adidas Originals Seoul flagship store features crowd-sourced art in the Supercolor Studio

Vanishing Japan: Five things to see before they disappear completely

tanada

RocketNews 24:

Today we introduce you to five icons of Japan that you need to see now before these few vestiges are completely lost!

1. Sento–local public baths 銭湯

bath entrance

Up until WWII, most houses in Japanese cities were built without baths (even if you did have your own bath, you’d probably have to share it with your neighbors). Instead, local sento, (public baths) were located within walking distance in the neighborhood. People would change into their yukata or pajamas and head to perform their ablutions at the end of the day. With the day’s activities finished and nothing left to do but sleep, people spent a long time in the large, steaming-hot baths that soaked out all the stress of the day, both mental and physical. The size of the tubs and the socializing aspect would have been impossible to replicate at home even if you did have your own bath.

I also enjoyed this aspect of the public bath house when I first moved to Japan and lived in a small six-mat tatami room near the university. Over four years I got naked with my neighbors. The large bath hall with its high acoustic ceilings reverberated with ladies’ laughter that spilled out onto the evening streets as neighbors caught up with the day’s gossip. I learned to speak Japanese with a distinct echo.

But nowadays houses are all built with private baths, so the sento culture is dying out. Only the old lady who lives in that decrepit old house on the corner still goes to thesento–if there is one left in the neighborhood.

Japanese bathing rituals are still carried out at the onsen, where you’ll get a more modern, luxurious hot bath experience in natural hot spring water, but you’ll probably have to drive there, pay a lot more money for the privilege, and the socializing aspect will be almost non-existent. The onsen will also be much cleaner and beautiful because they are made to attract local tourists. Thus they will not have a mural of Mount Fuji hand-painted on the inside of the bath house wall, revealing faded colors and cracked lacquer paint. Nor will they have aging, coin-operated message chairs that look more like torture devices with the rollers sticking out to jab into your back. And they certainly won’t have hair dryer chairs that require a large glass globe be lowered over your head and a tornado-producing wind that hovers over your head while your locks stand up and whip around as if they’re inside a blender. Doesn’t the sento sound much more interesting than the onsen?!

Local sento are few and far between these days but you can still catch a part of this Japanese bathing history if you search the oldest neighborhoods of any city. Look for a chimney that looks more like a smoke stack coming out of the top of the building (remember Spirited Away?) or a noren curtain out the front with the ゆ mark on it, the symbol of a sento.

Or check out this website for locations by prefecture.

2. Ama Divers 海人

Mikimoto pearl divers

ama

While the above photo may look like surgeons ready to operate on a whale in its own aquatic environment, they’re actually ama pearl divers, a distinctly female Japanese profession. The ama divers have a two-thousand-year-old history and used to dive in fundoshi loin cloths while tethered to a wooden barrel that floated on the ocean’s surface. Nowadays they wear white outfits but still dive–sometimes as deep as 25 meters (82 ft)–with just a mask, unassisted by oxygen. They must be able to hold their breath for up to two minutes, and expel the air gradually as they resurface. While in the 1950s there were still some 17,000 ama divers in Japan, there are only around two thousand left, most penetrating the waters of Ishikawa and Mie prefectures. These days they retrieve abalone and other shellfish from the bottom and almost all of the divers are over 40 years old.

Mikimoto Pearl company made the ama famous when they started using them to retrieve oysters so they could plant irritants into their mantle cavities to create pearls. The ama then returned the mollusks to the sea bottom. Mikimoto Pearl Island in Toba (Mie Prefecture) holds demonstrations for tourists. Although it is just a demonstration, at least you can still see the divers while they are extant.

