WIN Hakuouki seasons 1, 2 and 3!


It’s my birthday this week and you know what that means – competition time! This one’s the best one yet and comes courtesy of the fantastic guys at MVM Entertainment, who’ve licensed one of my all-time favourite anime series, ‘Hakuoki’.

Up for grabs is not only the first season, but the second (‘Hakuoki Hekketsuroku’) and third (‘Hakuoki Reimeiroku’) as well! That’s almost the entire series, excluding the OVA, which you will also be able to buy in the near future. Read on for the review and details of how to enter…

Chizuru Yukimura has come to Kyoto looking for her father, a doctor who has gone missing. While there, she witnesses a fight between an Oni and the Shinsengumi. Taking her into custody, the Shinsengumi debates on what to do with Chizuru, when they discover that she is the daughter of the doctor for whom they are also looking. The Shinsengumi then take Chizuru along on their search after the missing doctor, from adventure to adventure.

The ‘Hakuoki’ anime series is loosely based on the history of the Shinsengumi, the ‘secret police’ of the late Tokugawa Shogunate and their struggle against the changing times as western culture permeates Japan. In terms of dates, characters and battles, its fairly accurate, which is good news for history fans. The whole demon thing obviously isn’t accurate but, compared to how ridiculous and over the top other ‘historical action’ series can be (*cough cough* Sengoku Basara) you can’t poke too many holes in it.

In case in wasn’t incredibly accurate by all the beautiful bishounen men on the DVD cover, ‘Hakuoki’ also sits comfortably in the romance category. The TV series is based on a Japanese dating sim video game, ‘Hakuoki ~ Shinsengumi Kitan ~ Demon of the Fleeting Blossom’. Samurai, romance, history? I’m sold!

The good news is this series isn’t just easy on the eye, although I’d definitely say this is one for the girls. It’s got action, great fight scenes, a decent historical backdrop, a fantastic soundtrack and beautiful art. The seasons develop well and each stand out on their own; where the first season sets the scene, the second gets a lot darker and ‘Game of Thrones’-esque, and the third is in fact a prequel to the first series. There are hours of viewing material in each of the DVDs and each episode brings you something new and different, so there’s no lull or time to get bored in between episodes. Out of the lot, season two is by far my personal favourite.

How to enter

Simply like MVM Entertainment on Facebook then leave a comment below this blog post telling us you’ve done so! Get your entries in by 7pm Friday 28 March. So, get liking, sharing and watching!

A massive thanks to MVM Entertainment for providing an amazing prize. You can check out their other fantastic titles here!

C for Control: Christmas competition!


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It’s competition time again, just in time for Christmas! This is your chance to win a copy of one of MVM Entertainment’s latest anime titles, C for Control: The Money of Soul and Possibility.

mvm-c-control-front

Kimimaro is a hard-working college student, juggling two part time jobs and studying to be a civil servant. His ambition in life? To have just enough money to get by comfortably. One night he is approached by a strange man in a top hat, Masakaki, who makes him an intriguing offer: receive a near-endless supply of money through loans leveraged against one’s future. Intrigued, Kimimaro  accepts his new role as an ‘entrepreneur’ and receives a mysterious bank card which, when used, transports him to the otherworldly Financial District. There, he battles alongside his Asset, Mshyu, against other people who have been drawn into the District. Those who win return to the real world to find great amounts of money in the banks. Those who lose go bankrupt and, in many cases, lose much more.

I was intrigued by C for Control because it is quite possibly the only series I have ever come across that deals with the very serious subject of economics. Admittedly, the seriousness disappears when you bring in the otherwordliness and Pokemon-style battles but there are some interesting themes running throughout the series. People’s obsession with and dependence on money, the lengths they are prepared to go to to earn it, and the god-like role money plays in everyone’s lives. Another nice touch is that when people return from the Financial District to the real world, they bring with them tainted Midas money which is then distributed through the entire country’s financial system. To Kimimaro and other entrepreneurs, the money is black but, to everyone else, it looks like regular cash. What affect does the Midas money have on the country? You’ll have to watch to find out.

