Week 7: Competition time!

NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!

If it’s your first week coming across this blog, I’d like to direct you to this ten second quiz about a UK-Japan magazine. As you can see, I am doing some ongoing market research and it all depends on feedback!

So, the competition…

This is a chance for all your artists to put pen to paper (or electronic pen to fancy art tablet) and get scribbling! As I’ve been doing this blog for a few weeks now, I’d really like a mascot to feature as my profile picture and as the signature at the end of each post. As you can see, at the moment it’s a chibi Date Masamune and, as awesome as it is, it’s not mine.

SO, here are the rules:

  • Only one submission per person
  • You have to ‘like’ the blog on Facebook in order to enter
  • The mascot should feature yours truly in some way. Not because I’m vain but because I’d rather it were something personal. It can range from a cat to a vegetable, as long as it looks vaguely like me. Check out this video of me shamelessly promoting the blog for reference!
  • Nothing explicit. This one is self-explanatory
The prize:
  • Your artwork will be featured both as my blog profile picture and signature every week for the indeterminable future
  • Your artwork will also be featured on my business card, which advertises the blog
  • All credit will, of course, be given to you
Needless to say, the work also has to be your own. It can be anything from a doodle to serious artwork. Email your entry to sophiesjapanblog@live.co.uk either as an attachment or with a link to your entry, if you have posted it online elsewhere.
All entries must be in by Monday 10 October, so that the winner can be announced in time for week 9’s blog.
If you have any artist friends who you think might be interested, please post this blog to your Facebook wall, deviantart or whatever website you fancy. The more entries, the more exciting the competition!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an amateur or a professional – all levels are welcome!
News Story of the Week: Government ‘scared’ of telling Fukushima evacuees the truth
A former cabinet adviser recently revealed that the Japanese government has known for months that thousands of people who were forced to evacuate following the Fukushima disaster will not be able to return to their homes. There are still 80,000 people still living in temporary accommodation seven months on – a shocking figure for such as developed country.
People may have to wait as long as 20 years before they can return to their homes. Professor Matsumoto told ABC News that, ever since the day of the earthquake and tsunami, the government have simply been too scared to tell the truth. He also revealed that Naoto Kan, the Prime Minister at the time, wanted to evacuate millions of people in and around Tokyo. It is rumoured that not all the available information was shared with the cabinet, which is why Kan has been criticised for his handling over the affair.
In the wake of other national disasters; from the economic crises (well, that’s always ongoing, isn’t it?) and the London riots, Fukushima has worryingly taken a backseat in many people’s minds. Thousands are still living in shelters and, considering that Japan is such a developed country, this is a very concerning statistic.
Destination of the Week: Uwaji
Uwaji is located in Ehime, a province on the southern island of Shikoku. Coincidentally, I found out it is vaguely related to the ‘weird thing of the week’, so it seemed like a good week to feature this tranquil place.
Here’s a little bit of history for you – Uwajima was formerly known as Itajima village. In 1614, powerful northern lord Date Hidemune (the eldest son of Date Masamune) took over the Uwa region and promoted Uwajima Castle as a centre of industry, education and culture. Itajima grew significantly from that point. It became the city of Uwajima in 1921 after the neighbouring town of Yahata was annexed.
Uwaji is worth visiting today, not only because it is ideally located to overlook the ocean but also because of its unusual fertility shrine. The ancient Shinto Taga Shrine is home to a 9 foot long phallus and is next door to a rather graphic sex museum. They don’t shy away from sex like they do in the west, I guess.
The city is also known for its bull fighting but not as you know it. Unlike the original Spanish version, there is no matador, so it is better described as sumo bull fighting. There is also the popular ‘Ushioni Matsuri’ every July, otherwise known as the ‘Gaiya Festival’. In local dialect, ‘Gaiya’ translates to ‘awesome’. Paraded around town during the festival is the symbol of the island; a black-bearded, red-robed bull demon.
There is also a Date Museum in the city, which pays homage to the nine generations of the family that ruled the area. Naturally, it’s worth a look if you like your samurai armour and other artefacts.
  • Try some jyakoten, a flat oval fish cake which Uwajima is well-known for.
  • Mistakenly use your JR Rail Pass, if you’re travelling with one, on one of the Shikoku lines. A number of rail lines in Shikoku are not covered on the pass as it is an island, after all!
Saying of the Week: Saru mo ki kara ochiru
‘Even monkeys fall from the tree’. Simply put, this means that even experts fail. There’s no point beating yourself up over something just because you ‘shouldn’t’ have made such a novice mistake. Whether in business or music, I’d say this proverb can have particular significance to everyone.
Samurai of the Week: Gozen Tomoe
The samurai class is usually considered to be a hierarchical and male-centric way of life. Not so, as a number of women throughout history have proven. There were plenty of mighty female samurai who played their part in battle as much as men. These women were known as ‘onna bugeisha’ and this week we will look at Gozen Tomoe.
Tomoe is shrouded in mystery and, whilst it is generally accepted that she did exist, some historians believe she is purely a work of fiction. She was a concubine of Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a general of the Heian period, and is believed to have fought in the Genpei War, in which the Minamoto clashed with the Taira clan.
The Tale of Heike, which recounted the struggle between the two clans, presented Tomoe in a positive and almost reverent light:
‘Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.’
It almost sounds too good to be true; a strong, beautiful and fearless samurai woman (beheading enemy warriors) but it is most likely true. The accounts about Tomoe vary after the Battle of Awazu and this is where the real intrigue lies. When her master Yoshinaka was defeated in battle, he reportedly ordered her to flee because he would have been ashamed to die with a woman. It is not clear what happened to her after that point; some reports say that she gave up the sword and became a nun, others say that she married Wada Yoshimori and others say that she did both!
She lived for an impressively long time (most likely 1157-1247), considering the turbulent times she lived in and, of course, the lack of proper medical care. Of course, the real mystery is what happened to her and whether she really existed at all. Either way, Tomoe has earned her place in Japanese history and, like other samurai, has found her way into popular culture.
Bento Box of the Week: Windows computer
Whether or not you’re a fan of windows, you can’t deny that this is a seriously awesome bento box. If I had a boyfriend who particularly loved computers, I would totally make him this but never let him eat it because I would be too proud of it!
Series of the Week: Afterschool Charisma

