NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
The results are in and a winner has been drawn! Thank you to everyone who entered the art competition and do keep your eyes peeled as I plan to do more competitions in the later weeks. Anyway, here is the new mascot drawn by the lovely Natalie aka the-dazhrak-lady on deviantart.com!
I especially liked the headpiece and simplistic colouring scheme, as well as the fact that the blog name is on there! If you’re looking at it for the first time, you know what you’re going to be reading about!
I will hopefully get round to ordering some business cards this weekend. Pictures will be posted when they arrive!
News Story of the Week: Free flights to Japan?
No, I haven’t gone completely insane but this is quite possibly the most unbelievable news story that I have come across in a while. In fact, I thought this had to be a joke when I first heard about it. It’s not officially confirmed yet but the government has proposed funding a number of return flights to Japan.
Why? Well, above all, tourism levels have dropped hugely since the Fukushima earthquake. People are still visiting Japan (I am living proof!) but nowhere near in the same numbers as before. Fears of radiation and another major earthquake have put a lot of people off going, which is a shame given how much Japan has to offer.
Of course, this is not just meant to be an excuse for a holiday. You have to work to earn your place! Passing on the message and documenting your holiday is undeniably the best way of attracting people to a country. I like to think this blog has already done that at least a little bit!
There’s still some time to wait. The earliest this motion will be approved is April 2012, so it’s worth keeping an eye out if you are serious about the situation in Japan. For more information, check out the JNTO website!
Destination of the Week: Otaru
Time to visit Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island! Otaru is a historical port city in Japan with a wonderfully preserved canal and many traditional buildings. Interestingly, the island of Hokkaido was not colonised until the late 1800s and Otaru served as a major trade destination. The remaining warehouses and office buildings give the city a special and distinctive character.
The Herring Mansion is worth a special mention. Herrings were essential to Otaru’s commerce and buildings such as this one were set up specifically to process these vast quantities of fish, which were used more as fertiliser than food! Behind it is Aoyama Villa, a luxurious building built by the wealthy Aoyama family who were important to the herring industry.
Sakaimachi Street is another example of how well Otaru has preserved its commercial history. There are many old western-style buildings lining the historic streets and there are a number of glass workshops, where visitors can test their own skills.
Hokkaido is perhaps best known for being a fantastic skiing destination in the winter months but this island has plenty more to offer. Otaru is a fine example of the island’s unique commercial history and it would be an ideal detour for tourists who are heading for the mountains, as well as a relaxing and unusual holiday destination in itself.
- Try to visit Otaru in the first week of February, when the Snow Light Path Festival takes place. Each year, the city is decorated with lights and small snow statues and is transformed.
- Visit the Otaru Music Box Museum and buy your own traditional music box!
- Forget your warm clothes, especially if you are going in winter. Japan’s north is quite like Britain’s north!
Japanese Saying of the Week: He wo hitte, shiri tsubome
This is pretty amusing – ‘breaking wind, closing buttocks’. The meaning for this one is that there is no point squeezing your buttocks after you have farted (I can’t believe I’m writing this). A more western-friendly version would be ‘there is no use shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted’. In other words, don’t bother trying to stop something when it has already happened!
Samurai of the Week: Maeda Toshiie
To make up for what is usually a very long feature, I have condensed the wonderful history of Maeda Toshiie, daimyo of the Kaga province in the Sengoku jidai.
Toshiie was a retainer to both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (apparently he was also one of Nobunaga’s male concubines). He entered the military service of Nobunaga in 1551, at the age of 13, and rose through the ranks to become a samurai leader.
He was also likely friends with Hideyoshi and the two of them were known as the dog and monkey respectively; Toshiie for his sternness and Hideyoshi for his easygoing nature. The two actually fought each other in the Battle of Shizugatake but Toshiie submitted to Hideyoshi after his commander, Katsuie Shibata, died in battle.
Through his military career, Toshiie made the acquaintance of important samurai as well as some enemies; notably Akechi Mitsuhide, who later went on to assassinate Nobunaga, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who eventually betrayed the Toyotomi.
In his dying days, Hideyoshi made Toshiie one of the council members entrusted to protect his heir, Hideyori. However, he died a year after his master from illness, thus leaving the Toyotomi open to defeat by Ieyasu.
