Soy Shape saucers add a third dimension to your sushi experience

soy shapes

RocketNews 24 (by Michelle Hughes):

These dishes make playing with your food look classy and intelligent.

There’s always something cool and unusual to be found on Kickstarter, like ramen charts, samurai armor hoodies, or, in this case, ceramic saucers that play tricks with your eyes when filled with soy sauce.

▼ Soy Shape models “Cubes” and “Impossible Triangle”

soy shapes dishes

As for exactly how this optical illusion works,Tokyo-based creator and designer Duncan Shotton says that the slightly varying levels of the inner surface of the saucers take advantage of natural color gradations that occur in soy sauce at different depths. Thus, when the saucers are filled, the soy sauce takes on a 3-D quality.

The dishes are made from Hakuji porcelain in Gifu. Hakuji ceramics have a legacy stretching back to the 1600s, so the Soy Shape saucers are definitely going to be high-class.

soy shapes boxes

You already know the drill when it comes to Kickstarter: the more you pledge, the more awesome the perks become.  Although the campaign has already raised nearly four times the amount of its initial goal, you can still get in on the action and score a Soy Shape at prices starting at US$19.50.

There’s only a few days left in the Soy Shape campaign, so head on over to theKickstarter page ASAP if you’re looking to pick one up.

25 ways Japanese politeness can get on the nerves of Japanese people

RocketNews 24:

There is such a thing as being too courteous, and an online survey ranked the 25 most common examples of just that in Japan.

Japan is legendary for its adherence to etiquette, formality and customer service. However, sometimes these acts of kindness can go too far beyond what people need from friends, family, and businesses.

Whether by making people feeling uncomfortable, burdened to reciprocate, or just plain embarrassed, these are 25 things that Japanese people could use less of, according to a ranking by survey-meisters over at the website Goo Ranking.

25 Yakigakari: The person sentenced to grill

Much like in the west, at Japanese barbeques or yakiniku joints, there may be one person in the group who takes the tongs and never, ever lets go. While constantly providing the rest of the group with grilled meat and veggies, they have almost no time to enjoy the food themselves.

This can make the rest of the group feel uncomfortable as they wonder why the yakigakari won’t give it a rest. This can also irk people who want their food cooked in a particular way, but can’t get past the yakigakari’s monopoly of the grill.

24 Surprise Birthdays

Surprise!!! At least, you better act surprised – and thrilled for that matter – because you have suddenly become the star of an event you were not prepared for. Not only that, you have become the crux of the mood for the entire evening’s festivities and will let everyone down if you’re not feeling particularly into being asked, “We’re you surprised?” a few dozen times and whatever else we have planned for you.

23 Sharing Homegrown Vegetables

This doesn’t seem like such a bad thing at all, and actually isn’t. The homegrown foods often surpass store-bought in terms of freshness and nutrition. However, they can sometimes come in quantities that’ll make your head spin.

22 The Nabe Judge

Known in Japanese as a “nabe bugyo” or “nabe judge,” they are the person at a group dinner who dictates what should and shouldn’t go into the mixed hot-pot known as nabe. Although, they’re acting in the interest of everyone having the best possible meal, their authoritarian ways of controlling what should be a casual meal can be annoying to others.

21 Constant Omiyage

Contrary to western countries who buy souvenirs for mainly themselves, Japanese travelers will often stock up on omiyage or presents for their friends and families back home out of a sense of obligation. They can range from snacks or liquor to clothing or distinct national items like Swedish surströmming.

20 Mid-Year and End-of-Year Gifts

In Japan giving gifts for birthdays or Christmas isn’t quite as prevalent as some other places. However, there is the annual traditions of giving presents half-way through and at the end of the year. And with it come the same anxieties and work that go into present shopping as people everywhere feel.

19 Predictive Text on Mobile Phones

Even machines are capable of being intrusively helpful. Personally I’ve never had a problem with it. In fact, I’m typing out this entire article on a mobile phone and ham tonne had probation Yeti.

18 People Serving You Food You Don’t Want

Most restaurants in Japan have shared eating where everyone picks from the same plate. This style is fraught with potential acts of rudeness unintentional and otherwise, one of which is a person handing you a plate of squid meat soaked in its own fermented viscera (shiokara) under the assumption that you want it.

In such an instance you would be the jerk for refusing the cephalopod guts, leaving you with no alternative but to dig in.

