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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chork On It

I recently came across a chork.

Don't know what it is? You should! It's a cross between chopsticks and a fork.

It's the invention Japan should have invented instead of the walking, talking nagging Living Wallet (see HERE). 

I went out to get some lunch a couple of weeks back (though I do that everyday), but this time at Manchu WOK, a Chinese food establishment located in the food court of the Fairview Mall in Toronto.

It was my first time there, as I usually go Japanese, Scottish (McDonald's) or Kentuckian (KFC)... (strangely enough, all three countries/States have that sexy accent I love)(on women).

Now... while I love my fast food, I would prefer to eat healthier, which is why I eat Japanese cuisine a couple of times a week... but dammit... the cost!

I would get the inexpensive Chinese food--I love the veggies and tofu--but I always hope that when I get home I'll have Chinese food for supper.

But, with weeks turning into months and still never a Chinese food meal at home, I said screw it all and got some great Chinese food piled high into a styrofoam container and took it back to work to smell up the place to make all of those people dieting there hate me just a little bit more.

I'm nothing, if not just a little bit evil.

When I opened up my white plastic bag that they charged me $0.05 for (I hate Toronto sometimes), I noticed an interesting chopsticks holder.

Rather than the typical wooden chopsticks sheathed in an open at the top paper holder, or a pair of more ornate ones sealed in a thin plastic wrap, I saw this:


Pretty nice, huh?

Oh those evil Chinese! They stole it from Japan!

Then I opened up a container, that had it had a different graphic on it could have housed some sort of evil Scottish-like McApple Pie.

There, inside... I saw this (dun-dun-dunnnnnnn):


This is the chork. It's a plastic set of chopsticks, joined at one end with a fork, or open at one end to be squeezed together like a pair of chopsticks... cheater chopsticks.

But, if that's too embarrassing for you, you could always snap the joining fork head apart - and voila - two separate chopsticks.  

Because I am quite competent with chopsticks and my less-than perfect Japanese chopstick grip (I have a slightly modified grip that works so well for me that I have won speed eating contest in Japan. - Just one, really. But really... yes... I can use Japanese chopsticks. Sigh.)

(How many times has a foreigner been asked that question by a curious Japanese person as the foreigner is actually using the chopsticks to eat? And how many times has the foreigner dropped food from the chopsticks onto their shirt after answering in the affirmative that yes, they can use chopsticks? Even I had done that three of four times in the early days.)
   
But the chork - I would have used it when I was learning... but Japan didn't have one, though they did have cheater chopsticks... apparently used for toddlers. Goo-goo-ga-ga.    

The Chork appears to be an American invention. And why not? The Chinese and Japanese already know how to use chopsticks - what the hell do they care if some stupid foreigner splashes something wet and slippery down onto their white, short-sleeved shirt.

Why are you wearing short sleeves? It's after Labor Day! You know that's a Japanese thing, right?

Anyhow... I have long wondered why the Japanese - who have been exposed to foreign culture for a while now - still insist that using a pair of sticks to eat food is better than a knife, fork and spoon(s).

Well... I can ask that culturally insensitive question... and then I can try and answer it. (That's the whole point of this blog, you know... I take the piss out of Japan, while doing the same to myself or whatever the hell my culture is. Cheese, I think.)

Here's why the Japanese still use chopsticks as their main utensil:
  • You really only need one set of utensils (from cooking the food to eating it)
  • It's a way to maintain one's culture.
  • Slurping of food isn't just cultural - it's fun!
  • Keeps the riff-raff from completely feeling at home. (Foreigners)
  • Getting dropped food stains out of clothing is easy. It's an ancient Chinese secret:
 (I love this commercial! - An all-time favorite!)

... which they stole from Japan! 

Of course, just like when you go to a Chinese take-out food joint and see the menu... the English one is always about 40 menu items lighter than the one written in whatever the Chinese language is written in (Mandarin, Cantonese, other?).

There's always something hidden... personally, is it possible that the Chinese and Japanese (together again in the same sentence!) only pretend to use chopsticks all the time... that they only use them when foreigners are about? That they actually use a fork and knife when drinking their soup?

Okay... I've clearly gone coo-coo for cocoa-puffs...

But... now that the reverie is over, let's find out a bit about the folks selling the chork.

The chork was created by Brown Innovation Group in Salt Lake City, Utah in the U.S.A.

Brown Innovation Group? Brown like with Indians? In Salt Lake City? I was thinking dot, not the feather...

Anyhow, the Brown Innovation Group (B.I.G.... I also work for B.I.G., but we use different words to describe the capital letters) was founded in 2008, and is a concept development and marketing company specializing in bringing new products and technology to market.

They state that the whole reason for creating the chork (chorksticks is probably too long, right?) is to "help chopstick novices to practise the notoriously tricky art of eating with sticks". I would assume it was also to make a few dollars, but what the hell do I know?

The chork is available in red and black apparently, though I have only seen red. They are made of food-grade high-impact polystyrene, and can be purchased - probably from THIS website in packs of 12 and 24, though the actual website says you can get them in packs of 500.

Okay... I have no idea where you can get them from. Manchu WOK hasn't had a chork in quite some time now...

And... I never actually used mine. I have my own set of disposable chopsticks I have been using for years.
  
Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I'm kidding. I would never use disposable chopsticks more than once. I know where they've been.
PPS: Happy Halloween. My son is going as Satan Claus... or as he calls it: Zombie Santa. My idea last year was just to go as regular Santa Claus. No one ever does that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Japanese Food Has Culture Crawling All Over It

Matthew recently sent me a story about how Japan is looking to have its cuisine - foods - declared an 'intangible cultural heritage' status by UNESCO (U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Now... just so you know...Japanese cuisine has been provisionally approved by a review panel for submission to the growing list of national cuisines being recognized around the world.

But what exactly is up for cultural status?

Well, the fare pushed forth by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture says its sushi (image above is an ukiyo-e of various types of Edo-era sushi as drawn by noted artist Hiroshige), tempura, okonomiyaki and yakitori, and for good measure has also put forth the utensils used in the preparation and consumption of Japanese food.

It's still in the decision-making stage.

Washoku--traditional Japanese food--is actually pretty unique... especially the sushi... but dammit...
Tempura - battered and deep fried seafood or veggies
Okonomiyaki  - Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients - photo by  S_e_i from Osaka
Yakitori - skewered and grilled chicken, photo by 竹麦魚(Searobin)
Man... every culture has something like these three.

But... not everyone has sushi, and certainly everybody knows about Japanese sushi... even if they mistakenly confuse it with sashimi (sliced raw fish). Sushi is indeed a Japanese cultural food.

And... despite the Japanese loving to tell foreigners that sushi is Japanese sushi, it really is a dish created  only in Japan - though other cultures are now creating their own versions. 

Utensils? Like what... a Japanese wok? China.
Chopsticks? China.
Soy sauce - okay maybe... but whoppidy-doo.

Personally... I'm kind of dismayed that Japan - a country that has come up with some many wonderful inventions still has its population using two effing wooden sticks to pick up and eat food with.

There is no elegance in cutting one's food with chopsticks, or having to pick up one's bowl, place it to one's mouth and then use one's chopsticks to shovel it into your open mouth.

Crap... at least here in North America we've created other instruments to go along with our fork, knife and spoon - of various sizes... we also have the spork (spoon-fork combination) and the chork... a very wicked looking chopstick and fork combination... that amazed both me and my son (my son and I) that I shall show you tomorrow.

