Archive for September, 2016

The wrong way to watch anime

September 28, 2016

Isaac Akers, over on Crunchyroll, has a column on the right way to watch anime, with the conclusion that there isn’t one.  I was intrigued, because there’s an old SDLC saying, that there’s no one right design for a computer system, but there are many designs that are demonstrably wrong. Could we say the same thing about anime?  I was in the midst of constructing a wonderful house of cards around this idea, when an old SF memory brought them all down.

Back in the mid-80’s, there was a spoof in an April edition of, I think, Analog magazine. It was an announcement for a new game, a game called Life (not Conway’s, but real life). They talked about possible adventures on a water-world with multiple continents and thousands of cultures, and an expansion pack to extend the game to the planet’s airless moon “as soon as we straighten out some issues with a subcontractor”.

The takeaway line, which has stuck with me to this day, is this:

In Life, you set your own victory conditions.

You get to set those conditions, and you get to decide if you have won.

What has this to do with watching anime, aside from the fact that for many, watching anime is Life? Just this. Akers categorizes ways of watching from super-casual entertainment to hard-core critical. More detailed categories are possible, mostly as an extension from that line. You could watch it for the artwork, for the fashions, for the furnishings, or for clues on how to act around girls (or boys). You could study Ikki Tousen and InuYasha intently in order to gain a better understanding of the Warring States period, or hang on every word in The Gokusen and Saikano to improve your Japanese pronunciation. In all of these, as in all of Life, you decide on the victory conditions, and you decide if your anime-watching was worthwhile.

There’s no right way to watch anime, and there’s no wrong way, either. The only requirement is that your watching remain true to its purpose.

Anime Worth Watching — Summer 2016

September 24, 2016

Amanchu
Futaba is a shy young girl who comes to a small coastal town from the big city, meets an outgoing classmate and a caring teacher, and learns to come out of her shell by learning to SCUBA dive. A quiet, feel-good, sort of an anime. Like Flying Witch, but with a little more personal drama. If you liked Aria, you will like this one — it has the same director, the cats look the same (i.e. totally un-catlich), and the lead cat is even named Aria.

Futaba and Friend, and cat

Futaba and Friend, and cat

The Ancient Magus’ Bride OVA

First of three 20-minute episodes. Prequel to the manga, which might mean we’re getting a full season anime. Chise is a young girl from an uncaring home who ends up living with a sorcerer, who just happens to have an eland’s skull for a head. Visually very pretty, with interesting magic and magical creatures. Their household is Chise, the Magus, Ruth (a black Flat Coated Retriever who eats at the table, just like humans), and a bonnet-wearing maid who has remarkable skills in tomato stacking.

The girl, Ruth, the maid, the Mage

Chise, Ruth, the Maid, the Mage

Opening scene looks like a foggy Victorian London, but in a later shot you can see The Eye.

ancientmaguslondon02

I liked the manga enough to buy the first volume when it came out. There’s two more 20-minute episodes in the OVA series, and then we’ll see.

So, there were a couple of good anime this summer, but Re:Zero was not one of them (some people liked it). I’ve mentioned it before, and I only mention it now so that I can include a picture of Rem, the Best Girl. Flawed hero learns his way around a new fantasy world by continuously being killed and respawning back at earlier save points. Falls in love with Emelia, main heroine, just because. Rejects Rem who really loves him, because he’s fallen for Emelia, who never contributes much to the story and doesn’t think much of him until the last episode, when his heroism and kindness turns her low level disdain into love, which I’m sure will last.

Rem

Rem

Emelia

Emelia

Which one would you chose?

That’s it for the summer. Pickings were slim enough that I rewatched GaruPan, Shirobako, Flying Witch, and Taisho Baseball Girls.

Flying Witch Soundtrack

September 21, 2016
They did the best they could with what they had

They did the best they could with what they had

Are you a fan of the anime Flying Witch? Then you’ll probably like this CD, available from Amazon, but be aware that half the tracks here cannot be found in the anime. On the other hand, if you are unfamiliar with the anime and are just looking for some interesting Japanese music you will find that most of the tracks are too simplistic, too Western, and there’s only one J-pop style vocal.

The problem is, there’s only three or four points in the whole series with anything like an extended musical sequence. The OP and ED, of course. The ED is on this CD (track 44), the OP is not, probably due to licensing issues (the series composer wrote the ED but not the OP). Then there’s the music backgrounding the opening train and bus ride that bring Makoto into Aomori (track 2), and the minute-long sequence in Episode 2 accompanying the arrival of the Harbinger of Spring (track 28).

Arrival

Arrival


Variations and extracts of these composition appear in a number of other scenes. Other than that, the music in the anime tends to come in short sequences of from 30 seconds or so, to as few as eight notes each. The CD extends most of these to a minute or a minute and a half. The way this is done is to start each track off with a teaser, mentioning the anime tune, then transition to an extended introduction (in a vamp-’till-ready style), and finish with the music from the anime (track 17). Sometimes the lead-in contains all the anime bars.

Harbinger

Harbinger

Some of the tracks are variations on the original themes. Others are totally new compositions. While the anime music tends to have a country/folk feel to it, with acoustic guitar, flute and recorder, the variations, well, vary. Harp, honky-tonk, light jazz, all put in brief appearances,  in many cases sounding somewhat new age, when it’s not sounding turn of the century before last.

