Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art


Note: The pictures below are of an erotic nature and contain people having sex. Need I say more?

I think it’s fair to say that, traditionally, the British are very prudish about sex and porn, but in Japan it’s all very much out in the open. This is one of the reasons why I went along to the ‘Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art’ exhibition at the British Museum – we’re used to seeing naked people posing in paintings and statues, but how often do we see them having sex? Not very often, at least in European culture.

In fact, when the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu sent gifts to Britain  in the sixteenth century, there was some shunga art them, which were promptly burned because they were so obscene.

AN00798403_001_lShunga, literally meaning ‘spring pictures’, is originally a Chinese expression and the term given to erotic Japanese paintings, prints and illustration. Traditional Shintō beliefs celebrated the union of the sexes and the depiction of sex was not seen as inherently sinful or degrading in Japan, as it was never constrained by strict Confucianism to the same degree as in China and Korea. Shunga art was mostly created by artists of the ukiyo-e or ‘floating world’ school, culminating with explicit works by iconic artists such as Hokusai.

The earliest shunga appear as graffiti hidden on seventh-century Buddhist statues and in sophisticated eighth-century sex manuals, often based on Chinese originals. From the twelfth century onwards, painted shunga emaki (‘handscrolls’) probably became an established art-form among the priesthood, aristocracy and samurai classes.

Shunga was used as a guide to lovemaking, such as young married couples, or for more unusual functions such as a talisman for warriors or fire protection for property owners. Shunga parodies of serious art and literature were also created and the townspeople used them to subvert the orthodoxy of the ruling class, who also got plenty of pleasure and amusement out of them. One of my favourite collection images was Torii Kiyonaga’s Mane’emon, a collection of images about a man who is shrunk down to the size of the bean and travels around Japan watching people having sex and learning about their different habits. In a word, it was ‘wacky’.

AN00583055_001_lYou might wonder ‘is shunga just early Japanese porn?’ and the answer is ‘no’, although its influence can still be seen today in modern culture. Shunga is pretty matter-of-fact and isn’t shy about, well, anything. It’s funny and intriguing but also reminds us just how natural (and fun!) sex is. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the really weird stuff like Kinoe no Komatsu, which is literally two octopi ravishing a woman who appears to be quite enjoying herself. Oh, Japan.

Given how certain politicians and other public figures are considering what could ultimately be a blanket ban on all porn, I think they could all do with going to this exhibition and getting a little bit of perspective! Shunga has been around for centuries and, although we joke about how weird Japanese porn is, they’re a lot more grown up about it than a lot of Brits. Plus, if you see how ridiculously certain body parts are drawn, it’s pretty obvious that the genre makes fun of itself and is not trying to warp many minds.

thNot many people over here have heard of shunga, so I really recommend this exhibition if you’re interested in finding out more about this area of Japanese culture. It’s probably not the best place to take a date or grandparent, or if you’re extremely prudish. There was a lot of giggling and pointing in the room, which is the exact same effect that the art had on people centuries ago. Who knows, maybe this is the beginning of a slow process of getting the British to be a bit more open and mature about sex?

Image credits: The British Museum

Next time: I’m going to be taking a mini blogging break as I’m packing to move flat (again!) and am cracking on with some novel writing, so this will be the last post from me for a bit. I’ll still be updating the Facebook page and rambling on Twitter, so you can follow me over there. Otherwise, I’ll be back in mid-November with a video from MCM Comic Con!

Shingen-ko Matsuri


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Kofu is at the top of my ‘to visit’ list next time I’m in Japan, which will hopefully be next year! With any luck I’ll be able to coincide a stop to this city in Yamanashi Prefecture with the fantastic-looking Shingen-ko Matsuri.

The festival

The Shingen-ko Matsuri is held in Kofu in early April, and celebrates the virtues of the city’s most famous samurai, Takeda Shingen. Replicas of the Furinkazan, his representative flag, decorate the city but the highlight is the Koshu Batalion Deployment, where around 1,500 Yamanashi locals dres in traditional costumes and march along with torches. The parade starts at 5pm in front of Kofu station.