Sushi is Japan. Just like Mt. Fuji (some mountain I refuse to believe exists because it remained invisible every time I tried to look at it!). Just like Sumo. And just like geisha, ninja, samurai and katana swords. You could probably also add in Judo and other martial arts... but really, martial arts are a variation of a theme... and what's to stop me and my unique fighting style of kicking you in the nuts when you aren't looking - and having UNESCO dub that a unique thing.

It needs to be something that defines a country.

Kimono? I'm pretty sure silk robes and dresses are also worn in Korea and China.

So... yes... Japan does deserve to have sushi declared a national park or whatever it is that Japan wants the United Nations to declare. It sure beats the UN stepping in and helping to clean up the radioactive mess in Fukushima-ken.

Anyhow... want to know WHY Japan is really doing its bit to get on the list?

Japan chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide (surname first) says he hopes inclusion in the list will provide new support for agricultural and fisheries sectors in Fukushima, which have not recovered since the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region in northeast Japan in March 2011.

Well... okay then... it's for Fukushima-ken. I really should read the whole article before i go off and start writing about it. There's that stream of (un)consciousness I go through to create these 2,000+ blogs and counting.

Suga adds that he hopes the recognition from UNESCO will restore the world's trust in Japanese exports (food exports).

"I would really welcome the inclusion of traditional Japanese cuisine. If it is included, the spirit of traditional Japanese cuisine, one that is based on respect for nature, will be preserved for future generations," says Suga.

To date, French, Mexican and Mediterranean traditional cuisines have been recognized by UNESCO as cuisines of intangible cultural heritage, while it is expected that Korean imperial cuisine will be added to the list in November. An intergovernmental panel of representatives from 24 countries is scheduled to convene in Azerbaijan in December to review the panel’s recommendation.

Azerbaijan? Why are they meeting there? Is it just for the food considerations? Does Azerbaijan have some very cool and distinct food that I should have heard about but haven't?

Yes they have... it's a middle east version of sushi.

Just kidding, Japan. Just kidding.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Japan's Living Wallet Invention

I'm still not sure if this is a joke, or perhaps some awesome marketing with a prototype.

The Living Wallet, is supposed to be a Japanese invention that is aimed to help shopaholics cub their spending.

From what I understand, the Living Wallet has wheels at the four corners and sensors and is hooked up to an APP - and accounting APP - that will help embarrass the consumer to stop them from spending money and to save money.

The accounting App is called Zaim, and works on the iPhone, Android, iPad and on the web.

Basically... for this to work, the consumer has to understand there is a problem with their out of control spending, and has got to want to be embarrassed.

Let's see how it works.

First off... this is an actual wallet (apparently). It looks like a man's wallet.

There are two modes... Save Mode and Consumption mode.

Apparently, when in Save Mode, the Living Wallet detects the owner reaching for it (the wallet), and then it (the wallet) will actually move away from the grabbing hand.

Even now, hours after I wrote that, I'm shaking my head for you to see.

Total bull crap. If a shopaholic wants to buy something—and even has the damn wallet with them, the best thing to do is for the shopper to NOT place the wallet in such a position that it can 'walk off'. You know... place it flat... keep it in your hands...or...

Will the wallet try to slink off if I reach for it while it's in my pocket?

I keep my wallet in my left front pocket - next to my penis, as that and money are very dear to me - will it start to walk away (the wallet) if I reach for it (the wallet and or the penis)?

If does walk walk away, will this feel like something good or something bad in my pants? Considering how it slinks... I'm saying 'good'.

Okay... let's suppose you do let it slink off when it's placed menacingly on the counter... and you then grab for it (the wallet)—it is then that the Living Wallet will come to life and SCREAM (yes, scream) - audibly - for help!

It actually screams: "No! Don't touch me! Help!"

Geezus. Help me Buddha! But it sounds like someone trying to stop a sexual assault or rape!

It (the wallet) will then sent a text message to the owner's mother telling her that you have been a naughty girl or boy reaching for it (the wallet) to spend money.

"Sorry mom... no present for you. I swear... that's why I was reaching for my penis wallet. It was to buy YOU something nice for Mother's Day..."

See... I could almost have believed this was real... until that part about the text message to mom.

Go ahead you stupid Living Wallet - tattletale! My mom's dead. What are you going to do... use a Ouija board APP? Is there one? There is? Crap. I am sooooo dead. Like my mom.

(It's okay... it's been 19 years. She had a sense of humor. Where do you think I got mine from? Yes, television...)

And... even if all that is true... and I'm still not sure if this is a real product or not... IF, by some miracle of miracles you should manage to save a few bucks at the end of a month, the Living Wallet showers you with gifts... and it (the wallet) then starts playing some Beethoven music and apparently downloads books from Amazon for you. I have no idea where the speakers - but is there any freaking room in the Living Wallet for actual money?

This was all on a video I saw on a Canadian newspaper's website.

So... Beethoven music? Hopefully Ode to Joy. No? Beethoven's Fourth Symphony... nice... but... was that the best they could? How about "We're In The Money"?

But downloading automatically some books from Amazon? I suppose the consumer would have pre-determined what books the wallet could order for you... but doesn't that defeat the purpose of having saved some money....

I'm just tossing this out there... (no... not my penis... later)... but if the owner is such a shlub that I need a Living (and screaming and texting tattletale) Wallet to help curb excessive spending habits... chances are pretty good the owner has already run up some impressive debt.

Shouldn't that person be paying OFF that debt, rather than spending the money on books? There's this new invention out now... and now... it's not the Living Wallet... or maybe it is... but I'm talking about "the library".

Unless you are my wife, the library is free (overdue finezzzz....)

Here's a video of the Living Wallet:


At this time, I still don't know if this is a prototype or the best hoax of the day. If it's real... how much does it cost? Does one buy this Living Wallet knowing that I shouldn't be spending the money?

So... did anyone else notice that the Japanese Living Wallet has an English voice? Maybe that was for marketing purposes...

It looks cool. Put me down for seven Living Wallets when they come out! I'm sure they can't be that expensive...

Cheers
Andrew "I want to make it do wheelies in my pocket" Joseph

Monday, October 28, 2013

Equality Of Sexes In 1902 Japan And The Opera

So... if a 111-year-old American newspaper article of less than two inches in length is to be believed, Japan was making a push - a small one even - to show support for women as equals.

I'm writing THIS line after writing everything else... I even write about the opera... 

Yes, you wouldn't believe the places I go to show support for both Japan and women.

Thanks to Vinny for pointing the way to the Newsbank/Readex database of Early American Newspapers (www.readex.com), a simply amazing resource for you would-be writers, I can present to you an article from the March 26, 1902 edition of the Boston Morning Journal newspaper that purports a bit of Japanese equality amongst the sexes.

ASTONISHED JAPAN

High Class Maids of Mikadoland Organize a Bicycle Club

Washington, March 25--A dozen high-class Japanese young ladies of Tokio have organized a bicycle club, to the astonishment of the whole nation, according to United States Consul Davidson, at Tamsui, in a report to the State Department, made public today.
The general feeling among Japanese women as to cycling, says Mr. Davidson, is that it is an unladylike sport.
However, he says that the innovation was favorably received by the men, and the Japanese press generally advocates the use of the wheel by both sexes.


I think this is a very interesting article. Yes, Japan generally is aghast at this change in having women act like men. Sure... I understand that. Afterall, women simply did not act like that in Japan. I suppose we can blame or thank the opening up of the country's doors to international trade and ideas. 