17 Friends and Family Playing Cupid

This one’s probably pretty universal. You might think there isn’t anything worse that being thrust into a potential relationship with some stranger at the whim of a third party, but we haven’t gotten to number 13 yet.

16 Handmade Candy and Presents

I have to think this one really hinges on how well the giver can make candy and presents, so it’s best to perhaps consider this a wild-card in the rankings.

15 Send-off at the Beauty Salon

I wouldn’t know this first-hand since I never go to beauty salons. I’m a manly man who gets his hair cut by fighting a bear and letting it win just enough so that it begins biting off my excess locks.

However, I have seen the pomp and circumstance that goes on after someone at a salon in Japan has just completed their cut, dye or whatever else. A group of staff crowd around the customer waving goodbye and offering their heartfelt thanks in enthusiastic voices on the streets for all to see and hear.

While it’s nice to be congratulated on our achievements in life, getting our hair done probably doesn’t warrant such acclaim.

14 Housework Done by a Husband who Sucks at Doing Housework

Luckily my wife doesn’t have this problem. In fact, just the other day I was doing the dishes but ran out of soap. Thinking quickly I grabbed a bar from the shower and finished the job on time.

You should have seen the look on her face when I told her, too. She was so amazed she had a husband as cunning and resourceful as I, that she went into the bedroom and locked the door, giving me the entire house to myself for the evening!

13 Getting Set up with Someone Else’s Ex

This one really shouldn’t need an explanation, but since it’s on the list perhaps one is in order for some people.

It’s exactly as if I came up to you and offered you my toothbrush. I tried it out a few times but it didn’t work quite right or just wore out over time.

Of course, your response would probably be to kick me in the shin and walk away, and would have every right to do so. So if you try to set someone up with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, you ought to be prepared for the same kind of reaction.

12 Convenience Stores Asking about Point Cards

Not a day goes by that I don’t get queried by my convenience store clerk as to whether I have a T-point-super-member card or whatever. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that just getting one would be less of a hassle than constantly being asked for one. Also, consideration of how often I’m apparently going to a convenience store to be annoyed by this logically indicates that I should take advantage of a point card.

Still…I refuse to give them the satisfaction.

11 Exchanging Birthday Gifts with People you Don’t Care About

I was going to comment on the custom of obligatory gifts to certain co-workers and other people you’re not all that close with. However, I was contacted by high-ranking members of the gift certificate industry who informed me that I “had better shut up” about this tradition if I “knew what’s good” for me.

10 Neighbors Receiving Packages on Your Behalf

I’m actually surprised this is even legal, but apparently it goes on in Japan. If a courier comes to your home when you’re not around they may go to your neighbor’s and ask them to hold it sometimes under the pretense of mistaking the address. Often, if your neighbor is like mine who refuses to have anything to do with you, they’ll just politely decline and the delivery staff will have to write out one of those little papers.

However, if you have one of those nosey types next door, prepared to have your Gackt hug pillow from Amazon in the hands of another.

9 Getting a New Year Card from Someone You Haven’t Heard from Since Forever

In Japan, exchanging New Year Cards is an annual custom wherein people give out small postcards to pretty much every conceivable acquaintance from their high school friends to the guy who refills their water cooler.

With such a wide range of people it’s only natural to have or be an unrequited recipient of a New Year Card. While most people simply shrug it off, there still is a pang when you get that card from an old middle school friend whom you haven’t seen or heard from in 20 years. Upon realizing you haven’t sent them one, you have automatically become a jerk. Happy holidays!

8 Kids’ Clothes Bought by Your Mother-in-Law

Always a sticky situation: naturally when your mother-in-law presents you a with sweater using slightly outdated wording like “Mommy made a very gay baby!” you have no choice but to bring it out during family gatherings which hopefully aren’t public.

7 People Bring You Food From a Buffet

Aside from the increased exposure to disease vectors, part of the fun of going to a buffet is being able to customize your own dish to your liking. However, if someone takes the liberty of getting your food for you, you might find yourself filling up on pizza slices before being able to partake in any squid soaked in fermented viscera.

6 Public Toilet Paper Folded into a Triangle

I actually rather like “fire fold” in which the cleaning staff will fold up the end of a toilet paper roll into a neat little triangle. After all, it’s a sign that this toilet had been freshly cleaned just before you arrived.

However, from a glass-half-empty perspective I can also see issues. The cleaner had just finished scrubbing away at toilet soiled by lord-knows-how-many people and then immediately without washing their hands folds up the toilet paper to finish the job. This could mean you are potentially wiping with the particles of fecal matter of an untold number of people.

