I went to see Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai at Sadler’s Wells in London on Saturday and am only just getting round to posting this because I was barely at home all weekend! Anyway, I’ll keep this short…
Anjin was fantastic and you should go see it right now!
I’m a massive history fan, particularly for the Sengoku era in Japan, so when I came across an advert for ‘Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai’ I literally ran upstairs to book my tickets without a second thought. The play was advertised late summer time last year, around the time that I gave a rather scathing review of James Clavell’s Shogun, which is a fictionalised account of the actual historical events around which Anjin is also based.
What’s it about?
Anjin is based on true historical events in early 17th century Japan, towards the end of the period of the warring states (the Sengoku era) in Japan. William Adams, an English merchant, washes up on Japanese soil with his crew and his cargo is seized by the Japanese. Among the cargo are cannons and so, after narrowly avoiding crucifixion by order of the Spanish Jesuits who have made their mark in the country by converting a number of the locals, Adams is recruited by the daimyo Ieyasu Tokugawa to assist in his campaign for the title of Shogun, the ruler of Japan.
The first act ends with the conclusion of the Battle of Sekigahara, a well-know event in Japanese history in which the retainers of the Toyotomi clan are defeated by the Tokugawa army. The curtains fall with Ieyasu taking his place as Shogun and appointing William Adams to the exclusive title of hatamoto, the Miura Anjin (blue-eyed samurai), forbidding him from returning to England to his wife and daughter.
However, Ieyasu assuming the position of Shogun is far from the conclusion. The second act takes place approximately 15 years later and, although many of Ieyasu’s old enemies are dead, the vengeful wife of the previous leader or Taiko, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, is planning another uprising in Osaka and leading her unwilling son into another violent uprising. The results are tragic… I won’t spoil it for those of you who do not know how things ended for the Toyotomi but, for those of you who do know, I can guarantee it’s very sad and there were a lot of people crying in the audience. Ultimately, the play ends with Ieyasu’s son assuming power and ordering the execution or expulsion of all Christians in Japan (amazingly, the expulsion is almost advised by William Adams) and the closing of Japan’s borders to foreigners.
William Adams’ story is brought to the stage in a stunning new play directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, and written by Mike Poulton with Shoichiro Kawai. Really, you can’t go wrong with this combination. The costumes are amazing (especially the samurai helmets), the battle scenes are particularly well-coordinated given the relatively small cast size and the set in general feels authentic and impressive.
Now, you might be wondering how a Japanese play can be adapted for an English stage. Good news – there are subtitles (both English and Japanese) projected above the stage. This might sound like a frustration at first but it was similar to how you might read subtitles for a film or a video game. It wasn’t particularly distracting and the whole story retained its authenticity.
Samurai are amazing…
Alright, so I’m never going to write that the samurai were not awesome (from a purely historical perspective, of course). All of the acting was fantastic, although there was one stand-out role in this play that I’d like to quickly draw attention to.
Sanada Yukimura (played by Fuyuki Sawada). Truly the manliest of samurai deaths in the play. Historically, Yukimura fought on the opposing side of the Toyotomi in the siege of Osaka and was beheaded. In the play, when a fresh-to-battle samurai breaks into the camp, Yukimura accepts his death in true samurai style; he sits down and more-or-less says ‘wouldn’t it be an honour to present my head to Ieyasu? Come at me, bro.’ Actually, this was probably my favourite scene in the whole of Anjin because it was just so powerful.
Get your tickets!
Anjin sadly won’t be with us for too long, so if you can get to London before 9th February I strongly recommend it. The seats at the front are obviously going to be pricier but my friend and I got some near the back for £29 and they were very good seats. If anything, they might have been better than the more expensive ones because we didn’t have to crane our necks to switch between the subtitles on screen and the actors.
Without a doubt, this play is a rare treat. Whether you just love the theatre or Japanese history, this is a must see!
The next post will unveil February’s Book of the Month! Until then.
I caught up recently with fellow Japan blogger and soon to be published author Benjamin Martin. Ben is on the JET Programme in Okinawa and writes a culture blog called More Things Japanese. He’s also got his first novel coming out soon, Samurai Awakening. Naturally, I asked him about all three!
First things first, please introduce yourself!
My name is Benjamin Martin, and I hail from Phoenix, Arizona in the US. After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2008, I came to Japan as an English teacher with the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I’ve been living and working on small islands in Okinawa Prefecture ever since.
