‘Mistress of creepy manga’ Junko Mizuno in London this week!


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PRESS RELEASE

From the 20th to the 28th October 2014, the Atomica Gallery in London is showcasing the works of celebrated Japanese artist Junko Mizuno, known for her erotic female characters and blending of cute and horrific imagery. “Belle: The Art of Junko Mizuno” will bring together a diverse selection of multimedia works from her esteemed career, and its opening night on the 20th will be attended by Jonathan Ross as well as Junko herself.

Junko will also be appearing at a Comica Festival exclusive talk and book-signing event taking place at Foyles Bookshop on Wednesday the 22nd of October. To attend the opening reception on Monday 20th please join the Facebook event here or email rsvp@atomicagallery.com

Butterflies and dresses: Red Garden


mvm-redgarden-frontDue to my not having any internet for the last two weeks, Aisha has kindly stepped up to the challenge to bring you this week’s post. Enjoy her review of ‘Red Garden’, a new release from MVM Entertainment.

‘Red Garden’ brings back a lot of memories for me, it is a Japanese anime produced by Gonzo studios which originally came out in 2006. It was also a manga series in Comic Birz , 2006. The plot revolves around four random girls at the same school who become involved in a series of supernatural murders. One common factor links them, their dead friend Lisa. It has a real American suspense to it and aptly done so as it is based in New York.
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After school announces Lisa’s death, the turn of events gets weirder for the main characters. They find themselves tired every morning without recollection of the night before. Then, for reasons unknown, the four girls are drawn by red butterflies that gather them in the same place. There, they are approached by a woman called Lula and her partner JC to tell them all that they are already dead.
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Later, events are pieced back into their memory and they now have to work for their lives. They are revealed to be working for an organization called ‘Animus’. Lula also claims she has the means to eventually return them to their previous lives when their job is done. Their job is killing “monsters” – sounds easy enough, right? Get a gun…? Oh wait, they have to do it using their bare hands. This could get tricky. Lula and JC summon the girls sporadically, and they fight certain human looking “monsters” who then disappear.
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What puzzles me is that the girls are chosen at random to do this and while they battle to survive, other girls are being killed and put into the same situation. No one is bothered nor to the authorities look into the many missing girls. The girls are at least realistically scared and untrained so they start from scratch; being scared out of their wits then accepting their fates and learning to battle or survive.
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The  production of ‘Red Garden’ is interesting in that the producers employed a technique often used by animated productions outside Japan, but rarely used in Japanese industry itself. For example, adding the characters’ dialogue animation after the voices have been recorded. I noticed the synchronization is particularly evident in scenes where characters are singing.
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red-garden006The art looks a bit grainy at times but I pay more attention to the ladies’ outfits, I do like they how have different outfits everyday, rather than living in the one outfit in their fantasy anime world. The music is quite jazzy at the beginning and end, which seems out of place when actually watching the anime with the talents of  LM.C and JiLL-Decoy association (JIRUDEKO).
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OVA: Dead Girls
 
Also included in the boxset is an OVA called Dead Girls, originally released in 2007.  The four girls continue to wander in the world of ruin fighting as bounty hunters and this time they are after a specific wanted person. Carrying on their double lives, they encounter a  beautiful transfer student called Louise and she tries to befriend them. They also meet the handsome young man, Edgar.
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‘Red Garden’ starts as a mystery anime, making me hold out for a shocking conclusion or great plot building. Sadly I was left confused and almost bored with the human ‘monsters’ and the point of the organisation.
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The characters did not have much personality but at least they had fashion sense. Beautiful animation and music, teamed with a terrible story. ‘Dead Girls’ was a interesting addition but far from a saving grace of the whole series.
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For more great reviews on anime, games and events from Aisha & the @animeukshow  team check out wearearcade.com
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Image credits: MVM Entertainment, canime
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Next week: I’ll be taking a look at some strange Japanese drinks! For obvious reasons, no taste tests will be involved…

iManga?


steve-jobs-manga

When I first heard that a manga about the life of Apple founder, Steve Jobs, had been published in Japan, I was rather surprised and thought ‘erm… why’? Then again, the Japanese love their technology (just take a stroll down Akihabara) and it seems inevitable that most popular things get the manga treatment eventually, from samurai to baking bread.

Penned by Mari Yamazaki, author of Thermae Roma, the first instalment of the manga will be published in the young women’s comic anthology Kiss in April. The manga is inspired by the best-selling biography written by Walter Isaacson, following Jobs’ death in 2011, and opens with a conversation between Jobs and Isaacson.

Untitled

‘So Walter’.

‘Yes?’

While we were walking, he made me an unexpected offer

‘Would you write my biography?’

‘Your biography??’

‘That’s right.’

‘So this is the reason why I came to Colorado to meet your wife and kids’.

‘Yep’.

‘I think I would make an interesting subject.’

