Sunday, December 30, 2007
"Super Idol" singer and actress Aya Ueto sings Silent Night for a Softbank cell phone commerical. Don't miss the classic Japanese Christmas cake at the end!
As an American raised in a predominantly ethnic Italian influenced family, I had never heard of "Christmas cake" before traveling to Japan. I'm interested in knowing which cultures celebrate Christmas with cake. Please share your traditions with us in the comment section!
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Sneek a peek at this trendy, invite only fashion show cum Christmas party held at a popular maid cafe in Tokyo. Marvel at the sexy sweet servant style. Wince at the high pitched voices and childish cuteness. Behold: Japan at it's weird and wonderful best!
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Bump of Chicken = Best Japanese band. EVER.
Tokyo Hymn (Tokyo Sanka)
It's a town with sky and earth
How is it different from the town where you grew up, I wonder?
Why can you tell the difference, I wonder?
I guess you've been taught since you came here
Things like all the lies, the cold, not being able to see the stars,
A storm of troubles
It's the revenge of things not going well, I guess
You started and quit so many here
What was it that you came here to do?
For whose sake was it?
Roads and railroad tracks are connected but... that's so but...
Jump out as you please, struggle along as you please
This town is all that you know
The drawer of your abandoned dream
Back then they were always nearby
The people you hate and like
Nowadays, do you care?
I guess you realized since you came here
No matter where a person goes
They are same as always
Separated from somebody and separated from yourself
Chosen as you please, hated as you please,
This town is all you have
The place where you, who can't go home, are
There are lots of lies everywhere, don't you think?
After all, when you can see the stars, you lose interest, right?
Among all the people passing one another by,
I think there are more than a few who came here
For similar reasons
What was it that you came here for?
Who was it that decided?
The earth and the sky are connected
The future and the past,too
You jumped out as you pleased, struggle along as you pleased
This town is all you know
The continuation of the dream you got back
Chosen as you please, hated as you please
This town is all you have
The place where you, who can’t go home, are
This town is all you have
The way back home to the place you grew up…
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Yukako, maiko of Gion Kobu, makes a few last touches to her makeup before the procession begins.
The geiko Suzuko flashes a stunning smile as Yodogimi, a favorite concubine of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Yukako smiles sweetly as she chats with friends.
Sakiko, another young maiko of Gion Kobu, shades herself with an elaborate fan.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Comedian Yoshio Kojima trys his hand at teaching English...
Woman: (Hoping for help from Kojima, she reads him her homework)
Kojima: Wow, you're horrible! That's not even close!
Woman: It's been so long since I read English...
Kids: Well then, you read it!
Kojima: Shall I read it for you? That's not smooth at all, and there's so much space between the words foreigners will never understand you!
Woman: Well then, Mr. Kojima, if you would, please...
Kojima: (Brilliant English-- no translation needed!)
Woman: What language is that?
Kojima: It's English!!!
♪♪♪ Acutally I can't read English、but that doesn't matter! ♪♪♪
*(Note: Oppapi supposedly stands for "Ocean Pacific Peace". Does that explanation sounds dubious to anyone else?)
Kojima attempts to help a young boy learn a kanji, or Chinese character...
Koijima: This is the character "naku", "to cry," Ok?
Boy: Naku (to cry).
Kojima: Naku. To Cry. This is easy. Umm... (baby cries) will you be quiet? Uh... first, WHOA! Don't pull my undies down, OK?! That's dangerous!
(Begins to draw) This is a crying... Do you got it? It's a crying person. Crying. He is crying. Crying. Cryin'. Cry crai cra crr cr... CRYING!
(Kojima shows the progression of the kanji from picture to pictograph)
Boy: I still don't quite understand...
Kojima: You still don't understand? Ok, but this is how I got into Waseda...
Wow. When you explain kanji like that, it really starts to make sense! I bet naku is one kanji that boy will never forget.
Much thanks to Japan Probe for always bringing the best of Japanese TV to the blogsphere, and for being a much cooler blog than this will ever be. m(- -)m
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Komomo, geiko of Miyagawa-cho, as Yokobue.