What made you want to start blogging about Japan? Is More Things Japanese your first blog?
When you come to Japan on the JET Programme, they place you. This means that while I had never heard of my placement, and never would have gone there on my own, I ended up in one of the most unique places in all of Japan. It was an island 320 kilometers from the mainland in the middle of the Pacific with a population of 550 people.
When I arrived, I had no intention of writing. I had my first camera, a Nikon Coolpix, that I had picked up solely for the purpose of sending pictures home. My camera worked just long enough to get me interested in taking pictures of all the amazing new experiences I was having. Then the screen stopped working. I made the shift to a Canon DSLR and before long I had plenty of great photos to share.
The photos were not enough though. Many of them needed more explanations and there were a lot of unique experiences. Around the same time, I discovered a love of writing as I came upon the idea that eventually became Samurai Awakening. With my desire to share my experiences and bits about Japan at large, a blog seemed like the best way to do that while not detracting from my story with a nonfiction work. I had read Things Japanese while studying Japan and had thought it would be great to remake that book for today’s world, but instead adapted the idea for the blog.
Since More Things Japanese is my first blog, it has definitely been a learning experience. I went and researched blogging software then taught myself how to use WordPress. It was interesting to struggle through developing a voice, and as I quickly discovered, there are a lot of great Japan blogs out there. I’ve tried to find a balance between my unique times out on small islands, Japan culture, photography, and food. I love Japanese food, and living rurally provides a lot of opportunities to learn how to make great dishes. It has been fun adapting my wing-it recipes into something others can hopefully use to make great food. One of my secret pleasures is watching Top Chef, Master Chef, and their ilk.
Tell us more about life in Okinawa. What stands out to you the most?
I would have loved to be placed anywhere in Japan, yet when I stepped off the last plane on to Kitadaito Island I knew I was going to fit right in. There was plenty of green. That feeling was shocked into a whole other level when the old man next to me nudged me and pointed up. On the second story of the airport was a crowd of parents and my future students with a sign welcoming me.
Welcoming would have to be the most Okinawan thing I know of besides goya. There truly is a sense of welcome and inclusion here, though sometimes it can be a challenge for Westerners to recognize it for what it is. Okinawa has its own history and culture, and that comes through in many aspects of daily life. I think there is a stereotype that Okinawa, like Hawaii, is slower paced and more relaxed. While it can definitely be true, many of the people here are extremely hard working and driven. It is interesting how they mesh island-time with Japanese custom.
One of the things that made my first placement so interesting is that it was a relatively new island (only a little over 100 years old) and had been settled by people from Hachijo Island near Tokyo. That gave Kitadaito an extremely unique mix of Okinawan and Mainland culture, a mix that is easier to see now that I’ve moved to the other side of the Prefecture. Everywhere I go in Japan I find a new perspective.
What is a typical day in the life of a JET participant? What advice would you have for people who want to apply for the programme?
Every placement in JET is different. There’s this idea that everyone in Japan is the same. It is just not true. Everywhere you go, everyone you meet will have their own unique story. It is just a matter of learning a new way of reading that story. The best things someone can do is to be flexible, learn about the history and culture of Japan, and participate. It is easy for foreigners in any country to sit back and watch things go by, but if you do that, what’s the point of being there?
Since I live rurally I teach both elementary and junior high. Anywhere from 6 to no classes each day depending on schedules. Since I’ve moved to a slightly larger island, I end up teaching an average of 3-4 classes a day. In the evenings I’ve had a lot of opportunities to participate in local events and activities. In the past I’ve done both Edo Sumo and Okinawan Sumo, dragon boat racing, eisa, fishing, skin diving, volleyball, tennis, badminton, and am even in a community band now. There’s almost always something going on.
What was your inspiration for writing Samurai Awakening? I take it you’re particularly fond of samurai history.
Japanese history was definitely the spark behind my writing. I had actually hated writing up until I took Modern Japanese History with Gail Bernstein and had to do analytical essays about articles concerning different aspects of the modern era. I thoroughly enjoyed the assigned readings, especially her own works on Japan. I’d say that planted the seed, but it wasn’t until the winter between 2009 and 2010 that I was completely out of reading material. On top of that, I sprained my ankle so couldn’t do any of the team sports I had been doing up until then. When I read, I mostly like to read for fun, so I decided I would try to write a story that would be something I’d like to read, introduce others to Japan, and most importantly be fun.