I would imagine any sort of women's suffrage in Japan prior to the opening if its International borders would have been immediately squashed by the male war-dominated culture.

Interesting to me is the author's choice of words in the dek (the line underneath the headline).

"Maids" and "Mikadoland"

Maid... it has nothing to do with donning a French Maid's outfit and wandering around dusting the furniture and playing hot-to-trot with the Master of the house.

Instead, a maid, in this context, is a young, unmarried woman.

The fact that the newspaper article calls them high-class young women is also interesting... if the well-to-do can ride a bicycle, surely, this would be something the less well-to-do would want to try an emulate.

Mikadoland. This is in reference to a Gilbert and Sullivan (W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan) comedic opera. It had opened in London on March 14, 1885 and ran for 672 performances, which at that time was a record.    

The opera was/is actually about British politics, but to disguise it as such, Gilbert (the writer - as opposed to Sullivan the music maker) set the opera in as far-away and as mystical a place as possible - a popular place in the hearts and minds of American and Europeans who had little knowledge of the place - Japan.

Mikado is a title given to the Emperor of Japan. 

Here's a song from The Mikado: The Three Little Maids From School song. I  first discovered this song when I watched The Simpson's... Sideshow Bob (played by Kelsey Grammar) sang it with Bart prior to him attempting to murder the yellow brat. I'd show you the Simpson's version, but they are notorious for copyright protection... even though they once made various snipped parodies at others for acting like that. Kettle meet the Pot.


  
By the way - I have mentioned that I have not been a tremendous fan of opera, but... there is one piece... a Gilbert & Sullivan song from the Pirates of Penzance opera... the Major-General's song.

I heard it once - and only once - when I was a child, and until the advent of Google and other such search engines, I never heard it again.

Despite only hearing it once - on television as a six or seven-year-old, I always had the first two lines stored away in the old melon for just such an emergency. I loved the superior pace of it...


Here's that song:

Okay... I am also very well acquainted with the Wagner opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a cycle of four epic operas by the German composer Richard Wagner.

You know that scene in Apocalypse Now when the choppers rise up to strafe the Viet Cong? That's it. But, I came across it first on an episode of Gilligan's Island (radio via dental fillings) and the classic Bugs Bunny and Elmer J. Fudd toon, What's Opera, Doc?    

It's so effing powerful.

Hmm...  I guess I do really like some opera.
   
Despite me pedaling the bicycle all over the place, I wonder when the Mikado was first played in Japan?  I would think that even though the play is a parody of British politics, it's never actually stated out loud as being as such.

To the folks in Japan, it would like like a horrible parody of themselves!

And yet...  the very first performance of The Mikado was performed in 1887 (two years after its debut) in Yokohama.

But here's the thing... only one newspaper - from Osaka - actually mentions this performance (but I can't confirm that).

There was the correct fear that by ignoring and suppressing information about The Mikado to the general population of Japan, they would prevent the Japanese from knowing what the rest of the world thought about them and their quaint ideals.

Of course... it wasn't about Japan. But it seems as though no one actually told the Japanese that. D'oh!

Instead of actually calling the opera The Mikado when it was performed in 1887, it was known as "Three Little Maids From School"  - and I assume it is because even then, while there was concern that the opera could offend the Japanese people, the title The Mikado might greatly offend The Emperor - the descendent from God (Jimmu, Japan's first emperor).  

Who says you can't learn from reading a three-volume set on the history of Japan or this blog? Well... no one actually did... I have no idea why I even bothered to write that.... but then again, everything I write is a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing.

Now... while The Mikado/Three Little Maids From School was forgotten about in Japanese history, Japan does note that the first opera to be performed happened in 1894, but that it wasn't until 1946 in Yokohama, again, that The Mikado was first performed in Japan.

Of course...  The Mikado in 1946 was performed in war-torn and occupied by Allied Forces Japan. You can be sure that no Japanese were privy to the opera - that it was for Allied troops officers only.

Anyhow... that's what a little under two-inch newspaper article from 1902 brings us.

A bit of information on Japan's 'sexist' country that didn't seem so sexist... and a bit of history on the opera in Japan.   
 
Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Japanese Airline At #6 For Best Airplane & Flight Crew

I recently came across an article somewhere that was ranking the friendliest, most helpful and efficient flight attendants in the world for the year 2013.

It's a top10 list and lo and behold nine out of 10 of them were from Asia, with the lone airline from elsewhere calling the Middle East home.

Japan's ANA (All Nippon Airways) came in at number 6. An impressive achievement.

Here are the winners:
  1. 

Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong) 
  2. Asiana Airlines (South Korea)
  3. Malaysia Airlines (Malaysia) (Was #1 in 2012)
  4. EVA Air (Taiwan)
  5. Singapore Airlines (Singapore)
  6. ANA - All Nippon Airways (Japan)
  7. Garuda Indonesia (Indonesia)
  8. Qatar Airways (Qatar)
  9. Hainan Airlines (China)
  10. Thai Airways (Thailand)

This isn't to say other airlines suck - I've always received great service from the flight crews I have traveled with - it's just to say that when it comes to First Class treatment, the above Top 10 go that extra mile (1.6 kilometers).

And... keep in mind... this is for the top class service. For all I know, when you are traveling Business Class or Economy with any of the above Top 10, for service mileage may vary.

I have flown Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways, but always Economy or whatever the lowest fare was. It often meant I had to put on a dress and serve the food, but for the money, the flights were good. I kept getting my ass pinched, though. It's still a pretty muscular ass, even 20 years removed from those flights.

I will say that try as I did with some of the best flirting I've ever done not in a strip club with the waitresses, I still couldn't join the Mile-High (1.6 Kilometer-High) Club.

Regarding ANA of Japan, one passenger said:

"HND-CTS-HND (Tokyo's Haneda airport to New Chitose airport in Hokkaido and return)... nice to still be able to fly domestic (Boeing) 747s in Japan (JAL have grounded their fleet). Outbound was operated by 'Picachu Dreaming', the all-yellow jumbo with Pokemon characters painted along the side with the eponymous Picachu on the tail. Interior also had Pokemon detail (such as headrests, curtains). Very charming. Service was a hot green tea. Aircraft mostly empty. Crew profusely apologetic about substituting the promised 787 with the jumbo but I don't see why it made a difference. Return to the capital on another 747 in the evening was equally nice, had a seat in Economy upstairs. Flight attendant asked me what I was doing in Sapporo, when I said it was to do with aviation and that I chose Nippon as I love the jumbo, she went away and came back with a postcard of a 747 and on the back and had written, "thank you for flying with us today", signed by half a dozen crew, with a Hello Kitty sticker attached! She also gave me a small bag of Nippon sweets and pens. Landed smoothly on time back at Haneda and parked next to Picachu Dreaming at the end of a great day."



Wow... that was nice service. How old was the passenger... 12? Look... I like Pokemon, but I'm not going to rave about the kiddie motif on my airplane.

Also... was this the best 'service' detail the Top 10 list could muster about ANA? The service was a green effing tea? No food, huh? Green tea? It's not mentioned, but do you think it was the high-class powder variety? I'm going to say no.

Half-empty plane? Geez... so I suppose this flight plan isn't making as much money as ANA hoped.

Oh well... that service by the flight attendant did seem a bit above and beyond the call of duty.

Of course, when I was a kid, I recall receiving metal and plastic models of various aircraft as gifts from the stews of BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), which is now part of British Airways - perhaps for not being an ass.
 
