NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
If you’re in London next Friday, you may want to glam it up in Soho and take part in Kitacon 3.5! If you don’t already know, Kitacon is an annual anime and manga convention run in the UK, and will be hosting its fourth convention 13-15 April 2012. Kitacon 3.5 is the halfway event, of course, and is a charity auction and gala. There’s no entry fee but, as it’s for charity, have a heart and donate some money as it’s all for a good cause!
With that promotion done and dusted, let’s see what we have in store this week…
News Story of the Week: Bubble-blowing beluga whale
After a serious and depressing bout of news stories, here’s something light and entertaining!
A beluga whale has caused a sensation at the Shimane aquarium after it learned how to blow halo-shaped bubbles. The whale often performs the trick for visitors and this particular image was captured by photographer Hiroya Minakuchi.
So, that’s probably going to be the blog’s shortest ever news story, but I bet it made you smile!
Destination of the Week: Okazaki
This week’s destination is, for the first time, directly related to the samurai of the week! Okazaki is the birth place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and is located in the historically-rich Aichi prefecture.
The stunning Okazaki Castle is well-preserved, no doubt because it is where Ieyasu was born. Along with the numerous shrines and temples, it is readily accessible to the public and provides a fascinating insight into the city’s not-so-ancient history.
For something a little bit different, you can also tour the hatchō miso grounds. Hatchō miso is a dark red fermented soy bean and is a local Okazaki delicacy. One of the production companies within the city has been in production for 18 generations! Arrows and fireworks are also major economies of the area, even today.
If you’ve ever considered studying Japanese in Japan (no doubt the most expensive way to do so but still), you may also want to take a look at the Yamasa Institute. This is a long-established language school which runs a number of programs, from intensive academic to cultural tours.
In short, Okazaki is not too big and not too small. It is not far from the major city of Nagoya and it is possible to make just a short trip there. It’s definitely on my go-to list when I’m next in Japan, though.
- Try and plan your trip to coincide with the Ieyasu Gyoretsu, a parade celebrating the city’s heritage of Tokugawa Ieyasu in which locals don traditional samurai armour.
- Struggling for something original this week, so this will be left blank!
Japanese Saying of the Week: Three Approaches to Non-Compliance
Now that this blog has covered the three unifiers of Japan (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu), these three phrases can be put into context. These three haiku (short Japanese poems) describe the attitudes and actions of the three men of the Sengoku jidai, using the metaphor of a bird that won’t sing.
Nobunaga: ‘If a bird doesn’t sing, kill it.’
Hideyoshi: ‘If a bird doesn’t sing, teach it.’
Ieyasu: ‘If a bird doesn’t sing, wait for it.’
I love how this embodies the differences of the three unifiers. As we have seen; Nobunaga was brutal and did not tolerate any form of opposition, Hideyoshi was a visionary and installed the beginnings of the Edo administrative system, and Ieyasu was patient and a skilled manager.
I doubt these haiku were written by the men themselves, so it is more likely they were written after they passed away. Either way, these are well known sayings in Japan and they are taught to school children.
Samurai of the Week: Tokugawa Ieyasu
We have already visited Tokugawa Ieyasu a couple of times, so I’ll just quickly recap on the background for the benefit of people who have not been following the blog. Ieyasu was a general under Hideyoshi and also fought under the Oda at a young age. Following the siege of Odawara in 1590, which was Hideyoshi’s primary campaign to defeat the Hōjō clan, Ieyasu agreed to trade his current provinces (which included Kai and Mikawa) with Hideyoshi in return for the Kanto region. Of course, Kanto is now where the Tokyo capital lies, so you can venture a guess as to what eventually happened, bearing in mind that Kyoto is the old capital. Hideyoshi most likely initiated this trade because he did not trust Ieyasu completely and, although it made him richer, he was further from the centre of government and containable behind the Hakone mountains should he turn traitor.
In fact, Ieyasu did not betray the Toyotomi until after Hideyoshi had died. Although he swore to protect his heir Hideyori and rule with five other regents until he came of age, Ieyasu soon began making provocative alliances with families such as the Date to solidify his eventual coup, if you can call it that. In 1599, he occupied Osaka Castle, the residence of Hideyori, which infuriated the other regents.
Opposition was firmly split between the pro-Ieyasu forces and anti-Ieyasu forces, led by the powerful daimyo Ishida Mitsunari. Interestingly, Mitsunari led a failed assassination attempt on Ieyasu but, instead of being executed, was offered protection by Ieyasu himself. This is a good example of Ieyasu’s tactical behaviour, as it was better for him to have a daimyo rather than a regent lead the opposition.
