Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

I’m a big fan of Toshiro Mifune in Akira Kurosawa movies. This clip from the movie Red Sun, while enjoyable, just doesn’t get close to the charisma of Mifune in The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashoman. What is it about him? I think it’s that he intimidates you and he laughs at you at the same time. Anyone seen this movie?

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I have been a huge fan of Robotech ever since I was a kid. It’s actually a bit of an obsession. Today I was having a conversation about Princess Leia’s hair when suddenly I realized that maybe George Lucas inspired Minmay’s haircut. Don’t judge me too harshly for this post.

1. Minmay from Robotech in 1982.

2. Princess Leia from Star Wars 1977.

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When Jake and I went to Tokyo we did go to Tsukiji market. You can look at that post here. Did we wake at at 5am for the fish auction? Hell no. It looks like we missed out.

Tsukiji market in the Japanese capital Tokyo had accused tourists of flouting hygiene rules and causing disruption with flash photography.

Some tourists had been caught hugging, licking and even riding [my emphasis] the huge frozen tuna that are Tsukiji’s most arresting sight, an official said.

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A 16-year-old schoolgirl is making a unique pitch to become the first woman to play professional baseball in Japan.

High school student Eri Yoshida was drafted by the Kobe 9 Cruise, a professional team in a new independent Japanese league that will start its first season in April.

“I always dreamed of becoming a professional,” Yoshida, who is 5-feet (152-centimeters) tall and weighs 114 pounds (52 kilograms), told a news conference Monday. “I have only just been picked by the team and haven’t achieved anything yet.”

Yoshida throws a side-arm knuckleball and says she wants to follow in the footsteps of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, who has built a successful major league career throwing a knuckleball.

Yoshida took part in a tryout held earlier this month and passed with flying colors. The right-hander held male batters hitless for one inning in the tryout and her successful outing helped her become one of the 33 players picked in the draft.

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The dolphin diet. Well, not really meant for people…

Dolphins at a Japanese marine park are going on a low fat diet after developing pot bellies and failing to look sharp in their aquatic performances.

Kinosaki Marine World in western Japan said Tuesday that all its 19 dolphins have been on a low fat diet since late August, when they started failing to hit jumping targets and keep upright while treading water.

“We were puzzled by their poor performance, then we noticed they looked rounder,” said park spokesman Haruo Imazu.

Keepers measured their weight and found all had gotten plumper, some up to 22 pounds (10 kilograms) heavier just during the summer.

All had the same menu — about 31 pounds (14 kilograms) of mackerel mixed with some white fish — but keepers found the mackerels had gotten fattier, adding too many calories for the dolphins.

Photo via Rosidae’s photostream on Flickr.

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Two weeks ago, I talked about the Japanese film trilogy The Human Condition which depicts the Japanese in Manchuria during World War II. *Spoiler alert.* There is a scene in the first film which is particularly poignant. The hero Kaji manages a concentration camp of Chinese political prisoners at an ore mine. Seven Manchurians are falsely accused of trying to escape by an over-zealous guard. Kaji tries all number of diplomatic ways to save the accused lives but all are ignored. Because of his attempts, he too is in hot water and is forced to watch the execution of all seven men. He sits and watches as the first prisoner is beheaded. Then the next. The third prisoner who we’ve gotten to know well in the film has a fiery temper. He has never trusted the Japanese. He has also fallen in love with a “comfort”(forced prostitute) woman who is also Chinese. As he is about to be executed he resists. He curses Kaji for not doing anything. He curses the Japanese. His execution does not go smoothly but he is killed nonetheless. At this moment, Kaji realizes that he must stop the executions. That in order to be a human being he must stop it. His humanity requires it. And he does stop the execution at great cost to himself.

Last week I also posted the following quote from John Ruskin:

One of the prevailing sources of misery and crime is in the generally accepted assumption, that because things have been wrong a long time, it is impossible they will ever be right.

