Week 24: Trigun and teriyaki


Sorry for the slightly late post – I was away over the weekend and have spent the last week finishing my epic eBay clearout (which ended up becoming my second job after I got home from my actual job)! Anyway, here’s the traditional format that this blog has become known for. I’m going to start branching out into different areas though, mainly because it’s less taxing for me to write and it’s also more interesting for your readers. Speaking of, make sure you subscribe, as I really am back for good now!

News story of the week: Arranged marriages make a comeback in Japan

Source: News on Japan

Until 1945 they were almost universal. They started to decline during the post war American occupation, but as late as 1960 it is estimated that 70 per cent of weddings were arranged. Westernisation and the increasing independence of women led to a marked decline. By 1990 the proportion of arranged marriages is thought to have fallen to around 30 per cent of the total.
But things changed in the after a swathe of the country was devastated by the tsunami and earthquake . . .
Arranged marriage is very uncommon over here and, until recently, it was far less common than it used to be in Japan. No doubt strong family ties and traditional values play an important role in this resurgence of arranged marriage in the country. For the full article, head over to News on Japan now.
Destination of the week: Tsumago

Tsumago was an important post town on the route between Kyoto and Edo (otherwise known as Tokyo). Today, it is a very well preserved historical town thanks to the work of its residents. The Honjin, the principle inn serving travelling officials, and Wakihonjin, which accommodated travellers of lower status are still maintained, recreating the historical post town atmosphere.

Many ryokan, traditional Japanese inns, are located in the town as well as the Tsumago Castle ruins. Depending on how much time you have to spare, the old walking trail to Magome is worth exploring. The town is not particularly easy to access; the best option is to either take one of the infrequent buses or a taxi from Nagiso Station, which is accessible from Nagoya and Nagano Stations. Still, for the authentic historical Japanese holiday, Tsumago really should be on your list.

Source: japan-guide.com

Japanese saying of the week: I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu

Literally, ‘a frog in a well does not know the great sea’. This is a very simple proverb – a person who is trapped in their own way of life does not know of any other and is therefore scared of it. People only know their own surroundings and therefore don’t have any real knowledge of anything else.

Bento of the week: Fighting Fish

Apparently these two fighting fish actually represent a showdown between bloggers J.D Roth and Trent Hamm. (I’m not making that up!) I have no idea what the ingredients consist of in this one but I suspect those fish are actually sweets . . .

Source: thedigeratilife.com

Series of the week: Trigun

Source: qirien.icecavern.net

I recently polled the blog’s Facebook page, asking what anime people wanted reviewing next. With a land slide victory, here’s Trigun, a staple Space Western anime for many fans.

The story follows Vash the Stampede, also known as the Human Typhoon, a wandering gunman with a bounty on his head. He travels from town to town, inevitably causing destruction, followed by two women employed by the Bernadelli Insurance Society. Despite the sixty billion ‘double dollars’ bounty of his head, Vash is a kind-hearted man who tries to save lives. He cannot clearly remember the incident that earned him the bounty, the destruction of the city of July. Occasionally joined by the priest Nicholas Wolfwood, another gunman with a mysterious past.

At first, Trigun looks like a slapstick show that relies more on comic relief than plot. However, it soon shifts towards the darker and dramatic side and is well-known for having one of the strongest and more emotional endings of any anime. It also has the cutest mascot kitty! If you like your action, gun fights and plot, Trigun should be on your immediate ‘to watch’ list.

Score: 9/10

Weird thing of the week: Konbini

Source: inhabitat.com

You can tell I haven’t blogged for a while. This feature was the request of the website banner art winner, Wai San. Konbeni, also known as 7/11, are convenience stores that can be found all over Japan. They’re much more impressive than your British ones (obviously) – some of the stranger items include shirts for extremely busy salary men, bento boxes and ticket reservations for shows, theme parks and so on. No two konbini are the same as the range of products is always slightly different, due to the major operators competing for new innovative products. For the busy travelling tourist, the kobeni breakfast is an essential item that you’ll be eating a lot. You’ll always find something weird and wonderful in a konbini, whether it’s a Dragon Ball crisps or sparkling soy water.

Recipe of the week: Chicken teriyaki

Chicken teriyaki is a staple lunchtime dish in Japan and for a very good reason – it’s delicious! This week’s recipe has been taken from norecipes.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 skin-on boneless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons mild flavored honey (or maltose)
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons sake
Method
1) Combine the water, soy sauce, brown sugar and mirin in large ziploc bag and add the chicken thighs. Press out as much air as you can and seal the bag. Let this sit in the fridge for at least an hour.
2) To make the teriyaki sauce, just add the honey, soy sauce, mirin and sake to a small sauce pan and boil over medium heat until the sauce is glossy and slightly viscous (it won’t get quite as thick as the jarred types). It should take on a caramelized taste but be careful not to burn it.
3) When you’re ready to grill the chicken, turn the broiler on and move the oven rack up to the upper position. Put a wire rack on a baking sheet (I use the rack out of my toaster oven), and put the chicken thighs skin side down onto the rack (the idea is to keep the meat elevated off the pan).
4) Grill until brown then flip so the skin side faces up. Baste the skin side with teriyaki sauce and continue to broil until the skin is golden brown with just a few charred spots. Give the chicken one final baste with the teriyaki sauce and serve.
You can, of course, buy teriyaki sauce by the bottle and save yourself the trouble of making the sauce from scratch but it just won’t taste as good!

