NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
It’s a bit of a miracle I managed to post on time this week. I’ve had three job interviews to prepare for so was very busy with those. On top of that, what normally would have been a direct 2 hour trip back to Manchester turned into a four hour detour through Milton Keynes. However, not wanting to let you lovely people down, here is your regular post format!
Also, if you have some time spare this weekend, consider entering the blog’s art competition! The deadline is Monday 6th.
News Story of the Week: Extreme snow in Japan
Think the cold spell in Britain’s bad? It’s much worse in Japan. In fact, there are far too many stories emerging on this topic that it was impossible to pick out just one. In light of this, I am linking you to three separate stories from the News on Japan website (one of my main sources for Japanese news).
Firstly, 51 people across Japan died due to the extreme blizzards gripping the country. On the same day, it emerged the an avalanche in Hokkaido killed three bathers in an onsen. Thursday evening saw 500 vehicles being stranded by snow in the northern Aomori Prefecture. People unable to return home have been offered public lodgings in assembly halls and primary schools and even Tokyo is experiencing heavy snow. These are the worst snowstorms that Japan has faced in 5 years.
The most extreme weather conditions are confined to northern Japan, particularly the island of Hokkaido. However, much of the country is currently gripped by an unforgiving and potentially deadly snowfall.
Destination of the Week: Amanohashidate
Roughly meaning ‘bridge in the heaven’, Amanohashidate is a 3.6 kilometre long pine tree covered sand bar stretching between Miyazu Bay in the northern Kyoto Prefecture. It is ranked as one of Japan’s three most scenic views, the nihon sankei.
Amanohashidate is a beautiful 2 hour side trip from the historical capital Kyoto and is particularly ideal for nature lovers. At the southern end of the bar stands Chionji, a lovely Buddhist temple with a small tahoto, a small pagoda. The sand bar is best viewed from the hills on either side of the bay, accessible by cablecar. Turn your back towards the bay, bend over and look at it from between your legs – Amanohashidate will now look like the ‘bridge in the heaven’. This ‘practice’ has been continuing for well over a millenium.
Japanese Saying of the Week: Tonari no shibafu wa aoi
This old saying translates to ‘the neighbour’s lawn is green’. You may be more familiar with its western equivalent; ‘the grass is always greener of the other side’. The alternative solution or another person’s situation will nearly always leave you longing for another life instead. Enjoy your own life and stop wishing to be in someone else’s shoes.
Samurai of the Week: Hôjô Ujiyasu
The Hôjô clan were one of the most prominent samurai families in early Japanese history, and Ujiyasu is described as its greatest Daimyô by some scholars. He assumed control of the family after his father Ujitsuna’s death and inherited a series of forts along the Sumida River, the most important of them being Kawagoe. The rival Uesugi forces and their allies attacked Kawagoe and isolated it but Ujiyasu came to its rescue. His night attack has been recorded as one of the greatest in samurai history because of the skill and precision involved.
After Kawagoe (1545), the majority of smaller daimyô in the Kanto region were effectively under the control of the Hôjô. Ujiyasu significantly reorganised the administration of the lands and transformed Odawara into an important trading centre. However, their western borders were blocked by the powerful Takeda and Imagawa clans and so the Hôjô were forced to assume the defensive position that they were later to become very famous for in history. Although Ujiyasu made some progress in expanding eastward, he continually came into conflict with clans such as the Satomi and Satake.
Much of Ujiyasu’s later life was occupied by clashes with Kenshin Uesugi, who invaded and burned Odawara, although there was never a decisive conflict between the two clans. Although the Hôjô and Takeda made a tactical alliance in 1562, it was undermined when Takeda Shingen adopted Kenshin’s seventh son. This led to a series of battles in the Suruga Province that culminated in a second brief siege of Odawara, which the Hôjô only just managed to hold onto.
Although Ujiyasu officially retired in 1560 in favour of his eldest son Ujimasa, he continued to guide the clan until his death in 1571. He was both a talented general and administrator, although his clan would meet its demise just two generations later.
Bento of the Week: Dragon
As it’s the year of the dragon in the Chinese zodiac, what’s better than a dragon bento? Take a look at bentolicious’ dragon bento; made from rice, steamed coriander, cucumber, tiny pork sausages and chilli. Do I spy a Pokemon?
Series of the Week: Oban Star Racers
Now, this is a potentially controversial choice, as some people don’t consider Oban Star Racers to be an anime because it’s not 100% Japanese. In fact, this show is a joint French-Japanese venture that ran on Jetix TV a few years ago. I have fond memories of this show as a teenager, as I was a massive French geek at the time and was just getting round to discovering anime properly (Pokemon and Sailor Moon were probably the only anime I watched as a child).