A low-ranking lady-in-waiting, Yokobue fell in love with Takiguchi-no-Tokiyori, a warrior of the Imperial Palace. The first time Tokiyori saw Yokobue dance at a hanami party he decided at once that he wanted her for his wife. When his family rejected her, the warrior sought solace by becoming a priest. Yokobue traveled to see Tokiyori, but he refused to meet her because he had already taken his vows. Stricken with grief, Yokobue drowned herself (as many Japanese heroines are rumored to have done). Before leaving, she wrote her true feelings in her own blood on a rock still standing before the gate of Takiguchi-dera, on the same site where Tokiyori took refuge so long ago.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Fukuaya, geiko of Miyagawa-cho, as Ono no Komachi.
Immortalized as one of the best waka poets of her day and a rare beauty, Ono no Komachi is Japan's earliest and best example of a passionate woman poet. Although they were written over a thousand years ago and can be read in a matter of minutes, the handful of her verses that survive today have been celebrated and studied for centuries, transcending time and culture to move and inspire people all around the world.
One of her poems is also included in the Hyakunin Isshu, a famous anthology of waka poetry also used in uta-garuta.
The hue of the cherry blossoms
at the long rain,
I grow old
It may be hard to fully appreciate Japanese poetry without an understanding of the subtle puns and play of words lost in translation. In the poem above, Komachi uses the word furu to connect the idea of growing old to the falling of the rain, and the word nagame to the idea of gazing to the long rains.
Here are a few of my favorite Komachi poems:
Although my feet never cease running to you
On the path of dreams,
The sum of all those meetings
Is less than a single waking glimpse.
Did he appear
Because I fell asleep
thinking of him?
If only I'd known I was dreaming
I never would have wakened.
The autumn night
is long only in name
We've done no more
than gaze at each other
and it's already dawn
Yeilding to a love
That knows no limit,
I shall go to him by night--
For the world does not yet censure
Those who tread the paths of dreams
You can read all 22 of her surviving poems here. Which is your favorite?
Fukunami, a young geiko of Miyagawa-cho, dressed as a lady-in-waiting to Ono no Komachi.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Lady Shizuka is one of the most famous and celebrated women of Japanese history. Daughter of a shirabyoshi, or court dancer, Shizuka recieved an invitation from the retired Emperor Shirakawa to dance for the gods, hoping that it would bring an end to a long drought. The chants of a hundred Buddhist monks performances by ninety-nine shirabyoshi had proven useless, but Shizuka's graceful movements acheived the desired effect. The Emperor praised her performance, and it was then that she met the hero Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune.
As a brilliant Genji general in the Gempei War (1180-1185), Yoshitsune's success earned him the distrust of his half-brother, Yoritomo, leader of the Genji clan. In 1185, Yoritomo forced his half-brother to flee and live like an outlaw. Four years later, he was betrayed, and forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide).
Terukoma waits patiently as stylists make a few last minute touch-ups to her carefully styled wig. She holds a tsuzumi, an hourglass-shaped drum originally taught with fox skin. Played with the tips of the fingers over the shoulder, it produces a distinct "pon" sound. The tsuzumi is used in classical Noh and Kabuki theater and is one of the many traditional instruments studied by geiko and maiko.
Shizuka, pregnant with his child, was captured by Yoritomo. Forced to dance for him, he was so charmed that he agreed to spare her life and that of her unborn child-- if it was a girl. Unfortunately, she gave birth to a son, who was soon killed at Yoritomo's order to prevent the child from seeking vengeance for his father's death later in life. Some say that Shizuka was also killed, some that she became a nun, and others that she drowned herself in a river in despair. She has haunted Japanese art and literature, appearing in everything from Kabuki to manga, ever since.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Desperate to separate his court from the growing politcal power of the Buddhist temples of Nara, Emperor Kammu fianlly chose idyllic Yamashiro, surrounded by mountains and blessed with clear water, as the location of his new capital, Heian-Kyo: the Capital of Peaceful Tranquility. Known today as Kyoto, it remained the nation's capital until 1867. Jidai Matsuri, or the Festival of Ages, commemorates his decision, made over 1,200 years ago (October 22, 794).
The Heian Imperial court enjoyed a relatively long period of peace and prosperity lasting nearly 400 years, until 1185. The most influential clan of the era was the aristocratic Fujiwara family who succeeded in dominating the royal family by marrying their daughters to emperors and ruling on behalf of their offspring when they assumed the throne. The Fujiwara controlled politics and cultivated the cultural scene, encouraging an aura of courtly sophistication and sensitivity in all of their activities, including the visual and literary arts and religious practice. This refined sensibility and aesthetic interest is clearly expressed in the literary classic The Tale of Genji, written by a member of the Fujiwara clan known to us today as Murasaki Shikibu.
