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Monthly Archives: June 2008

I’m feeling fairly positive today despite having a bloody terrible week. So let’s examine some of the wonderful things about my country.

1. The Wildlife

This is one of those things I love about Japan that came as a complete surprise to me. You probably know that the southern coast of Japan is basically one huge metropolis. From Tokyo down to Hiroshima it’s all city, with no real gaps in between.

However while Japan is famous for it’s metropolises it’s easy to lose sight of why it is so densely urbanised. There is very little space where people can live and build and nearly all of it has already been re-claimed. This leaves an awful lot of space that is simply left over to nature. It’s easy to forget this when you’re surrounded on all sides by grey concrete stretching up to block the sun but it takes about an hour’s walk for me to get from my flat in a built up town and major transport link to a forest up a mountain.

Because of this there is a lot of large native wildlife in Japan. Far more than what I am used to in Britain. I have seen more large birds of prey in the year I have lived here than I have ever seen in my entire life before. I sit by a pond filled with turtles, everyday when I wait for the bus (which is also where I twice saw a snake), there are far more butterflies here than Britain, there are fearless little sparrows that bother you whenever you sit down and there are entrancing dragonflies and deeply irritating cicadas.

In fact let’s not get started on the bugs because if I do this quickly won’t be a “things I like about Japan” entry. Suffice it to say the butterflies and dragonflies are lovely and leave it there.

And these aren’t just limited to the forests but are a day to day part of life. However what does live in the forest are some truly amazing animals, wild boars, poisonous snakes, tanuki (sort of raccoon dogs) and bears. Bears! I never knew Japan had bears.

Mario here, dressed as a tanuki.

Living in Britain it is easy to forget about the natural world as bar trees and pigeons it hardly ever intrudes upon the everyday of life. British people may decry me for this because Britain ahs some of the greenest cities of any developed country. However the point is not so much the flowers and the grass but the animals. There aren’t really any animals jostling for space with people in Britain, bar birds, domesticated animals and bugs. Here exotic and interesting animals are something I see everyday and they’re one of the things I will miss most when I leave Japan.

2. Unicycles

Yes, unicycles. Yes, the bikes with only one wheel.

For whatever reason (and frankly I couldn’t even begin to guess why) unicycles are massively more popular in Japan than they are in pretty much every other country in the world.

Primary school kids in Japan are taught how to ride unicycles. In fact I think some schools have unicycles that the students can practice on. I know that when I visited a primary school once to teach an English lesson I spotted a rack of about 40 identical unicycles in one of the halls. That’s more unicycles than I’ve ever seen in one place before. That is more unicycles than really should ever be in one place. It looks deeply, deeply wrong, like stepping into a parallel universe that never invented the bike.

And they actually ride them for transport too. We’ve all seen circus performers prat about on the really tall ones, leaning backwards and making the wheel slide forwards and then doing the opposite. Japanese kids don’t do that. Instead they zoom past me like a tiny cheetah on their way to the combini (convenience store). It’s a truly mystifying sight; scores of children zipping about like mosquitoes, eating ice cream with their free hands and suddenly at adult height, despite being 5.

And the main thought it prompts is, why? Why unicycles? They ride bikes too, bikes are sensible, they get you places faster and you don’t fall off. Is space at such a premium in Japan that they can’t store a second wheel?

3. Okonimyaki

I’ve mentioned my deep and abiding love for ramen a coupler of times on this site and I stand by my position. Ramen is some kind of magic food that, despite being nobody’s absolute favourite meal, everyone in the world could happily eat every single day. Anyone who claims otherwise is just being contrary for the sake of it. What I haven’t mentioned much is another Japanese concoction that gives me a deep and satisfying pleasure, okonomiyaki.

The name comes from “okonomi2 meaning “what you want” and “yaki” a ubiquitous Japanese word that is typically translated to mean fry.

It doesn’t really, it just means cooked. Take takoyaki for example, the name implies that you’d be eating some kind of fried octopus. what it actually is, is a dumpling with a piece of octopus inside.

Anyway, okonomiyaki means “what you like fried” and as the name implies it’s a sort of bring everything you have left over and cook it up kind of meal. It’s sort of like a cross between a pizza and an omelette. The chef prepares a sort of omelette batter with flour and shredded cabbage. He frys this and then adds whatever toppings you asked for, usually in my case cheese, bacon and mochi (rice cake) because I am trying to toughen up my arteries with endurance training.

There are a million ways to cook and serve it and many famous variations (such as Hiroshima-yaki which features thin soba noodles and is prepared in layers) but the way most common in Kansai, where I live, is for the chef to mix up and prepare the batter, cook it, add the toppings and then bring it out to a hot plate where you are seated. The okonimyaki continues to cook on the hotplate whilst you add okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, katsuobushi (tuna flakes), chilli powder and any other toppings that come to mind. Then you set about slicing it up, transfer a piece to a plate, eat it and then repeat.

As I understand it in most areas outside of Kansai you have to mix up and cook your own batter in the restaurant. Sod that, if I’m going to pay for the privilege of cooking my own dinner it better by all you can eat and it better be principally meat.