Steve Jobs manga

The manga then moves chronologically through Steve’s life, and he is apparently portrayed as a “cute, doe-eyed kid” – typical manga hero, then? Steve grows from a young boy who worries over his relationship with his adoptive parents to a college student who female readers could easily fall in love with. No doubt, there will also be narrative on his business with Apple. I’m quite curious to see how that will be manga-fied for a young girl’s comic.

You can read a bit more on The Guardian but it looks like we’ll have to ‘wait and see’ before we can make any judgements. I’ve still got my first generation iPod touch and it works perfectly, as well as my beloved iPad mini, so I’m quite the Apple consumer. That said, does giving Steve Jobs the manga treatment bring anything new to his story, Apple or manga itself? I’m quite curious to see what other people have to say, so please post below! Is this the start of the American biographical manga trend? In which case, who else would you like to see manga-fied?

Photo credits – The Guardian.

Richard III manga exhibition – interview with artist John Aggs


Assuming you’ve not been shying away from any form of news in the past month, you probably heard that a skeleton was recently found in a Leicester car park and DNA tests have finally proved that it is that of English king Richard III. To celebrate this finding, a temporary exhibition has opened celebrating the life of one of the country’s more infamous kings.

All photos taken from the BBC website.

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A very unique manga exhibition, ‘Richard III: The Making of the Myth’ exhibiton is running until December this year at the Battle of Bosworth Heritage Centre. The images were created by artist John Aggs for the Leicestershire County Council display and the art is based on both fact and legend of Richard III, from his coronation to the fate of the two princes in the tower.

I came across this exhibition online and obviously had to share it with you on the blog. I caught up with artist John Aggs to ask him about his career and involvement in ‘The Making of the Myth’.

Please introduce yourself!
My name is John Aggs, I’m a cartoonist living in South London. I’ve worked on graphic novels with Phillip Pullman, Robert Muchamore, and had a couple published myself. I’ve worked on animation concept art and many other illustration jobs here and there. I also won Tokyopop’s ‘Rising stars of Manga’ award, many years ago.

How did you get involved in the exhibition?
I got given the job for the exhibition by the great Emma Vieceli. She did the original artwork for the Richard dig in Leicester,but couldn’t do the art for the exhibition because of time constraints. She’s a true “Ricardian” and I believe is working on a whole Richard graphic novel. You can check out Emma’s website here.

Are you a big history nut yourself or is this one of the more ‘unusual’ projects you’ve worked on?
This is definitely one of the weirder projects I’ve worked on. I’ve done historical artwork in the past, for Second World War and US Civil Rights information comics, but I was drawing this as live information was coming in from the site archaeologists. I had a very short deadline to coincide with the big announcement of the discovery, and also had to make changes as bits of information were confirmed. It was much more like a reportage project than a historical one- we just happened to be reporting on breaking news from 500 years ago!

ricky
When did you decide you wanted to pursue art professionally?

I graduated from the illustration course at University College Falmouth and was almost immediately picked up by Random House to draw a comic with Philip Pullman. I pretty much fell into my “career”, but drawing comic books doesn’t really have a prescribed path for working professionally. Most artists segway from doodles into professional art.

Do you have a particular style of art or do you like to experiment?
I have particular interests, not an art style per se. I still take a lot of influence from the cyberpunk manga I read in the 90s for my personal work, but to be a successful illustrator you have to be pretty flexible. The main source of good work in the industry is in children’s comics, so sometimes you have to push your other influences onto the back burner. People who don’t know about comics like to call my work “manga-style”, whereas everyone who knows a little more realises that that’s a pretty silly label. I guess I’d say that my work floats somewhere between genres, leeching off influences from Japan and the Franco-Belgian comic styles. That’s still pretty uninformative, I know!

What is your proudest achievement as an artist?
Probably the work I’m doing on the Phoenix Comic. It’s a weekly story comic for kids made entirely in the UK. It’s not exactly Shonen Jump, but it does have continuing stories, week by week, and a whole list of great artists and writers. It’s also independent of major publishers. We need great kids’ story comics in the UK. It’s a tradition that has sadly been forgotten here, so the Phoenix is a great endeavour. You can buy it as an ipad app now also from http://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/

What advice can you give to other people who want to pursue a career in art and comics?
To be flexible in your working styles, but also to have a strong idea of the work that you’d like to produce if you had your way. Most (all?) artists and writers have the work that they’re paid to do, and also their pet projects that they’re constantly pitching to publishers. It’s worth remembering that while your goal may be to work on your own epic manga series, you’ll need to take many, many other jobs in order to get your artwork truly up to scratch, and to keep a roof over your head!

I recommend as many of you as possible check out this exhibition before the end of the year, myself included! Don’t forget to check out John’s website for more amazing artwork!