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With just 11 episodes, the cast is quite small but likeable. Kimimaro is your stereotypical regular-guy-who-is-just-trying-to-make-ends-meet-then-suddenly-everything-changes-like-oh-my-gosh-doesn’t-this-sound-familiar but keeps the show as grounded as it can be, given how there’s a magical bank in the background. Mshyu, the Asset, is fiesty and interacts/scolds Kimimaro constantly by talking to him through his bank card in the real world. Jennifer Sato is an International Monetary Fund (IMF) spy investigating the activities of the Midas bank and Soichiro Mikuni is the mysterious handsome stranger who tries to take on Kimimaro as an apprentice. Mshyu and Jennifer were my favourite characters although, as can be appreciated with just 11 episodes, they were quite two-dimensional but likeable all the same.

Other things in this series favour are the soundtrack (particularly the rocking opening theme), bold animation and one of the best English vocal castings I’ve ever come across. I watched the first five episodes in English quite happily and there was little lost in translation when I switched to subtitles. The themes of greed and money are particularly relevant in this day and age (especially when you live in the financial centre that is London) and, whilst the series might not tackle them in a conventional way, it does give you some food for thought.

All in all, this is a very good series and I’d give it a solid 7/10. I really recommend it!

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Entering couldn’t be any easier: just like MVM on Facebook and leave a comment below this blog post by midnight Sunday 22 December. A winner will be selected at random and the DVD will be posted to you in the New Year.

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Image sources: animenewsnetwork, MVM Entertainment, wallcg

And the winners are….


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You watched the trailer, read my review (hopefully!) and entered the competition… now it’s time to announce the two winners of the ‘Kids on the Slope’ competition. A massive thank you to MVM Entertainment, who supplied the prizes, and to all of you who entered! I’ve never had so many entries for one competition and it’s all down to how fantastic this series is.

So, without further ado, the winners of the DVD and bluray DVD (and bonus A4 print) are…

Joseph

Albert

Check your inboxes for an email from me so you can let us know where to post your prizes!

To those of you who didn’t win, I really hope you go on to buy Kids on the Slope as it really deserves to be watched over and over. Here’s the trailer again for good measure…

There will be more competitions to come, so feel free to subscribe to the blog so you’ll be the first to hear about them! Don’t forget to follow MVM Entertainment too, who are releasing a ridiculous amount of great anime series this year.

Coming next week, TWO Japanese film reviews! I have far too much fun watching things…

Thanks very much for entering the competition and see you soon!

WIN! ‘Isn’t Anyone Alive?’ with Third Window Films


Christmas is upon us, so what better way to celebrate with some Japanese black comedy?

The blog’s teamed up with Third Window Films for this month’s competition, offering one lucky reader the chance to win one of their latest DVDs, ‘Isn’t Anyone Alive?’ by Gakuryu (Sogo) Ishii.

Isn't Anyone Alive promo 2

When people talk about a bizarre urban myth at a University hospital people start dying inexplicably one after another…

With the air of this ‘energy void’ throughout, the world of this absurd black comedy, based upon the theatre play of the same name, starts to implode upon itself.

With ‘Crazy Thunder Road’ (1980), ‘Burst City’ (1982), ‘The Crazy Family’ (1984), ‘Angel Dust’ (1994), ‘Electric Dragon 80,000V’ (2001) and more, Gakuryu Ishii (previously known as Sogo Ishii) has been amusing us with his talent of totally overstepping genre boundaries with striking images and music. In his latest feature film he has adapted the Shiro Maeda play ‘Isn’t Anyone Alive’, an avant-garde story of 18 young students dying one after another.

Entering is super easy because it’s Christmas and we’re just nice like that. Simply like Third Window Films on Facebook and then leave a comment in this blog post to let us know! A winner will be selected on 1st January 2013, so get your entries in by New Year’s Eve.

(Your comment may not appear immediately after you post it as it may need pending. You only need to post once though and your entry will be received!)

You can also check out Third Window Films’ website to see some of their other brilliant films. My personal favourite is Confessions but there’s something for everyone, from slapstick to thriller.

Enter now and you could have another DVD to add to your collection for the new year!

Blog birthday bonanza


Sophie’s Japan Blog is one year old!

Last year, I was a fresh graduate looking for a job. The solution? Blogging about Japan! To celebrate a year of writing and to thank my wonderful readers (from America to England to Singapore), August will be full of giveaways and special features.