The last stand came at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, in which the western army was defeated and their commanders, including Mistunari, were executed in Kyoto. Ieyasu was now the undisputed ruler of Japan. He was awarded the title of shogun in 1603 by the Emperor Go-Yōzei and by this time he was 60 years old, so no spring chicken. The rule of the Tokugawa shogunate began in Edo Castle and lasted until 1863, when it was abolished during the Meiji Restoration. However, Ieyasu retired from the position in 1605 and his son Hidetada took over. This was done for a number of reasons; to avoid ceremonial duties and prevent enemies from attacking the true centre of power.
Ieyasu’s rise to power marked the end of the Sengoku jidai and the beginning of the Edo period. The main features of this period included the strict control over the daimyo, so as to prevent another war. They were required to make annual visits to Edo to report to the shogun, where their families were effectively held hostage to ensure that they would not revolt. These journeys were long and expensive, as the daimyo sought to make them as impressive as possible, and this therefore limited their ability to build up their own strengths.
Check points were also established around Japan, making travel very difficult even for the daimyo. Wanderers, people in exile and prisoners were the obvious targets of this form of administration, as the aim was to keep a close eye on movement across Japan and identify any potentially suspicious behaviour.
Christianity was the other major threat to the Tokugawa shogunate, as Ieyasu saw it as a threat to its stability. Whilst Oda Nobunaga had embraced the missionaries and had adopted the use of firearms from them, Ieyasu banned the practice and executed those who preached or practiced it in order to ensure the power of Buddhist forces.
After 1635, the Seclusion Laws prevented foreign trade with all countries other than China, Korea and The Netherlands. Japan closed its doors and entered its policy of seclusion, meaning that there was virtually no external threat to the Tokugawa shogunate.
Personally, I don’t think Ieyasu wasn’t a very nice man. I was having a conversation about him with my Japanese tutor and the first thing she said about him was ‘he cheated!’ Still, he was responsible for the 250 years’ peace in Japan and its isolation from the rest of the world until the mid-nineteenth century, which is why Japan has retained its heritage much better than countries which had a more prolonged interference from Britain and America. Unless you’re a staunch capitalist, you have to admire Ieyasu for that.
Bento Box of the Week: Faces
This week’s bento box was made by Linda Crispell, who has a rather cool website so you ought to go check that out for other interesting things. This is a really simple design – pretty much onigiri cut into amusing shapes with anime-esque faces stuck onto them, possibly with seaweed. I’d feel guilty eating something this cute.
Series of the Week: Black Blood Brothers
I never caught on to the vampire phenomenon as such but it seems to be as popular in Japan as it is in the West. Allow me to put Black Blood Brothers in a context you might understand. Twilight is to Vampire Knight as Dracula is to Hellsing. This show lies somewhere between the lovey dovey teen fanbase and the darker, decent-story telling realms of vampirism.
The show takes place ten years after the Holy War in Hong Kong, where Mochizuki Jirou a.k.a. Silver Blade defeated the Kowloon Children, rabid vampires who expand their bloodline by biting their victims. The city that has been built to replace the wasteland of Hong Kong is the Special Zone, inhabited by both vampires (Black Bloods) and humans (Red Bloods). Jirou discovers that the Kowloon Children have survived and have infiltrated the city and are planning to initiate a second Holy War. He is invited into the Special Zone and accompanied by Katsuragi Mimiko, a ‘compromiser’ whose role is to negotiate between Black and Red Bloods.
The plot is relatively straight forward as it has to fit into twelve episodes although it develops nicely. For me, what lets the series down is the main characters. Jirou’s alright, mainly because of his fabulous red outfit, but Mimiko and Kotaro are squeaky-voiced and barely develop. I’ve never particularly warmed to cutesy (moe moe) or girlish characters, so this is probably more a reflection of my personal taste than the show itself. The secondary characters are much stronger, especially the red-eyed vampire Zelman Clock, whose voice actor (seiyuu) appeared in lots of other popular anime.
The vampires do come across as very aggressive and bestial, which is great as it means they don’t sparkle, but they’re let down by the blood-sucking. Whilst there are not many scenes, they are sexually awkward. I guess if Twilight did anything for you, you’ll really like that bit. On the whole, I enjoyed watching this, but would recommend it to a rather specific audience.
