NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
Welcome home! Sort of . . . Perhaps this isn’t home but I didn’t know how to say ‘the blog is ressurected’ in Japanese! Due to a mixture of heavy workload, illness and having other articles to write (which I will post here when they are published), I had to take some time off of the blog. Check out the bottom of this post for a list of people who helped spread the word about the blog on Twitter, despite its brief inactivity. You are wonderful, thank you!
Now, I’m back, so let’s jump in.
News Story of the Week:
In the time that the blog was on hiatus, the Japanese Emperor Akihito, age 77, was hospitalised for bronchial pneumonia and has now been discharged from hospital and resumed his duties. In the wake of this event, discussions about the imperial succession have been renewed.
Prince Akishino, the youngest son of Akihito at 46 years old, has said it will become necessary to hold talks on whether there should be an age limit for ruling emperors. Currently, the emperor serves for life but, considering the state of Emperor Akihito’s health, this law is likely to be questioned.
This story will no doubt carry on and continuously change over the next few weeks and months, so I will endeavour to keep this blog up to date on the situation.
Destination of the Week: Tateyama
This is perhaps a little bit confusing; the Chiba province is home to Tateyama City, the Tateyama mountains and Tateyama town. The focus this week is on the mountain route!
Tateyama is best known for the Kurobe Alpine Route, which provides a spectacular view through the Northern Japanese Alps. As you can see from these images courtesy of Japan-guide, it has these impressive huge snowy walls which build up in the winter. People come from all over Japan to traverse this scenic route, which was completed as recently as 1971.
The glorious Mount Tateyama is the main attraction of the Kurobe Mountain Route and, regardless of the time of year, is always a sight to behold. It is also home to the very rare Snow Grouse or ptarmigan, which changes colour in every season, and has come to symbolise the seasonal cycle of the mountain range. The mountain has a fascinating history and is one of the three most sacred mountains in Japan, along with Mount Fuji and Mount Hakusan. The Oyama Shrine, the sanctuary of the Tateyama Religion, is a solid indicator of the mountain’s religious importance.
Many people go hiking across the mountain range in summer and autumn to Jigokudani, an active volcanic valley. Jigokudani means ‘Hell Valley’ and, according to legend, has 136 ‘hells’ where ghosts appear to hikers. If that’s not enough, you can also experience the grandeur of the valley without the use of your legs by taking the 1.7 kilometre-long Tateyama Ropeway. This destination is one for the nature lovers!
Japanese Saying of the Week: Minu ga hana
This is a lovely short proverb that literally translates to ‘not seeing is a flower’. This means that things can never be as you can imagine, so it is better not to see them . . . Explanation: reality cannot compete with imagination.
I guess this explains why I write stories and watch anime. Reality just cannot compete with samurai and murder mysteries (two of my favourite things). I mean, does your reality have THIS?
Samurai of the Week: Okita Sōji
I always feel exceptionally proud of myself when I choose a samurai who is NOT from the Sengoku era. This week, we’re going forward in time to the 19th century, to the time of the Shinsengumi and end of Japan’s two hundred years of isolation.
Here is the history of the Shinsengumi in a nutshell: US Commadore Matthew Perry arrived in Japan (Yokohama) in 1853 and, over the years, slowly pushed for greater American involvement in Japanese politics. The authority of the Shogun, who was seen to be the strongest figure in Japan, was severely undermined and this led to a split in support. The Shogun founded the Rōshigumi, a group of 24 masterless samurai, to respond to the violence and murder in Kyoto. This group later became the Shinsengumi, which translated to ‘Newly Selected Corps’. They became famous overnight after the Ikedaya Affair of 1864, where they prevented the burning of Kyoto and this led to a surge in troops. However, the newly-established Meiji government saw the Shinsengumi as a threat to the new ‘western’ ways and a remnant of the past. The fighting continued outside of the new capital Edo, later to become Tokyo, and the leaders were eventually killed and the party disbanded.