What happens when you put Sigmund Freud, Mozart and Florence Nightingale in the same room? That’s the bizarre question that this manga series tries to answer. Afterschool Charisma is set in a high school for the clones of famous historical characters. I’m not a fan of the slice-of-life high school genre but decided it was best to feature something that fit the category for the blog and so, after a couple of a internet searches, came across this rare beauty.

Imagine being the clone of a great scientist and are expected to surpass your “original’s” skills, when your dream in life is to become a concert pianist. What about the threat from the outside world? Does anyone oppose the clones strongly enough to harm them? What will happen to the clones once they graduate? These are the trials that our pupils face in this thought-provoking and psychological manga series.

The story quickly develops, which is good for those of you who don’t like lots of filler. That said, it’s not just serious and trying to fuel the cloning debate as there is plenty of light relief and comedy in between.

To date, there are 16 chapters spread across six books. The series is ongoing but the next volume won’t be released for another few months, although it really is full of promise. It is written by Suekane Kumiko whose previous works, oddly enough, are predominantly smut and yaoi, so this is a really unusual and welcomed change from her. I’m really enjoying this series so far; the characters are very individualistic and the story is more complex than your standard high school drama. I definitely recommend it to any history fan!

Score: 8/10 (If you ever wanted to see the manga-fied bishounen version of Mozart or Napoleon, then this is well worth a read!)

Weird Thing of the Week: Fertility Festivals

Japan doesn’t just have festivals, it has some of the most energetic and bizarre festivals of all time. There are hundreds of traditional festivals taking place across Japan throughout the year, a good number of them dating back over a thousand years. Religion is still very intrinsic to every day life in Japan and so the majority of them are deeply symbolic and are more than an excuse for a holiday and drinking which, let’s admit it, is what British festivals have become.

The weirdest of the weird in Japan festivals (or o-matsuri) is the Hōnen Matsuri, better known as the fertility festival or penis festival.

Wait, what?

I didn’t believe it when I first read it but there really is a festival in Japan where a giant phallus is paraded around town. Several of these festivals take place across the country, around 15 April, but the most well-known one is the Hōnen Matsuri at the Tagata Jinja shrine, with a history dating back over 1500 years. It takes place in Komaki, near Nagoya, which used to be a farming settlement. As such, the parading of the two and a half meter penis symbolises fertility and renewal in every sense of the word.

From penis-shaped lollies to bells, it’s easy to see what the overriding theme of the festival is. However, in the agricultural community, the woman was revered as sacred and integral to the life cycle and so it is not the actual penis that is being worshipped. ‘Hōnen’ means bountiful year and many people, from women seeking a marriage partner to couples wishing to conceive, borrow these phalluses from the shrine and return them the following year.

Unsurprisingly, the Hōnen Matsuri draws a large tourist crowd and it is easy to forget that this festival is deeply religious in its origin and has significant connections with Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion.

Now we have to wait and see if this post and the below picture are flagged as inappropriate content! Hopefully this won’t be the case and instead we can all appreciate the importance of, well, you know…

Recipe of the Week: Onsen Tamago Tofu

Tofu is a staple part of the Japanese diet but many westerners are not sure what to do with it other than use it as a meat substitute. In fact, tofu can be enjoyed as a delicious meal in itself. I am taking another recipe from Kurihara Harumi’s book, which is worth buying for anyone wanting to experiment in Japanese cooking.


  • 600g silken tofu
  • 4 hot spring eggs (see below recipe)
  • 5g bonito flakes (substitute concentrated fish stock)
  • 50ml soy sauce
  • 2 tbs mirin
  • 1 tbs sake
  • Chopped spring onions and grated fresh ginger
To make onsen tamago (hot spring eggs):
Put the room-temperature eggs in a wide neck flask (or any other container that will hold heat).  Add boiling water, cover and leave for 10 minutes. The yolk should be still runny with the white just cooked.
1) Drain the tofu and wrap in kitchen paper to remove excess water
2) Make the dressing by combining the bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin and sake in a heat-resistant bowl and cooking it in a microwave for 2 minutes (600w). Leave to cool then strain
3) Cut the tofu into 4 pieces and place each one in a bowl. Scoop out a hollow in each one and an onsen tamago in each one
4) Arrange the scooped tofu around the edge. Scatter some spring onions and grated ginger on top
Final Thoughts
Don’t forget to enter the competition by October 10th! I realise I said the wrong date in the promo video because I am silly. In future, the blog’s word is law. On that note, I am curious to hear people’s opinions on doing future vlogs. I personally hate watching myself on camera but, if it’s a good ice-breaker, I may do one again in the future.
Finally, I am looking for suggestions for next week’s ‘weird thing of the week’. This can be anything from something in popular culture to a weird historical character.
Good luck to all art entrants!

3 thoughts on “Week 7: Competition time!

  1. Pingback: New Blog – The Weekly Japan Blog | THE JAPAN BLOG DIRECTORY

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