NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
I think I’ve avoided mentioning Christmas on this blog so far but, seeing as it really is just two days away, let’s jump in! Just three points to make:
- There are a couple of Christmas crackers in this week’s blog and some treats for the New Year too!
- The FAQ competition video is now up and running, so go and take a look and marvel at how much my vlogging skills have improved! (I jest, I jest.)
- I’ve added some new drop down menus at the top of the page; including ‘artwork‘ and ‘competitions‘. Artists, submit your stuff and I’ll post it!
Prime Minister Noda is currently in talks with China to lease giant pandas to a zoo in Sendai in an effort to cheer up the children affected in the disaster-stricken northeast.
Noda will be visiting Beijing on Sunday and has promised Sendai city officials that he will reach an agreement with China. It is hoped that the pandas will serve as a symbol of friendship between the two nations.
Sendai Vice Mayor Yukimoto Ito was joined by singer Masahiko Kondo and actress Tetsuko Kuroyanagi in presenting Noda with signatures from children who wished to see the pandas. The idea of leasing the pandas first rose when Chinese Premier Wen received a letter from a girl in the Tohoku region when he visited in May 2011. She reportedly wrote a letter to him saying that she loved pandas.
Ito said, ‘We want (the pandas) to heal the pain that children experienced and serve as a light of hope for them’.
Destination of the Week: Shirakawa go
Shirakawa go is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Gifu prefecture, famous for its thatched gassho-zakuri houses, meaning ‘constructed like hands in prayer’, some of which are more than 250 years old. The roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer and were designed to withstand heavy snowfall and often for cultivating silkworm in their attics.
Shirakawa go also influenced the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni series, which featured in my ’10 anime you should really watch’ post a few weeks back. Higurashi is a murder mystery video game series set in the picturesque town of Hinamizawa. Whilst the secret behind Hinamizawa is rather sinister, Shirakawa go is a very beautiful historical town.
Japanese Saying of the Week: Ichi nichi isshou
Simply, ‘a smile a day’. Very lovely, and just in time for Christmas too!
Samurai of the Week: Maeda Keiji (and Matsukaze)
This is the closest thing to a samurai Christmas story that you’ll ever get. Replace the word ‘horse’ with ‘reindeer’ and it just about works!
Maeda Toshimasu, better known Keiji, was the adopted nephew of Maeda Toshihisa, Maeda Toshiie’s older brother. The two served Oda Nobunaga and it was originally intended that Keiji would be the new head of the Maeda family, until Nobunaga installed Toshiie to the position. It is well known that Keiji and Toshiie did not get along because of this loss of inheritance.
Keiji later befriended an official of the daimyo Uesugi Kagekatsu, Naoe Kanetsugu, and assisted with their invasion of Aizu. He was given the task of leading the rear guard and it was due to his actions that the Uesugi were able to retreat in tact in the battle. Keiji then returned to the capital city Kyoto to devote himself to the arts and literature, a common past time for many samurai. He was wild by nature, however, and was actually banned from Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Kyushu campaign as a result. When the Uesugi were challenged by Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1600, he joined the Uesugi once again and served as a retainer until his death in 1612.
Keiji’s famous steed was Matsukaze, meaning ‘winds in the pines’. Legend has it that the horse was selectively bred from the finest horses but he refused to let anyone ride him and ran away. Keiji managed to tame the beast, which some attributed to his own wild personality, and the two were never seen apart since. When he died, the horse ran away and was never seen again.
Bento of the Week: The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nighmare Before Christmas is a Christmas film! I could have used a standard snowman-type bento but I thought that this one might be well-received on this blog. This bento has been taken from Neatorama; Jack’s head is made from rice, sesame seeds and nori, and Sally from eggwhite, cheese, sesame, nori and beni shoga.
Series of the Week: Excel Saga
Excel Saga is a brilliant example of what happens when you produce a show under the influence of drugs. It’s also a good example of ‘crazy, insane Japanese anime’, so it’s totally an appropriate Christmas anime. Ahem.
Excel Saga is a manga series by Rikdo Koshi, although it shot to fame with its anime adaption, which notably deviates from the original plot. The anime series follows the insane adventures of Excel as she goes to great lengths to help her lord Ilpalazzo take over the world. She is accompanied by Hyatt who, like Kenny from South Park, dies in a number of hilarious situations but is resurrected again and again.
The show is both hilarious and uncomfortably dark. There is a very thin overarching plot in the form of the fight against the cute Puchuu aliens who are trying to take over the world, but this is really a show to be watched for its insanity and profanity. I actually lost interest in this series about halfway through as it felt like the same jokes were being used all the time.
This isn’t a show suitable for the faint of hearted. Whilst it’s considered a comedy, it’s full of gore, violence, lesbianism and every other controversial thing under the sun. The final episode, appropriately named ‘Going Too Far’, did not run alongside the other episodes when the series first aired on TV Tokyo because it was too profane and obscene.The director admitted that, whilst it was fun to push the boundaries, it’s not something you should do too often.
Score: 6/10 (I know people who will swear blind that this is worthy of the 10 rating but I found this show as uncomfortable as much as I found it funny. It’s worth marathoning with like-minded friends, preferably ones who like South Park humour.)
Weird Thing of the Week: The Takarazuka Revue
I’m very happy to have written an article for another website, the fantastic Diverse Japan, and it just so happens that I can promote it here. This week’s feature is the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female music theatre troupe. Check out the Diverse Japan website for the feature and make sure you look around the rest of the site for lots of interesting stuff.
Recipe of the Week: Japanese Christmas Cake
Obviously, Christmas isn’t strictly a traditional Japanese celebration but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as Japanese Christmas cake. Usually, it is a sponge cake so it is very different to the Western one. This week’s recipe is taken from muza-chan.
- 4 eggs
- 115g caster sugar
- 150g flour
- 60g butter
- 300 ml thickened cream
- 1 tablespoon icing sugar
- 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
- Use a deep round cake pan (18-20cm deep), lined with baking greased paper.
1) Melt the butter and let it cool down at room temperature.
2) Mix the eggs and the sugar in a bowl placed over a saucepan with simmering water. Take care and don’t allow the water to touch the bowl’s base. Use a mixer and beat until the egg mixture become thick, creamy and light yellow (approx. 10 minutes).
3) Remove the bowl from the hot water saucepan and continue beating the egg mixture until it cools down to the room temperature.
4) Sift half of the flour over the egg mixture, mixing it lightly until homogenized, then sift the remaining flour.
5) Pour the melted butter and mix gently.
6) Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake it at moderate heat for approx. 20 minutes, until the sponge feels elastic to touch.
7) Remove immediately from the pan and let it cool down on a rack.
8) After it is cooled, cut the cake horizontally, in two halves. With one third of the amount of liqueur cream stick the two pieces together and cover the whole cake with the rest of the cream. Decorate the cake with fruits like strawberries, peaches, cherries, etc.
Here are your Christmas crackers! I mentioned before that I more or less made a pilgrimage to Tokyo to see the Sengoku Basara movie and the dance from the ending credits that had the audience in stitches is finally up on Youtube! I certainly don’t think this is a ‘good’ dance but imagine seeing it on the big screen and I hope you can appreciate why everyone found this so funny.
Also, don’t forget to vote on the next special feature!