5 People Worrying about Your Future Marriage and Children

This one will probably be in the top five of any such list around the world. The much loathed “When are you going to settle down and have kids?” question comes from a place of caring but is as annoying as it is futile.

I mean really, has anyone who has ever felt the need to ask that question actually gotten a reply with a definite timeline?

4 Hairdresser Chats

Again, I have no personal experiences with this. Even when I can’t find a bear to fight, I usually frequent the dankest barber shop in town, where my “stylist” clearly has given up on life and would rather end it than engage in conversation with me – just the way I like it.

3 Rescheduling after Refusing an Invitation to Go Drinking

Most people’s response when asked to join a group of people they loathe for drinks would be to suck air through their teeth and say, “Sorry, I have plans.” And just when you think you’re in the clear, the entire group decides to change the date just for you. This becomes doubly damning if the new date is when you actually have something planned and are forced to either cancel that engagement or begin to let the others on to the fact you don’t like them.

The foolproof method would be “sick relative that requires constant care” excuse. Of course in doing so, you run the risk of stirring up some bad mojo.

2 Clerk Arbitrarily Determines your Receipt is Unnecessary

This incident often occurs in the fast-paced retail world of convenience stores. I can perfectly understand where the clerks there are coming from as it’s highly unlikely someone needs a proof of purchase for a pack of Pocky.

So rather than force a useless slip of paper into your valuable pocket real-estate, they considerately just keep the receipt for themselves. However, when you work here and a pack of Pocky is a legitimate business expense, you have to go through the whole rigmarole of asking for the receipt yourself.

A lot of convenience stores work around this issue by providing a receipt bin at the counter for customers to toss it in if they don’t need it, but the problem still seems to persist for it to make number two on this ranking.

1 Being Escorted out of a Clothing Store After Purchasing Something

Although not as boisterous as the beauty salon farewell, clothing store staff will sometimes walk their customers to the exit as if the shop were some Byzantine labyrinth requiring a guide. Aside from being an unnecessary courtesy it seems a little bad from a sales standpoint since it bars the customer from making any subsequent impulse buys on their way out.

Champion figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu to make on-screen acting debut as samurai lord

Tono top

RocketNews 24:

Olympic gold medalist, Yuzuru Hanyu will be making his screen debut as a samurai lord in the Edo period!

Figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu captured the nation’s collective heart when he won the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Now, Japan’s sweetheart is set to captivate audiences on the big screen as he makes his very first acting appearance in the movie Tono, Risoku de Gozaru (which roughly translates to “The Interest Please, My Lord”).

The movie is set approximately 250 years ago in the Edo period, during which the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan. The film’s plot centers around nine ordinary inhabitants of a post station town and their efforts to save the townspeople from the burden of the heavy taxes imposed on them by the local government.

▼ Here’s the title of the movie, set against the picture of a Edo Period coin in the background.

Tono 2

In the movie, Hanyu plays Date Shigemura, the lord of the Sendai Domain, who is apparently sympathetic to the plight of the people under his rule. According to the information that has been released, Hanyu’s role isn’t a huge one but is nonetheless a symbolically key figure in the story. Hanyu, who himself is from Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture, reportedly was quite happy to play an actual historical figure from his birthplace, especially as the story is considered to be based loosely on true events.

 

Hanyu filmed his scenes last summer, and in commenting on his first acting experience said that it was a bit difficult to act with spoken lines and accompanying movements, which is  quite different from what he is used to in figure skating. He admits he was quite nervous while filming but enjoyed seeing the process of movie making first hand and meeting so many talented actors. He also said that he was pleasantly surprised to learn of this touching story involving Date, whom he tried his best to portray convincingly with both authority and kindness. Hanyu also added that he hopes the acting experience will add to his depth as a skating performer, not just in competitions but in exhibitions and shows as well.

 

Even fellow actors in the movie were apparently surprised by Hanyu’s appearance, as Sadao Abe, who plays the protagonist, was reported saying that he was stunned to learn that Hanyu would be cast in the film, adding that he was impressed with how the famous skater handled his acting duties.

The movie is scheduled for release in theaters across Japan on May 14. We have a feeling that the film just might attract a whole new audience of people desperately wanting to see the prince of ice on the big screen!