Week 23: An interview with Peter Payne (Jlist)


Source: peterpayne.net

I’m very pleased to announce that I spoke with Peter Payne, founder of www.jlist.com, and can now post the interview on the blog for you lovely readers! This could not have come at a better time as there’s currently a sale on their Japanese sweets and chocolates, so get cracking and buy some stuff!

Not heard of Jlist before? Here’s an introduction straight from the website itself:

‘Do you love Japanese stuff? J-List is a wonderful toybox of things from Japan, with hentai games, Japanese anime goods, doujinshi and manga, and more!’

Yaaay, hentai?

Long story short, I bought a Tiger & Bunny calendar for my friend through Jlist at Christmas and was surprised when another friend bought me the same thing. I’m in love with the range of products on the site (mainly the sweets and drinks) and would like to point out that my birthday’s soon! *hint hint* I tweeted Peter asking if I could send him some questions, he kindly said yes, and the rest is history. On that note, let’s jump in!

For the benefit of those who don’t already know, please introduce yourself.

Well, I’m Peter Payne, an American who came to live in Japan in 1991, during the reign of Bush the First. Before the Internet really hit, so it was really old school back then.

How did you move from teaching English in Japan to setting up Jlist? What was the best thing about teaching for you?

Really Netscape was a pretty important moment for me. Just hearing all the silly news about Netscape’s IPO and how the “new economy” was coming was a wake-up call, and I told my wife Mrs. J-List (note, not her real name) that I wanted to start a company. Before officially starting I tested the water for a year or so by posting lists of products I’d had for sale (mostly used music CDs, which is where we got our start) so by then I knew the demand was enough to make the business viable.Along the way we learned the power of blogging, and we’ve had a wild ride ever since.

What was the inspiration for Jlist? Was running such a business always a dream for you?

We really started porting dating-sim games, aka eroge, though no one called them that back in 1996. We literally started J-List to “tide us over” until the H-game business took off, which was silly, looking back.

What would you say is the single weirdest item you have on Jlist?

One of the products that defined us was the Hello Kitty shoulder massager made by Sanrio, which everyone naturally assumed was for massaging some other part of the body. That kind of mix of wacky with cute was really fun.

Can you tell us a bit more about your family in Japan?

I blog about them quite a bit. Just me, my Japanese wife, son and daughter. They are bilingual, having grown up with a dad who is American rather than Japanese, but they’re average kids. My son is becoming quite an otaku, and actively scouts 2ch for “neta” (topics for me to write about) in my blog posts. I often thing our life would make an interesting 4-koma manga, something like Darling wa Gaikokujin with otaku jokes in it.

Seeing as Jlist is having a sale this month on its chocolate, what do you recommend?

Hmm, just about anything is good. Green Tea Kit Kats are another iconic item from Japan these days. One thing is, we are forced to remove all chocoalte products from May to October since summer is so hot here, so anyone interested in ordering some of these items should do so before May. (We always get a flood of mails when chocolate goes away on the site.)

What advice would you give to people would want to become fluent in Japanese and live in Japan?

Hmm, big question. I’d recommend anyone considering a move here visit and look around, see what jobs etc would be realistic. While I did the ESL teaching thing and it was good, it’s really not the best job in the world, and Japan is frankly flooded with would-be teachers now. (If you don’t have a degree, you can’t even get a visa, so obviously go back to school if you are considering Japan in your future.)

Do you get to visit other places in Japan outside of work?

Oh, I get around quite a bit. Took a nice trip up to Tohoku and Hokkaido a couple of years ago, and want to go back soon, in part to spend some money to help the region recover economically.) Though the life of a business owner is never an easy one.

So, what’s next for Jlist?

Hmm, we have some new project to announce soon, but I can’t discuss it right now. It will be non-eroge and will hopefully be of interest to all anime fans. I wonder what it could be!

Week 21: Snow, dragons and nostalgia


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).

Firstly, 51 people across Japan died due to the extreme blizzards gripping the country. On the same day, it emerged the an avalanche in Hokkaido killed three bathers in an onsen. Thursday evening saw 500 vehicles being stranded by snow in the northern Aomori Prefecture. People unable to return home have been offered public lodgings in assembly halls and primary schools and even Tokyo is experiencing heavy snow. These are the worst snowstorms that Japan has faced in 5 years.

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.

Source: Japantimes.co.jp

Destination of the Week: Amanohashidate

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.

Source: Japan-guide.com

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.

Source: samurai-archives.com

Bento of the Week: Dragon

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?

Source: mybentolicious.com

Series of the Week: Oban Star Racers

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.)

Source: interney.net

Weird Thing of the Week: Yankii

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.

Source: cracked.com

Recipe of the Week: Dashimaki Tamago

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.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 tsp dashi soup (substitute miso)
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • Dash of salt

Method

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.

Source: japanfoodaddict.com

Final Thoughts

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*)!

A special competition announcement!


I think this is the first time I’ve posted twice in one week. Shocking!

I’m posting this now so I can draw your undivided attention to this art competition I’m running. All details are in the video but I have posted the details here as well for your convenience.