That was on a flight between London and Toronto and was back in 1968 when my mom and I traveled to Canada to stay. My dog Tin-Tin (named after the female marionette from The Thunderbirds TV show) was in the cargo hold... and my dad had already been in Toronto for a week... and had already found an apartment for us and got a job.

That was in 1968 (again). You sure as hell can't do that in 2013.

Oh... and my mom got a job in two days. It took me 25 years longer.

Congratulations to ANA (All Nippon Airways). Keep'em flying.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Charles Bronson - Mandom Japanese Commercial


Charles Bronson (Charles Dennis Buchinsky) had been an actor in American movies since 1951, often playing in the action-adventure genre of war movies like The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen long before he became famous and infamous for his Death Wish movies in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

But in-between that, Bronson became a western hero after starring in the fantastic flick "Once Upon A Time In The West", a film so popular that the Japanese felt he was the perfect 'Western Man'—even over Clint Eastwood.

As such, when Japan came calling in 1974 to have him star in a commercial for Mandom cologne, Bronson leaped at the opportunity to increase his presence in Asia.

Well, that and perhaps the $100,000 for four days of work.

That $100,000, by the way, was more than what Bronson had earned while starring in The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven (a movie that was a remake of the Seven Samurai epic by Japanese director Kurosawa - perhaps the best Japanese movie I have ever seen).

So… perhaps it should come to no one's surprise that the content of the Mandom ad… and please note that this was the first of eventually three such commercials—was weird.

And… if it's weird for us, by Western standards watching it, I can only assume how weird it must have been for Bronson to have made it.

Still, a few weeks after its release on television, Charles Bronson had made Mandom the top-selling men's toiletry product in Japan.

Here… watch it…


Hoo-Ha! Scent of a Bronson!

The other two Mandom flicks are not currently available on the Internet, though I hear that in the third one Bronson actually catches a fish with his bare hands, and throws some playing cards that shoot lasers out from them… total Japanese absurdity much like the Old Spice ones:



Obviously, the Old Spice commercial(s) is played up for yuks, while I can only say that 40 years later, the Bronson Mandom one is played up for yucks.

As I watched the Bronson Mandom commercial, the first thing I wondered as I was watching it was: Hey… was that Frank 'Sugar Chile' Robinson playing the piano? Doubt it.
After this performance, he and Count Bassie rode home in the back of the bus.

But did Bronson actually just growl at the piano player: “All the world loves a lover. All the world loves… Mandom!

I'm unsure about political correctness, but isn't that pretty gay? That even seems too gay to be gay. I know a few gay men, and none of them would ever utter anything like that Mandom line. Does it make it more politically correct if I use the term homo-erotic?

Then… it was - Hey! That's Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction as the doorman! Sweet! I love that old bugger! I love that show because it's also where I first learned about old time lingerie (petticoats - adults wanting to learn more about lingerie can check out the ADULT CONTENT website of my friend Mister Manfred Mann HERE).

No wait… that's not the same actor. That's Percy Helton… I've seen him in a ton of things… see HERE.

So… why was Helton laughing after Bronson slaps him on the back and drives away… does he know what Bronson is up to?

And… even though Bronson isn't the most handsome man, surely he could have picked up a few women at the bar just because he's Charles freaking Bronson? Oh well…

Okay… back to homo-erotic thing… Did Bronson just rip off his shirt, pirouette and throw his shirt up into the air? What the hell was that for?! Even the gay cowboys in Brokeback Mountain wouldn't do that.

And geezus…  did you see how much of that stuff he was slathering on all over his peeks?!?! He was just heading into the hotel room by himself, wasn't he? Or did I miss the part where he called on six hookers to join him? I assume Bronson would use his six-shooter.

And… after all that… Bronson lies back into the leather chair and strokes his own face as he says:

"Ummmm, Mandom!"

Uhhhhh, Bronson… WTF?

I could just say WTF Japan for creating such a surreal commercial that does its best to make one of Hollywood's toughest guys ever appear as queer as a $3 bill. They do exist… here's one I own:

Now… for a product calling itself Mandom… I'm confused at how anyone using it is going to become a dominating male… especially when it appears as though it can sometimes turn you into Liza Minelli.

Mondom After Shave Lotion.
Let's talk about the brand owner of Mandom, before we get back to our regularly scheduled blog.

According to Wikipedia, the Mandom Corporation first opened its pores doors for business in 1927 when it was known as the Kintsuru Perfume Corporation. Under the Mandom brand, it manufactures and distributes various hair care, skin care, perfumes and deodorants (if you care).

I am unsure just what it is that Bronson is pouring and swirling all over his rather muscular self… in that oddly erotic way, but I sure as hell hope it's not deodorant, because god help us, no man should ever smell so bad that they need to use as much as Bronson did.

I will freely admit that I have never wanted to buy a cologne that made me smell like another man. Not only have I never wanted to smell like another man—not even a stud like Charles Bronson—but I'm pretty sure I don't even want to smell Charles Bronson. Yes… I'm pretty sure. I think.

Call me a male lesbian, but I would much rather smell the perfumy Britney Spears… call me Curious.

Y'know… when I met Britney back when she was 16, I thought to myself… well, I thought a lot of things.. but mostly I thought - wow… she's going to be star… so I had her autograph a copy of Barbie Comics #1 for me.

Anyhow… back to Fem-dom… I mean Mandom… and Charles Bronson… which is really tough because I'm think quite hard about Britney right now….

I'll be back in a few minutes….

Okay…

Where were we? Right! Britney… I mean Bronson. Crap!

That commercial… is it just me, but did anyone else think he was getting all dolled up for a visit from the pianist? He did throw him that lover line, after all.

Anyhow… now that Bronson has become whore for Japanese products, he discovers he has a yen for the money they are willing to throw his way, and did two more commercials for Mandom… unfortunately, only this first one is available on the Internet.

And… in case you were wondering, this Mandom commercial was directed by Ohbayashi Nobuhiko… a Japanese gent who put out the Japanese horror flick House (ハウス, Hausu), about a schoolgirl traveling with her six classmates to her ailing aunt's country home, where they come face to face with supernatural events that has the girls devoured by the home one by freaking one. That doesn't sound homo-erotic… unless the house is a female house.Then I'd definitely watch that.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fukushima Area Hit With 7.3 Magnitude Earthquake

Holy crap! Just when we thought it was safe to go back into the somewhat radioactive water - a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck early Saturday morning (October 26, 2013) off Japan’s east coast, near the crippled Fukushima nuclear site, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

With news of the quake, Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued a one-meter tsunami warning for a long stretch of Japan’s northeastern coast, though it measured the earthquake at a mere 7.1 Magnitude.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not post warnings for the rest of the Pacific.

The tsunami warning center said of its bulletin: “No destructive widespread tsunami threat exists based in historical earthquake and tsunami data.

“However, earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts within 100 kilometers of the epicenter.”

There were no immediate reports of damage on land. Japanese television showed images of calm waters in the harbors.

The quake hit at 2:10AM, about 290 kilometers east off the coast of Fukushima-ken where a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011 caused massive damage, touched off massive tsunami (could be as high as 100-feet) that wiped out villages, and damaged the Dai-ichi nuclear reactor facility in Fukushima-ken. It is estimated that 19,000 people died as a result of that earthquake.

It was reported that TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power COmpany), the privately-owned and operator of the Dai-ichi plant had immediately ordered its workers near the coast to move to higher ground—but there does not appear to be any immediate danger to the plant.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

Hoot Mon! Japan Bikes For Tweed

Oh…. that the race of man could ever sink so low.