Source: norecipes.com

Final Thoughts

Until next week!

Week 15: Win a book!


You may have seen this video floating around on my Facebook and Twitter for a few days. I am running a Q&A session and a winner will randomly chosen to win a copy of The Otaku Encyclopaedia. Questions will close on Sunday 11th December and a video response will be posted some time before Christmas. PLEASE ASK AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU WANT – so I have a variety of things to work with!

Also, I’m going to be doing another ‘Top 10′ feature in a few weeks, so here’s your chance to vote on what it should be!

.

News Story of the Week: Japan’s supercar crash

One of the world’s most expensive car crash occured on the Chugoku Expressway in Shimonoseki on 5 December. A 60 year old man was driving over the 80km per hour speed limit and lost control of his red Ferrari when he tried to switch lanes on the wet road. He skidded, crashed into a guardrail and triggered a 14-car pile up which included several Ferraris, Mercedes and a Lamborghini.

Fortunately, nobody was killed in the crash although 10 people were taken to hospital. As can be seen from the photos, the cars are all in a very bad state and are likely to be written off. The man who caused the crash faces prison charges for dangerous driving.

A used Ferrari can cost as much as £63,000, so it is unsurprising that the estimated cost of the damage could be as much as £1m.

Source: ktla.com

Destination of the Week: Yudanaka

I’ve actually been to Yudanaka, so I can finally talk about a Japanese town from my own personal experiences! Yudanaka is a small mountain town in the Yamanouchi district, accessible from Nagano, and is best known for its snow monkeys that live in the valley. In winter, they bathe in the natural hot springs to combat the snowy cold.

There are nine hotsprings in the Yamanouchi district, Yudanaka being one of the most famous,  owing its geothermic activity to the nearby volcanic Shiga Koben. Bathing in the nine wooden baths in the Shibu Onsen here is said to ward off evil. This nostalgic ryokan (traditional inn) town is famed for its narrow streets and you can expect to see people wandering the streets in their yukata in the warmer months. Its history stretches back to the 1300s, when Buddhist priests discovered the healing properties of hot spring waters. The famous warlord Takeda Shingen was known to bring his armies to Shibu Onsen to help them recover from battles and, during the Edo period, it was used as a relaxation spa by the Sanada clan.

Yudanaka is worth visiting for its unique onsen and ryokan experience, as well as the close encounters with the snow monkeys. Be warned, they aren’t as friendly as the locals! Check out this website for a video of them terrorising the town.

Source: myoko-nojiri.com

Source: deanmurphy @ blogspot

Japanese Saying of the Week: Mikka bōzu

Meaning ‘a monk for just three days’. In other words, giving up at the first sign of difficulty. Being a monk takes years of preparation and discipline, so obviously you cannot actually be a successful monk for a mere three days. I challenge you to work this into a conversation either to scold someone else or yourself.

Source: worldofstock.com

Samurai of the Week: Môri Motonari

The Môri family were intrinsic to Japanese history, particularly towards the end of the Sengoku and Meiji period, and Motonari is the leader who prepared them for such prominence. Family members served as vassals to the Toyotomi and assisting Hideyoshi in the Kyuushu campaign (where he was seen to achieve control over all of Japan), as generals in Sekigahara and, finally, in the revolt against the emperor in the Meiji period.

Motonari was the second son of  Môri Hiromoto at a time when the clan was facing invasions from the Amako, Oûchi and Takeda (not to be confused with the more powerful one led by Shingen). When Hiromoto died, he was succeeded by his eldest son Okimoto who died ten years later in 1516. Motonari acted as guardian to his son, Komatsumara, although he died in 1523 and was succeeded by Motonari himself. Both of these deaths were unclear and a number of historical accounts suggest that he was behind their deaths.

Motonari’s most famous and telling military feat would be the Battle of Miyajima. By this point, he had retreated from court intrigue to immerse himself in China trade and studying history and this gave one of his retainers, Sue Takafusa, the opportunity to betray him. No doubt furious, Motonari bided his time and expanded his holdings and made an alliance with the Murakami, essentially a family of pirates in the Inland Sea. Miyajima Island was, and still is, a sacred island in Japan on which no birth or death are to take place. Any military plan involving this island would have sat uncomfortably with Motonari and his advisers but, in 1555, a deliberately weak fort was built by Itsukushima Shrine. Not long after, Sue arrived with his troops and easily defeated the Môri, or so he thought. Sue believed he had obtained a strategically important island but he became complacent and had left himself dangerously isolated. Motonari rallied his naval troops and attacked them from behind in the dead of night, regaining control of the area in just one week. Sue’s army fled and Sue himself committed suicide. The Battle of Miyajima was Motonari’s landmark military feat, in which he proved himself to be maliciously calculating, given the religious symbolism of the island and original naval tactics.

Motonari was also a philosopher and patron of the arts, and actually faked his own death so that he could retreat and write his family history but the tumultuous Sengoku era made this quite difficult for him. He is perhaps best known for the ‘three arrows’ parable that is still taught in Japanese schools today, although it quite possibly never actually took place. In this parable, he gave each of his sons an arrow and told them to break it. He then gave them a bundle of three and said that, whilst one may be broken easily, three united as one were much stronger.

I couldn’t find a decent actual image of Motonari, so here he is as portrayed in the Sengoku Basara anime. He’s an absolute ass in the show but they still get the tactician thing quite right.

Source: minitokyo.net

Bento of the Week: Link

The internet’s had Legend of Zelda fever over the last few weeks because of the new Skyward Sword game that’s recently come out on the Wii. In the spirit of the series, here’s a bento with its main character, Link.

Source: kotaku.com

Series of the Week: Psychic Detective Yakumo

Psychic Detective Yakumo (Shinrei Tantei Yakumo) is a novel by Manabu Kaminaga, which has inspired an anime series, live action series and stage play. I’m going to focus on the anime, which was released across 13 episodes in 2010, as I have been unable to locate the live action version or novel online.

Psychic Detective Yakumo is about the high school student Saitou Yakumo who can see and communicate with ghosts through the use of his left red eye. He’s pretty miserable and cold (as all dark protagonists are) and is the polar opposite of our heroine, the bouncy and bubbly Ozawa Haruka. The series begins with Haruka approaching Yakumo, who is rumoured to be a psychic, asking him to help her best friend who has been possessed after entering a haunted abandoned mansion.

The next few episodes present various ghostly mysteries that the police, particularly the middle aged detective Gotou Hazutoshi, ask Yakumo to assist them with. It soon becomes clear that all of these cases are connected and building up to the overarching mystery of Yakumo’s missing mother and a mysterious man who seems to be the puppeteer of a string of murders. The ending is conclusive and impressive, so you don’t need to worry about the infamous ‘open-ended ending’ that leaves so many questions unanswered.

Whilst I enjoyed this series, I did have some complaints but I believe that they can be explained by its short length. Yakumo’s character barely developed and he was forever portrayed as moody and aloof and, even though I managed to sympathise with him, he felt rather two dimensional. Second of all, the love aspect between him and Haruka did not really progress until the last few episodes and it was left to the audience to decide what would happen next. That said, if the series had stretched over 26 episodes it probably would have felt too drawn out.

Rating: 7/10 (I enjoyed this for the overarching story, which was refreshingly dark, but the lack of character development left me wanting more)

Source: zerochan.net

Weird Thing of the Week: Purikura

Purikura, or print club, machines are large photobooths that originated from Japan (of course) and have a big hit in the western world. There are even one or two in London, which is impressive considering how Britain doesn’t seem to have many of Asia’s ‘scene’ electronics.

Purikura are anything but ordinary photo booths. Typically, a group of friends or couple will take a number of pictures and can then decorate them using a tablet screen before printing. Usually, these images are very small and passport-sized but, in many cases, there is an option to email the larger versions of the photos to yourself. A good number of young Japanese people have Purikura photos as their profile image for various websites.

The first Purikura machines appeared in Japan in 1995, developed by Atlas and Sega. They have developed over the decade and there are dozens of different kinds of machines, from standard ‘sticker’ ones to special themed ones. There are even anime and video game-inspired ones! Below are two different photos – one of some actual Japanese people doing Purikura properly, and another one of me and some friends acting like absolute tourists in a special Sengoku Basara themed one.

rivriv @ tumblr

Yeah, I don’t think there’s much competition between the two.

Recipe of the Week: Kyuuri salad

Here is a nice and easy recipe (all of the ingredients can be bought in your average British supermarket!) for cucumber salad taken from Japan Food Addict. It’s worth exploring the site as it has dozens of various recipes!

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 3/4 lb cucumber (cut into 1/4″ slices)
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds (ground)
  • 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
Method
1) Massage salt into cucumber slices and chill in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
2) Remove from fridge and drain water from the bowl.
3) Add sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds, mix and put it back the fridge for 3 minutes, or until you are ready to eat.

.

Final Thoughts

I’ll leave you this week with a truly amazing video I came across earlier this week. If you’re a big Zelda fan, there’s a good chance you’ll have already seen this but I urge you to watch this video by Lindsey Stirling. This is a beautiful violin medley of one of the biggest video game series to emerge from Japan. I have been listening to this all week and, good news, you can buy the music as well!

Week 9: And the winner is…


The results are in and a winner has been drawn! Thank you to everyone who entered the art competition and do keep your eyes peeled as I plan to do more competitions in the later weeks. Anyway, here is the new mascot drawn by the lovely Natalie aka the-dazhrak-lady on deviantart.com!

I especially liked the headpiece and simplistic colouring scheme, as well as the fact that the blog name is on there! If you’re looking at it for the first time, you know what you’re going to be reading about!

I will hopefully get round to ordering some business cards this weekend. Pictures will be posted when they arrive!

News Story of the Week: Free flights to Japan?

