Monday, November 30, 2015

Mama Ukiuki Fest

Friday afternoon, I noticed some tents going up in Central Park when I was walking in to the school to teach English. I figured that whatever was being set up would run over the weekend, so I made a point of swinging by again on Saturday at 12:30 for my next set of classes. As I was getting closer, I couldn't see people or tents, so I was getting concerned that I'd missed it again. But, the event only took up the paved section of the park, which I didn't get to for another minute or 2.

The event was billed as Mama Ukiuki Festa (Mother's Excited Event). It's basically displays and presentations geared for mothers with young children. Things like bone density checking, health, and dental care. A few booths were giving away free items, and those had really long lines. They also had children's activities, such as the big cardboard box maze and the event stage.

I didn't have time to try the maze, and there were too many kids already in it, anyway...

One of the events was an all-woman brass band. They played the theme song from Doraemon, which was very popular.

(Den-chan (Li'l Lightbulb) was in audience.)

There was a stamp rally, and Line (an online instant messaging service) was giving away free keyholders.

I only had a few minutes before I had to be at the school, so I took some photos and kept walking. Later, I had a break between 3 and 4:15 PM, so I went down to the Volunteer Center to see what they had for the Fureai Arts Festa, then came back to Central Park at 3:45 to check the stage show again. This time, they were near the end of an Anpanman live show. Bacteria Guy has just built a Mecha Bacteria, which has gone out of control. White Bread and Hamburger try to stop it, but fail. Even Anpanman is powerless against it. It's up to Dokkin-chan to ask the audience to cheer on Anpanman to help him power up. The kids went wild with the cheering, but I was amused by just how many adult women were yelling and waving, too.

Anpanman went on to save the day. I had to go back to work, so I left again. I didn't finish until 8:30 PM, and by then all the tents and the stage were torn down. Turns out it was only scheduled to be a one-day event. I would have liked to see some of the other musical acts, but I didn't get the chance.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Projection Mapping Event

As part of the Kokumin Bunkasai events this November, Kagoshima had a music and light show at the Volunteer Center for the entire month. It's about 7 minutes long and showed at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 PM on the weekends. Basically, it's a short summary of the history of Kagoshima City. It's pretty impressive, especially since it was specifically designed for the building next to the International Volunteer Center. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for the video.)

(The projectors are protected during the day, which is good because it's been raining again lately.)

On Saturday, as I was finishing my last class for the evening, the owner of the school mentioned that the projection mapping event was going on and it was the second to the last night for it. Two of my students had seen it before, and were planning on making the 5 minute walk to the Volunteer Center after the class to catch the 8:30 showing. They talked me into going with them, so I said, "sure". It was really well-done, and I enjoyed watching it.

(The projection screen for this show.)

Now, for a bit of a "short adventure" story, which connects to Wonder World in a way.
The lens on my big camera has been getting progressively more dusty, but I was hesitant to buy a cleaning kit from Bic Camera because their selection was over-priced and limited. Then, last week when I was trying to watch the rocket launch from the top of Shiroyama, I was putting the camera on the tripod, and the camera slipped from my hand. I made a panic-grab to catch it, but I ended up putting a big sweaty fingerprint in the middle of the lens, pretty much guaranteeing that I'd have to do something about getting it cleaned right away. I had a class near the Volunteer Center in the morning on Thursday, and I figured that this was my chance to use the walk to swing by a camera shop I'd seen advertised in Tenmonkan.

(The start of the show.)

Niimura Camera is in the middle of a collection of small shops about 100 feet from the 7-11 where all the events take place, on the second floor over the new gourmet pudding store. The entrance looks like it's for someone's apartment, but the big steel door actually leads to steps to the upper floors. The stairs are lined with abandoned electronics, parts and stuff, and the door on the second floor doesn't have a window. I was starting to think the place had gone out of business and was fully expecting the door to be locked. But, it opened, and inside was a crowded little office with two desks, and bookshelves filled with equipment, catalogs and boxes of papers. One person, Niimura, was sitting at one of the desks, relaxing, obviously not expecting visitors. I told him I was looking for a cleaning kit, and the next thing I know he's grabbing a plastic bottle of cleaner and a cotton pad and cleaning the lens for me. We start talking, with me wanting to know if this is a camera shop or not. It used to be, but now they act mainly as an ordering service, while also doing professional photography. Since I really do want to upgrade to a semi-pro camera at some point, I asked what kind of cameras he deals with. Niimura then launched into a one-hour lecture on how cameras work, what makes for good photos, and how to use my existing big camera better.