Other than the OP, all of the music is by Dewa Yoshiaki (出羽良彰). There’s a total of 41 tracks and 72 minutes of music, plus three tracks of voice acting “mini-drama”, with Makoto talking to her cat familiar Chitose. All told, you are probably paying $2/minute for music you can identify in the anime. I thought it was worth it. If you want to listen to excerpts from the various tracks, you can find them towards the bottom of this page on the amazon.co.jp site. Or search for “ふらいんぐうぃっち CD”

1. Mini-drama 1
2. Makoto Kobata
3. Dangerous person
4. Kikikaikai
5. Sense of direction
6. Nano-san!
7. Loitering, and enjoy
8. Loitering is a panacea
9. Magic classroom
10. Soothsayer
11. Mai national bird
12. Leisurely sponger
13. Blue forest
14. Haruno Mountain
15. Clear, sunny
16. Training
17. Flying Witch
18. Dream and roadside of happiness
19. Eye-catching 1
20. Mini-drama 2
21. Dream of the witch
22. Witch
23. Tail Keru
24. Found
25. Run away
26. Tito’s
27. Strange creatures
28. Spring
29. Become a witch!
30. Stupid
31. Tohoho
32. Wandering witch
33. Sister witch
34. Dog witch
35. Inukai’s
36. Queen of the Night
37. Apricot
38. Magic of nightfall
39. Cherry colored landscape
40. Konkurushio
41. Flying whale
42. Eye-catching 2
43. Mini-drama 3
44. Everyday magic
Flying Witch ending theme

I placed my order on the 16th, and Amazon Prime delivered it from Japan on the 20th. It was bubble-wrapped inside a bubble-wrap envelope, but the shippers still managed to break the hinge on the CD box.

GaruPan and Shirobako, Part 2

September 18, 2016

Four years later, I’m still finding out interesting things about both of these anime.

In the first season of Shirobako, the director almost craters the project because he keeps changing the scenario and pushing the envelope on how they portray the characters.

Now, I find that Mizushima Tsutomu, the director for both Shirobako and Girls und Panzer, was the cause of the delay that pushed the ending of GaruPan from December, 2012 to March, 2013, and for the same reason. Here is a translation of his blog entry on the topic.

Trim Tabs and the Towers: A 15 year retrospective

September 10, 2016

Fifteen years ago, the towers fell. Ten years later, I wrote this essay about the idea of trim tabs, how they work on airplanes, and how they work in organizations. Specifically, I wanted to talk about how the idea applied in the aftermath to 9/11. In the five years since, nothing much has changed. Nothing except the justification and realization of my fears. Jump to the end for my current opinions.


In the old days, airplanes were controlled by the movement of wing and tail surfaces, driven by what was essentially piano wire directly connected via pulleys to the pilot’s controls. It was like an extension of the pilot’s body, because it was a direct physical link: hand, stick, wire, ailerons. Since the controls were extensions of the pilot’s body, they were driven by the pilot’s muscles. In those days, flying was physically exhausting because there were no automated systems like autopilot, or even altitude-hold, and all inputs were physical. Flying a two-hour mission in bumpy weather was like spending two hours bulldogging steers.

As airplanes became bigger and faster, this became a problem. When you move the stick, you are forcing a slab of metal to move against the airstream created by your flight. Remember when the back windows of a car would open? Remember riding along with the window open and your hand stuck out like an airfoil? If you tilted it the least little bit, it would take off, and it took all your strength (or a certain dexterity) to get it back into position. That’s the problem pilots encountered before the invention of power assist on flight controls. Moving a big metal plate against a fast-flowing airstream took all your strength, and maybe required the help of a co-pilot. There was a limit on what was physically possible. Enter the trim tab.

The trim tab, more accurately the servo tab, was a small rudder built into the much larger real rudder. The idea is that you move the small rudder this way, the much larger rudder responds by turning that way, and the whole ship or airplane responds. The idea dates from WWI. A real trim tab is a more or less ‘set it and leave it’ item, that creates a certain continuing flight regime (for instance, to offset a heavy load in the tail of the aircraft), while a servo tab is a true continuous flight control. However, since the organizational applications were talked about (by Buckminster Fuller, for starters) as ‘trim tabs’, I’ll stick with that.

What does all this have to do with terrorism? Just this. A terrorist act is an attempt to be a trim tab. If the terrorist group plays their cards right, they can cause a reaction in the target government that causes a counter-reaction in the populace. The basic idea is that the target government will over-react, increase oppression, and drive the populace into the arms of the terrorists. Properly executed, a terrorist campaign will get the government to do the terrorists work for them That’s one reason why most nascent guerilla movements use terrorism as a tool. The trouble is, that scenario can only play out when it’s native terrorists promoting a domestic cause against an oppressive government (which doesn’t have to be a foreign power, but often is). It doesn’t work that way when the terrorists are foreign, or the populace doesn’t feel oppressed, or the government is one that reacts with Norwegian calm.

Since Al Qaida was facing a different problem, they had to have a different immediate goal. Al Qaida’s goal was to target the US populace and government in such a way as to cause the US to overreact, both internally and externally, and to bankrupt itself the way the USSR did in Afghanistan.