Easy question, what is the plot of Samurai Awakening?
David Matthews is having a rough time. Being a teenager is bad enough, but when he picks up and moves to Japan, with barely any knowledge of the language, he’s faced with a year of isolation and misunderstandings.
Until a clumsy attempt to help his host family gets him possessed by a Japanese god.
Suddenly able to speak Japanese, David finally begins to understand the world around him. He soon learns, however, that there are prices to pay for his new powers. When the most terrifying creatures of Japanese legend show up in Nakano, he’ll have to ask himself, “Can a young American become a True Samurai in time to save his friends?”
Someone at Publishers’ Weekly called an early manuscript “smartly plotted.” I just hope people enjoy it.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to write a novel about Japan, or any novel, for that matter?
I thought that writing a novel was beyond me. It seemed like such a monumental thing that I could never achieve. Even when I sat down and started putting a story together, I didn’t think I could actually do a book. I had jotted out my ideas for the story by hand in a simple notebook, and then tried to decide on a medium. I could easily see it as a manga or even anime, but I have little to no drawing skills. The idea of a book was too intimidating, so I eventually opted for a script. I went online and did a little bit of research on how to write a script and within two weeks I had the basic story done in about 80 pages. The way it just kind of shot out was surprising. I edited a few times, but the initial success gave me a bit more confidence.
It took me about a month to convert the script into a novel, and then I had about 80,000 words. The final version is many, many drafts later, and took about a full year, year and a half to finish to completion. The best advice I can give is to just, simply, write. You can always go back and change things, but creating the first words is the critical step between having a story… or not.
As far as writing about Japan goes, I had studied Japan for over 10 years, and had lived there for over one year before I ever started writing. Experience and knowledge feed stories, write what you know.
Sum up Samurai Awakening in three words. Go!
Japanese realistic fantasy.
What do you miss the most about Arizona? How often do you go back to visit?
The thing about Arizona is the multitude of unique climates all in one state. It was nice to go from the dry desert heat to the forests and farms around Prescott and Flagstaff. I also miss the snow on the mountains in summer time. Yet I guess it’s a fair trade, humidity and subtropical beaches in Okinawa. Family and friends are, of course, the biggest thing I miss from the States. Family and sandwiches. Japan needs more delis.
I’ve been able to make 2 trips back in the last four years, and I’ll be back in Phoenix for the October release of Samurai Awakening. We’ll be doing at least one event at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.
After JET and Samurai Awakening … what next?
That is the big question. I have a lot of interests. Photography, writing, film, music, teaching… It is going to be interesting to see if I can find opportunities that will allow me to tie as many of them together as well as the JET Programme has. Short term, I’ll continue teaching here for my last year with JET. I’d also like to explore more of Japan so that I can share it with the rest of the world. Long term? I’m working on books two and three.
Samurai Awakening is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Support a fellow Japan blogger and writer today … I’ve already got my copy pre-ordered!
Here it is, the fruit of my labours for the past few weeks. This is my blog entry for Inside Japan Tour’s Blog to Japan competition, which coincides with the tour group’s 12 year anniversary. Entrants have to present twelve reasons as to why they should be selected as the lucky winner. The prize is a two and a half week adventure around Japan and the winner has to share their experience of this wonderful country by writing a daily blog.
So, here is the video I have spent a good week editing and re-editing to make as persuasive as possible! Every campaign needs a name and this one is appropriately named Send Sophie to Japan.
Here is a lovely photo of my friend Leah with the mother of Koshi Inaba, one of the greatest rock stars in Japan. For some reason this picture didn’t appear in the Youtube video so I’m including it here so it makes sense!
As you will see in the video, I should be sent to Japan (in a box, if necessary!) because:
1) I’m a proven and passionate Japan blogger
2) I’ve visited Japanese events and written articles in the UK and Europe
3) I’m adventurous!
4) I know where I want to visit and want to step off the beaten track
5) I love Japanese history, especially the samurai
6) I want to write a novel set in Japan and need to do some research to make it authentic
7) I want to meet the wonderful Japanese people in their home country
8) I love Japanese food
9) I am in love with Japan’s natural scenery, especially the famous Nihon Sankei
10) This is the perfect opportunity to put my language skills into practice
11) I have penfriends scattered across Japan who I’d love to meet in person
12) Just ask my friends!