TO ENTER:
* Draw anything you want, from an animal to your favourite anime/manga character to your original character . . . As long as it’s related to Japan.
* Get your entries in to sophiesjapanblog@live.co.uk by 11pm Monday 6th February 2012!
* LIKE THE BLOG ON FACEBOOK! 

THE PRIZE:
* The winner’s artwork will be the blog’s new banner AND they can request a special feature for the blog
* 1st, 2nd and 3rd place will also be featured in the blog’s ‘artwork’ section

I don’t have a deviantart account to spread word about this competition, so if you have one I would be very grateful if you could share it with your friends!

I’m also on Twitter @SophienoKatana

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 14: Okaeri!


Welcome home! Sort of . . . Perhaps this isn’t home but I didn’t know how to say ‘the blog is ressurected’ in Japanese! Due to a mixture of heavy workload, illness and having other articles to write (which I will post here when they are published), I had to take some time off of the blog. Check out the bottom of this post for a list of people who helped spread the word about the blog on Twitter, despite its brief inactivity. You are wonderful, thank you!

Now, I’m back, so let’s jump in.

News Story of the Week:

In the time that the blog was on hiatus, the Japanese Emperor Akihito, age 77, was hospitalised for bronchial pneumonia and has now been discharged from hospital and resumed his duties. In the wake of this event, discussions about the imperial succession have been renewed.

Prince Akishino, the youngest son of Akihito at 46 years old, has said it will become necessary to hold talks on whether there should be an age limit for ruling emperors. Currently, the emperor serves for life but, considering the state of Emperor Akihito’s health, this law is likely to be questioned.

This story will no doubt carry on and continuously change over the next few weeks and months, so I will endeavour to keep this blog up to date on the situation.

Source: straitstimes.com

Destination of the Week: Tateyama

This is perhaps a little bit confusing; the Chiba province is home to Tateyama City, the Tateyama mountains and Tateyama town. The focus this week is on the mountain route!

Tateyama is best known for the Kurobe Alpine Route, which provides a spectacular view through the Northern Japanese Alps. As you can see from these images courtesy of Japan-guide, it has these impressive huge snowy walls which build up in the winter. People come from all over Japan to traverse this scenic route, which was completed as recently as 1971.

The glorious Mount Tateyama is the main attraction of the Kurobe Mountain Route and, regardless of the time of year, is always a sight to behold. It is also home to the very rare Snow Grouse or ptarmigan, which changes colour in every season, and has come to symbolise the seasonal cycle of the mountain range. The mountain has a fascinating history and is one of the three most sacred mountains in Japan, along with Mount Fuji and Mount Hakusan. The Oyama Shrine, the sanctuary of the Tateyama Religion, is a solid indicator of the mountain’s religious importance.

Many people go hiking across the mountain range in summer and autumn to Jigokudani, an active volcanic valley. Jigokudani means ‘Hell Valley’ and, according to legend, has 136 ‘hells’ where ghosts appear to hikers. If that’s not enough, you can also experience the grandeur of the valley without the use of your legs by taking the 1.7 kilometre-long Tateyama Ropeway. This destination is one for the nature lovers!

Source: Japan-guide.com

Japanese Saying of the Week: Minu ga hana

This is a lovely short proverb that literally translates to ‘not seeing is a flower’. This means that things can never be as you can imagine, so it is better not to see them . . . Explanation: reality cannot compete with imagination.

I guess this explains why I write stories and watch anime. Reality just cannot compete with samurai and murder mysteries (two of my favourite things). I mean, does your reality have THIS?

Source: froyonation @ WordPress

Samurai of the Week: Okita Sōji

I always feel exceptionally proud of myself when I choose a samurai who is NOT from the Sengoku era. This week, we’re going forward in time to the 19th century, to the time of the Shinsengumi and end of Japan’s two hundred years of isolation.

Here is the history of the Shinsengumi in a nutshell: US Commadore Matthew Perry arrived in Japan (Yokohama) in 1853 and, over the years, slowly pushed for greater American involvement in Japanese politics. The authority of the Shogun, who was seen to be the strongest figure in Japan, was severely undermined and this led to a split in support. The Shogun founded the Rōshigumi, a group of 24 masterless samurai, to respond to the violence and murder in Kyoto. This group later became the Shinsengumi, which translated to ‘Newly Selected Corps’. They became famous overnight after the Ikedaya Affair of 1864, where they prevented the burning of Kyoto and this led to a surge in troops. However, the newly-established Meiji government saw the Shinsengumi as a threat to the new ‘western’ ways and a remnant of the past. The fighting continued outside of the new capital Edo, later to become Tokyo, and the leaders were eventually killed and the party disbanded.