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There is also a contest the day before the parade to determine who will represent Shingen’s wife. Over the weekend, there are also food and game booths in the Kofu Joshi Ruin, where the castle formerly stood, and in Kofu downtown.

I think it’s quite clear why I want to go to this, as Takeda Shingen is one of my favourite samurai.

About Takeda Shingen

Shingen was a powerful warlord in the Sengoku era, and is particularly famous for his Takeda cavalry and leading the one and only defeat against Tokugawa Ieyasu, who later became shogun and unifier of Japan, in the battle of Mikatagahara. He was an exemplar warlord and many of his governing methods were later adopted by Tokugawa Ieyasu when he founded the Tokugawa shogunate. He was served loyally in war by his famous “twenty-four generals”. According to the Koyo Gunkan, the great military records of the Takeda family, the Takeda army consisted of 33,736 men in 1573. Shingen’s greatest rival was Uesugi Kenshin, and they fought on five occasions at Kawanakajima with the fourth battle there in 1561 being their greatest contest.

There are varying accounts of Takeda Shingen’s death. At the age of 49, he was the only daimyo with the necessary resources and tactical skills to stop Oda Nobunaga’s attempts to rule Japan.

When Takeda Shingen was 49 years old, he was the only daimyo with the necessary power and tactical skill to stop Oda Nobunaga’s rush to rule Japan. After the battle of Mikatagahara, Shingen stopped his advance temporarily due to outside influences, which allowed the combined forces of the Oda and Tokugawa to prepare for battle again. He entered Mikawa Province, but soon died in the camp. Some accounts say he succumbed to an old war wound and others say a sniper shot him. He was succeeded by his son Katsuyori, who was defeated by the Oda and Tokugawa forces at Nagashino, and the Takeda clan never recovered.

Back to blogging!

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m back from holiday and getting straight back to blogging. I’m having trouble believing I’m in England given the weather, mind. Anyway, I decided to kick things off with a look at something I’m really hoping to go to next year. That’s right, I’m planning my next trip around Japan!

Photo sources: visitbeautifuljapantraveljapanblog

Kagemusha – a film by Akira Kurosawa


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If you’re a Japanese film fan, you’ve probably watched some Akira Kurosawa films or, at the very least, heard of him. Some of his most famous films include ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘Rashomon’ and I highly recommend you watch them both. Kurosawa was at his most prolific in the 1950s and 1960s, although his later work is also worth a watch. ‘Kagemusha’, produced in 1980 and one of the last films directed by Kurosawa before he died in 1998, is proof of this.

‘Kagemusha’ takes place in Sengoku-era Japan and tells the story of a thief, sentenced to execution, who is recruited by the powerful Takeda clan to impersonate their leader, Takeda Shingen, to whom he bares an uncanny likeness. The mighty warlord is gravely ill, and any news of his death, combined with the weaknesses of his disinherited son Katsuyori, could encourage the Takeda’s enemies (Nobunaga Oda and Tokugawa Ieyasu) to attack the  clan. Whilst the thief is reluctant and possesses none of the mighty warlord’s mannerisms, he has no choice but to go along with their plan.

Soon after his recruitment to the role of ‘kagemusha’, meaning ‘political double’, Shingen dies and the criminal unwittingly unearths his body whilst searching for treasure and is furiously expelled by the clan who feel he cannot be trusted. A jar containing Shingen’s body is dumped in a lake and this is witnessed by spies of the Oda and Tokugawa, whom the thief overhears and cause to return to the clan begging to be of service to the deceased lord. So begins the assimilation of the thief into the role of great daimyo and deception of the clan, and therefore their enemies.  Both amusing and tragic, the film builds up to the Battle of Nagashino, a bloody clash between Oda Nobunaga and the Takeda forces.