I also made a top 12 list of things I want to do in Japan:
1) Take in the majesty of the Nihon Sankei: Matsushima Bay, Miyajima Island and Amanohashidate
2) Dance in the crowded streets during a matsuri
3) Read manga in a cat cafe
4) See a Takarazuka performance
5) Experience a traditional tea ceremony
6) Meditate in a remote Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine
7) Buy the freshest sushi at the Tsukiji fish market
8) Eat traditional gyutan (beef tongue) in Sendai
9) Stock up on anime memorabilia in Akihabara
10) Visit the Studio Ghibli Museum
11) Ride the high speed Shinkansen
12) Meet up with my friends in Japan and take them out for dinner… and make some new ones too!
About Sophie’s Japan Blog
The fact that Sophie’s Japan Blog is celebrating its one year (12 month!) anniversary at the moment makes me feel like it was fate that I found out about this competition. In the past year, I’ve learned much more than I thought was possible just by researching, blogging and speaking to other bloggers in Japan and the UK.
If you have a look around the website, you’ll see how it’s grown and developed. I ran a Japanalphabet Twitter campaign last year, where I shared some particular features about the country’s traditional and modern culture with my followers. I’ve also written a couple of guest articles for various websites and magazines and expanded my reading list with a dedicated Book of the Month feature.
One of my secret hopes when I started this blog was that someone would pick it up and send me to Japan… and perhaps I can really realise this dream!
If you Send Sophie to Japan…
On a daily basis, you could expect to see plenty of photos and short video blogs accompanied by the music I’d no doubt discover over there, sprinkled with observations and comments from my travel companion and myself. I’m famously generous with my camera so there would also be plenty of footage with which to make some longer videos and posts when I got back! I would also create a section on the blog dedicated to the competition so the experience would be digitally immortalised for all to see!
There would even be something in it for the readers too! I often run giveaways through the blog, so it would be wrong if I didn’t buy something on my travels for a lucky someone.
Winning this competition would allow me to combine my two greatest passions; writing and travelling.
I really hope that you’ve found this entry interesting as it’s certainly been fun and challenging to make. I’d like to thank my friends who appeared in the video and all of my readers who motivated me to enter. The next stage of the competition is the selection of the three finalists, who the public will then vote on! So, if I’m lucky to make it that far, I’ll let you know! It’s been quite eye-opening putting this entry together. One thing is for certain, I think I have a good voice for documentaries!
If there are two things I love, they are reading and samurai. So, logic dictates that I would be hooked on a novel all about samurai based on a historical event. Sadly, James Clavell’s Shogun fell short of that promise. It started off strong but I felt it stretched its story too thin, rambled in places where it did not need to and, worst of all, I couldn’t even finish it.
Yes, July’s book of the month is one I couldn’t even see through to the end. So, I must have a pretty good reason for writing about it, neh? Oh, don’t underestimate the amount of times ‘neh’ is used in this book. I counted it at least once on every two pages… and there are about1,000 of them! At the end of the day, Shogun paints a vivid image of early 17th century Japan that is both historically accurate and humbling. One thing you cannot fault Clavell on is the research he obviously put into this book.
Shogun is based on the true-life story of William Adams, an Englishman who was washed up on Japan and, in short, ‘turned native’. Our story follows the fictional John Blackthorne, who is shipwrecked with his crew and, after a torturous imprisonment, is recognised as a valuable asset against the Portugese and rumours of civil war. Taken on as a vassal by Toranaga, he must learn the language and ways of the Japanese.
What is fantastic about Shogun is the historical detail. You do not feel like an outsider observing everything through rose-tinted glasses. As beautifully as some things are depicted, such as the tea ceremony or way of the samurai, there are many harrowing scenes of torture and execution in between. At the same time, the overall narration is very Japanese, and so those values shine through in the darkest moments of death and abandonment.
I think Shogun might be a gripping and plot twist-filled historical novel for someone who doesn’t know anything about Japanese history. Having checked out a couple of book reviews, the things everybody commented on were the plot twists and the ending. However, if you know anything about Japanese history, the title gives a lot of it away. I did not feel bad about stopping with another 200 pages to go because it went on and on without anything dramatic in between. It starts off strongly and has a lot to teach about everyday Japanese life in that period so, if you’re thinking of writing your own novel, it’s definitely worth checking out.