No, I haven’t gone completely insane but this is quite possibly the most unbelievable news story that I have come across in a while. In fact, I thought this had to be a joke when I first heard about it. It’s not officially confirmed yet but the government has proposed funding a number of return flights to Japan.

Why? Well, above all, tourism levels have dropped hugely since the Fukushima earthquake. People are still visiting Japan (I am living proof!) but nowhere near in the same numbers as before. Fears of radiation and another major earthquake have put a lot of people off going, which is a shame given how much Japan has to offer.

Of course, this is not just meant to be an excuse for a holiday. You have to work to earn your place! Passing on the message and documenting your holiday is undeniably the best way of attracting people to a country. I like to think this blog has already done that at least a little bit!

There’s still some time to wait. The earliest this motion will be approved is April 2012, so it’s worth keeping an eye out if you are serious about the situation in Japan. For more information, check out the JNTO website!

Source: japantravelinfo.com

Destination of the Week: Otaru

Time to visit Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island! Otaru is a historical port city in Japan with a wonderfully preserved canal and many traditional buildings. Interestingly, the island of Hokkaido was not colonised until the late 1800s and Otaru served as a major trade destination. The remaining warehouses and office buildings give the city a special and distinctive character.

The Herring Mansion is worth a special mention. Herrings were essential to Otaru’s commerce and buildings such as this one were set up specifically to process these vast quantities of fish, which were used more as fertiliser than food! Behind it is Aoyama Villa, a luxurious building built by the wealthy Aoyama family who were important to the herring industry.

Sakaimachi Street is another example of how well Otaru has preserved its commercial history. There are many old western-style buildings lining the historic streets and there are a number of glass workshops, where visitors can test their own skills.

Hokkaido is perhaps best known for being a fantastic skiing destination in the winter months but this island has plenty more to offer. Otaru is a fine example of the island’s unique commercial history and it would be an ideal detour for tourists who are heading for the mountains, as well as a relaxing and unusual holiday destination in itself.

Do:

  • Try to visit Otaru in the first week of February, when the Snow Light Path Festival takes place. Each year, the city is decorated with lights and small snow statues and is transformed.
  • Visit the Otaru Music Box Museum and buy your own traditional music box!
Don’t:
  • Forget your warm clothes, especially if you are going in winter. Japan’s north is quite like Britain’s north!

Japanese Saying of the Week: He wo hitte, shiri tsubome 

This is pretty amusing – ‘breaking wind, closing buttocks’. The meaning for this one is that there is no point squeezing your buttocks after you have farted (I can’t believe I’m writing this). A more western-friendly version would be ‘there is no use shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted’. In other words, don’t bother trying to stop something when it has already happened!

Source: cs.cmu.edu

Samurai of the Week: Maeda Toshiie

To make up for what is usually a very long feature, I have condensed the wonderful history of Maeda Toshiie, daimyo of the Kaga province in the Sengoku jidai.

Toshiie was a retainer to both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (apparently he was also one of Nobunaga’s male concubines). He entered the military service of Nobunaga in 1551, at the age of 13, and rose through the ranks to become a samurai leader.

He was also likely friends with Hideyoshi and the two of them were known as the dog and monkey respectively; Toshiie for his sternness and Hideyoshi for his easygoing nature. The two actually fought each other in the Battle of Shizugatake but Toshiie submitted to Hideyoshi after his commander, Katsuie Shibata, died in battle.

Through his military career, Toshiie made the acquaintance of important samurai as well as some enemies; notably Akechi Mitsuhide, who later went on to assassinate Nobunaga, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who eventually betrayed the Toyotomi.

In his dying days, Hideyoshi made Toshiie one of the council members entrusted to protect his heir, Hideyori. However, he died a year after his master from illness, thus leaving the Toyotomi open to defeat by Ieyasu.

Toshiie’s family also deserve a mention. His wife, Matsu, was a skilled martial artist and resented Ieyasu. When her husband died, she became a Buddhist nun and gave herself over as a hostage to the Tokugawa shogunate to ensure the safety of the Maeda. One of his daughters, Ma’a, was also a concubine of Hideyoshi.

Source: Wikipedia

Bento of the Week: LOST

So, LOST is by no means a Japanese show but that doesn’t mean it can’t be bentofied. I am sure a few readers must be fans of this series, so enjoy. This definitely isn’t ‘traditional’ Japanese but I’m still using it!

Source: aibento

Series of the Week: Occult Academy

Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin) is a brainchild of Aniplex, which has been responsible for so many excellent anime including Full Metal Alchemist and Soul Eater. It aired in Japan last summer and, although just twelve episodes long, was quite popular. I certainly enjoyed this series as it finely balances plot, maturity and humour.

The story takes place in Waldstein Academy, where the headmaster has recently died (mysteriously, obviously) and left this so-called occult academy to his daughter Maya who dismisses magic as nonsense. Enter Fumiaki, a time traveller who has been sent from the future where aliens have taken over the world. Very reluctantly, he is tasked with finding the Nostradamus Key, an item that caused the invasion, and destroying it.

