NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
The results for the next special feature are in! Expect to see the ‘Top Ten Men in Anime’ very soon! I’m surprised this one won, truth be told, but I will of course deliver! It was a pretty close call, so ‘Top Ten Japanese Adverts’ and ‘Things to See and Do in Tokyo’ will also feature here in the future.
Also, don’t forget to enter the art competition if you’re an artist or doodler of any kind.
Finally, I’ll be taking a week off from blogging as I am job hunting like a mad woman at the moment. This gives me more time to prepare Week 20’s special feature, which will be extremely MANLY!
News Story of the Week: Number of suicides exceeds 30,000 for 14th year in a row
Not the cheeriest news story to choose this week, sorry.
The National Police Agency has revealed that the number of suicides in Japan in 2011 stood at 30,513. The figure surpasses 30,000 for the 14th year in a row but it is 3.7 per cent less than 2010’s figure and the lowest since 1998. The figures exceeded levels a year earlier in April, May and June, with a particularly large increase in May. This is no doubt related to the Fukushima disaster, as well as the miserable economic climate.
Suicide in Japan is a national problem in Japan especially, the motivation for many being preventing bringing shame on ones own family, in a society where men are still seen to be the main breadwinner.
Destination of the Week: Bitchu-Takahashi
Takashashi, commonly known as Bitchu-Takahashi to distinguish itself from the surrounding region, is a small mountainous village in the Okayama Prefecture. The region was originally known as Bitchu and faces the Inland Sea.
Bitchu-Takahashi is home to Matsuyama Castle, also known as Bitchu-Matsuyama so it is not confused with that in Shikoku, and is the oldest surviving castle in Japan. It is the highest altitude castle at 480 meters and was originally built for its strategic position. Although small, it is very stunning and impressive . . . but be prepared for a steep walk!
There is a preserved old Edo town at the base of the mountain, boasting samurai residences and merchants’ quarters. Museums and temples also give you an insight into the city’s history. The famous Raikyuji Temple is also worth a visit for its beautiful zen garden. It was made famous by its past resident Kobori Enshu, a local feudal lord and architect who designed many famous castles and palaces in Kyoto. Of course, he also designed Raikyuji’s own zen garden.
Bitchu-Takahashi is accessible by the JR Line. For details, see the Japan-guide website.
Japanese Saying of the Week: Deru kugi wa utareru
‘The nail that sticks up is hammered down.’
In Japanese culture, the person making themselves stick out is violating a prime Japanese directive: conform. This saying teaches that individuals should watch their behaviour and not allow their egos to take over because they will later find themselves in a grisly or embarassing situation. Conformity is a much more positive idea in Japanese culture than Western, as being egocentric and flamboyant are actually negative qualities.
Basically, this means that a man or woman who is in a group or team and trying to outdo everyone else is asking for trouble. This saying is often drilled into children who might be acting up and trying to be centre of attention
Samurai of the Week: Sanada Yukimura
Sanada Yukimura, born Nobushige, was the most famous member of the Sanada clan in the Shinano province – loyal vassals of Takeda Shingen. Although he commanded a relatively small army, he was a greatly respected samurai and Shimazu Tadatsune, the famed veteran of the Korean invasion, called him ‘the number one warrior in Japan’.
Yukimura served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi and was married to the daughter of a senior Toyotomi retainer, Otani Yoshitsugu. He was the second son of Sanada Masayuki but commanded as much respect as his older brother Nobuyuki, as seen when he was called upon to assist in the construction of Hideyoshi’s Fushimi Castle.
By 1600, the Sanada clan were allied with Ieyasu Tokugawa. However, when faced with an indictment, Yukimura and his father aligned with Ishida Mitsunari, the leader of the anti-Tokugawa movement and supporters of Hideyoshi’s successor, Hideyori. Nobuyuki remained tactically allied with the Tokugawa so that, regardless of the outcome, the Sanada clan might survive. Ieyasu responded to Masayuki and Yukimura’s betrayal by sending his son Hidetada to Ueda Castle, the second siege that the Tokugawa had attempted, but father and son held strong against the attack (2,000 men against 40,000). The battle lasted eight days and Hidetada’s army never appeared at the decisive battle of Sekigahara, a disaster which almost cost Ieyasu’s victory.
Although Nobuyuki persuaded Ieyasu to spare their lives, the father and son were exiled to Kudoyama. Many letters to family and retainers and special poems, called ‘renga’, that Yukimura wrote during this time still survive. However, the situation changed in 1614 when Hideyori rallied ronin together against the planned attack of Ieyasu and Yukimura was forced out of exile, his father having died earlier that year. Yukimura was present at the Winter (1614) and Summer (1615) Seiges of Osaka Castle and was one of Hideyori’s top commanders. It was here where he left his mark on Japanese history as one of the most daring and endearing figures of the late-Sengoku period. It is where the tale of the Sanada Ten Braves arose: a legendary group of ten heroes who played an active role at Osaka, the most famous of which being Sarutobi Sasuke. For details on the Summer and Winter Seiges, read the Samurai Archives.
However, we already know that Ieyasu established a Shogunate that lasted until 1868, so the situation could not have ended well for Yukimura. In the Summer Seige, now aged 32, he collapsed exhausted in his camp and was approached by a Tokugawa samurai, Nishio Nizaemon, who challenged him to a fight. Accepting his fate, Yukimura removed his helmet and allowed himself to be decapitated in true samurai style.
Today, Sanada Yukimura is still a well known figure in Japan. Ueda is a popular tourist spot for its Sanada museum, Ueda Castle and statues of Yukimura himself. He is also one of the many samurai to have been immortalised in popular culture; from the musical film Brave Records of the Sanada Clan and a number of anime, namely Samurai Deeper Kyo and Sengoku Basara (which also features Sarutobi Sasuke).
Bento of the Week: Frogs
Check out the fabulous Cooking Gallery blog for lots of bento recipes. This week’s has some lovely little smiling frogs. Frogs are awesome!
Source: Cooking Gallery @ blogspot
Series of the Week: UN-GO
UN-GO recently finished airing in Japan and, as I only like to review things that have finished, this gives me the opportunity to talk about a very recent show!
This 12 episode series is based on the very popular Meiji Kaika Ango Torimono-chō by Ango Sakaguchi, a detective novel set in Meiji Japan. Whilst I have not been able to find any information on this novel, I understand that the anime adopts its main elements but sets them in a futuristic postwar environment.
The story itself is about a private detective Yuuki Shinjuuro and his mysterious sidekick Inga, who are bound by a mysterious contract in which Shinjuuro must ‘reveal the truth’. Japan is emerging from a traumatic war and is under the unofficial leadership of media tycoon Rinroku Kaishou, whose daughter ends up befriending Shinjuuro.
The episodes themselves are split into a series of mini stories; one involving the creator of now-illegal AI robots created for the sole purpose of sexual human pleasure, another about a prisoner known only as ‘the Novelist’ who manipulates the minds of those around him and a bomb attack involving Rinroku himself. These individual stories are certainly interesting but they do not fit together as well as you might expect. The robot mini-story still has some loose ends but they are never revisited in later episodes and the Novelist, despite being a very interesting character, does not feature as prominently as viewers might initially expect.
I was actually dissatisfied with how the series ended. I initially quite liked it but feel that there should have been either a smaller variety of stories in so few episodes, or more episodes so that they could be completely explored. The premise was promising but when it finishes you don’t know anything more about Shinjuuro or Inga than you did after the first three episodes. However, a feature-length prequel episode, ‘Inga-ron’, ran in Japanese cinemas in November which explained how the two of them met and is to be released over here by Kaze UK in the future. I imagine that this prequel would put my complaints to rest.
Score: 6/10 (the soundtrack is quite nice but the overall story feels confused and rushed in some places)
Weird Thing of the Week: Japan’s cats run the internet
I’ve not had time to look into anything particularly spectacular this week because I’ve been preparing for some job interviews. So, I’d like to introduce you to two Japanese feline Youtube celebrities. The first is Maru, famed for his love of boxes, and Shiro and his family, who you may already know as ‘the cats who balance things on their heads’.
Recipe of the Week: Pork Tonkatsu with Watermelon-Tomato Salad
I’ve never had tonkatsu before but I’ve been told that it is beyond delicious. This week’s recipe has been taken from epicurious.com.
- 300g watermelon cubes
- 300g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 300g rocket leaf
- 40g parsley leaf
- 10ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbs Dijon mustard
- 1tb fresh lemon juice
- 4 lemon wedges
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 600g panko (regular breadcrumbs will do)
- 2 large eggs
- 4 4oz boneless pork chops