NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
Thanks to all of you who read, commented and/or subscribed last week. If you’re new to this blog, however, you’re in for a treat! There’s a poll at the end of this because I want YOU to tell me what you’d like to be featured next week. Anyway, on with the show.
News Story of the Week: Maehara confirms candidacy
The current Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, has announced that he will be stepping down after two major laws have been passed through the Government Diet. He is backing the former Foreign Minister, Maehara Seiji, who will be running in the Democratic Party of Japan’s democratic elections. This does not mean that a general election will be called, but that the voting will take place within the party.
Naoto Kan is the seventh Prime Minister of Japan since the start of the millenium. That’s a lot of Prime Ministers. He is expected to step down on Friday, following criticism over the financial situation in Japan and response to the Fukushima earthquake in March. Seiji is unsurprisingly emphasising national reconstruction in his election speeches. He is also expected to call a conference later to address an earlier scandal, which caused him to step down in March, in which he received money from a foreign diplomat. Whether or not this will seriously damage his chances of becoming Prime Minister is unclear at this stage, from what I can tell, but he is one of the most prominent contenders for the position. You can read more about Seiji’s policies here.
Destination of the Week: Onomichi
Onomichi is a port city in the Hiroshima prefecture famed for its slopes and winding alley ways. At a glance, it looks deceptively non-descript but, if you look around, you find a community with a rich history and culture. This is the wonderful thing about Japan – you can find just about anything in the most surprising of places.
Onomichi has dozens of ancient temples, which you might not expect from a city of its size. The best way to see most of them would be by taking The Temple Walk, which connects 25 of them. You can have fun finding the rest yourself!
If you are not a temple person, which would be a shame as Japanese temples are absolutely beautiful, Onomichi has plenty more to offer. It has an impressive Literary Museum and several important Japanese writers hail from the city; including Naoya Shiga and Fumiko Hayashi. As you might expect, then, you can also take the famed Writer’s Walk around the city and look out for the stone monuments that are inscribed with the works of famous authors who walked and were inspired by the same route. It was also the set of Yasujirō Ozu’s classic Tokyo Story in 1953.
The final attraction of Onomichi is the Shimanami Kaido. It passes along bridges and routes of the Seto Inland Sea and is the only way for pedestrians and cyclists to go between the main island of Honshu and island of Shikoku. Considering how it does not draw many western tourists, Onomichi has a massive amount to offer and is very scenic, not just because it faces the sea! I had never heard of the city until it was featured on the NHK channel, Journeys in Japan, but it is now somewhere that I really would like to visit.
- Bring suitable shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking.
- Write off visiting this city just because it wasn’t in your tourist guidebook. The relatively unheard of places are usually the best.
Proverb of the Week
‘Suki koso mono no jouzu nare.’
There are two translations for this:’ what one likes, one will do best’ or ‘to enjoy is to excel’.
This is a wonderfully simple Japanese proverb that will mean something different to all of us. I don’t think I need to do much writing for this particular weekly segment, as the words speak for themselves completely. So, my message to everyone reading – if you like it, do it and something will come out of it. A lovely thought to carry you into the bank holiday!
Samurai of the Week: Takeda Shingen
Believe it or not, I had a tough time picking out a samurai for this week! Eventually, I settled with Takeda Shingen because, militarily-speaking, he was very important to the history of samurai warfare. I’m just making it clear that I am not just picking samurai who have been immortalised in popular fiction (namely anime and manga). Incidentally, google image this guy for awesome results.
Now for the all-important history.Takeda Shingen (born in 1521) was the eldest son of warlord Nobutora. He hailed from Kai, modern day Yamanashi prefecture, west of Tokyo. However, his younger brother Nobushige was their father’s favourite to succeed and so he initiated a bloodless revolution which resulted in the exile of Nobutora. Family expulsions and murder were very common among the samurai, especially in the Sengoku jidai (period of the warring states) where factions were clashing, which means Shingen was actually a pretty mild-mannered man when it came to family, at least.
Shingen should really be referred to as a daimyō, meaning ‘great name’, because he was such a powerful warlord. His most renowned rival was Uesugi Kenshin who he fought five times in the battles of Kawanakajima (1553, 1555, 1557, 1561, 1564). These battles were more like skirmishes, as neither war lord wanted to launch a full frontal attack. Both men suffered heavy losses and Shingen lost his brother in one of the battles, the same one he had disinherited.