The best thing about this series is the relationship between Maya and Fumiaki. Fumiaki is a bumbling fool and Maya is forever serious but, naturally, there’s plenty of chemistry there. It was one of my favourite shows to air last year and I hope that we might see a western release in the future.

Score: 8.5/10 (I’m going to start giving half ratings where it’s appropriate!)

Source: animehere.com

Weird Thing of the Week: Host Clubs

I was unsure what to write about this week, so I put the vote to the blog’s Facebook page and the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of host clubs. Host clubs are unique to Japan and most westerners will only have a vague idea of what they entail.

Host clubs are, as the name suggests, the male equivalent of hostess clubs. Women go to these clubs, where the male hosts are working, and pay for their company throughout the evening; from pouring drinks to dancing to magic tricks. It should be stressed that this evening entertainment does typically not lead to sex,  as the men are here to do a job and make money, at the end of the day.

You will find plenty of host clubs in Japanese cities and the greatest indicator of whether you are nearby one will be the handsome, well-dressed men trying to lure you into an establishment. I was in Shinjuku in June with two girlfriends on a Saturday night and there were loads of them! It was nothing like being on a drunken night out in Britain getting wolf-whistled by balding men. These guys are paid for their charisma and that’s how they rake in the female customer’s money.

Here is a quick summary of your night at a host club. On entry, female guests are presented with a ‘menu’ of male hosts and indicate who they want to spend the evening with, although they will probably meet most of them throughout the night anyway. Many of them take stage names, often after anime and manga characters or historical figures. Pay is usually determined by commission on drink sales but their regular wage is usually at the minimal level and those hosts that do not perform well are usually forced to quit early on in their career.

The business strategy of the hosts is, as you might have guessed, to make the female clients feel loved and attractive without having sex with them. That said, if the two like each other enough and the client pays enough, there is the possibility. In the business, there are a number of terms for this such as ‘a colourful love business’ and ‘pillow business’.

How do you spot a host? Generally, these men are in their early twenties, have bleached hair, a dark tan and wear dark suits and silver jewellery. It all sounds very effeminate but that is very much the style among these men. Go to Tokyo and you won’t see many teenagers with natural black hair, unless they are job-hunting.

I cannot comment on my own experiences at a host club as I have never been to one but here is a very interesting one on the CNN News website. I won’t lie, I am curious to try it mself although I know that I’d not only get embarrassed easily but also wouldn’t have much money to spend there!

So, is the Japanese male host just a glamorous sex worker? The majority of Japanese people will strongly disagree. Whilst a good number of them might disapprove of it and look down on it as a fruity profession, it is popular for a reason. The hosts definitely aren’t “manly” but that’s not really what the attraction is. What woman doesn’t like to be paid attention to?

Source: projecthitchhiker.com

Recipe of the Week: Chicken Yakitori

Yakitori is very easy to make and something you’ll find in all east asian restaurants. Given its simplicity and deliciousness, it seems that this is a good week to cook yakitori because it’s getting darker quicker and Britain’s freak heatwave is definitely over for good.

Ingredients:

  • 800g chicken breast
  • 2 leeks
  • Bamboo skewers (normal skewers will do)
  • 120ml soy sauce
  • 120ml mirin
  • 4tbsp sugar
1) Soak the bamboo skewers in water for an hour before using, to prevent them from burning.
2) Slice the chicken and leek into bite-size pieces and place on the bamboo skewers.
3) Boil the ingredients for the sauce until they have reduced by 1/3.
4) Grill the chicken and leek, brushing with the sauce 1-2 times whilst grilling. Serve with lemon.
Final Thoughts
Did you know that the armour of Takeda Hidetada (the son of Takeda Shingen) is on display at the Tower of London? Well, I didn’t and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it on display. If you do happen to live in London or are planning a trip, it’s worth a look!

Week 4: Diary dates!


First off, there are two exciting Japan events coming up that you might want to know about. The first is the Japan Matsuri, a celebration of Japanese culture in London, close to Westminster Bridge, on Sunday 18 September. The next is an upcoming competition deadline on Tuesday 1 November – the Manga Jiman Competition – a manga competition run by the Japan embassy. The first prize is two return flights to Japan!

I also would like to ask people to take this 10 second survey on a UK-Japan magazine if they haven’t done so yet. As you might have guessed I am doing some market research on its potential popularity.

 

News Story of the Week: Typhoon strikes Wakayama and Nara prefectures

I’m afraid this is a doom and gloom story but unfortunately one that cannot really be overlooked. On Monday, the Wakayama and Nara prefectures were struck by their 12th typhoon of the year, leaving 34 dead and 56 missing. The death toll from typhoon Talas is the worst since 2004, when Tokage left 98 dead.

Key transport and religious sites have been badly damaged, including the JR Kisei Line bridge and the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, which was struck by mudslides. A full-scale emergency service has been launched and authorities are still finding bodies.

As we all know, Japan is located in one of the most geographically-volatile parts of the world and this typhoon could not have come at a more tragic time when the country is still recovering from the effects of Fukushima. Let’s hope the rest of 2011 can be kinder.

