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Thursday, July 31, 2014

When Sumo Wrestlers Fly

Do you guys know that movie "Snakes On A Plane"? It was pretty intense, but it's got nothing on the following story - Sumo Wrestlers On A Plane or, When Sumo Wrestlers Fly.  

Many of you are aware that aside from women, sports and comic books, I also like things about Japan, aviation and sumo wrestling - because it's a sport.

Anyhow, check out this wonderful photograph of 29 sumo wrestlers squeezed into an airplane.

There ain't no one pushing a food cart down that center aisle - not that any stewardess would have dared try.

My only question is whether not this contravenes any sort of aviation safety laws?

As well, I know I got dinged by many an airline because my carry-on was too heavy, and had to pay a few extra bucks... you can tell me that 29 sumo wrestlers weighing over 300-lbs (136-kilograms) apiece - that that does not constitute extra baggage?!

Did the pilots calculate the weight to fuel ratio properly to ensure they had enough... or could get up enough speed to lift off? 

To find out, visit Rocket News HERE to read the story.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Ready For McDonald's Shinjo Tofu Nuggets?

In the wake of a still warm under the heat lamp chicken scandal, McDonald’s Holdings Co. (Japan) Ltd. is introducing a new nugget snack featuring the other white meat (no - not pork, though that would be better), known as Tofu Shinjo Nuggets.

We'll have to chalk this up to mere coincidence, because there is NO way McDonald's anywhere is launching a new product with only a week to prepare.

However… did McDonald's Japan push up the entry of the tofu nugget?

Nawwww… read on. By the way… along with the facts, I'm going to have a bit of fun here, you know… make a Happy Meal out of it.

These new Tofu Shinjo Nuggets made mainly from tofu (which is made from soy beans, of course) and vegetables have been released less than a week after it came to light that McDonald's Japan was halting all its chicken products imported from China.

There was a scandal at chicken-nugget supplier Shanghai Husi Food Co. of China—a story that was first revealed via Chinese media reports earlier this month—that Shanghai Husi was using expired meat in its products.

Apparently, the company knowingly mixed out-of-date meat with fresh product, re-labeled the expired goods, and sold it as being fresh.

That's just criminal.

Of course, McDonald's Japan has stopped using that supplier.

“I would like to extend my sincere apology to our valued customers,” states McDonald's Japan chief executive Sarah Casanova (I love that name), at a news conference on July 29, 2014.

Casanova adds that the tainted meat issue is “restricted to one supplier in one city.”

That's right... one supplier in one city. Not all of its Chinese suppliers.

About 20% of McDonald's chicken nuggets sold in Japan came from Shanghai Husi.

Workers produce food at the Shanghai Husi Food Co., a factory of U.S. food provider OSI Group, in Shanghai, July 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/). Some of the tainted meat MIGHT be in this photo.
There were no reports of any illness or deaths resulting from this situation.

McDonald's Japan says it will now use chicken meat from a recognized supplier in Thailand. Kob kun krab. That's Thai, and what a man would say, when uttering a polite 'thank-you very much'.

McDonald's will also use another supplier in China to help fill the chicken need.

Now... just before everyone goes - oh, those effing Chinese, you should know that Shanghai Husi is a subsidiary of OSI Group, a U.S. company. Ooooooh.

According to the Chinese newspaper the Global Times: "Famous international brands have not adopted a dedicated attitude toward Chinese consumers."

The implication is that this crime, and crimes like it, were brought to China by foreign companies imposing their will.

Maybe. But maybe not. I'm still saying there's a communication issue here - you know, like 'we need to supply our top customers quickly and efficiently at any cost'. And maybe to he folks at Shanghai Husi, that meant doing something criminal. Maybe. This is all supposition.

OSI Group has been supplying McDonald's in China since 1992, and actually set-up the Shanghai Husi meat processing plant in 1996. It would seem strange that this type of criminal, morally-reprehensible behavior has been going on since then.... so I would assume that the Chinese Global Times newspaper is indulging in a bit of kiss-ass propaganda with the Chinese government.

This is one of those instances where people had let product go bad and, afraid that if the bosses found out, everyone would lose their job, so they tried to hide it. This is stupidity, and poor personal managing choices. It is not a reflection on a whole company or on a nation.

(Yes, you will hear all sorts of stupid stuff happening in China, but truthfully, there's a whole lot of stupid stuff happening in every country. Having worked as a journalist with a top North American newspaper, I can still tell you that it was not always 'all the news that's fit to print', but rather 'all the news we feel like telling you'. The internet does alter that a fair bit, however.) 

As for Tofu Shinjo Nuggets, McDonald's Japan says that “The new nuggets do not include any chicken” but are made from ingredients that include onions, soybeans, carrots and minced fish.

Shinjo is a kind of Japanese food made of fish paste, starch and other ingredients. I am unsure what type of fish, or even what parts of the fish are used.

(It's like the term 'meat by-products' can imply blood and bone and well, use your imagination. It doesn't mean the finest cuts. To be fair, no one at McDonald's Japan is using the term 'fish by-products', but 'fish paste' is pretty damn vague, and does get around having to describe the actual ingredient(s). But again… there are these so-called 'other ingredients'. I'm sure there is nothing to worry about, because no one would ever sell anything remotely harmful to a customer, would they?) (Oh… waitaminute!)

These nuggets will be constructed or manufactured in Japanese factories, and will be available at a cost of ¥249 (US/Cdn $2.44) for four pieces beginning July 30, 2014 until late September.

Tofu Shinjo Nugget is the first nugget product to feature tofu as the main ingredient - though you will note that the key word is 'nugget product', implying there are other tofu products not called 'nugget'.

The new tofu nuggets will be served with a ginger-flavored sauce (though I'm sure I would also like the Mary-Ann-flavored sauce). “Because it isn’t meat, it tastes a bit different. It’s a bit softer,” the spokesperson says. “Calorie-wise, it is a bit lower than chicken as well.”

Yes... deep fried, breaded anything isn't going to be super-healthy.

As for these Shinjo Tofu Nuggets… the most important thing to ask is: "Does it taste just like chicken or fish?"

Or, if you are Japanese, perhaps the most important thing to ask is: "Does it taste just like tofu or does it taste like spoiled tofu - you know… natto?"Ugh. Scandalous.

Or, could they not simply have used the Chicken Of The Sea brand of white tuna meat? I'm pretty sure there's no chicken in it? The Japanese call white tuna meat the crappy part of the tuna fish, referring to it as 'shi chicken'… a brand fact I always found amusing.

Lastly, just to poke the panda bear, just what will McDonald's Japan do if relations with China get worse before they get better? Where will it get all of its chicken meat for its Chicken Nuggets? I mean… it did not sever ties with China, just ties with Shanghai Husi Food Co.

It still gets chicken from other suppliers there - I'm guessing (I don't know for certain)… but if Sino-China relations do get worse, can Thailand supply McDonald's Japan with all its chicken needs? I mean its fresh chicken meat?

And… since China and Japan are em-broiled in a MAD battle for superiority over who has the largest wang (in Japanese, suzuki) over ownership of some strategic islands that have been in Japan's possession for a century… is it possible that China is trying a bit of subterfuge, by purposely supplying Japan with tainted meat?

Is this a game of chicken? It sure tastes like it. LOL! Or is it LOL?

It is a pity about McDonald's Japan. I'm sure it cares greatly for consumer safety - just like all good companies should.

The only time I can think it isn't, is for arms manufacturers, though even all guns come with a safety.