A fun animation covering the complete history of Japan in under 10 minutes

A fast and fun animation by Bill Wurtz covers the history of Japan in under 10 minutes. The animation covers the major events in the country’s history including its economic, governmental, and social developments.

10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food

Japanese food

RocketNews 24 (by Michelle Lynn Dinh):

Japanese food, called washoku in Japan, has just been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, but you didn’t need an official declaration to know that sushi and tempura are absolutely delicious. But while enjoying Japanese food, have you ever mixed wasabi and soy sauce as a dip for your sushi? Or how about using your bowl as a chopstick rest? If so, you’ve committed an etiquette faux pas. Take a look at our list of 10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food and save yourself some embarrassment while enjoying a traditional Japanese meal.

1) Never use your hand to catch falling food

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 5.59.40 AM

Cupping your left hand under your food to catch any falling morsels or drippings is actually bad manners. Using tezara (手皿), literally “hand plate,” may seem polite, eliminating any errant spills or stains on the table top or your clothing, but this common eating habit should be avoided when sitting down to a Japanese meal.

2) Avoid using your teeth to bite food in half

In general, you should always try to eat things in one bite and avoid using your teeth to tear food into smaller pieces. Since it’s impolite to place half-eaten food back on a plate, cover your mouth with your hand when chewing big pieces of food.

3) Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 6.54.35 AM

This improper eating method is seen in many restaurants all over the world, but should be avoided. Instead, place a small amount of wasabi directly on the piece of sashimi and then dip the fish into the soy sauce.

4) Don’t invert the lid of your bowl

Inverting the lid of your bowl is mistaken as a cue for being finished eating, however, the proper cue is to replace the lid on top of the bowl, just as it looked when brought to the table. This is because you could damage the lid by turning it upside down.

5) Don’t place clam shells in the bowl’s lid or on a separate plate

shijimi clams

When served clams or other shellfish, many people tend to put the empty shell in the lid of a bowl or on a separate plate once they’ve finished the meat. This is actually impolite and should be avoided; diners should instead leave the shell inside the bowl it was served in.

6) Don’t hold your chopsticks before picking up your bowl

When eating a Japanese meal, you should first pick up the bowl or vessel you will eat from and then pick up your chopsticks. When changing bowls, first put down your chopsticks, then change bowls. Only after you have picked up the second bowl should you pick up your chopsticks again.

7) Don’t hover or touch food without taking it, and always pause to eat your rice

Mayoi bashi

Not sure which food to eat first? Hovering your chopsticks back and forth over the side dishes before finally choosing is a breach of etiquette. It’s such bad manners that the practice has an official name, mayoibashi (迷い箸), literally “hesitating chopsticks.” Touching a food with your own chopsticks and then pulling them away without taking anything is called sorabashi (空箸), or “empty chopsticks,” and should also be avoided. You better pause to eat some rice between those side dishes, if you don’t you are committing utsuribashi (移り箸), literally “transition chopsticks.”

8) Never rest your chopsticks across the top of your bowl

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 7.34.38 AM

You’ve probably seen this done so many times it seems like the correct thing to do, but using your bowl as a chopstick rest is a breach of etiquette. If you want to put down your chopsticks, you should do so on a chopstick rest, or hashioki (箸置き). If none are available, use the wrapper the chopsticks came in to make your own. If a wrapper isn’t available, you should rest your chopsticks on the side of a tray or other similar item on the table.

9) Don’t use the opposite end of your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate

Since the backsides of the chopsticks are where your hands rest, it’s actually not a very clean area and shouldn’t be used to pick up food. Asking the waitstaff for an extra pair of chopsticks or politely saying, jika bashi de shitsurei shimasu (excuse me for using my own chopsticks), and taking food using your chopsticks is actually the proper thing to do.

10) Never raise your food above your mouth

Many people raise their food to about eye level while saying, itadakimasu before eating. However, proper etiquette states that you should never raise your food above your mouth, the highest level your chopsticks ever reach.

***Bonus***

Many people already know this, but you should never raise chopsticks to your mouth that are dripping with soup or liquid and never stab food with your chopsticks. You should also never leave your chopsticks standing straight out of your rice or pass food between chopsticks as these are reminiscent of funeral customs and seen as a bad omen if performed anywhere else.

Everything you need to know about dining at a sushi restaurant—in handy infographics!

Sushi_Osaka2

RocketNews 24 (by Phillip Kendall):

Many of us dream of eating authentic sushi in Japan. But do you know the proper decorum for ordering? How about paying the bill? And what’s the difference between nigiri and narezushianyway?