3. Seto Inland Sea Islands 瀬戸内海/瀬戸内

▼Four-hundred-year-old bon dance, Shiraishi Island, Okayama Prefecture

bon dance

Out of approximately 700 islands in the Seto Inland Sea (also called the setonaikai or setouchi in Japanese), the largest is Shodoshima with a population of around 20,000. But the majority of the Inland Sea islets support traditional fishing communities of less than 500 citizens. With the decline of the fishing industry in the Inland Sea coupled with the push in education after the war, the islands are losing their populations to the cities that offer higher paying jobs and more modern lifestyles. The islands have been left with aging and stagnant populations. The government has attempted to make the islands more accessible by building bridges to connect them with the mainland. While bridges ensure the survival of these islands, the traditional lifestyles are disappearing due to the proximity of outside influences.

But what about the other islands? Those without bridges and that you still need a ferry to get to?

These islands, because they are still fairly isolated, still maintain their traditions. But with no focused plan to revive island economies, these communities are fading away.Ferry services are cut back (or stopped completely), and the few remaining families move to the mainland due to lack of services. Yet each of these islands has its own unique culture: folkloric traditions, bon festivals and Shinto rites. Each island that dies takes an entire set of unique cultural values with it.

It is still possible to see the traditional Japanese island way of life and experience 400-year-old ceremonies as the sole outsider (as well as the only foreigner!) present. In fact, a few tourist-friendly islands are hoping to survive by inviting sightseers, including foreigners, to come out and experience island life. Islands like Manabeshima (population of 230), Shiraishijima (pop. 556) and Kitagishima (pop. about 1,000) in the Kasaoka Island chain (Okayama) are island gems that are dropping out of sight fast and taking their ancient traditions with them. Naoshima (Okayama) and the lesser islands of Kagawa Prefecture are supported by the Benesse Art Site Naoshima and the Setouchi Triennial Art Festival (the next one is 2016) which offer the chance to see art against the background of traditional island scenery. So get out and see the Inland Sea islands before it’s too late!

4. Terraced Rice Fields 棚田

▼Terraced rice field, Mie Prefecture

tanada

Terraced rice fields are a scene reminiscent of South East Asia such as Bali or Vietnam, but before Japan’s industrial revolution in the ’60s, they could still be seen all over the country. At that time, rice was the main agricultural product and the grains were planted, cultivated and harvested by hand. With so many mountains, terraced paddies allowed rice to be grown on places that were otherwise considered unusable. The rice fields offered other benefits including maintaining biodiversity in the environment, holding back water during the rainy season to prevent landslides, and adding to the greenery and scenery around Japan. The industrial revolution not only lured people to the cities, but it also rendered the terraced rice paddies unfit for sowing since machinery could not easily reach or be used in such narrow, sometimes very steep, stacked fields.

While the tanada have been almost completely abandoned, there has been an effort to preserve some of them recently via government subsidies and non-governmental campaigns.

5. Tsukiji Fish Market 築地市場

tuna

Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, established in 1935, is the largest wholesale fish market in the world. It is here were a single Blue Fin Tuna sold for a record US$1.7 million. The market is also one of the top five sightseeing spots in Tokyo for Japanese tourists. But this icon is scheduled to be relocated to make more room for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. This has created great controversy, especially since the move has been delayed by two years already due to decontamination efforts of the new 40.7-hectare site, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay where previously a refinery was located. Recently, additional tainted ground was discovered leading to more time needed for clean-up safety measures. Although the new venue will be twice as big as the current 230,000 square meters (around 2.5 million square feet), many people will miss the old atmosphere and the quaint restaurants that have thrived around the current market for so many years, including Dai, Japan’s highest-ranked sushi restaurant. And while everyone understands the need to update and innovate, we all know that not all the charms of the past are necessarily transferred to the newer more futuristic establishments. Nor will all of the old restaurants be able to weather the move.

Current Location: 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.

