the NPH Cards aren't that difficult. I did resort to taking hints from the Chris Ramsay video, but I still managed to get the solutions on my own, and in fact I figured out a few of the puzzles much faster than Chris did. If you've already played BoxOne, you can probably complete the NPH Cards game in a couple hours. After that, there's no real replay value to the challenge, but you still have the cards for endless hours of solitaire or poker.

I recommend the Theory 11 decks for the feel and paper quality. I'd also recommend the NPH deck if you like Escape Room games, but keep in mind that it's not all that hard. I'm not going to give the solution here - I'll leave that to anyone wanting to solve it themselves (note, the deck came out in 2016, and there are solutions on youtube).

Friday, January 29, 2021

Flower Planters Gone

There was a time when the walkways along the Kotsuki river had built-in planters.

Not anymore. Either it was too much work to keep the flowers watered and alive, or nobody cared anymore.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Ore Tora

Found this chalk art outside a kimono shop. 2022 will be the Year of the Tiger, and the cat says "Ore, Tora" (I'm Tiger). Not sure why they're so desperate to get 2021 out of the way so soon. Maybe they're just trying to get customers to put in their orders for rental kimono ahead of the rush.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


Annie Holl (I think this is supposed to be "Annie Hall") is a women's fashion shop just south of Tenmonkan. They've appropriated some Banksy art for their signs. Not sure this was done with permission...

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Shiro Ushi Chalk

Hair salon Shiro has new chalk art for the Year of the Ox, but it looks a bit messy. I don't know if that's intentional, or if someone decided to mess it up. The text next to the bull reads, "Tsugi wa ore da!" ("I'm next!"). The rat says, "Ato wa makaseta" ("I'll leave it to you.")

Shiro likes buff, beefy characters (Rambo Santa, Steroid Ox).

Monday, January 25, 2021

Love Valentine's Day Art

I'm not sure of the name of this hair salon, but it could be Love.

"Men get a present."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Trombone Setsubun Chalk Art

Trombone coffee shop has new artwork for Setsubun, the good luck event coming up in Feb., where parents dress up as oni (demons) to scare their children, and the kids throw dried beans at them, shouting "good luck in, bad luck out."

Lucky beans.

Happy faces lead to happy oni.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Georgia Gundam Coffee Display

Georgia Coffee has teamed up with the Gundam giant robot TV anime series again. I've been seeing these cans in vending machines, but the art is so half-assed this time, just barely showing up on the side of the can, that I haven't bothered buying one for the blog. But, I recently discovered this display in a nearby grocery store, where it's 398 yen plus tax (about $3.90 USD) for 5 cans. Since the vending machine cans are at least 100 yen each, it's the same as "buy four, get one free." I still don't like this coffee, so it's not much of a savings for me to get the bulk discount on something I don't normally want to drink.

But, if you do like the coffee AND you like Gundam, then maybe you'd want to get a bunch of these packs in bulk to enter the drawings for the Visa photocards, or a smartphone case. "Millions will enter, almost no one will win." Maybe that should tell you something...

Friday, January 22, 2021

Fresh Veggies Truck Artwork

There's a delivery company that specializes in fresh vegetables, called Fresh Cut. I found this art on the back of one of their trucks for the first time. We have Satsuma Imo Don (Mr. Satsuma Potato), Tamarin (Ms. Onion) and Fure Meron-kun (Little Fresh Melon).

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Coke New Year

Found on the front of a vending machine.
"Happy New Year. Atarashii toshi (new year), koka kora de kampai! (Do a Coca Cola toast!)"

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

BoxOne - Solved!

I've been watching Chris Ramsay's puzzle solving youtube channel for at least a year, and he's had some amazing stuff featured there. Back on Oct. 29th, he had a interview with Neil Patrick Harris, to introduce NPH's new BoxOne game. It's a solitaire box intended to keep one person busy for a few hours (I spent maybe 4 hours on it total) to a couple days. It's a combined trivia, cipher, sequential discovery puzzle, and online escape room all rolled up into one, produced by Theory11, and sold only through Target for $29.99 (only in the U.S. right now, but Theory11 says they're working on getting it to the U.K. "soon"). It's hard to say how many copies sold (I consider the price extremely reasonable for what you get). There's a list of people who also solved it, but only 10 for the day I registered. There were roughly 560 reviews on the Target site, too, but that may still be an undercount. I'm kind of torn - 2 months after the game came out, I'd like to think that I'm in rarefied air for solving the game, but I'd also really hope that BoxOne turns into a blockbluster, encouraging companies to come out with even better boxes in the future.

