NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
First off, there are two exciting Japan events coming up that you might want to know about. The first is the Japan Matsuri, a celebration of Japanese culture in London, close to Westminster Bridge, on Sunday 18 September. The next is an upcoming competition deadline on Tuesday 1 November – the Manga Jiman Competition – a manga competition run by the Japan embassy. The first prize is two return flights to Japan!
I also would like to ask people to take this 10 second survey on a UK-Japan magazine if they haven’t done so yet. As you might have guessed I am doing some market research on its potential popularity.
News Story of the Week: Typhoon strikes Wakayama and Nara prefectures
I’m afraid this is a doom and gloom story but unfortunately one that cannot really be overlooked. On Monday, the Wakayama and Nara prefectures were struck by their 12th typhoon of the year, leaving 34 dead and 56 missing. The death toll from typhoon Talas is the worst since 2004, when Tokage left 98 dead.
Key transport and religious sites have been badly damaged, including the JR Kisei Line bridge and the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, which was struck by mudslides. A full-scale emergency service has been launched and authorities are still finding bodies.
As we all know, Japan is located in one of the most geographically-volatile parts of the world and this typhoon could not have come at a more tragic time when the country is still recovering from the effects of Fukushima. Let’s hope the rest of 2011 can be kinder.
Kinosaki is located in the north of the Hyogo prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan and is one of the top onsen destinations. It is a small town, very different to the previous entries, so it should be a nice retreat for those of you planning an exciting trip around Japan.
Storks are associated with Kinosaki, as legend has it that they would come to the marshes to heal their wounds. Bath houses therefore sprung up a long time ago to take advantage of the special properties of Kinosaki’s waters. It is probably not so surprising that there is a sanctuary in Kinosaki for the endangered oriental stork.
The main draw of Kinosaki is, of course, its bath houses. There are several very popular public ones; Satono-yu is the largest and Ichino-yu has its outdoor baths in a cave! The onsen experience really should be on your to-do list when you visit Japan. Onsens are public bath houses, which tap into the ground’s natural water supplies, and bathing in hot spring water is incredibly refreshing. You have to wash yourself down before you go into the public baths, which are split between men and women, and of course you have to go in the nude. Depending on how prudish you are, you’re allowed to cover yourself with a small towel until you can hide under the dark waters. This is exactly what I did when I went, as you always feel like a great lumbering Caucasian giant among the more petite Japanese women!
Apart from onsen, Kinosaki has a thriving town centre. This is unusual in ryokan town because business becomes fierce but there is a policy of sharing resources, meaning you will see lots of people walking around in their yukata (robes) during the day – having ice cream or visiting the Onsenji Temple, where a Buddhist priest is said to have spent 1000 days praying for spring water to come to Kinosaki.
All in all, Kinosaki is slightly off the beaten track but it is well worth visiting for an authentic onsen experience.
- Make at least one trip to the various onsen. No need to be so prudish!
- Worry about shampoo and shower gel, as most onsen do not allow them so that the waters can be kept clean.
I love this one! ‘Ame futte ji katamaru’ translates to ‘rained on ground hardens’. In other words, adversity builds character. We cannot grow as people until we have been confronted with a problem and, similarly, not every little thing is going to break us. Adversity in Japanese is ‘gyakkyou’ and, as a treat, here is the written translation.
Samurai of the Week: Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Hideyoshi featured briefly last week as the man who avenged his assassinated lord Oda Nobunaga by killing Akechi Mitsuhide in the Honnoji Incident. However, he is better known as being the second of the three unifiers of Japan.
Hideyoshi is the classic example of the rise to power that was commonly associated with the Sengoku jidai – he was born into a peasant community in the Owari prefecture and yet managed to climb the ranks, as a general of Nobunaga and later the ruler of Japan. He was short, thin and had sunken features, which prompted his not-so-tactful general to call him ‘Saru’… ‘monkey’.
Following Nobunaga’s assassination, the succession was sought by Hidenobu, the son of the original heir Nobutada, and Nobutaka, Nobunaga’s third son. Hideyoshi supported Hidenobu and the samurai Shibata Katsuie backed Nobutada. Tensions came to a head at the Battle of Shizugatake, when Hideyoshi’s army overpowered the defending Shibata army, who were in league with Katsuie. When he heard the news, he committed suicide (hara kiri) in true samurai style as the army poured into the territory. His wife Oichi, Nobunaga’s sister chose to die with him but Hideyoshi spared their three children. One of them, Yodogimi, became one of his concubines and bore his eventual heir, Hideyori.
