Every cloud…


Or, why losing isn’t necessarily losing.

If you’ve been keeping up with my ramblings on Twitter, you probably saw that I wasn’t selected for InsideJapan Tour’s Blog to Japan finals. Obviously, I was very disappointed, not only because I’d spent three odd weeks scripting and editing my video and another six hours just trying to format it for Youtube, but also because I really wanted to have a fantastic trip around Japan and do something fantastic for the blog.

HOWEVER, I am not writing this to moan about losing or question the powers that be. I realised a couple of things whilst putting together my entry and would like to dedicate this week’s post to something else…

First of all, I am thankful to InsideJapan for running the competition. I’d never made a video like the one I submitted as part of my entry before and it was a great opportunity to solidify why I love Japan so much. Even though I didn’t win, the blog will be here to stay for a long time (I hope) and the ‘Send Sophie to Japan’ piece now has its own dedicated section for all to see in the months/years to come. I won’t stop blogging just because I didn’t win my first blogging competition but I know what to do for next time (you can guess what I think I might have done not-so-well yourself).

Secondly, I’m starting to plan a proper trip to Japan next year. I’m lucky enough to have been before but I’ve realised a two week holiday really isn’t enough for what I want to do. So, I plan to spend a month studying the language followed by a month’s travelling. I spoke to my friend Oana, who I went to university with and met at the Anime and Manga Society, before InsideJapan announced their finalists and we said ‘whatever happens, let’s just go there’! Keep an eye out for a guest travel article I wrote for another blog recently (I’ll post a link when it’s published), as that will give you a good idea of some of the places I hope to visit.

Finally, the people I have met through the blog in the past year and since I posted my Blog to Japan entry are worth a special mention. I gained about 50 new followers in those two weeks (not exactly Youtube star figures but I’m bloody pleased with them!) and so many people retweeted and commented on my entry. Special mention #1 goes to my sister Grace (who appears in the end of the video) who bought me a good luck card and Pocky and generally put up with my ‘ohmygawd’ness. Special mention #2 goes to Tokyo Hearts author Renae Lucas-Hall, who stumbled across my entry and liked it so much she sent me a signed copy of her book! I don’t think that happened to any other entrant, so I’m particularly pleased with this. I’ll be talking more about the book next month, so stay tuned…

So, after a brief wobble, I’m back on form and plan to make Sophie’s Japan Blog better than ever! I’ve already planned ahead for the next few weeks and there’s some pretty exciting stuff… plus an AWESOME secret competition. I’ve only been blogging for a year but I’ve already realised how much followers and readers make a difference. So, thanks all!

Next week, I’ll be talking about my trip to the British Film Institute London to see a one-day special screening of the anime movie Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning. On the off chance you’re going there too, post below and come say ‘hi’ on the day!

Send Sophie to Japan: Blog to Japan competition entry


Here it is, the fruit of my labours for the past few weeks. This is my blog entry for Inside Japan Tour’s Blog to Japan competition, which coincides with the tour group’s 12 year anniversary. Entrants have to present twelve reasons as to why they should be selected as the lucky winner. The prize is a two and a half week adventure around Japan and the winner has to share their experience of this wonderful country by writing a daily blog.

The video…

So, here is the video I have spent a good week editing and re-editing to make as persuasive as possible! Every campaign needs a name and this one is appropriately named Send Sophie to Japan.

Here is a lovely photo of my friend Leah with the mother of Koshi Inaba, one of the greatest rock stars in Japan. For some reason this picture didn’t appear in the Youtube video so I’m including it here so it makes sense!

As you will see in the video, I should be sent to Japan (in a box, if necessary!) because:

1) I’m a proven and passionate Japan blogger

2) I’ve visited Japanese events and written articles in the UK and Europe

3) I’m adventurous!

4) I know where I want to visit and want to step off the beaten track

5) I love Japanese history, especially the samurai

6) I want to write a novel set in Japan and need to do some research to make it authentic

7) I want to meet the wonderful Japanese people in their home country

8)  I love Japanese food

9) I am in love with Japan’s natural scenery, especially the famous Nihon Sankei

10) This is the perfect opportunity to put my language skills into practice

11) I have penfriends scattered across Japan who I’d love to meet in person

12) Just ask my friends!