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Lana Condor will play Jubilee in ‘X-Men Apocalypse’

jubileecover

Audrey Magazine:

Yesterday, X-Men: Apocalypse director Bryan Singer posted a picture of actress Lana Condor on Instagram to announce she will play the character Jubilee in the upcoming film. In the X-Men comics, Jubilee is a teenage mutant who attacks enemies using “explosive plasmoids” from her hand. She is most recognizable for her trademark yellow raincoat and goggles.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 1.45.48 AM

Not much info can be found on this young actress since Jubilee will be her first role. Despite this, we are beyond happy to see more Asians in major comic book films and we can only hope that Lana Candor will have a big part as Jubilee in this upcoming film. After all, Chinese superstar Fan BingBing, who played the character Blink in X-Men: Days of Future Past, had a rough estimate of two lines and five minutes of screentime in the overstuffed film.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed for Lana and for the possibility of more Asian American actors on screen soon. Lately, there have been an increase of Asian American comic book characters such as Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel, Silk and a few others. Since most of the blockbusters seem to be comic book adaptations nowadays, let’s hope the casting of Jubilee is part of an increasing trend!

Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge or S5… Which do I choose?

CNET: (by /ASK MAGGIE):

Lovers of Samsung Galaxy smartphones have a lot to be excited about. The latest flagship phone from Samsung is available for preorder starting this weekend.

With a sleeker design, a better camera and easier-to-use software, the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are being called Samsung’s best smartphones to date. But truth be told, the Galaxy S5 was no slacker either, even though it didn’t sell as well as expected. And for savvy smartphone consumers, it shouldn’t be ruled out entirely when buying a new device.

All four major wireless operators started taking preorders for both the Galaxy S6 and its sexier sibling, the S6 Edge, on Friday. The devices will be on sale starting April 10.

With this in mind, I think you should wait till the S6 and S6 Edge are available before you buy a new device, regardless of whether you decide to get one of the newer phones or opt for last year’s model. By waiting, you’ll have the option of getting one of the new devices, which comes with a brand-new design and a few upgrades over the Galaxy S5. Also, even if you decide to forgo one of the newer products, the Galaxy S5 will be offered at a reduced price once the S6 is available. So either way, it makes sense for you to wait a couple of weeks longer before upgrading your device.

If you can’t wait to try the S6 and S6 Edge, both devices are already available in carrier and retail stores to check out.

Design, design, design

Samsung says that it’s listened to customers when it comes to the design of this year’s Galaxy S smartphones.

Even though the Galaxy S5 is loaded with great features, the phone wasn’t a big hit with consumers. Why? Most Samsung fans complained that its plastic body felt too cheap in comparison with competing flagship devices from Apple and HTC, which both use premium materials like aluminum for device bodies. Up until the Galaxy S6, Samsung argued that the plastic casing was more durable, but the company finally relented in the latest version of its flagship. Gone is the plastic casing of the former Galaxy products.

Instead, the new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge feature a glass back and matte metal frame, wrapped in glossy Gorilla Glass on the front. There’s no question these are prettier and slicker smartphones than previous generations of the Galaxy family of smartphones. The new design makes these phones narrower and thinner than the S5. Samsung has also made them a smidge taller.

In terms of specifications, the S6 and S6 Edge are pretty much the same device. The big difference between the phones is the design and the price tag. The lower-priced S6 has straight edges, while the sexier S6 Edge has a curved edge on each side, creating an infinity-pool-like effect. Both devices look remarkably similar to the iPhone 6, but it’s the S6 Edge that’s likely to make even iPhone fanboys and -girls jealous.

CNET Reviews Senior Editor Jessica Dolcourt said in her review of the S6 Edge that its wraparound screen “transforms an already great phone into Samsung’s best-looking handset. Ever.”

But before I get too deep into offering advice on which S6 model you should choose, you should decide if you really want the newer design or whether you’d rather have the S5.

S6 vs. S5

So let’s start with some basics.

The Galaxy S5 was worthy of its flagship designation when it was introduced a year ago, and in terms of specifications, features and functionality, it’s still near the top of the pack when compared with smartphones in the market. As a result, there’s no doubt you’d be well served by this device.