Despite possessing the awesome Scottish name of Andrew, Scotland has brought a lot of other misanthropic things to the world calling such miserable pastimes as haggis and deep-fried Mars bars as 'food' and making a name for itself as a musical hotbed with its painful drone of the bagpipes…

I do think the country is extremely pretty and its people wonderful - and I certainly do have a thing for Scottish women with their sexy, wee accent.

While Scotland has also exported the pleated kilt skirt as a fashion statement for Catholic teenaged girls and women who think dressing up as one is sexually enticing for their men (you're just encoring men to have pedophile imaginings), it does have a decent history in its innovative inventiveness, giving the world such fare as: tubular steel, coal-gas lighting, condensing steam engine, the screw propeller, the Encyclopedia Britannia, a bunch of math things (yawn), curling, golf, hypodermic syringe and lots more.

It also puts in a claim to fame for having created the Tweed fabric, the pedal bicycle and the pneumatic tire.

So… leave it to Japan to celebrate these last three things with a Tweed Run Tokyo bicycle event, which took place in Tokyo on October 14, 2013.

Featuring about 150 hipster doofuses (doofi? - is that the plural) wearing tweed, they rode around the city as a part of Fashion Week… a spin-off from the original Tweed Run in London, UK which started in 2009.

The Tokyo version began in 2012.
I'm unsure how many blondes were cycling, but a very nice event poster by Mark Fairhurst.

But… why call something a 'Run" when it's a bicycle riding event? And… if it relaters to tweed, do we really want a run in our tweed? I don't get it.

But why Japan? Or should that be Why? Japan??!!

Because whenever there's a chance to dress up in goofy old-fashioned clothing, just like Johnny Depp in damn near every movie role—The Japanese are into it.

While I have no problem with anyone wearing tweed provided they are either going to a Sherlock Holmes costume ball or are female (women have a way of making any fashion look 'good'), I still don't know why anyone would want to wear such an outdated fabric.

What's next, hipster doofuses (doofus'?) Caveman furs?

Well… I suppose people who have no fashion sense (since becoming married) shouldn't throw pillows…
I'm unsure if its the fabric or the design, but even I have to admit that's a chic look.

I must admit that the folks dressed up for the Tweed Run Tokyo do look good. But that's because they are out for an event.And they are hipster doofusites (?).

"It’s so Tokyo, I would say," a participant gayly (the old-fashioned meaning of the word!) muttered to the media. "We are using this traditional fabric in many modern ways. It’s part of the diversity of fashion."

See? Hipster doofusters. No one talks like that in real life.

But using the traditional fabric in many MODERN ways? Just because you wear an old-style fabric in 2013 does not make it modern! Look at the photo above... how modern does it look to you? It looks like it was modern 110 years ago. Hipster Doofusser.

Can people wear this stuff every day in 2013? Would you? If I did—and I know I could pull it off—I would be ridiculed more than I ever was back in high school when I was ugly and my mother dressed me funny. Growing into adulthood and beating the crap out of everyone who ever teased me, I worked out heavily, grew my hair nice and long and became a metrosexual and male lesbian (I LUV women).

I'm a graduate of the John Casablanca Modeling Agency here in Toronto, and even did a few shows… and while I am aware that models aren't suppose to have an opinion regarding the clothes they model, I've grown out of being a model - mostly around my waist.

As a lark, I would wear tweed and partake in an event like this if I know there was a chance to hot on the ladies of Japan. But never in real life.

But maybe that's because I lived in a small town in Japan - and not the big mega-city of Tokyo.

I just have one question… were these hipster doofuseseseses outfitted with these Victorian/Edwardian-era tweed outfits OR did they have these things in their clothes closets next to Sailor Moon COSPLAY costumes?

For the inaccurately named 2013 Tweed Run Tokyo, bicyclists tried not to get their fancy pants caught in the gear chain as they loudly (it has to be loud in those suits) moved leisurely through the streets of Gainmae to Ginza over a two hour or so period.

Sorry you missed it? Fret not. If you are in the Nagoya area on October 26, 2013 - and have something old that a moth would grow large on - wheel your anachronistic ass out and see if you can participate in their 2013 Tweed Run Nagoya.

Somewhere looking up the plural of doofus,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Hmmm... could doofus already be a plural... a plural for dumb fug?
Oh well... I'm going to head to Bedrock... a little town I know where the hipsters go... twitch-twitch.
Click HERE to hear what I'm talking about.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Early Japanese Economics And The Bicycle

What a difference 10 or 11 years makes.

Let's take a look at Japan, bicycles and pumping up the economy. 

It might sound strange indeed, but one of the more important industries grown in Japan after the opening up of its borders (forced to by US gun-toting legitimate businessmen) for international trade, was the bicycle.

As I have covered HERE recently about Japan's interest in the bicycle, it was introduced by foreign interest, piqued thanks to a foreigner riding his bicycle around the world, and pushed ahead by numerous Japanese blacksmiths and other bicycle factories in Japan and the world.

The bicycles being ridden between the 1860s and 1895 were known as Ordinary bicycles, and were what we would call the Penny-Farthing bikes with one huge front wheel and one tiny small rear wheel.

How people rode those bicycles and didn't kill themselves or others is beyond me.

But… by 1896, the pneumatic tire had been invented and utilized in the bicycle industry and had allowed bicycles to be less tall and have wheels the same size giving us what we would recognize as a standard bicycle. 

And... with the new style of bicycle came a new industry for Japan to become involved in.

Thanks to the Newsbank/Readex database of Early American Newspapers (www.readex.com), I have a pair of newspaper articles, that I have re-typed... so hopefully I have done so without making any mistakes (I can't tgype... or spell, apparently). (Yes... that just really happened. You should also know that when I write 'the', it always comes out 'teh'. I know how to spell it, but my fingers can't finger it out.)

Article one, is from the October 16, 1896 edition of the Kansas City, Missouri newspaper, The Kansas City Star.

The Japan Bicycle Factories

P.H. Bernays, a member of the Oakland, Cal., bicycle club has just returned from Japan, and reports that while there he visited the bicycle factories which have been heralded as about to flood this country with $12 machines. He says that after careful search he found the total capacity to be less than 100 machines per year, and those of the crudest description, and only sold in the interior to persons not familiar with the development of the bicycle. The wheels are listed according to speeds, one represented as able to be driven at a rate of 12 miles an hour, being rated higher than one built to go only eight. He secured one of the steel balls used in the bearings, and found it to have been, to all appearances, made in a mould, and finished off with a file. A cigar box held the complete stock of balls of one factory.

Interesting... either American pride and prejudice is showing through in the above article, or Japanese manufacturing really wasn't inspiring confidence as something to be feared. 

Let's move ahead 11 years, and view the October 17, 1907 article from the The Evening News out of  San Jose, California.