I also made a top 12 list of things I want to do in Japan:

1) Take in the majesty of the Nihon Sankei: Matsushima Bay, Miyajima Island and Amanohashidate

2) Dance in the crowded streets during a matsuri

3) Read manga in a cat cafe

4) See a Takarazuka performance

5) Experience a traditional tea ceremony

6) Meditate in a remote Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine

7) Buy the freshest sushi at the Tsukiji fish market

8) Eat traditional gyutan (beef tongue) in Sendai

9) Stock up on anime memorabilia in Akihabara

10) Visit the Studio Ghibli Museum

11) Ride the high speed Shinkansen

12) Meet up with my friends in Japan and take them out for dinner… and make some new ones too!

Tokyo

About Sophie’s Japan Blog

The fact that Sophie’s Japan Blog is celebrating its one year (12 month!) anniversary at the moment makes me feel like it was fate that I found out about this competition. In the past year, I’ve learned much more than I thought was possible just by researching, blogging and speaking to other bloggers in Japan and the UK.

If you have a look around the website, you’ll see how it’s grown and developed. I ran a Japanalphabet Twitter campaign last year, where I shared some particular features about the country’s traditional and modern culture with my followers. I’ve also written a couple of guest articles for various websites and magazines and expanded my reading list with a dedicated Book of the Month feature.

One of my secret hopes when I started this blog was that someone would pick it up and send me to Japan… and perhaps I can really realise this dream!

If you Send Sophie to Japan…

On a daily basis, you could expect to see plenty of photos and short video blogs accompanied by the music I’d no doubt discover over there, sprinkled with observations and comments from my travel companion and myself. I’m famously generous with my camera so there would also be plenty of footage with which to make some longer videos and posts when I got back! I would also create a section on the blog dedicated to the competition so the experience would be digitally immortalised for all to see!

There would even be something in it for the readers too! I often run giveaways through the blog, so it would be wrong if I didn’t buy something on my travels for a lucky someone.

Kakunodate

Winning this competition would allow me to combine my two greatest passions; writing and travelling.

Miyajima Island

Thank you

I really hope that you’ve found this entry interesting as it’s certainly been fun and challenging to make. I’d like to thank my friends who appeared in the video and all of my readers who motivated me to enter. The next stage of the competition is the selection of the three finalists, who the public will then vote on! So, if I’m lucky to make it that far, I’ll let you know! It’s been quite eye-opening putting this entry together. One thing is for certain, I think I have a good voice for documentaries!

All images from the Inside Japan Tours website and Leah Holmes

Week 16: Merry Christmas!


I think I’ve avoided mentioning Christmas on this blog so far but, seeing as it really is just two days away, let’s jump in! Just three points to make:

  • There are a couple of Christmas crackers in this week’s blog and some treats for the New Year too!
  • The FAQ competition video is now up and running, so go and take a look and marvel at how much my vlogging skills have improved! (I jest, I jest.)
  • I’ve added some new drop down menus at the top of the page; including ‘artwork‘ and ‘competitions‘. Artists, submit your stuff and I’ll post it!
News Story of the Week: Japan and China in panda talk

Prime Minister Noda is currently in talks with China to lease giant pandas to a zoo in Sendai in an effort to cheer up the children affected in the disaster-stricken northeast.

Noda will be visiting Beijing on Sunday and has promised Sendai city officials that he will reach an agreement with China. It is hoped that the pandas will serve as a symbol of friendship between the two nations.

Sendai Vice Mayor Yukimoto Ito was joined by singer Masahiko Kondo and actress Tetsuko Kuroyanagi in presenting Noda with signatures from children who wished to see the pandas. The idea of leasing the pandas first rose when Chinese Premier Wen received a letter from a girl in the Tohoku region when he visited in May 2011. She reportedly wrote a letter to him saying that she loved pandas.

Ito said, ‘We want (the pandas) to heal the pain that children experienced and serve as a light of hope for them’.

Source: animalreview @ WordPress

Destination of the Week: Shirakawa go

Shirakawa go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Gifu prefecture, famous for its thatched gassho-zakuri houses, meaning ‘constructed like hands in prayer’, some of which are more than 250 years old. The roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer and were designed to withstand heavy snowfall and often for cultivating silkworm in their attics.