Source: The Japan Times Online

 

Destination of the Week: Kinosaki

Kinosaki is located in the north of the Hyogo prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan and is one of the top onsen destinations. It is a small town, very different to the previous entries, so it should be a nice retreat for those of you planning an exciting trip around Japan.

Storks are associated with Kinosaki, as legend has it that they would come to the marshes to heal their wounds. Bath houses therefore sprung up a long time ago to take advantage of the special properties of Kinosaki’s waters. It is probably not so surprising that there is a sanctuary in Kinosaki for the endangered oriental stork.

The main draw of Kinosaki is, of course, its bath houses. There are several very popular public ones; Satono-yu is the largest and Ichino-yu has its outdoor baths in a cave! The onsen experience really should be on your to-do list when you visit Japan. Onsens are public bath houses, which tap into the ground’s natural water supplies, and bathing in hot spring water is incredibly refreshing. You have to wash yourself down before you go into the public baths, which are split between men and women, and of course you have to go in the nude. Depending on how prudish you are, you’re allowed to cover yourself with a small towel until you can hide under the dark waters. This is exactly what I did when I went, as you always feel like a great lumbering Caucasian giant among the more petite Japanese women!

Apart from onsen, Kinosaki has a thriving town centre. This is unusual in ryokan town because business becomes fierce but there is a policy of sharing resources, meaning you will see lots of people walking around in their yukata (robes) during the day – having ice cream or visiting the Onsenji Temple, where a Buddhist priest is said to have spent 1000 days praying for spring water to come to Kinosaki.

All in all, Kinosaki is slightly off the beaten track but it is well worth visiting for an authentic onsen experience.

Do:

  • Make at least one trip to the various onsen. No need to be so prudish!
Don’t:
  • Worry about shampoo and shower gel, as most onsen do not allow them so that the waters can be kept clean.

 

Japanese Saying of the Week: Ame futte ji katamaru 

I love this one! ‘Ame futte ji katamaru’ translates to ‘rained on ground hardens’. In other words, adversity builds character. We cannot grow as people until we have been confronted with a problem and, similarly, not every little thing is going to break us. Adversity in Japanese is ‘gyakkyou’ and, as a treat, here is the written translation.

Source: japanese-symbols.org

 

Samurai of the Week: Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Hideyoshi featured briefly last week as the man who avenged his assassinated lord Oda Nobunaga by killing Akechi Mitsuhide in the Honnoji Incident. However, he is better known as being the second of the three unifiers of Japan.

Hideyoshi is the classic example of the rise to power that was commonly associated with the Sengoku jidai – he was born into a peasant community in the Owari prefecture and yet managed to climb the ranks, as a general of Nobunaga and later the ruler of Japan. He was short, thin and had sunken features, which prompted his not-so-tactful general to call him ‘Saru’… ‘monkey’.

Following Nobunaga’s assassination, the succession was sought by Hidenobu, the son of the original heir Nobutada, and Nobutaka, Nobunaga’s third son. Hideyoshi supported Hidenobu and the samurai Shibata Katsuie backed Nobutada. Tensions came to a head at the Battle of Shizugatake, when Hideyoshi’s army overpowered the defending Shibata army, who were in league with Katsuie. When he heard the news, he committed suicide (hara kiri) in true samurai style as the army poured into the territory. His wife Oichi, Nobunaga’s sister chose to die with him but Hideyoshi spared their three children. One of them, Yodogimi, became one of his concubines and bore his eventual heir, Hideyori.

Although he was opportunistic, Hideyoshi was not as ruthless as Nobunaga. The best example of this would be his invasion of Shikoku in the south. He had ordered the master of the island, Chosokabe Motochika, to surrender the territory but he had refused, so he launched the largest operation to date in the Sengoku jidai. Within a month Motochika surrendered but was allowed to retain the province of Tosa and, more importantly, his head. This definitely would not have happened under the much more brutal Oda Nobunaga.

Through a number of campaigns against powerful daimyo, from Hojo Ujimasa to the Shimazu in Kyushu, Hideyoshi managed to bring Japan under his control. Some samurai, such as Date Masamune from the north, went so far as acknowledging his power so as to avoid war. The final move solidifying Hideyoshi’s power came in 1591, when he issued the Sword Hunt and drew the line between villager and warrior. Previously, there was the concept of the ji-samurai or ‘warrior of the land’ – a samurai who worked in the fields when not at war. This was abolished under Hideyoshi and so social mobility became impossible, most likely to avoid an peasant upstart entering the samurai ranks. Of course, this was how Hideyoshi had achieved his position but he wanted to make sure that there would not be another like him.

In 1952, Hideyoshi ordered the invasion of Korea. Whether this was a genuine attempt at expansion or a ploy to control the resources of potentially volatile daimyo is uncertain, as the less trustworthy ones never set foot in the country – notably Masamune and Ieyasu (remember him?) However, the mission was unsuccessful despite early gains and dragged on into 1958. This was the year that Hideyoshi fell gravely ill and called a council of regrets (interesting choice of words), which included Ieyasu, and implored them to pledge their loyalty to his five-year-old heir, Hideyori. Hideyoshi died later that year.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi embodied the spirit of his age – the phenomenal rise through the ranks and, paradoxically, the restrictions imposed on social mobility, which were expanded upon by the next unifier of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu. As you can probably guess, Ieyasu did not keep his promise as Hideyori did not achieve the same status as his father. What happened? Find out next week and read about one of the most complex men in Sengoku history!