I am feeling especially hopeless right now given the story of the Troy Davis, a man who is set to be executed within 24 hours for the murder of a policeman in Georgia. The witnesses against Davis have recanted. There is no circumstantial evidence supporting his guilt. Yet despite this every appeals court has refused to stop this execution. One of Davis’ lawyers pointed to the failure of a system that cannot, or rather refuses, to correct its errors.  Could Davis in fact be guilty? I suppose he could, but will we ever know given the fact that we refuse to investigate the witnesses’ new statements.

I might also mention that Georgia has a reputation for inequality in justice, so much so that whenever I read a blatantly racist judicial story I always think to myself: hmm must be Georgia.

What is humanity? Why do we feel so hopeless that we cannot do anything about the current state of affairs? I admit that I don’t know what to do in this case. What can we do? Where do we go from here? How do we retain our humanity?

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The Human Condition

Last night I watched the first part in the trilogy The Human Condition (Ningen no jōken). The Japanese film takes place in Manchuria during World War II and begins when an idealist writes a thesis on getting more productivity out of workers by treating them decently. He is sent to an ore mine in Manchuria to test out his theories – only the bosses seem more struck by the more productivity aspect of his theory rather than the decent treatment. This film without a doubt exhibits the most stark self-reflection by any country in film. What I mean to say is that the film does not paint the Japanese in any sort of positive light with the exception of the hero of the story. What makes this so amazing is that the film was made in 1959. Even today Japan has been accused of inaccurately portraying or glossing over their horrific war record in Japanese text books.

The villains aren’t always evil. Sometimes they are apathetic. Sometimes they are nationalist. Our hero is the lone conscientious objector among so many who look the other way. What does it mean to be a human? This film seeks to answer that question.

You can find this image and videos of the film on crunchyroll.com.

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Green Polar Bears

Green polar bears are drawing questions from puzzled visitors at a Japanese zoo. Three normally white polar bears at Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in central Japan changed their color in July after swimming in a pond with an overgrowth of algae.

The sight of green polar bears has prompted many questions from visitors concerned about whether the animals are sick or carrying mold, zoo official Masami Kurobe said Sunday.

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Suicide Food

I’ve known about Suicide Food for some time. Suicide Food shows art of animals that desire to be eaten. This is a photo I took in Japan. Is the pig working out for your tasting pleasure?

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Seems like some ad campaigns are universal. Click here to watch the video.

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Here are some funny ads starring Akira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola. Best friends drink Suntory whisky together.

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Perhaps the most polished of the films I’ve seen thus far at SIFF, Fumihiko Sori’s Vexille is a great example of science fiction. In the future, Japan has withdrawn from the UN because of international law that they not make androids. Japan isolates itself with a complex security system called RACE that prevents any country in the world from spying and knowing what exactly has become of Japan.

As a child, I would pretend I was a woman fighter like the character Vexille. This movie gave me the opportunity to fantasize once again.

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Bonsai Trees

It’s supposed to be a beautiful day in Seattle, so I’ll be taking my camera around today. Here’s a photo from Japan.

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More of a short film than a commercial. I’m not even sure if they’re selling bags or cell phones, but it’s a psychedelic trip.

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Square Watermelons

This is an old article but I love the photos.


Japan has again shown off one of its greatest innovations – square watermelons.

For years consumers struggled to fit the large round fruit in their refrigerators.

And then there was the problem of trying to cut the fruit when it kept rolling around.

But 20 years ago a forward-thinking farmer on Japan’s south-western island of Shikoku solved the problem.

The farmer, from Zentsuji in Kagawa prefecture, came up with the idea of making a cube-shaped watermelon which could easily be packed and stored.

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Today I found this excerpt on a Nara National Museum information flyer from my trip to Japan. I thought you might enjoy it.

* The service for man and wife.

Every month 22nd is “The day of man and wife”. Admission is half price when you come to our museum together as man and wife

In addition, November 22nd is “The day of good man and wife”, admission is free for all married couples who come together.