Shirakawa go also influenced the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni series, which featured in my ’10 anime you should really watch’ post a few weeks back. Higurashi is a murder mystery video game series set in the picturesque town of Hinamizawa. Whilst the secret behind Hinamizawa is rather sinister, Shirakawa go is a very beautiful historical town.

Source: whc.unesco.org

Japanese Saying of the Week: Ichi nichi isshou

Simply, ‘a smile a day’. Very lovely, and just in time for Christmas too!

Source: Yonasu.com

Samurai of the Week: Maeda Keiji (and Matsukaze)

This is the closest thing to a samurai Christmas story that you’ll ever get. Replace the word ‘horse’ with ‘reindeer’ and it just about works!

Maeda Toshimasu, better known Keiji, was the adopted nephew of Maeda Toshihisa, Maeda Toshiie’s older brother. The two served Oda Nobunaga and it was originally intended that Keiji would be the new head of the Maeda family, until Nobunaga installed Toshiie to the position. It is well known that Keiji and Toshiie did not get along because of this loss of inheritance.

Keiji later befriended an official of the daimyo Uesugi Kagekatsu, Naoe Kanetsugu, and assisted with their invasion of Aizu. He was given the task of leading the rear guard and it was due to his actions that the Uesugi were able to retreat in tact in the battle. Keiji then returned to the capital city Kyoto to devote himself to the arts and literature, a common past time for many samurai. He was wild by nature, however, and was actually banned from Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Kyushu campaign as a result. When the Uesugi were challenged by Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1600, he joined the Uesugi once again and served as a retainer until his death in 1612.

Keiji’s famous steed was Matsukaze, meaning ‘winds in the pines’. Legend has it that the horse was selectively bred from the finest horses but he refused to let anyone ride him and ran away. Keiji managed to tame the beast, which some attributed to his own wild personality, and the two were never seen apart since. When he died, the horse ran away and was never seen again.

Source: houseofJapan.com

Bento of the Week: The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nighmare Before Christmas is a Christmas film! I could have used a standard snowman-type bento but I thought that this one might be well-received on this blog. This bento has been taken from Neatorama; Jack’s head is made from rice, sesame seeds and nori, and Sally from eggwhite, cheese, sesame, nori and beni shoga.

Source: Neatorama.com

Series of the Week: Excel Saga

Excel Saga is a brilliant example of what happens when you produce a show under the influence of drugs. It’s also a good example of ‘crazy, insane Japanese anime’, so it’s totally an appropriate Christmas anime. Ahem.

Excel Saga is a manga series by Rikdo Koshi, although it shot to fame with its anime adaption, which notably deviates from the original plot. The anime series follows the insane adventures of Excel as she goes to great lengths to help her lord Ilpalazzo take over the world. She is accompanied by Hyatt who, like Kenny from South Park, dies in a number of hilarious situations but is resurrected again and again.

The show is both hilarious and uncomfortably dark. There is a very thin overarching plot in the form of the fight against the cute Puchuu aliens who are trying to take over the world, but this is really a show to be watched for its insanity and profanity. I actually lost interest in this series about halfway through as it felt like the same jokes were being used all the time.

This isn’t a show suitable for the faint of hearted. Whilst it’s considered a comedy, it’s full of gore, violence, lesbianism and every other controversial thing under the sun. The final episode, appropriately named ‘Going Too Far’, did not run alongside the other episodes when the series first aired on TV Tokyo because it was too profane and obscene.The director admitted that, whilst it was fun to push the boundaries, it’s not something you should do too often.

Score: 6/10 (I know people who will swear blind that this is worthy of the 10 rating but I found this show as uncomfortable as much as I found it funny. It’s worth marathoning with like-minded friends, preferably ones who like South Park humour.)

Source: candi_freak @ photobucket

Weird Thing of the Week: The Takarazuka Revue

I’m very happy to have written an article for another website, the fantastic Diverse Japan, and it just so happens that I can promote it here. This week’s feature is the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female music theatre troupe. Check out the Diverse Japan website for the feature and make sure you look around the rest of the site for lots of interesting stuff.

Source: Diverse Japan

Recipe of the Week: Japanese Christmas Cake

Obviously, Christmas isn’t strictly a traditional Japanese celebration but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as Japanese Christmas cake. Usually, it is a sponge cake so it is very different to the Western one. This week’s recipe is taken from muza-chan.

Ingredients:

Sponge:

  • 4 eggs
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 150g flour
  • 60g butter

Liqueur cream:

  • 300 ml thickened cream
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
Equipment:
  • Use a deep round cake pan (18-20cm deep), lined with baking greased paper.

Method:

1) Melt the butter and let it cool down at room temperature.

2) Mix the eggs and the sugar in a bowl placed over a saucepan with simmering water. Take care and don’t allow the water to touch the bowl’s base. Use a mixer and beat until the egg mixture become thick, creamy and light yellow (approx. 10 minutes).

3) Remove the bowl from the hot water saucepan and continue beating the egg mixture until it cools down to the room temperature.

4) Sift half of the flour over the egg mixture, mixing it lightly until homogenized, then sift the remaining flour.

5) Pour the melted butter and mix gently.

6) Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake it at moderate heat for approx. 20 minutes, until the sponge feels elastic to touch.

7) Remove immediately from the pan and let it cool down on a rack.

8) After it is cooled, cut the cake horizontally, in two halves. With one third of the amount of liqueur cream stick the two pieces together and cover the whole cake with the rest of the cream. Decorate the cake with fruits like strawberries, peaches, cherries, etc.

Source: Fristle @ Flickr

Final Thoughts

Here are your Christmas crackers! I mentioned before that I more or less made a pilgrimage to Tokyo to see the Sengoku Basara movie and the dance from the ending credits that had the audience in stitches is finally up on Youtube! I certainly don’t think this is a ‘good’ dance but imagine seeing it on the big screen and I hope you can appreciate why everyone found this so funny.

Also, don’t forget to vote on the next special feature!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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 10: Recommendation Week!


I thought that it might be nice to refer readers to some of the Japanese organisations and people that have been following me on Twitter and vice versa by mentioning them in this week’s features! Incidentally, if you have Twitter and want to follow me, please do!

News Story of the Week: 15 Japanese restaurants receive coveted Michelin 3 star award

Anyone with half a brain will tell you that Japanese food is delicious, so it does not come as a great surprise that Tokyo holds the greatest number of 3 star Michelin restaurants in the world. There are 15 in Japan, compared to 10 in Paris.

Seven of these 15 Michelin star restaurants are located in Kyoto and five of them are in Osaka. For the first time ever, Kobe and Nara have also received the coveted award. West Japan may now be considered the world centre of fine dining and the Michelin guide to Tokyo, established in just 2007, enjoys a loyal following.

Of course, Japanese food doesn’t have to be expensive. A lot of the time it can be cheap and cheerful! If you want to go all the way, though, then Japan is clearly a great country for those of fine taste.

This week’s story comes courtesy of The Tokyo Times!

Source: straitstimes.com

Destination of the Week: Uji

This week’s destination was picked after browsing the Japan National Tourism Organisation’s website. Uji is one of the oldest cities in Japan located between Kyoto and Nara, both of them historical capitals. Needless to say, it’s well worth a visit if you’re planning a historically-enriching holiday.

Uji is historically significant because it was on the crossroads between Kyoto and Nara, and flourished from the trade conducted there. There are stores here that have been in business for hundreds of years and the city is especially known for its tea, which has been grown in the region for a thousand years. It is therefore the perfect place to witness the famous Japanese tea ceremony.

There are a number of historically significant sites that should not be missed if you are visiting Uji. The Byōdō-in Temple, on the west bank of the Uji-gawa River, was the former home of the powerful Fujiwara family, who dominated the Heian period. There is a Buddha statue in the Phoenix Hall, which was built by the Fujiwara in response to fears that Buddhism would vanish in Japan. The modest Ujigami Shrine is also worth a visit, as it is believed to be the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. Finally, there is the Mimurotoji Temple, one of the settings from the historic Tale of Genji, said to be the first novel in the world. There are a couple more shrines in Uji and none of them are to be missed if you want to experience the truly traditional side of Japan.

