REPOST: My reply to FG flames

Enjoy. This is a continuation of the discussion on the TokyoDV boards. I figured I said enough for people who don’t give a shit about some flame war to get a kick out of it as well:

It’s funny, I was totally wrong about why FG exceeded its bandwidth (didn’t know about the Tsunami-induced traffic surge), but I get all the flak over something I’m more or less right about.

It doesn’t take some genius or seasoned Japan expert to get an impression of what some website is all about. All it requires is a few months (if that) of watching the posts.

I don’t know what the selection process is for front-page articles on FG is, but they are available in an RSS feed (how I get them) and in that sense can be taken as if they were a collaborative blog. You’d have to be a fool not to realize that the point of posting articles on a website is to entertain, inform and maybe get the scoop faster than the other guys. Continue reading REPOST: My reply to FG flames

From Abeno Seimei and Onmyodo

The Yomiuri newspaper has a short article on an interesting religious ceremony conducted at the ancient Kamigamo Shinto shrine in Kyoto. I’ve translated it below and due to the obscurity of the material included some additional notes.

From Abeno Seimei and Onmyodo

At the Kurabeuma horse race which has been conducted at the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto for 910 years, the Norijiri(riders) conduct certain rituals before the race. The ceremonies of self-harai(ritual Shinto purification) by onymyokuji(yin-yang divination by lots) and harai by onmyo-daiyuudai (some kind of obscure onmyodo ceremony) are known as the norikiji houhei [houhei are the hemp rope and folded paper decorations seen at Shinto shrines). In the houhei ceremony the norijiri waves the houhei and offers a prayer to the kami (gods) by taking a special step. Reseachers on religious ceremony have concluded that these rituals include rites that can be traced back to onmyodo harai..

For those who can read Japanese, more information on the Kurabeuma is avaliable here.

Onmyodo: Literally ‘the way of yin and yang.’ An ancient form of Japanese magical practice, combining imported Taoist philosophy and practices (such as ying and yang and the 5 elements) with native Japanese Shinto beliefs and rituals. Practicioners of onmyodo were known as Onmyoji.

Abeno Seimei: The most famous of all Onmyoji. There is a popular novel and manga series by the author Baku Yumemakura, which has not been translated into English. There is however a film version and sequel, which you can get as a package here. The budget may not approach Lord of the Rings, but they are recommended for anyone who wants to see what Heian era Japan actually looked like.

Kami-gamo Shrine: One of the oldest shrines in Kyoto, it actually existed long before the city was built. Named after the Kamo clan that ruled the area before the Imperial family moved the capital, Kami-gamo (upper Kamo) and Shimo-gamo (lower Kamo) shrines are a pair. The Kamo river which flows past downtown Kyoto also takes its name from this source. In Heian times, the Abe and Kamo family’s were the two preeminent onmyoji families.

Protecting Manzai and Takoyaki

Osaka Prefecture to Enact New Law

On Jan. 18th, Osaka Prefecture affirmed its intention to preserve local mass culture from Noh theater to Rakugo, Manzai, and Takoyaki with the “Osaka Culture Law.” After submitting it to the local legislature in February they expect to enact it by April. According to prefectural authorities, 8 other prefectures already have similar laws, such as Hokkaido, Tokyo, and Kumamoto, but this is a first for the Kansai region. Continue reading Protecting Manzai and Takoyaki

Japanese Woodblock Prints Changing the World

Van Gogh totally rocking

A friend and I recently attended an exhibit at the Smithsonian of some guy’s collection of Late 19th- Mid-20th century Japanese woodblock prints, or Hanga.

It turns out that at the Japanese National Museum in Tokyo they were running a similar exhibit at the same time. I didn’t check it out but it was probably a different collection of prints.

Anyway here (thanks to FG for the link) is an article describing the boom that Japanese art experienced at the end of the 19th century and how it influenced Van Gogh. Here is something he wrote to his sister whilst in the grip of madness:

Theo wrote that he offered you Japanese woodblock prints. That is certainly the best way to understand which direction the light and colorful painting has taken. Here I need no Japanese woodblock prints, because I am here in Japan. This is why I only have to open my eyes and paint the impressions that I receive.

Currently in America there is kind of a Japanese culture boom as well, except mostly in children’s entertainment rather than art. Perhaps, like the Japonisme boom of 100 years ago, this won’t be permanent but the best work resulting from it will leave a lasting effect on pop culture.

Nike rips off ideas from Shibuya Fashion

It’s something that I’ve known for years, having criss-crossed to and from Japan every year or so: first knee-high boots are popular in Japan, then they’re popular here. First thick turtlenecks are popular in Japan, then they’re popular here. About 10 years ago Japan was infamous for its extreme reality shows (MXC, anyone?). Now it’s Britain and America. American pop culture has been secretly ripping off Japan for quite some time. I was happy to finally see something about it here:

Nike keeping secret eye on Shibuya

Nonfiction writer Hideki Kiriyama reveals that Nike Inc, the world’s largest sports and fitness company, is secretly keeping a close eye on Tokyo’s Shibuya district, a favorite hangout of the capital’s youth.

Writingin this month’s issue of Voice, Kiriyama says that Nike always bases its product design on insight that enables it to connect with consumers. The casual product sensibility and taste for bright colors seen in the street fashion that fills the cities of modern Japan, he says, are known as “J sense” and have attracted not only American designers but also young people and children in Asia.

Kiriyama asserts that Japanese “cool,” which involves improving Western designs and colors in a Japanese style, such as by adding transparency or sheen to cosmetic products, is unmistakably beginning to win the hearts of people all over the world.

He laments that in contrast to Nike, which takes inspiration for its designs from Shibuya, the heart of Japanese youth culture, Japan itself has failed to recognize the global value of this culture and can only focus on the decadent aspects of the changes instigated by young people.

He stresses that if rejection is Japan’s only reaction to its youth culture, the country will not be able to recognize the new value created by the new generation. (Foreign Press Center)

He certainly has a point. While ultra-cool Japanese kids have been supplying rich clothing companies with ideas, they have been getting nothing but crap from the press and public opinion.

Hong Kong Food

Snake Soup

After SARS came out a year ago newspapers worldwide were filled with stories about the eating habits of Southern China, particularly in Guangdong province (Canton), which is the area that Hong Kong was part of before it was split off into a British colony, and still has many cultural links to. I read a lot of stories about horrific semi-underground markets where one can purchase for consumption a whole range of animals from the most mundane such as chickens or pigs to exotic and often highly endangered animals, possibly stopping just short of the very well protected pandas. Well, with the relatively tight customs controls between the Hong Kong Semi Autonomous Region and the mainland no markets like that could possibly exist. While eating a large variety of animals has been part of Cantonese culture for a long time, in Hong Kong their options are very restricted and this snake soup is one of the few mildly outlandish things readily avaliable.
Continue reading Hong Kong Food

Daleks to have da-legs

England’s tabloid The Sun brings this dire pronouncement “DALEKS could be given LEGS in the new series of Dr Who.” in the wake of the announcement that The Beeb has finally managed to negotiate the rights to include Daleks in the new series of Doctor Who. Incidentally, The Sun seems to take exclusive credit for this development. “The Sun last week won its battle to save the Daleks.

One of the ‘clever’ designs that The Sun has photoshopped for our enjoyment.

Taiwanese restauranteur watches ‘Temple of Doom’ too many times

Originally spotted this morning in the print edition of The Japan Times. A good complement to my previous post about exotic Chinese food.

Monkey Rescued From Being Put on Menu

By Associated Press

July 16, 2004, 8:06 PM EDT

Taiwan — A monkey was recuperating at a wildlife park in Taiwan after being rescued from a restaurant that planned to sell slices of the animal’s brain while he was alive in a cage, a local government official said Friday.

A tourist in the central mountainous area of Nantou bought the monkey, Formosan macaque, after he saw that customers at a restaurant were about to eat its brains, said Huang Kuo-chen, a forestry official in Taoyuan county, where the tourist lives.

The man phoned Huang’s department to ask whether the monkey could be legally raised at home, the forestry official said.

“Raising monkeys at home is banned because they are protected animals,” Huang said.

The man, who didn’t give his name, handed over the animal to the authorities after rescuing it in May, Huang said. An inspection of the monkey showed exposed bone and small holes in its skull, he said.

In a front-page story, the Apple Daily showed photos of the monkey with a patch of hair shaved on its head where the restaurant reportedly planned to cut open his skull and slice off pieces of brain.

Many Taiwanese enjoy eating exotic animals because they believe the creatures provide special health benefits.

CTI cable news quoted doctors who warned that animal brains could contain dangerous viruses and were not fit for consumption.

The monkey is now being held at a wildlife park before experts evaluate whether it can be released in the wild, Huang said.

Here is a description of one monkey brain feast, which according to the source web site happened in 1948 or so.

The monkey’s head was supported by its neck in a
bracket, two pieces of wood with a semicircular hole on each side such that when you put them
together, they form a complete circle around the animal’s neck, allowing the head to be exposed
above the plank. The hair around the head is shaven with a shaving razor. A small chisel and a
hammer is used to quickly chisel a circle around the crown, and the top part of the skull is
removed. A teaspoon is used to scoop up the brain, which is immediately eaten. This has to be
done before the monkey dies.


Treats in a Beijing market.
March 6 2004

I’ve done a closeup as well so you can clearly see the seahorses. There was another stall later on that had actual whole starfish on a stick as a snack food, one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen. When I tried to take a picture the stall owner blocked my shot, so I just went on.

Interestingly there are two different kinds of similar food stalls on this street in the market. One is like this, with a variety of meats and … things that you could charitably call meat. The other is stalls run by Uyghur, the Muslim minority of the Western Xinjiang province of China. As muslims they would never eat or sell something as un-halal as a seahorse. I can’t say I blame them.