However, I appear to be in a minority of people who did not finish the book. Clavell is the celebrated author of the ‘Asia series’ and Shogun spawned an incredibly popular miniseries in the 1980s. If you’re interested in the story but not much of a book person, you might want to give that a watch.
Well, now that I am officially employed (hurrah!) the blog posts are definitely going to be shorter … at least for a few weeks whilst I balance it out with my ongoing eBay clearout. I’m doing something different this week! Some of you may know that I’m currently doing research for a story, set in Sengoku-era Japan.
Without giving much away, as it’s still a work in progress, it’s set in Kofu and focuses on the clashes between Takeda Shingen and Tokugawa Ieyasu. What I’m lacking is information on the Kai province (which no longer exists); photos, blogs and so on. I’m therefore asking people if they have any information on Kai, particularly the city of Kofu. Any information, stories, pictures or just general knowledge would be great. Everything will help. Either contact me on Twitter or email email@example.com . Thank you in advance!
It’s a bit of a miracle I managed to post on time this week. I’ve had three job interviews to prepare for so was very busy with those. On top of that, what normally would have been a direct 2 hour trip back to Manchester turned into a four hour detour through Milton Keynes. However, not wanting to let you lovely people down, here is your regular post format!
Also, if you have some time spare this weekend, consider entering the blog’s art competition! The deadline is Monday 6th.
News Story of the Week: Extreme snow in Japan
Think the cold spell in Britain’s bad? It’s much worse in Japan. In fact, there are far too many stories emerging on this topic that it was impossible to pick out just one. In light of this, I am linking you to three separate stories from the News on Japan website (one of my main sources for Japanese news).
The most extreme weather conditions are confined to northern Japan, particularly the island of Hokkaido. However, much of the country is currently gripped by an unforgiving and potentially deadly snowfall.
Roughly meaning ‘bridge in the heaven’, Amanohashidate is a 3.6 kilometre long pine tree covered sand bar stretching between Miyazu Bay in the northern Kyoto Prefecture. It is ranked as one of Japan’s three most scenic views, the nihon sankei.
Amanohashidate is a beautiful 2 hour side trip from the historical capital Kyoto and is particularly ideal for nature lovers. At the southern end of the bar stands Chionji, a lovely Buddhist temple with a small tahoto, a small pagoda. The sand bar is best viewed from the hills on either side of the bay, accessible by cablecar. Turn your back towards the bay, bend over and look at it from between your legs – Amanohashidate will now look like the ‘bridge in the heaven’. This ‘practice’ has been continuing for well over a millenium.
Japanese Saying of the Week: Tonari no shibafu wa aoi
This old saying translates to ‘the neighbour’s lawn is green’. You may be more familiar with its western equivalent; ‘the grass is always greener of the other side’. The alternative solution or another person’s situation will nearly always leave you longing for another life instead. Enjoy your own life and stop wishing to be in someone else’s shoes.
Samurai of the Week: Hôjô Ujiyasu
The Hôjô clan were one of the most prominent samurai families in early Japanese history, and Ujiyasu is described as its greatest Daimyô by some scholars. He assumed control of the family after his father Ujitsuna’s death and inherited a series of forts along the Sumida River, the most important of them being Kawagoe. The rival Uesugi forces and their allies attacked Kawagoe and isolated it but Ujiyasu came to its rescue. His night attack has been recorded as one of the greatest in samurai history because of the skill and precision involved.
After Kawagoe (1545), the majority of smaller daimyô in the Kanto region were effectively under the control of the Hôjô. Ujiyasu significantly reorganised the administration of the lands and transformed Odawara into an important trading centre. However, their western borders were blocked by the powerful Takeda and Imagawa clans and so the Hôjô were forced to assume the defensive position that they were later to become very famous for in history. Although Ujiyasu made some progress in expanding eastward, he continually came into conflict with clans such as the Satomi and Satake.
Much of Ujiyasu’s later life was occupied by clashes with Kenshin Uesugi, who invaded and burned Odawara, although there was never a decisive conflict between the two clans. Although the Hôjô and Takeda made a tactical alliance in 1562, it was undermined when Takeda Shingen adopted Kenshin’s seventh son. This led to a series of battles in the Suruga Province that culminated in a second brief siege of Odawara, which the Hôjô only just managed to hold onto.