Okonomiyaki originates from the tail end of World War 2 (or the Pacific War as it is known here) when the rice harvest, already depleted because of all the young drafted men, was largely used for military purposes and much food was rationed. Deprived of their main staple food Japanese people in Osaka and the surrounding area started making pancakes with what they did have (eggs, cabbage and flour) and then covering it in anything that had a bit more flavour than cabbage and eggs. In fact enterprising women who had lost family in the war used to sell the basic pancake at the roadside cheap for labourers to buy for lunch.

The last time I went to eat okonomiyaki something rather odd happened to me. My girlfriend and I were enjoying a heart cloggingly thick and delicious okonomiyaki in our local restaurant. The only other people in there was a man in his 30’s or 40’s and this man’s daughter. They finished up their dinner and the daughter left and this man came up over and awkwardly tried to start a conversation with Fran and I. So far so normal, one of the negatives of being a foreigner in Japan is that occasionally very weird people will come up and try to talk to you. We politely answered his questions as to where we were from and then let the conversation drop so we could get back to our dinner.

When it came time to pay the waiter tried to charge us for the man and his daughter’s meal.

……

I was immediately very, very annoyed.

According to the waiter the man had said that we had agreed to pay for his dinner tonight since he didn’t have any cash on him. He would then come back and pay for the dinner the next day and then we could get our money back from the restaurant.

No, we said, we agreed to do no such thing.

Oh really, it’s just that Japanese people do this kind of thing all the time and we would eventually get our money back and…..

No.

Please.

If you carry on like this then we’re going to walk out of here without paying for either meal.

Eventually, after much cajoling from Fran and much angry glowering from me the waiter relented. I do feel kind of sorry for the waiter. He is obviously a really trusting and nice guy to believe the man and I do hope the man came back the next and paid for dinner. I highly doubt it though, and the waiter probably had the cost of two people’s dinner coming out of his paycheck. However sorry as I felt for him what an idiot. At the very least when he got this story from the man he could have asked us if that was okay. We’d have said no and then he’d have been able to get the money from the odd man.

4. Fruit

The fruit in Japan is incredible.

I don’t know how much the difference would apply to a South African, an American or an Aussie but in comparison with British fruit Japanese fruit is the nectar of the gods. It’s so much juicier, tastier, fresher and more refreshing.

I got my first taste of how bloody amazing Japanese fruit is on my first morning in Japan. The JET programme had arranged for new arrivals to stay in a very up market hotel in Tokyo. The breakfast the next morning was an entirely free buffet. I grabbed myself a cooked breakfast and, spying some pineapple, I added that to a plate as a dessert. Pineapple is my favourite fruit in the entire world. Much like ramen I am incapable of turning down the offer of pineapple. This also extends to pineapple flavoured things like sweets and drinks. I love it unconditionally* and so I was pleased to get some for free.

Words cannot describe the taste epiphany that occurred to me that day. It was a road to Damascus moment, well, road to Del Monte anyway, for I never realized fruit could taste so good.

For the next couple of days I gorged myself on the pineapple and melon marveling that I could live 21 years and never eat a melon this nice. However there was a melancholy edge to my gluttony, for I had sadly assumed that the fruit was this good because the hotel was very expensive and must order pineapple of a particularly high quality.

Happily I was wrong, fruit here is uniformly better than back home.

This is because, generally, it isn’t transported when it is waiting to ripen, and if it is it travels a much shorter distance than fruit to Britain. There are fruits here that are roughly the same or inferior to the equivalent in Britain, strawberries, oranges, lemons and limes; but they are completely unimportant to me compared to how good the melons, grapefruits and pineapples are.

*this is entirely untrue because there are two conditions of my love for pineapples. Firstly I have to be able to afford it and secondly I know that I can only eat a limited amount of it before my tongue becomes an agonising monstrosity for the rest of the day.

5. Arcades

I like computer games but I am not a computer/video games nerd/geek.

Allow me to clarify that.

I have zero issue with the label “geek” nor do I have any issues with using it as a term to describe myself. I’m just realistically stating a fact that compared to most of the people who have an interest in computer games I barely qualify as even a minor enthusiast. So when I say I like computer games I don’t really think I like then much more than your average British bloke of my age.

There is an exception to this rule though; I have a particular fondness for old games as most new computer games leave me completely flat. First person shooters do nothing for me, nor do modern adventure games (which feel more like poorly written stories than games), racing games are more simulations than games as is nearly every sports game ever produced and don’t get me started on the state of modern platformers. What I like are computer games that first and foremost are GAMES! That realise that setting out to simulate reality is a folly for an electronic medium and instead embrace their abstract nature and focus upon the experience they offer being first and foremost, fun.

It appears that the vast majority of console owners in Britain and America disagree with me. However in Japan the situation is very different. Here games are still principally about silly and abstract fun, normally with an Italian plumber in a land of mushrooms.

Moreover Japan has a similar love affair with “retro” gaming. There are shops in any of the major Japanese cities selling older consoles and vast collections of older games. It is the easiest country in the world to get a SNES and 10 or 20 games, probably for less than 20 pounds and happily entertain yourself for the next 4 or 5 years! If, like me, you are bloody terrible at computer games anyway.

And Japan never fell out of love with that most visible symbol of the older gaming culture, arcades. I can’t speak for America but I know that in Britain computer game arcades don’t really exist anymore. So called “Amusements” still proliferate at the sea side but these are mostly filled with shove ha’penny machines, slots, fruit machines and other cheap gambling diversions. Actual games, where the only goal is to have fun, are few and far between.

Not so in my adopted land. In Sannomiya alone I can think of about 10 gaming arcades most of which are quite close to each other. These still have a lot floor space given over to gambling machines (pachinko, horse racing, etc) and a vast swathe of space given over to crane machines but they make up for it by having a lot of actual honest to god games too.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, Adam, there’s a reason gaming arcades are a thing of that past. It’s because arcades were only popular because cabinets were vastly more powerful machines than home consoles so to play a good computer game you needed to go to an arcade. Nowadays consoles can equal and generally exceed the power of cabinets so why pay all that money for something you can get at home?

Well for several reasons my friends, several reasons.

Firstly, arcades just appeal to me. There is something about them that is relatively unique, the notion of a space given over to nothing more than having fun. They’re playgrounds for adults basically, a space where the only possible thing to do is enjoy yourself or leave. This is why I like the gambling style places much less. They have a sort of goal (make money) whereas arcades have no purpose other than to have fun.

Secondly, although arcade cabinets can’t compete with home consoles on a power basis anymore they can compete on the design of the cabinet and how you play the game. You can play racing games with actual steering wheels and chairs, music games with replica instruments (admittedly you can do this at home but it’ll cost you and how likely are you to buy a replica shamisen, taiko drum or drum kit?), surfing games on surfboards, rowing games on row boats, horse riding games on imitation horses! I don’t care how advanced consoles get you are never going to be pretending to ride a horse in the comfort of your home in any sort of console game.

Hell, there’s even one relatively popular game that simulates riding in the cockpit of a gundam.

Thirdly arcades are great for filling in a few minutes of time. Consoles are obviously the better place to play a long form story led RPG or to have some mates round and spend an entire evening trying to best each other at Mario kart. However arcades can fill in those 5 or 10 minutes when you’re waiting for a friend to meet you, or a film to start at the cinema, or for the beer garden to open. Just having them around makes getting through a normal course of evening’s events much more varied and interesting.

So now that I’ve rabbited on about how much I like them for long enough what are my favourite games to play?

Well I’ll start with my least favourite, the arcade version of Mario Kart. Despite Mario Kart being generally one of my favourite computer games ever (and Mario Kart Double Dash being basically how I spent University) I despise the Arcade version. This is partly because the game was farmed out to Namco from Nintendo and the level and weapon design is vastly inferior to what I’ve come to expect from this series but it is mostly because my girlfriend always beats me. Always! It is deeply annoying.


(I got this off the internet so i have no idea who this bloke is)

My favourite is easily the “taiko drumming game”. Taiko is a traditional form of Japanese drumming that I have mentioned on this sight before. Basically you have a single large drum placed on it’s side and 2 thick wooden sticks. Rythms are beat out on the drum itself and on the sides of the drum. In the game you beat out a rhythm to popular J–pop songs, anime theme tunes and computer game themes. There is little in this life more purely joyful than trying to play the theme to “Super Mario Bros” on a plastic replica of an ancient Japanese instrument.

6. Toilets

We all know about the Japanese technologically advanced toilets that clean your arse, play soothing music and even automatically lift the lid up if you’re approaching. These contraptions are ridiculous in every possible way and are rightly ridiculed. As well as being the ultimate symbol of the amount of conspicuous consumption in this country they are absolutely horrible for the environment.

There are however, three toilet innovations that I am prepared to give a pass to.

1. My own toilet, observe.

See that little sink there, when I flush the toilet the water from the pipe passes through the tap and into the sink before it drains into the bowl. This means that I use less water washing my hands because I don’t have to go to the sink to do so.

This would be a rare example of a Japanese toilet helping the environment. However it would be a very good example of the Japanese approach to design.

Design in this country is king. There is an insane amount of thought gone into how to improve every single aspect of every object you own and sue in daily life. Design is so worshipped here that people collect tiny replica miniatures of famous chair designs.

I’ll say that again. Entirely sane people collect tiny replicas of FAMOUS DESIGNER CHAIRS!

Yet, oddly, this makes not a lick of difference to the average person because Japanese people are so very keen on tradition. The cooking utensils, rooms, ways of cleaning and to a certain extent the clothes have not changed significantly in Japan for hundreds of years. Japanese people love a “right” way to do things and despite really liking good design they very rarely later anything traditionally Japanese. Case in point many places still use the squatting hole in the ground traditional Japanese toilet.

Yet, when you introduce something new to Japan, something we in the west have taken for granted for some time, they immediately take a good long hard look at it and re-design it so it is much more efficient and useful. My toilet is a good case in point. An incredibly simple innovation that saves the environment and which will never be adopted in Britain because we don’t care about good design.

2. The fluttering bird thing.

This gets a pass because it makes me giggle for a very specific reason.

It seems that Japanese women in public restrooms don’t like other people in the restroom to hear them, um, using it. Research discovered that a lot of women repeatedly flushed the toilet in order to hide the sound of them, um, yeah. This was obviously a very wasteful and inconvenient thing to do so some bright spark invented this.

It’s a little box that when an arm is waved in front of it makes a noise like bird song. Effectively hiding the sound of the, um.

The very specific reason that this makes me giggle is that I have a female friend (who shall remain nameless) who once explained to me that even in a cubicle she can’t pee if anyone else is in the toilet because she is so mortified that they might hear her. I found out about these boxes on Japan Probe and immediately cracked up thinking about what my friend’s reaction to these would be.

3. The toilet at my school.

It has a heated seat.

A heated seat.

For my arse, in winter, when it is cold. A heated seat.

I know this is terribly wasteful but it isn’t my toilet and it’s not like I’m going to convince Kocho sensei to install a new one. Besides do you have any idea how nice a heated toilet seat is? That my friends is true luxury.

BTW whilst I was looking for pictures of Pacman I found this.

How awesome is that?!

Some of the things I have talked about recently on Mummyboon have cropped up again in the news in short order so I figured I’d take the opportunity to follow up on them.

The saga of the mega-monkeys (or metabo-monkeys*) continues as the keeper updates us all on how their diet is going. Apparently it has been 2 months since they were put on a healthier diet of grains, vegetables and small fish and less bananas and sweet potatoes. The caloric intake of the monkeys ahs been cut by as much as 60% and signs and barriers have been erected to stop people throwing food to the monkeys. The keeper claims that there has been a noticeable improvement in the health of the monkeys but it certainly isn’t evident from the above photo.

That might be because some people are STILL feeding the monkeys! In fact the keeper is still finding candy wrappers and peanut shells in the monkey area (it isn’t a zoo but a park so the monkeys aren’t in cages). This is despite the high profile media attention the fat monkeys have been receiving and the fact that they clearly have obesity problems. I honestly cannot believe some people. They are either incredibly naive not to realise that the signs and warnings are in place for what is quite a serious health problem or are some kind of sadist that is actually trying to kill the monkeys. Knowing the general character of Japanese people I’m actually going to vote for the former.

*This is another great Japanese news story recently. The government have been trying to increase the Japanese peoples’ awareness of the health risks or obesity by renaming obesity/being fat as being “metabo.” Their hope is that “metabo” doesn’t have the negative connotations of obesity so people will be more confident seeking out medical attention from their doctor. They’ve published a fact sheet telling people when they qualify as being “metabo” and they hope that the “metabo” members of the population will feel less stigmatized and will seek medical attention earlier and with less fear. I have only two real thoughts about this. Firstly, that this is easily one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of any government doing and secondly that I have no idea why the Japanese government feels the need to create such a program when it has one of the healthiest populations on the planet.

Also it seems that the BBC has bought the rights to air “Tunnels”; the Japanese TV show that features the “human tetris” short I mentioned last month.

I reckon that this is probably going to be part of some “Tarrant on TV” style clip show making fun of Japanese TV (as is only right and proper. The international media gets Japan horribly wrong a lot of the time but Japanese TV deserves everything it gets) however I would be thrilled if the BBC are planning to produce their own version of human tetris.

Hrmmm, bit short. Tell you what, let’s talk about a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.

Everybody loves a good TV theme tune. Many’s the time I’ve had discussions with my friends about what the best them tunes of all time are and we’ve spent happy hours humming them away. However, with a few rare exceptions TV theme tunes remain as just that and rarely does a good tune cross over and become a genuine pop hit.

Not so in Japan. Most of the theme tunes for popular anime and dramas are done by established pop acts and the theme tune becomes a chart song, even an album track usually. In fact, some TV shows thrive purely on the strength of a really good song. Anime themes are everywhere in the pop culture of Japan. As song choices in computer games, as karaoke songs, as adverts, as number 1 hits and indeed as the theme tune to anime shows.

So here are a few of my personal favourite anime themes.

Let’s start with my all time favourite and the only one I have ever been known to sing at karaoke. “Flying in the Sky” from G-Gundam. My undying love for the sheer unbridled creative stupidity of G-Gundam has been mentioned a couple of times on this blog. Yes, this is the show with the giant robot fish.

However my love for the theme tune is entirely un-ironic. This is the best cartoon theme tune the world has ever known. It’s epic, ballsy, soaring and unbelievably 80’s. And most importantly it features Japanese people (or drunken gaijin) screaming “Flying in the Sky”, “Shining Finger” and “Bright you now” with pure unbridled joy in their hearts.

If this song doesn’t make you happy then you and I can’t be friends anymore.

Another popular karaoke song with my friends and the opening theme tune to “Full Metal Alchemist.” This is by the brilliantly named “Porno Graffiti” which I once thought my students were pronouncing as pornography. This has an insanely catchy tune and some of the most esoteric lyrics I have ever heard.

One of the many opening themes that Naruto has had and my personal favourite. The song is a bit shouty but it fits the character really, really well and I’m a big fan of the guitar work.

In contrast here is the first opening theme for Naruto. I can never decide if I like this song or not. It sounds sort of vaguely Billy Joel-ish but sung really badly.

Then he says “I waana rocks, rocks to the chest” and I burst out laughing.

From Cowboy Bebop. I hate Jazz and even I have to concede that this is amazing.

I am not hugely familiar with Fist of the North Star and this theme is not particularly inspiring (at least not until the Japanese Shirley Bassey kicks in and then it briefly turns into Led Zepplin) but I do know that it is incredibly fun to yell “You Wa Shock!”

This is only an anime on a really thin technicality (it was a French/Japanese co-production) but it squeaks by being bloody awesome. I opted for the longer song in favour of the actual opening theme with the proper lyrics. Why? Because more Ulysses 31 is always a good thing.

I guarantee that at some stage tomorrow you will yell either “uly-ey-ey-eysees” “bright you now” or “you wa shock!”

My computer has a bad case of being really, really irritating tonight so I’m going to postpone the longer post I had in mind until I can be sure it will behave itself.
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Until then I’m going to re-post something I’ve spotetd on a few other sites. Mum and Dad you probably don’t want to read this.

From this week’s edition of Time Magazine we have, porn for young people but featuring really old people.

Japan is repeatedly found to be one of the most sexless societies in the industrialized world. The WHO reported in March this year found that one in four married couples in Japan had not made love in the previous year, while 38% of couples in their 50s no longer have sex at all. Yet, at the same time, the country has seen a surge in demand for pornography that has turned adult videos into a billion-dollar industry, with “elder porn” one of its fastest growing genres.

Tokuda’s exploits have proved to be a goldmine for Glory Quest, which first launched an “old-man” series, Maniac Training of Lolitas, in December 2004. Its popularity led the company to follow up with Tokuda starring in Forbidden Elderly Care in August 2006. Other series followed, and soon elder porn had revealed itself as a sustainable new revenue stream for the industry. “The adult video industry is very competitive,” says Glory Quest p.r. representative Kayoko Iimura. “If we only make standard fare, we cannot beat other studios. There were already adult videos with Lolitas or themes of incest, so we wanted to make something new. A relationship between wife and an old father-in-law has enough twist to create an atmosphere of mystery and captivate viewers’ hearts.”

Japan’s adult video industry is believed to be worth as much as $1 billion a year according to industry insiders, with the largest rental video store chain Tsutaya releases about 1,000 new titles monthly, while and the mega adult mail-order site DMM releases about 2,000 titles each month. Although films featuring women in their teens and 20s are the mainstay of the industry, a trend toward “mature women” has become evident over the past five years. Currently, about 300 of the 1,000 adult videos on offer at Tsutaya, and 400 out of the 2,000 at DMM, are “mature women” films.

Now I am aware of some really weird fads in this country but this one simply mystifies me. I was, for instance, well aware of what this article refers to as the “lolita” fetish in Japan (i.e. that there is an awful lot of anime/manga porn in this country that we would consider paedophilia in Britain and that is kind of brazenly stuck up around palces like den den town.) which creeps me out but is sort of understandable. This though? I get that old people might want to look at other old people getting jiggy with it and young people may actually want to get jiggy with an elderly person but watching two elderly folks play a rousing game of hide the sausage is pretty much the first thing the devil will do to me when I get to hell.

Still, different strokes for different folks I guess.

Oh god, I just realised what that sounds like.

I will give the spokesman this, it is a novel twist.

Oh and “Forbidden Elderly Care” is the best title of a Japanese film I have heard since “Fight! 10 Million Power Warriors!”

When it comes to alcohol my first love is beer of all kinds.

After that it’s port.

Then whiskey, then probably wine.

However after that it is definitely umeshu.

Umeshu is a plum liqueur made from the Japanese plum (or ume). Unlike English plums Japanese plums are waaay too sour to just eat and are pretty small and by all accounts unpalatable. However despite this they form an important part in Japanese cooking and Japanese culture. Most notably in umeboshi (pickled plums that are a common feature of people’s lunches here) and umeshu.

Fran absolutely adores umeshu and turned me onto the delights of this drink shortly after she arrived in Japan. Typically one mixes the liqeur with some ice and water to create a cool refreshing sweet drink with hints of sourness and strong alcohol underneath. It is one of the finest things one can drink on a hot summer’s day, and trust me Japan has a surfeit of hot summer days.

Just recently it was the Japanese plum harvest here and so the supermarket has been stocked full of plums and, crucially, the equipment one needs to make ones own umeshu.

So in the interests of a cultural experience (and cheap booze) I had a go.

Here is my first attempt at making umeshu.

The method, for anyone who wants to try it, is ludicrously easy.

1. Acquire your ingredients.

You’ll need

500g of plums (ume)
90ml of shochu (distilled sake)
500g of rock sugar

I doubled up on all the ingedients as those were the quantities the supermarket had for sale (plus more booze, wahey). You can add more plums to the mix for a stronger flavour, use a stronger shochu for a more boozey umeshu (although at 35% I was plenty pleased with mine) or some honey to make a sweeter drink.

2. Prepare the plums.

This is really easy. Use a toothpick to remove the stem from the plum, give them a wash and scrape away any damage to the skin.

3. Put them in the container.

4. Add the rock sugar.

5. Add the shochu.

6. Give it a vigorous stir.

7. Leave it in a cool dry place for 6 months.

Technically it is drinkable after only 3 months but I’m planning to leave this until Christmas when I can offer it to guests. If this is sucessful then I plan to do two or more batches next year and see if I can keep one batch going until the summer.

Apologies guys but I haven’t really felt like blogging muxh this week. I don’t have anything I particularly want to work on and I was going to do a video post tonight but youtube isn’t co-operating.

Instead I’ll do some blogging about blogging if you’ll forgive me that.

For starters I actually do have some topics planned for the site but they all require more preparation than I have time for tonight. In fact let’s make that the subject of this post. What topic would you all like me to address on the blog next? Your options are.

1. A feature on the horrors and wonders in my local super-market.

2. Another 5 great things about Japan post, as I now have enough material for it again.

3. Something about Japanese television, which I have been watching more of recently.

And I may as well take the time to draw your attention to some site news. You may have noticed that i have added a link roll on the right hand side lower down. If you are a regular reader of Mummyboon and want to link to this site and be linked to in return then please get in touch. Just briefly the websites listed there are;

Japundit – a website very close to the theme of this one only less personal due to it being a group blog.

Relaxed Focus – The blog of Rob Pugh, fan of the site and a JET in Fukuoka.

Title Undetermined – More of a comic blog but run by my very good frind and fellow JET Ryan Glasnovich in the guise of Diamondrock.

Topless Robot – An L.A. based geek blog that is simply fantastic. Every day there is a new top 10 list along with features on the best and worst in geek trends. There is a strong focus on Japan too.

Yamasaki Steve’s Deviant Art Page – Lots of excellent photos from the man we all remember from his harrowing monkey experiences.

Hope you all check them out and enjoy them as much as I do.

Hey gang. Fair warning to you that this article is a little bit out of date as it has been sitting on my desk at school for a week. However it’s something I feel really strongly about and my thoughts still stand.

Those who know me know that among my many passions in life one that rates more highly than my interest in Japanese culture is my interest in comics. Specifically my interest in super-hero comics. So I was very excited recently when not only one of my favourite comic authors (Grant Morrison) but one of my favourite artists (Cliff Chiang) debuted mash-ups between western super-hero archetypes the Justice League and Japanese culture.

And I feel it necessary to talk about them and judge, as someone who kniows both a fair bit about Japan and Super-heroes, how successful they were.

Firstly let’s look at Grant Morrison’s efforts. Morrison, for those unfamiliar with comics, is one of my favourite writers. He is generally famed for his big concept ideas, use of philosophy and bleeding edge physics in otherwise straightforward super-hero work and a sort of joyous surrealism. He is presently writing an enormous story for DC Comics called Final Crisis; a cross-over event story that ties up a lot of plot developments in the D.C. Universe over the last 5 – 10 years. Morrison has invented 2 super-hero teams for Japan that he has retroactively added into the continuity. By continuity I mean the general storyline of the D.C. Universe. So for example, whilst neither of these teams existed until a few weeks ago everyone in the D.C. Universe is pretending they’ve been around since the 1970’s. Wakarimasu ka?

Anyway, nicked from Scans Daily, who in turn nicked them from the Final Crisis Sketchbook here they are.

First lets start with the “original” Japanese super-team i.e. the JLA spliced with some of the bigger and more famous manga genres.

First up we have the team itself known as “Big Science Action.” An attempt at Engrish which isn’t hugely convincing but it works for me.

Ultimon.
So far so good. Here we have Super-man crossed with Ultraman. This works perfectly fine for me since Ultraman, bar possibly Astro Boy, is the most super-heroic of all the Japanese Super Sentai (basically their version of super-heroes) mostly due to his secret identity, costume and the fact that his name ends in man.

Morrison also has this to say about Ultimon.

Together in the ruins of Tokyo, young Dai Yokohama and his master fought the three COLONIZERS (all the monsters we see him fight look like “real” versions of POKEMON creatures, as if nature had actually created Pokemon horrors to run around causing real devastation):

SCARRBA the PROTECTOR leads the charge — a multi-headed Hydra thing spitting a different death ray from each head. Eyes of one head fire lasers. Mouth of another shoots fire. Horns on the third launch electrical bolts, etc. KRY-TORR the BURROWER digs up the streets, and the rubble of fallen buildings flies from his hellish, centipedal multi-legs. LORLOXX the LAYER squats and releases fuming glass eggs from rows of pipes in its sides, all filled with squirming monstrosities.

Making him fight monsters also works since a) this is what Ultraman does and b) you can’t do a Japanese pop-culture pastiche without having some kaiju in there. They may not be the most popular thing in Japan but they’re emblematic of Japanese pop-culture to the west. Although Pokemon as real monsters is very, very Grant Morrison-ish I think it works. It sends up the differences in style between Western and Asian comics, that there is a greater tradition of cartooning here whereas in America art has gotten progressively more realistic. Oh and there’s a King Ghidorah pastiche in there too which I approve of because King Ghidorah is my favourite Kaiju.

Cosmo Racer
Not a brilliant name (but oh my god is there worse to come) but not a bad mash-up either. Silver Surfer with Atom/Astro Boy. Morrison says Silver Surfer with Pinocchio but considering Atom Boy was/is basically Pinocchio if Pinocchio was an atomic robot in underpants it’s Astro Boy. The problem with that mash-up is that Atom Boy was already in part a mash-up of East and West, with Tezuka openly borrowing from many famous western sources such as Pinocchio, Superman and Walt Disney.

I’m not a huge fan of the design either which is a little bit too much silver surfer, except with roller skating instead of surfing. As far as I can detect there’s nothing overtly Japanese in this design. At least nothing that isn’t already largely incorporated into Western comics.

Boss Bosouko
Akira plus the Human Torch plus Ghost Rider. Again like with Ultraman or Kaiju Akira is such a visible example of the history of manga that you would be silly to pass it up. Kaneda (the hero of Akira) maps so perfectly onto the human torch (plus the borrowed visual from ghost rider because, let’s be honest flaming heads on bikes look awesome) too. Both are young impetuous hot headed heroes but with their hearts in the right place. In fact the elements Morrison has chosen to join together here gel so well that it doesn’t feel like a pastiche, I can actually see Boss Bosozuku working as a legitimate character. He does have a rubbish name but I love the nuclear warning symbol motorbike jacket.

Hammersuit Zero-X
I like the “spunky young girl” creating a giant robot. What’s actually working here is less of an East/West pastiche and more of a combination of Japanese elements. So we have the spunky school girl from Magical Girl Manga with the small boy has big robot friend stuff from Gigantor or Giant Robo. The design is appalling though. Morrison sights Gundam and Gigantor but this doesn’t look anything like either of those. Gundam suits look blocky and militaristic (or like fish and windmills) and Gigantor looks like clean 1950’s sci-fi. Nor does it look like any modern mecha series which have all followed the Evangelion template of organic mecha. It basically doesn’t look like any mecha series I’m familiar with. What it looks like is a mid-90’s Iron Man villain crossed with an X-box. The concept is fine but the suit needs work.

Junior Waveman
Spot on basically. Junior Waveman is Aquaman crossed with the classic Sentai super-team (think Science Ninja Team Gatchaman or Power Rangers). Sentai teams are characterized by matching outfits/powers and the notion of a junior member. His costume is a bit lifeless though although his name works quite well.

Those are our heroes that we’re meant to take seriously “Big Science Action Team.” Now I’d complain about the name but considering my favourite Japanese super-hero team is called “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman” I think it’s largely appropriate. Especially since these are meant to be a 1970’s style team both in the Justice League members they ape and the Japanese characters chosen and the 70’s were really the era for the silly/badly translated names.

The next set are all summarized from the opening text in Morrison’s introduction. These are wannabes. Mindless and inane fashion drones with no real desire for heroism but rather are emblematic of the inane/superficial/random elements of Japanese culture (i.e. the bits I love so much).

For starters we have “Most Excellent Super-bat.” Now this may be the finest name I have ever heard for a super-hero ever. Just try saying it to yourself, most excellent super-bat, most excellent super-bat. Does it or does it not just make the day seem that much brighter? Most Excellent Super-Bat is Batman and Superman blitzed together with bright colours, cute accessories and the post-apocalyptic/nihilist psychedelic/mass-consumerist philosophy of Shibuya denizens. He is meant to be utterly bizarre and stupid beyond all possible words and he is masterfully successful in it. Morrison gets this one right, there are guys exactly like this on TV in Japan already, except less super-heroey.

The problem is Morrison kind of makes his point with Most Excellent Super-Bat and then has nothing left to say. Most of the other characters in the Super Young Team (which isn’t Engrish enough to sound fun like Big Action Team and is too stupid to work as something a Japanese teenager would actually call themselves) are just the same joke again, take a Justice League member and re-arrange them plus add in some bright colours and mad fashion accessories to point out the inane superficiality of some Japanese teens. Big Atomic Lantern Boy is a fine example of the problem. There isn’t much pastiche here or thought going into it, it’s a ridiculous looking guy with a silly name and some Green Lantern elements nicked from a proper super-hero. He doesn’t map onto a Japanese fashion or sub-culture nor does he directly reference any manga or anime he’s just a goofy looking idiot with a silly name.

Shy Crazy Lolita Canary would work a bit better because she actually maps onto a Japanese sub-culture, Gothic Lolita. Except she doesn’t because Morrison gets every single element of her character wrong. For starters if she’s a Lolita canary why is she in a school girl outfit and not a Gothic Lolita costume? Secondly why does she shout sumimasen? Sumimasen means sorry in Japanese and although they’re not exactly the crowd I move with Gothic Lolita aren’t known for yelling sorry very loudly. I think that what Morrison wants her to be saying is “Irrashaimasen” since he mentions shop girls and shop girls in Japan say this. It means welcome and shop keepers yell it at you when they see you in their shop. HwoevEr again, why is a Gothic Lolita yelling irrashaimasen? Unless Morrison is thinking of maid cafes because maid costume is quite similar to Gothic Lolita fashion but again why isn’t she in a maid/Lolita outfit? And why is she shy crazy Lolita canary? Lolita are amongst the most extroverted Japanese people around, unless that’s why she’s yelling sorry (but then there’s something weirdly inverted about yelling sorry, not really a shy action). I’ll give him making a black canary analogue winged is quite a nice touch considering the fetish-isation of angelic imagery in this country but generally shy crazy Lolita canary doesn’t work at all.

Shiny Happy Aquazon is a bit better again. We’ve reverted from trying to say anything about Japanese subculture and have gone back to fusing manga characters with super-heroes. In this case we’ve got Aquaman, Wonder Woman (an amazon) and the sort of happy bright but dumb and clumsy characters that populate a wide swathe of manga (i.e. Sailor Moon, Lum, belldandy). Her outfit is quite nice too, very super-hero but still looking like something Lum would wear. Her name is rubbish though, mostly because shiny happy sounds less like engrish than it does an R.E.M. song. Engrish works when you have two words that we don’t regularly combine in colloquial English (science ninja being a good example of words that would never meet each other in normal English) but we’re all used to hearing shiny and happy next to each other so it doesn’t work as Engrish and just sounds dumb as a standard super-hero name.

Well Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash
Well spoken? What? Okay so the description is sonic the hedgehog meets Impulse. So for those that don’t know Impulse was a super-fast scatter brained teenager raised inside a virtual reality computer game like world whereas sonic the hedgehog is a….super fast scatter brained hedgehog that actually is a computer game character. Yeah, that’s less sonic meets Impulse than Impulse meets the character that inspired Impulse in the first place. Oh but it’s okay because he has a ridiculous top heavy anime inspired design….y’know, like Impulse. Oh and he’s living for the now…a bit like Impulse and.

Basically the problem with Well Spoken Lightning Flash is that he’s EXACTLY the same character as Impulse but with a more ridiculous design and a name that I cannot begin to fathom the joke behind.

I realise that the whole point behind the Super Young Team is that we’re meant to dislike them as shallow poseurs and they contrast with the heroic and noble Big Action Team. I get the point Morrison is trying to make and I love the joke behind Most Excellent Super-bat but none of the other characters work in the slightest bit. Shy Crazy Lolita Canary and Well Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash in particular entirely fail as jokes or pastiches because they don’t reflect anything Japanese, either in real life or in manga.

So ultimately I think Morrison ahs failed here. Potentially Big Action Team could work as a real comic with some tweaking but Super Young Team fail entirely as jokes and were never meant to be real characters.

However, Cliff Chiang also recently showed off some Super-hero manga mash-ups, although he created his nearly 10 years ago. Chiang’s gone for a more direct pastiche approach, simply taking one character and re-imagining them in the form of an existing Japanese manga. These are all specific homages but some of them work excellently and really draw parallels between the western characters and the eastern characters.

To start with we have science ninja hero Batman and his partner Robin. Robin’s costume is a little bit too on the nose and looks exactly like a Gatchaman costume only re-coloured. I’m a big fan of Batman’s Gatchaman inspired look though. It’s still recognizably a bat but with the clean lines associated with 1960’s Japanese sci-fi. Visual Kei joker is fun too, observe this photo of Gackt…

…and now look at the Joker. And yet it’s still recognisably the Joker, and it works better for a Japanese joker since it incorporates the androgyny and attractiveness that Japan likes to instill its villains with.

Superman as Gigantor is hilarious. He really is a man of steel. The Super-man robot looks like an anime super-robot (actually a genre of anime) and the shorts wearing kid who commands it with a signal watch is spot on. Unfortunately it wouldn’t quite let you translate stories as easily as the science ninja batman would. Batchaman would still fight super-villains and could still have the same origin but Super-Robot would have a vastly different origin without all the Christ/immigrant imagery in the original character.

Aquaman as a Kanren runner/Ultraman type is just genius though. Kanren Runner or Ultraman are the most obviously super-heroic of any Japanese super-heroes and Kanren Runners design works well for an alien being that lives in the sea. And having him grow to enormous size to fight sea monsters (Kaiju actually does translate as sea monster) is a spot of brilliance. I would happily read the adventures of a king of the seas protecting his civilization and the surface world from marauding giant monsters. It would be an infinitely better character than Aquaman.

Flash Go Go Go is just speed racer with a red car. The homage is spot on but there isn’t much to say about it. Green Lantern I sadly cannot place and Wonder Woman as Princess Luda from Starblazers doesn’t work too well because the character is no longer recognizably Wonder Woman. The homage is fine since both are princesses but the design needs a little work to bring out the super-hero sides more.

Overall then I vastly prefer Chiang’s mash-ups but sadly there isn’t as much to say about them.

And finally let’s take a look at what happens when it occurs in the other direction and Japan does the mashing. Well you end up with this.

That was the Japanese Spider-man show from the 1970’s (Supaidaman). You may have noticed, as I did, that there is a giant robot. Moreso there is a giant robot that Spider-man summons by yelling “change me lepardomon!” Why spider-man has a giant robot is an easy mystery to figure out.

Japanese Scriptwriter: Well boss you know how you bought the rights to that American super-hero Spider-man?

Japanese TV Exec: I did, well what about it?

JS: Well I worked out a story concept for you.

JTVE: Oh cool,. So what does this supaidaman do?

JS: Well he shoots webs, climbs walls, does flips and martial arts and beats up bad guys.

JTVE: Hmm, sounds good. Kind like Gatchaman but with a spider instead of birds.

JS: Right boss.

JTVE: So how does he fight giant monsters?
JS: Sorry?

JTVE: How does he fight giant monsters?

JS: Um….. he doesn’t?

JTVE: Well that’s no good. You’ve gotta have giant monsters so you can sell toys. Tell you what why doesn’t he have a giant robot?

JS: Genius sir.

Why he has A LEOPARD ROBOT rather than say a spider one is a mystery that may never be unsolved.
And I have it on good authority that in a later episode he gains a car with machine gun lamps.
Catchy theme tune though.

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