Our reaction has validated AQ’s view of the US as a blind giant, ignorantly flailing around in response to stimuli we don’t understand. A measured approach to 9/11 would be to fill in the hole and turn the problem over to the FBI and the Treasury Dept. The world was on our side on 9/12, and we could have gotten unbelievable levels of cooperation. A strongman approach would be to follow the measured approach, plus invade Afghanistan, beat up on the Taliban, and chase AQ into the hills. The world would still be on our side, but the countries of SW Asia would begin to feel threatened, and would begin hedging their bets. Domestically, we had 99% of the US Muslim population on our side — the remainder being the disaffected youth who, like DYs of any persuasion hate the man. A measured domestic approach would be to armor the cockpit doors on airliners so it was impossible for another 9/11 to happen, and increase our police contacts within the Muslim community.

Instead, we embarked upon a decade-long attack on domestic freedoms, we demonized the Muslims in the US, we engaged in two wars in exactly the wrong place, the outcome of neither will be of any benefit to us. Let me emphasize that. In another year or five, we will be substantially out of both IQ and AF, and those two countries will be in whatever state we leave them. If we could have gotten them into that state for free, if the genie in the lamp could have delivered today’s Iraq and tomorrow’s Afghanistan without it costing us a dollar or a life, we’d still be worse off than we were in 2001. The fact that it cost trillions of dollars, and more American lives than were lost in 9/11 is just a side-benefit for the terrorists. I think The Onion’s headline on this year’s media coverage is appropriate: our nation would rather think about 9/11 than anything from the subsequent ten years.

So, here is the unexpected (by us), emergent, trim-tab-induced result. We have bankrupted our country, morally, politically, financially, and militarily. We have trampled on the US Constitution and the rights of citizens. We have squandered our post-Cold-War international advantages. We did it by reacting in exactly the wrong way to the 9/11 trim tab event. The terrorists acted. The government reacted in a predictably inappropriate fashion. The country and the economy responded by flying into the ground like a hijacked airliner. I can’t say the terrorists have won, but I can say they are well ahead on points. You can say that, hey, we’re still here, and Bin-Laden is dead, and Al Qaida a scattered, hunted remnant. But no suicide bomber expects to live to see the fruits of their sacrifice. I’m sure that if we could reassemble OBL from the inside of whatever sharks he’s now inhabiting, he’d say yeah, it worked. It was worth it.


So, what has changed in the five years since I wrote those words? Not a lot, except that our knowledge of things has expanded. As predicted, we still have a presence (read Americans being killed) in Iraq and Afghanistan. As predicted, neither of those countries has a successful government. As not predicted, the instability spilled over into Syria, and now our supposed ally, Turkey, and our opportunistic opponent, Russia, are working together to prop up the Assad regime, and destroy our friends, the Kurds (read domino effect). Guantanamo is still an extra-judicial detention camp, with 60-some prisoners, 40 of whom are too dangerous to release (read, they hate us), but are infeasible to prosecute because of their treatment (read, tortured, which may have something to do with why they hate us).

Three years ago, Edward Snowden pulled back the drapes and let some sun shine in on what our government had been doing in the dark, behind our backs, in our computers. Now we know that not only has the US Intelligence Community been unleashed on its citizens, in ways that are manifestly unconstitutional — and other ways that probably would also be, if the Republicans didn’t have (until recently) a majority on the Supreme Court. Those intrusive techniques have trickled down to the local police, who have conducted their own unconstitutional operations, and lied to the judges about it (or didn’t bother to lie, because the judges didn’t care).

And speaking of police, they are now armed with the latest in military hardware, courtesy of the unending wars, and their interactions with the citizenry have taken on many aspects of an occupying force, making a mockery of serve and protect. And if anyone complains, well, do you want the terrorists to murder us in our beds?

Has America become a police state? Heavens, no. We are still among the freest countries of the world. Too bad about slipping from that The Freest position. Have we laid the foundations for becoming a police state? It’s too soon to tell, but we are certainly establishing a framework on which those foundations could be built. Many of the elements are slotting into place: a militarized police force, contemptuous of its citizens, a ubiquitous domestic spy system that runs all the way up to the central government, a complaisant judiciary at all levels — all that is needed is a coming to power of a political party more interested in power than governance, headed by a like-minded demagogue.

If it looks like the American ship of state has careened out of control, scraping from one reef to another, that’s a tribute to the effectiveness of trim tabs.

9/11, Trim Tab Day. Remember it.

My Second Trip To Japan: Impressions

September 10, 2016

I really enjoyed this trip. It was much more fun than my first one, perhaps because it was longer and covered more ground. But every trip has lessons learned and things one wants to do better and random observations. These are mine.