Source: samurai-archives.com

 

Bento Box of the Week: Ghibli

This week we have a very cute bento reminiscent of the wonderful Studio Ghibli. The studio is best known for films such as Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind and Howl’s Moving Castle. This box features the characters Totoro from My Neighbour Totoro and the soot ball from Spirited Away.

Source: craftycrafty.tv

 

Series of the Week: Eden of the East

Eden of the East (Higashi no Eden) is a relatively recent anime series and is brilliantly well done. It is a twelve episode series and has two movies as well. The story revolves around Saki Morimi, a graduate student, who meets a young man with amnesia called Akira. He carries a mobile phone with 10 billion yen attached to it and learns that he is part of a game.

Akira is part of the Seleção, twelve individuals who have been given the mission of ‘saving’ Japan. Only one can be the winner and when they run out of the 10 billion yen, they are killed. They give orders to the mysterious Juiz, their phone operator, which range from road blockades to assassination. There are so many questions. Who is controlling the Seleção? Why does Akira have amnesia?

This is a great mystery series. I am keeping the description short as it’s so full of plot twists that I do not want to give anything else away. All I will say is that Akira is absolutely hilarious. Watch it and enjoy it, that is all.

Score: 10/10 (yeah, I may be liberal with my maximum ratings but Akira has the best introductory appearance in anime history)

Source: geekpeeks.com

 

Weird Thing of the Week: Engrish

This isn’t so much weird as it is funny, but it warrants a mention this week! ‘Engrish’, like ‘Franglais’ or ‘Chinglish’, is the mixing of two languages (in this case, English and Japanese). There is no ‘L’ in Japanese phonetics, so the closest that many Japanese people can pronounce is the ‘R’ sound; hence, ‘Engrish’. This has led to some unfortunate stereotyping and, at the same time, hilarious scenes in anime and manga.

The other side of ‘Engrish’ lies in its mistranslation. Gramatically speaking, Japanese and English work in completely opposite ways. This makes blagging Japanese much harder than, say, French. For example, ‘I like ice cream’ translates to ‘aisukuri-mu ga suki desu’. Notice that, as well as being back to front, ice cream sounds very similar in both languages because it is a Western word adopted into the Japanese language. This is the wonderful thing about language – it is subject to human trial and error. I will leave some amusing photos and a video that showcase the wonder that is Engrish.

These were taken at Fuji Q Highland Theme Park in Japan, by yours truly.

And that’s not all… Remember Sonic the Hedgehog? There was an anime, with some of the best Engrish in animated history.

Source: Tenchifan1 @ Youtube.com

 

Recipe of the Week: Kara-age chicken

Here’s another easy yet delicious recipe. Tori no kara-age or ‘kara-age chicken’ are the Japanese and, of course, healthier version of chicken nuggets. It’s seasoned with ginger and is perfect for a starter.

Ingredients (for two people):

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
For the marinade:
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 30g root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the coating:
  • 2 tablespoons corn flour
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • Vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • 2 slices of lemon, to garnish
1) Marinate the chicken with the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper for 30 minutes.
2) Mix the cornflour with the plain flour. Take each piece of chicken from the marinade and roll in the flour mixture until completely coated.
3) Heat the oil to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) and deep-fry the chicken pieces for 4-5 minutes or until a burnished golden brown.
4) Garnish with the sliced lemon and serve on a bed of salad leaves.
Final Thoughts
As always, suggestions for next week are welcome. Also, if you have Twitter, you can follow me too and I will do the same for you! My lovely friend Kelly also tweeted about my blog – she is a talented cosplayer and all round lovely girl – so you ought to follow her to as she always has interesting things to say!
The Gundam Cafe

Week 1


I guess the first blog is the hardest, as I’m struggling to think of a witty introduction…

If you made it this far, thank you! I hope that this blog will prove to be popular, useful or just downright interesting. The plan is to have a set of regular features and then I will add on anything else that I think readers will find relevant. So, here we go…

 

News Story of the Week: Honest Japanese People

Everyone is aware of the tragic Fukushima earthquake in March but, unless you’re keeping up with the Japanese news, it’s hard to get an idea of just how ongoing the problems really are. Every country has its doom and gloom periods, as the riots in England just the other week have shown, but there are still these amazingly uplifting stories to be found. The difference in Japan is that these stories are good deeds on a massive communal scale.

Uniting in the face of a natural or man-made disaster is nothing new but I found this particular story particularly moving. In total, $78m has been uncovered in the rubble (largely in safes) and this money has been RETURNED to the owners. Having been in Japan myself and had the equivilent of 50p sent to the police station for safe-keeping by my hotel after I checked out, I know this really happens. I have never felt cheated by anyone in Japan, when it’s easy to take advantage of an unsuspecting tourist. The Japanese are, on the whole, refreshingly moral. You wouldn’t get this in many other countries in the world.  Take a look at the story below:

Source: abcnews.com 

 

 

Destination of the Week: Akihabara

Alright, so every person who has ever heard of Japan has probably heard of Akihabara, but it seems like a good introductory destination. I’ll avoid using the word ‘otaku’ as I know a lot of people don’t like it but, if you are inclined towards being one, Akihabara is as close to Valhalla as you’ll ever get.