Toshiie’s family also deserve a mention. His wife, Matsu, was a skilled martial artist and resented Ieyasu. When her husband died, she became a Buddhist nun and gave herself over as a hostage to the Tokugawa shogunate to ensure the safety of the Maeda. One of his daughters, Ma’a, was also a concubine of Hideyoshi.
Bento of the Week: LOST
So, LOST is by no means a Japanese show but that doesn’t mean it can’t be bentofied. I am sure a few readers must be fans of this series, so enjoy. This definitely isn’t ‘traditional’ Japanese but I’m still using it!
Series of the Week: Occult Academy
Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin) is a brainchild of Aniplex, which has been responsible for so many excellent anime including Full Metal Alchemist and Soul Eater. It aired in Japan last summer and, although just twelve episodes long, was quite popular. I certainly enjoyed this series as it finely balances plot, maturity and humour.
The story takes place in Waldstein Academy, where the headmaster has recently died (mysteriously, obviously) and left this so-called occult academy to his daughter Maya who dismisses magic as nonsense. Enter Fumiaki, a time traveller who has been sent from the future where aliens have taken over the world. Very reluctantly, he is tasked with finding the Nostradamus Key, an item that caused the invasion, and destroying it.
The best thing about this series is the relationship between Maya and Fumiaki. Fumiaki is a bumbling fool and Maya is forever serious but, naturally, there’s plenty of chemistry there. It was one of my favourite shows to air last year and I hope that we might see a western release in the future.
Score: 8.5/10 (I’m going to start giving half ratings where it’s appropriate!)
Weird Thing of the Week: Host Clubs
I was unsure what to write about this week, so I put the vote to the blog’s Facebook page and the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of host clubs. Host clubs are unique to Japan and most westerners will only have a vague idea of what they entail.
Host clubs are, as the name suggests, the male equivalent of hostess clubs. Women go to these clubs, where the male hosts are working, and pay for their company throughout the evening; from pouring drinks to dancing to magic tricks. It should be stressed that this evening entertainment does typically not lead to sex, as the men are here to do a job and make money, at the end of the day.
You will find plenty of host clubs in Japanese cities and the greatest indicator of whether you are nearby one will be the handsome, well-dressed men trying to lure you into an establishment. I was in Shinjuku in June with two girlfriends on a Saturday night and there were loads of them! It was nothing like being on a drunken night out in Britain getting wolf-whistled by balding men. These guys are paid for their charisma and that’s how they rake in the female customer’s money.
Here is a quick summary of your night at a host club. On entry, female guests are presented with a ‘menu’ of male hosts and indicate who they want to spend the evening with, although they will probably meet most of them throughout the night anyway. Many of them take stage names, often after anime and manga characters or historical figures. Pay is usually determined by commission on drink sales but their regular wage is usually at the minimal level and those hosts that do not perform well are usually forced to quit early on in their career.
The business strategy of the hosts is, as you might have guessed, to make the female clients feel loved and attractive without having sex with them. That said, if the two like each other enough and the client pays enough, there is the possibility. In the business, there are a number of terms for this such as ‘a colourful love business’ and ‘pillow business’.
How do you spot a host? Generally, these men are in their early twenties, have bleached hair, a dark tan and wear dark suits and silver jewellery. It all sounds very effeminate but that is very much the style among these men. Go to Tokyo and you won’t see many teenagers with natural black hair, unless they are job-hunting.
I cannot comment on my own experiences at a host club as I have never been to one but here is a very interesting one on the CNN News website. I won’t lie, I am curious to try it mself although I know that I’d not only get embarrassed easily but also wouldn’t have much money to spend there!
So, is the Japanese male host just a glamorous sex worker? The majority of Japanese people will strongly disagree. Whilst a good number of them might disapprove of it and look down on it as a fruity profession, it is popular for a reason. The hosts definitely aren’t “manly” but that’s not really what the attraction is. What woman doesn’t like to be paid attention to?
Recipe of the Week: Chicken Yakitori
Yakitori is very easy to make and something you’ll find in all east asian restaurants. Given its simplicity and deliciousness, it seems that this is a good week to cook yakitori because it’s getting darker quicker and Britain’s freak heatwave is definitely over for good.
- 800g chicken breast
- 2 leeks
- Bamboo skewers (normal skewers will do)
- 120ml soy sauce
- 120ml mirin
- 4tbsp sugar