Japan Rail Pass

A must-have, if you are going to be there for a week or so, and are not in a tour group. A number of vendors sell the Exchange Orders, all at about the same price. I used Japan Experience. At the time I’m writing this, a week-long general seating pass is $275, while a reserved-seat green pass is $365 for an adult. You have to buy it before you get to Japan (they FedEx the order to you so it arrives fast), and you have to be there as a tourist. Some hints on use:

  1. Its primary function is to get you past the JR train station turnstiles and onto the platforms. You have to show it to the guard coming and going, so you don’t go through the turnstiles themselves. Then you are good to go on any JR car with general seating.
  2. If you have a green pass and you want a reserved seat, you have to go to the Midori-no-madoguchi (Green ticket window).
    Look for this sign

    Look for this sign

    and make a reservation. Then you show your JR pass to get on the platform, and you show your reservation (it’s a small, green ticket), and your pass, to the conductor on the train. NOTE: Midori-no-madoguchi is also where you go to swap your JR Exchange Order for a real JR pass when you first arrive.

  3.  The pass works for Japan Rail trains only. There are many private train lines in Japan, and they don’t take the JR pass. For example, there are two ways to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo Ueno station. The JR train is free (with the pass) but is about 15 minutes slower. The Keisei Skyliner runs just between those two locations, and is faster, but it will cost you $15. In Tokyo, the JR Yamanote line runs a big loop around the heart of the city, but most of the suburbs are fed by local lines. Plus, you may find you have to pay an extra $5 or so on the train, when it runs over non-JR rails.
  4. It pays to plan ahead. I had a first class green pass, but couldn’t get a reserved seat on half the JR trains I travelled on, because I booked the individual tickets too late. That was my fault, because I kept changing my travel plans. If you need flexibility, the green pass is probably not the way to go.
  5. The company that sells you your JR Exchange Order may also offer some other products. I rented a portable Wi-Fi unit for about $10 a day. It was worth it. I’d turn it on, turn on my Nexus 7 tablet, and I had maps and translation services pretty much wherever I was. They also sold me a Pasmo card.  More on that in the section on money.

Even if you are travelling the length of Japan, the JR pass can save you a lot of money on the long distance routes, at the cost of a little time. For example, the standard recommendation from the HyperDia train schedule site, for a trip from Sapporo to Tsu (equivalent of going from Portland, ME, to Charleston, SC), is to fly from Chitose to Nagoya and take the train from there. Time is 5 hours (plus security, which, admittedly, is a lot more efficient than TSA’s), and the cost is $470. If you take the shinkansen, it’s 12 hours and $360, but JR pass saves you $350 of that, and you get to look at the scenery, instead of the tops of clouds.

Money

Bring cash. Yes, the hotels and big restaurants in the big cities will take credit cards (check with your card company before you go), and yes, many shops (mostly combini), and the train stations, take money cards, like Pasmo and Suica, but a surprising number don’t. I took $400 in cash, burned through that, borrowed $120 and spent most of that, all in 10 days of not living extravagantly. Meanwhile, less than $1000 went on the credit card, mostly for hotels. The crafts shop I visited in Iga on Day 9 sold goods that were in the $30-$50 range, and took only cash.

Exchange your money before heading off into the hinterlands. In 2012, my hotel in Kobe had no trouble turning dollars into yen. In 2016, the drug stores I saw in Sapporo had a machine that would do that for you automatically. In Tsu, a somewhat provincial city — about the size of Spokane, but on the unfashionable side of Ise Bay — the only place to change dollars to yen was the main bank, and it took three people and twenty minutes to do so.

Trash cans

There aren’t any. Japanese friends of mine say there’s two reasons. First, the Tokyo subways were subject to a nerve-agent gas attack, back in 1995, and many of the devices were placed in trash cans. Bureaucratic solution, remove all the trash cans. Second, Japanese cities are big on recycling. They do this by forcing residents to buy multiple trash bags, one for each kind of recycling. For those who resent this, the easy solution is to take a bag along when they go to work, and drop it in some public trash can on the way. Shop owner solution, remove the trash cans. Workaround for foreigners, go into a combini and ask them to dispose of it for you.

Children

A note on children in Japan. They have remarkable freedom of movement, unthinkable to US helicopter parents. These five boys were doing the equivalent of taking the train from Washington DC to Portland, Main. No parents, no conductors checking up on them, they just got on, found their seats and sat down. Presumably their parents dropped them at the ticket turnstile and let them find their own way two levels down to the shinkansen platform, but having seen younger children navigating the system, they might have just bid their mothers goodbye at the front door and headed out.

Not a parent in sight

Not a parent in sight

There’s an anime currently running called Sweetness and Lightning, about a young child and her single parent father. In one episode he gets sick and she goes to a friend for help. The friend’s house requires a trip across a good chunk of the city, not just to a neighbor. Here is how Michael Vito, over at Weekly Review of Transit, Place and Culture in Anime characterized it. The article is pretty far down a pretty big page, so when you get to the link, hit <Find> and search for Sweetness.

Nobody minds

Talk about free range kids…

The point is, she’s a pre-schooler, walking alone in an urban environment, and nobody is bothered, nobody is worried. It’s a normal thing. For all our talk of independence and spirit of adventure, that would never fly in today’s America. I note that in the first half of an earlier century, I was allowed to ride my bike anywhere, with the only requirement being that I had to make it home in time for dinner.

Weather

In November of 2012, Kobe was cold and damp, but not freezing. In August of 2016, Tokyo and Tsu were around 90 and humid, and Sapporo was in the upper 70s. Not sure how much of the humidity was due to the two typhoons that pounded everything from Tokyo, north while we were there. My conclusion is that August is not the time to be visiting Japan, unless it’s the far north.

