Friday, November 21, 2014

Barrier Free

The second event on the 16th was another one-day music fest in front of Amupla. This one was the 6th Kagoshima Chuo Station Festival, and it featured music most of the day. One of the announcers was a local DJ, but he was spending his time walking around trying to get people to sign some kind of a form. The text at the top of the back wall says that the event is in part an effort to make stores and businesses in Kagoshima barrier-free to the handicapped. The second female vocalist on the stage, to the right, is in a wheelchair.

This group is the Zousan Band. The first couple songs were slow ballads, but I did manage to record one piece that rocked pretty well. I think the title is "Can't Sleep". I can't find a good web link to the band or the lyrics, unfortunately.

Direct youtube link for video 1.

The following song was also a slow ballad, so I went inside the mall to get some coffee from Kaldi and kill a little time. Ironically, the stage itself was not barrier free, and 4 guys had to run up and help lower the one vocalist's wheelchair down to the ground.

The next act on stage was going to be the Little Cherries. LC is very well-known in Kagoshima, and I've heard a lot about them from several sources. But, I had yet to see them perform. Little Cherries was first formed around 1980 and is a jazz band made up of elementary and middle school students. They've toured the world multiple times in each incarnation, and have won various music competitions. There may be upwards of 60 members total, but only 20 played this time.

I recorded 2 songs, plus the bit where each member is introduced. They were very good, and are worth watching again.

Direct youtube link for video 2.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tax Fair

Saturday, the 15th, had four major events, but there was a fifth, so to speak, set up in Tenmonkan in the area in front of the 7-11. There were a number of hanging boards along the walkway, with art and advertising on them, but nothing really worth writing about. Sunday, I swung by Central Park to verify that the stage and stalls from the Anglo-Satsuma matsuri had been taken down, then dropped by the 7-11 to see if the stage there was being used yet.

And, actually, it was. The hanging boards were part of a kind of stamp rally, and two tables nearby were handing out cotton candy and some kind of grab bag. Also in attendance was a clown making balloon animals, and three foamheads. Two of the characters represent Kagoshima - Guree-buu and Sakura. The third might have been made for this event - Manabu- (which is a pun. "Manabu" means "to study", while "buu" is the sound pigs make in Japan. As a reminder, Guree-buu uses a similar pun, for "green" and "oink". Sakura just refers to cherry trees. Guree-buu and Sakura were both created about 4 years ago to promote a local program for putting flowers along the streets throughout the city.)

The event, though, was The Tax Festa, an educational program to help people do their taxes (which are due soon).

The event schedule included some music, and the presence of a local female radio host. I didn't recognize any of the names, so I didn't stick around for any of it.

Someone put up a big banner over the hanger boards. I can't read it, but it may have something to do with taxes. From here, I went up to the main Chuo train station again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

City Fest

(Tree's up again.)

On the 15th, I went up to Amupla to see if there was anything going on. There were two events, actually. One was an arts and crafts fair in the plaza next to the bus parking area. The other was something billed as a "City Matsuri". Most of the booths contained displays and objects for sale from various NPO groups. A few of them were handing out cherry tomatoes and small samples of tea.

You could play with clay (nendo) at one booth.

Not a lot of people out today. The sky was clear, but the temps were a bit cool (maybe in the 50's).

I didn't see a performance schedule, so I don't know which groups were playing on stage. One was just leaving as I arrived, and the instruments stayed on the tables as the second group took their places. The instrument is called a "taishogoto", or "Taisho harp". It's named after the Taiso era (1912-1926), when it was created, and it combines a kind of typewriter keyboard with piano strings. The strings are plucked with the right hand, and the left plays the keyboard, which frets the strings, changing pitch. These are an electric version, from Suzuki, called the Tokumatsu. The players seemed to go out of tune, or slow down a bit, occasionally, but they sounded remarkably good for the number of people all playing together like this.

Taisho Harps

Direct youtube link

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hokkaido Fair

The Yamakataya department store used the nearby open space in front of Lotteria to host some booths selling fish and produce from Hokkaido.

One booth advertised Nikka Whiskey. It was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, nicknamed Massan. Massan traveled to Scotland in 1918 to study whiskey distilling. While there, he met and married Jessie Roberta (Rita) Cowan. There's currently an NHK TV drama running called "Massan", based on what happened when Massan returned to Japan with a foreign wife, while at the same time trying to start up his own company.

Hokkaido food and bar.