With this, we can better understand the role that Okita Sōji played in Japanese history. Born into the lower-ranking Shirakawa han Samurai, he trained under Kondo Shusuke at the prestigious Shieikan dojo and was a prodigal student. He became the head coach at the age of 19 and later became one of the founders of the Shinsengumi, He was also present at the Ikedaya Affair and fought almost alone on the second floor for two hours, before he collapsed. He contracted tuberculosis and became gravely ill, forced to return to Edo during the Shinsengumi’s later campaigns, and died in 1867 at the age of 25. His grave is in Keisho-ji, Tokyo, and allows visitors just once a year.

For once, a short and succinct samurai feature! I’m no expert on the Shinsengumi but the above is a quick summary of Okita Sōji, a name still familiar in Japan and popularised in film and television. In fact, he features in this week’s series of the week. Try guess what it is before you scroll down the page!

Interesting fact: This photo is ‘believed’ to be a photo of Okita Sōji but it is hard to confirm. If it is, it is the only one in existence.

Source: fyshinsengumi @ Tumblr

Bento of the Week: Creepy cat

This would have been a good bento to feature for Halloween, which is what Were Rabbits (where this image is taken from) certainly did! This is rather eerie for a bento. The bed is made from black rice and the shape of the cat was made from a pattern cutter. There are two versions on the website, which you can check out in the link, but the one I am showing below also uses vegetables for the added effect.

Source: Were rabbits @ WordPress

Series of the Week: Hakuōki

Congratulations if you guessed what this week’s show! It only made sense that I went with a show about the Shinsengumi. It’s also a show whose name I repeatedly spell wrong. Also also, there are spoilers here. I can’t review this show without them, sorry.

Originally a romantic adventure game (both in the dating sim and sword-swishing action sense), an anime version of Hakuōki hit Japanese TV screens last year in two mini series that each spanned 12 episodes. There was also an OVA but I haven’t seen that so cannot comment. The first series was simply called Hakuōki and the second Hakuōki Hekketsu-roku. I’ll get this out of the way – I didn’t make it to the end of Hekketsu-roku and that’s not because I didn’t like it . . .

The story begins with Yukimura Chizuru, a young girl who arrives in Kyoto searching for her missing father, a doctor. She witnesses a fight between the Shinsengumi and  Oni (demons) and is taken in by the Shinsengumi for protection, once they realise that her father is the man that they are also looking for. In the shadows, a strange ‘medicine’ that supposedly grants strength is circling amongst soldiers and corrupting them into demons. Apart from this minor detail, the backdrop and story is remarkably historically accurate. It features all of the important historical characters of the period (hooray for Okita Sōji!), the battles and exchanges with pro-westerners, which teach you the basics in Japanese history.

However, by the middle of the second series I felt the show took far too many liberties. My main problem (and I’m being deliberately vague about this) is the ‘vampire’ route that it suddenly wandered down. After a while, I couldn’t even entertain the idea any more.

By all accounts, I should have fallen in love with Hakuōki. For one thing, it’s actually largely historically accurate, not to mention there’s lots of samurai and bishounen (that’s young good-looking men to you normal people), which is always a plus. However, it’s this accuracy that forced me to stop watching it. To put it mildly, things didn’t end well for the Shinsengumi. Almost everyone either left the group, was beheaded or died. The second series was full of this and, knowing that my favourite characters would inevitably die, I decided to spare myself the torment.

That said, I did enjoy this show for the most part and have plenty of friends (all of them girls, unsurprisingly) who watched the whole thing and loved it. I recommend it, providing you don’t get too emotionally attached to any of the characters.

Source: kisuki.net

Weird Thing of the Week: Dakimakura

Dakimakura are better known as ‘love pillows’ Someone suggested this to me ages ago and so it’s probably about time that I write about it. If anyone else has uncomfortable things that they want me to write about, post it on the Facebook page!

Dakimakura are part of the wider anime ‘fetish’ circle that, like it or not, is very prominent in certain groups in Japan. I’ll let you guess what those groups are. They come in all kinds of designs; some flip over to reveal variously skimply clad versions of the characters and others have holes in them . . . I don’t think those ones are TOO common.

Now for the linguistic part. Dakimakura literally translates to ‘hug pillows’, combining the words daki (cling) and makura (pillow) and is the same shape as an orthopaedic pillow. From the western viewpoint, it is better known as the ‘love pillow’ because the ones in Japan feature anime-style girls. The idea is that you imagine yourself getting intimate with these characters whilst hugging the pillow. Sexist? Well, there are male dakimakura too. Whilst browsing for reference images, I came across a Kamina (Gurren Lagann) one. Nothing is sacred.

So, why are dakimakura so popular? As I already said, they are just one strand of the ‘fetish’ sub-culture that is not entirely unusual in Japan. Having been to Japan twice now, I can say with a degree of certainty that sex is much more ‘out there’. That is not to say that everyone in Japan is into it by any means. I know plenty who think it’s beyond weird and creepy! The popularity of the dakimakura can probably be rationally explained but I’m going to go with the ‘it’s a sex thing’ argument.