Language

You really need to know some Japanese phrases, and being able to identify some key kanji also helps. Much of the time, only one person in a shop speaks English. At the hotel in Sapporo — big hotel, right next to the central train station — nobody at the desk spoke any. If you have a little Japanese, it gives them something to hang their answer on.

Japanese TV

Japanese TV is, to my western taste, terrible. Every program, even the news, seems to have a panel of C-list actors commenting on it, with their pictures in little inset frames off to the side. Here’s the reporting on the typhoon-induced flooding on Hokkaido

jp16sapporotv02sm jp16sapporotv01sm

And here is what is available in my hotel room at 8:30 on a Sunday night.
1. An infomercial for some sort of cleaner
2. Coverage of some boat race that took place in January with a male sportscaster, a male color commentator and another fat male commentator who looks like me might have been an entertainer of some sort, and then a woman who was another sort of announcer.
3. Some police procedural documentary with shaky cams and hidden cams and all kinds of discussions of evidence, and real life chase scenes and so forth with faces blanked out.
4. A reality show where it looks like they have taken a family of New Guinea Aborigines and have brought them to Japan to see how they react to modern life. Right now the aboriginal father has just had his first experience with with chopsticks and what he did was put them through his nose.
5. Another reality show where we see cars crashing on security cameras and shots of race cars turning over right out of the gate.
6. what might be coverage of the Sapporo Marathon, with the news announcer and a support group or running along in the rain and the usual collection of commentators is looking at them from the from the corners of the screen.
7. Some sort of historical artistic docudrama like you might see on the History Channel. Looks like it was a perhaps a history of Christianity in Japan and finally
8. Another historical docudrama with lots of replays of things that went on in the samurai era and now we’re looking at everybody’s gravestone to the modern era. When I first saw it I thought it was a regular Samurai Western if you will but it appears to be educational instead.

Only 7 and 8 did not have the Greek Chorus off to the side.

 

This is Part 4 of 4.  Here’s links to them all:

Part 1  Days 1 to 3

Part 2  Days 4 to 6

Part 3  Days 7 to 9

Part 4  Final Impressions

 

My Second Trip To Japan: Days 7 to 10

September 9, 2016

Day 7
Up early and off on a run to the south. First leg was Tokyo to Nagoya via the Osaka shinkansen. I could really get used to that way of travel.

jp16shinkansentonagoyasm jp16shinkansenseats

Nagoya to Tsu was by local train again. I sat up in the first car, and got to watch the driver. Like many Japanese workers, he’s trained to physically enact all his decisions. When he came to a branch in the rails, he would first point straight ahead, and then at the branch he would take. When he changed speed, he would first point straight ahead, then at the speedometer, and then reach for the throttle. Same way when passing checkpoints — physically mark them off on a board. His whole body was involved, not just his brain.

jp16southtraindriver01sm jp16southtraindriver02sm

I’ve seen platform attendants doing something similar when walking the platform right before the trains came in. Point at a gate that should be closed. Put your hand on it. Say ‘yes’. There’s less chance of forgetting that way.

If Sapporo was like upstate Maine, Mie Prefecture was like South Carolina. Rice was still growing in the north. In the south, it was harvested, and the fields were plowed in anticipation of a second crop.

jp16southriceharvestsm jp16southriceharvest03sm

The hotel was, finally, a big, modern building, with roomy rooms, and a nice lobby,

jp16tsuhotellobbysm jp16tsuhotelroomsm

and a good view, front and back. In the view to the east, over the harbor (click to embiggen), you will note what looks a little like a tree-lined lagoon to the left of the centerline on the coast. That’s actually a large solar array. Tsu is very big on renewables, with solar and wind power sites popping up all over.

View to the east

View to the east

View to the west

View to the west

Tsu, by the way, is the capital of Mie (pronounced mee-ae). The kanji is 津, which means sanctuary, or harbor. It’s part of the word tsu.na.mi, which means harbor wave.

That night was dinner with students and faculty from Mie University. Everyone ordered what looked good to them, and we all shared. I found out that burdock root is normally served shreded, and is pretty tasteless.

jp16tsudinner01sm

Day 8
We had a tour of the Mie University campus. Very nice, in a subtropical sort of way.

jp16mieu01sm jp16mieunipalmtreessm

Student Services

Student Services

Student Workshop

Student Workshop

Then we had the workshop, with grad students talking about their proposed projects. Very interesting work being done there.

That night was dinner with students and faculty from Mie University. Dinner was a set piece affair, delivered in increments. Seven or eight courses. Very good. Many of the ingredients were identifiable.

jp16tsudinner02bsm jp16tsudinner02csm

We each had a glass of ninja sake, which is served in a glass in a traditional square sake drinking box. The glass is filled until it overflows into the box.

jp16tsudinner02dsm

Day 9
Two superb grad students from Mie, Yamada Koji, and Takigawa Yuma, gave us a tour of inland Mie, including the famous ninja town of Iga. We had demonstrations of ninja techniques, and visited the ninja museum.

Ninja walkers, for walking in swamps

Ninja walkers, for walking in swamps …

The History Club knows how to find old things

… not walking on water.