Although he was opportunistic, Hideyoshi was not as ruthless as Nobunaga. The best example of this would be his invasion of Shikoku in the south. He had ordered the master of the island, Chosokabe Motochika, to surrender the territory but he had refused, so he launched the largest operation to date in the Sengoku jidai. Within a month Motochika surrendered but was allowed to retain the province of Tosa and, more importantly, his head. This definitely would not have happened under the much more brutal Oda Nobunaga.
Through a number of campaigns against powerful daimyo, from Hojo Ujimasa to the Shimazu in Kyushu, Hideyoshi managed to bring Japan under his control. Some samurai, such as Date Masamune from the north, went so far as acknowledging his power so as to avoid war. The final move solidifying Hideyoshi’s power came in 1591, when he issued the Sword Hunt and drew the line between villager and warrior. Previously, there was the concept of the ji-samurai or ‘warrior of the land’ – a samurai who worked in the fields when not at war. This was abolished under Hideyoshi and so social mobility became impossible, most likely to avoid an peasant upstart entering the samurai ranks. Of course, this was how Hideyoshi had achieved his position but he wanted to make sure that there would not be another like him.
In 1952, Hideyoshi ordered the invasion of Korea. Whether this was a genuine attempt at expansion or a ploy to control the resources of potentially volatile daimyo is uncertain, as the less trustworthy ones never set foot in the country – notably Masamune and Ieyasu (remember him?) However, the mission was unsuccessful despite early gains and dragged on into 1958. This was the year that Hideyoshi fell gravely ill and called a council of regrets (interesting choice of words), which included Ieyasu, and implored them to pledge their loyalty to his five-year-old heir, Hideyori. Hideyoshi died later that year.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi embodied the spirit of his age – the phenomenal rise through the ranks and, paradoxically, the restrictions imposed on social mobility, which were expanded upon by the next unifier of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu. As you can probably guess, Ieyasu did not keep his promise as Hideyori did not achieve the same status as his father. What happened? Find out next week and read about one of the most complex men in Sengoku history!
This week we have a very cute bento reminiscent of the wonderful Studio Ghibli. The studio is best known for films such as Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind and Howl’s Moving Castle. This box features the characters Totoro from My Neighbour Totoro and the soot ball from Spirited Away.
Series of the Week: Eden of the East
Eden of the East (Higashi no Eden) is a relatively recent anime series and is brilliantly well done. It is a twelve episode series and has two movies as well. The story revolves around Saki Morimi, a graduate student, who meets a young man with amnesia called Akira. He carries a mobile phone with 10 billion yen attached to it and learns that he is part of a game.
Akira is part of the Seleção, twelve individuals who have been given the mission of ‘saving’ Japan. Only one can be the winner and when they run out of the 10 billion yen, they are killed. They give orders to the mysterious Juiz, their phone operator, which range from road blockades to assassination. There are so many questions. Who is controlling the Seleção? Why does Akira have amnesia?
This is a great mystery series. I am keeping the description short as it’s so full of plot twists that I do not want to give anything else away. All I will say is that Akira is absolutely hilarious. Watch it and enjoy it, that is all.
Score: 10/10 (yeah, I may be liberal with my maximum ratings but Akira has the best introductory appearance in anime history)
This isn’t so much weird as it is funny, but it warrants a mention this week! ‘Engrish’, like ‘Franglais’ or ‘Chinglish’, is the mixing of two languages (in this case, English and Japanese). There is no ‘L’ in Japanese phonetics, so the closest that many Japanese people can pronounce is the ‘R’ sound; hence, ‘Engrish’. This has led to some unfortunate stereotyping and, at the same time, hilarious scenes in anime and manga.
The other side of ‘Engrish’ lies in its mistranslation. Gramatically speaking, Japanese and English work in completely opposite ways. This makes blagging Japanese much harder than, say, French. For example, ‘I like ice cream’ translates to ‘aisukuri-mu ga suki desu’. Notice that, as well as being back to front, ice cream sounds very similar in both languages because it is a Western word adopted into the Japanese language. This is the wonderful thing about language – it is subject to human trial and error. I will leave some amusing photos and a video that showcase the wonder that is Engrish.
Here’s another easy yet delicious recipe. Tori no kara-age or ‘kara-age chicken’ are the Japanese and, of course, healthier version of chicken nuggets. It’s seasoned with ginger and is perfect for a starter.
Ingredients (for two people):
- 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 30g root ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons corn flour
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- Vegetable oil, for deep frying
- 2 slices of lemon, to garnish