One of the requirements after solving the game is that you don't give away any of the secrets. Just post about it on Instagram and Twitter, and maybe pass the box on to someone else that will appreciate it (not everyone will).

Is it worth the money? Oh, yeah. Just for the rush of seeing everything unfold. Would I recommend it to people that like solving ciphers and "escape rooms in a box"? Without question. Is the rule not to give away any of the secrets killing me? Yes, even as we speak.

I just wish Target had outlets in Japan. The overseas shipping costs are unbelievable.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Ushi Rei

Art sign in front of a beauty parlor. "UreSHI koto takusan arimasu you ni." The translation in context is "Wishing everyone happiness in the New Year." The pun comes from "U"+"SHI" being highlighted, since "ushi" is "cow," and 2021 is the Year of the Ox according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Sailor Moon Smartphone Kuji

After seeing the Sailor Moon cover issue of Hot Pepper magazine, I found these banners at the Lawson's konbini advertising a "Sailor Moon Sumaho Kuji" (smartphone lottery), where you buy stuff in the store, then use an app on your phone to try to win various prizes, from Sailor Moon and Kamen Raider Saber goods to regular Lawson's stuff.

Kamen Rider Saber (Saber is the latest installment in the Masked Rider franchise).

Pretty Girl Soldier Sailor Moon Eternal. "In the name of the Moon, I'll punish you."

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Doreamon Little Space War Poster Board

Seems strange. the movie after Nobita and Shizuka (apparently) get married as adults, they're back as kids for a war in space. Time is a strange thing, I guess.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

I think I saw dead people

I was walking home from the English school a few nights ago, at about 9 PM, going through Tenmonkan, when I got down to about the neighborhood of the Wicky's House bar and stage. Across the walkway from the bar was a modified unmarked black van designed kind of like a hearse. Three men in black suits and ties were coming out of one of the doorways of a nearby building, pulling a gurney with a human-shaped form on it, wrapped in a white sheet. I assume it was a body, maybe of a man in his 80's or 90's. But, what I'm having trouble with is that there's no mortuary in that building - just bars, restaurants and maybe some small apartments - and Japan doesn't have a practice of holding the body in private residences for live viewings. I'd thought that when someone passes away at home, they were taken away by ambulance at least for a doctor's death certificate, and then generally cremated. I'm told that if someone is found dead in their apartment from old age, they may be treated there and taken straight to a mortuary, but there was nothing on the van indicating that it belonged to a mortuary or funeral home.

Just one more thing I don't understand about this place.

Friday, January 15, 2021

ABC Cooking School - Minnie Lessons

There's a cooking school and kitchen in Amu Plaza called "ABC." Just discovered that Minnie Mouse will be there to teach beginner's lessons.

Chocolate fudge desserts that taste like chicken.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Millionation 2021

Ten Park, the other side of Tenmonkan, has their 1 million led illumination running from Dec. to January 17 again. Not a lot of difference from year to year, but I did want to drop by after my lessons on Friday before the thing ended.

The temps are pretty much right around freezing. I had thin gloves on, which made handling the camera a bit more awkward, and my fingers were stiffening up.

Even so, the main stage area had several tables set up for children to make their own stamp art cards. Lots of parents were making their own, too. I was expected home at about that time, so I didn't really have the option of seeing if the activity was free or not.

It was nice seeing these lights up, anyway. The city decided to skip putting the lights up down along the boulevard in front of City Hall this year.

The dome just had a projector inside, with speakers playing atmospheric music. We weren't allowed to go inside.

And, that's that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Kagin Mask

Kagin is Kagoshima Ginko (ginko = bank). Even the mascots practice social distancing. (Yes, it was raining that day).

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Cie-na Works New Year Chalk

Cie-na cafe has new chalk up. Side one, a nice portrayal of Sakurajima.