The folks over at Swissotel Nakai Osaka have kindly shared with us a set of stylishly designed infographics designed to teach sushi newcomers everything they need to know about ordering, eating, and paying for Japan’s most well-known dish while in its homeland. Eating at a sushi restaurant isn’t nearly as complex as it may seem at first, but there are a number of dos and donts to be aware of, so it’s a good idea to study up before ducking beneath that noren curtain and stepping into a restaurant.

But before we order our first few morsels, let’s learn a little about the skills a sushi chef—or itamae—possesses and why they deserve our respect when we take a seat in front of them.

 

Sushi_Osaka1

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Okay, so we know that the person behind the counter is not to be trifled with, but what to order when they ask what you’d like? The itamae will often recommend cuts of fish, or very often take the entire decision-making process out of your hands by serving up an omakase (lit. “leave it to you”) course, but you’ll still want to know what you’re dealing with. These are the main types of sushi you’ll encounter in Japan:

Sushi_Osaka2

So, you know what you’ll be eating, but you don’t want to unknowingly commit some sushi faux pas before you’ve so much as taken a seat. Here a few tips for entering and taking a seat at a sushi restaurant:

2B

Especially in pricier establishments, diners should also be aware that wearing strong-smelling perfume or cologne is a big no-no. People in Japan usually wear much less perfume than in the west anyway, but sushi is all about delicate flavours and balance—no one wants to have their unagi upset by the dude who doused himself in Nightswept, so think twice about going for sushi if you gave yourself a generous spritz before leaving the hotel.

Now for the fun part! Your sushi is right in front of you and you’re mouth is watering at the mere sight of it. But before you grab your chopsticks, take a moment to think about what you’re eating—if it’s sashimi chopsticks are of course required, but for most sushi it’s actually considered perfectly normal—and in some cases expected—to at with one’s fingers. Oh, and go easy on that soy sauce…

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BBC: David Bowie’s love affair with Japanese style

A man walks past a 3D wall portrait of British musician David Bowie, created by Australian street artist James Cochran, also known as Jimmy C, in Brixton, South London, on 19 June 2013. The artwork is based on the iconic cover for Bowies 1973 album, Aladdin Sane.
The iconic Ziggy Stardust look has been immortalized in a piece of street art in Brixton

BBC:

David Bowie, who died this week, was a well-known Japanophile, adopting many elements of Japanese culture into his stage performances.

He was someone who knew how to express himself both with music and with fashion,” Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto told the BBC.

Someone like that may not be so rare these days, but he was one of the pioneers to do both.

Make-up artist Pierre La Roche prepares English singer David Bowie for a performance as Aladdin Sane, 1973. Bowie is wearing a costume by Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto.Yamamoto designed for Bowie through both his Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane eras

Mr Yamamoto, the creative force behind some of Bowie’s most iconic stage outfits, first got to know Bowie in the 1970s, when the singer was often visiting Japan, and trying to break into the US market.

I don’t know why he was so attracted to things Japanese, but perhaps it wasn’t so much Japan or Japanese-ness itself. He knew when he looked good in something.

“When you wear something and you look really good… you feel confident and good about yourself. I think my designs and costumes had that effect on him.”

Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto waves to the audience after his fashion event 'super energy !!' in Tokyo on June 12, 2015.
Kansai Yamamoto said his relationship with Bowie “went beyond nationalities, beyond gender”

Helene Thian, a fashion historian and lifelong fan who has written extensively about Bowie, agreed. She said Bowie had often been noted as having had “this beautiful androgynous face and body, which suited Kansai Yamamoto’s unisex style”.

‘Shapeshifting’ androgyny

Bowie’s Japanese style had already been developing through his interest in Japanese theatre.

In the mid-1960s, he studied dance with Lindsay Kemp, a British performance and mime artist who was heavily influenced by the traditional kabuki style, with its exaggerated gestures, elaborate costumes, striking make-up, and “onnagata” actors – men playing female roles.

Lindsay Kemp performs in 1974
Lindsay Kemp, performing here in 1974, had been influenced by the intensely stylized productions of Japanese traditional theatre
20th October 1981: Ennosuke Ichikawa, Japan's most distinguished exponent of the three hundred year old art form, Kabuki. Ichikawa prepares his costume and make up before leading a prestigious cast at Sadler's Wells.The dramatic makeup used by kabuki became part of the Ziggy Stardust look

Bowie was a natural “shapeshifter“, says Ms Thian, and his training with Kemp and onnagata style helped him as he explored ideas of masculinity, exoticism and alienation.