The story takes place on earth in 2082 and the planet has been invited to compete in the galactic Great Race of Oban. The prize – being granted any wish by the great Avatar, even bringing back a loved one from the dead. Eva Wei escapes boarding school to find her father Don Wei, who left her there after the death of her mother and his wife, who was a racer. Don Wei fails to recognise Eva and, in order to stay with the team, she poses as an engineer named Molly. After a mysterious accident forces Earth’s pilot to forfeit the race, ‘Molly’ steals the ship and enters the next race with its pilot, Jordan. Haunted by her mother’s death and her relationship with her father, Molly aims to win the race and reunite her family.
In case you were wondering, ‘is this some awful run-of-the mill western cartoon masquerading as an anime?’, consider the team behind it. The score is composed by Taku Iwasaki, most famous for his work on Gurren Lagann, and the storyboard has had the likes of Yoshimitsu Ohashi, who worked on Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood and Trigun, on board. On top of that, the English voice cast features the talents of Brian Drummond and Sam Vincent.
Oban Star Racers was a nostalgic project for both viewers and its producer, Savin Yeatman-Eiffel. Fans of the show will already know that his goal was to creative a distinctive show that was both emotive, gripping and reminiscent of the shows that he fondly remembered as a child. He then set up his own ‘Sav! The World’ studios and it took 9 years for the show to take form, three of them spent in Japan working with Japanese animators.
I have fond memories of this show for a number of reasons; specifically its plot, music and artwork. Whilst the show ran for just 26 episodes and shows no signs of making a comeback (this may not be a bad thing as it is great as a standalone project), Oban Star Racers is definitely recommended if you want to feel some nostalgia. I think it might be in the same band as My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic, which has garnered a lot of adult (male) followers despite the fact that it’s meant to be a children’s programme. It’s definitely worth checking out, either way.
Score: 8/10 (beautiful and moving. A lot of effort was put into this show and it deserves more love.)
Weird Thing of the Week: Yankii
There are a lot of things that Japan has picked up from the west, some of them much more unfortunate than others. One of these more unfortunate fashion trends is the yankii phenomenon, a play on the American word for ‘yankee’ or ‘white trash’. In British culture, you can probably call them chavs.
Yankii are young men and women who dye their hair blonde, wear cheap clothes, smoke, drink, swear and have children before leaving high school. They are famous for being loud, rude and not conforming to Japanese societal norms. Although they were in fashion around the late 80s and 90s, you will still see the odd few wondering around Tokyo today. Rather than being a fashion statement (as opposed to lolita, visual kei etc) the yankii have become a symbol of how the country has fallen from grace – terrorising old ladies and not doing their homework. Sound familiar?
The yankii can best be described as a social phenomenon that thrives off lawlessness and rebelliousness. Although certain films such as Battle Royale largely glamorised them, they are not looked upon favourably in Japanese culture. Whilst they may still appear to be more troublemakers than potential rioters or criminals, the fact that they are disrespectful and rebellious is enough to upset many older Japanese people.
Recipe of the Week: Dashimaki Tamago
Osechi is the traditional Japanese New Year’s meal made up by an array of small dishes presented in beautiful boxes. Each osechi dish symbolises something different: from hope for a bountiful harvest, safety for loved ones, longevity, or fertility. One of these dishes is dashimaki tamago, Japanese-style omelette.
- 4 eggs
- 1/3 tsp dashi soup (substitute miso)
- 1/2 tsp soy sauce
- Dash of salt
1) Crack eggs in a bowl and mix.
2) Add cold dashi soup, soy sauce and salt to the eggs and mix.
3) Heat in a rectangle shaped frying pan (a circular one will do). Oil the pan by putting a little cooking oil on a paper towel and swiping it in the pan.
4) Add about 25% of the egg mixture, and when it toughens, fold it over 5 or 6 times like an omelette until it takes up 1/4 of the space in the pan.
5) Using the paper towel, add a little more oil then add another 25% of the egg mixture to the surface of the pan. Lift the folded egg a little bit to let the new batch run underneath.
6) When the new batch toughens, fold the egg again, beginning with initial folded egg to create a singular folded omelette. Repeat this process twice more until you have one large omelette.
7) Move the omelette to the side, letting it cool for a couple of minutes, then slice lengthwise into 1/2″ pieces.
I’ve made some changes to the ‘about’ section of the blog. It’s nothing major but I just wanted to clarify that I am not an expert on Japan, just someone who is very interested in and decided to write a blog on it. Then again, I’m sure that most of you, like me, are just interested in Japan and like finding out something new about it every week! That’s the purpose of this blog, after all! All that’s left to say is – thanks for taking the time to read this (and subscribe *hint hint*)!