Foamhead mascot trying to encourage people to come buy stuff. I think the "A" stands for "anchovy".

Monday, November 17, 2014

Anglo-Satsuma Fair

On Nov. 15, the Japan-British Society of Kagoshima held a one-day fair in Central Park, as part of the countdown to the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration.

The fair consisted of various booths advertising local Kagoshima products (shochu) and talking about British products (chips, beer and lemon curd), plus tea and flowers. The stage events were largely put on by high school students. One band played later Beatles covers. They were pretty good, but the songs were slowed down by maybe 10 or 20%.

Lawn bowling.

Not a lot of people despite the good weather, but the audience stayed focused on the performances. It was a bit cool, maybe in the 50's, which might have kept some people at home.

The centerpiece was a flower display, with demonstrations and a talk by a Japanese floral arranger.

Baker Street W1 booth, which mainly had photos of London and some example food products.

The second act up was a group of high school baton twirlers. I couldn't get a good angle so I didn't record them.

Overall, it's a good start. One of the people I talked to there said that they were planning to make some changes to improve the event next year.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shichi, Go, San

When I was approaching Central Park to see the Anglo-Satsuma Matsuri last Saturday, I noticed there was some activity at the nearby Terakuni Shrine. It just so happened that that day coincided with the Japanese tradition of Shichi-Go-San. Literally, it means "7, 5, 3". In the past, Japan had a high infant mortality rate, and young children would be taken to a shrine to be blessed when they reached specific ages. In part, it was a celebration because if the child reached that age, the odds were good that they'd live to adulthood. For girls, it's ages 3 and 7, and for boys, 3 and 5.

There were a few food booths selling cotton candy, hot dogs, and takoyaki. And lots of masks. Points if you can identify the characters.

Shinto priest cutout, if anyone wanted to pose with it.

As always, visitors buy fortunes. If the fortune turns out to be less than stellar, they can try to avert it by tying the fortune paper to something on the shrine grounds.

Family members partaking in a ceremony to bless the children in the area at the time.

Girls are dressed up in kimono, boys in western suits or hakama.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Neo Faust review

Osamu Tezuka had kind of a fascination with Goethe's Faust. He wrote a book entitled "Faust" in 1950, then adapted it to the Japanese historical play style in 1971 as "A Hundred Tales". He attempted to have the story reworked as an anime, announced in 1984, but the project was abandoned "for various reasons" (according to the Tezuka database site). Eventually, Tezuka produced this manga under the name "Neo Faust" and it was published through the Asahi Journal. However, he developed stomach cancer and was ultimately forced to stop writing shortly after the second section started. It was collected and released as a single book under the Tezuka Osamu 'The Complete Works' collection label in 2011. It doesn't look like it's been released in English in the U.S. yet.

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

Neo Faust, Osamu Tezuka, Grade: A-
The story starts out in 1970 during the height of the student protests in Japan, where the main issues include changes to society, and America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Ichinoseki is a professor at NG University (NG = No Good), which is one of the sites of the protests. The main protest leader is a student, Ishinomaki, who has riled the students up against the campus faculty, but Ichinoseki is so oblivious to everything going on around him that the students leave him alone. He trips over a fallen barrier, and is helped up by a young researcher named Daiichi Sakane. As the two of them go to Ichinoseki's office, the old man notices the destruction and starts ranting about how things have deteriorated during the 50 years he's been teaching there. Later, we see that Daiichi is planning on killing Ichinoseki and taking over his position, while he also attempts to seduce a young female student and protester, Mariko Takada. A day or two later, Ishinomaki's body is found, burned to just a pile of ashes, with a dog's footprints nearby. The lead homicide investigator is Inspector Takada, Mariko's older brother. Takada arrives home when Daiichi is in the apartment, so the young researcher hides in her closet, but when Takada looks inside to try to capture him, all that's inside are the footprints of a large dog.

On campus, Prof. Ichinoseki is depressed that after 50 years of work, multiple awards, and even a Nobel for Life Sciences, he still doesn't understand how the universe works or the basics behind life. He attempts to drink poison to commit suicide, but is accidentally thwarted by a nearby bomb blast. Daiichi shows up and the two of them decide to summon the devil to get answers. Daiichi hears a sound outside and checks to see if it's the protestors, and while he's gone there's another explosion and a female demon, named Mephist, appears to offer him a deal in return for his soul. After some wrangling, Ichinoseki agrees, saying that he wants to become young again to relive his life, and she can collect only after he's satisfied and says "Time is beautiful". Mephist takes him back to 1950, where he's given a potion that turns him into a young man, but it erases his memories. Not recognizing Mephist, Ichinoseki encounters a corrupt businessman being harassed by angry yakuza. Ichinoseki saves him, and Mephist turns the attackers into piles of dust.

