NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
I thought that it might be nice to refer readers to some of the Japanese organisations and people that have been following me on Twitter and vice versa by mentioning them in this week’s features! Incidentally, if you have Twitter and want to follow me, please do!
News Story of the Week: 15 Japanese restaurants receive coveted Michelin 3 star award
Anyone with half a brain will tell you that Japanese food is delicious, so it does not come as a great surprise that Tokyo holds the greatest number of 3 star Michelin restaurants in the world. There are 15 in Japan, compared to 10 in Paris.
Seven of these 15 Michelin star restaurants are located in Kyoto and five of them are in Osaka. For the first time ever, Kobe and Nara have also received the coveted award. West Japan may now be considered the world centre of fine dining and the Michelin guide to Tokyo, established in just 2007, enjoys a loyal following.
Of course, Japanese food doesn’t have to be expensive. A lot of the time it can be cheap and cheerful! If you want to go all the way, though, then Japan is clearly a great country for those of fine taste.
This week’s story comes courtesy of The Tokyo Times!
Destination of the Week: Uji
This week’s destination was picked after browsing the Japan National Tourism Organisation’s website. Uji is one of the oldest cities in Japan located between Kyoto and Nara, both of them historical capitals. Needless to say, it’s well worth a visit if you’re planning a historically-enriching holiday.
Uji is historically significant because it was on the crossroads between Kyoto and Nara, and flourished from the trade conducted there. There are stores here that have been in business for hundreds of years and the city is especially known for its tea, which has been grown in the region for a thousand years. It is therefore the perfect place to witness the famous Japanese tea ceremony.
There are a number of historically significant sites that should not be missed if you are visiting Uji. The Byōdō-in Temple, on the west bank of the Uji-gawa River, was the former home of the powerful Fujiwara family, who dominated the Heian period. There is a Buddha statue in the Phoenix Hall, which was built by the Fujiwara in response to fears that Buddhism would vanish in Japan. The modest Ujigami Shrine is also worth a visit, as it is believed to be the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. Finally, there is the Mimurotoji Temple, one of the settings from the historic Tale of Genji, said to be the first novel in the world. There are a couple more shrines in Uji and none of them are to be missed if you want to experience the truly traditional side of Japan.
If Japanese tea is of particular interest to you, this is the perfect place to go. There is a tea festival held every October and, all year round, you can experience the traditional tea ceremony in the Taiho-an Tea House.
- Buy some tea, as Uji is famous for its tea leaf production
Japanese Saying of the Week: Gou ni itte wa, gou ni shitagae
Gou ni itte wa, gou ni shitagae translates literally to ‘entering the village, obey the village’. A more familiar translation would be ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. It’s interesting that you don’t just ‘do’ but ‘obey’ in the Japanese version, which gives us a sense of how the emphasis traditionally placed on conformity in Japanese society.
Samurai of the Week: The 47 Ronin
Technically, I don’t have to write about samurai for another 46 weeks seeing how I’m writing about a whopping great 47 here!
The history of the 47 ronin is an important part of Japanese history, as their story takes place during the Edo period; a time when the meaning and purpose of the samurai was drastically changing. The Sengoku jidai, the period of the warring states, had ended with Tokugawa Ieyasu and samurai did not have to serve their masters in the same way anymore as there was no need to wage war.
The story begins with Asano Naganori, a daimyo who was tasked by the shogunate to entertain envoys from the royal family. He worked under the highly-ranked Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka who expected him to monetarily compensate him for his troubles but Asano insisted that he was performing a ‘duty’ and refused to pay him. The two strongly disliked each other and, in April 1702, Asano reached the end of his tether with Kira’s insults and drew his sword on him. He was merely wounded but drawing a sword on a man in anger, and without the shogun’s consent, was against the law. Kira was ordered to commit ritual suicide, seppuku, by slitting his stomach open.
He left behind a group of retainers who, after some disagreement, relinquished Asano’s castle to the shogunate and began to plot their revenge. These men were samurai who had been left masterless, otherwise known as ‘ronin’. Led by Ôishi Kuranosuke, the group waited two years before taking their revenge. Kira had built up his defences, expecting attack, and so the men began to act disrespectfully, visiting brothels and so on, in order to lull him into a false sense of security. One man approached Ôishi and spat at him, saying that he was not a true samurai. In 1706, they attacked Kira’s mansion and, although one ronin lost his life, there was no real spirited resistance. Kira was presented to Ôishi, who decapitated him with the same knife with which Asano had commited suicide.
