NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
I have three New Year’s Resolutions this year: be more assertive, write a novel (not the one I was working on last year – it kind of fell through) and take a trip around Japan. Hopefully yours are less vague and/or more realistic! Of course, I also plan to continue with this blog for a good while. Despite the work I’ve created for myself, I enjoy the writing! There will be more varied posts in the future, just to spice things up.
I also thought that you lovely readers might be interested to know that I’m having a clearout and there’s a lot of Japanese goods up for grabs, as well as some of the previous Books of the Month and an array of French anime and manga. Everything’s dirt cheap so please have a look!
News Story of the Week: Online poll reveals dating habits of young Japanese men
Could this be the explanation for Japan’s ageing population? A recent online survey asked 141 ‘how many dates until a couple’s first kiss?’, with the most common answer (28.2%) being ‘the third date’. Conservative, no?
Well, another online survey by BBS 2ch asked the same question but got a very different result from 2000 people. An impressive 39.5% said ‘I have never kissed or dated’, with some amusing comments such as ‘stop doing these surveys, they depress me’.
These surveys do not necessarily mean that the majority of the young Japanese population are hopelessly shy, as it should be considered who typically answers these online surveys. BBS 2ch is predominantly used by the reclusive geek (otaku, NEET) community, who are almost notorious for their lack of experience with the opposite sex. No doubt, these surveys are a punch in the stomach for many of them.
Destination of the Week: Sengoku Jidai Mura
Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura, also known as ‘Edo Wonderland Ise’ or ‘Sengoku Jidai Mura’, is a Sengoku history theme park – specifically, the Azuchi Momoyama Period, when Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were fighting to unite Japan. If you’ve enjoyed the blog’s ‘Samurai of the Week’ feature, this is somewhere you have to visit.
The theme park resembles a small castle town; complete with a shrine, hairdresser, ninja museum, ninja maze, ghost temple, replica of Azuchi Castle (one of Nobunaga’s primary castles) and much more. There are also performances running throughout the theme park during the day; including a geisha drama, samurai show and ninja performance.
The town is located in the Shima peninsula, which is an hour’s train ride away from Nagoya. Full travel details can be found on Japan-guide.com!
So, who wants to plan a trip with me?
Japanese Saying of the Week: Nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru
This means ‘luck is in the leftovers’. In other words, there is luck in the last helping . . . patience pays off.
Samurai of the Week: Uesugi Kenshin
It’s quite shocking I haven’t written about Kenshin already, seeing how he was one of the major daimyos and all that. Better late than never, I suppose.
Born Nagao Kagetora (1530-78), he assumed control of the Echigo province by forcing his older brother to adopt him after a civil war. He became Uesugi Kenshin when he persuaded his former overlord, Uesugi Norimasa, to adopt him.
Kenshin travelled to the capital Kyoto to pay his respects to the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru, an act which greatly enhanced his reputation, and converted to Buddhism. His battle standard was ‘BI’, the first character of the Buddhist god of war Bishamonten (image below). Although he was a devout Buddhist, he constantly fought with the Takeda and Hojo.
The Uesugi and Takeda clashed in the four battles of Kawanakajima, although these are best described as skirmishes because they were so inconclusive. Both warlords were so equally matched in cunning and strength, and so each battle ended when one of them was forced to tactically retreat. He also sieged Odawara Castle from the Hojo but failed to make a lasting impression on the castle and retreated after just a few days. However, the campaign earned him the respectable title of ‘Kanto Kanrei’.
Kenshin was one of the daimyo that people believed were powerful enough to oppose Oda Nobunaga’s rise to power but he died from illness in 1578. Nobunaga reportedly said “the empire is now mine” when he heard of his death, as the last of his obstacles were effectively gone.
Bento of the Week: Bioshock
From the incredibly popular Bioshock video game series . . . comes the Bioshock bento! This week’s bento was made by annathered, who has made an impressive amount of bento (some of which I’ve featured before) so you should check her out.
Series of the Week: Ayakashi, Samurai Horror Tales
If you’re curious about Japanese folklore, then Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales is the show for you. This series reimagines three classic Japanese stories across eleven episodes (in segments of four, four and three respectively) and succeeds wonderfully in every department. I really cannot choose one favourite story because I loved them all equally for different reasons.