By 1570, Shingen held the most land and was the most powerful warlord in the east of Japan. He is also well-known for initiating mounted fighting by samurai, better known as the cavalry attack. The Takeda army were the first of their kind to use this style of fighting, first seen in the battle of Uedahara in 1548. The cavalry could tactically divide the enemy, who were predominantly disorganised foot soldiers, and take them out with their spears on horseback. You could even go so far as to say that this was an early example of the importance of teamwork, as no other army practiced it this early in the Sengoku jidai.
Like a true samurai, Shingen died in battle during the siege of Noda Castle in 1573, fighting the combined forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is unclear exactly how he died; accounts range from a single sniper shot to pneumonia but his death revertebrated across Japan. Long-time rival Uesugi ordered for no opportunistic attack to be made on the Takeda domain and Ieyasu, who eventually became the unifier of Japan, freely adopted his military style in his own Tokugawa Shogunate.
Each April in Kofu, the capital of the Yamanashi prefecture, the Shingen Matsuri is held in commemoration of the warlord. Locals don the traditional armour and parade through the city.
There are plenty of bento box blogs all over the internet, which makes my job much easier! Some people have extreme bento talent, so much so that I have to link you to the creator’s website so you can tell her how amazing she is. I have selected one of her latest bento, which features watermelons and musical notes! It is amazing what you can make out of rice.
Series of the Week: Kyle Hyde
Alright, so it’s not actually called the “Kyle Hyde” series but surprisingly there’s no actual name for it as such. Here are two excellent games which both feature the badass ex-detective Kyle Hyde. As American-sounding as our protagonist’s name is, this is a Japanese series for the DS.
To date, there are two games; Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (Wisshu Rūmu Tenshi no Kioku) and Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (Last Window: Mayonaka no Yakusoku). It’s a mystery series in essence and one of my favourites. If you are a fan of the Phoenix Wright (Gyakuten Kenji) series, I highly recommend this. Both games focus on one mystery and you play as Kyle Hyde as he searches through rooms, interrogates suspects and breaks doors. Sound familiar? A lot of the tasks are just amusing; such as putting together a puzzle or using a vending machine.
I don’t want to give away anything about the plot but I can promise you it’s brilliant in both games, so much so that you can’t put it down. What I love about both these games is their 1950s light novel setting. You hold the DS sideways like a book, the characters are drawn like flickery comic book characters and, on another note, the music is just class. I’m surprised that I haven’t met more people who’ve played this but the ones that have all agree that it’s well worth buying. It’s more a ‘mystery’ than murder game, so it feels much more realistic than, say, Phoenix Wright where people are dropping dead left right and centre. Also, Kyle Hyde is just PHWOAAAAAAAR!
Score: 10/10 (I really can’t fault this series, unless I count the fact that there aren’t more games)
Weird Thing of the Week: Dating Sims
Dating games are MASSIVE in Japan. They’ve not taken off in the west as such, mainly because they are hardly ever translated, and that’s probably for the best. Japan gives us a lot of excellent stuff but I suppose is this is their way of punishing us for producing the likes of Big Brother and Jersey Shore … only this stuff is seedier.
The purpose of dating sims are pretty self-explanatory; you persuade these anime-style girls on whatever gaming platform it is to go out with you. I haven’t ever played one but based on video evidence, it may or may not lead to the stuff that typically goes on when two people are dating. *nudge nudge wink wink* The term ‘harem’ is thrown about here; which historically refers to polygamous female households in the East, although it’s used more in anime and manga these days to refer to a series surrounding one man’s encounters with a number of different girls. I suppose the closest equivilent that the western world has is The Sims for the PC, although we could at least pretend that we weren’t just trying to score on that game and get a job or maximise our painting skill on the side.
Dating sims in Japan vary from cutesy cutesy high school nonsense to S&M, depending on the age rating. It’s not just for guys though – there are plenty of reverse-harem games too for the ladies! A lot of anime shows have parodied the dating sim craze very amusingly; such as The World Only God Knows (Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai). There are also a number of anime inspired by dating sims but I’ll save that for another week.
Needless to say, they’re pretty removed from reality and this has produced a lot of weird individual cases in Japan, as seen below.
As promised, here is a little quiz for you! I’m curious to see what you think so far and if there’s anything I’m greatly missing. Don’t forget to comment and subscribe, so you can keep up to date with the lovely me!
See you next week!