Ninja crafts

Ninja crafts

Afterwards, we visited a crafts shop that let you make your own accoutrements. I didn’t buy any, because they (a) were expensive, and (b) would only take cash. No Suica or credit cards.

Non-ninja crafts

Non-ninja crafts

Iga beef. The only meal where they offered extra salt.

Iga beef. The only meal where they offered extra salt.

Lunch was the world-famous Iga beef, and the students ate like grad students the world over. It makes one’s heart glad.

They ate their own, and part of mine

They ate their own, and part of mine

That night was dinner with students and faculty from Mie University. In the most traditional Japanese …er… tradition… it was all laid out on the table when we arrived.

Last meal

Last meal

Day 10
Up early, and home. One last wave to the local schoolgirls. One last local train from Mie, one last shinkansen from Nagoya, one last JR train from Tokyo to Narita.

Last schoolgirls

Last schoolgirls

Last shinkansen

Last shinkansen

Went through customs at Denver, which meant we had to claim our bags and re-check them. That happened without leaving security, but TSA Denver still decided they needed to loot my checked bag to make sure the bottle of Plum Sake wasn’t something nefarious. I hope they enjoyed unwrapping the used underwear I padded it with.

All told, a very successful trip. Except for the part about my hips and back having deteriorated to the point where my two grad students insisted on following me back to my room every night to make sure I made it. It was the hostel what done me in, and I’m in much better shape now than then. But I do appreciate the concern and assistance they showed.

I’ll wrap this up in a final essay with some impressions and lessons learned. More words, fewer pictures.

This is Part 3 of 4. Here’s links to them all:

Part 1 Days 1 to 3

Part 2 Days 4 to 6

Part 3 Days 7 to 9

Part 4 Final Impressions

My Second Trip To Japan: Days 4 to 6

September 8, 2016

The next three days were spent attending the conference, wandering around Sapporo, and returning to Tokyo. I’ll be talking mostly about Sapporo.

My first meal there was a nabeyaki dinner — thick udon noodles, tempura shrimp, vegetables, and a lump of mochi flour (I thought it was a potato dumpling) in a bubbling broth in a stone pot. When I say bubbling, I mean it was still venting steam bubbles minutes after they brought it to the table.

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jp16sapporofirstmealnabeyake

There are little specialty shops like this all over. Nothing but noodles. As with many such small places, they only take cash.

Sapporo has lots of places to shop, including a covered market that morphs into a covered shopping mall. Hokkaido is where Japan grows much of its produce, including softball-sized peaches, on sale in the market.

jp16sapporoshoppingmall02sm jp16sapporoshoppingmallsm
jp16sapporocoveredmarketsm

 

Since a yen is very close to a penny, the peaches are $3.00 each, and the apples only $2.50.

Since a yen is very close to a penny, the peaches are $3.00 each, and the apples only $2.50.

The city has a fair amount of snowfall. As they put it, yes, they get close to twenty feet of snow per year, but there’s rarely more than three feet on the ground at any one time. To ameliorate this, they’ve built a vast underground shopping complex, attached to their underground. You can walk from one station to the next, with shops all around, including specialty shops like Hello Kitty and Mr Donut.

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jp16sapporohellokittysm jp16sapporomrdonutsm

My last night there was the Conference Dinner. It was a half hour walk from my hostel, through a warm Saturday night filled with couples of all ages, romantically out hunting Pokemons. The dinner was a multi-course affair, involving Japanese, Chinese, and Korean dishes. We also had speeches, and drumming. The drumming was the only noteworthy thing.

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Up early, cab to the train station, and off on another whistle stop tour of the villages of rural Japan. I managed to get a nice photo of a volcano within a volcano.

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Rolled into Ueno Station in the late afternoon, unloaded at my favorite Tokyo hotel, and headed for Akihabara, the technical heart of the world — think of Frye’s, spread out over an entire city district.

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Unfortunately, it was hot, Sunday afternoon, just dripping with sweat and otaku. I managed to spend $60 or $80 on light novels and such, but drew the line at spending $100 for the Girls und Panzer movie, with no subtitles.

This is Part 2 of 4. Here’s links to them all:

Part 1 Days 1 to 3

Part 2 Days 4 to 6

Part 3 Days 7 to 9

Part 4 Final Impressions

Squashed Oatmeal

September 8, 2016

Summer is coming to an end and the great green and yellow tide of squash is rolling over us. MJ made a nice stir-fry with onion, garden tomatoes, and garden squash, seasoned with ponzu, Worcestershire, and salt-free all purpose seasoning. Very good, and there were some leftovers.

Meanwhile, we had some heavily gnawed pork ribs, left over from when I was away on a trip, and a couple of chunks of unidentifiable fast food chicken parts, covered in special fast food batter, that I combined in the pressure cooker to make broth with. Not bad, but it still had a hint of stale batter.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of fast food broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, a quarter cup of squash-based stir-fry. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the squash a minute before you are done, and the potatoes at the very end.

Results: Very good. Onions always work well in oatmeal, the squash still had some crunch, and there were not enough tomatoes to clash with the flavor — in general, tomatoes don’t work in oatmeal, it’s not spaghetti.