Score: 7/10 (baring in mind I’m not a vampire fan, this is probably a good score. The art style and Zelman Clock were my saving graces)
Weird Thing of the Week: Cosplay
Your first thought was probably either ‘What? How dare you say cosplay is weird!’, ‘Damn right, it’s weird’ OR ‘what on earth is cosplay?’
For the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to assume that you have at least heard of cosplay because you probably have, even if you don’t realise it. Cosplay is a Japanese hobby in which people make and wear costumes from anime, manga, video games and so on – hence the play on words ‘costume’ and ‘play’. It’s a growing phenomenon in the western world and you have probably seen a number of people in unusual-coloured wigs and bizarre outfits hanging around London. Yeah, they’re probably cosplayers, and don’t pretend you didn’t think they were weird!
Western cosplay has expanded to encompass the sci-fi and mainstream forms of media, including shows such as Doctor Who, and this still counts as ‘cosplay’ rather than dressing up as the costumes are usually made by the people themselves and they tend to act out the character whilst in the outfit. You generally find cosplayers at anime or film conventions, of which there are a growing number in the UK.
In Japan, cosplay began around the mid-1970s. There is no clear idea of when it started, although it was most likely part of a teen revolution at a time when anime and manga were becoming more widely distributed. Even over there, a good number of people just think it is downright silly but there is a growing number of anime and manga fans (otaku) who have established cosplay as a subculture of roleplay and fandom of a particular series. Harajuku, the fashion district of Tokyo, and Akihabara are where you are most likely to see cosplayers. The Meiji Shrine gate is a popular gathering place for cosplayers on a Sunday especially, although I have been there twice and have never seen any! Cosplay is a growing global phenomenon, with the best of the world’s cosplayers entering major competitions such as the World Cosplay Summit
There is a slightly seedier aspect to cosplay and that is, of course, the sex appeal, especially with female cosplayers. Take a look at any anime, manga or video game and there is nearly always at least one big-breasted, sex-on-legs woman. Size doesn’t matter in cosplay, as you get people of all shapes and weights joining in, but it is a general rule at a convention that the girl in the more revealing cosplay will have more creepy men with cameras following her about. It’s generally harmless behaviour but a couple of my non-cosplay-wise friends have remarked that there must be a number of guys with photos of those cosplayers on his computer. Just sitting and looking at them…
At the end of the day, cosplay requires a good degree of talent. You do not have to be an expert sewer, as you can buy costumes online or alter them from existing clothes, although it is a hobby that requires a great amount of patience and financial investment. The main reason most people cosplay is simply because they enjoy it and it enables them to meet like-minded people. I have cosplayed myself in the past, although this is becoming less and less frequent due to changing circumstances and lack of money, and the best thing about it for me is the friends I have made from it and how much it has made me come out of my shell. If you haven’t ever done it, try making a cosplay for Halloween and, if you are already an avid cosplayer, keep on rocking!
There are a billion great cosplays that I could pick out, but here are a few I found online:
Street Fighter cosplay group. You often get cosplayers in groups as they then interact with each other as their respectives characters:
Recipe of the Week: Curry Udon
Last week I put a poll on the Facebook page asking readers if they would like to see a live cooking demonstration. The general consensus was ‘yes’, so here is a short video of me making this week’s dish, which was taken from about.com
Ingredients (for four people):
- 140g thinly sliced chicken (or use pork for pork udon)
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 3 inches carrot, julienned
- 4 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1.4 litre of dashi soup (substitute miso)
- 100ml soy sauce
- 60ml mirin
- 2.5 tbsp potato starch mixed with 4tbsp water (substitute cornflour)
- 4 inches negi, thinly sliced (substitute spring onion)
- 4 servings of udon noodles
1) Heat some oil in a deep pot and saute chicken until it changes color on medium heat. Add onion slices and saute on low heat until softened.
2) Put curry powder and stir-fry with meat and onion well. Add shiitake mushrooms and carrot and stir-fry.
3) Pour dashi soup in the pot and season with soy sauce and mirin. Simmer until carrots are softened on medium heat. Add the starch and water mixture to thicken the soup. Add negi slices in the soup.
4) Meanwhile, boil water in a large pan and heat udon noodles as indicated in the package. Drain the udon and divide into four bowls. Serve curry soup over the udon noodles.
Here is the video, as promised.
Once again, please remember to subscribe and like this blog! Check out Kitacon 3.5 and Kitacon 4 itself. I will mention a few more upcoming events around Britain in the next few weeks so, if you have anything you’d like to get showcased, let me know! I may even consider doing a documentary if I can go to said event.