If Japanese tea is of particular interest to you, this is the perfect place to go. There is a tea festival held every October and, all year round, you can experience the traditional tea ceremony in the Taiho-an Tea House.

For ideas on organising a historical trip around Japan, JNTO London and Inside Japan both come highly recommended!

Do:

  • Buy some tea, as Uji is famous for its tea leaf production
Source: Globeimages

Japanese Saying of the Week: Gou ni itte wa, gou ni shitagae 

Gou ni itte wa, gou ni shitagae translates literally to ‘entering the village, obey the village’. A more familiar translation would be ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. It’s interesting that you don’t just ‘do’ but ‘obey’ in the Japanese version, which gives us a sense of how the emphasis traditionally placed on conformity in Japanese society.

Source: Redbubble

Samurai of the Week: The 47 Ronin

Technically, I don’t have to write about samurai for another 46 weeks seeing how I’m writing about a whopping great 47 here!

The history of the 47 ronin is an important part of Japanese history, as their story takes place during the Edo period; a time when the meaning and purpose of the samurai was drastically changing. The Sengoku jidai, the period of the warring states, had ended with Tokugawa Ieyasu and samurai did not have to serve their masters in the same way anymore as there was no need to wage war.

The story begins with Asano Naganori, a daimyo who was tasked by the shogunate to entertain envoys from the royal family. He worked under the highly-ranked Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka who expected him to monetarily compensate him for his troubles but Asano insisted that he was performing a ‘duty’ and refused to pay him. The two strongly disliked each other and, in April 1702, Asano reached the end of his tether with Kira’s insults and drew his sword on him. He was merely wounded but drawing a sword on a man in anger, and without the shogun’s consent, was against the law. Kira was ordered to commit ritual suicide, seppuku, by slitting his stomach open.

He left behind a group of retainers who, after some disagreement, relinquished Asano’s castle to the shogunate and began to plot their revenge. These men were samurai who had been left masterless, otherwise known as ‘ronin’. Led by Ôishi Kuranosuke, the group waited two years before taking their revenge. Kira had built up his defences, expecting attack, and so the men began to act disrespectfully, visiting brothels and so on, in order to lull him into a false sense of security. One man approached Ôishi and spat at him, saying that he was not a true samurai. In 1706, they attacked Kira’s mansion and, although one ronin lost his life, there was no real spirited resistance. Kira was presented to Ôishi, who decapitated him with the same knife with which Asano had commited suicide.

The now 46 ronin had acted as samurai were supposed to, remained loyal to their master and offered their enemy the chance to commit seppuku before killing them themselves. They handed themselves in to the shogunate and were ordered to commit ritual suicide but were buried together when they all died.

Unsurprisingly, the tale of the 47 ronin still provokes historical debate over the way of the samurai (bushido) and the actions of the shogunate. The tombs, in Sengaku-ji, Tokyo, are still visited today. Buried alongside them is the man who had previously insulted Ôishi. He had visited the grave and apologised for not calling him a true samurai and then committed seppuku himself.

Source: gaijinlife @ wordpress

Bento of the Week: Hello Kitty

It’s Halloween soon, so this is a very appropriate bento for the week! Here we have not just Hello Kitty, the universally-recognised unofficial mascot of Japan, but pumpkins too! As an extra treat, Just Bento, where this image has been taken one actually tells you how to make it. So, why not try your hand at making some Hello Kitty bento?

Source: Just Bento

Series of the Week: Mononoke

I wanted to watch a new short anime series to review for this week, so I put the vote to the blog’s Facebook page. The winner was Mononoke and, staying true to my word, that is what I’m going to talk about this week.

Mononoke is, in a word, atmospheric. Artistically, it’s very different from most modern anime and at times looks almost painted. That said, it’s also quite eerie, which isn’t surprising as it is a spin-off show of the Japanese horror series, Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales. The anime was produced by Toei Animation, who are responsible for very popular anime including the Dragonball series and Sailor Moon.

The series is just 12 episodes long as it has a number of short ‘arcs’ that span a couple of episodes. The only recurring character is a mysterious character known only as the Medicine Seller, who wanders Edo Japan and exorcises mononoke, demon spirits that linger in this world. He must expose the spirit’s shape, truth and reasoning in order to draw his sword and slay it, and he does this by speaking to the characters around him, who have dark secrets to hide.

I’m afraid to say that I did not enjoy Mononoke as much as I thought I would. It’s certainly different but it is very difficult to engage with any of the characters, mainly because the only one who appears regularly is the Medicine Seller. Stylistically, it’s very impressive but it does not have any sort of overriding plot, which I found disappointing. If you are looking for a series that you can watch quickly and requires minimal commitment, then Mononoke is worth a watch. Other than that, I’m afraid I found it quite unexciting.

Score: 6/10 (You should watch this for the art rather than the plot or characters)

Source: lucid dreams @ blogspot

Weird Thing of the Week: Dekotora

This week’s weird thing comes ocourtesy of The Otaku HQ. I had never even heard of Dekotora before, so this is something completely new and interesting to me! Dekotora is an abbreviation of ‘decoration truck’.

Dekotora are … well, crazy, like many things in Japan! Westerners might recognise them as monster trucks, although they aren’t used for the same thing. Dekotora are, as the name suggests, largely decorative. They commonly have neon lights, stainless steel extensions or feature an anime or manga character on the side. They are built by workers either for fun or for special events.

Dekotora have been around since the 1970s when Toei Animation (also responsible for Mononoke!) released a series called Truck Guys, which featured an outrageously-dressed man driving a garish truck over Japan. This spawned a lot of people to go about making their own trucks and so dekotora were born. Since the 1990s, they have been largely influenced by the Gundam series, a staple anime series. (A quick google image search will give you an idea if you have no idea what Gundam is.)

Dekotora have, unsurprisingly, spawned plenty of video games and TV series in Japan. Zenkoku Dekotora Matsuri is a dekotora design simulator and the anime Initial D features a character called ‘Emperor’, who drives a dekotora.

So, in a nutshell; dekotora are huge, garish and crazy. They also happen to be ridiculously awesome, as these pictures show.

Source: ibreak4bacon.com

Source: minilau.com

Recipe of the Week: Pork Ginger

This week’s recipe is taken from JapanEats, an excellent website with a wealth of original and unusual Japanese recipes. It took some time to pick my favourite but I went with one of their recent ones; pork ginger (buta no shogayaki). This is a well known comfort food or snack but can also be served with rice or noodles to make a proper meal!

Ingredients:

  • 200 – 250 g pork (thinly sliced)
  • 150 g cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 clove of ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 100 g chopped onion
1) Wash the cabbage leaves and remove the core. Pile the leaves together and then roll and cut into 1 mm slices. Place them in cold water for 10 minutes, and drain.
2) Place a frying pan on the gas table and add one tablespoon of oil. Warm on a low heat.
3) While heating the pan, take the slices of pork and coat them in a thin layer of flour. Now increase the heat to medium and sauté the pork until brown. Be sure that the pork strips are cooked evenly. When they are ready, take them from the pan and on a plate.
4) Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan and warm it on a low heat. Slice the onion into pieces 5 mm thick – cut against the grain. Sauté the onion until it softens and becomes translucent.
5) Now pour the sake, sugar, and soy into the pan. Turn up the heat to medium. Put the pork back into the pan and add the ginger. Mix and cover the pork and ginger with the sauce. Serve with sliced cabbage and a generous helping of the sauce.

Whilst I didn’t have time to cook this in time for this post, I did make a trip to the Japan Centre on Regent Street and bought all the necessary supplies … along with some Japanese sweets and an anime magazine! Always thinking about the blog!

Source: japaneats.tv

http://japaneats.tv/2011/08/30/recipe-buta-no-shogayaki-pork-ginger/

Final Thoughts
As you have probably guessed, I have finally discovered the benefits and draws of Twitter. The blog is still on Facebook of course but why not do me a favour and feed my ego by following me on Twitter as well?

Next week’s blog will take a slightly different format. I will be briefly departing from the regular ‘stuff of the week’ and be discussing a variety of anime – from old to new – and recommending some good ones. So, if you like your anime, be sure to check back next Friday! 

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!