For ‘alternative uses for your dakimakura’, check out this brilliant article by Danny Choo. Some of the pictures aren’t safe for work, so be warned. I swear I’ll make up for this next week by writing about something nice and innocent!

Source: NebsTV@ Photobucket

This is a photo of the pillow covers only. Feel free to risk scarring yourself with an elaborate image search like I did.

Recipe of the Week: Beef Sukiyaki

I had nothing but delicious Japanese food for dinner last weekend (London’s China Town has some amazing restaurants), as well as a lot of supermarkets for Japanese cookery. I’m particularly fond of sukiyaki, a big ‘hot pot’ style dish that is perfect for this miserably cold weather. This week’s recipe has been taken from fukuokadreaming.com, a brilliant blog written by a Fukuoka local, so you should definitely check it out.

Ingredients (serves 4-5)

  • 400-500 g Sliced beef (Usugiri)
  • 200- 300g Shirataki Noodles (I substituted udon noodles, which are easier to buy in the UK)
  • 100g Enoki mushroom
  • 100g Shimeji mushroom
  • 1 Onion (sliced)
  • 2-3 Naganegi (Long spring onion)- sliced in 2cm size
  • 80g Gobo (Greater burdock root)  -thinly sliced and quickly boiled
  • 1 block of Firm Tofu (ideally Yaki-tofu)
  • Sukiyaki Sauce (100cc soy sauce, 100cc rice wine, 100g sugar)

Method

1)  Heat 1 big spoon of cooking oil in the pan and cook beef. When beef is cooked, add seasonings for sukiyaki sauce (soysauce, sake and sugar).

2) Move the beef to one side of the pan and add shirataki, white cabbage, gobo, long spring onion, onion, tofu and mushrooms and cover the pan. (Only part of the ingredients will be soaked by sauce but they will shrink.)

3) When the ingredients shrink, mix them (among their portion of the pan) so that those on top will be soaked as well.  Cook for 5 to 10 minutes.

4) Taste and adjust flavor by adding sukiyaki sauce ingredients if necessary.

.5) Serve hot.  Eat it with rice or udon which you can add in the remaining soup after you finish eating meat and vegetables!

Source: fukuokadreaming.com

Final Thoughts

It’s high time that I do another Youtube video. I plan to post one next week, so stay tuned!

I also would like to thank a couple of people who have helped to promote this blog over Twitter. These lovely people have either retweeted or mentioned me this week and helped spread word about the blog. The least I can do is ask you to follow them too:

  • okellyjaneo – a wonderful friend who has now tweeted me several times. You may know her as KellyJane from Demyx Time.
  • anneneko – another lovely friend and fellow Sengoku Basara nut.
  • Starfox118 - reviews LOTS of video games! Known him for a few years now and love him to bits.
  • @nessiesenpai – a great friend of mine who said lovely things about my blog on her own!
  • theotakuHQ – runs a great website for … you guessed it, otaku! Also on my affiliates list, so check him out!
  • L1kemike – has a gaming blog. Go check it out!
  • ali_Haikugirl - a lovely fellow Japan blogger!
  • danimmediacy – from Bossastudios, a social gaming company!
  • DawnKestrel – a cosplayer with a brilliant Deviantart account!
  • demyxfangirlXD – I think the name says it all!
  • MrFatChance - an ace Londoner with an equally great Tumblr account.
  • frozen_lullaby – a lovely Swedish cosplayer.
  • rikumiyano – lives in ‘here and now’, apparently. I approve!

Week 13


We’re back to the regular feature structure! I hope you enjoyed the last two weeks, as they were done completely differently due to workload and events I happened to go to. I will also be doing a special report next week on the Doki Doki Festival in Manchester for next week!

Before I begin, I would like to refer you to a wonderful blogging project! I was recently contacted by Eric at Travel Volunteer, a luxury travel company based in Kanazawa, who ran a contest last July to win a 101 day trip around Japan. In a bid to fight back against the decline of tourism, these winners have been visiting all 47 prefectures and blogging about their experiences.

This might sound vaguely familiar and you’d be right in thinking so! A couple of weeks ago the Japanese government began to consider offering tickets to foreigners to do a very similar thing. Needless to say, much of this has been prompted by the events in Fukushima.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading some of the above blogs as much as I have! I’ve got to admit, travel writing in Japan is definitely on my ‘to do’ list. Now I just need to find a way of doing this…

News story of the week: Fukushima disaster prompts rise in marriage and divorce

It seems that something has come out of the tragic events of March, as a recent survey in Japan shows that a third of women and a quarter of men are more eager to marry.

CBS News was told by one couple: “We lost a lot in the disaster. But our family bonds have never been stronger.”

Sales in the wedding industry are said to have risen by 20% since March 2011 and matchmaking industries have been inundated by singles looking to meet ‘the one’. Undoubtedly, the events in Fukushima have created a sense of urgency among young people in particular.