What a charming tradition. I hope all the married couples reading this will remember it on the 22nd of each month.

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Sometimes you feel like you just need to get away from it all. So to calm my mind, I’m showing more Kaii Higashiyama examples. Enjoy:

Evening Quiet

Evening Quiet, 1974

Summer Day

Summer Day,
from the “Journey into Tohoku and Shinshu” series

Pagoda in the Evening

Pagoda in the Evening,
from the “Spring and Autumn in Yamato” series

All the above can be found on http://www.pref.nagano.jp/seikan/seibun/english/art/art_2/higashi.htm

Breath. Relax. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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Another Japan Blog

For those of you who liked reading my photos and experiences in Japan, you may enjoy looking at the blog whoa…like…what.

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Man, I was just saying that the cartoon thing in Japan was weird and then I see this.

Japan has created an unusual government post to promote animation, and named a perfect figure Wednesday to the position: a popular cartoon robot cat named Doraemon.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura appointed the cat an “anime ambassador,” handing a human-sized Doraemon doll an official certificate at an inauguration ceremony, along with dozens of “dorayaki” red bean pancakes – his favorite dessert – piled on a huge plate.

The whole article is worth a read as the press conference has the Foreign Minister talking directly to Doraemon.

I really don’t get it, but I guess that’s what is so endearing about Japan. It’s a country with many mysteries.

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These are some paintings by artist Kaii Higashiyama. We missed a special exhibit of his work in The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo by one day.

Vibrant Greens 1982

Forest With a White Horse 1972

Luminous Cherry Blossoms 1964-66

All pictures courtesy of http://www.pref.nagano.jp/seikan/seibun/english/art/art_2/higashi.htm

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It’s been a great two weeks. I have only been to Asia once before in 2001 when I went to Thailand. Now that I have been back, I’m mad at myself that I haven’t come to this beautiful continent more often. The history here is incredible and rivals anything around the world. I know that in these two weeks in Japan, I have barely scratched the surface. I’d like to just summarize the most important parts of my journey.

The People

The Japanese people are some of the nicest people in the world. They are ever so polite, and this can be daunting for someone like me who is at times confrontational. Often when I would get an answer that I did not like, my displeasure would show on my face. But the Japanese never do this. They always show a smile even in the face of rudeness.

They are also extremely into process. They have a process for just about everything. When we went to book a hotel through the tourist information center, we did not bring our passports and unfortunately we were asked to provide our passport number. When we asked the woman helping us she nodded and went about finding a big binder with the written policy which said: “To Be Advised.” In other words there was a policy that said we should write “To Be Advised” if we didn’t have our passport number.

But the country is extremely well run because of this. The trains and subways were always on time. We missed two trains within 30 seconds of their scheduled departure.


I haven’t quite come to a conclusion as to what all of the cartoons and animation says about the country. There’s a strong possibility I am over analyzing. They have porn depicting animated characters. We went to see a Kubuki play about a husband and wife. In the play, they revealed a portrait of the husband. But when the wife’s portrait was to be shown it was a cartoon. It was very odd, I couldn’t figure out why the man was real and the woman was fake.


The food here is wonderful though perhaps limiting to a picky eater which I am thankfully not. We found we would order things from picture menus that we didn’t want. For instance when we ordered what we thought was a chicken skewer, but when we got it it was a chicken skin skewer. Just the skin. If you’re up for the ride, then you’ll get a lot out of dining in Japan. If not, you may need to limit yourself to things you recognize completely. But the diversity of the food is amazing. They eat so many different types of food. Diverse meat choices, fish choices, vegetable choices and even seaweed choices.

The Language

If you plan on going to Japan, be warned that most of the Japanese either don’t speak English or don’t feel comfortable doing so. I wish I had learned more Japanese before we arrived, but we had no time as this vacation was somewhat last minute. A hardship we had was arranging accommodation in Japan when we didn’t speak the language. If you call a guest house and ask in Japanese “do you speak English” you will most likely get the reply no. This differs from most Western European locales where they usually say “a little” but then you find out they speak a lot. So a good way around this is to arrange all of your accommodation via email prior as they are more comfortable reading English than speaking it.

Necessity required that we make some accommodation arrangements while we were there. Even when we were told no one spoke English, we used our phrases out of our guidebook to try to find some way to communicate. Desperation made us press, and if we could get a person who would give one word answers that helped a lot. We had a 1/3 success rate with this.

But isn’t going to an exotic place what we all love about going on a holiday? As difficult as it was at times to communicate I loved that I was in a country that didn’t speak my language.

Good Variety of Options on Our Itinerary

We had a great time visiting art galleries, museums, shrines, temples, but we made sure to do the fun stuff too like Sumo and Baseball. A good variety did us good.

I hope you enjoyed my tourist blogging experience. I grimace at the thought of returning to the daily news of real life.

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While the regular season hasn’t started yet, we were able to catch a warm up game for the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers. For a game whose result didn’t matter it was well attended. From the pictures it appears to be close to sold out.

The fans here in Japan are great. Though Hanshin is from Osaka and the game was held in Tokyo, they had half the stadium to themselves. Each team had a marching band instrument section. They sang songs like they do in European soccer. The Hanshin team had more flags and overall seemed the most passionate of the bunch. There were cheerleaders who did these funny dances. I apologize that I wasn’t able to get a picture. And there were tons of kids dressed in their little league uniforms.

But the game itself was a bit of a disappointment. There were quite a few hits, but nothing even close to a home run and no team was able to convert a hit into a run. So the 9th inning ended with the score 0 to 0. Then to our surprise everyone left. I’m not really sure why because according to Wikipedia a team will play 3 extra innings in a tie and if there still isn’t a winner then they will end the game as a tie. That didn’t happen.

Oh well. A great day and certainly a cultural experience. More pictures after the jump.


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Of course you would. I believe that’s the point. You can see from the photo how they carry the kegs are their back. Taken at a Yomiuri Giants vs. Hanshin Tigers game in Tokyo.

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We’re enjoying these wonderful yeasty morning baked goods. Not flaky like French pastries, but wonderful and buttery, soft and good. Very creative fillings as well. This picture is from a bakery in Tokyo.

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Remarkably exactly like $4 beer. Jacob and I went to the Ginza prefecture in Tokyo looking for a noodle shop that had been recommended to us. Ginza has quite a few posh shops and the neighborhood was noticeably fancier. Unfortunately, our noodle shop was closed so we decided to take refuge from what was a complete downpour of rain into a little jazz club. We thought, we’ll have a beer and then move on once we decide where to go.

Only it wasn’t a jazz club, but the staff were very well dressed with beautiful shirts and ties and cuff-links. They also had suspenders on. The staff outnumbered us by a few. We asked for a beer and the service was impeccable as you would expect in such a fancy place. They kept giving us these tiny bowls of snacks and we went through three of them as we still hadn’t had dinner.

It turns out the bartender spoke English and had spent sometime in Spokane, Washington as a student 17 years ago. So we had a lot to talk about. He was very chatty and nice and every now and again he made a slightly disparaging comment about the bar.

After one beer we were off, but when we asked for the bill he suddenly disappeared. Instead one of the other barmen brought us the bill. When we saw the bill we understood that he must have been too embarrassed to give it to us. It was 46,000 4,600 yen which is roughly $46. For two beers! And some snacks! We asked if there was a mistake and there wasn’t one. Youch! That’s a first.

The barman who spoke English met us outside and apologized. In fact, all the staff apologized. I’m guessing they get tourists like us every now and again.

Let this be a lesson to anyone planning on having a drink in Tokyo. Avoid fancy spots at all costs. At the very least, get a menu with prices.

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