Although Ujiyasu officially retired in 1560 in favour of his eldest son Ujimasa, he continued to guide the clan until his death in 1571. He was both a talented general and administrator, although his clan would meet its demise just two generations later.
As it’s the year of the dragon in the Chinese zodiac, what’s better than a dragon bento? Take a look at bentolicious’ dragon bento; made from rice, steamed coriander, cucumber, tiny pork sausages and chilli. Do I spy a Pokemon?
Now, this is a potentially controversial choice, as some people don’t consider Oban Star Racers to be an anime because it’s not 100% Japanese. In fact, this show is a joint French-Japanese venture that ran on Jetix TV a few years ago. I have fond memories of this show as a teenager, as I was a massive French geek at the time and was just getting round to discovering anime properly (Pokemon and Sailor Moon were probably the only anime I watched as a child).
The story takes place on earth in 2082 and the planet has been invited to compete in the galactic Great Race of Oban. The prize – being granted any wish by the great Avatar, even bringing back a loved one from the dead. Eva Wei escapes boarding school to find her father Don Wei, who left her there after the death of her mother and his wife, who was a racer. Don Wei fails to recognise Eva and, in order to stay with the team, she poses as an engineer named Molly. After a mysterious accident forces Earth’s pilot to forfeit the race, ‘Molly’ steals the ship and enters the next race with its pilot, Jordan. Haunted by her mother’s death and her relationship with her father, Molly aims to win the race and reunite her family.
In case you were wondering, ‘is this some awful run-of-the mill western cartoon masquerading as an anime?’, consider the team behind it. The score is composed by Taku Iwasaki, most famous for his work on Gurren Lagann, and the storyboard has had the likes of Yoshimitsu Ohashi, who worked on Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood and Trigun, on board. On top of that, the English voice cast features the talents of Brian Drummond and Sam Vincent.
Oban Star Racers was a nostalgic project for both viewers and its producer, Savin Yeatman-Eiffel. Fans of the show will already know that his goal was to creative a distinctive show that was both emotive, gripping and reminiscent of the shows that he fondly remembered as a child. He then set up his own ‘Sav! The World’ studios and it took 9 years for the show to take form, three of them spent in Japan working with Japanese animators.
I have fond memories of this show for a number of reasons; specifically its plot, music and artwork. Whilst the show ran for just 26 episodes and shows no signs of making a comeback (this may not be a bad thing as it is great as a standalone project), Oban Star Racers is definitely recommended if you want to feel some nostalgia. I think it might be in the same band as My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic, which has garnered a lot of adult (male) followers despite the fact that it’s meant to be a children’s programme. It’s definitely worth checking out, either way.
Score: 8/10 (beautiful and moving. A lot of effort was put into this show and it deserves more love.)
There are a lot of things that Japan has picked up from the west, some of them much more unfortunate than others. One of these more unfortunate fashion trends is the yankii phenomenon, a play on the American word for ‘yankee’ or ‘white trash’. In British culture, you can probably call them chavs.
Yankii are young men and women who dye their hair blonde, wear cheap clothes, smoke, drink, swear and have children before leaving high school. They are famous for being loud, rude and not conforming to Japanese societal norms. Although they were in fashion around the late 80s and 90s, you will still see the odd few wondering around Tokyo today. Rather than being a fashion statement (as opposed to lolita, visual kei etc) the yankii have become a symbol of how the country has fallen from grace – terrorising old ladies and not doing their homework. Sound familiar?
The yankii can best be described as a social phenomenon that thrives off lawlessness and rebelliousness. Although certain films such as Battle Royale largely glamorised them, they are not looked upon favourably in Japanese culture. Whilst they may still appear to be more troublemakers than potential rioters or criminals, the fact that they are disrespectful and rebellious is enough to upset many older Japanese people.
Osechi is the traditional Japanese New Year’s meal made up by an array of small dishes presented in beautiful boxes. Each osechi dish symbolises something different: from hope for a bountiful harvest, safety for loved ones, longevity, or fertility. One of these dishes is dashimaki tamago, Japanese-style omelette.
1/3 tsp dashi soup (substitute miso)
1/2 tsp soy sauce
Dash of salt
1) Crack eggs in a bowl and mix.
2) Add cold dashi soup, soy sauce and salt to the eggs and mix.
3) Heat in a rectangle shaped frying pan (a circular one will do). Oil the pan by putting a little cooking oil on a paper towel and swiping it in the pan.