At the same time, however, there have been a number of divorces not only because couples have rushed into these marriages but also because long-married couples have reconsidered their lifestyles. As well as wedding planners, divorce planners are also experiencing a boom in business.

It seems that, whilst the earthquake and tsunami sparked a rush of marriages, it also led to the breakdown of others.

Source: cnngo

Destination of the week: Mashiko

Mashiko is a small town in the Tochigi region. It’s famous for its pottery and is the site of Saimyoji Temple, one of the oldest in the prefecture. Noborigama, large ancient kilns, were first founded there in the mid-1800s by immigrant potters who came from a neighbouring town. The pottery produced here is simplistic and rustic, unlike Kyoto’s courtly style, although it is still distinctly Japanese.

Pottery began in Japan over 1000 years ago and can be traced back to the Jomon period and although Mashiko only recently began making pottery in comparison, it is home to 380 distinctive pottery styles and is the production centre of Mashiko Ware Pottery.

The town has plenty more to offer visitors. There are gardens and temples hidden up the valleys and mountains and the distance between the station and pottery centre is quite large, so there is a lot of general sightseeing to do on the journey. There are traces of the old commercial district everywhere; from the tatami mat shops to the kilns. There are also week long pottery markets held twice a year and several matsuri, the largest and most popular of which is held every July.

Mashiko might not be an obvious tourist destination but it is not far from Nikko, another popular town that is best known for housing the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, so it is possible to dedicate a day trip to it.

Source: John Baymore

Japanese saying of the week: Choja-ni nidai nashi

I like this one because I think it’s very relevant in today’s recession-frenzy world. Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a political rant!

This lovely proverb translates to ‘there is no second generation in the millionaire’. Traditionally, this is a warning to parents who lend all their money to their children because they will blow it all.

In today’s world, this could possibly be expanded to include wealthy countries and their spending habits. Maybe I’m stretching this proverb a bit too thin but, still, there is a good message here without me adding to it with my ramblings!

Bento of the week: Panda

Very cute! The website where this image has been taken from has dozens of bento images, so go and have a gander.

Source: Bentogallery

Samurai of the week: Sakakibara Yasumasa

Yasumasa served Tokugawa Ieyasu from childhood and was not only present at many of the key battles that eventually led to him becoming shogun, but was responsible for the long-standing trust that the Tokugawa held for the Sakakibara throughout the Edo period.

Born in Ueno, Mikawa, in 1548, Yasumasa’s talents were recognised by Ieyasu at an early age. His skills were first seen during the suppression of the Mikawa monto, a group of war-like monks who ruled the Kaga province and were vying for power with Ieyasu, in 1564. When Yasumasa came of age in 1566, he became one of Ieyasu’s guard captains and succeeded his father, even though he was the second son.

Yasumasa was present at the Battle of Anegawa, where the Oda and Tokugawa clashed, the Battle of Mikatagahara, one of Takeda Shingen’s most famous battles and the Komaki campaign, where Ieyasu and the Oda fought against Hideyoshi. All of this shows that Yasumasa fought alongside Ieyasu for a long time, which no doubt explains why he trusted him. Ieyasu was not someone who trusted others easily, no doubt because he betrayed many in his bid to become shogun.

When Ieyasu moved to the Kanto region, where he would later establish his base in Tokyo, Yasumasa was granted Tatebayashi Castle and was made head of the committee that assigned fiefs. When Ieyasu was in Kyushu during Hideyoshi’s Korean Campaigns, he acted as one of Hidetada’s councillors, the son of Ieyasu.

In the decisive battle of Sekigahara, which effectively saw Ieyasu eliminate the opposition preventing him from becoming the unifier of Japan, Yasumasa was again present and was assigned to Hidetada’s army, no doubt advising him to some extent.

Yasumasa died in 1606, in his sixties, at Tatebayashi and was buried at the Zendoji Temple. His grave is still visited today.

Source: lapresse.ca

Series of the week: Tiger and Bunny

Every so often, a show that ticks ALL of the right boxes graces Japanese television screens. Enter Tiger and Bunny, quite possibly the greatest anime series of 2011. I find it hard to fault this series and the only complaint I do have about it, which I will explain soon enough, is not enough to knock points off it.

The credits alone tell us that this is a good show. Not only is Tiger and Bunny a product of Sunrise Studios, who have produced many classic anime series including Gundam and Cowboy Bebop, but it was also produced under Sato Keiichi, who has done mecha designs for even more classic shows such as Big O… You get the idea.

Tiger and Bunny is set in the futuristic city of Stern Bild, its main form of entertainment being Hero TV, which broadcasts the exploits and victories of ‘heroes’ who keep the city safe. These protagonists are NEXT, humans with supernatural abilities from flight to mind-reading, and are battling for the points that will put them at the top of the league table. Each of them sports the logos of their ‘sponsors’, which makes for some amusing blatant product placement: Softbank, Amazon, Pepsi and Aniplex are universal names that you wouldn’t normally find in an anime.

We are first introduced to Kotetsu (Wild Tiger), an ‘ageing’ hero who can greatly increase his power and speed for just five minutes  (I use the word loosely as this guy can’t be older than 35, but this is anime and therefore anyone over the age of 21 is really considered unsuitable hero material). Making his way onto the scene is Barnaby Brooks Jr. (nicknamed ‘Bunny’ by Kotetsu), who has the same ability as him but is younger, ‘prettier’ (although I am totally a Team Tiger person) and, unlike the other heroes, has made his identity known to the public.

The other heroes are equally likeable and very distinct, ranging from the fabulous homosexual/transvestiteblack/runningoutofminoritygroupsnow Fire Emblem to the chivalrous king of heroes Sky High. Whilst Tiger and Bunny are, obviously, the main characters, the rest of the heroes are put to good use in the 26 episodes that are available to them and they are not just two-dimensional extras. My only complaint about this show is that not enough time was invested on exploring these other heroes, even though they all got at least one episode dedicated to themselves, although I suppose there’s always the hopes of a second series or movie for that…

This show combines an original story, strong characters, slapstick comedy, CGI action and soundtrack. Not much can be said about the plot without giving much away but I can promise you will enjoy it. Tiger and Bunny suffers from Gurren Lagann Syndrome (see week 10 for an explanation); the first half of the season is great and then it suddenly outdoes itself in the second half. There are some brilliant plot twists, interspersed with hilarious comedic moments (largely from the bumbling Kotetsu and fabulous Fire Emblem).

A special Tiger and Bunny event, known only as Next Project or Super Event, will be held Kanagawa Kenmin Hall on November 13. At the time of writing, it is unknown what, if anything, will be unveiled on this day. There was no second series announced at the end of the first series, as is customary for many other shows, and there is already a video game and licensed action figures available in Japan, so it’s really anybody’s guess! I will make an update about the Next Project when more information trickles through on the internet.

Score: 10/10 (Two words: original and hilarious)

Weird thing of the week: Japanese hair-washing machine

This is about as futuristic as you can get, so trust Japan to do it first! Panasonic has created the first hair-washing ‘robot’, which uses robotic hand technology and 24 fingers to, well, wash your hair. I think it looks quite terrifying – it looks like a huge brainwashing machine!

This isn’t really a novelty ‘let’s make this just because we can’ product, however. It is designed for those who cannot necessarily wash their hair themselves, in particular the handicapped and elderly, so it’s not without its good intentions. It is not yet available to the public and is expected to be distributed to care homes next year. As Japan has an ageing population, this must be a worthwhile product for many.

That said, this is definitely something worthy of my ‘weird thing’ category because, well, where else would this be invented? Japan is the king of machines!

Source: disinfo.com

Recipe of the week: Hosomaki

Sushi is a classic Japanese food, so here is a classic sushi recipe. It surprises me that I’ve actually not done any sushi on this blog before but that’s probably because I’ve only made it two or three times before. You can experiment with fillings but the site I have taken this from, eat-Japan, uses cucumber. It also uses gourd, which is a difficult vegetable to find in Britain, so you can substitute that with another vegetable, meat or fish.

Ingredients:

  • 140g sushi rice
  • 25g cucumber
  • 20g gourd (cut in ribbons)
  • 1 sheet nori (21cm x 19cm)
For the liquid:
  • 475ml dashi
  • 2 tbsps sugar
  • 2 tbsps soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin
Method:
1) Cut the cucumber lengthways into eighths. Rinse the gourd, rub it with salt, soak it in lukewarm water and then boil it for 4-5 minutes. Place the boiled gourd and liquid in a pan, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for 10-15 minutes.
2) Cut the nori in half lengthways, and place it on a bamboo rolling mat, spread 70g rice over the sheet leaving 1cm free on the side opposite you. Lay the cucumber or gourd down the centre.
3) Place your thumbs at the back of the mat and lift it whilst supporting the filling with the rest of your fingers. Roll the rice away from you and press lightly.
4) Roll the sushi so that the edge of the nori is placed under the rolled sushi.
To make a neat roll, spread the rice more thinly where the filling is to go.
5) Shape the sushi by pressing each end of the roll, and cut it into 6 pieces. Repeat the process for the other filling.
Final thoughts
Next week’s blog will be another special feature, as I am off to Manchester this weekend for the Doki Doki Festival! After that, I am afraid I am going to have to take a week or possibly even two off. I have been commissioned to write some articles for other websites and this is the only way I can balance things in between work. This blog is a hobby and I am definitely not paid for it!
However, if this news breaks your heart so greatly, you’ll be glad to know that I’ll be continuing the Japan alphabet on my Twitter account, so follow me over on there.