More Bicycles Sold This Year

American Factories See The Methods Of Japan

Gains Noted in Bicycle Sales To Foreign Countries

One of the managers of a leading bicycle factory in the middle West, states that  in his opinion the season of 1907. large as it has been, will be eclipsed by the sales of next year. The manufacturer based his views on the very good ground that by the tenth of the present month he had booked more orders than were on his books at the end of December last year.
When the fact is recalled that the spring of 1907 was the most discouraging, in point of bad weather, that this country has seen in many years, and yet the actual sales of bicycles exceeded those of any season for seven years, it will be seen that the country is rapidly realizing that the country is rapidly realizing that the bicycle's popularity's already almost as great as it was in the so-called craze days.
Tire Factories In Japan
American bicycle tire factories are getting a taste of Japan's peculiar trade methods. As it is well know by many American manufacturers, the Japanese do not scruple to reproduce American patented articles, and anything that they can make over there, has so great an advantage in the cost of labor that the article is under a great handicap when it endeavors to compete with the Japanese-original-made imitations.
Japan, apparently, has made up her mind that the bicycle tire market is worth cultivating, both for the savings in home consumption, and in competing for trade in the other parts of the far East.
Tokio, therefore, has now three bicycle tire factories, at least one of which is making an exact copy of one of the best known and most popular of tires.
Increased DemandAmerican rubber factories, which have expected to see the automobile tire supplant the bicycle tire, to a large degree, have been much surprised during the last year, at the steadily increasing demand for bicycle tires. One of the leading companies is authority for the statement that the bicycle tire trade has shown a marked increase for every month since the early part of last winter, and also that during the beginning of the present riding season it had more orders for bicycle tires than it could conveniently fill.
America's Bicycle ExportsExports of American cycles and cycle parts, showed, in the aggregate, some reduction in the eight months ending August this year, as against the eight months ending with August in 1906. On the other hand, increased sales to certain foreign countries show that the balance of trade is running in America's favor in a number of countries.
The sales to France, for instance, which only amounted to $16,531 in 1906 eight months, climbed to $44,051 this year. Gains were also shown in the sales to the United Kingdom, Belgium, Cuba and the other West Indies, Brazil and British Australasia.

So... now Japan's products aren't so bad... but it does correctly take flack for a lack of respect of copyright laws.

Still... $12 bicycles in 1907, as opposed to having to pay $50 for one built by the Wright Brothers or someone like that... though I would think a bicycle built by the Wright Brothers might nowadays have infinitely more cache than a bike built in Japan.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sumo Ref Gets Kicked In The Face

Hey... want to see a sumo wrestler accidentally kick a an old man in a pink robe in the face?

Not just the photo above... but in a .gif format? Sure you do.

Sad how we get our jollies, eh... but I must admit I watched it 10x or more... Now you can, too:

From what I understand, the sumo referee immediately got up after taking a 10 minute nap. Actually... I have no idea how the referee is. He basically just got hit with a 300 lb hoof from a cow being thrown at him.

It is the first time I've ever seen a referee get hit in sumo... those buggers are hopping around and yelling louder than a cricket in a wooden boy's head. Hopefully he's okay.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

The Face That Launched A Million Bikes

I enjoy watching The Murdoch Mysteries… a whimsical television portrayal of 20th century Toronto and its policing methods. Anyhow, in a recent episode I saw the coppers removing the painting of Queen Victoria and replacing it with one of Edward VII… implying that we were now in the year 1901.

In a later episode involving bicycle races, doping and race fixing (and murder), the good people of Toronto appear shocked that a woman would be allowed to ride a bicycle - and thus show more skin above the ankle than was Victorian/Edwardian morally allowed by common decency.

So what about Japan? Let's examine skin, opera and bicycles in that era.

Let's meet Miura Tamaki (三浦環 - surname first) who lived between February 22, 1884 – May 26, 1946. She was a Japanese woman who was best known for her operatic talents, usually as Cio-Cio-San in Puccini's Madame Butterfly.

After making her debut in Tokyo in 1911, she went later that year to Europe to train and study opera.

It was in 1915 that she was first cast in the role of Cio-Cio-San performing first at the London Opera House for director Vladimir Rosing.

In the Fall of 1915, she performed the role again, but this time in Chicago with the Boston Opera Company.

She continued to work in Madame Butterfly and Mascagni's Iris in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, before returning to London to work with the Beecham Company.

For two season, beginning in 1918, she went back to the U.S. to work in Madame Butterfly and André Messager's Madame Chrysanthème.

I have come across a wonderful interview from Miura during this time in her life - but wait a few lines, okay?

After traveling from 1920 to 1922 to play at opera houses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Florence and Rom, she went to Nagasaki, Japan to view Japanese operas.

In 1924, Miura returned to the U.S. to perform the San Carlo Opera Company before leaving in 1926 to visit Chicago to create the title role in Aldo Fanchetti's Namiko-San.

After this she took part in various tours and sang in Italy before returning to Japan in 1932 and retire.

For more information on Miura, allow me to direct you to www.oldmagazinearticles.com - a wonderful place to view long forgotten articles on things we have no business forgetting. HERE. Read the stuff on Miura that's over on the left after you view the magazine article from the 1915 Vogue.

Miura was so beloved, that there is still a statue of her in Nagasaki's Glover Garden.



Here's is a YOUTUBE (audio) video of Miura singing Madame Butterfly:

Interesting, I suppose. I admit to not being an opera fan, though I appreciate the skill it takes to perform it. I sound like I should be able to sing—I have a nice rich chocolate smooth voice—but I must be tone deaf or something equally mortifying.

I do like dancers, though. Ballet and spandex ballet et al.

Anyhow… what caught my attention about Ms. Miura was an interview she gave and appeared in the September 17, 1919 edition of the Jackson, Michigan newspaper The Jackson Citizen Patriot.

In it, Miura discusses how, when she was a child and living in Tokyo, she not only had a historic first NOT related to opera, but also took a step in providing a bit of power to the then non-existent women's rights movement of Japan. A bit of woman's suffrage, if you will.

Anyhow… here's the story… told, I assume, in her own words. (I say assume, because how the hell was the writer taking down every single wood she said? I interview by pen and paper, but I know it's impossible to get every word. This was, of course, before tape recorders became part of the standard reporter arsenal. I have one. I just choose not to use it. I don't want to have to listen to some of these interviews I do again. Ugh.)

Tokio Was Agog When She Rolled Out On Her Bike

Japanese Prima Donna Set Bicycle Style For Fair Nipponese

If you really want to get a good, hearty laugh from Tamaka Muira, the famous little Japanese prima donna of the Chicago Opera Association, ask her if she likes bicycling. If the prima donna is feeling just right (she seldom feels otherwise) she will tell you of her first "bike" journey through the streets of her native city, Tokio.
Madame Muira's father is what she calls, in American slang, a "nut." That is, he is always one of the first to try something new. When the bicycle was first introduced to Japan by American tourists, her father purchased one the very next day. For weeks he tried to navigate the two-wheeled contrivance. At last he learned and was soon one of the curiosities in Japan. Being a lawyer, and having to travel to different parts of the empire, he forsook the trains and always journeyed on his bicycle.
"Oftimes he left his bicycle in the yard," says Tamaka Muira, "and I would go out and try to ride. In a few days I had mastered the art and when my father would go off to his office I would spin all about the place—much to the delight and amusement of the servants.
Bicycle of Her Own
"One day my father caught me. My, but I expected an awful scolding. He was at times a very stern magistrate, and if he had had some case that annoyed him—he often brought his temper home. But this time he laughed, laughed and laughed. Then he sent and purchased me a bicycle. He used to watch me ride about the years with much admiration. Then he invited some European friends to the house and had me perform.
"When they told him that girls in America and Europe rode just as much as the men, and often entered races, my father told me I could ride in the street.
"Then one morning I thought it would be nice to make my debut by riding to the music academy. My father told the police that I was going to do so and to see to it that I did not run down any horse and carriage.
"The police smiled and thought my father crazy.
The Crowd Followed
"Well, I started out. I sped down the main streets, passing the trolley cars, the horses and carriages. Soon I had hundreds of people following me. The boys and men cheered and shouted at me, while the women hid their heads and the young girls their faces. They had never seen such a thing in all of Japan. Here was the daughter of a judge and highly respected lawyer displaying her bare head and arms before the public. It was a disgrace.
"When I arrived at the school all the professors came out and looked at me in amazement. The police warned me against doing such a thing again, while hundreds of my father's friends went to him and told of how his daughter had set a bad example for the girls in Japan.
"My father laughed and laughed and told everybody they were crazy; that all the girls in America and Europe rode bicycles every day. In a short time many Japanese girls had bicycles. But it was great fun to see me the first time on my bicycle—believe me—and I proved much distraction to my teachers that first day."

Pretty cool, huh? Chastized for a bare head and bare arms! I love her father - screw'em! he says (in action, rather than words).

Anyhow... while looking to see if I could actually find a photo of Miura with her bicycle, I came across another website - an English page that seems to have been translated from Japanese: HERE, that claims the bicycle was given to her by her father to try and embarrass her from becoming a singer.

One article is more correct, I suppose... but the Tokyo website article does say that she became a sensation as the “Beauty on a Bicycle” in a newspaper that printed her photograph.  I note also that information in the Tokyo blog was pulled from interesting sources (at the bottom of the article...), but I can't find any other sources to back up this information.

However, we should all recall that the US newspaper interview above is based on an interview WITH Miura. Did she soften the way her father had treated her, or is her version above the correct one?    

Further thoughts: It was a great article! But when did Miura ride all over Japanese sensibility? In what year? I hate it when news articles—in any media then or now that you'd care to mention—don't present an accurate enough picture. It's sloppy…

So… when did this bike ride take place in Tokyo?

I had initially thought it was around 1894-1895 - just before the standard bike came about - why - because by 1896, Japan was on the verge of mass-producing bikes (sort of) for the foreign and domestic market.

Then again… why else would I mention The Murdoch Mysteries… surely not just for one point?!

If puritanical Toronto was still not accepting of women riding a bicycle by 1901 (the show - while often far-fetched, still provides a fairly accurate barometer of the science and politics of the day - though perhaps not the uses of science), then I can make a leap to assume that Miura's Lady Godiva ride a la Helen of Troy could be around the turn of the century… when she rode the new invention… but no… that's just it… the bicycle was still a new invention.

But which bicycle? The Ordinary penny-farthing type known in Japan as the Dharma? Or the standard one we know and love today?

Japan - and thus surely Tokio /Tokyo /Edo knew all about the Ordinary bicycles by the time Miura was born in 1884. They were long in vogue - first as a gaijin curiosity and then because of Thomas Stevens trek around the world on his bicycle that include the finishing leg in Yokohama in 1886. He started a Japanese craze for (Ordinary) bicycles.

So no…. the bicycle that Miura is talking about to the reporter in this 1919 interview… it must involve the brand new standard bicycle and its new pneumatic tube tires. So we can guesstimate 1896 or 1897.

She still had to be in school, and the bicycle had to be a new invention because that's the way her crackpot father rolled.

That's my two-cents worth, if you have a yen to approve.

How's my deduction Inspector Murdoch?

By the way... did anyone else notice that the newspaper article I reprinted above has the WRONG spelling for Miura's name? Yup. It almost caught me, too. Now it makes me wonder what else is wrong in that first-person story...

Cheers
Andrew Joseph
Photo at the very top was found on Wikipedia, but original source is www.vill.yamanakako.yamanashi.jp/index.php
PS: And a tip of the hat to the folks who maintain the Newsbank/Readex database of Early American Newspapers (www.readex.com). They have a wonderful library of interesting American newspapers... to be honest, I didn't realize they had such modern papers as this one from 1919... I thought they were all 1860 and younger. Shows what I know.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Early History Of The Bicycle In Japan

So… since this is a blog about Japan… let's write about Japan… specifically something about their culture… like bicycles. A religion.

When I moved from Toronto to Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan in July of 1990, the one thing that surprised the hell out of me was the fact that there were a lot of bicycles being ridden - and not just by the kids under the age of 16, but by adults… adults who could legally be driving a car instead!

It does snow in Japan, right? Yes… it does - depending on where you live, of course. What did people do when it snowed? They walked.

Japan was long a walking society in the Edo-jidai (Edo era - the days when Japan was still a closed society) of the 1600s - 1868.

Sure, some might have ridden a horse, but most would have been lucky enough to ride a rickshaw or an ox-cart.

But it wasn't until Commodore Perry came to visit Japan that foreign inventions made their way into the country… things like the bicycle.

There are no records showing when exactly the first instance of a bicycle was used in Japan… in fact, it seems quite logical that the tricycle was more in use in Japan than the bicycle.

One wheel in front and two in the back… it was an easier and cheaper way of moving gods from point A to point B than using an ox.

There are a few drawings and ukiyo-e prints which show the tricycle being used.

Back in the 1860s, tricycles were popular in Yokohama (where the foreigners could legally dock their ships for trade with Japan). I suppose it is possible that one of the foreign ships arriving in Japan contained a tricycle and or many bicycles that intrigued the Japanese… so much so that they would purchase them from the traveling merchants.
"A Jirinsha" tricycle,a drawing from a 'Yokohama open port experience magazine', 1865 .
But… by the 1870s, bicycles had become so popular with the people of Osaka-ken (Osaka Prefecture), that traffic laws were installed to include them. But, while popular in Osaka and perhaps Yokohama, the bicycle was still very much a curiosity that would elicit stares just as I would riding my giant-sized standard bicycle down the streets of Ohtawara that first month there.

"Hora! Gaijin-da! (Look! A foreigner!)" they would scream.
"Konichiwaaaaaaaaaaaa" I would reply as I sped past them on my bicycle.


Now… when I talk about bicycles in the 1870s through 1890s, I'm talking about bicycles that look like the Penny-Farthings… the huge front wheel and the much smaller back wheel.

These bikes are called the 'Ordinary' throughout most of the world, but are perhaps best known in Great Britain commonwealth countries as the 'penny-farthing' where the large and small coins - the large penny and small farthing - were well known.

Here… let me draw you a picture with some of my coins:
Despite my lack of artistic ability as a doodler, kindda cool, huh… but where's the love for Japan?

Well… it was a foreigner in Japan who made the bicycle quite the technological darling of Japan.

Meet Thomas Stevens (December 24, 1854 - January 24, 1935) of Hertfordshire, England, who was the first person to circle the globe by bicycle - a Penny-Farthing, in this case, since he's British.
Thomas Stevens
He traveled from April 1884 to December 1886 - none of that 80-days stuff… it took him two years and nine months.

Despite his Britishness, Stevens moved to the US - Denver and then San Francisco - in 1871, where he learned to ride the Ordinary bicycle.

In 1884 he purchased a black-enameled Columbia 50-inch 'Standard' bike with nickel-plated wheels, built by the Pope Manufacturing Company of Chicago. He packed his handlebar bag with socks, a spare shirt, a raincoat that doubled as tent and bedroll, and a pocket revolver and left San Francisco at 8AM on April 22.
The actual Thomas Steven's Pope Ordinary bicycle.
Skipping ahead, once in the rioting areas of China, he took a steamship to Japan and says he was impressed by the calm of the country.

According to the The Jijishinpou newspaper of December 4, 1886, Stevens arrived in Nagasaki by the Yokohama-maru ship steamship. On his bicycle, he left the city of Nagasaki and rode to Yokohama on December 17, 1886—the end of his global trek. Stevens says that not counting the boat trips, he had actually wheeled about 13,500 miles.
What happened to the bicycle? It had been preserved by the Pope Manufacturing Company… until it decided that being patriotic triumphed global unity, and donated the bike to the scrap drives to propel the war effort.