Kikuno, geiko of Miyagawa-cho as Sei Shonagon, contemporary and rival of Murasaki Shikibu and author of Makura no Soshi, "The Pillow Book".
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Fukuteru, geiko of Miyagawa-cho, appears as Tomoe Gozen in Kyoto's Jidai Matsuri, the "Festival of Ages".
Arrayed in men's armor, Tomoe Gozen fought courageously besides her husband, General Kiso Yoshinaka, in battle. Heike Monogatari, or The Take of Heike, describes her as the epitome of both feminine and masculine virtue:
"Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swords-woman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors."
Fiercely brave and unwaveringly loyal to her husband, her final act of service to him has become the subject of many plays, poems, art, manga and even the modern, made-for-TV-drama, Yoshitsune. Having defeated the Heike clan, driving them into the western provinces and taking Kyoto, Yoshinaka decided to claim leadership of the Minamoto clan (to which he belonged). His cousin and rival, Yoritomo, promptly sent his brothers to kill Yoshinaka, and their forces finally met in the Battle of Awazu. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, with only a handful of warriors standing, Yoshinaka ordered his wife to flee the field rather than face capture and death. Promising her husband that she would hold off the enemy long enough for him to commit seppuku, the ritual suicide considered honorable in defeat, the Tale of Heike records that:
"[Tomoe] flung herself upon Onda [the strongest warrior} , and, grappling with him, dragged him from his horse... and cut off his head."
Tomoe Gozen's fate after the battle is not known, but it is generally believed that she lived a long life, becoming a Buddhist nun.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Super-cute, soft-serve poop: A puri staple and Japanese pop culture icon.
Junior high kids love to ask about their ALT's love life. The thumbs up means boyfriend, pinky up means girlfriend.
All the way from Osaka, world famous Ashitsubo Sensei and rugby extrodinaire (not to mention actual nihonjin)!
Star of my first puri and my absolute best Japanese friend ever- Yuko-chan! How far we've come! (^_<)
I ♥ Osaka!
Extra points if anyone can catch the "Fo Sho" allusion.
Our last puri- for now, anyways!
Friday, November 23, 2007
Did you know the pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts, and still decided to set aside a day of thanksgiving for all of their blessings? What a humbling thought. We all have things to be thankful for, even if we forget it from time to time. Sometimes even the things we are quite the opposite of thankful for turn out to be blessings in the end, and that is a comforting thought (^_<)
Yet even as I prepared to repatriate myself this past August, I found myself looking forward to the deliciousness that is good old pumpkin pie. Despite a series of unfortunate events that transpired to keep me from eating said pumpkin pie, or even having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in my own home, it turned out to be the absolute best Thanksgiving in (my) recent history. No fighting. No stress. No obscure sea creatures sneaking into the hot pot. Just family, food and fun. Niiiiiiice.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
If it is such a simple thing, I wonder why can't I say it?
Even if I forget the sky we saw together,
If you are a flower,
From them, I chose one
My being here is proof that you were here
Since I borrowed the power to live,
When you forget the tears and the smiles,
Everyone has a person they want to see
If you are a flower,
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
As they say in Japan, Happy Haroween! (^_<)/
Monday, October 15, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
"Back again this year,
"Oishisou!" You say, "But what's up with the flying rabbits?
According to tradition, the lunar hare was said to descend to Earth around the time of the three-day moon, and return home when the moon was full.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
A little seasonal purikura for your moon-viewing enjoyment. Notice the NOVA rabbit in the lower right-hand corner gazing wistfully at the moon, as if longing to return home after ripping-off unsuspecting Japanese and gaijin alike, getting caught, and going bankrupt.
I'm sure that anyone interested in Japanese culture has noticed the prevalence of rabbits and moons in both popular and traditional culture. They're everywhere, from anime (Sailor Moon's Tsukino Usagi, which can be translated as 'Moon Rabbit') to traditonal sweets. Japanese people will happily point to the legend of the mochi-making rabbitt on the moon as the origin of their cultural obsession, even though most of them will readily admit that they've never been able to see it. (Perhaps the image at the right will give you the upper hand!)