Akihabara is a district in Tokyo (there are plenty of them) which is full of flashing lights, anime shops, cosplay maids and all other things anime and manga. I have a love-hate relationship with this place, mainly because it ate into my purse so badly both times I went. Nowhere else in the world would you spend £40 on an alarm clock but, if it’s one that talks in the voice of your favourite anime character, you buy it. End of.

Here are some dos and don’ts for anyone who is yet to visit this amazing place. If you already have, hopefully these tips will make you smirk with the benefit of hindsight.

Do:

  • Bring plenty of money. Most places don’t accept international cards as Japan is still a very cash based society.
  • Have lots of 100 yen coins ready (about 80p) for the gashopon machines. There are all sorts- ones that print little posters, key rings, sweets etcetc.
  • Remember your camera. You will take pictures of everything to do with your favourite show!
  • Visit the Gundam Cafe, even if you have no idea what Gundam is. It’s right outside the underground, so impossible to miss.
Don’t:
  • Go if you are tired. Walking into Akihabara is like being bombarded with neon lights and disco balls.
Source: Sophie’s camera – September 2010
Japanese Saying of the Week
‘All we have is today, so let’s live it to the fullest.’
Short but beautiful and to the point. It doesn’t need a huge explanation (unless you’re a Philosophy student, which I’m not) so I’ll just say that every encounter is different and cannot be repeated, so treasure every experience, even if it feels like it’s the worst thing in the world.
This phrase comes up often in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, as the meeting shared over a cup of tea cannot be repeated. Tea is amazing and this phrase tells us why!
Samurai of the Week
The samurai, the famed warriors of Japan, are undoubtedly my favourite part of the country’s history so this is probably going to end up being my favourite regular piece.
My introductory samurai for this week is Honda Tadakatsu, one of the fiercest generals of Tokugawa Ieyasu (otherwise known as the unifier of Japan). I will probably feature Ieyasu at a later date but, for now, I’m going to concentrate on his right-hand man. For those of you who don’t know much about samurai, I’ll start of with an amusing fact: the best way to recognise a warrior on the field was by their helmet. What a helmet Tadakatsu had. Deer antlers! If you saw that on the field, you knew you were in for it.
The military history of Tadakatsu himself is similarly impressive. Perhaps the best battle to pick out would be the Komaki Campaign (1584). Whilst Ieyasu, his commander, was off fighting troops of his rival Toyotomi Hideyoshi (who he later served under, but that’s ANOTHER story), Tadakatsu rode out with his men to challenge Hideyoshi. He was outnumbered by about 60 to 1 but Hideyoshi was so impressed by his bravery that he ordered no harm would come to him or his men. That’s right, you don’t mess with Tadakatsu!
Bento Box of the Week
This is just a small and cutesy feature but everyone loves bento boxes! For those of you who don’t know, these are school lunch boxes but they are a thousand times better than your standard Western ones. No, the bento box can be as creative as you want it to be. How else do you get your children to eat all that healthy rice and vegetables? Make them into a cartoon character, of course!
Here’s WALL-E!
Series of the Week
I hope to strike a fine balance between old, new, popular, obscure, anime, manga and video games. That way, there’s a chance that you might come across something you’ll want to check out and I won’t just keep plugging my favourite shows! I will be doing that at some point though…
This week I’m going to talk about a lesser-known show called Mermaid Forest (Ningyo no Mori), which came out in 2003 even though the animation looks like something from the 90′s.The story is centred around an ancient legend in which humans become immortal by eating a mermaid’s flesh, at least sometimes. Most people cannot handle it and turn into hideous beasts instead. I was expecting pretty visuals until I saw some of the mutations and then I was a little creeped out.
Mermaid Forest greatly balances of beautiful mermaids (and male and female leads) with the horror element. I highly recommend it to anyone as it is only 13 episodes long and makes for some good storytelling.
Score: 9/10 (-1 because the mutant mermaids scared me)
Weird Thing of the Week
I am yet to find a particular go-to site for all weird Japanese things (apart from the one cited on this photo), so will make do with this well-know picture this time round. I’ve talked a little bit about anime on this entry and now you get to see the horrible things that it can produce.
Want to know the weirdest thing?
They’re all guys!
Why, Japan, why?
I actually saw two guys going round like this at an event in London and it TERRIFIED me. It got worse when parents let their little children go over to have their photos taken with them. It was like cross-dressing anime Disneyland!
Final thoughts for this week…
I hope this has been insightful or, at the very least, amusing. Japan has a lot to offer and the reason I am planning to keep a ‘snippet’ blog like this is to share things both with people who may not know much about Japanese culture and those who already do and just want something new to look at. If you have anything interesting you think should be submitted for next week, post a comment below!
Thank you for reading! Have a good weekend.