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It is interesting to note that ‘Kagemusha’ was Kurosawa’s first colour film, which allowed him to play on one of his most primary themes of illusion and reality. The most unusual part of the film is the scene in which the thief dreams he is being chased by the real Takeda Shingen through a field of clouds. It’s rather eerie but typically Kurosawa-esque.

You might also notice that George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola appear as executive directors in the film credits. The two persuaded 20th Century Fox to make up the shortfall in the film’s budget when the original producers, Toho Studios, could not afford to complete the film. According to Lucas, 5000 extras were used in the Battle of Nagashino and, although filming took a whole day, only 90 seconds of footage made the final cut and the rest landed on the “cutting-room floor”.

Clearly, ‘Kagemusha’ is not just a film about an interesting part of history but also a film with a rather interesting history itself. If you do not know much about the story of Takeda Shingen, the film is satisfactorily historically accurate and sure to be enjoyed by Kurosawa novices and old faithfuls alike. The exact nature of Takeda Shingen’s death remains unknown to this day and ‘Kagemusha’ presents just one account but it is certainly a fascinating story of the lengths the clan went to keep his death a secret in order to survive.

If you’ve never seen a Kurosawa film, either, this would be a good place to start, particularly if you like your samurai history.

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This weekend… I’ll be announcing a big competition on the blog this weekend and need as many of you to get involved! It’s rather geeky, so if that sounds like your kind of thing, please subscribe so you’ll be the first to hear about it.

All photos from movierapture.com

Stats, sex and samurai


I’ve been keeping an eye on my stats for a while now and learning how people come across the blog in the first place. In short, some of you have weird tastes. I thought I’d share some of the weirder search terms that have linked people to my blog…

The Top Ten

Date Masamune rules the blog, along with several other samurai and lots of Japanese food. I didn’t realise Roy Mustang was still so popular, though.

Anime, manga and games

1) I love everyone who put these words into. Google 2) Cloud Strife is fictional. 3) What on earth is indictment hair?

Pandas everywhere!

I really don’t think I’ve ever blogged about pandas but apparently a lot of people find the blog looking for them. I may have to do a panda special if I want a sudden influx of views! Incidentally, here is that picture of the panda hugging a policeman…

Source: thisinsaneartist.tumblr.com

History homework

The best search terms were too long to screen grab, so I typed them out below.

how did ieyasu’s childhood as a hostage affect his quest to become shogun? how did being a hostage affect his rule as shogun?

I definitely never answered this question but I bet this question is on someone’s syllabus and it’s really freaking them out right now…

tokugawa shogunate: an illustrated guide to the punishments of the tokugawa shogunate

I never really liked Ieyasu…

Dirty things

There were so many different search terms but I’ve just taken the most popular ones as examples. You people are disgusting!

Well, that makes no sense…

The second one must be from a song about a stalker. I really don’t know how typing this into Google brings you to the blog.

And finally, by far the weirdest one of all…

Obviously the 20 odd people who were looking for this ‘workshop’ must have been a bit disappointed when they found a Japan blog!

Kofu shout out!


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 sophiesjapanblog@live.co.uk . Thank you in advance!

Source: camelsaloonasia @ blogspot

Week 18: Resolutions


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.

Source: cnngo.com

Destination of the Week: Sengoku Jidai Mura

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!

So, who wants to plan a trip with me?

Source: Japan-guide.com

Japanese Saying of the Week: Nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru

This means ‘luck is in the leftovers’. In other words, there is luck in the last helping . . . patience pays off.

Source: etsy.com

Samurai of the Week: Uesugi Kenshin

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.

Source: samurai-archives.com

Bento of the Week: Bioshock

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.

Source: annathered.com

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)

Source: theotaku 2.0

Weird Thing of the Week: Sokushinbutsu

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.