90% of his suggestions were on how to approach the shot, deciding what to have in the frame and what to exclude, the angle of the camera to the subject, and the idea of thirds (i.e. - not placing the subject dead center in the photo). He spent the remaining time talking about aperture, and how I should take my camera off of "Auto" and "Scene", and work more with "A" to manually control aperture. He also said that I should go to Bic Camera and get a neutral filter for the big camera to protect the lens (the filter being easier to clean and cheaper to replace if damaged). Finally, I thanked him and headed back out on the street.

The problem with the filter is that both Bic and Nikon say that the CoolPix P600 can't take filters. I went to the U.S. Nikon site and looked up the accessories list for the P601 (the American model number for this camera) and it doesn't mention taking filters either. I did find some people in a couple photography forums that talked about this, and some of them said that they'd located a specific kind of filter adapter that allowed them to use a smaller neutral filter. Apparently Nikon thinks that using a neutral filter with this camera may cause vignetting (the presence of a darker area surrounding the outer edges of the photo) and rather than deal with complaints, they just say that you can't use filters at all, even though the front of the camera is threaded for them. Anyway, I went to Bic and located the 52mm "clear protector" filters. They don't have anything called "neutral". It's one of the more expensive filters there, at 4,200 yen plus tax (the soft focus filters are half the price). Fortunately, I had enough points built up on the points card that the filter was free. It does fit the camera. More importantly, the lens cap fits the filter, too, which I hadn't realized was going to be a potential issue.

Now, I have the lens cleaned, and a new filter that may or may not cause vignetting. So, what's the problem? I'd forgotten to bring the points card with me on Thursday when I was researching filters, and couldn't actually buy one until Friday evening. Saturday I had to work pretty much all day, and the projection mapping event was at night when I couldn't check for darker areas in the photos. Sunday? It was raining all Sunday and the sky was so dark that it made getting good, clear photos almost impossible. Here I am with my head filled with information on how to use the camera and everything, and the weather won't cooperate. Sigh. Anyway, I learned more about how to take photos in that one hour with Niimura than I ever had before, which was a good thing. And I still ended up using the small pocket camera to record the projection mapping video.

Direct youtube link

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

Pachinko Street

The main drag running from Streetcar Street to the southeast end of the Tenmonkan arcade is lined with several very large pachinko parlors, and they fight each other with advertising for customers. This means that there's more posters, big screen TVs and flashing lights here than anywhere else in the city. (Most of which everyone just ignores.)

(TVs are built into the wall, showing ads for the machines.)

When I was here one Saturday, it looked like a pachinko magazine crew was interviewing members of one of the parlors. I was never able to get a good photo of the gathering, so I didn't try.

Lupin III is a popular theme for the machines right now, as are Evangelion and Hokuto no Ken.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ginza Street

This is the view of the entrance to Ginza Street, at the north-east side of Tenmonkan, leading to the red light district. What I consider interesting here is the placement of chainsaw art.

The sign behind this piece announced a Japanese country-wide chainsaw carving contest at the beginning of November.

On the corner to the right is a police box. It's probably the most modern-looking koban in Kagoshima.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Climb

Even though I didn't get to see the rocket launch, I did take enough photos to justify putting them into a blog entry. As mentioned a couple days ago, I wanted to take the pictures from the top of Shiroyama. That's Shiroyama ahead of me in the above shot. The street runs along the south wall of Terukuni shrine, and past what had been love hotels, but are now mansion buildings (upscale apartments). The path continues straight into the trees, then turns into a flight of steps going up to the left.

I've taken pictures of the stairs before, so I won't bother doing that again. I've timed myself doing laps up and down, and at the best of times it's 15 minutes from this point and then back. The height of the hill is equivalent to a 35-story building, give or take a story. My goal is the parking lot in front of the hotel just barely visible as the brown structure at the top left of the photo. The stairs end at the left side of the hotel, about 12 feet from the top. There's a walkway that spans the entire length of the hotel and ends in another flight of steps up to a different parking lot on the other side of the broadcast tower. So, it's about 1 block to double back from the tourist parking to get to the north entrance to the hotel.

At the top, from the hotel parking lot. The volcano has been pretty quiet lately. I think all those clouds are just plain clouds. And in fact, this morning the Japan Times newspaper website had a story that the eruption alert level for the volcano has finally been downgraded again.

Tanegashima is somewhere out past the horizon to the south of the volcano. I was hoping that I'd see the rocket trail in this general direction. Turns out, though, that I may not have been able to take video of it anyway. For some reason, I'd pulled the memory card out of the camera and forgot to put it back. The big camera does have internal memory, but just enough to store 3-4 minutes of video, but not any more than that...

I've seen this submarine in the bay several times now. When I mentioned it to one of the taxi drivers waiting to watch the rocket launch, he acted like this is a common occurrence. I'd just like to know if there's any way to get tickets to ride inside it.