He even learned from famed onnagata Tamasaburo Bando how to apply traditional kabuki make-up – its bold highlighted features on a white background are evident in the lightning bolt across the Ziggy face.

It wasn’t trying to be literal interpretation” of onnagata, said Ms Thian, “but rather inspired by its gender-bending androgyny. That’s what makes it so powerful, it’s more evocative.”

‘Quick change’ master

Mr Yamamoto said he wasn’t sure why he and Bowie had such an affinity, but that “something resonated between us, something that went beyond nationalities, beyond gender“.

Through his style and performances, he said, Bowie “broke one sexual taboo after another“.

What he did in terms of bridging the male-female gap continues to this day,” he said, including in the increasing acceptance of gay relationships in Japan.

Among his most famous outfits for Bowie was Space Samurai, a black, red and blue outfit adapting the hakama, a type of loose trousers which samurais wore and which are still worn by martial arts practitioners.

This picture taken on February 27, 2015 shows a costume created by Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto and used by David Bowie, during a press preview of an exhibition dedicated to the British singer at the Philarmonie in ParisYamamoto’s outlandish costumes became a central element of Bowie performances
An outfit worn by musician David Bowie is displayed at the 'David Bowie is' exhibition at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum in central London on 30 March 2013
The dramatic cape could be whipped away on stage mid-performance

He also sometimes wore a kimono-inspired cape with traditional Japanese characters on it which spell out his name phonetically, but also translate to “fiery vomiting and venting in a menacing manner“.

Ms Thian says Bowie was also “absolutely the first” Western artist to employ the hayagawari – literally “quick change” – technique from kabuki, says Ms Thian, with unseen stagehands ripping off the dramatic cape on stage to reveal another outfit.

David Bowie performs his final concert in 1973 as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, London. The concert later became known as the Retirement Gig
The kimono robe also influenced some of his fashion, such as this Ziggy outfit which is a shortened version with a classic Japanese print on it
A costume designed by Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto for David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character is display at the Victoria and Albert museums' new major exhibition, 'British Design 1948-2012: Innovation In The Modern Age' on 28 March 2012 in London, England.
The elaborate clash of prints on this knitted bodysuit can also be seen as a reference to yakuza (organized crime syndicates) tattoo patterns, Helene Thian has written

‘A very beautiful man’

It wasn’t just his appearance – references to Japan are scattered through Bowie’s music – his 1977 album Heroes even features the track Moss Garden on which he plays a Japanese koto, a kind of zither.

These days, an artist in Bowie’s position might be accused of cultural appropriation – stealing another culture for his own purposes – but Ms Thian says it was never seen that way in Japan.

David Bowie performing in his 'Angel of Death' costume at a live recording for a Midnight Special TV show made at The Marquee Club in London to a specially invited audience of Bowie fanclub members in 1973
Bowie often wore androgynous or women’s clothing in his Ziggy Stardust phase

Bowie was born to be the ultimate diplomat and artiste,” she says.

He took his creativity and fused it with his impulses to meld East and West and come up with a healing of the world in this post-war period.

This was “a homage to Japanese culture and the Japanese loved it“, she said, as Bowie challenged the tendency of Western fashion at the time to lump all Asian styles together as “Orientalism“.

‘Eternal hero’

Indeed, Japan embraced Bowie back, and he remains an icon there, with his glam rock style influencing generations of bands and musicians.

Photo of Hotei Tomayasu playing with David Bowie onstage at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo in 1996
Hotei shared with the BBC this photo of them playing onstage together at Bowie’s 1996 Tokyo gig

Renowned rock guitarist Hotei Tomayasu, best known outside Japan for composing the theme for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, told the BBC: “[Bowie] is the one who truly changed my life. My eternal hero and inspiration.

Bowie is also known in Japan for his role as Maj Jack Celliers in the 1983 iconic film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, directed by the renowned Nagisa Oshima.

The film, set during World War Two in a Japanese camp for prisoners, pits Bowie’s character and another soldier against two Japanese officers, one of whom is played by the famous musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Tweet by Miu Sakamoto recalling her meeting with Bowie when she was a little girl, 11 January 2015

On Twitter, Sakamoto’s ex-wife Akiko Yano recalled how Bowie carried their young daughter – Miu – on his shoulders when the family visited the Roppongi neighborhood in Tokyo with Bowie in the 1980s.

Miu Sakamoto tweeted this picture of herself as a little girl shaking hands with the singer, saying she vaguely recalled meeting “a very beautiful man“.

(He is) no more. A world in which David is not living still feels totally unreal.

How World War I made Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 a Japanese New Year’s tradition

Since 1999, the Seattle Symphony has made a tradition of playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on New Year’s Eve. But a fondness for ringing in the new year with the Ninth began decades before that in an unexpected corner of the world: Japan.

Seattle Symphony principal trombonist Ko-ichiro Yamamoto recalls playing the Ninth nearly a dozen times in late 2003 while freelancing with Tokyo’s famed NHK Symphony, as well as another major Japanese orchestra.

A second-generation professional trombone player, Yamamoto said his father, Tatsuo, recalled performing the Ninth with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra on more than one occasion. “I’m sure that right now,” Yamamoto said, “some orchestra is playing Beethoven’s Ninth in Tokyo.”

In Japan, the German composer’s last symphony is nicknamed “Daiku” or “Big Nine.” According to The Japan Times, in December of 2009 there were 55 performances of the Ninth in Tokyo; on some occasions, the chorus has ranged from 6,000 to 10,000 voices for the famed “Ode to Joy” in the final movement. “Daiku” is the last scheduled performance for three of Tokyo’s most prestigious orchestras this year.

Japan wasn’t introduced to Western classical music until the late 19th century but didn’t waste time catching up — Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, has more professional symphonies than Berlin. But how did Beethoven’s Ninth become a national favorite?

In 1914, a colony of German soldiers living in Tsingtao, a city on the eastern shore of China, was captured by Japanese soldiers. World War I had erupted and Japan sided with Great Britain and the rest of the Allies. At the time, Tsingtao was a major German military base and Japan demanded its surrender. When Germany refused, Japan invaded and detained almost 4,000 soldiers as prisoners of war.

About 1,000 of those German soldiers were sent to Bando, a POW camp in Naruto, located in Japan’s Tokushima Prefecture. The soldiers occupied their time in a variety of ways, from printing a camp newspaper to supervised jaunts to local sights, as well as forming an orchestra.

The Ninth was a favorite among the POWs and the so-called “Bando orchestra” performed the piece inside the camp on a makeshift stage. After the war ended, the former POWs performed the Ninth outside Bando’s walls for an audience in Naruto; in 1927, the piece was performed in its entirety by the Shin Kokyo Gakudan (or New Symphony Orchestra), now known as the NHK Symphony Orchestra.

The Ninth continued to grow in popularity. On Dec. 31, 1940, a Polish conductor led a Japanese ensemble in a live radio performance of the Ninth to commemorate the creation of Japan. By the 1960s, the Ninth sold out concert halls across Japan as more musicians and choristers tried to tackle the difficult notes and German lyrics.

Using verse from a popular German poem titled “Ode to Joy,” Beethoven completed the Ninth in 1824. At its premiere in Vienna that same year, the composer’s health was worsening by the day — most scholars agree he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver — and he was almost completely deaf. A performer onstage had to turn Beethoven around to see the standing ovation from the crowd.

Simon Woods, president of the Seattle Symphony, said the composition is especially fitting for the end of the year with its broody, dark first movement and its exuberant finale.

I think the journey that the piece is on, from the first movement to the last movement, is a symbolic journey,” Woods said. “I think that’s why it often plays a transitional role. It carries you through.

 

 

 

A guide to New Year traditions in Japan

Japan Today (by Ran Matsugi):

While New Year’s Eve is a time for parties and fireworks in many countries, in Japan, it is usually a somber time when people return to their hometowns to enjoy a few days together with their extended families – not unlike Christmas in the West.

However, the lack of parties does not mean Japan is a boring place during the New Year holiday period. This time of year is rich in tradition and culture, and if you have never experienced New Year in Japan, you’re missing something.

Here is a guide to some New Year traditions and what they mean.

Omisoka (大晦日)

Why is New Year’s Eve called “omisoka” in Japanese? In the old calendar, the last day of each month used to be called “misoka”. “Miso” can mean 30 in Japanese, and “ka” means day. Although not every month has just 30 days, the tradition of calling the last day of the month “misoka” remained, and the last day of the year became “omisoka” (great last day of the month). After the new calendar was adopted, all the other “misokas” became less popular, but “omisoka” remained.

