Monday, September 22, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 9


Now, I've been down to this part of the island before. It's close to where the return road comes out if you walk up to the observatory building and then come back down in a big loop. But, at the time I didn't make the short side trip to the coast line to see this monument. It's called "Portrait of a Shout", and is featured heavily in the advertising for the island. It's only a block or so from the road.

"Portrait of a Shout" Construction Details
The "Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi Sakurajima All-Night Concert" was held on the 21st August 2004 and the quarry site was filled to the brim with 75,000 people gathering from all over Japan on Sakurajima, population 6,000. The concert carried on throughout the night with the fervor of the 75,000 people audience, and its finale was greeted by the rising sun upon Sakurajima. In an act to leave a trace of the emotional charge felt during that night, a "Monument Construction Committee" was established in the spring of 2005, and, with the agreement of the fans and support of many industry groups and organizations, the monument was completed. On the 19th March 2006, it was unveiled before the eyes of 15,000 people, including Nagabuchi and the sculptor himself, Oonari. The completed monument was named the "Portrait of a Shout", and has become a symbolic presence of this place.

The lava rock that is used in this monument was originally a 50t gross volume rock on Sakurajima, until it was reborn as the "Portrait of a Shout" by the hands of sculptor, Hiroshi Oonari. This "Portrait of a Shout" monument expresses the image of "impassioned pulses gathering and resonating with this land, giving rise to a fresh eruption on Sakurajima."

If there is an eruption, Portrait will be the first to know.
As a side note, one of the reasons Nagabuchi had the concert here is that he's a Kagoshima native, hailing from Ijuin, the town that hosts the 20 km walk at the end of October every year.

There's a little pavilion near the monument. This enterprising individual set up a practice spot for himself.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 8


Where old fishing boats go when their time comes.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


I've mentioned before that money is weird in Japan - everything is off by a factor of 5 or 10. If you go to a 7-11 in the U.S. and buy a pack of gum to break a $10 bill, the clerk will look at you dirty. Doing the same thing in Japan doesn't raise an eyebrow, but the clerks will complain if you buy a pack of gum to break a 10,000 yen bill ($100 USD). Getting a $30 dinner in the USD is considered expensive, but 3,000 yen for a meal and drinks is cheap (20,000 yen is expensive). Japanese women will think nothing of dropping $5,000 on a Coach handbag, or a pair of shoes - it's the only way to show that you have money, since bragging about it is considered impolite.

Anyway, I was at the game arcade in Amupla, looking at the UFO Catcher machines (crane arms). I used to play them all the time in the 90's, and could get anime-related plushies within three tries, at 100 yen per try. Back then, the arms were mechanical, and unless the owner broke the springs, or packed the dolls in really hard, you could get several if you were skilled enough. One guy I knew could actually get 2 at a time, by hooking the strings on the dolls with the crane arm. At the time, the dolls cost the arcades about 200-300 yen apiece, so they were losing money on us.

These days, the UFO Catchers are computerized and can be programmed to not pick anything up. The strategy is to watch a specific machine for a while, and if enough people play it without winning anything, then you step in and start playing because it should begin picking the prizes up after 20-30 plays.

This is one reason I don't play UFO Catchers anymore - it's not about the skill. Then again, a lot of the prizes are really big now and worth more money. But, there's nothing in the machines I really want enough to spend more than 500 yen on. However...

As I said, money is weird here. I received several 500 yen coins as part of payments for English lessons from some of my students, and they kind of feel like arcade tokens.I figured I'd spend them if I saw something in a Catcher that looked interesting. For the bigger prizes, it's now 200 yen per try, or 3 tries for 500 yen. When I saw the replica Walther P-32, the pistol used by Lupin III in the manga and anime, I thought "what the heck". The box was laying flat across two rubberized metal bars, so if you picked up one end, the box wouldn't slide off the rod. You have to grab it off-center and kind of twist it so it goes sideways and falls between the bars. At least, that's what I was trying to do. I went through my three 500 yen coins pretty quickly, and it looked like it would take one more try to get the box to drop. I broke a 1000 yen bill in the changer, and kept trying.

But, all I managed to do was to flip the box upside down. At this point, I'd lost the equivalent of $25 USD, and the prize wasn't worth that much, anyway. So, I turned around to leave and noticed an arcade clerk standing next to me. He asked if I wanted him to reposition the box for me, and I answered that I wouldn't be able to win it no matter how long I tried. Then, he opened the case and put the box back on the bars, but this time so that the back end was just barely leaning against the back rod. He even showed me how to grab the box so that it would now fall on the next try. Shrugging, I got more change and put 200 yen in the machine. This time, the box fell into the hopper.

I reached down, pulled the prize out of the hopper, and as I stood up, the clerk, grinning, held out a plastic shopping bag for me to put the box in. He thanked me for playing, and I thanked him for letting me have the toy after all.

It's just a heavy piece of plastic, but the slide pulls back, and the hammer clicks down loud enough to sound like a cap gun. The finish is "pre-aged" to make it look like an old collector's piece, and it comes with its own stand.

It cost me about $27 USD, and normally that would feel like way too much money for something like this. But, money is weird here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cosmo Ship Yamato, vol. 1 review

Leiji Matsumoto (1938-) presents a kind of a problem from the perspective of manga history. Many of the old-school artists (post-WW II) can sort of be clumped together as being either directly influenced by Osamu Tezuka, or coming from the kamishibai (paper theater) field.  We don't really see that here with Leiji, who spent his own money to go to Tokyo in the early-1950's and got his start primarily drawing girl's manga under his original name of Akira Matsumoto. His debut work, "Mitsubachi no Boken" ("A Bee's Adventure"), came out in 1954, in Manga Shonen. This is after the Tokiwa-Sou period, when key figures like Ishinomori, Fujio Fujiko, Fujio Akatsuka and Shinichi Suzuki had worked directly with Tezuka, and a little before kamishibai artists like Shigeru Mizuki came along. Eventually, more women entered the shojo manga market, and forced out many of the male artists. In 1965, Akira worked exclusively under the name "Leiji Matsumoto", but he wasn't really successful until debuting "Otoko Oidon" in 1971, in Shonen Magajin. According to the SF Encyclopedia article, Leiji also produced book illustrations for Japanese collections of the Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry stories by C L Moore. This brought him to the attention of producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who hired him as a concept artist for a planned TV anime project that eventually came out as "Uchu Senkan Yamato" in 1974 (renamed "Star Blazers" in the U.S., and heavily re-edited.)

According to one source, Nishizaki wanted Yamato to be a kind of Lord of the Flies in space, with a group of teenagers stuck on a generation space ship and quickly going after each other's throats. However, Leiji reworked the story, and began producing the manga of the same name, also in 1974. The two of them got into a prolonged legal battle over who owned what, and a court in 2002 ruled that the trademark and basic plot belonged to Nishizaki, but the characters and spaceship design were Leiji's. From this point, Leiji established himself as a space opera manga artist, with grand story arcs appearing in Captain Harlock (1977), Galaxy Express 999 (1977) and Queen Millennia (1980). He's very closely associated with both the Japanese train system, and the JAXA space program.

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

Uchu Senkan Yamato, vol. 1, by Leiji Matsumoto, Grade: B+
Because Yamato is available in English, there's not a lot of point to giving a full story summary here. Essentially, Earth has been under attack by an alien humanoid race called the Gamiras, who have bombarded the planet with asteroids, turning the surface into a desolate ruins. Most humans have retreated into underground cities, with a research center on Mars. Captain Okita is leading a desperate last attack against the Gamiras fleet in space, and his ship is the only one to make it back to Earth with survivors. At this point, a strange spaceship crashes on Mars, bearing a message capsule from the Queen of the planet Iscandar. She gives the Earthlings the plans for a new warp drive and cannon, and invites them to come visit in order to join forces against the Gamiras. Earth's scientists secretly rebuild the ruins of an ancient space warship, which Okita christens "Yamato". It's staffed with the two boys that found the message capsule - Kodai and Shima (Kodai's older brother was one of Okita's last remaining commanders until he engaged in a kamikaze attack on a Gamiras ship), the alcoholic doctor Sakezou Sado, Sado's pretty assistant Yuki Mori, and the robot Analyzer.

Iscandar offers the promise of something called the Cosmic Cleaner D, which would restore Earth's surface. So, Okita takes the Yamato out into deep space, where the crew has to survive various threats above and beyond attacks by the Gamiras fleet, headed by their leader, Lord Desler. For the most part, the Gamiras are like pre-WW II Germans - militaristic, but completely unable to outwit the wily Japanese good guys.

(All of the main cast prior to being asked to join the Yamato.)

For the most part, the story is pure camp. The ship goes into hyperspace for the first time, and we get to see dinosaurs roaming about there. If they get stuck in hyperspace, they'd be trapped forever like the Flying Dutchman. At another point, the ship loses power in a specific arm of the galaxy which is identified as "the Sea of Sargasso in space", although they're rescued by a pirate emissary from Iscandar that later reappears in his own series as Captain Harlock. In a subsequent chapter, the ship discovers a dark planet orbiting a Gamiras-made sun, and Okita destroys the base there by punching a hole through the star (smashing the control unit inside it).

(The Yamato makes it's maiden voyage into space, where it is threatened by a Gamiras super-missile.)

If we look at the original Star Trek TV series, it was simply a TV western transposed into space. Yamato is the same thing, but as a 1950's sea warfare movie. Most of the terminology comes from ocean-faring ships, as do some of the traps (such as a "space mine field"). The story is aimed at young Japanese boys, and ran in a magazine called Boken Oh (Adventure King) ('74-'75, three volumes), so you can't expect all that much from it.

(Lord Desler, watching the Yamato as it gets trapped too close to a star.)

The volume ends with the Yamato reaching Iscandar, where the crew discovers two things - one, that Iscandar is part of a double-planet system along with the Gamiras home planet; and two, that the Gamiras have trashed their own home, which is why they want to take over Earth. The Gamiras are defeated off-camera, Desler dies in a deus ex-machina trap, and Yamato brings the Cosmic Cleaner back to Earth, saving the planet. While the Yamato does have some casualties during the final battle with Desler, the reason Captain Okita dies before stepping foot on Earth again is that he'd succumbed to old age and injuries incurred from previous battles.

(The Yamato finds itself trapped in the Space Sargasso, with the ruins of other dead ships.)

Comments: If you want a good, hard SF series, Yamato isn't it. The science is laughable and the technology designs are dated. The crew determines that the dark planet's sun is artificial based on the fact that all the plant life on the planet is stunted, showing that the sun is something that was only recently added. Etc., etc. But, if you're interested in manga history, then Leiji Matsumoto is a key figure, ranking up there with Ishinomori and Tezuka himself. In this sense, Yamato represents a turning point in Japanese SF manga, opening up the realm of space operas on the order of Star Trek and Star Wars. If you want an introduction to Matsumoto's work, Yamato is a good start (especially since it ties to his other big series - Harlock and Galaxy Express 999, and 999 connects to Queen Millennia.)

(First appearance of Captain Harlock and his ship. Analyzer tells us that the entire crew are robots, and Harlock himself is over 50% cyborg. Captain Okita gives the impression of at least having an idea as to who Harlock really is. We're told that Yamato is Earth's first and only warp-driven ship, but that the Black Pirate's vessel has technology at least as good as the Yamato's. Kodai speculates that Harlock is really his older brother, somehow saved by Iscandar and rebuilt with machine parts.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 7

What once was an island.

"Battery Site of Anglo-Satsuma War
Site of the Karasujima Battery
Karasujima was a small island that was formerly floating in the open sea of Sakurajima. Around 1850, the 27th head of the Shimadzu family, Shimadzu Narioki, built a fort here to strengthen the coastal defenses. During the Anglo-Satsuma War of 1863, 3 cannons were deployed and the British naval fleet suffered a bombardment. When the British fleet withdrew from offshore of Sakurajima Koike, heading southward, they passed directly by the Karasujima battery and there were particularly violent bombardments from both sides. Following the Great Sakurajima Eruption of 1914, the area around the island was completely buried by flowing lava. This phenomenon that one island located offshore was totally consumed by lava is considered very rare in volcanic history."

(Map showing lava flows from various eruptions.)

Before the great eruption of 1914 during the Taisho era, an uninhabited islet named Karasujima used to be located about 500 meters off shore. It was 20 meters above sea level and 500 meters in circumference. The lava began to flow down from midslope of Mt. Sakurajima on January 13th, 1914 (the following day after the eruption had occurred), and the flow continued until the 18th. The islet ended up buried 20 meters under lava. It is said that this phenomenon, that the isolated islet was totally consumed by lava, is very rare in volcanic history. In order to commemorate this event to the future, the stone monument was erected in January, 1951."

The marker says "Karasujima is under here." 21 feet under, actually.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jump Shop

During September, the Takapla department store in Tenmonkan has the Jump goods shop on the 6th floor. I haven't read Weekly Shonen Jump in over a year, so I don't know several of the titles featured here.

The ball dispenser machines at the left (called "gatchpon") largely sell DBZ figures and stuff from One Piece. One of the odder toys seems to be a little snow globe-like ball that you fill with water and use as a paper weight. Most of the toys are 200 yen ($2 USD) per capsule.

Life-size mannequins of whatever series this is, with character cards at each one's feet to identify them if you can't figure it out by yourself.

Most of the stuff is overpriced, which is why I didn't buy anything. But, there were a few girls that seemed desperate to get their hands on certain products, pushing everyone else out of their way during their quests.

No point to playing the UFO Catchers if you can buy the plushies directly from the Jump Shop.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sakurajima Walking, Part 6

Lava Walk

Close to the information center is the entrance to the Nagisa Lava Walk, a slightly-less than 3 km (1.8 mile) path that hugs the coastline going south.

"Creatures living on the Seashore
The sea in front is called Kagoshima Bay. The seashore with many rocks is also called "Iso". "Iso" is submerged during high tide and surfaces during low tide. At Iso, plankton is carried in by an ocean current. Therefore, many creatures gather to seek plankton in the area. Among the many creatures living by Iso, here is a list of the most commonly seen species around Sakurajima. During low tide, please look for what you can find.
*Sakurajima is a national park. It is prohibited to take any living creatures away. After observing the wildlife, please return it to where it originated from.

Aosagi (Blue Heron)
Hizaragai (Japanese chiton)
Asari (Manila clam)
Subesube Manjuugani (Egg crab)
Oniisome (Sea worm)
Isohiyodori (Coastal Brown-eared Bubul)
Ibonishi (Thais clavigera)
Murasaki Kuruma Namako (Purple cart sea cucumber)
Isogani (Asian shore crab)
Gangaze (Long spined sea urchin)"

I promise to put back any long-spined sea urchins I happen to pick up.

If you find yourself in a place called "lava walk", don't be surprised if most of what you see is lava. And rocks. And lava rocks.

In actuality, when you're standing at this point and looking out at the bay, things aren't this small. I could tell that something was sitting on the rock where that little red circle is. What's impressive is that the camera was able to get as good a shot as it did at this distance and without a tripod.

Maybe I should have included the circle in the above photo for reference...

One rather unusual feature of the lava walk is the presence of several spots where poetry has been carved into the rocks.

"Kuroi Sakurajima oreta jusho umi wo hashiri.
Kaneko Touta"
Touta (1919-) appears to be a relatively-famous haiku poet, although there's not much on him in English. He uses military imagery to describe the eruption of the Sakurajima volcano in 1914: "Black Sakurajima broken runs over the gunstock ocean." Or, in other words, "A black cloud from erupting Sakurajima rolls over the sea."

It's black all right.

After a couple kilometers, I get to another point where the fishing is good. The interesting thing here is the line in the water just past the buoys. There's a drop-off that kind of looks like it goes all the way across the bay. I was looking at the google maps Earth view, which does show some seabed topology, but there's nothing definitively drop-off-like at this point in the water. But it's out there, I know it.

Close to the fishermen, the one that got away.

There's a small sandbar island in the middle of the bay.

"Umm, guys? Who was supposed to bring the beer?"

I definitely didn't see any spiny sea urchins or crabs along the lava walk. At the end of the path, I did encounter a few birds that weren't pigeons or crows.

This may be my blue heron.

But, I doubt this is a Japanese chiton. I wonder if he eats herons.