From this angle it looks like the boat is going straight at the sub. Actually, it just kept going down to the south end of the bay.

Now, on the walkway running below the hotel on the way up the hill, there was a Japanese guy with a good camera aimed at the volcano, and clicking away at about a 10-second rate. I asked him what he was doing, and if he was going to watch the launch. He answered, "no," and that he was there to make a time-lapse movie of Sakurajima. He also had a drone for taking higher altitude pictures. It was fairly noisy, and never got much more than 50 feet above the trees. It was cool to watch it hover, though. Maybe some day...

After giving up prematurely on watching the rocket and returning to street level, I walked past this bar that has this large medallion with the Alien on it, and the word "Power" underneath. There was no good angle for taking the photo without getting too much reflection off the glass. So, that was it for that day's excursion. The weather was nice, though, and I guess the walk up the hill counted as exercise or something...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


This could easily be a Small Adventure, except that I have pictures.

There's a small shop near the apartment, on the main street running from the freeway up to Streetcar Street, in the direction of the main train station, called Daiichi. I forget how long the shop has been there, and since it's right next door to a car dealership, I thought it was a bank outlet or something for funding car loans. They had some interesting banners a couple years ago, but nothing since then, and I've just ignored the place. But recently, as I went by one day, I saw the banner inside the front office for Tensai Bakabon. I debated with myself for a few seconds before taking out the small camera and going in the door. The receptionist sitting at the front desk looked at me, so I pointed to the camera and then the banner. Her face went white and she started to panic. She got up and ran around a barrier partition and came back with the manager. I asked him if I could take a photo of the banner, and he shrugged and said, "Sure". The receptionist was really relieved and just stood there and smiled. That's when the big projection screen behind her caught my eye. It was showing some kind of animation, and I then saw a door a little ways away with some flashing machines inside, and "Showroom" on the door. Thinking this was a game developer company, I asked what they sold here. The manager answered "pachinko machines". I should have figured that out on my own based on all the tobacco smoke in the air.

I talked with the manager a little bit more, mentioning that I don't play pachinko because I'm not good at it, but I do like the Bakabon manga. The guy said "wait a second," went around the projection screen, and came back with some promotional materials for the machine. So now, I have a confidential Baka-bot notebook, and some cool glossy art. Sweet!


Also, I'd mentioned yesterday that JAXA was launching a rocket from Tanegashima at 3:23 that afternoon. Short answer is that I missed it. The weather was good - partly cloudy, cool, not too windy. I hiked up Shiroyama, and got to the hotel parking lot a little before 3 PM. Some tourists came and went, but most of them just wanted to look at the volcano. I got the big camera set up on the tripod and took a couple photos of the old submarine sitting in the middle of the bay. At close to 3:15, some other people, and a couple taxi drivers, gathered near me to watch. I put the camera on record and aimed it at where I thought the launch site was. 3:23 comes and goes, and one of the people starts looking at his smartphone, and mutters "chuudan" (interrupted). He says that the launch will probably be rescheduled to 5 PM, and suddenly everyone leaves.

I don't have a smartphone, and no way of checking the net, so I stay until 3:40, then pack everything up to get ready to return to the apartment. Walking up the hill is hard work and I was covered in sweat. I was debating taking a second shower before going in to teach English classes at 5:30 PM (I'd have to leave the apartment to go to the school at 5 PM, and I might not be getting TO the apartment until 4:30 if I waited too long). So, I go to the stairs down the hill, which is completely surrounded by trees and buildings. In the apartment, I check the JAXA website, and it claims that the launch happened at 3:23. It's not until I get to the school that I learn that the rocket launched at 3:50 PM, when I was in the middle of the trees, and that the owner of the school and the other teacher had both watched it from the roof of the office building the school is located in. Sigh. Maybe next time.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cleaning Service Logo

Japan is fascinated with commercial mascots.
Not all of the ideas work as well as others...


Just as a follow-up to yesterday's blog... I'd mentioned that the Tenmonkan Illuminations 2015 event on Saturday was only intended to run 2 hours, and that the stage had been dismantled that evening. And that there was nothing going on in front of Lotteria, while Amu Plaza had the university a cappella group singing on Sunday for 70 minutes for the Magio-net driving school promotion. And I'd written that Monday was a holiday - Labour Thanksgiving Day. Well, Monday has come and gone. The day started out cloudy and cool, and I had to go to a home supplies center to get materials for a new kerosene room heater we'd bought online (a spare kerosene tank, a garbage can, a broom, big brick to put on the heater to keep the room warm a little longer after the heater is turned off). The center is near the Frespo Park strip mall, in the Tempozan area, 20 minutes from the main train station by bus. We did a lot of shopping, and had a late lunch at a restaurant nearby. We didn't get back to Amu Plaza until 4:30 PM. Turned out, though, that all they had were some tables selling fresh green tea leaves. No event stage this time. I made my way to Tenmonkan, and the tables for the tarot and crafts people were being torn down when I got there, but there still wasn't a stage in front of 7-11, so no live events there either. And also nothing at Lotteria. Overall, a dead 3-day weekend. Which was compounded by heavy clouds that swept in at 4:30 PM, bringing rain and leading into a huge thunderstorm at 6 PM. The rain let up in the evening, and by midnight the moon was shining brightly overhead, and the sky was mostly clear. The weather looks promising for the rocket launch today at Tanegashima at about 3:20 PM. I'm going to try climbing to the top of Shiroyama hill to take photos from the hotel parking lot. I have no idea if the rocket is going to be visible at all from so far away (150 miles, maybe?) Hopefully, the launch won't be delayed much, because I have to be at the conversation school near City Hall to teach English lessons from 5:30 to 8:30 PM this evening...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Magio-net Christmas

Last week, Amu Plaza erected their big Christmas tree in the open plaza in front of the main train station. They also put up some lights and festive plants in the planter at the front of the plaza, but they don't have the climbing Santa figure this year.

I had to work on Saturday so I couldn't get up there then, and on Sunday we were doing some shopping so I only had a couple minutes to swing by the plaza to see what was going on. The main thing was that Magio-net, a driving school based in Kagoshima, was advertising their driving school services by displaying some motorcycles and small cars. The area was also being used by a couple crafts tables and local food producers.

(They know where you live.)

There was also a small performance area, not really a stage, where the Kagoshima University a cappella group was scheduled to perform for 70 minutes.

I only had time to listen for a couple minutes before we continued shopping. When we finished, the music was over and nothing else was happening in this space. What little I could catch of the singers was pretty good, although I think that the human beat box (the guy at the far right of the photo) wasn't really necessary. But, he seemed to either be a core member, or the group leader, so I guess no one here is going to try to get rid of him.

Otherwise, a pretty quiet weekend compared to the last 3-4 weeks. The Tenmonkan Illumination thing Saturday was just a short 2-hour one-shot, and the stage in front of 7-11 was gone by Sunday. The tables in the walkways were still there, selling rice, fish, nail art, tarot readings, and prepared food from one of the soba restaurants. I ended up getting a fish paste thing on a skewer and a small cup of amazake (sweet, unfiltered sake) for 330 yen total. That was good, anyway. Monday is a national holiday (Labour Thanksgiving Day), but we have to go do more shopping again (this time at a home supplies store near Frespo park (a soul-less strip mall) 30 minutes away by bus). I doubt there will be any events anywhere, and if there are, I'll probably miss them again.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tenmonkan Illumination 2015

I went in to work at 3:30 PM on Saturday, and I passed by the open space in front of the 7-11 in Tenmonkan, and there wasn't anything special going on. But, the walkways in front of the other shops had tables set up for tarot readings, children's games, and pre-packaged foods from some of the restaurants, indicating that something might be happening at some point. I continued on to the school, and got back out at 6:30. On the way back home I went through Tenmonkan again, and this time they had a stage set up to celebrate the turning on of the Christmas lights.

There was a sign saying that things had started at 5:30, but no schedule. There was a sound crew off to the side, but no dressing room tent, no other band instruments, and no other acts standing around waiting to go on stage. I assumed that the girls are from Southern Cross - the pop idol group that kind of represents Tenmonkan sometimes, that they were the only act this evening, that they were probably going to wrap up soon, and that all of their songs were copyrighted by someone else and I'd get blocked if I uploaded videos to youtube.

So, I just took a couple photos and continued home. I'll swing back through Tenmonkan Sunday to see if the stage was torn down overnight, or if it's being used by something else. But, I don't have many expectations for anything interesting happening here during the rest of the weekend.

(There's nothing at Lotteria, either. I haven't been able to get up to Amuplaza; I'll try to do that on Sunday. I do know that the plaza in front of the main train station was roped off for workers to put up the big Christmas tree on Thursday, but I didn't see any preparations for an event stage.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Panda Hoodie

There's a clothing shop in Tenmonkan that has a thing for pandas. And now, you too can have a panda thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Saigo Heron

The heron that sits on top of the statue of Saigo has gotten a certain level of popularity here. But, he's usually not at his post when I'm outside. One day, I got lucky. Unfortunately, I was on the other side of the street, and the distance was pushing the limits of the little pocket camera. These shots are at full 30x zoom.