4) Add about 25% of the egg mixture, and when it toughens, fold it over 5 or 6 times like an omelette until it takes up 1/4 of the space in the pan.
5) Using the paper towel, add a little more oil then add another 25% of the egg mixture to the surface of the pan. Lift the folded egg a little bit to let the new batch run underneath.
6) When the new batch toughens, fold the egg again, beginning with initial folded egg to create a singular folded omelette. Repeat this process twice more until you have one large omelette.
7) Move the omelette to the side, letting it cool for a couple of minutes, then slice lengthwise into 1/2″ pieces.
I’ve made some changes to the ‘about’ section of the blog. It’s nothing major but I just wanted to clarify that I am not an expert on Japan, just someone who is very interested in and decided to write a blog on it. Then again, I’m sure that most of you, like me, are just interested in Japan and like finding out something new about it every week! That’s the purpose of this blog, after all! All that’s left to say is – thanks for taking the time to read this (and subscribe *hint hint*)!
I have three New Year’s Resolutions this year: be more assertive, write a novel (not the one I was working on last year – it kind of fell through) and take a trip around Japan. Hopefully yours are less vague and/or more realistic! Of course, I also plan to continue with this blog for a good while. Despite the work I’ve created for myself, I enjoy the writing! There will be more varied posts in the future, just to spice things up.
I also thought that you lovely readers might be interested to know that I’m having a clearout and there’s a lot of Japanese goods up for grabs, as well as some of the previous Books of the Month and an array of French anime and manga. Everything’s dirt cheap so please have a look!
News Story of the Week: Online poll reveals dating habits of young Japanese men
Could this be the explanation for Japan’s ageing population? A recent online survey asked 141 ‘how many dates until a couple’s first kiss?’, with the most common answer (28.2%) being ‘the third date’. Conservative, no?
Well, another online survey by BBS 2ch asked the same question but got a very different result from 2000 people. An impressive 39.5% said ‘I have never kissed or dated’, with some amusing comments such as ‘stop doing these surveys, they depress me’.
These surveys do not necessarily mean that the majority of the young Japanese population are hopelessly shy, as it should be considered who typically answers these online surveys. BBS 2ch is predominantly used by the reclusive geek (otaku, NEET) community, who are almost notorious for their lack of experience with the opposite sex. No doubt, these surveys are a punch in the stomach for many of them.
Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura, also known as ‘Edo Wonderland Ise’ or ‘Sengoku Jidai Mura’, is a Sengoku history theme park – specifically, the Azuchi Momoyama Period, when Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were fighting to unite Japan. If you’ve enjoyed the blog’s ‘Samurai of the Week’ feature, this is somewhere you have to visit.
The theme park resembles a small castle town; complete with a shrine, hairdresser, ninja museum, ninja maze, ghost temple, replica of Azuchi Castle (one of Nobunaga’s primary castles) and much more. There are also performances running throughout the theme park during the day; including a geisha drama, samurai show and ninja performance.
The town is located in the Shima peninsula, which is an hour’s train ride away from Nagoya. Full travel details can be found on Japan-guide.com!
It’s quite shocking I haven’t written about Kenshin already, seeing how he was one of the major daimyos and all that. Better late than never, I suppose.
Born Nagao Kagetora (1530-78), he assumed control of the Echigo province by forcing his older brother to adopt him after a civil war. He became Uesugi Kenshin when he persuaded his former overlord, Uesugi Norimasa, to adopt him.
Kenshin travelled to the capital Kyoto to pay his respects to the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru, an act which greatly enhanced his reputation, and converted to Buddhism. His battle standard was ‘BI’, the first character of the Buddhist god of war Bishamonten (image below). Although he was a devout Buddhist, he constantly fought with the Takeda and Hojo.
The Uesugi and Takeda clashed in the four battles of Kawanakajima, although these are best described as skirmishes because they were so inconclusive. Both warlords were so equally matched in cunning and strength, and so each battle ended when one of them was forced to tactically retreat. He also sieged Odawara Castle from the Hojo but failed to make a lasting impression on the castle and retreated after just a few days. However, the campaign earned him the respectable title of ‘Kanto Kanrei’.
Kenshin was one of the daimyo that people believed were powerful enough to oppose Oda Nobunaga’s rise to power but he died from illness in 1578. Nobunaga reportedly said “the empire is now mine” when he heard of his death, as the last of his obstacles were effectively gone.