Japan Blog lucky dip

Here’s the first give away and it’s running right through to the end of Friday 31 August. Plus, if you follow the blog on Twitter or Facebook, you’re entered twice into the prize draw.

The prizes up for grabs (courtesy of my own bedroom):

All you have to do to win…

Send an email to sophiesjapanblog@live.co.uk with the subject ‘Lucky’, with…

  • The prize (or prizes) you want
  • What country you’re from
  • Your Twitter handle/Facebook name if you want to be entered twice

Winners will be emailed on September 1st for their postal address. It’s easy!

Coming up … Olympics, cars and a little bit behind the scenes! Make sure you don’t miss a post by subscribing today. Here’s to a year of the blog.

WIN! Memoirs of a Geisha


Last week I promised on my Facebook page that if I reached 100 ‘likes’, I would run a giveaway. Within an hour my numbers jumped from 98 to 105 (not HUGE numbers but I’m still happy), so here’s your giveaway. One lucky person will get their hands on the blog’s book of the month, Memoirs of a Geisha.

The rules

It’s as easy as that. Entries will close 9pm Thursday 31st May and a winner will be selected at random and contacted for a postal address. When you leave a comment make sure you enter an email address (which will be invisible on the blog) when prompted so you can be contacted.

The book will be sent from an online store (my own copy is so dog-eared I don’t think anyone will want it!) so this giveaway is open to the UK only.

See you 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!

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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.

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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 7: Competition time!


If it’s your first week coming across this blog, I’d like to direct you to this ten second quiz about a UK-Japan magazine. As you can see, I am doing some ongoing market research and it all depends on feedback!

So, the competition…

This is a chance for all your artists to put pen to paper (or electronic pen to fancy art tablet) and get scribbling! As I’ve been doing this blog for a few weeks now, I’d really like a mascot to feature as my profile picture and as the signature at the end of each post. As you can see, at the moment it’s a chibi Date Masamune and, as awesome as it is, it’s not mine.

SO, here are the rules:

  • Only one submission per person
  • You have to ‘like’ the blog on Facebook in order to enter
  • The mascot should feature yours truly in some way. Not because I’m vain but because I’d rather it were something personal. It can range from a cat to a vegetable, as long as it looks vaguely like me. Check out this video of me shamelessly promoting the blog for reference!
  • Nothing explicit. This one is self-explanatory
The prize:
  • Your artwork will be featured both as my blog profile picture and signature every week for the indeterminable future
  • Your artwork will also be featured on my business card, which advertises the blog
  • All credit will, of course, be given to you
Needless to say, the work also has to be your own. It can be anything from a doodle to serious artwork. Email your entry to sophiesjapanblog@live.co.uk either as an attachment or with a link to your entry, if you have posted it online elsewhere.
All entries must be in by Monday 10 October, so that the winner can be announced in time for week 9′s blog.
If you have any artist friends who you think might be interested, please post this blog to your Facebook wall, deviantart or whatever website you fancy. The more entries, the more exciting the competition!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an amateur or a professional – all levels are welcome!
News Story of the Week: Government ‘scared’ of telling Fukushima evacuees the truth
A former cabinet adviser recently revealed that the Japanese government has known for months that thousands of people who were forced to evacuate following the Fukushima disaster will not be able to return to their homes. There are still 80,000 people still living in temporary accommodation seven months on – a shocking figure for such as developed country.
People may have to wait as long as 20 years before they can return to their homes. Professor Matsumoto told ABC News that, ever since the day of the earthquake and tsunami, the government have simply been too scared to tell the truth. He also revealed that Naoto Kan, the Prime Minister at the time, wanted to evacuate millions of people in and around Tokyo. It is rumoured that not all the available information was shared with the cabinet, which is why Kan has been criticised for his handling over the affair.
In the wake of other national disasters; from the economic crises (well, that’s always ongoing, isn’t it?) and the London riots, Fukushima has worryingly taken a backseat in many people’s minds. Thousands are still living in shelters and, considering that Japan is such a developed country, this is a very concerning statistic.
Destination of the Week: Uwaji
Uwaji is located in Ehime, a province on the southern island of Shikoku. Coincidentally, I found out it is vaguely related to the ‘weird thing of the week’, so it seemed like a good week to feature this tranquil place.
Here’s a little bit of history for you – Uwajima was formerly known as Itajima village. In 1614, powerful northern lord Date Hidemune (the eldest son of Date Masamune) took over the Uwa region and promoted Uwajima Castle as a centre of industry, education and culture. Itajima grew significantly from that point. It became the city of Uwajima in 1921 after the neighbouring town of Yahata was annexed.
Uwaji is worth visiting today, not only because it is ideally located to overlook the ocean but also because of its unusual fertility shrine. The ancient Shinto Taga Shrine is home to a 9 foot long phallus and is next door to a rather graphic sex museum. They don’t shy away from sex like they do in the west, I guess.
The city is also known for its bull fighting but not as you know it. Unlike the original Spanish version, there is no matador, so it is better described as sumo bull fighting. There is also the popular ‘Ushioni Matsuri’ every July, otherwise known as the ‘Gaiya Festival’. In local dialect, ‘Gaiya’ translates to ‘awesome’. Paraded around town during the festival is the symbol of the island; a black-bearded, red-robed bull demon.
There is also a Date Museum in the city, which pays homage to the nine generations of the family that ruled the area. Naturally, it’s worth a look if you like your samurai armour and other artefacts.
Do:
  • Try some jyakoten, a flat oval fish cake which Uwajima is well-known for.
Dont:
  • Mistakenly use your JR Rail Pass, if you’re travelling with one, on one of the Shikoku lines. A number of rail lines in Shikoku are not covered on the pass as it is an island, after all!
Saying of the Week: Saru mo ki kara ochiru
‘Even monkeys fall from the tree’. Simply put, this means that even experts fail. There’s no point beating yourself up over something just because you ‘shouldn’t’ have made such a novice mistake. Whether in business or music, I’d say this proverb can have particular significance to everyone.
Source: My own camera, taken in Yudanaka 2010
Samurai of the Week: Gozen Tomoe
The samurai class is usually considered to be a hierarchical and male-centric way of life. Not so, as a number of women throughout history have proven. There were plenty of mighty female samurai who played their part in battle as much as men. These women were known as ‘onna bugeisha’ and this week we will look at Gozen Tomoe.
Tomoe is shrouded in mystery and, whilst it is generally accepted that she did exist, some historians believe she is purely a work of fiction. She was a concubine of Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a general of the Heian period, and is believed to have fought in the Genpei War, in which the Minamoto clashed with the Taira clan.
The Tale of Heike, which recounted the struggle between the two clans, presented Tomoe in a positive and almost reverent light:
‘Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.’
It almost sounds too good to be true; a strong, beautiful and fearless samurai woman (beheading enemy warriors) but it is most likely true. The accounts about Tomoe vary after the Battle of Awazu and this is where the real intrigue lies. When her master Yoshinaka was defeated in battle, he reportedly ordered her to flee because he would have been ashamed to die with a woman. It is not clear what happened to her after that point; some reports say that she gave up the sword and became a nun, others say that she married Wada Yoshimori and others say that she did both!
She lived for an impressively long time (most likely 1157-1247), considering the turbulent times she lived in and, of course, the lack of proper medical care. Of course, the real mystery is what happened to her and whether she really existed at all. Either way, Tomoe has earned her place in Japanese history and, like other samurai, has found her way into popular culture.
Bento Box of the Week: Windows computer
Whether or not you’re a fan of windows, you can’t deny that this is a seriously awesome bento box. If I had a boyfriend who particularly loved computers, I would totally make him this but never let him eat it because I would be too proud of it!

 

Series of the Week: Afterschool Charisma

What happens when you put Sigmund Freud, Mozart and Florence Nightingale in the same room? That’s the bizarre question that this manga series tries to answer. Afterschool Charisma is set in a high school for the clones of famous historical characters. I’m not a fan of the slice-of-life high school genre but decided it was best to feature something that fit the category for the blog and so, after a couple of a internet searches, came across this rare beauty.

Imagine being the clone of a great scientist and are expected to surpass your “original’s” skills, when your dream in life is to become a concert pianist. What about the threat from the outside world? Does anyone oppose the clones strongly enough to harm them? What will happen to the clones once they graduate? These are the trials that our pupils face in this thought-provoking and psychological manga series.