Rating: *****

My Second Trip To Japan: Days 1 to 3

September 6, 2016

Another year, another conference. Four years ago I went to Kobe, Japan, with a side trip to Kyoto. This time the trip was more wide-ranging, from Tokyo to Sapporo in the north, to Tsu in the south. A conference, a workshop, and a couple of hours in Tokyo.

That 20 hours is the car time. Train time is less than 12.

That 20 hours is the car time.
Train time is less than 12. An equivalent distance in the US (Portland, ME, to Charleston, SC) is 24hrs by train.

Day 1
Since MJ’s shoulder would not let her drive, a good friend picked me up at 4:30AM to take me to the airport.

Security was no worse than usual and soon I was in the air flying southeast to Denver. In Denver there was a four-hour layover and then I flew back northwest, passing within a hundred miles of Spokane on the great circle route from Denver to Tokyo.

The immigration and Border Control process at Narita was very easy and then the rest of the procedure was pretty much as I thought it would be: up to the 4th floor to get my wireless repeater, over to the bank to change money, down to the basement to pick up my Japan Rail Pass, and since Japan Rail to Tokyo was broken because of the typhoon I had to take Kaesai railroad which was $24 but which was faster. About 40min from plane to train.

In less than an hour, we go from the flat rice fields surrounding Narita

In less than an hour, we go from the flat rice fields surrounding Narita

...to the Sky Tree Metropolis

…to the Sky Tree Metropolis

When I got to the station I went directly to Japan Rail ticketing for the shinkansen and found that I could not get my 6 a.m. train, but that I could get a 9:40 train out of Tokyo Station which was one stop south, the biggest and most complex railroad station in the country.

The weather in Tokyo, only be described as hellish. It was in the mid-to-upper 80s with a hundred percent humidity because of the recent typhoon and of course I was dressed for Spokane and a chilly airplane and very nearly died getting to the hotel.

Typhoon Mindulle hit Narita the day before I arrived

Typhoon Mindulle hit Honshou the day before I arrived at Narita

Tropical Storm Kompasu hit Hokkaido the day after I left

Tropical Storm Kompasu hit Hokkaido the day after I left Sapporo

The hotel was strangely built. Think of a standard multi-story motel with an external walkway to get you to the rooms, and then take that hotel and wrap it around in a square so that the walkways are facing in and build some building supports around them so that you would think you were in a building except that the center park was open to the sky and it did not feel like you were outside.

JP16UenoHotelFrontSm JP16UenoHotelInsideSm

The room was very small — about the size of a double bed with enough room to sit on the side of the bed and rest your arms on the dressing table. It had nice HD TV, but they used the what appears to be the now-standard approach of having to stick your room card into a slot in order to get electricity. Which means that the air conditioner is not on unless you’re in the room so you can’t cool it down, and the plugs don’t work so you can’t plug in your electronics and leave them to charge while you go to dinner. The bed itself was okay but it was the pillows that were interesting — one side was like a multi-segmented rice bag as if they wanted to keep it up off the bed so that the whole pillow stayed cool.

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Of course both that night’s reservation and one I had made to stay there when I came back down South was messed up but they very graciously offered to put me up for the night and make a another reservation for my Southern trip at standard room rates, not at the hotels.com rate.

I went out to get dinner and could not stand the heat so I went across the street to a Lawsons and bought a bento box, brought that back, and ate it in the room. Then I collapsed into bed about 8 o’clock and slept through until 6.

Day 2
Up early and ate an $8 hotel breakfast which was mostly rice with little tablespoon size servings of garnishes like chopped daikon or pickled ginger.

The walk to Ueno station was relatively pleasant because it was only about 75 degrees at 8AM. The ride, one stop to Tokyo Station, was crowded, as Japanese trains tend to be during rush hour. I found the right platforms but the wrong track and if I hadn’t asked I would have seen my shinkansen disappear into the tall grass.

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The shinkansen ride was pleasant but not as good as it might have been. They could only get me into standard reserved seat instead of the first-class seat the Japan Rail ticket authorize me to get, and in fact my seat was not even a standard JR/airline seat with the tray in front of you — it was one of a set of 6, 3 and 3 facing each other, and the other five occupants was a set of 5 middle school boys who sat down and linked their Gameboys and played Super Mario racer for 4 hrs.

Shinkansen North

Shinkansen North

I called my brother from the train because how often do you get a phone call from a shinkansen? We had a nice little talk until we hit the tunnel and were cut off it was the tunnel from northern Honshu to Southern Hokkaido and it’s like 33 miles long and even at 85 miles an hour you spend an awful lot of time underwater.

Northern Japan. Bigger fields, fewer towns

Northern Japan. Bigger fields, fewer towns

We changed trains at Shin-Hakodate station from the shinkansen to a local milk run that stopped at every other fishing village along the coast. Five years ago, Google Earth shows Shin-Hakodate as a wide spot in the tracks, and today it’s not much better. Surprising as a shinkansen terminal.

The view from Shin-Hakodate

The view from Shin-Hakodate

and then cut across the island next to a very pretty volcano, which I did not get to photograph, and finally arrived two hours later in Sapporo. There, a very nice JR lady who had studied in America in Los Angeles help me to get my suitcase and tickets for the trip back on the 28th.