And… for the record… tofu does not taste like chicken… if it does, it's because of the sauces added to it. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I happen to like tofu. It's tasty and good for you.

I personally don't feel the need to have a healthy food option such as tofu at my local fast-food restaurant, but I understand why it it is there. I can eat in a more healthy, controlled manner at home any time. When I eat out, or receive take-out, much like what every one suspected prior to the past 20 years, was that it was a treat. A chance to spoil oneself.

Now with the level of foods available at our local grocer - from healthy to not-so-healthy to convenience (same thing, often), it's like consumers expect the same damn options from fast-food outlets.

That, to me, is the real shame.

Trust me… people who never eat a salad at home are certainly not going to order a healthy salad option at McDonald's. And… if you can eat a salad option at home, why would you need to go to McDonald's?

The convenience… of course!

Tofu is being presented not as another healthy option - the thing looks deep-fried, after all - but rather it is being presented as a tasty convenience.

If I was in Japan, I would at least try the Shinjo Tofu Nuggets… but I'm pretty sure four nuggets ain't gonna cut it.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fudō Falls in Oji - A Hiroshige Ukiyo-e

The image above is an ukiyo-e... a woodblock print created by master ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige Ando (surname first) of Oji Fudō no taki (Fudō Falls in Oji), created in September of 1857. One of my readers suggests it can also be read as 'Fudoh'... which is correct, but adding an 'h' does not look right at the end of a word - at least in this case..

When I was in Japan, I purchased a few ukiyo-e - but never could afford any of the ones by masters like Hiroshige or Hokusai - though I do have a print by Hokusai showing various forms of bridges, taken from some technical manual... so not an ukiyo-e in the classical sense, anyways.

It wouldn't have mattered... the beautiful nature scene in the above picture would not have captured my attention back when I was purchasing in the early 1990s mostly because any scene I saw I needed to have a reference point for.

Basically, unlike the Japanese for whom these drawings were originally created, I needed to know what it was and where it was...

Okay, the Japanese of the 1850s certainly knew, but did not in fact know if these drawings were truly representative.

The pieces I saw never had description about them - well, they did - but only in Japanese, and on the drawing themselves. Dumb gaijin (foreigner).

Even still... many Japanese of today, had/have great difficulty in reading the script on some of these old works, simply from lack of exposure to such script styles....

So... aside from two nature pieces - one of a pagoda in Nikko done in the 1940s and one from 1855 showing one of 53 stages of the Tokaido highway, every ukiyo-e I purchased was of a woman (because those I recognized), and of everyday scenes of life.

Hey! Waitaminute! The Tokaido Highway ukiyo-e I have! That's by Hiroshige! I do have quality!

Scenes of life, however, are key. If I had seen the above ukiyo-e with its gorgeous nature and people scene and could have afforded it, I would have purchased it on the spot.

Twenty-five years later (almost), I have a much broader view on Japanese art and thanks to the Internet and books, I can find out greater details on things. 

Let's look at the waterfall scene in some greater detail.

You will notice, that there is a hemp rope with tassels (collectively known as shimenawa) hanging high across the waterfall.

This rope, while part of a decoration, also has a religious meaning, implying that the site is sacred.

In Japan, a waterfall is revered, containing not only medicinal properties, but also religious and mystical aspects as well.

The Fudō Taki (Fudō Falls) is in the north part of Tokyo and is named after Fudō-myōō (不動明王), and is considered one of the important deities of Japanese Buddhism.

Fudō-myōō as written in Kanji, implies that he is the 'immovable king of wisdom".

One legend holds that a naked young girl once prayed under a waterfall for her sick father to be healed, and guess what, her wish was granted. As such, bathing in waters of Fud
ō Taki is supposed to provide healing.

In the ukiyo-e, you can see Japanese people looking to partake of the restorative powers of the waterfall.

There's the old man just about to enter the waters.

There's a wet man sitting on low table reaching for a cup of hot o-cha (green tea) being served by an old woman - perhaps a vendor, perhaps his wife.

There are even a pair of kimono-clad women either there for the sights or there to undress and bathe under the waterfall. It almost makes me wish Hiroshige drew this about 20 minutes later.

Hiroshige is the master of the gradient color... the bokashi technique... with the way the blues in the waterfall change and the greens in the surrounding forest imply depth of field while working with shadow and light.

For me, a simple guy with little knowledge on art except that I like what I like, I didn't even notice the forest surroundings until much later. It's just background.

And if that sounds harsh, just recall that Hiroshige wanted the viewer to see the waterfall and how it was being utilized.

How the waterfall is presented - within the forest - and with the shimenawa hemp rope - well... that's not as important as the water or the people who use it.

In fact, if you glance at the ukiyo-e from the top, because you know it is a waterfall, your eyes quickly cascade down the area of the water to the base, where you then spy the people. Everything else is secondary.

But when you do, he adds touches that make you stare in wonder and look around for more surprises... which for me was the small plants at the far left of the pooling water - a couple of weeds. Why add them? Because it's part of nature.

That's why Hiroshige is, in my mind, a master artist.
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Japan's Haiku Master Bashō

Living in the city of Ohtawara-shi in Tochigi-ken, Japan, I spent a lot of time at the Bashō Haiku museum in nearby Kurobane, that was, when I was there between 1990-1993, a separate village, but has now become a part of that city.

The photo above is taken by my self in the Spring of 1991 on a bicycle trip with Sakuyama Chu Gakko (Sakuyama Junior High School) when they undertook the class trek of "Search For Bashō." The photo is of a mounted Bashō with faithful companion Sora walking beside him. Me... I was there 302 years afterwards.


Bashō Matsuo (surname first) (松尾 芭蕉) is perhaps the best known of the haiku poets.

He is perhaps best known for the following haiku poem - one that I was exposed to here in Toronto when I was just eight-years-old when we had to write our own haiku for an afternoon class. lacking imagination back then, my poem also included a frog, as Bashō's did:

Furike-ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu-no oto.

It translates to:

Breaking the silence of an ancient pond,
a frog jumped into the water -
a deep resonance.

Even in English that sounds cool.

A Haiku, in case you are unaware, is a three-line poem with 17 syllables... with the first and third lines each having five syllables and the second line seven syllables. It sounds simple, right? It is. I can still create a haiku in a minute on any subject you throw at me. Of course, it doesn't mean my poems are any good.

In this blog I have done many Godzilla haiku - yukking it up for laughs, but in Japan I did write several more serious ones, and even created one in seconds - it just flowed out of my head and onto the paper via my pen - for a beautiful young woman that I fell in love with at first sight. It's a rare thing, my friends. I rare thing. You'll know when it happens...

Born in Ueno-shi, Iga-ken in 1644, Bashō was actually named Kinsaku Matsuo (松尾 金作), then Chūemon Munefusa Matsuo (松尾 忠右衛門 宗房). He was born of noble birth - his father was a samurai warrior - but a low-level one, and of course, in Japan at that time, the son was expected to follow in his father's footsteps.

I can't even imagine what it was like for Bashō or his father, when he decided at age 11 to become a poet.

At around 10 or 11 years of age, Bashō became a servant to Tōdō Yoshitada - surname first - (藤堂 良忠): together they shared a love for haikai no renga, which is a form of comic collaborative poetry composition. I've not tried that with poetry, but certainly have with short story writing, where I would write a page or a chapter and then my fellow writer would continue that thread, and then I would and so on. It's fun.... 

In the haikai no renga format, it begins with an opening verse written in 5-7-5 mora (syllable) format - a verse that was known as a hokku, which literally means 'starting verse'.