The now 46 ronin had acted as samurai were supposed to, remained loyal to their master and offered their enemy the chance to commit seppuku before killing them themselves. They handed themselves in to the shogunate and were ordered to commit ritual suicide but were buried together when they all died.
Unsurprisingly, the tale of the 47 ronin still provokes historical debate over the way of the samurai (bushido) and the actions of the shogunate. The tombs, in Sengaku-ji, Tokyo, are still visited today. Buried alongside them is the man who had previously insulted Ôishi. He had visited the grave and apologised for not calling him a true samurai and then committed seppuku himself.
Bento of the Week: Hello Kitty
It’s Halloween soon, so this is a very appropriate bento for the week! Here we have not just Hello Kitty, the universally-recognised unofficial mascot of Japan, but pumpkins too! As an extra treat, Just Bento, where this image has been taken one actually tells you how to make it. So, why not try your hand at making some Hello Kitty bento?
Series of the Week: Mononoke
I wanted to watch a new short anime series to review for this week, so I put the vote to the blog’s Facebook page. The winner was Mononoke and, staying true to my word, that is what I’m going to talk about this week.
Mononoke is, in a word, atmospheric. Artistically, it’s very different from most modern anime and at times looks almost painted. That said, it’s also quite eerie, which isn’t surprising as it is a spin-off show of the Japanese horror series, Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales. The anime was produced by Toei Animation, who are responsible for very popular anime including the Dragonball series and Sailor Moon.
The series is just 12 episodes long as it has a number of short ‘arcs’ that span a couple of episodes. The only recurring character is a mysterious character known only as the Medicine Seller, who wanders Edo Japan and exorcises mononoke, demon spirits that linger in this world. He must expose the spirit’s shape, truth and reasoning in order to draw his sword and slay it, and he does this by speaking to the characters around him, who have dark secrets to hide.
I’m afraid to say that I did not enjoy Mononoke as much as I thought I would. It’s certainly different but it is very difficult to engage with any of the characters, mainly because the only one who appears regularly is the Medicine Seller. Stylistically, it’s very impressive but it does not have any sort of overriding plot, which I found disappointing. If you are looking for a series that you can watch quickly and requires minimal commitment, then Mononoke is worth a watch. Other than that, I’m afraid I found it quite unexciting.
Score: 6/10 (You should watch this for the art rather than the plot or characters)
Weird Thing of the Week: Dekotora
This week’s weird thing comes ocourtesy of The Otaku HQ. I had never even heard of Dekotora before, so this is something completely new and interesting to me! Dekotora is an abbreviation of ‘decoration truck’.
Dekotora are … well, crazy, like many things in Japan! Westerners might recognise them as monster trucks, although they aren’t used for the same thing. Dekotora are, as the name suggests, largely decorative. They commonly have neon lights, stainless steel extensions or feature an anime or manga character on the side. They are built by workers either for fun or for special events.
Dekotora have been around since the 1970s when Toei Animation (also responsible for Mononoke!) released a series called Truck Guys, which featured an outrageously-dressed man driving a garish truck over Japan. This spawned a lot of people to go about making their own trucks and so dekotora were born. Since the 1990s, they have been largely influenced by the Gundam series, a staple anime series. (A quick google image search will give you an idea if you have no idea what Gundam is.)
Dekotora have, unsurprisingly, spawned plenty of video games and TV series in Japan. Zenkoku Dekotora Matsuri is a dekotora design simulator and the anime Initial D features a character called ‘Emperor’, who drives a dekotora.
So, in a nutshell; dekotora are huge, garish and crazy. They also happen to be ridiculously awesome, as these pictures show.
Recipe of the Week: Pork Ginger
This week’s recipe is taken from JapanEats, an excellent website with a wealth of original and unusual Japanese recipes. It took some time to pick my favourite but I went with one of their recent ones; pork ginger (buta no shogayaki). This is a well known comfort food or snack but can also be served with rice or noodles to make a proper meal!
- 200 – 250 g pork (thinly sliced)
- 150 g cabbage
- 2 tablespoons of flour
- 1 clove of ginger
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of sake
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 100 g chopped onion
Whilst I didn’t have time to cook this in time for this post, I did make a trip to the Japan Centre on Regent Street and bought all the necessary supplies … along with some Japanese sweets and an anime magazine! Always thinking about the blog!
As you have probably guessed, I have finally discovered the benefits and draws of Twitter. The blog is still on Facebook of course but why not do me a favour and feed my ego by following me on Twitter as well?
Next week’s blog will take a slightly different format. I will be briefly departing from the regular ‘stuff of the week’ and be discussing a variety of anime – from old to new – and recommending some good ones. So, if you like your anime, be sure to check back next Friday!