With this, we can better understand the role that Okita Sōji played in Japanese history. Born into the lower-ranking Shirakawa han Samurai, he trained under Kondo Shusuke at the prestigious Shieikan dojo and was a prodigal student. He became the head coach at the age of 19 and later became one of the founders of the Shinsengumi, He was also present at the Ikedaya Affair and fought almost alone on the second floor for two hours, before he collapsed. He contracted tuberculosis and became gravely ill, forced to return to Edo during the Shinsengumi’s later campaigns, and died in 1867 at the age of 25. His grave is in Keisho-ji, Tokyo, and allows visitors just once a year.
For once, a short and succinct samurai feature! I’m no expert on the Shinsengumi but the above is a quick summary of Okita Sōji, a name still familiar in Japan and popularised in film and television. In fact, he features in this week’s series of the week. Try guess what it is before you scroll down the page!
Interesting fact: This photo is ‘believed’ to be a photo of Okita Sōji but it is hard to confirm. If it is, it is the only one in existence.
Source: fyshinsengumi @ Tumblr
Bento of the Week: Creepy cat
This would have been a good bento to feature for Halloween, which is what Were Rabbits (where this image is taken from) certainly did! This is rather eerie for a bento. The bed is made from black rice and the shape of the cat was made from a pattern cutter. There are two versions on the website, which you can check out in the link, but the one I am showing below also uses vegetables for the added effect.
Source: Were rabbits @ WordPress
Series of the Week: Hakuōki
Congratulations if you guessed what this week’s show! It only made sense that I went with a show about the Shinsengumi. It’s also a show whose name I repeatedly spell wrong. Also also, there are spoilers here. I can’t review this show without them, sorry.
Originally a romantic adventure game (both in the dating sim and sword-swishing action sense), an anime version of Hakuōki hit Japanese TV screens last year in two mini series that each spanned 12 episodes. There was also an OVA but I haven’t seen that so cannot comment. The first series was simply called Hakuōki and the second Hakuōki Hekketsu-roku. I’ll get this out of the way – I didn’t make it to the end of Hekketsu-roku and that’s not because I didn’t like it . . .
The story begins with Yukimura Chizuru, a young girl who arrives in Kyoto searching for her missing father, a doctor. She witnesses a fight between the Shinsengumi and Oni (demons) and is taken in by the Shinsengumi for protection, once they realise that her father is the man that they are also looking for. In the shadows, a strange ‘medicine’ that supposedly grants strength is circling amongst soldiers and corrupting them into demons. Apart from this minor detail, the backdrop and story is remarkably historically accurate. It features all of the important historical characters of the period (hooray for Okita Sōji!), the battles and exchanges with pro-westerners, which teach you the basics in Japanese history.
However, by the middle of the second series I felt the show took far too many liberties. My main problem (and I’m being deliberately vague about this) is the ‘vampire’ route that it suddenly wandered down. After a while, I couldn’t even entertain the idea any more.
By all accounts, I should have fallen in love with Hakuōki. For one thing, it’s actually largely historically accurate, not to mention there’s lots of samurai and bishounen (that’s young good-looking men to you normal people), which is always a plus. However, it’s this accuracy that forced me to stop watching it. To put it mildly, things didn’t end well for the Shinsengumi. Almost everyone either left the group, was beheaded or died. The second series was full of this and, knowing that my favourite characters would inevitably die, I decided to spare myself the torment.
That said, I did enjoy this show for the most part and have plenty of friends (all of them girls, unsurprisingly) who watched the whole thing and loved it. I recommend it, providing you don’t get too emotionally attached to any of the characters.
Weird Thing of the Week: Dakimakura
Dakimakura are better known as ‘love pillows’ Someone suggested this to me ages ago and so it’s probably about time that I write about it. If anyone else has uncomfortable things that they want me to write about, post it on the Facebook page!
Dakimakura are part of the wider anime ‘fetish’ circle that, like it or not, is very prominent in certain groups in Japan. I’ll let you guess what those groups are. They come in all kinds of designs; some flip over to reveal variously skimply clad versions of the characters and others have holes in them . . . I don’t think those ones are TOO common.