Source: atlasobscura.com

Recipe of the Week: Green tea pudding

Never underestimate the power of matcha powder in Japan. It goes with everything; from green tea kit kat to green tea Coca Cola. This weeks’ “purin” has come from the wonderful eat-Japan.com

Ingredients

  • .1.5 tbsp green tea (matcha) powder
  • 100ml milk
  • 150ml single cream
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Whipped cream, to serve (optional)
  • Green tea (matcha) powder, to serve (optional)
Method
1) Preheat the oven 160C/320F.
2) Mix the green tea powder with 3 tbsp of warm water until dissolved. Set aside.
3) Place the milk, single cream in a small saucepan oven medium heat until just comes to the boil. Add the dissolved green tea and mix.
4) Place the eggs, egg yolk and sugar in a bowl and mix until well combined. Gradually add the milk mixture, mix to combine.
5) Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed strainer and pour into the cups.
6) Place in a deep baking dish and pour in some hot water.
7) Bake for about 30 minutes until set.
8) Remove from the baking dish and refrigerate until cool
9) Serve topped with the whipped cream and green tea (matcha) powder if desired.
I may well do another cooking video when I make this one, as it looks delicious! Watch this space.

Final Thoughts

Votes for the next special feature close next week, so make sure you’ve voted in this poll! The winning feature will be Week 21’s post, just so I have enough time to conduct ‘research’.

Also, the art competition is still open so PLEASE PLEASE send your drawings/doodles/stick men my way!

Week 17: Happy New Year!


How was your Christmas? Eat too much? Drink too much? Watch TV too much? Play charades too much? Tis the season, so this week’s blog is all about New Year!  ALSO – If you’re an artist, please check out this competition and spread the word!

News Story of the Week: Japan’s kanji character of 2011

Half a million Japanese people took part in an annual poll to vote on the kanji character that symbolised the spirit of 2011. The winning character was ‘kizuna’, meaning ‘bonds’,  in light of the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

Many people are said to have renewed their value in maintaining links with family and helping their local community. The world has praised Japan’s willingness to pull through the tragedy left by Fukushima, which will take many years to repair.

In April, the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan used the character ‘kizuna’ in a letter to the world community as an expression of gratitude for the assistance the country received.

Source: Japantoday.com

Destination of the week: Gujo Hachiman

Gujo Hachiman is a small riverside town in the Gifu prefecture which is most famous for its summer dance festival and historic waterways. It was founded in the 16th century when Hachiman Castle was built by a local feudal lord. The castle is surrounded by maple trees and was destroyed during the Meiji Period but has since been rebuilt with wood.

Gujo’s canals, fountains and waterways are maintained by its townspeople. They are still used for washing rice, vegetables and laundry today. The Gujo Odori dance festival takes place every summer, across 31 days, and has done for the past 400 or so years. The dancing continues throughout the night.

If you head outside the town centre, you can visit the Otaki Shonyudo. This limestone cave has an impressive interior waterfall which stretches 30 metres high.

Finally, Gujo is one of the leading producers of plastic replica food. If you ever visit Japan, you will notice that most restaurants have replicas of the food that they serve displayed outside. Visitors to Gujo can make their own replica shrimp tempura!

Source: Japan-guide.com

Japanese Saying of the Week: Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai

Slightly different this week. ‘Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai’ is Japanese for ‘I wish you will have a good new year’. The less formal way of saying this would be ‘yoi otoshi o!’, ‘Happy new year!’

Source: withfriendship.com

Samurai of the Week: Kimura Shigenari

This week’s samurai feature will be short and sweet. I have chosen the lesser known Kimura Shigenari for the historically unusual example of how samurai treated death.

Kimura Shigenari was a Toyotomi retainer whose first battle was the Osaka Campaign in 1614, which saw the Toyotomi remnants and Tokugawa supporters vying for power. As a reward for overpowering the troops, Toyotomi Hideyori bestowed the title of ‘peerless hero of the nation’ upon him. He died loyal to the family when was killed in the Osaka Summer Campaign in 1615 and is remembered for his bravery and handsome looks.