That said, the S6 does offer some upgrades, even if they aren’t revolutionary. They’re more evolutionary. For instance, both the S5 and the S6 sport 5.1 displays. Samsung tweaked the resolution on the S6 smartphones, giving the already excellent display found in the S5 a slightly improved resolution that’s incredibly crisp and sharp.

Samsung also improved the already very good camera found on the S5. Cameras on both the S5 and S6 offer 16 megapixels. But Samsung has added a wider f/1.9 aperture on the new phones, which captures 40 percent more light as compared with the S5, which means higher-quality photos taken in low-light environments.

Samsung also stripped away some of its TouchWiz device software, which makes the S6 run faster and smoother than the S5. The software running on the S6 makes navigation a lot more pleasant, especially for those who prefer a more pure Google Android experience rather than Samsung’s customized TouchWiz experience. It also runs Google’s latest version of Android.

But the new sexier design of the Galaxy S6 also comes with a few potential drawbacks. First, the aluminum and glass body doesn’t allow for a removable battery. And there’s no SD memory card slot to add additional memory. These functional features were considered staples of former versions of the Galaxy products.

Though these design trade-offs may be deal breakers for some Samsung Galaxy fans, the fact that millions of iPhone customers have never had the option of a replaceable battery or expandable memory suggests that the absence of these features might not bother most consumers. You should note that the phones come in 32 gigabyte, 64GB and 128GB configurations, so you can choose more memory if that’s a concern.

Whether those features matter to you is a personal decision. For me, they’re something I can and have lived without for years. So I have little problem recommending a device that doesn’t include them. But as I say, it’s entirely up to you.

In terms of features, the S6 smartphones offer improvements across the board, though some of these improvements may be so slight that they’d be imperceptible to some customers.

If you can live without the flashy new design and the slight improvements in functionality, you could get the S5 and save some money. Traditionally, wireless operators have offered the previous model of an iconic device like Samsung’s Galaxy products or Apple’s iPhone at a discount once the newer model is released. This is likely to be the case again with the Galaxy S5.

With the new device-financing plans carriers offer today, this means you can likely save yourself at least $100 over the life of the product if you buy last year’s model. For this reason, I’d argue that buying the Galaxy S5 is a safe and frugal option for a more practical and price-sensitive smartphone shopper.

S6 vs. S6 Edge

If looks are important to you and you want a more premium-feeling device in your hand, then you should consider one of the new Galaxy S6 phones. But which one should you choose?

As I said earlier, the specifications and functionality of the S6 and S6 Edge are identical. The real difference between the models is design and price. The sexy design of the S6 Edge will cost you more. How much more depends on the carrier you subscribe to and the type of plan you have. For instance, AT&T offers the 32GB S6 at full retail for $685, and the 32GB S6 Edge will cost you $815. That’s a difference of $130 for the curvier and cooler looking S6 Edge without any other additional bells and whistles.

But if you plan to finance your device on one of AT&T’s installment plans, the difference in cost is spread out over many months, so it will likely cost you only about $5 more a month to get the S6 Edge rather than the S6. Though each carrier is offering the new devices at different prices, they all offer programs that spread out the cost of the devices in such a way that the difference in price between the S6 and the S6 Edge in terms of your monthly bill is around $5 a month.

For example, Sprint is offering these devices as part of its new leasing program. For $80 a month, its customers can get the S6 with an unlimited voice, text messaging and data plan. The S6 Edge is offered for only $5 more a month at a cost of $85 a month.

The bottom line: What should you do?

If you’re on a tighter budget and you absolutely need a Samsung phone, I’d say go for the Galaxy S5. In spite of the fact that the device may not have sold as well as Samsung had hoped, it’s still a solidly good device that offers a lot of high-end features and specifications. But if design is important and cost is only minimally important, I’d say the Galaxy S6 Edge is the device for you. The S6 is nice, but for the cost of a latte each month you can have a smartphone that could make your iPhone-toting friends drool.