Our first tale is Tenshu Monogatari, which is about the forbidden love between a demon princess and a human. It was originally a kabuki theatre performance but the anime adaption differs slightly in its plot. In the anime, a falconer named Zushonosuke is sent by his lord to retrieve a white falcon that is intended for the shogun. He meets and falls in love with Tomihime, one of the forgotten gods who live in the abandoned Himeji Castle, who refuses to return the falcon to him because it is the spirit of her mother. What follows is a tragic tale as Zushonosuke is forced to choose between the woman he loves and his own humanity.
The next tale is Yotsuya Kaidan, the classic Japanese ghost story chillingly narrated by the kabuki playwright Nanboku Tsuruya IV. The ghost story has several variations, so we cannot say whether or not the anime adaption follows the right one. In this version, a woman is married to a ronin named Iemon. Her father disapproves of their relationship and Iemon kills him but fools Oiwa into believing that bandits were responsible. Eventually, tired of a life of poverty and parenthood, Iemon marries another woman from a rich family, whose servants poison Oiwa so that her face is disfigured. He then orders for his servant to kill and bury her with a servant who stole medicine from him, so that everyone else thinks that they died as lovers. However, Oiwa’s spirit exacts her vengeance on the families that caused her death.
The third story is Bake Neko, Goblin Cat, and features the medicine seller from Mononoke anime series. I actually reviewed this anime a few weeks ago and didn’t particularly enjoy it but, for reasons I can’t explain, I liked how this story tied in with the rest of Ayakashi. The bake neko is a famous Japanese folklore tale and this story is a fictional tale of one family’s relationship with it. A family is about to marry their daughter off to a rich family but, just before she leaves the threshold, she collapses and dies. A medicine seller who happens upon the scene is seized as a suspect but he reveals himself to be a demon slayer. In order to slay the spirit of the cat that has turned into the bake neko, he must unearth this family’s dark secret before they all perish.
For some reason, the first and second stories are switched around in the English translation. It doesn’t make any difference which order you watch them in, as they are completely separate storylines, but I have reviewed them in the order that I watched them. The English version is very good and worth checking out, featuring the likes of Kirby Morrow (Goku in Dragonball Z, Trowa Barton in Gundam Wing) and Brian Drummond (Ryuk in Death Note, Allen in The Vision of Escaflowne). The Japanese version also boasts a brilliant cast, my personal favourite being Takahiro Sakurai (Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII, Suzaku in Code Geass).
Score: 10/10 (Brush up on your Japanese folklore and be treated to beautiful art, chilling stories and impressive music)
Weird Thing of the Week: Sokushinbutsu
This is certainly one religious practice you will not find anywhere in the world today. Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist monks who allegedly practiced self-mummification in the northern Yamagata Prefecture. Around 16 to 24 mummified bodies have been discovered.
A priest named Kuukai first pioneered the practice 1000 years ago. He was founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism which believed in enlightenment through physical punishment. The process towards this enlightenment was excruciating. First, the priest would spend three years living on a special diet of fruit and nuts and rigorously exercising so that they were stripped of all their body fat. For the next three years they would only eat bark and roots and drink a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree. The tea would cause them to vomit and prevent maggots from growing in the body, so that decay would not occur in death. Finally, they would lock themselves in a tiny stone tomb and remain in the lotus position. Their only contact with the outside world was through an air tube and bell, which they would ring every day to show that they were still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube would be removed and the tomb would be sealed.
Eventually, the tomb would be reopened and the bodies that were truly mummified were elevated to the rank of Buddha. However, most bodies simply rotted and, whilst respected for their endurance, were simply sealed back into their tombs. The Japanese government outlawed the practice of Sokushunbutsu in the late 19th century, although it continued into the 20th century.
Whilst disturbing and gruesome, you have to admit that the practice of Sokushinbutsu is a fascinating example of religious discipline.
Recipe of the Week: Green tea pudding
Never underestimate the power of matcha powder in Japan. It goes with everything; from green tea kit kat to green tea Coca Cola. This weeks’ “purin” has come from the wonderful eat-Japan.com
- .1.5 tbsp green tea (matcha) powder
- 100ml milk
- 150ml single cream
- 50g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- Whipped cream, to serve (optional)
- Green tea (matcha) powder, to serve (optional)
Votes for the next special feature close next week, so make sure you’ve voted in this poll! The winning feature will be Week 21’s post, just so I have enough time to conduct ‘research’.
Also, the art competition is still open so PLEASE PLEASE send your drawings/doodles/stick men my way!