When Shigenari was killed, his severed head was presented to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Interestingly, he had burned incense inside his helmet before marching into battle so as to make his head a more attractive prize. It appears that Shigenari had marched into battle expecting to die as a nobel samurai.  Certainly, it was an act that impressed Ieyasu so much that he even recommended the practice to his own followers.

Source: collectionsonline.lacma.org

Bento of the Week: Angry Birds

Angry Birds are always relevant. This week’s bento has been taken from mymealbox.com. The circular shape of the birds and pigs mean that they’re easy to mould into onigiri. The bird was mixed with tomato sauce, baby carrot and a red pasta sheet. The pig was made by mixing edamame with pea paste (to give it the green colouring) and cucumber.

Source: mymealbox.com

Series of the Week: The World Only God Knows

If I were to say that this was a series that parodied the dating sim phenomenon, you might be put off depending on your tastes. When I first came across the anime, I was curious but did not have high expectations. Against all odds, I ended up really enjoying it. It’s simply entertaining to watch.

High school student Keima Katsuragi is an avid player of bishojo dating sim games, whom the internet refers to as ‘the God of Conquests’ because of his great skill of winning over the girls in these games. In reality, he is a reclusive and anti-social geek who does nothing but play these games during class. One day, he receives an email offering him a contract to ‘conquer’ girls. Believing the email to be an invitation to a game, he accepts and is unwillingly forced to cooperate with Elsie, a demon from Hell, in catching runaway spirits.

How does Keima capture these spirits? By winning over these girls hearts, of course! By drawing on the ‘skills’ that he has learned from his many dating sims, the otherwise socially inept student is able to get these girls to kiss him so that the spirit is released (and bottled by Elsie). Thus follows a number of mini stories with various different ‘types’ of girl, from idols to student teachers, in which Keima assesses the situation based on what he would do if he was playing a dating sim. You might think this would leave a trail of broken lovers behind, but the girls conveniently forget about him afterwards.

There isn’t much of a plot in The World Only God Knows, which now boasts 26 episodes,  but this isn’t a bad thing. It’s light-hearted and silly and, whilst the only two recurring characters are Keima and Elsie, they’re both very entertaining. Keima is an otaku who sees the world as a dating sim and Elsie is your typical magical girl. I don’t know much about these types of video games, as they aren’t exactly big in the west, so this series was something different.

Score: 8/10 (An entertaining parody of and introduction to the dating sim phenomenon in Japan)

Source: orphicanime @ wordpress

Weird Thing of the Week: Omamori

Omamori are amulets or charms that can be bought from religious sites in Japan. Typically, they are the embodiment of a particular Shinto deity or Buddhist figure and provide various forms of luck and protection. They are ritually blessed and transformed into busshin, meaning spiritual offshoots. The word omamori itself literally means protection.

Omamori were originally made from paper or wood but the modern ones are designed to be small enough to fit in your purse or pocket. Smaller temples that are struggling for money have been forced to turn to companies to manufacture their omamori but have often complained about the quality production and, in some cases, their dwindling symbolism.

Japanese people still give traditional omamori to each other today and tourists buy them as souvenirs, and you can now find every kind of charm from Hello Kitty to Street Fighter. The religious importance remains though; as it is still considered unlucky to untie, lose or throw away your omamori.

Omamori illustrate how so many people in Japan include religion in their daily lifestyles. For some, they may be mere novelties but for others they are considered to be blessed for a specific purpose. Visitors to shrines and temples may even request the priest to make a specific omamori, whether they are hoping for a safe birth or recovery of a relative.

Source: Japanlifeandreligion.com

Recipe of the Week: Chicken with egg bowl donburi

This week’s recipe has been taken from eat-Japan and, lucky you, all the ingredients are easily available in England!