It was not until the late 19th century, when poet Shiki Masaoka (1867–1902), renamed this stand-alone hokku to the more familiar term haiku, though the term 'hokku' still refers to the opening verse of a longer Japanese poem. 

Anyhow, back in the days of Bashō when he wrote the collaborative poem, after the initial hokku verse, the next person would create a 7-7 syllable verse.

It was at this time that both Bashō and Tōdō utilized haigō (俳号), which in English means poetry pen names. Bashō's pen name was Sōbō (宗房), which is another way to read the kanji of his adult name Munefusa (宗房).

In 1662 Bashō created his first real poem... and more followed. But, when Yoshitada died in 1666, Bashō's life as a servant was over, though he continued to create poems while struggling to discover what type of job he could hold.

His poems continued to be published in anthologies in 1667, 1669, and 1671, and he published his own compilation of work by him and other authors of the Teitoku school, Seashell Game, in 1672.

Eventually giving up any chance of remaining within the samurai-class, in 1672 he left his home town and traveled to Edo (now Tokyo) which was the head of the Tokugawa shogun government, to do more poetry writing, and, because even today there probably isn't a poet out there who is rich (excluding Ted Geisel/Dr. Seuss), he made a living as a teacher.

In 1674 he was inducted into the inner circle of the haikai profession.

At Edo, however, Bashō created his own style of haiku, which he called Sho Fu (Bashō Style). Really. You'd think that for a guy with such an awesome imagination, he might have come up with something either more creative or imaginative - say Bashō Whimsy.

What is Basho Style - well, I'm not a poetic historian, but apparently he decided that his haiku did not need to follow the comic stylings of the Danrin haiku school led by Nishiyama Soin (surname first) which was popular because of colloquial content and light humor.

And the reason why people globally know the name Bashō is because of his use of Nature in his writings, making it literary art.

According to those who seem to know, such as what I found here: http://web-japan.org/museum/others/uta/haiku/haiku_01.html, Bashō's work "emphasizes the atmosphere of "sabi" (elegant simplicity), "shiori" (a deep sympathetic feeling for both nature and humanity), "hosomi" (understatement) and "karomi" (a light tone). It is also focused on the mood of "yugen", spiritual profundity expressing the inner beauty of art and nature and "kanjaku", a serene desolation.

I'm not sure I could write that sentence in my own words if I tried.

Tired of Edo, Bashō renounced the social, urban life of the literary circles (teaching and poetry) and thought he should wander around Japan.... heading on various treks west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing.

A simple look at any of his poems - and you can Google his poems yourself, if so inclined, you can see that he was greatly influenced by what he saw and felt around him... able to capture that feeling in three simple lines, perhaps aided by Dosojin, Japan's god of the traveler, whispering to him.

And so... because he wanted to travel the paths of other great poets where the days and the months are travelers of a hundred generations, he undertook several journeys around Japan, much like other poets had, who traveled and composed until they felt the weight of the years.

In the spring of 1689, Basho undertook his third trek... this time going to the northern provinces, and though only 44 or 45 years old, he seemed to think he wasn't coming back, selling his home.

For Basho, he admired other poets who had died while on a journey. He probably thought there was something romantic about dying while doing what you love best. Me? I want to come and go at the same time. I think there's a spelling mistake in that last sentence.

This northern trip inspired him to create his famous book of poems: Oku-no Hosomichi (The Narrow Journey to the Deep North) - 奥の細道, originally おくのほそ道  - a travelogue.

It was on April 3, 1689, that Basho (and Sora his travel companion) arrived at the town of Kurobane in Tochigi-ken. Or was it May 21, 1689? It was both.

That first date is via Japan's use of the old lunar calendar (see HERE). The solar calendar we use now would make his arrival date May 21.

Haiku and description carved into a stone monument commemorating Basho's work at the Kurobane Bashō museum.

In 1691, Bashō took his third trek around Japan, this time heading west, leaving Edo on March 4, 1691 and arrived at Nagashima on July 25, 1691. I'm guessing this isn't the Nagashima in Kagoshima (the large island to the southwest), but is instead the one closer to Osaka, near Mie-ken (it's recently merged with other towns to become the expanded city of Kuwana).

One of my favorite Basho poems involves his travels to see the mystical Mt. Fuji:
"In a way / It was fun / Not to see Mount Fuji / In foggy rain."

I can dig it. In three years of passing by and standing supposedly at the foot of this legendary Japanese mountain, I never caught a glimpse of it while on Japanese soil. Cloud, smog, rain, snow... what the hell?! It makes me wonder if it actually exists.

The last trip that Basho made, was when he left Edo in the summer of 1694, first spending time in Ueno (now a part of Tokyo) before traveling to Kyoto and then nearby Osaka.

He developed a stomach sickness and died peacefully in a country inn in Naniwa, Osaka.

Perhaps because he only thought he was sick and not going to die, he did not prepare a zetsumei-shi, (絶命詩) - a death poem, which the literati in Japan and some other cultures prepare in advance of the death.

However... he did write the following haiku, which is generally accepted to be his last poem.

Tabi ni yande
yume wa kareno wo
kake meguru

Which translates to:

Falling sick on a journey
my dream goes wandering
over a field of dried grass

Nowadays, many a poet travels the path of Bashō, hoping to be similarly stimulated.

Me... I now get my inspiration from being curiouser and curiouser.

Cheers,
Andrew 'Wander' Joseph

Monday, July 28, 2014

1946 Japan Via Life Magazine


Here's a set of photos taken in 1946 by Life Magazine, presented via the blog Vintage Everyday.

The photos provide a neat look at Tokyo, Japan following the aftermath of WWII with a stark reminder that life goes on... somehow.

Click HERE.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fireworks Over The Sumida River

Here's a photo from Reuters, taken by Kato Issei (surname first), of fireworks going off over the Sumida-kawa (Sumida River) in Tokyo on July 26, 2014 with more than 25,000 fireworks being exploded that night.

This is one of the oldest fireworks displays in Japan, going back to 1733, with this year's event having an estimated 960,000 people attending.



If you click HERE, you can see a short article I wrote alongside an ukiyo-e print commissioned in August of 1858 showing Hiroshige Ando's (surname first) (also known as Hiroshige Utagawa) masterpiece of Fireworks by Ryohgoku Bridge

I can only assume the fireworks display has become even more spectacular in the succeeding 166 years - at least it appears that way to me. 

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Japanese Superstitions: Four Ways To Die In Japan

Welcome to another edition of this blog, where we provide the 'what for' for all your superstitious needs.

One of the people I enjoy reading on-line—and there aren't that many—is Muza-chan… who provides the world with awesome photographs and some guidance about Japan, who recently posted a short piece on the Number 4 and Japanese superstition of said number.

She says that the Number 4 in Japan is an unlucky number, much as the Number 13 is in other countries. I knew that, but she offered a unique take on things, involving Tatami Mats (grass mats), of all things. Go check it out HERE - and come back when you are done. That, in reference to the blog title, is #1) .

Truth be told, however, the Number 4 is unlucky in many other countries besides Japan.

Known as tetraphobia (in Greek, tetras = four; phobos = fear), it is the 'practice' of avoiding the number four (4). It's not a FEAR of the number 4 - it's just a superstitious (or not) belief that the number can be construed as 'unlucky.'

As I said, it's not just Japan that seeks to avoid the number 4, it's China, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and other countries within East and Southeast Asia.

Okay… so what's up with the number four?
#2) In those countries (some of them for sure I know about), the way the word 'four' is pronounced in the respective languages, sounds exactly like how the word 'death' is pronounced.

In Japan, for example, it is 'shi' (sounds like 'she') for death (死) and four (四). Of course, the kanji used is different for those two words (in the brackets), but apparently it's the thought that counts… people simply dislike talking about death.
The only thing I find scary about Japanese pop-rock girlie band Scandal, is wondering if I have the stamina for four before death takes me via dehydration.
In China, the word for four is '' and 'sei', and the word for death is '' and 'sei'. In Korean, both are pronounced 'sa'; in Vietnamese it's 'tur'… if not exactly the same in pronunciation, then at least it is pretty bloody close, or so I hear.

Because this blog is about Japan, I'll try and stick to the topic, but know that in Japan, they take their shi very seriously. Ha.

# 3) It is not uncommon for apartment buildings in Japan, or parking lots to avoid having the Number 4 - as in a door number.
Cryptic? Or are the even numbers in the Japanese parking lot on the other side of the camera? 

It also means that an elevator will not contain a button with the Number 4… it will have 1/M-2-3-5-6-7-etcetera.

Just as in the West where the number 13 is avoided in apartment/office buildings, I wonder if the Japanese are wary of living on the 5th floor, knowing that it is, in reality, the 4th Floor… the Floor of Death?

Probably not.

The fourth physical floor of my apartment building in Japan listed a number 4, so I guess the building owners said either 'screw superstition' or 'screw the tenants', and unluckily numbered it appropriately.

I'm unsure if the numbering practice of shi avoidance still exists in Japan, however, as modern buildings and facilities are trying to ensure the country doesn't look so 'superstitious' in the eyes of the world.

Perhaps if there IS a floor number four/shi... people simply either never say the word, or they use a different word.

Yes, Japan has found another word to represent the word 'four'.

So, in order to avoid calling out death, or what sounds like death, all Japanese use the word 'yon' to represent the number four. It's the same kanji, however for the number four (see above).

People count as yon (four); ju-yon (14); niju-yon (24); sanju-yon (34) and so on. Ju means 10; ni is two, so 20 is niju - 2-10… san is three, so 30 is sanju. Yes… 44 is yonju-yon.

When it's ingrained in your number counting system(s), you know they take it seriously… but why have even created the word 'shi' for the number 'four' in the first place?

No one knows - except that when the word was created, the early Japanese probably weren't that afraid of a bad luck word considering there were so many other things that could kill them far more painfully. Like the sun or the moon spirits, or a wolf or bear or a poison fish, or a demon, ogre, hag, ghost or a joke-loving turtle spirit. All things the Japanese would be concerned about in the old days.

Now… Japan seems to want to avoid a few other numbers for fear of uttering a word that could be construed as something to call upon sickness or evil, like this:

Japanese hip-hop group High4. They never studied in school, but are cuter and richer than I am, if you like that kind of stuff - apparently many people do.
The Number 9 is another example. Why? The word nine in Japanese is pronounced as 'ku'.

Apparently, for some overly sensitive people, it reminds them of the Japanese word 'to suffer', which is 'kurushimu'.

Uhhhhhhh-huh. So the beginning of the word is apt to cause some stress to the Japanese? Yeesh.

As such, Japanese hospitals, in particular, tend not to use number Nine, which must make for some interesting medical choices when a 99-year-old patient needs 9-cc's of medicine after being in a car accident. The Japanese word for car is 'kuruma', which the last I checked, the first part of the word sounds the same as the Japanese word for nine.

My head hurts.

To make it complete, some Japanese dislike the number 49… because of the reasons above which combine to represent the words "death" and "suffer"…

They also seem to dislike the number 43, yonju-san, because it apparently sounds like the Japanese word for 'still-birth'.

To compensate, when the Japanese give gifts, it should never be in a set of four.

#5) Hmmm… I wonder if the Japanese feel uneasy when speaking English knowing that 'he said/she said' could bring the speaker bad luck. What if your name was Sheila?

Does hearing a gaijin (foreigner) say the word 'she' make them cringe inside? Could I have brought death upon every Japanese woman I slept with if I said the word 'she' while atop/below/behind or in front of them?

Just call me 'Killer',
Andrew Joseph

Friday, July 25, 2014

Japanese Good Luck War Flag


In doing some research a couple of days ago for something wholly-unrelated to this, I found a Japanese flag - which we'll discuss below as a secondary item, as research on it was somewhat fruitless. But it did lead me to another tidbit earlier today...

... something called a hinomaru yosegaki (good luck flag) -日の丸寄せ書き - that individual soldiers would carry around with them during WWII. These national flags (Red circle on a field of white) would be gifts to individual soldiers from family or friends and would have messages on them wishing the victory, safety and luck.

The Japanese flag is known as hinomaru (which means 'round sun'). When these flags were signed, the 'signatures' would radiate out from the rising red sun to appear as rays of light. Yosegaki means 'sideways writing'.

These personal flags may have first come around the first Sino-Japanese (China-Japan) War of 1895-95, but that's probably from just a few people doing something like that... it didn't really catch on until Japan started going to war in China in the 1930s, in Manchuria through the end of WWII from a period of about 1937-1945.

Which leads me to what I was originally going to write about - a WWII Japanese regumental unit flag - or whatever it is.


As far as the Unit flag that individual soldiers in the Army or Navy belonged to, these regimental unit flags are rare, as each would have its own colors and standards applied to the flag.

Japanese organizational colors and standards from Army and Navy units are extremely rare.

Why? Well, one reason is that such regimental flags from WWII were only issued once... and if it wore out, it wore out - no new replacement flag was reissued. 

The other reason is that after Japanese Emperor Hirohito talked to Japan by radio on August 15, 1945, saying Japan had surrendered, Japan's GHQ (General Headquarters) ordered all units to burn their flags before the Allies would arrive on August 28 and the formal surrender on September 2, 1945.

As such, there is only one officially recognized regimental flag still in existence.... the flag of the 321st Regiment on display at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

Of course, that doesn't mean that there aren't more, as Allied soldiers might have picked up a few souvenirs before coming home.

As you can see, this silk flag has a lot of fringe around it - but it's golden in color. Traditionally, the Japanese army fringe color was purple, so it's kind of a mystery as to exactly what it is for, except that it is a Unit flag.

It is supposed, through some translations, that the golden fringed flag is a 1945 Military Aviation School flag - for cadets, possibly training to be part of a bomber crew.

While it conforms to the size and style of regimental flags, the insignia and golden yellow fringe are atypical, leading to speculation that it might be a flag for veterans or alumni.

Width of Hoist
27
Length of Fly
37

This is a double-sided silk flag with machine stitchings. It contains leather reinforced corner patches with grommets.

Anyhow... At least you learned about Japan's hinomaru yosegaki.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Japanese Phone Companies Set To Take Over Asia

Below is a story taken from Nikkei, about Japan's phone companies getting their hands into the telecommunications strategies of other countries - it's like the dream of Imperial Japan is coming true 80 years later - just with a lot less bloodshed.

I can't rewrite the story, because, well... it's a good story and I don't know anything about mobile phones because I don't have one and have never used one. I'm not saying I won't at some time in the future, it's just that I don't see the point at this juncture of my life.

No one to talk to and no one calls. That's fine by me, I suppose. I've always been a whole lot of a loner.

Anyhow... busy day... left work early to take my still suffering wife and her soon to be removed gall bladder out to visit her mother in a nearby city after the old lady collapsed on Tuesday evening.

Yes... when it rains it pours... and my roof leaks. I'd call you and ask for help, but... you know... I never ask for help and I don't have a cell phone. I'd say I like to suffer in peace, but I get to tell 2,000 people day how my day is. That's the real long-distance feeling.

I do have plenty of stories on the go, but it needs a gentle touch, and I, for one, lack the time to do so at this juncture.   

By the way... Myanmar... how come the BBC calls it Burma... the old name? They used to call it Myanmar... but a few months ago I caught them saying Burma. I can't even pronounce Myanmar, but I wouldn't call it Burma unless that is what the country's name is. 

Here's the story:

Japan's KDDI, Sumitomo set out to develop Myanmar's wireless frontier

YUKIHIRO KAWANA, YUKI HANAI and MOTOKAZU MATSUI, Nikkei staff writers

Mobile phone use is increasing in Yangon, Myanmar's commercial center.
TOKYO/YANGON--Major wireless carrier KDDI and trading house Sumitomo Corp. have established a joint venture to enter Myanmar's nascent mobile service market.
The Japanese companies on Wednesday announced they will invest some 200 billion yen ($1.95 billion) and work with Myanma Posts and Telecommunications to offer wireless services in the country. KDDI and Sumitomo hope to repeat their success in Mongolia, where they corralled the largest share of a growing mobile market.
KDDI's international expansion strategy of focusing on developing countries stands in contrast with Japanese rival SoftBank's penchant for large-scale acquisitions in more mature markets.
Yuzo Ishikawa, KDDI's senior vice president, on Wednesday told a news conference that his company's goal is to lead the development of Myanmar's telecommunications infrastructure. The 200 billion yen will be spent over 10 years to build base stations and other facilities needed for quality mobile services.
Second chance
KDDI, the company behind Japan's au mobile brand, and Sumitomo began eyeing Myanmar's wireless market in 2010. Last summer, they bid for a license, only to lose to Ooredoo of Qatar and Telenor Group of Norway.
Then came a second chance: MPT invited major foreign telecom companies to form a partnership to compete with Telenor and Ooredoo in one of the world's least connected countries. Orange of France, formerly France Telecom, and Singapore Telecommunications, known as SingTel, also showed an interest, but KDDI and Sumitomo apparently offered the better deal.
Under the arrangement, KDDI cannot use its own brand and must share profits with MPT. But because MPT already has a customer base of 6.83 million, the Japanese companies expect to start making money from the business quickly. Partnering with the state-run provider will also give KDDI an advantage when it comes to frequency allocations and other regulatory matters.
A senior KDDI executive said the deal enables a quick start and minimizes risks.
Myanmar's government welcomed the agreement. At a ceremony held Wednesday in the capital Naypyitaw, Myat Hein, the minister of communications and information technology, said he is convinced that KDDI's and Sumitomo's global experience and fundraising expertise will help boost MPT's competitiveness.
Due in part to MPT's limited funds, Myanmar's telecom infrastructure is underdeveloped. Only around 10% of the population currently subscribes to the state-run company's wireless service.
The government led by President Thein Sein has set a goal of raising the ratio of mobile subscribers to 80% of the population in 2016 by opening the market to foreign players. One local agent predicted that without improvements to its antiquated network, more than 90% of MPT's customers would flee to its new competitors. The planned investment by the Japanese consortium could be MPT's ticket to retaining and adding subscribers.
Mongolia model
The Japanese market's limited growth potential has forced telecom providers to look abroad. SoftBank has raised its international profile with a series of moves, including last year's $21.6 billion acquisition of Sprint Nextel of the U.S. But KDDI came to the conclusion early on that emerging nations were its best bet.
KDDI and Sumitomo started a wireless business in Mongolia in 1996, when there was not much of a cellphone market there. Not only did they build up the necessary infrastructure, KDDI also launched other services such as online gaming and digital content distribution.
KDDI's share of the Mongolian market hit 80% at one point. It has lost some of that ground, but it remains in a strong position with 50%.
Will KDDI's strategy work as well in Myanmar? Both Telenor and Ooredoo plan to roll out services this summer, aiming to take customers away from MPT. KDDI will need to act fast to capitalize on the market's growth, with one estimate projecting that 47.5 million people will sign up for mobile services in the next three years.
Ross Cormack, CEO of Ooredoo Myanmar, has said the company's service will reach 97% of the population within five years.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's A Wonderful Knife

I had heard a long time ago that when it comes to the preparation of certain Japanese foods, it can be many years before a chef is even allowed to handle a knife.

But, in reality, it has to do with the seasons...

In Japanese cuisine, it follows the seasons, utilizing the fish, meat and vegetables available at certain times of the year, with the Japanese chef learning all about process and detail.

Always the process and detail.

For example, in the manufacture of sushi, it takes 10-years to become a real sushi chef... to say nothing of becoming a sushi master chef. In that first year a cook will learn how to prepare the rice. In years two through six they learn how to prepare the fish. Years seven, eight and nine is spent learning how to create the perfect tightness of the sushi rolls. But only in year 10 does a cook finally get to make nigiri  - the fish and the rice together.

In Japan, a true sushi chef is one who has spent 10 years learning the art of sushi, and the rest of his or her life mastering it.

For any chef around the world, the tools of the trade are as important as the ingredients they utilize in their cuisine. That means having the right tools to perform the right job in the most perfect way.

Japan, of course, takes its tools of the trade very seriously, perhaps nowhere as seriously as it does for cooking.

Japan has a long history for the art of its blade-making, most specifically for its samurai blades, the katana, though having excellent blades goes back farther than that, to sometime in the 5th century AD when craftsmen needed and manufactured tools to create the the kofun (megalithic tombs) were being constructed.
Daisen-Kofun, near Osaka, is the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, the 15th emperor of Japan between 313 - 399AD.
Later, what with all swords being required for battle, Sakai-shi (Sakai City), situated in Osaka-ken (Osaka Prefecture) became the samurai sword-making capital.

When the Portuguese introduced tobacco to Japan in the 16th century, craftsmen in Sakai also began creating Sakai knives to cut tobacco, gaining an official seal of approval from the Tokugawa Shogunate for it quality and unique sharpness.
Sakai Takayuki Grand Chef Japanese Gyuto/Chef's Knife 240mm (9.5").
Japanese knives are known as hōchō (包丁) and is often used, as the Japanese word 'bōchō', but that's just the generic term, because, as you might suspect, there are a whole lot of different knives, each one designed for a specific purpose, a fact evidenced in Japanese food preparation.

First however, let's look at the composition of a traditional Japanese knife, as there are two types of forging, known as Honyaki and Kasumi.

Honyaki are considered to be the true-forged knife, a top-grade blade forged from hangane (steel), with blue steel or white steel being the preferred material. Apparently, for a 240mm blade, one can expect to pay over $1,000 (¥100,000).

Kasumi are blades manufactured using two materials, such as the high-grade steel above mixed with jigane (soft iron).

Both blades are designed with a similar cutting edge, but since the old days, Japanese knives were all made by Japanese sword makers, the knives too are made with the same steel as the samurai sword katana blade.

The main difference, is that the Honyaki blades are supposed to be able to maintain its sharpness (kirenaga) longer, as well as its hardness, but are more difficult to maintain. Nowadays, most knives are made of stainless steel, so a chef doesn't have to worry about his blade corroding.

Traditionally, Japanese knives are sharpened with a single ground (by grinding) so only one side of the blade actually has a cutting edge. It was felt that an angled blade with one cutting side cuts better with cleaner cuts than a double-beveled edge. It's also why a chef might need more skill to wield one of these blades.

One of the key features on any Japanese blade, is the urasuki, which varies from blade to blade depending on what it will be used for, but all feature a concave aspect to the backside of the blade to reduce drag and adhesion so the food ingredient separates cleanly.

As one might expect, the single-sided blade is manufactured so that the right hand side of the blade is angled and sharp... perfect for right-handed chefs.
Examples of urasuki: (b) is angled on both sides, (a) and (c) only on one side, where (a) is for right hand use and (c) is for left hand use.
What if you are left-handed? Well, single-sided blades are rare, and have to be custom ordered. The guessing is that 30% of chefs use a left-handed blade, while it's a mere 10% of sushi chefs.

Main styles of Japanese knives:
  • Honyaki: True-forged Japanese knife;
Nenohi-270mm Honyaki Yanagiba - Ebony Octagon
  • Deba bōchō: Kitchen knife for fish;
Deba bōchō of different sizes.
  • Maguro bōchō: Very long knives to fillet the bigger tuna fish;
Maguro bōchō.
  • Nakiri bōchō: Standard vegetable knife;
Nakiri bōchō.
  • Santoku bōchō : its name mans 'three virtues', and this Western-styled blade is used for fish, meat and vegetables;
The Santoku-bocho is Japan's multipurpose knife. Above is the R4 Damascus Santoku, onee of the finest you can buy.


  • Kuromori Yanagi-bōchō: long, thin sashimi slicer;
Kuromori Yanagi-bocho, the Japanese Sashimi Kitchen Knife.
  •  Yanagi ba bōchō: literally willow knife, a long, thin sashimi slicer; 
Yanagi ba bōchō
  • Soba kiri: Knife to make soba noodles;
Soba Kiri - Japanese Noodle Knife to cut your own soba noodles.
  • Udon kiri: Knife to make udon noodles;
Udon kiri knife to make udon noodles.
  • Unagisaki hōchō: Japanese eel knife, which one would expect to be very long, but it's not;
Unagisaki hōchō - eel knife.
  • Usuba bōchō: vegetable knife.
Usuba bōchō for veggies.
I'd bet anything that there are many, many more different styles out there, as different forges create different looking blades, but these are the main ones.

It was during the Genroku era (1688–1704) of the Edo-era, that the first Deba bōchō were manufactured.

I know, I know... WTF is deba bōchō? It is 出刃包丁, which means 'pointed carving knife', and is the Japanese kitchen knife used to cut fish, though some rebels also use it to cut meat. Although this blade can be used to shop off the head of a fish, it is better utilized for the delicate process of filleting.

Available in a variety of sizes, the deba bōchō blade provides a thick blade and an obtuse angle on the blade's heel to cut off the fish head (but not large bones), but the blade itself is designed to run along the fish bone to easily separate the fillet.

As you can see from the variances above, it has been altered to make specific knife styles for different uses, to make sushi, sashimi, veggies, meats, etc. I've eaten etc., and it is very tasty.

Though not mentioned above, there is a crab knife known as the kanisaki deba, which has the grind on the left side of the blade (for right-handers) so that when chopping the shell of the shellfish, it does NOT cut the meat. Pretty tricky.
Kanisaki deba crab knife.
Despite Japan's love affair with all things Japanese, it wasn't always the case, as with the introduction of internationalization in the 1850s, Japanese chefs soon saw the interesting European-style blades, and began using the French chef knife.

It was only after World War II, however, that in order to make the knife uniquely Japanese, Japan introduced the santoku, a French-style blade with sharpening occurring on both sides of the blade, but still possessing a Japanese-style acute-angle cutting edges with a very hard temper to increase cutting ability.

Seki-shi (Seki City) in Gifu-ken (Gifu Prefecture) is today considered the home of modern Japanese kitchen cutlery, where state-of-the-art manufacturing and technology has updated ancient forging skills to produce a world-class series of stainless and laminated steel kitchen knives famed throughout the world. The major cutlery making companies are based in Seki, and they produce the highest quality kitchen knives in the traditional Japanese style and the western style, like the gyuto and the santoku.

Another famous center for traditional blacksmiths and knifesmiths is Miki-shi (Miki City) in Hyōgo-ken (Hyōgo Prefecture). Miki is well known to all of Japan for its knifemaking traditions, and its knives and tools recall the pride of Japanese steelmaking. Most Miki manufacturers are small family businesses where craftsmanship is more important than volume and typically produce fewer than a dozen knives a day.

One of the curious things I have read, is that while it is true that Japanese chefs are keen on looking after their own personal blades that only they use, with constant cleaning and sharpening, some cooks have two sets.

The reason behind having two sets is much more pragmatic than ego or practicality - in case one breaks. It's that whole Japanese 'wa' thing - harmony.

Apparently after sharpening a knife after use, the chef will allow the blade to rest for a day in order to restore patina and to remove any metallic smell or taste that could be passed from the metal to the food.

I love the fact that some chefs are thoughtful enough to do that... it just shows that they care about the food they prepare and the customers who savor it.

On the other hand, I have quite a few Japanese friends, who have a lot of metallic fillings in their mouth... and I wonder if the quality of dental work performed can affect one's dinning satisfaction in such a way that a chef might be concerned?

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Japanese Hockey Goalie Wears Mask At 1936 Olympics

Some of you may know that I collect cigarette cards - the special little adverts that used to be placed within cigarette packs to act as stiffeners to stop the smokes from being crushed.

I collect aviation-themed cigarette cards - specifically from the 1930s and earlier to 1910 - the dawn of popular aviation.

Some of you might even know that I run another blog called Pioneers of Aviation (http://av8rblog.wordpress.com/) that is based on a set of 50 aviation cards from W.H. Wills' cigarettes published in 1910. It was a base, as I have expanded it a bit to grab a bit of a broader appeal... still, despite absolutely having to print a story with Taylor Swift in it (those legs!!!), I try and keep my articles contained within the somewhat limited boundaries of 1919 and earlier.

I actually became involved in the hobby when I was lucky enough to get a magazine writing job describing the 100th anniversary of the first Canadian aircraft taking flight - the Silver Dart. Lucky, I suppose, because I have a full set of photographs taken of its construction and flight, given to me by my father-in-law, who in turn received it as a present from the wife of one of the five men who constructed that aeroplane.

When looking for more information on the Silver Dart, I came across a cigarette card (1910) and bought it as part of my patriotic duty. One card... and now I have several thousand.

So I got into the hobby accidentally on purpose. It's that addictive personality of mine that makes me want more - information and stuff. Greed, I suppose. I want, but don't always get.

I also have various cards from a few other sets that caught my fancy because the topic seemed to capture my attention, and the price was too good to pass up.

The first cigarette card I purchased, however was at an antique sidewalk sale at a mall nearby some 25 years ago... and at the time had a spare $100 to purchase a C144 1924-25 Champs Cigarettes hockey card featuring Hap Day of the Toronto St. Patricks.

Not only was it his Rookie Card, but he would later become the first captain of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs and later coach of the only NHL (National Hockey League) team to erase a 0-3 deficit in the Finals to win 4 games to 3.

It's my lucky card, and whenever we go to a Leafs game, we always win. 9 wins, 0 losses. Trust me... you want me to go to more games.

Anyhow, I decided to look and see what I could find re: Japan in the cigarette card hobby... just looking... and found more than a few in my cigarette card price guide... but I came across something accidentally on the web - and forgive me, but I'm unsure where I took this from.

We have here a card featuring an athlete from the 1936 Winter Olympics... held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, Germany. The summer games were also held in Berlin, Germany, once again allowing us to see the incredible foresight of the Olympic Committee and its awarding of games to a then-facist nation.

Anyhow, we get to see Japanese goalie Honma Teiji (本間 悌次 - surname first).

Honma was 25 years old at the time he represented Japan, as a member of the Manchurian Medical University ice hockey team.

Honma was born in Manchuria (now northeast China), which was occupied by Japan in 1936 owing to Japanese aggression in the Far East.

As you can see from the photo above and below, Honma wore glasses - and he wore a goalie mask!

For those of you who thought that Jacques Plante invented the goalie mask - no, he was the one who popularized it.

Including Honma, there were three others who wore a mask before Plante of the Montreal Canadians in 1959.

In fact... a woman wore the very first goalie mask, one Elizabeth Graham, in 1927, playing for the Queen's University women's ice hockey team, who used a fencing mask at the insistence of her father.

As well, in 1930 Clint Benedict of the NHL's Montreal Maroons wore a leather goalie mask to protect a broken nose, but discarded it as he found the nose-piece obscured his vision,

And then we have Honma and then Plante.

Honma's mask looks just like an old-school baseball catcher's mask: it was made of leather, and had a wire cage to protect the face, but since Honma wore glasses, the wire cage had two circular eyeholes designed to fit over the glasses and to be narrower than the puck.

Honma played both of Japan's two games in Group D round-robin action. He lost his first game 3–0 against Great Britain, who would go on to win the gold medal (thanks to a lot of Canadians playing on the team).

He lost his second game against Sweden, 2–0. Both of the games were played outdoors, and snowstorms caused interruptions in the game.

Japan ended up in 9th place, out of 14 teams. Honma's five goals against isn't bad at all... especially considering the Japanese attack could not score a goal.

Here's the German tobacco card featuring Honma. The back of the card is written in German, but I've translated it for you below.
    

collective works nr. 13
picture nr. 39
group 54

Teiji Homma, the Japanese Ice Hockey goalie, had only two opportunities to show his big equipment at the ice hockey tournament of the Winter Games.

The 1936 Olympic games is divided into two sections. 
 

Volume I contains: an exciting account of the magnificent Olympic events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen; a startling look at the Olympic Games since 1896; and a preview of the competition of the games in Berlin.  

The series contains 175 images, divided into the groups view pictures 53-56.
 

Volume II brings the report about the unique Olympic experience in Berlin via 200 images that are distributed among the five image groups of series 57-61.
 

Whole-sided main illustrations in colorful and black print, interspersed text drawings, statistical summaries and a beige specified four-sided map of Berlin with the sports fields and remaining arenas make the two volumes a representative sample of the outstanding sporting event

Other series featured include the (1932) X Olympic Games of Los Angeles and the III Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid - see pictures of our work in image groups 19-23, which was the format and presentation style used for the 1936 set. 
 
Check the up-to-date image compilations listed on the back of our images
 

More card series are in the works

Okay... that was an approximation. My German translation wasn't that good, but I think you get the gist, nich wahr?

Still... it's a pretty awesome bit of Japanese history in that card that to me would have been lost if someone had not made this cigarette card. And now you know...

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Temporary Restraining Order

Ugh. I'm burnt out. The missus and I spent yesterday and today in the hospital(s). The gall bladder will have to come out - hers, not mine at some point in the near future when it's not so inflamed.

As such - No real blog today unless I can get some energy together.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph





Monday, July 21, 2014

Three-Month High For Japan Airspace Intrusion

Up we go, in to the wide blue yonder - especially of you are Japan between the months of April-June of 2014, when Japan's Defense Ministry says it had to scramble fighter jets 340 times because of feared incursions by foreign jets into Japanese airspace.

Yup... China to the south west and Russia to the north kept Japan very busy over that three-month period, as the feared incursions set an all-time record for Japan, passing the old record of 255 set between October through December of 2013.

 Japan's Air Self-Defense Force flew up 235 times against Russian planes between April and June, which is eight times more than in the same period last year.

China made the Air Self-Defense Force only scramble a total of 104 times in the same period, but it's still 35 times more than in the same period back in 2013.

Geez... you'd think that somebody wants to start a war over some stupid islands or something.

These numbers have been released to the public since 2005.

Here's the thing... if you add up the totals for China and Russia, we get 339... so who was the other country that sent up a lone plane near Japan's sky border?

The Defense Ministry, for some reason, didn't reveal who that other country was. Hmmmm. 

Now... you may also note that I said 'feared' incursions. According to the Defense Ministry, not one gaijin plane actually crossed over into Japan airspace.

In fiscal 2013, Japanese fighter jets were scrambled 810 times.

Here's what happened in 2012: HERE.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's Gojira - Not Godzilla!

Plucked from the headlines of Kotaku, an awesome website of all things Japanese, even though I'm not involved… comes news that Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, 54, who had a nice role in the latest Hollywood Godzilla movie refused to say 'Godzilla' in English.

Good for him!

Let there be some honesty left in this (that) business!

For the uninitiated, Godzilla is the English way of saying the true name of the King of the Monsters.

As a Japanese creation, his name was first pronounced - and has always been pronounced as Gojira, written in the Japanese katakana alphabet as ゴジラ and pronounced 'go-ghee-ra', which the 'ghee' sound pronounced like the French 'Gigi.' Man, I hate offering correct pronunciations.

I didn't know this Gojira stuff until I began writing this blog.

Apparently I had never seen the original Japanese movie before.

The original Japanese version of Gojira, which was first released in 1954 in Japan, was a mystery to me until last year, when I saw it with the original Japanese language, with accompanying English subtitles.

Where the hell was Raymond Burr?

Apparently he was only in the Western release - not in the original Gojira version.

According to Wikipedia: "In 1956, Jewell Enterprises re-edited, and eliminated many scenes from the film for American audiences. They combined the original Japanese footage of Godzilla with new American-made footage of Raymond Burr as an American reporter covering the monster's activities who would explain the action for an English-speaking audience with minimal dubbing."

You could have knocked me down with a feather.

Gojira was a dark movie - filled with pathos and human agony. It was brilliant. Thanks to my friend Rob, I have a DVD of it now, that came with the American version, too. The only complaint I have is that it says both movies were made in the 1960s, two years apart.

Anyhow, my point is that in this… the 60th anniversary of the release of the King of The Monsters, why should there not be a nod to its Japanese creators?

Again, why not a nod from a Japanese person?
ロス市内のサンタモニカでゴジラのフィギュアとポーズを取る渡辺謙
Photo By スポニチ Ken Watanabe poses with a figure of Godzilla on his shoulder in Santa Monica, California.
Photo By Sports Nippon
Apparently Watanabe, who plays a Japanese scientist in the movie, was asked to pronounce Gojira's name the English way.

"I was told by the director to pronounce it closer to English," Watanabe is quoted by Sponichi as saying. "But that was completely detestable, and I refused."

2014 Godzilla director Gareth Edwards might have wanted Watanabe to not make the name sound so Japanese, but in the end… it seems like in the end, Edwards was satisfied with what he got.

Watanabe appears impressed with the Godzilla franchise, saying (in Japanese) that the "character that is loved across borders regardless of nationality".

At the premier of the 2014 Godzilla, fans applauded Watanabe for his pronunciation of Gojira - keeping it real… I mean, keeping it real Japanese.

To actor Watanabe Ken (surname first) - thank-you for being honest with yourself and treating Gojira with honor - even if some of those Japanese movies in the 1970s didn't. Ha!

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Japan All-Stars To Resume Playing MLB All-Stars

The Japan All-Star Series, featuring all-star teams from MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball, will resume this year. While the series, which started back in 1986, was never officially canceled, it has not been played since 2006.

Anyhow, Samurai Japan--the nickname for Japan baseball's national team--has named seven Japanese ballplayers (surnames first in all instances) to its 2014 All-Star team: 
  • Yomiuri Giants shortstop Sakamoto Hayato; 
  • Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles catcher Shima Motohiro;
  • Orix Buffaloes outfielder Itoi Yoshio; 
  • Orix pitcher Kaneko Chihiro;
  • Hiroshima Carp pitcher Maeda Kenta;
  • Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Nakata Sho;
  • manager Kokubo Hiroki, a retired NPB player and 11-time NPB all-star.

(L-R) Sakamoto, Shima, Itoi, Kokubo, Kaneko, Maeda and Nakata.

The remainder of the squad will be named later.
 
The All-Star Series has not been played since 2006 when the World Baseball Classic started that yeat, with the Japan baseball players’ association deciding to skip the series.

The series will begin on November 12, 2014 at Osaka Dome and will be followed by three games at Tokyo Dome before wrapping up with games in Sapporo and Okinawa.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

Yahoo, It's Time To Die


There's no use trying to deny it. Some day, you're gonna buy it*.

At least that's what Yahoo Japan Corp. thinks, with its new on-line death-planning service.

Because everybody is just dying to get into a cemetery, the respectful folks at Yahoo Ending have launched a portal on its search engine that can help people out with their questions like "Okay, my wife has just died (yay), what do I do with the body?" - though, in this case, it offers advice about funeral cost estimates, preparing a will, and how to find a cemetery, and not how to hide proof of guilt - though I suppose providing a funeral filled with awesomeness would help assuage one's guilt - buying that stairway to heaven.

"Hmmm… it sounds more like Yahoo Ending is more about 'preparation', rather than reaction," says Japan—It's A Wonderful Rife foreigner correspondent Andrew Joseph.

Known as shukatsu, which is not a breaded pork cutlet, but rather the 'art' of preparing for the end-of-life, Yahoo Japan has keenly noted that Japan has a pretty effing old population…

Okay… you're gonna die - since we all know that everyone will be so stressed out, that someone is going to fug things up, it's good that Yahoo will allow you to make your funeral arrangements in advance.

Have you ever wondered what a funeral in Tokyo might cost? Now you can find out.

Utilizing numbers taken from a 2013 survey from Kamakura Shinsho Ltd., Yahoo Ending will help you calculate how much a funeral will cost depending on such things as: number of mourners; funeral location (do not die in Tokyo unless you want to be dead and broke); catering costs; Buddhist Monk costs to perform the ceremony (I thought they were austere?!); funeral gifts - which I admit I am unsure if that is the deceased giving loot bags to the funeral goers like they were eight-year-olds at a laser-tag birthday party; and should you wish it, how much it'll cost for cosmetics and its application on you, the big stiff. 

One example found shows that for a funeral in Minato Ward of Tokyo:
- Mourners consisting of 31 to 70 people, including 20 relatives = ¥985,200 (~Cdn $10,450).

While this total includes gifts for guests (aha!), and catered food (doesn't anyone cook anymore?), if you wanted to have the Buddhist Monks perform the ceremony, you need to add in ¥150,000 (~ Cdn $1,590) which might make you wonder you didn't become a monk - oh yeah, you hate saffron colored robes and enjoyed some really good Japanese sex that is so perverse even the perverts cringe.

Where should we drive the stake? It's difficult, because he had no heart.
What will happen when you die and everyone finds out that Grandpa was a sukebi (pervy perv)?

That's where Yahoo Ending comes in.

This site will also deactivate your Yahoo account upon death, because no one needs to be bombarded by SPAM when you're dead. I'm pretty sure I would hate that.

How does it work?

Well, for ¥180 (~ Cdn $1.90) a month - plus tax (the only sure things in life are death and taxes), when the registered user croaks, Yahoo Ending will send out a prepared e-mail to a maximum of 200 of their closest contacts.

As well, according to the company website, Yahoo Ending will open up a Bulletin Board so all your friends and relatives and Nigerian royalty (love those guys!) can leave a fond sayonra - 'so long and thanks for all the fish!', as "proof that you existed after you depart."

Look… I'm all for trying to install a legacy… it's kind of why I had a kid, and do this writing stuff - I want to exist after I die - I want (electromagnetic pulse notwithstanding) to one day centuries from now have some galactic citizen to tap their head searching for 'information on the best blogger ever' and 47 pages later spot a minor reference to myself and this blog.

I'm unsure if I'll ever know if that happens, or even if I am aware if I will care because I'm playing table top hockey with Jimi Hendrix, but it would be nice to think that when we die, even if there is no representative heaven or hell, that what we did in life, I don't know… mattered.

So… I can dig it that Yahoo Ending would offer a Bulletin Board of deep thought… but unless said Bulletin Board has the proper tags or keywords, no one will ever search for you digitally. At least my blog and Twitter account has proper keywords #awesomeness.

I think we need to have our consciousness or our soul—which is apparently as difficult to find as a clitoris, according to some pundits, but not me, because I'm not that funny—digitized and placed within the Galactic Wide Web (I would have said Universal Wide Web, but we have to start thinking beyond just our own world, and we might as well not go crazy huge).

Okay… back to the Yahoo Ending, which by the way is an awesome name for something so very solemn in Japanese (and pretty much everyone's) culture. Not. Perhaps something witty the first time you hear it and then not so funny every time after... something like 'Yahoo Serious'? Sorry, mate - I did like Young Einstein.

Now here's something that really carries me home… Yahoo Ending—will shut down your Yahoo Japan account, delete images (thank-Buddha), delete videos, documents and files - such as blogs and social-networking sites… no one wants to be charged money to keep these things up and running long after one is dead.

The key for any of these things to happen, is that Yahoo Ending requires official confirmation of your death, for example. So when you die, all you have to do is send them a… Hey! You're not going to have time to send out a death notice to anyone, what with you busy with the funeral and being stiff and all that…

Hot Enough For Ya?
So… I guess that before you die, you need to make arrangements with either an institution or a friend or family member, to send Yahoo Ending a government-issued cremation certificate.

This is Japan, after all… cremation. I like that Yahoo Ending waits until the body is cremated… none of that accidentally coming back to life in a buried coffin crap for them.

Yahoo Japan says that it is looking to take this whole digital structured funeral preparation thing even farther, by possibly teaming up with credit card companies, so that once they get your cremation papers, they can forward it on to the credit card company to tell them to close your account…. that's nice… I suppose it also might allow them to quickly get in line to see if it can get any money owed it from the estate executor.

I once dated a woman who was an executrix… high heels, a whole lotta leather.*

By the way… while it seems cool that Yahoo Japan would help you plot your own funeral - mine is paid for by credit card - good luck getting that! - and will help you shut down all your webstuff… in my opinion you still need that one good friend to go into your home and, if necessary, steal your computer and smash it to smithereens - hopeful before they go through it themselves and see just how disgusting a sexual deviant you are.

Somewhere putting the fun back in funeral,
Andrew Joseph
* - both quotes taken from deep inside my brain and an episode of the great WKRP in Cincinnati television show. I have no idea why they popped into my mind.