Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (139): Drunken elegance

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 26, 2012

DID you get well and truly sloshed over the long weekend that included Christmas Eve and Christmas? The percentage of Japanese slumped face down on the bar or snoring in their easy chairs was probably no larger than it would be for any other weekend, however. Christmas is a working day here, unless it falls on Saturday or Sunday.

drunken elegance

Besides, not everyone in this part of the world behaves badly when they redline on liquor. In fact, there’s a certain tradition of drunken elegance that’s been turned into a religious ritual and dance. It’s called the konju, which originated as an imitation of the movements of some Chinese guy in ancient times who got a snootful and started rambling. It arrived in Japan in 736, but doesn’t survive in its original form. That’s because it was modified during the reign of the Emperor Ninmyo, which places it somewhere in the early to mid-Eighth Century.

The dance is so elegant, in fact, it’s often performed at Shinto ceremonies throughout Japan. One example was its presentation at the Bugaku festival of the Hodaka Shinto shrine in Matsumoto, Nagano. The folks at the Hodaka shrine thought it would be fun to couple a traditional dance festival with their Daisengu Festival, which rolls around once every 20 years. The konju was part of the choreography.

The performance was held at a site just as elegant for its beauty. The backdrop was the 3,190-meter-high Mt. Okuhodaka in the Japanese Alps. The stage was placed next to a bridge and a pond.

Come clean, now — that’s not how you behaved at the office Christmas party, was it?

Here’s a performance of the dance at a different time and different place. He does look a bit ripped, doesn’t he?

Posted in Arts, China, Festivals | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Nippon Noel 2012

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas tree at Huis ten Bosch, a theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki, that recreates The Netherlands with full-scale copies of old Dutch buildings.

Christmas in Japan is a festival of light. For even more creative examples, hit the tag at the bottom of the post.

Merry Christmas to Mr. Lawrence, and to you all!

Posted in Holidays, Social trends | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (147)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 24, 2012

Winter illumination in Sapporo’s Odori Park

Posted in Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Ichigen koji (269)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 24, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The nations that flourish are those which do not emphasize the state, but understand the grammar of a globalized world, with its flow of exceptional people who can transcend borders, that which is necessary, and chic information. That is different from the past, when the great powers with their military forces competed to obtain colonies.

People in Japan often talk about becoming a “normal country”, but that is an old, out-of-date model. Japan was late to ride the wave of civilization with the Internet and globalization. It also has difficulty keeping up with the contemporary grammar of civilization that includes harmonious coexistence and networks. That means there is a danger Japan will recede farther and farther away from the path towards prosperity.

– Mogi Ken’ichiro, brain scientist, senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, and multi-million-dollar tax cheat now prohibited from appearing on NHK-TV.

Posted in Quotations, Social trends | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Bloody good for you

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 24, 2012

FROM the front lines of scientific research in Japan comes some news that you can use for the holidays. Two pharmacologists, Oshima Shunji of the Asahi Lab Garden and Aizawa Koichi of Kagome, conducted a study that found the combination of alcohol and tomato juice stimulates the metabolism with the effect of accelerating sobriety and reducing or preventing hangover symptoms.

Dr. Oshima said the inspiration for the research came from his desire to enjoy after-work drinks with his colleagues and his knowledge that too much booze was bad for you. He wanted to discover what food consumed with alcohol had the most beneficial effects, and decided to start with vegetables.

After finding that vegetables didn’t do a whole lot, they said they thought of using tomatoes. Drinkers’ wisdom has it that tomatoes either prevent or quickly cure hangovers. Then there were the examples of the Bloody Mary and the Red Eye, which I had never heard of before reading this report.

The researchers started by giving the water-soluble constituents of tomatoes — i.e., tomato juice — and lycopene to mice, injected them with alcohol, and then measured the concentration of alcohol in their blood. The results inspired them to try a similar experiment with humans.

They give 12 healthy men tomato juice with 5% alcohol, and then shochu with 5% alcohol. Their measurements showed the tomatoes reduced the concentration of alcohol in the blood by 30%, accelerated the process of breaking up the alcohol in the body, and eliminated it from the system 50 minutes faster.

Those with the proper scientific detachment will be interested to learn that the water-soluble constituents of tomatoes activate the enzymes that break up the alcohol in the liver.

Everyone else will be interested to learn that Dr. Oshima’s employer makes Asahi beer, and Dr. Aizawa’s employer Kagome is a food product company whose primary products include tomato juice and catsup.

The two companies jointly sponsored the research. They were already very familiar with each other because they finalized a mutual shareholding agreement in February.

Now who says scientific research is dry!

Looks like these Tomato-chans knocked back a few Asahis before filming started.

Posted in Food, Science and technology | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Matsuri da! (138) The turtle snake

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 23, 2012

CHINA is the origin for many things Japanese, but perhaps the most peculiar is the kida. That’s the main attraction of the Myokensai festival every year in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, held by the Yatsushiro Shinto shrine. The mythical creature is said to have hitched a ride to Kumamoto on the back of a Chinese divinity.

turtle snake

Myokensai literally means “strange sight festival” and the name is a perfect fit. That’s because the kida is a part turtle and part snake. The head and neck is a serpentine one meter long, while the creature with its turtle body is four meters long in all. It’s the main attraction in a parade of nine floats and 1,500 people. Reports say shouts go up from the crowd when the kida, manipulated by five men, emerges on the banks of the Mizuna River. It’s so popular that the Yatsushiroans made a special kids kida that joined the parade for the first time in 2009. Or maybe kidas reproduce by parthenogenesis.

And speaking of strange sights, the Mizuna River is actually a subterranean river that usually has no water above ground. It fills with visible water after a heavy rain. The name for the river is another perfect fit — it’s written with the characters for “no water”.

Who knows? Maybe the habitat of the turtle snake is the unseen waters of the Mizuna River. It shows up on the street at the end of this short video.

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All you have to do is look (146)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 23, 2012

Scenes of big fun from the 61st Ohara Festival in the Tenmonkan shopping district in Kagoshima City. A total of 25,658 people in 325 groups participated in the two day event, which attracted roughly 230,000 spectators.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Popular culture, Traditions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (268)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 23, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Women in their 20s always make a particularly bad choice when selecting from among the young men who approach them and give them attention. They’ve refined their eye for selecting men by the time they’re in their 30s, and they will approach good men themselves. But those men are already with another woman, so it’s very difficult for the new women to supplant them. Actually, I think it should be the other way around, but…

– Fujisawa Kazuki

Posted in Quotations, Sex | Tagged: | 67 Comments »

All you have to do is look (145)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nanbu senbei (rice crackers) a famous confection from the southern part of Aomori, each containing a New Year’s message.

(Photo: Sankei Shimbun)

Posted in Food, Holidays, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (267)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 22, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Those people opposed to participation in the TPP negotiations do so on the premise that Japan will absolutely lose. In that case, can we win with in a free trade agreement with China and South Korea, the EPA/EIA with the EU, or the RCEP with ASEAN? We won’t know unless we try. The key is what happens when the treaty provisions are written into national law at the end of the process. It would be pointless to sign a treaty without the attendant domestic law.

– Takahashi Yoichi, economic advisor to the Japan Restoration Party, Your Party, and others

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Government, International relations, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Voting with their feet

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 22, 2012

ACTIONS speak louder than words, it’s said, and here’s a report on the actions of some Chinese VIPs that speaks very loudly indeed. The emphasis is mine:

When given the chance, officials of the People’s Republic of China continue to rush for the exits. During an eight-day period from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7 when two holidays were celebrated, over 1,100 public servants who traveled abroad did not return, according to a statement issued on Oct. 15 by the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Central Organization Department.

Note that this is not speculation from an outside source; it is confirmation by the CCP itself.

Here’s the reason:

These holidays were right before the 18th National Party Congress. The PRC is estimated to have over one million “naked officials”—individuals who park their bank accounts and families overseas in expectation of eventually joining them.

The measures the government is taking to prevent this seem like a reprise from the border controls of the old Soviet bloc:

The command group increased personnel to guard key seaports, airports, and borders. It also dispatched over 8,000 special police to these places before Sept. 28. At the same time, over 350 of the latest instruments for the detection of counterfeit passports were installed in these airports and seaports.

It is beginning to look as if the race is on in China among three runners. The first is the one representing greater openness and democracy fueled by prosperity. While that is what the world is rooting for, I would not put my money on it hitting the tape first. The real race is between the other two.

The second is that representing the malevolent hegemon colossus standing astride the globe. It is not possible to deny that this is the objective of a significant portion of the Chinese leadership and population both. They wouldn’t call themselves malevolent, of course. In keeping with centuries of Chinese tradition, they would call it “correct”.

And the third is that representing the end of the mass corruption, despotism, and spiritual and physical pollution in collapse, disorder, and internal violence, leading to the breakup of the Chinese state into several smaller entities.

It would seem the 1,100 officials cited in this article have already placed their bets.

Is that big Beijing wheel going to explode?

Posted in China | 3 Comments »

All you have to do is look (144)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 21, 2012

Nine boats with 11 rowers each circle Mifune Island in the Kumano River as part of the Mifune Festival of the Kumano Hayatama Shinto shrine in Shingu, Wakayama. The island is 1.6 kilometers from the starting point for the boats. The festival dates from the Heian period, which means it’s about 1,000 years old, give or take a few decades.

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Ichigen koji (266)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 21, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

I’m quickly putting together a paper on the Japanese population in South Korea. The more I conduct research, the more it appears that the presence of the Unification Church is the decisive factor. If what I’ve heard can be believed, there are roughly 7,000 Japanese women now living in South Korea. About 30% of that total, and 70% of all international marriages (with Japanese) are related to the Unification Church.

– Kimura Kan, Kobe University professor

Posted in International relations, Quotations, Religion, South Korea | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Where it all started, and where it all starts

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 21, 2012

HERE are two related posts. The first is an excerpt of an article that appeared on the website of the Cheonji Ilbo, a South Korean religious daily that focuses on history, culture, and religion.

The Race that Knows History will be the Masters of the Future

“Hang Sang-won, professor of East Asian and Western linguistics, holds that the countries that do not know history are idiots and will be rendered extinct.

“It is not possible to understand the history of Asia without an understanding of Dangun-era Joseon in the ancient history of Northeast Asia. (N.B.: According to legend, Dangun founded Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom, in 2,333 BC).

“Dangun-era Joseon is that important for ancient history, but it is impossible to understand why South Korea does not recognize its importance.

“Though Japan and China make up history that didn’t exist, why do you Koreans believe that history which actually existed did not exist? This country is unbelievable.

“It all started with the scholars who taught the distorted historical falsehoods of the toadyism and colonialism concocted first by the Chinese and the Japanese. We must authenticate the resplendent civilization that was the start of human history by restoring the history that was shredded. Yet the scholars without common sense, neutered by the transmission of that which is erroneous, who destroy the true history by declaring it false, hold firm to the mendacity.

“The history and civilization of humankind began in the East and moved westward. Western historians past and present are well aware of the importance of the history of humankind. The historical philosophers of the West have insisted on meeting the “wise men of the East”. They have included Francis Bacon, Albert Einstein, and Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee once said that human civilization will move from Europe and the North American continent to Northeast Asia. He predicted the reality of today.

“The people of the West now have nothing to brag about. They have no history or philosophy worth mentioning. That’s because the roots of the history and philosophy they are so proud of originated in the East. This fact is also well known by people in the West….

“…The Oxford English Dictionary, published from the early 1800s to the early 1900s, makes clear through linguistic proof that humanity originated with the Korean people.

“To cite a familiar example, there is the word “khan”, which means ruler. If we remove the silent K, it becomes Han. In other words, “Hanguk” (South Korea) means either the country ruled by the king, or the race with hereditary rule by kings.…

“…As a result of linguistic research in the East and the West, it was determined that the origin of humanity was the Korean people. They were the Dongyi people who created a flourishing civilization in the Pamir Mountains (of Central Asia) even earlier than the Sumerian civilization that so astounded the Westerners. We must know that the Dongyi are our ancestors, the Khan people who used Chinese characters, moved to Sumer, and created the foundation of contemporary Western civilization.”

The second is the introduction to a book by Takushoku University Prof. O Seon-hwa. She was born in Jeju in 1956 and first came to Japan in 1983.

“The arrogant attitude that the culture of one’s tribe is the standard, and that the culture of other tribes, such as the customs of their daily lives, their ways of thought, and the forms of their behavior, are disgraceful, irrational, mistaken, and inferior, is known as ethnocentrism.

“It can only be said that the Koreans’ belief that their culture’s value system is more proper and splendid than any other has exceeded normal bounds to a substantial degree.

“The damage of ethnocentrism is manifest in the self-serving fantasies and an unwillingness to look at reality. This problem is serious in South Korea because this way of thinking now extends into academia.”

Posted in History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, South Korea | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (143)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 20, 2012

The original text of the waka Kimi ga Yo, which became the lyrics of the Japanese national anthem. It was published in 905 in the Kokin Wakashu (Collected Waka of Ancient and Modern Times).

And here’s what the national anthem sounded like when it was first performed in 1870. This performance is by a band at the Myoko-ji Buddhist temple in Yokohama. This music was composed by John Fenton, an Irish military band director, in three weeks. It was replaced with the current music 10 years later because it was thought to lack solemnity.

It is performed annually at the temple because Fenton also served as a military band leader there, and it beats the heck out of me why a Buddhist temple hired a military band leader from Ireland.

Posted in Arts, History, Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »