Friday, July 31, 2015

Small Adventure 41

A few days ago, I made the mistake of going outside without the pocket camera. I got down to the open space in front of Lotteria fairly late in the afternoon, and discovered that they were just shutting down after having had an ice carving event. There were 6 or 7 large sculptures, about 4 feet tall each, similar to what you find in fancy restaurants, of birds, fish, etc. The ice blocks were sitting on green sheets of astro turf, and the air was so hot I could see an actual fast stream of water rushing under the blocks through the astro turf to the drain. There were a number of children playing with one block and trying to stay cool (it probably got to about 95 degrees at mid-day). The cleaning crew had a stack of beer cases next to the wall, so I guess the event included drinking of some kind.

I had to go into Yamakataya for food shopping. I finished 15 minutes later, and when I passed the open area again, the crew had toppled all the sculptures so they were just piles of shattered ice on the ground. Blink, and you miss it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hidden in Plain Sight

It's relatively common for people to have toys, plushies, keychains and cell phone straps on their bags and backpacks, and equally common for one or two of those items to fall off at some point. When this happens, someone else will eventually come along and move the item off the sidewalk or street to somewhere safer and more visible. And there it will stay for a very long time.

I don't recognize this one. It's probably a UFO Catcher plushie from Pokemon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pokemon Cooking

ABC Cooking Studio is on the 4th floor of Amu Pla, next door to the music supplies store I like visiting on the weekends (as I contemplate buying another synthesizer of some kind).

They have "Pokemon Kids Lessons", too. I'm not sure how they serve Pokemon, if it's broiled or baked, but I hope it's heart-healthy either way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates

It's been a little while since I last bought any Gameboy DS games, and I kind of wanted to get a few more if I could find them really cheap. So, I went to Book Off to see if they still had two of the Final Fantasy spin-offs, which are part of the Crystal Chronicles storyline. However, when I tried getting up to the second floor of the building via the outside stairwell, I discovered that the doors were blocked off and the lights in the stairway leading to the third floor were turned out. I went back to the first floor and entered through the main door and went up the indoor staircase, and the bookshelves on the second floor had all been moved around since I'd been there only one week earlier. (Previously, Book Off took up three floors of the building, and the indoor stairway only went up to the second floor. To get to the third floor you either went up the outside stairs or took the elevator. The games were on the second floor along with the movie DVDs and music CDs, and manga was on the third floor.) Now, the movies are gone, and the games have been moved to the first floor to make room for half of the manga. The third floor is completely vacant. I did find the games, but initially it was looking like all the DS games had been ditched. Fortunately, I did eventually locate the DS section, which is about the same size as before. And, the two games I wanted were still there, too. I was hoping that the prices would have been discounted to try to make them sell faster, but that hasn't happened. Anyway, I picked up Ring of Fates and Echoes of Time for 500 yen each.

FFCC: Ring of Fates (Square Enix, 2008)
Finally, a real RPG! Well, kind of. The story follows Yuri and his twin sister Chelinka as they start out from their father's farm in the countryside. Initially, the two kids discover the energy of the crystals on the planet when their father, Latov, teaches them how to "harness the power inside them" to pick up a heavy axe for chopping wood. The kids go into a couple dungeons to fight monsters, but the player can only use Yuri in battles. At about chapter three, the demon Cu Chaspel shows up at the house and we learn that Latov had been a knight under King Kolka Tawantyn, and had been the one that had originally fought Chaspel's boss, Hierophant Galdes, the King of the Moon. Chaspel kills Latov, turning Yuri and Chelinka into orphans. Chelinka uses her crystal powers to fend off Chaspel, but she then loses her voice. Yuri goes into training and, after several years, becomes a mean, lean fighting machine. But his friends, the cook Meeth and the former "Mage Royal" Alhanalem, have disappeared, and King Kolka has fallen under the spell of one of Galdes' minions. The game then becomes a quest to put the party together, while picking up Gnash the Jungle Boy along the way. Ultimately, the party consists of just Yuri, Meeth, Al and Gnash. Then, the group must rescue the King, defeat Chaspel, discover the history of Latov and his wife, and topple Galdes.

As with most RPGs, each character belongs to a different race and has their own weapon type and talents. Yuri is a human fighter, using a sword. Gnash is a Selphie archer. Meeth is a Lilty alchemist that attacks using a soup spoon. And Al is a Yuke magician that wields a scepter. Everyone can use magicite, crystals that provide healing or elemental attacks (fire, blizzard or thunder). And, as with most RPGs, there are too many items and things that just clutter the game and never get used. I never did get around to figure out how to use Al or Meeth as magic users; I just had them bopping things over the head with the scepter or spoon. There are all kinds of special attacks that involve pressing the R button, then drawing lines to the target for dealing larger amounts of damage, but during that time the enemy is attacking whoever you have picked as the team leader, and that aborts whatever special attack you're trying to do. It's easier to just have Yuri as the leader, make him run behind the enemy, and mash the A button to do physical attacks, and occasionally resort to the X button to do a magicite blizzard (freeze) or thunder (stun) attack. And X for cure and raise magicites.

(Yuri, in armor, talking to someone in the main town.)

As mentioned above, there's a lot to this game that isn't really necessary. The farm field has big houses for Meeth and Yuri, with bookshelves containing reading materials that do nothing to contribute to the plot. I never used most of the accessory rings, any magic, most of the armor and helmets, and the second time through the game I just used Start to skip all the cutscenes and dialog. The farm and the one town have other buildings you can explore, and people to talk to, that can be completely ignored. I mean, it's all big and gorgeous and everything, very well created, but none of it contributes to your ability to complete the game.

One other creature type is the Moogle. There's one Moogle, Stiltzkin, that you encounter very frequently near save points. He gives you a stamp card, and when you meet him again, you get one of 24 stamps. This makes buying Ring of Fates used kind of problematic, because the stamps are recorded permanently on the game cartridge. Starting a new game doesn't clear out the old stamps the previous owner picked up, which could be collected in either single and multi-player modes. So, when I got the game, 21 of the stamps were already filled in. Two of the remaining stamps were only available when playing the Star+ game (continuing after finishing the game once) and the last stamp is only available in Star++ (completing the game twice). Getting a stamp gives you a bunch of alchemy items, and there are specials at about 50%, 75% and 100% of the stamps. I succeeded in getting all 24 stamps, which gave me some extra items, but nothing immediately useful for power-ups or selling for money. (Completing the game three times just gives you a Star++ game again.)

(Main control window. Yuri, Al, Gnash and Meeth on the left. Magicite crystals on the right.)

Monsters and chests provide recipes, alchemy items and money. You can use money for buying "magicite pockets", magicite, armor and weapons. Initially, your party can only carry 8 or so of each magicite type. Buying, or finding "pockets" increases that maximum by 1 each. You can buy some weapons and armor from the shop in town, or from certain Moogles in the fields in later chapters of the game. Otherwise, you use recipes at the alchemy shop to have the shop clerk create stronger weapons and armor, which is cheaper than buying them directly. Additionally, and this part took me a REALLY long time to figure out, you can apply a gem (ruby, sapphire, emerald) to the recipe for an extra 200 gold to add up to 3 bonuses to the item (HP regen, plus to attack or defense, etc.) Having bonuses on the weapon, armor, helmet and accessory can really boost the main character when you're fighting the stronger bosses.

Generally, during the first two run throughs of the game, you're kind of money starved and you only get 5 extra pockets for each magicite type from the shops every few chapters. The shops also have stat boosts (attack, defense, HP, SP), but these are also limited. So, having Meeth in the party can be helpful in the longer dungeons. As the cook, she has the ability to use her cooking pot to turn raw magicite bits into full-blown magicite you can put into inventory. Specifically, you want the green bits to make cure magicite crystals (heals 200 HP per crystal). There are only a few locations in each dungeon where you can receive the magicite bits, but they are good when you find them if you need to do a lot of healing for some reason. (In one dungeon, you face invisible monsters that take 10% of the damage you're dealing out. Casting magicite Cure on them makes them visible and they then take normal damage, but now you're running through your Cures much faster...)

(Ending animation, when Yuri gets reunited with his mother.)

The first run through of the game is just the normal game. Star+ gives you the Hard mode, where you get the same monsters and story, but the monsters have higher attack and defense levels, and you can find better recipes and ingredients, and more money. Plus, there's one bonus dungeon that opens up. Star++ is almost identical to Star+, with the exception that you can get a few more Moogle stamps, the weapons store sells a "leisure suit" armor for 1,000,000 gold, and the gem shop has 99 of each of the magicite pockets at the beginning of the game. I finished the Star++ game after 40 hours of total play, with all the characters at level 99, and Yuri with 999 attack, defense and HP, although it took about 6 hours of churning to make enough money to buy the leisure suit. The suit was nice in that it had a stat boost for stunning the enemy every few hits, including bosses. Some of the boss fights were still a bit challenging after that, but not insurmountable.

Finally, there's the game itself. It's really not an RPG. You have fighting and all, plus the story, but there's a huge amount of jumping and puzzle solving involved, making Ring of Fates more of a Zelda-style game. You need to use Al to make stone blocks, elevators and moving tiles; Gnash to shoot target switches and balloons, and to do double-jumps, and Meeth to use her cooking pot as an elevator, or jump extender. Then there are the barriers and boulders that need to be pushed or pulled out of the way. I put all of my stat boosts, and the best armor and weapons, on Yuri, but the trickiest parts of the game weren't when the underpowered characters had to face a boss on their own; it was when I had to use Gnash to jump between moving platforms, or move a key from one end of a series of rotating platforms to another. I really hate these puzzle-solving elements of the game, and would have been happier just fighting monsters. There aren't that many kinds of monsters, maybe 20-30 total, which are mostly just variations on color between each other. The game is fairly short, too, at only 11 chapters. You play Star+ for the extra dungeon and new weapons. Star++ is just to get the last missing Moogle stamp (chapter 5), and maybe to see what the leisure suit does. But, there's little point in going all the way through the Star++ game to the end again, and no value at all to playing the game a fourth time (which is just another Star++).

(Yuri facing a chimera.)

I should mention the character AIs while I'm at it. There's no option for setting one character to defense, another to attack and the third to healing. Instead, everyone attacks, but only once per second or so. They generally follow the leader, although they will attack the closest enemy. This is fine for regular low-level battles, since button mashing with Yuri fully armed works most of the time. It's when you get to the boss battles that the lack of a real AI becomes obvious, as the remaining three characters run in front of the chapter boss and all die about 15 seconds into the battle. There is no point to reviving dead characters during the fight - just keep using Yuri, and resort to healing items when you take any level of damage at all. The only exception being the last boss battle, when you have one minute to revive everyone and have them all cast magicites at four points on a rotating ring. Failing this allows Galdes to revive and you have to fight him all over again. Sigh. But that's the only time you need anyone else alive during a boss fight.

Summary: Ring of Fates is a prequel to Crystal Chronicles, which had come out for the GameCube. It's a visually impressive RPG with a big story and lots of CG cut scenes. And it's fun to play if you like puzzle solving and don't like strategic RPGs. But, if you like the original Final Fantasy games, the ones that came out for the Playstation, then Ring is going to be disappointing because it's not a pure RPG. Recommended if you can find it used cheap.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Chibikko Norida

Not sure which group decided to do this, maybe it was the Yamakataya department store. It's Chibbiko (little kids) Norida (Riding). They set up a small bike track in the open space in front of the Lotteria, and had small bicycles out for children to ride in short races. Not sure if they were charging money for this, or how much.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fureai Matsuri

On Saturday, I was walking from the English school up to the main train station, after finishing my classes. It was about 8 PM, and just by random chance I turned down one street that I normally don't take on this route. That's when I discovered that the neighborhood group a few blocks from my apartment was holding its own summer matsuri, with booths selling beer, yakitori and shaved ice. I was tempted to get something to eat, but I had to visit the grocery store in the basement of Daiei to get some stuff for the apartment, and then back home in time for dinner.

A very large percentage of the audience was in wheelchairs, and may have had an average age of 90. There are a lot of hospitals and senior centers in the area, and this festival may have been for them. I talked to one of the men standing guard at the entrance to the park and he said they've been holding this matsuri for several years, but this was the first time I'd ever seen it. Unfortunately it was scheduled to end at 8:30 PM, and the musicians on stage were announcing the last song for the night.

They were playing light folk songs, although the last one was supposed to be some kind of South American Christmas song (which I didn't recognize). They were the type of music I don't have much interest in so I didn't record it.

I came back on Sunday and all the booths had been taken out. Not surprising given that we had a typhoon warning that day, and some rain in the afternoon. But still... it was definitely another example of "blink and you miss it".

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Uwasa Omikuji

Uwasa Omikuji - Rumor fortune telling. This fake shrine set-up has been appearing at various locations around the city lately (I've seen it in Maruya Gardens up on the top floor in front of the elevators). What was funny was a few hours after taking the photo, I was walking in a different part of the shopping arcade, and 8 women suddenly blew past me, pushing the shrine and signs to the area in front of the 7-11 ten blocks away.

Friday, July 24, 2015

July 17, 2015 Prefecture Coins

Latest batch of 47 Prefecture coins came out from the Japan Mint on July 17th. Yamaguchi, Tokushima and Fukuoka.

The next set should come out Jan. 28, 2016, for Wakayama, Osaka, Nagasaki and Chiba.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Very fancy. Sounds Italian.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ogionsa 2015 day 2

The parade on Sunday wasn't quite as impressive this year. There weren't as many mikoshi groups, or much other activity at all, and the weather was iffy all day. We had a typhoon warning, and just as the only taiko group was getting ready to play to mark the start of the parade at 2 PM, we got rain and the drums had to be covered in tarps. Fortunately, the rain let up after 15 minutes and the sky actually started to turn blue. But, the clouds came back in and made for less than great photo conditions. In previous years there had been several taiko groups spread along the route, and they'd play occasionally to give the paraders breaks in the middle of the day. This time though, it was just the one group, and I was really hoping to catch them when they closed the event at 5 PM. So, I had my camera out and the tripod set up, then the sky turned dark and the tarps were put over the drums again. At about that point, the police were getting ready to reopen the street to car traffic, so I just gave up and returned home.

I didn't take many photos on day 2, instead concentrating more on shooting video. This was also problematic because the groups would carry or pull their shrine for about a block before stopping and waiting for everyone in front of them to start moving again. So, generally I just had a bunch of short 30-60 second excerpts that I had to stitch together to make one finished video.

Also, it didn't click with me during the event, but there were almost no food or toy stalls set up along the route. Not really sure what the problem was, if the city had to cut funding because of Abe's messed-up economic policies, if turn-out was expected to be poor because of the typhoon, or that Rokugatsu-tou was only a couple days before and had been a distraction from Ogionsa.

I'll have to wait and see what happens with the yukata shopping weekend event on Aug. 1 and 2.

direct youtube link

direct youtube link

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ogionsa 2015, Day 1

Gion is a district in Kyoto. Gion-sa is a huge festival where portable shrines are carried through the Gion district. Kagoshima wanted to have their own version of this, which they call "Ogionsa". I've seen this event before, and in fact I had a lot of fun watching the Chinese acrobat performing last year. Unfortunately, the opening events for Ogionsa were on the 18th, and I had to work almost all day on Saturday (from 1 PM to 9 PM, with a short break between 3 and 4 PM). This meant that I completely missed everything at Tenmonkan Park (where the juggling and acrobat performances were held) and in front of Lotteria. All that was left was a traditional wooden stick dance, and a clown-juggler. Both videos are at the bottom of the blog. The stick dance was interesting, but the performers were a bit young and inexperienced. The clown could have been a lot better if he'd tightened his act up by 10 minutes. As it was, he spent a lot of time not actually doing much beyond shuffling around. It didn't help that one of his juggling props broke just as he was starting to use it.

There were small and big shrines set up all around the city for several weeks leading up to the main event on Sunday. For Saturday, there was a kind of purification ritual in the evening, so the shrines were prepped with the red and white cloth and made ready to be carried around in a short practice parade.

I decided to see if I could get artsy, taking close-up shots with the big camera. I'm not too dissatisfied with the results.

One of the soba noodle restaurants had a large block of ice set up outside to try to cool people down. It hasn't been excessively hot and humid so far this summer, but the temps are starting to get up into the 90's. In part, we've been getting semi-mild hot days because it's almost always overcast and/or raining. The only time the skies are clear is when the next typhoon comes up the coast and blows out the clouds a day before hitting us with the next heavy thunderstorm. Anyway, you can play with the ice and plastic balls for 100 yen (80 cents US).

The guy in the brown jumpsuit to the left has been a regular fixture sitting on the ground in Tenmonkan for months now. He keeps moving around depending on which shops are shuttered for the day. He's kind of a street performer, making Japanese-style calligraphy paintings for the passersby. Generally, the only people with him are friends that want to talk. But, during Ogionsa he was actually getting customers.

Examples of some of his work. Two of the cards have the characters for "mother" and "father", plus some kind of text beneath them.

Direct youtube link for the stick dances

Direct youtube link for clown/juggler

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rokugatsu-tou, 2015, Day 2

I had to teach English at the school near city hall from 7 to 9 PM, which was right in the middle of the events for Rokugatsu-tou on the 17th (from 6 to 10 PM). I left the apartment a little early to take photos while it was still light out.

Facing Terukuni Shrine, and the big torii gate.

Every festival includes someone selling masks for the children. This stall has the traditional Japanese masks, plus stuff from Disney, Hello Kitty, Pokemon, Kamen Rider, Ultraman and various sailor girls anime shows.

Okonomi-yaki is generally described as the Japanese version of a seafood pizza, with the ingredients mixed into the batter. Really, its nothing like a pizza, but the analogy is easy to understand. Anyway, here we have Hashimaki, which is Okonomi-yaki on a stick.

Then, the ever-popular ika on a stick (fried squid) with your choice of sauces. We also have baby octopi on a stick.

Entrance to the lantern display (normally, this is the Terukuni shrine parking lot).

In a way, Rokugatsu-tou is the Japanese equivalent of the American State Fair, except that it's in July, it's only for 2 days, and there's nothing here that's farm-related. But, there is a flower arranging (ikebana) club showing off some of their works.

Unfortunately, the space is just not conducive to taking good photos. I wish the organizers would think about this more when they choose to erect the dirty canvas sheets for the tents.

In an area off the to side of the shrine, next to the ikebana tables, there were some stage events. I was only able to catch two of the events on Wednesday - one before work and the other after I got back out at 9:30. The first was a demonstration of the Taisho harp (a cross between a koto and a typewriter) and the second was a traditional dance. In fact, I caught the last dance of the festival, before the stage shut down. The video is at the bottom of the blog.

Yukata girls buying yakitori (fried chicken on a stick).

A few blocks away, the Tenmonkan shopping complex also participated in the festivities, with the restaurants setting up tables in the walkways for "outdoor" dining.

Tenten, the Tenmonkan UFO alien mascot, made its appearance in the form of a children's jump room. 300 yen ($2.50 USD) entrance fee.

The woman in white facing the camera is doing tarot card readings. I can only imagine what the cards are saying. (The sign to the left is advertising the Yukata Festa on Aug. 1 and 2.)

I wasn't able to do very much at the festival this year, which was disappointing. But I did like watching the Taisho harp performance. I saw this group before, a few months ago.

Direct Youtube link

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rokugatsu-tou, 2015, Day 1

Nariakira Shimadzu (1809-1858) was the 28th lord of the Satsuma region in Kyushu, now known as Kagoshima, and he was the one that kind of threw Japan into the "modern" age. Every July there's a series of festivals and events in his name. The one at Terukuni Shrine was held over the 16th and 17th this year, from 6 PM to 10 PM. It consisted of festival food stalls, street games, and displays of lanterns painted by various school kids.

Yukata are a kind of kimono intended for wearing at night (yu = night, mono = thing). They're made of lighter material and are popular with some men and women during summer festivals, but they're still hotter than if you just wear a t-shirt and shorts.

I was taken kind of by surprise by Rokugatsu-tou this year. I knew it was coming up, but I'd seen an advertising poster that I misread as saying that the festival at Terukuni was going to be on Aug. 1 and 2. Instead, it turns out that's the "Rokugatsu-tou yukata shopping festival", when everyone is supposed to wear yukata when they go shopping in Tenmonkan. The actual Terukuni event was being set up in front of the shrine on the 16th when I happened to walk by at 6 PM. I didn't have my big camera with me then, so I had to wait until after dinner to head back out to take photos. I've been really busy with work this month (not well-paying work, but there has been a lot of it) so I didn't get to the shrine until 9:30, and that was about the time the festival organizers started announcing that power was going to be turned off at 10 so we all had to do all of our festivizing quickly before time ran out.

Night activity, facing the food stalls, away from the big shrine torii.

Lanterns on the shrine grounds.

The wreath hoop is another tradition of this festival, where couples walk through in a figure-8 three times to ensure a happy future.

Very few people visiting the main shrine to pay their respects at this point.

Looking back through the main gates towards the lanterns.

Samples of the bigger lanterns that caught my attention.

The stalls were torn down at the end of the night, and then put back up the next day. So even the stall owners had to rush to tear things down before the power was switched off. Most of the foods are really over-priced, so I didn't buy anything myself. I was just here to take pictures for the blog.