From the incredibly popular Bioshock video game series . . . comes the Bioshock bento! This week’s bento was made by annathered, who has made an impressive amount of bento (some of which I’ve featured before) so you should check her out.
Series of the Week: Ayakashi, Samurai Horror Tales
If you’re curious about Japanese folklore, then Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales is the show for you. This series reimagines three classic Japanese stories across eleven episodes (in segments of four, four and three respectively) and succeeds wonderfully in every department. I really cannot choose one favourite story because I loved them all equally for different reasons.
Our first tale is Tenshu Monogatari, which is about the forbidden love between a demon princess and a human. It was originally a kabuki theatre performance but the anime adaption differs slightly in its plot. In the anime, a falconer named Zushonosuke is sent by his lord to retrieve a white falcon that is intended for the shogun. He meets and falls in love with Tomihime, one of the forgotten gods who live in the abandoned Himeji Castle, who refuses to return the falcon to him because it is the spirit of her mother. What follows is a tragic tale as Zushonosuke is forced to choose between the woman he loves and his own humanity.
The next tale is Yotsuya Kaidan, the classic Japanese ghost story chillingly narrated by the kabuki playwright Nanboku Tsuruya IV. The ghost story has several variations, so we cannot say whether or not the anime adaption follows the right one. In this version, a woman is married to a ronin named Iemon. Her father disapproves of their relationship and Iemon kills him but fools Oiwa into believing that bandits were responsible. Eventually, tired of a life of poverty and parenthood, Iemon marries another woman from a rich family, whose servants poison Oiwa so that her face is disfigured. He then orders for his servant to kill and bury her with a servant who stole medicine from him, so that everyone else thinks that they died as lovers. However, Oiwa’s spirit exacts her vengeance on the families that caused her death.
The third story is Bake Neko, Goblin Cat, and features the medicine seller from Mononoke anime series. I actually reviewed this anime a few weeks ago and didn’t particularly enjoy it but, for reasons I can’t explain, I liked how this story tied in with the rest of Ayakashi. The bake neko is a famous Japanese folklore tale and this story is a fictional tale of one family’s relationship with it. A family is about to marry their daughter off to a rich family but, just before she leaves the threshold, she collapses and dies. A medicine seller who happens upon the scene is seized as a suspect but he reveals himself to be a demon slayer. In order to slay the spirit of the cat that has turned into the bake neko, he must unearth this family’s dark secret before they all perish.
For some reason, the first and second stories are switched around in the English translation. It doesn’t make any difference which order you watch them in, as they are completely separate storylines, but I have reviewed them in the order that I watched them. The English version is very good and worth checking out, featuring the likes of Kirby Morrow (Goku in Dragonball Z, Trowa Barton in Gundam Wing) and Brian Drummond (Ryuk in Death Note, Allen in The Vision of Escaflowne). The Japanese version also boasts a brilliant cast, my personal favourite being Takahiro Sakurai (Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII, Suzaku in Code Geass).
Score: 10/10 (Brush up on your Japanese folklore and be treated to beautiful art, chilling stories and impressive music)
This is certainly one religious practice you will not find anywhere in the world today. Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist monks who allegedly practiced self-mummification in the northern Yamagata Prefecture. Around 16 to 24 mummified bodies have been discovered.
A priest named Kuukai first pioneered the practice 1000 years ago. He was founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism which believed in enlightenment through physical punishment. The process towards this enlightenment was excruciating. First, the priest would spend three years living on a special diet of fruit and nuts and rigorously exercising so that they were stripped of all their body fat. For the next three years they would only eat bark and roots and drink a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree. The tea would cause them to vomit and prevent maggots from growing in the body, so that decay would not occur in death. Finally, they would lock themselves in a tiny stone tomb and remain in the lotus position. Their only contact with the outside world was through an air tube and bell, which they would ring every day to show that they were still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube would be removed and the tomb would be sealed.
Eventually, the tomb would be reopened and the bodies that were truly mummified were elevated to the rank of Buddha. However, most bodies simply rotted and, whilst respected for their endurance, were simply sealed back into their tombs. The Japanese government outlawed the practice of Sokushunbutsu in the late 19th century, although it continued into the 20th century.
Whilst disturbing and gruesome, you have to admit that the practice of Sokushinbutsu is a fascinating example of religious discipline.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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!