A nice portrayal of the Year of the Ox. It was just beginning to rain, so I needed to get the shot quickly before the chalk got too damaged.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Terakuni Jinja's Year of the Ox

The local shrines are getting close to ending their activities for Hatsumode (first shrine visit of the year). Terakuni shrine used to have a booth selling small amounts of sweet sake, and they'd also set up a stage around Jan. 4th for throwing small packages of coins, beans and candy to the crowds. Not this year. I swung by on Sunday to catch the tail end of things, and the shrine grounds were almost deserted. Just a smattering of people coming in to pray for luck and good health for the year, a few women dressed up in expensive kimono, with equally expensive hairdos. But, nothing like past years.

I always like looking at the sign artwork. The animals are usually taken from old woodcut prints.

"Three lines, no lines, no waiting."

One of the real surprises was that the inside of the main shrine building didn't have any of the typical stacks of sake and shochu bottles this time.

There's just the one symbolic sake barrel to the right, but that's often empty and only used for appearances.

The artwork in the middle of the drum has been worn away through use. It must have really looked nice when it was new.

Some of the little wooden ox plaques. Generally, people buy these and write their wishes for the new year on the back. And that's no bull.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Snow Birds

After writing that the English school was closed two days for snow that never showed up, I went outside Sunday morning at 2 AM and discovered the street was wet, but the sky was absolutely clear. A few feet away, the cars were covered in about half an inch of snow. I walked around the neighborhood, and it was the same thing - the streets were wet, but any vehicles parked outside were covered in snow. Then, I got to this one stretch of road in front of a nearby coin laundry, and almost slipped and fell on my back. About 20 feet of the street had glazed ice. That was a surprise.

By 11 AM, all of it was gone, except for a small handful of snow in some grass lining a parking lot across the street from the coin laundry.

It was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

So No Snow

Little bit of a Small Adventure. Japan shuts down for 2 weeks from Dec. 24th to Jan. 6th for the New Year holidays. Almost nothing happening during this period, this year. But, I was supposed to have my first English classes at the school on Thursday, the 7th. Late that morning, I got a call telling me that there was snow forecasted for the next 3 days, and that the school was going to be closed on the 7th. Ok, I guess that's fine. Except that the only snow we got for the entire afternoon consisted of a few small flakes that never made it to the sidewalk. Friday, same story; big storm in the forecast (which did hit kind of hard farther north), school closed, and just a few small flakes. Saturday, the skies were crystal clear, and the school actually opened for the day.

Sigh. I miss snow.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Shin Ichibangai

Ichibangai is one of Kagoshima's oldest shopping districts. The name translates roughly to Number One Town. Originally, it stretched from this point in the city south about 3-4 blocks. It's one of the reasons why the main Chuo-ou station (Central Station) was built here and made as the city's only bullet train stop (the bullet line had to be extended from Kumamoto, and for some reason, no one thought that it should be continued all the way down to the southern-most tip of Kyushu, at Ibuski). Unfortunately for the shopkeepers here, Tenmonkan became more popular and took away all the foot traffic. About one year ago, the entire first block got ripped out, and this mansion skyrise went up in its place.

It looks like the central through route to the rest of Ichibangai is being maintained, but there aren't any new stores opening up in the central space yet, so I don't know if part of the shops for Ichibangai will be hosted in the skyscraper or not. Either way, workers had spent the last 4 months or so putting in the structure for a new elevator and crossover walk, while also punching a hole in the Tokyu Hands building at the second floor to allow the free flow of pedestrians from the train station inside.

It's a fairly long walk up, so I'm surprised that they didn't make this an escalator, or extend the crossover another 20 feet to the parking lot on the other side of the street.

Originally, there was a pedestrian crosswalk here at street level from the station to the entrance of the blocks of shops. But, there's only one entrance and exit to/from the main parking garage in back, and all the cars had to flow through this street to get in and out. At peak hours, there were 3-4 traffic cops protecting the walkers from the cars. The new crossover must have been the City's primary requirement for the developers in order to gain permission for the entire project.

The doors into the building are still locked, but the crossover is already open to the public. It seems to be popular with the homeless, and school girls trying to find a place to sit down and text each other.