Osoji (大掃除)

This refers to the end-of-year cleaning which takes place in offices and homes. It is believed that by cleaning your house, you can purify your residence and welcome the “Toshigami-sama” (god of the coming New Year).

Kadomatsu (門松)

As soon as Christmas Day is over, the Christmas trees and decorations come down and New Year decorations go up. “Kadomatsu” are made of three cut bamboo sticks and pine tree branches and are put up in the entrances of buildings or houses. The bamboo shoots, which represent heaven, earth and humanity, are believed to attract the gods. The gods dwell in the pine until Jan 7, after which time the decorations are taken to a shrine to be burnt, releasing the spirits back to their realm.

Toshikoshi Soba (年越し蕎麦)

People eat soba at around midnight to ward off evil spirits before the New Year comes. Some also wish for a long life, or long-lasting connection with families by eating soba. Rakuten research reports that 67.5% of people surveyed are planning to eat “toshikoshi soba” this year.

Joya no Kane (除夜の鐘)

“Joya no Kane” or purification bells are important at New Year Buddhist ceremonies in which the priest rings the bell 108 times. According to Buddhist beliefs, the number 108 corresponds to the number of evil desires that we suffer from. It is believed that by listening to or ringing the bell 108 times, you can get rid yourself of those evil desires. Many temples allow people to participate in ringing the bell.

Ganjitsu (元日) and Gantan (元旦)

Why are there two words meaning New Year’s Day? “Gantan” generally refers to the morning or sunrise on Jan 1, while “Ganjitsu” refers to the first “day” of the New Year.

Nengajo (年賀状)

On New Year’s Day, you’ll see legions of Japan Post employees whizzing along on scooters delivering New Year greeting cards. Though the custom has lost some of its popularity in recent years – young people tend to avoid sending the cards, while others design their own cards and send them by email – “nengajo” are still important for businesses and the older generation for expressing appreciation and best wishes for the New Year. “Nengajo,” many of which are hand-written, also have lottery numbers on them.

Hatsumode (初詣)

The most popular activity on New Year’s Day is “hatsumode” or first visit to the shrine. The bigger shrines like Meiji in Tokyo, Kawasaki Taishi in Kawasaki and Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto are packed with hundreds of thousands of people from early morning throughout New Year’s Day. Many people go to smaller shrines in their neighborhoods. If you go, you’ll see burning incense sticks. The smoke itself is called “zuko,” and shrine visitors wave it over their heads to purify spirits and their bodies for the New Year.

Hamaya (破魔矢)

You’ll often see people leaving shrines, holding wooden arrows. These are given to shrine visitors to put somewhere in their homes to ward off evil spirits. The point of the arrow isn’t sharp; it’s just a decoration.

Osechi ryori (おせち料理)

This refers to special New Year delicacies traditionally made before New Year’s Day, and meant to last for seven days without refrigeration. The original reason for needing it to last for seven days is because there is a seven-day period of non-cooking to appease the fire god, Kohji. He would get upset and cause a natural hazard if you made fire so early in the year. In later years, this non-cooking period has changed to give housewives a rest during the New Year holidays since they worked so hard until New Year’s Eve. The food often comes in an elaborate bento box.

Kagami-mochi (鏡餅)

This decoration consists of two round rice cakes and a mandarin (mikan) on top. Traditionally, the cakes were adorned with a different citrus fruit known as “daidai,” which were considered auspicious as the meaning of the word can be translated to “generation after generation”, representing the family’s wish for a long and prosperous bloodline. The rice cakes are supposed to be an homage to the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu. With its round, mirror-like shape, “kagami-mochi” symbolizes the renewal of light and energy at the start of a new year.

Otoshidama (お年玉)

On New Year’s Day, children aged 22 and under receive monetary gifts from their parents and grandparents in specially decorated envelopes called “Pochi Bukuro” (Pochi bag). According to the Allabout questionnaire, the popular amounts of “otoshidama” are 1,000 yen for children younger than 6, 3,000 to 5,000 yen for children aged 6 to 17, and 10,000 yen for 18 to 20+ students.

Fukubukuro (福袋)

Many department stores and other retailers now open on New Year’s Day, giving children a chance to spend their “otoshidama” as well as tempting other shoppers with these lucky bags. Some people hit store after store and emerge with an armful of “fukubukuro.” The bags contain various items with a total value of twice the price of the bag.