Japan is not alone in its moon-rabbit maddness, which seems to have spread through Asia with the advent of Buddhism. Originating in India, the legend struck a chord in certain cultures, slowly shaping itself in the image of each as it spread to China before ultimately being transmitted to Japan. The custom of moon-viewing itself has roots in China's traditional mind-autumn celebration, when the people treated themselves to moon cakes, but when the custom was transmitted to Japan, mochi ( sweet, pounded rice cakes) quickly took their place. The Chinese believed the rabbit in the moon was busy mixing the Elixer of Immortality, a reflection of the long history and influence of Chinese medicine. In Japan, where no such tradition existed, they envisioned a rabbit making mochi much as they did-- pounding it with mallets until is reached its smooth, sticky perfection. This process, called mochitsuki (餅つき), lent itself nicely to a clever play on words, which can also mean full moon (望月).
"Moon Rabbit" mochi
The story goes that in a previous existences as a boddhisattva, Shakyamuni (the Buddha) taught his followers about a wise rabbit who lived in a forest with three of his friends: the monkey, the fox, and the otter. The reincarnation of a bodhisattva himself, the rabbit posessed a wisdom that would surely lead him to enlightenment. In the afternoon, the friends went about their buisness alone, but in the evenings they gathered together to hear the rabbit speak about life and morality. On the day of the full moon, the rabbit proposed that instead of eating alone, they gather their food together and distribute it among the hungry. His three friends agreed.
The monkey climbed trees to gather mangos, the fox gathered the leftovers the workers had left in their feilds, and the otter caught fish in the river. Since the rabbit ate grass, he didn't really have to go out of his way to get food, but he knew that no human would want to eat grass. "If someone hungry comes to beg for food, I will offer them my body. I'm sure lots of people would like to eat rabbit meat!" Then he told everyone what he decided.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Long ago, the people of ancient Japan had a deep, emotional attachment to the ever-changing moon, a mystical heavenly body that measured their lives in times and seasons. The full moon was considered the most beautiful of all, and the most beautiful of all full moons was mid-Autumn's Chushu no Meigetsu, the Harvest moon, traditionally rising on the 15th evening of the 8th month (according to Japan's old lunar calendar).
The custom of holding banquets to admire the moon became common during Japan's Golden Era, the Heian Period (794-1192). Imperial aristocrats enjoyed elegant, moon-lit parties called Mizuki and Tsuki-no-utage, composing waka (31-syllable Japanese poems), listening to noble court music, and drinking sacred sake aboard leisure boats from which they watched the moon’s reflection in the moving water.
Marked with decorations of Japanese pampas grass and offerings of rice dumplings, taro, chestnuts, soybeans, and sake, today’s moon viewing parties are held to enjoy good times with friends and family. In the past, farmers made offerings of pampas grass and bush clover to the full moon to ensure a good harvest. Now a small arrangement of susuki, hagi (pampas grass and bush clover), and the seven fall flowers are offered in hopes that wishes will come true.
Uh-oh, She's Reminiscing, Ya'll...
Even without the help of these autumn talismans, many a wish can come true beneath a Harvest Moon. During my first year as a JET, I sat alone on the dry bank of a freshly harvested rice field in Higashino, where my evening walks often led me through narrow streets spotted with traditional houses, surrounded on all sides by rice fields, silhoutted foothills and far-off mountains. I admired the moon, recalling, as I often did during my experience in Japan, one of my favorite Thoreau quotes: "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake". I tried to drink it all in, fully aware that my time in Japan would be beautiful but breif, yet sure that it would be with me forever.
In my second year, I watched Autumn's first full moon rise over Cambodia's Tonle Sap, only to see it melt away the next morning as the sun rose over Angkor Wat.
Ironically, I was so busy planning lessons during my last Otsukimi in Japan that I barely had a chance to enjoy it, something that speaks volumes about my final year there. I remember catching sight of it as I drove home from the grocery store, wishing for the time and peace of mind to truely enjoy it as I once had.
Thankfully, I was granted both this year as I watched the moon grow gradually from a sliver of silver in the obsidian sky to a hauntingly pale, celestial apparition shrouded in veils of cloud and night. It finally revealed itself during a moon-lit roadtrip from Nebraska to Minnesota, bobbing bashfully along the shadowy ridges of birch, maple, and pine before sailing out to open skies. Reflected in 10,000 lakes, close enough to the horizon to seem colossal, it's etheral impermanence filled the night with a lonely beauty too perfect for words.
It was a great night. It's good to be back.