Ingredients

  • 130g rice
  • 50g chicken thigh [chicken breast is nicer]
  • 1/4 leek
  • 1 egg
  • 75ml dashi (soup stock) [substitute miso soup or paste]
  • 20ml soy sauce
  • some nori and chervil (to garnish)

Method

  • Cut the chicken into bite size pieces. Cut the leek diagonally into thin slices. Place the chicken, leek, dashi, soy sauce and mirin in a frying pan and bring to the boil.
  • Pour the beaten egg over the top of the ingredients to cover the surface. When it starts to boil again, turn off the heat and leave it to settle for 1-2 minutes.
  • Place the chicken and egg topping carefully over the rice and garnish with chopped nori and chervil.

Source: eat-Japan.com

Final thoughts

Make sure to keep voting for the next special feature too! (I will probably do all of these features eventually, but you’re voting for which one you want first!)

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.

Week 9: And the winner is…


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

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

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

News Story of the Week: Free flights to Japan?

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

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

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

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

Source: japantravelinfo.com

Destination of the Week: Otaru

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

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

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

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

Do:

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

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

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

Source: cs.cmu.edu

Samurai of the Week: Maeda Toshiie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Wikipedia

Bento of the Week: LOST

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

Source: aibento

Series of the Week: Occult Academy

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

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

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

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

Source: animehere.com

Weird Thing of the Week: Host Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: projecthitchhiker.com

Recipe of the Week: Chicken Yakitori

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

Ingredients:

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

Week 8: Art competition still open!


This week’s blog will be a bit shorter than usual as I’ve had a rather unexpectedly exciting week! I’m going to be in London for a couple of months for work, so I’ve been having to get ready for that. Don’t worry though, this blog is still my pride and joy and will not be neglected just because I am employed!

If you missed last week’s notice, you still have until Monday 10th to enter this art competition I’m running. Details are in this video and last week’s blog.

News Story of the Week: Ozawa Ichiro’s trial begins

You might vaguely recall the name ‘Ozawa’ from a few weeks back, during the Prime Ministerial bid which saw Noda Yoshihiko succeed Naoto Kan. Ozawa Ichiro has long been a behind-the-scenes power broker in Japanese politics and has a history of corruption charges. His trial for a political party funding scandal began today and is likely to hugely undermine his power.

In 2009, Ozawa engineered the Democratic Party of Japan’s rise to power and allegedly oversaw false accounting by his former aides in a confusing 2004 deal. Monetary scandal is regrettably familiar in recent Japanese politics and Ozawa is incredibly high profile, apparently considered untouchable by some. He is pleading ‘not guilty’ against these charges, of course, but it is possible that his reputation might be irreversibly tarnished.

The trial is ongoing, so for the latest updates it is best to follow the trial online. The BBC provides a useful timeline on Ozawa’s political career and you can also check the link in the archives for more information.

Source: BBC News

Destination of the Week: Takachiho

We are slowly working our way through every island of Japan! This week is the mythologically-fascinating mountain town of Takachiho on the island of Kyushu.

In order to understand the religious and spiritual importance of Takachiho, a little background into Japanese mythology is required. The Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu, is said to be directly linked to the imperial family of Japan. The valleys of Takachiho are not only said to be where her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, was sent down from heaven to establish the imperial line but also where she hid from her cruel brother, Ame no Uzume. According to Shinto legend, she was lured out of a cave (Ama no Iwato) and imprisoned by her brother and other gods using a sacred mirror, sword and jewels. These items are still very important to imperial rites today but, unlike the British Crown Jewels, are not to be seen by the public and certain items are believed to have been lost and replaced.

Takachiko is remote but incredibly scenic and would certainly complete a spiritual journey around Japan. Nightly traditional Yokagura dances take place at the Takachiho Shrine, which re-enact the legend surrounding Amaterasu. Impressive ravines and waterfalls can be traversed by boat and, whilst it draws millions of Japanese tourists annually, not many foreigners make it this far. It could be described as one of the wonders of Japan.

Do:

  • Visit Onokoro Jaya Teahouse, which is at the base of the gorge itself. You can enjoy some fresh green tea whilst overlooking the stunning scenery.
Don’t:
  • Forget your camera. I mean, really!

Source: Japan Guide

Saying of the Week: Neko wa Kabaru

Cats are cunning (or at least they’re meant to be). ‘Neko wa Kabaru’ literally translates to ‘wearing the cat’ but a more westernised translation would be to feign ignorance or hide your true intentions. Admit it, you’ve all worn a cat at some point! Let’s just hope it’s a proverbial one!

Source: 52asia.com

Samurai of the Week: Katô Kiyomasa

Kiyomasa was born in 1562, in Nakamura, the same town where Toyotomi Hideyoshi was supposedly born. He became Hideyoshi’s retainer, rising to prominence at the Battle of Shizugatake where his lord’s forces clashed with Oda Nobutaka and was recognised as one of the great Seven Spears. He earned the respect of Hideyoshi, being granted a large fief in Higo and leading the Korean invasion. In fact, he was the only general reported to have stepped onto Chinese soil (albeit briefly, as the invasion of Korea ultimately failed).

(If you haven’t already, it might be an idea to skip back to weeks 5 and 6 which cover Hideyoshi and Ieyasu.)

Despite this apparent loyalty to the Toyotomi, Kiyomasa was quick to jump ship when Hideyoshi died and Tokugawa Ieyasu made his move to depose his heir, Hideyori. The so-called western forces that defended him were led by Ishida Mitsunari, who had quarrelled with Kiyomasa during the Korean invasion, and included Konishi Yukinaga, whom he also despised. So, despite his previous loyalty, Kiyomasa sided with the Tokugawa either because he wanted to be on the winning team or because of these personal reasons – probably both!

It would not be unfair to call Kiyomasa a traitor, and that’s what I’m going to do! Perhaps ironically, he died shortly after the Tokugawa seized control over Japan and it is rumoured Ieyasu arranged to have him poisoned.

He is also known for his passion for hunting tigers with spears, earning him the title ‘Devil General’. One particular report claims that, when a tiger that had been brought over from Korea escaped from its bindings inside the castle, Kiyomasa stared at it and it stopped in its tracks. If you wanted more proof that he was a no-nonsense man, he also wrote that poetry and dancing were unbecoming of a samurai and any one caught partaking in those activities should be forced to commit suicide.

I am treating you to TWO pictures this week. Here is a traditional image of Kiyomasa:

Source: samurai-archives.com

And whilst I have previously kept this blog internet-joke free, I couldn’t resist making an exception for this week:

Source: troll.me

I don’t necessarily expect all readers to understand why Charlie Sheen is on here, so I won’t disappoint you further by ever featuring him again.

Bento Box of the Week: Pokemon

A staple part of every Japanese child’s diet (I think) is Pokemon! I’m pretty sure I had a Pikachu lunchbox back in the day but, once again, Japan had to show me up with its awesome Mudkip. For those of you only familiar with the original 1990s series that graced our TVs, Mudkip is from the third generation of Pokemon … that’s number 258. I have to admit, I’m not sure how healthy red and blue dyed rice would be.

Source: Bentoboxworld @ Tumblr

Series of the Week: Cat Soup

Cat Soup (Nekojiru-sou) is a brilliant example of weird Japanese cinema. It’s surreal, a great introduction to the ‘WHAT?’ realm of animation and very trippy to watch. Technically, this is a short film rather than a series but I am going to list it here because I think it’s definitely worth a watch.

It’s very difficult to describe the plot of Cat Soup not only because there is barely any dialogue to it but also because it’s almost impossible to do so. In a nutshell, the main character is a cat called Nyatto who is on a quest to save his sister’s soul. The two embark on a artistically bizarre adventure, exploring the transience of man’s existence.

Cat Soup should be appreciated for its artistic and what might first seem like nonsensical nature. I was utterly confused when I watched this the first time and have watched it twice since. I am still confused but, on the plus side, I can appreciate it a lot more. Who said that anime was nothing but flashy fight scenes and big-breasted women?

Score: 9/10 (well worth a watch if you are looking for something completely different)

Source: keyframeonline.com

N.B: For those of you who keep up to date with your anime, you will know that mid-October signals the beginning of a lot of brand new anime series. I plan to review a couple of these once they have been out for a while but, for now, I’m having to go through some older series. The good news is that I am trying to be deliberately obscure and the bad news is that I have not sat down and watched something new for over a year as I was in my final year of university and sadly had to prioritise. Now that I am actually employed, weekday evenings will give me a good chance to pick up on some good shows.

Weird Thing of the Week: Vending Machines

Japanese vending machines are famous for being 100% cooler than any other vending machines in the world. Not only do they have a much wider selection of (bizarre) drinks, are brightly coloured, are located more or less anywhere you can imagine and take debit cards, but they do not just pop out drinks.

Japan is typically much hotter than Britain, so people need cool drinks closer to hand. You can find vending machines in the subway, on the street and even right next to a religious shrine. Quite often you will see as many as ten lined up in a row. Statistically, there is 1 vending machine for every 23 people in Japan.

What makes Japanese vending machines so unique is … well, the number of reasons is actually infinite. For example, Coca-Cola had a giant robotic one wandering around Tokyo at one point. More importantly, vending machines are not just limited to drinks. Ties, umbrellas, freshly laid eggs (put in by farmers every morning – there aren’t actually chickens cooped up in there!), live lobsters and flowers are just some of the things that you can get from a vending machine.

You might ask why Japan could ever need so many vending machines and whether they cause a huge pollution problem. The answer to the first one is ‘yes’ and the answer to the second is ‘surprisingly, no’. Having been to Japan twice now in humid summer, I can safely say that the vending machines are without doubt the most enticing things you will see on a hot day. There are also recycling bins inside the vending machines so, when you’re about to go buy a new drink, you can drop your last one inside! Some of the weirdest drinks I can recall buying from a vending machine are a Dragonball Z ‘soda’, which resembled green nuclear waste but was still delicious, and orange jelly in a bottle.

Rather than show you a static picture of a vending machine, here is a very entertaining video of one guy’s adventure around Tokyo and his encounters with many a vending machine.

Source: Yellowproductions @ Youtube

Recipe of the Week: Tempura

You know, it’s pretty shocking I haven’t written about tempura yet given how it’s my favourite Japanese dish! Simply put, tempura are deep fried vegetables or meat/seafood and are an excellent snack or full meal if you eat enough. For the sake of this blog, I’ll give you a recipe for shrimp tempura, although you can use more or less anything in its place and it will still taste great.

Ingredients:

  • 12 large shrimp
  • 1 egg
  • 8oz flour
  • 250ml ice water
  • Vegetable oil for frying
1) Remove heads and shell from the shrimps then devein them. Do NOT remove the tails.
2) Make 2 or 3 incisions in the stomachs and lightly press on the back to straighten them.
3) Dry the shrimps on a paper towel and remove dirt from the tail with a knife.
4) Beat the egg and add the ice water. Add the flour and mix lightly.
5) Heat the oil and flour the shrimps. Deep fry them until crisp.
This recipe also works with vegetables (sliced thinly). Experiment and see what you can make! Post your suggestions in the comments.
Final Thoughts
Remember to get your art entries to sophiesjapanblog@live.co.uk by Monday 10th! The ones I’ve had so far are all very impressive and I know I’m going to regret not being able to choose all of them.
As I am now in London, I’m obviously able to attend more Japanese-related events. I am hoping to go around a couple of restaurants and specialist stores for future ideas, so if you know of anywhere do let me know!
I’d also like to point out an interesting website I came across. Check out theeast.org for a list of east Asian events, restaurants and so on. Enjoy and follow them on Twitter too!