It was getting late so I took a taxi to the hotel. It’s an obscure little hotel, and the driver got lost several times. He did manage to clip two bicyclists made a turn across traffic and a good time was had by all. It was getting dark by the time we finally found the hotel.

Day 3

My hotel was a standard hippie dippie youth hostel crossed with a traditional Japanese inn. You left your shoes at the front door and there was almost no furniture in the rooms.

Khaosan Sapporo Family Hostel

Khaosan Sapporo Family Hostel

I had a standard six mat room with a six-mat antechamber. The room was designed for two. It had a bunk bed with a top bunk but the bottom bunk was a floor bed with a futon (a 1 inch thick cloth pad) plus a duvet and a couple of pillows. The furniture was one low Japanese style table and two Japanese style chairs. That is to say if you took a straight-back chair and sawed off the legs and let people put a cushion on it and sit on that, that was their concession to Western sensibilities.

My room. Hugin Panorama Creator had a hard time with my camerawork

My room. Hugin Panorama Creator had a hard time with my camerawork

The partition between the rooms was exactly 6ft high. I am 6ft one half inch tall in my stocking feet.

The place was full of youth and family groups and everybody cooked their own meals in the communal kitchen and hung out in the coming with dining room living room with a big TV. I spend most of my time either in the room or out and about.

Between sleeping on the floor and the summer heat (they have a window air conditioner in the room but it only worked in fan mode), I almost died. My back and hip bones never did recover for the rest of the trip.

This is Part 1 of 4. Here’s links to them all:

Part 1 Days 1 to 3

Part 2 Days 4 to 6

Part 3 Days 7 to 9

Part 4 Final Impressions

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 5, 2016

Garden Report for 160905

No report for three weeks, due to travel, and more travel. Weather, I am told, was pretty much NENW standard for August — hottish and dryish.

The deck sugar pod peas gave one final half cup — enough to mix with one salad. The deck tomatoes have pooped out, after delivering a few final handfuls of cherrys. The garden tomatoes never did much at all. The Big Beef tomato out front yielded its final 136gram monster. The summer squash were much damaged by blossom-end rot and gave us only one medium. The zucchinis did much better, turning out 8kg of the stuff, but it looks like they’ve come to the end of their rope, as well. Finally, the pie pumpkins did equally poorly, turning out three small things better suited to the production of tarts than pies.

Week
Ending
9/05
Vegetable Count Weight
g
Unit
Weight
g
Total Total
Weight
kg

tomato 1  136 27 1.13
cabbage 4 4.02
peas 1.67
summer
squash
1 560 560 5 1.41
zucchini 8 8800 1100 12 10.7
pumpkin 3 609 203 3 0.61
Running Total 19.5
Little punks

Little punks

Week
Ending
8/15
Vegetable Count Weight
g
Unit
Weight
g
Total Total
Weight
kg

tomato  4 216  54 27 0.99
cabbage 4 4.02
peas 1.67
summer
squash
1 486 486  4  .85
zucchini  1  1500  1500  4  1.90
Running Total 9.43

We’re getting to the end of the garden. I suspect there’s only one more weeks worth of news. Pretty depressing, given that most years the garden report runs into mid- or late-October.

Anime Preview: Fall 2016

September 3, 2016

Unlike some others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on just the title and the cover art, and maybe a bit of the blurb. Consider yourself warned. If you want a real preview, pop on over to AniChart.

First, let’s say what’s normally not in here. Sequels to stuff I didn’t like before (Bubuki Buranki), most kids stuff (Nyanbo), anything with idol in the description, movies and OVA’s.

 

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps.

Occultic;Nine

Cast of Lost Village ends up in a library. Adds semicolons to their list of personal phobias

Cast of Lost Village ends up in a library. Adds semicolons to their list of personal phobias

Touken Ranbu

Extended family moves down from the trees, takes up living on rooftops. Plans to evolve into garden-shed-dwellers next.

Extended family moves down from the trees, takes up living on rooftops. Plans to evolve into garden-shed-dwellers next.

Shuumatsu no Izetta

Don't worry. Love will break our fall.

Witches und Panzers. Don’t worry. Love will break our fall.

 

 

 

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

Flip Flappers

Girls who are too poor to own stockings, and have to dress in tea towels find happiness in floral displays

Girls who are too poor to own stockings, and have to dress in tea towels find happiness in floral displays

Brave Witches

Girls who are too poor to own underwear bravely fly combat missions at 25,000ft. Huddle together to keep warm

Girls who are too poor to own underwear bravely fly combat missions at 25,000ft. Huddle together to keep warm

Keijo

World-class gymnast who is too poor to go to college enters swim suit competitions

World-class gymnasts who are too poor to go to college enter swim suit competitions

 

 

WON’T WATCH. The cover art / title / blurb tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

Long Riders

Girls und Bicycles. Not the David Carradine version.

Girls und Bicycles. Not the David Carradine version.

 

 

Tiger Mask W

Fursuit guy gets a job at The Tiger's Hole, has problems with his love life

Fursuit guy gets a job at The Tiger’s Hole, has problems with his love life

Yuri on Ice

Lesbians trapped in male bodies enter skating contests

Lesbians trapped in male bodies enter skating contests

…and 59 more that didn’t even make the “I won’t watch” cut.