The story quickly develops, which is good for those of you who don’t like lots of filler. That said, it’s not just serious and trying to fuel the cloning debate as there is plenty of light relief and comedy in between.

To date, there are 16 chapters spread across six books. The series is ongoing but the next volume won’t be released for another few months, although it really is full of promise. It is written by Suekane Kumiko whose previous works, oddly enough, are predominantly smut and yaoi, so this is a really unusual and welcomed change from her. I’m really enjoying this series so far; the characters are very individualistic and the story is more complex than your standard high school drama. I definitely recommend it to any history fan!

Score: 8/10 (If you ever wanted to see the manga-fied bishounen version of Mozart or Napoleon, then this is well worth a read!)

Source: longjumptriplejump @photobucket

 

Weird Thing of the Week: Fertility Festivals

Japan doesn’t just have festivals, it has some of the most energetic and bizarre festivals of all time. There are hundreds of traditional festivals taking place across Japan throughout the year, a good number of them dating back over a thousand years. Religion is still very intrinsic to every day life in Japan and so the majority of them are deeply symbolic and are more than an excuse for a holiday and drinking which, let’s admit it, is what British festivals have become.

The weirdest of the weird in Japan festivals (or o-matsuri) is the Hōnen Matsuri, better known as the fertility festival or penis festival.

Wait, what?

I didn’t believe it when I first read it but there really is a festival in Japan where a giant phallus is paraded around town. Several of these festivals take place across the country, around 15 April, but the most well-known one is the Hōnen Matsuri at the Tagata Jinja shrine, with a history dating back over 1500 years. It takes place in Komaki, near Nagoya, which used to be a farming settlement. As such, the parading of the two and a half meter penis symbolises fertility and renewal in every sense of the word.

From penis-shaped lollies to bells, it’s easy to see what the overriding theme of the festival is. However, in the agricultural community, the woman was revered as sacred and integral to the life cycle and so it is not the actual penis that is being worshipped. ‘Hōnen’ means bountiful year and many people, from women seeking a marriage partner to couples wishing to conceive, borrow these phalluses from the shrine and return them the following year.

Unsurprisingly, the Hōnen Matsuri draws a large tourist crowd and it is easy to forget that this festival is deeply religious in its origin and has significant connections with Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion.

Now we have to wait and see if this post and the below picture are flagged as inappropriate content! Hopefully this won’t be the case and instead we can all appreciate the importance of, well, you know…

Source: lacarmina.com

Recipe of the Week: Onsen Tamago Tofu

Tofu is a staple part of the Japanese diet but many westerners are not sure what to do with it other than use it as a meat substitute. In fact, tofu can be enjoyed as a delicious meal in itself. I am taking another recipe from Kurihara Harumi’s book, which is worth buying for anyone wanting to experiment in Japanese cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 600g silken tofu
  • 4 hot spring eggs (see below recipe)
  • 5g bonito flakes (substitute concentrated fish stock)
  • 50ml soy sauce
  • 2 tbs mirin
  • 1 tbs sake
  • Chopped spring onions and grated fresh ginger
To make onsen tamago (hot spring eggs):
Put the room-temperature eggs in a wide neck flask (or any other container that will hold heat).  Add boiling water, cover and leave for 10 minutes. The yolk should be still runny with the white just cooked.
1) Drain the tofu and wrap in kitchen paper to remove excess water
2) Make the dressing by combining the bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin and sake in a heat-resistant bowl and cooking it in a microwave for 2 minutes (600w). Leave to cool then strain
3) Cut the tofu into 4 pieces and place each one in a bowl. Scoop out a hollow in each one and an onsen tamago in each one
4) Arrange the scooped tofu around the edge. Scatter some spring onions and grated ginger on top
Final Thoughts
Don’t forget to enter the competition by October 10th! I realise I said the wrong date in the promo video because I am silly. In future, the blog’s word is law. On that note, I am curious to hear people’s opinions on doing future vlogs. I personally hate watching myself on camera but, if it’s a good ice-breaker, I may do one again in the future.
Finally, I am looking for suggestions for next week’s ‘weird thing of the week’. This can be anything from something in popular culture to a weird historical character.
Good luck to all art entrants!