Now for the linguistic part. Dakimakura literally translates to ‘hug pillows’, combining the words daki (cling) and makura (pillow) and is the same shape as an orthopaedic pillow. From the western viewpoint, it is better known as the ‘love pillow’ because the ones in Japan feature anime-style girls. The idea is that you imagine yourself getting intimate with these characters whilst hugging the pillow. Sexist? Well, there are male dakimakura too. Whilst browsing for reference images, I came across a Kamina (Gurren Lagann) one. Nothing is sacred.
So, why are dakimakura so popular? As I already said, they are just one strand of the ‘fetish’ sub-culture that is not entirely unusual in Japan. Having been to Japan twice now, I can say with a degree of certainty that sex is much more ‘out there’. That is not to say that everyone in Japan is into it by any means. I know plenty who think it’s beyond weird and creepy! The popularity of the dakimakura can probably be rationally explained but I’m going to go with the ‘it’s a sex thing’ argument.
For ‘alternative uses for your dakimakura’, check out this brilliant article by Danny Choo. Some of the pictures aren’t safe for work, so be warned. I swear I’ll make up for this next week by writing about something nice and innocent!
This is a photo of the pillow covers only. Feel free to risk scarring yourself with an elaborate image search like I did.
Recipe of the Week: Beef Sukiyaki
I had nothing but delicious Japanese food for dinner last weekend (London’s China Town has some amazing restaurants), as well as a lot of supermarkets for Japanese cookery. I’m particularly fond of sukiyaki, a big ‘hot pot’ style dish that is perfect for this miserably cold weather. This week’s recipe has been taken from fukuokadreaming.com, a brilliant blog written by a Fukuoka local, so you should definitely check it out.
Ingredients (serves 4-5)
- 400-500 g Sliced beef (Usugiri)
- 200- 300g Shirataki Noodles (I substituted udon noodles, which are easier to buy in the UK)
- 100g Enoki mushroom
- 100g Shimeji mushroom
- 1 Onion (sliced)
- 2-3 Naganegi (Long spring onion)- sliced in 2cm size
- 80g Gobo (Greater burdock root) -thinly sliced and quickly boiled
- 1 block of Firm Tofu (ideally Yaki-tofu)
- Sukiyaki Sauce (100cc soy sauce, 100cc rice wine, 100g sugar)
1) Heat 1 big spoon of cooking oil in the pan and cook beef. When beef is cooked, add seasonings for sukiyaki sauce (soysauce, sake and sugar).
2) Move the beef to one side of the pan and add shirataki, white cabbage, gobo, long spring onion, onion, tofu and mushrooms and cover the pan. (Only part of the ingredients will be soaked by sauce but they will shrink.)
3) When the ingredients shrink, mix them (among their portion of the pan) so that those on top will be soaked as well. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
4) Taste and adjust flavor by adding sukiyaki sauce ingredients if necessary.
.5) Serve hot. Eat it with rice or udon which you can add in the remaining soup after you finish eating meat and vegetables!
It’s high time that I do another Youtube video. I plan to post one next week, so stay tuned!
I also would like to thank a couple of people who have helped to promote this blog over Twitter. These lovely people have either retweeted or mentioned me this week and helped spread word about the blog. The least I can do is ask you to follow them too:
- okellyjaneo – a wonderful friend who has now tweeted me several times. You may know her as KellyJane from Demyx Time.
- anneneko – another lovely friend and fellow Sengoku Basara nut.
- Starfox118 – reviews LOTS of video games! Known him for a few years now and love him to bits.
- @nessiesenpai – a great friend of mine who said lovely things about my blog on her own!
- theotakuHQ – runs a great website for … you guessed it, otaku! Also on my affiliates list, so check him out!
- L1kemike – has a gaming blog. Go check it out!
- ali_Haikugirl – a lovely fellow Japan blogger!
- danimmediacy – from Bossastudios, a social gaming company!
- DawnKestrel – a cosplayer with a brilliant Deviantart account!
- demyxfangirlXD – I think the name says it all!
- MrFatChance – an ace Londoner with an equally great Tumblr account.
- frozen_lullaby – a lovely Swedish cosplayer.
- rikumiyano – lives in ‘here and now’, apparently. I approve!