NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
How was your Christmas? Eat too much? Drink too much? Watch TV too much? Play charades too much? Tis the season, so this week’s blog is all about New Year! ALSO – If you’re an artist, please check out this competition and spread the word!
News Story of the Week: Japan’s kanji character of 2011
Half a million Japanese people took part in an annual poll to vote on the kanji character that symbolised the spirit of 2011. The winning character was ‘kizuna’, meaning ‘bonds’, in light of the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
Many people are said to have renewed their value in maintaining links with family and helping their local community. The world has praised Japan’s willingness to pull through the tragedy left by Fukushima, which will take many years to repair.
In April, the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan used the character ‘kizuna’ in a letter to the world community as an expression of gratitude for the assistance the country received.
Destination of the week: Gujo Hachiman
Gujo Hachiman is a small riverside town in the Gifu prefecture which is most famous for its summer dance festival and historic waterways. It was founded in the 16th century when Hachiman Castle was built by a local feudal lord. The castle is surrounded by maple trees and was destroyed during the Meiji Period but has since been rebuilt with wood.
Gujo’s canals, fountains and waterways are maintained by its townspeople. They are still used for washing rice, vegetables and laundry today. The Gujo Odori dance festival takes place every summer, across 31 days, and has done for the past 400 or so years. The dancing continues throughout the night.
If you head outside the town centre, you can visit the Otaki Shonyudo. This limestone cave has an impressive interior waterfall which stretches 30 metres high.
Finally, Gujo is one of the leading producers of plastic replica food. If you ever visit Japan, you will notice that most restaurants have replicas of the food that they serve displayed outside. Visitors to Gujo can make their own replica shrimp tempura!
Japanese Saying of the Week: Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai
Slightly different this week. ‘Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai’ is Japanese for ‘I wish you will have a good new year’. The less formal way of saying this would be ‘yoi otoshi o!’, ‘Happy new year!’
Samurai of the Week: Kimura Shigenari
This week’s samurai feature will be short and sweet. I have chosen the lesser known Kimura Shigenari for the historically unusual example of how samurai treated death.
Kimura Shigenari was a Toyotomi retainer whose first battle was the Osaka Campaign in 1614, which saw the Toyotomi remnants and Tokugawa supporters vying for power. As a reward for overpowering the troops, Toyotomi Hideyori bestowed the title of ‘peerless hero of the nation’ upon him. He died loyal to the family when was killed in the Osaka Summer Campaign in 1615 and is remembered for his bravery and handsome looks.
When Shigenari was killed, his severed head was presented to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Interestingly, he had burned incense inside his helmet before marching into battle so as to make his head a more attractive prize. It appears that Shigenari had marched into battle expecting to die as a nobel samurai. Certainly, it was an act that impressed Ieyasu so much that he even recommended the practice to his own followers.
Bento of the Week: Angry Birds
Angry Birds are always relevant. This week’s bento has been taken from mymealbox.com. The circular shape of the birds and pigs mean that they’re easy to mould into onigiri. The bird was mixed with tomato sauce, baby carrot and a red pasta sheet. The pig was made by mixing edamame with pea paste (to give it the green colouring) and cucumber.
Series of the Week: The World Only God Knows
If I were to say that this was a series that parodied the dating sim phenomenon, you might be put off depending on your tastes. When I first came across the anime, I was curious but did not have high expectations. Against all odds, I ended up really enjoying it. It’s simply entertaining to watch.
High school student Keima Katsuragi is an avid player of bishojo dating sim games, whom the internet refers to as ‘the God of Conquests’ because of his great skill of winning over the girls in these games. In reality, he is a reclusive and anti-social geek who does nothing but play these games during class. One day, he receives an email offering him a contract to ‘conquer’ girls. Believing the email to be an invitation to a game, he accepts and is unwillingly forced to cooperate with Elsie, a demon from Hell, in catching runaway spirits.
How does Keima capture these spirits? By winning over these girls hearts, of course! By drawing on the ‘skills’ that he has learned from his many dating sims, the otherwise socially inept student is able to get these girls to kiss him so that the spirit is released (and bottled by Elsie). Thus follows a number of mini stories with various different ‘types’ of girl, from idols to student teachers, in which Keima assesses the situation based on what he would do if he was playing a dating sim. You might think this would leave a trail of broken lovers behind, but the girls conveniently forget about him afterwards.
There isn’t much of a plot in The World Only God Knows, which now boasts 26 episodes, but this isn’t a bad thing. It’s light-hearted and silly and, whilst the only two recurring characters are Keima and Elsie, they’re both very entertaining. Keima is an otaku who sees the world as a dating sim and Elsie is your typical magical girl. I don’t know much about these types of video games, as they aren’t exactly big in the west, so this series was something different.
Score: 8/10 (An entertaining parody of and introduction to the dating sim phenomenon in Japan)
Weird Thing of the Week: Omamori
Omamori are amulets or charms that can be bought from religious sites in Japan. Typically, they are the embodiment of a particular Shinto deity or Buddhist figure and provide various forms of luck and protection. They are ritually blessed and transformed into busshin, meaning spiritual offshoots. The word omamori itself literally means protection.
Omamori were originally made from paper or wood but the modern ones are designed to be small enough to fit in your purse or pocket. Smaller temples that are struggling for money have been forced to turn to companies to manufacture their omamori but have often complained about the quality production and, in some cases, their dwindling symbolism.
Japanese people still give traditional omamori to each other today and tourists buy them as souvenirs, and you can now find every kind of charm from Hello Kitty to Street Fighter. The religious importance remains though; as it is still considered unlucky to untie, lose or throw away your omamori.
Omamori illustrate how so many people in Japan include religion in their daily lifestyles. For some, they may be mere novelties but for others they are considered to be blessed for a specific purpose. Visitors to shrines and temples may even request the priest to make a specific omamori, whether they are hoping for a safe birth or recovery of a relative.
Recipe of the Week: Chicken with egg bowl donburi
- 130g rice
- 50g chicken thigh [chicken breast is nicer]
- 1/4 leek
- 1 egg
- 75ml dashi (soup stock) [substitute miso soup or paste]
- 20ml soy sauce
- some nori and chervil (to garnish)
- Cut the chicken into bite size pieces. Cut the leek diagonally into thin slices. Place the chicken, leek, dashi, soy sauce and mirin in a frying pan and bring to the boil.
- Pour the beaten egg over the top of the ingredients to cover the surface. When it starts to boil again, turn off the heat and leave it to settle for 1-2 minutes.
- Place the chicken and egg topping carefully over the rice and garnish with chopped nori and chervil.
Make sure to keep voting for the next special feature too! (I will probably do all of these features eventually, but you’re voting for which one you want first!)