Damn Pope.

By the way… Stevens had also joined in the hunt in East Africa for noted explorer Henry Morton Stanley, but didn't find him.

Anyhow… the Stevens bicycle ride across the country was a news sensation! People lined up to see him ride past and wanted to read about his journey.

It is suspected that Steven's travels through Japan made the bicycle as something the Japanese wanted to have for themselves.

With demand came the supply.

I'll get to it in a second, but just note that the Japanese began manufacturing bicycles at around this time in larger and larger numbers.

The Ordinary bicycles in Japan were usually manufactured by Japanese blacksmiths - probably after seeing a European or American version.

These Ordinary bicycles were constructed in Japan between 1885 and 1895, before the more common bicycle we know and love today was introduced.

Because local blacksmiths were the manufacturers, Ordinaries could have differing size variations depending on where exactly it was built and by whom.
An 1897 Japanese built Ordinary (Dharma) bicycle - manufactured by a blacksmith.
But, thanks to the efforts of such Japanese bicycle historians as Ohtsu Yukio (surname first), we have an idea of how large an Ordinary might be as built by Kunimoto in 1891 of Nagashima-shi (Nagashima City) in Shiga-ken.
  • Front wheel: 1.05 meters
  • Back wheel: 0.48 meters
  • Saddle height: 1.15 meters
  • The wheel frame is constructed of wood
  • The tire is an iron belt.
  • It also had a front mudguard.
In Japan, The Ordinary bicycle had a much more colloquial name: the Dharma.

Who or what is the Dharma besides being the very, very, very hot Jenna Elfman in a decent comedic television program (Dharma and Greg). You can tell I have a thing for Jenna.

In Buddhist culture, the Dharma was a monk born in India (he was a gaijin!!!) and traveled to China at around 470AD. Studying at the Mount Songshan Shaoling temple, he helped found the Chinese zen Buddhist philosophy.

Anyhow, in Japan, the Dharma (Bodhidharma) is a sign of good luck… and because they saw these Ordinary bicycles to resemble the meditating form of the Bodhidharma, they called the bikes Dharma's.

Got it? Good.

Now… because of the passing resemblance to Bodhidharma (according to Buddhist lore and later paintings of a man long dead before being reconstructed from 'memory'), since the Bodhidharma was lucky, so too must the Dharma bicycle be lucky - by association, of course.

It is thought that because was lucky, it was a way for the Japanese people to be one step closer to their Buddhist teachings, and it is a reason why bicycles became a phenomenon in Japan.

I would bet it's for the same reason in China, but for them, after the cultural revolution, it became a utilitarian thing, rather than a religious symbol of luck.

Hey… don't knock the bicycle as a religious symbol. Despite being a Roman Catholic myself, have you seen the crucifix as a Christian symbol? We love our savior so much we made his suffering of being named to a cross our symbol of hope and happiness.
In 1893, the Morimura brothers cycled the Tokaido highway on these American-made Ordinary bicycles.
Anyhow… it was between the 1885-1895 era that Japan became globally-respected for its manufacturing skills… or perhaps it's better to say it became well respected for its ability to manufacture a decent Ordinary at an affordable price.

According to an 1895 Chicago Tribune article: "Japan seems to be the ideal land in which to purchase bicycles…good wheels are sold over there, and at wholesale at $12 each."

Doesn't $12 sound pretty steep for a bike in 1895? Well, consider that in the US, you could buy an Ordinary for $50.

That's all well and good, but what is that in today's dollars?

That $12 Dharma bicycle would be $310. Yowza. That mans that an American-made Ordinary might set you back the equivalent of $1,300.

Was it American greed or Japanese ignorance of prices? Well, Japan still had a manufacturing base that had a low earning workforce. Cheap labor and an uncanny ability to mimic Western inventions meant that Japanese bicycles were a popular product around the world.

That's all for now... if I feel like it in a few days, we'll get to the standard bicycle in Japan.

And... watch out for Japanese drivers! No matter what you think as a cyclist, even if you have the right of way, just pretend you don't. You don't want to be hit twice by cars like I was.

Cheers
Andrew Joseph
The image at the very top is from the June 10, 1893 issue of Fuzoku Gaho a monthly Meiji era  magazine, and shows the members of the Japanese Imperial Army performing exercises in Utsunomiya-shi, the capital of Tochigi-ken in 1892 (which I visited 100 years later).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Godzilla 2014 Movie Cast

Hi there. Time for another update on the upcoming Godzilla movie, slated to arrive in theaters on May 16, 2014 in 2D and, if you have a few extra bucks, 3D.

Just this past month, I saw my first ever movie in 3D, and all I can say is they have come a long way from the 1950-80s. So... go see this one in 3D!

This movie, simply called Godzilla because that's what he/it wanted, is a reboot of the series, in this the second Godzilla monster movie to be filled entirely as an American production.

Directed by Gareth Edwards Godzilla is co-produced by Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures (but not their sister, Dot). It will be distributed worldwide by Warner Brothers, except in Japan, where it will distributed by Toho Co. Ltd., who created Godzilla all the way back in 1954.

The plot... geez... if you are reading this, you have some idea, but essentially, Godzilla will come into being in our modern world thanks to something bad that mankind has done. The misunderstood Godzilla will then go one a destructive rampage, and humanity will have to figure out some way to stop and control it/him.

But... apparently Godzilla WON'T be born from a nuclear misunderstanding.

It's the plot in every Godzilla re-boot. This one will hopefully have the best and most realistic special effects yet, and will also feature a pretty decent cast led by Bryan Cranston, fresh from his stellar performance as Walter White/Heisenberg from the television show Breaking Bad.

Here's a clip of Bryan Cranston and co-star Elizabeth Olsen talking about the movie from Nerdist News:

Here's the current cast, as we know it:
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Lieutenant Ford
  • Bryan Cranston as Scientist Joe Brody
  • Elizabeth Olsen as nurse Elle Ford, wife of Lieutenant Ford
  • Ken Watanabe as John
  • Juliette Binoche as Ford's mother
  • David Strathairn as "The Major"
  • Richard T. Jones as a military figure "The Colonel"
  • Victor Rasuk
  • Akira Takarada (unspecified role)
  • Sally Hawkins as a scientist
  • Yuki Morita as Akio
  • CJ Adams as young Ford
  • Jared Keeso as Jump Master
  • Patrick Sabongui as Sergeant Marcus Waltz
  • Al Sapienza as Huddleston
  • Brian Markinson as Whalen
  • Carson Bolde as Sam
  • Ken Yamamura (unspecified)
  • Raj K. Bose as mine team member (uncredited)
  • Christian Tessier (unspecified)
  • Primo Allon as mine team member
  • Jeric Ross as dying man in triage
  • Warren Takeuchi as Akio's father
  • Yuki Morita as Akio's mother
  • Peter Dwerryhouse as wheelchair evacuee
  • Chris West as FEMA camp survivor (uncredited)
After viewing a couple of lists, this was the best I could come up with...

You can also check out another blog article of mine that shows some footage from the movie - though it is anyone's guess if it will be used - HERE.

By the way, if you think Godzilla is just some cheesy monster movie, I urge you to get a look at the original 1954 movie - and not the one with Raymond Burr in it. I did a write-up on it HERE. It's is one dark movie. That link also has every Godzilla movie or animated cartoon appearance.

I am looking forward to this movie.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph