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.
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