(The old Ichinoseki fumes over having wasted his life in the university.)

The businessman, Daizo Sakane, likes his savior and gives him advice and a job as a construction worker. He also names him "Daiichi". Through a series of events, Daiichi rises through the company's ranks, and presents Daizo with plans for building Japan's first bullet train network in order to transport people from over the country to Tokyo for the 1960 Tokyo Olympics. Daizo continues to become filthy rich, but develops stomach cancer and adopts Daiichi as his only heir, then dies. "Daiichi Sakane" then decides to use his new-found wealth for his own purposes.

(Daiichi (Ichinoseki) seduces Mariko and is interrupted by her older brother, the homicide detective.)

Right around 1970, Daiichi is driving by NG University and spies the pretty Mariko. He falls in lust with her and orders Mephist to help him seduce her, and get him a job at NG to get him closer to her. It's a slow slog, made worse by Mephist's feeling that Daiichi is just using her too casually. Mephist starts acting like a jealous lover, and tries seducing him in return. This fails, while Daiichi slowly kills off all the opposition in the university regency, gets closer to Mariko, and attracts the suspicions of her older brother, the homicide detective. At the same time, Daiichi attends the lectures of Ichinoseki, learning more about the principles of life without recognizing his older self. Eventually, he does figure out that he and Ichinoseki are the same person, and this brings him up to the "present", when Ishinomaki and the other protesters plan on bombing one of the university buildings, which would result in Mariko being imprisoned with the rest of them. Mephist saves Mariko, then turns Ishinomaki and the others to dust. The bomb does explode, harmlessly, but it disrupts Ichinoseki's suicide attempt.

(Ichinoseki summons Mephist.)

Daiichi helps Ichinoseki after the blast, and the old man confides in him that he wants to use science to summon the devil to get answers regarding life's secrets. Daiichi laughs about this to Mephist, saying that he's not going to share her with anyone else. This causes Mephist to tell him that they're currently at a crossroads, with the devil about to choose which one of them to keep - either the old Ichinoseki or the young Daiichi, leaving Daiichi with no choice but to help himself build the demon summoner. The summons works, but the devil kills Ichinoseki, and Daiichi is allowed to carry on with his plans to create a new "Adam and Eve" via biological breakthroughs. Unfortunately, in laying out his future for him, Mephist specifically states that Mariko isn't going to be a part of it. This is where Part 1 ends.

(Mephist prepares to wipe out the campus protesters.)

Part 2 picks up a couple decades later. Daiichi has been living and working in research labs in the U.S., and is on his way back home. On the plane, he attracts the attentions of the flight attendants and other passengers for his habit of arguing with an empty seat. No one else can see Mephist sitting outside on one of the engines (she is avoiding a priest also traveling first class). They get to Narita, where Det. Takada is waiting. The inspector knows that Daiichi is cavorting with demons, and promises to unmask him as a monster. Daiichi laughs at him, but the other man tells him something he hadn't known - Mariko had been pregnant with Daiichi's baby, but had killed it. Ever since, she's been locked up in a mental asylum. Daiichi runs to the asylum, and discovers that Mariko, now in her 40's, is really insane. She rants about demons for a while before finally recognizing her lover. She keeps carrying around an empty blanket, referring to it as her "real child". She sees Mephist and goes into another rant. And this is where Tezuka stopped drawing the manga. There are a few pages of pencil-sketch layouts and tentative dialog, but most of the handwriting is too difficult for me to read. All I know is that Mephist drags Daiichi out of the hospital and tries to talk to him a bit.

Neo Faust is an interesting look at how people can change under new circumstances. When Daiichi encounters his original self, he holds himself in contempt, while the older Ichinoseki is completely oblivious to his younger self's murderous machinations. I'm also amazed at how far in advance Tezuka planned the story; when the bomb goes off and Mephist tells Daiichi to show Ichinoseki how to build the summons machine, all of the artwork and story development matches exactly the first chapter of the book. We see events that were separated by at least a year in real-time from two different viewpoints. Highly recommended if you like older manga and philosophical conundrums.