Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Flash..Cherry Sweets

More seasonal sweets.Sakura or cherry sweets.The centre is cherry flavored and surrounded by a clear paste like substance made from the the roots of a Japanese plant.The texture is akin to Turkish Delight and has a subtle, light taste.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Its that Bloomin Time of Year

I took this shot of cherry blossoms at Tsuramai Park,Nagoya early this morning.As you can see the blooms arent fully out yet.There were some early parties being held last weekend.However the rain on Saturday,the cold weather and the lack of blooms has meant a slow start to the cherry blossom season.Hopefully the warmer weather will encourage more blooms and parties in the coming days.

Spring Grand Sumo Tournament..Osaka 2007 RoundUp

Hakuho,the Mongolian ozeki, won the Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka by defeating yokozuna and compatriot Asashoryu in a playoff after both wrestlers finished with 13-2 records yesterday.
Asashoryu had beaten Hakuho in the last bout on Saturday to inflict Hakuhos second loss and draw level with him going into Sunday.Asashoryu had done well to get that far considering he lost his his first two matches and was odds on favorite should the two meet in a playoff.However at the tachiai or intial charge Hahuko pulled down Asashoryu and picked up his second Emperors Cup and at the same time snapped Asa's four Cup winning streak.The win also means should he do well next tourney he may be on the road to yokozuna promotion.
As for other wrestlers I follow,Kaio managed again to pull off a winning 8 win 7 loss record and avoid demotion.Kootoshu also had a winning record while ozeki Chiyotakai finished with a losing record 7 wins 8 losses or makekoshi. Hopefully next basho will see the return of Baruto and an inform Hakuho pressing for promotion.

Book Review..Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures.Vincent Lam.Anchor Canada.2005.337pages.
Rather than a novel,this is a series of related short series.It traces the path of a group of doctors from their med school days to various episodes in their careers such as emergency and delivery room duty through to dealing with S.A.R.S.

The author is an emergency physician and brings his medical knowledge and experience to bear.This provides a base of realism and background detail to the stories. Theres a small useful medical glossary at the back if you are unsure of the various procedures and drugs being described.Thats not to say that the book is overwhelmingly technical,its more a book about relationships.Relationships between the med students,between doctors and patients both live and dead.Between doctors and patients families and other professionals such as law enforcement authorities.It also raises thoughts about the decisions and pressures on doctors to perform,both professionally and in their personal lives.

Some of the stories and images are memorable.Theres an early story about the students and the cadaver they dissect.The initial incisions are described thus"Flesh gripped the blade and through the handle Sri felt its texture-thick and chalky".(pg 35)
A later story involves the description of a problematic delivery.Its an anxious piece as the writer uses the rise and fall of the fetal heart monitor rate to ramp up the tension.There are also some nice turns of phrases.."The birth of a baby,the death of pregnancy".(pg.223)
All in all an interesting take on modern medicine and an "arresting" read (pun intended).

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Flash..Tokoname

Some more shots of Tokoname,one of the major pottery producing areas in Japan.
A photo of the chimney stacks of a kiln in Tokoname.

These ceramic frogs were outside the entrance of a pottery gallery along the Pottery Walk.

A photo of a local Tokoname manhole cover.In the centre there is a design which resembles the chimney stacks that loom over the area.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tokoname Pottery Path

Tokoname is one of the six historic pottery towns of Japan.Already well established in the 12th century, the town is still producing shudei (red clay) and yakishime (high fired and unglazed stoneware) for which the area is known for world wide.

Tokoname is a 45 minute train trip from Nagoya on the Meitetsu Line from Shin Nagoya Station to Tokoname Station.650 yen for an adult fare.
A yakimono sanpomichi or walking tour round the old traditional houses,workshops,kilns and buildings of the pottery industry has been established for visitors to the area.
I suggest once at Tokoname Station you head for the Information Centre inside and pick up an English language guide and map.Following the map turn right from the Station and walk towards the black Tokoname Ceramic Hall on the main road where the two walking tours begin.Course A is 1.5km 60 minutes and the longer Course B 4km and 2.5 hours.The times are only estimates and can be comfortably done in those times.

The paths wind between narrow streets,kilns and retaining walls studded with sake bottles.Some buildings now serve as businesses and pottery galleries.I was greeted on three occassions with hot cups of green tea and friendly smiles upon entering some of the galleries.
During the area's history various types of kilns were built.The earliest kilns were "anagama kilns".These are tunnel-like hole kilns dug into the small hillsides that dot the area.Another sort of kiln constructed were the "noborigama kilns" or climbing kilns.These were constructed along a hill slope with long chimneys at both ends and short ones in the middle to allow for better heat circulation.Examples of anagama and noborigama kilns can be seen on the paths. Below is a photo of a noborigama kiln.

Other types of kilns also on the paths you can see include old coal fired ones with their towering brick chimneys that used to belch out thick black smoke if the photos on display are to be believed. Most have now been replaced by more efficient cleaner gas and electric fired models.

Near the paths are several museums,halls and institutes associated with the local ceramic industry.These too can be visited and can be found on the map.
Although there was a keen wind blowing off the sea and it was a cool mid Friday afternoon I passed several couples and groups on the walks enjoying the sights and the chance to stretch their legs.
In summary then Tokoname makes an interesting half day trip from Nagoya or longer if you are interested in ceramics or the many photo opportunities that are available.

Japanese Bentos

A couple of bentos I recently sampled.The first below is from a supermarket in Tokoname City on the way to Centrair International Airport.It contains roasted chicken on a bed of rice. Also included are small containers of seaweed and ginger on the left.

The second lunchbox below contains crabmeat and salty fish eggs.On the right bottom are two sticks of green,white and pink sticky rice mochi balls.Top left is a small wrapped egg parcel which has rice inside it and tied together with a grass-like herb.

Spring Grand Sumo Tournament

The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka started last Sunday.
Overshadowing the weeks before the basho were alleged bout rigging claims made by the weekly Shukan Gendai magazine.
The Japan Sumo Association, Asashoryu and sixteen other wrestlers replied by filing a defamation lawsuit against the magazine.
An in-house commission of the JSA questioned Asashoryu and other wrestlers who all denied match-fixing.

As to the tournament itself, Asashoryu was quoted by some newspapers as odds on favourite to pick up his 21st Emperors Cup after his January New Years victory in Tokyo.He became only the fifth wrestler to achieve twenty Emperor Cup wins.
So it was with some shock that Asa lost his first two bouts.He was 0-2 for the first time since the 2001 Nagoya Tournament.He has since gone on to win all his next matches.He currently stands at 6-2 on day eight.
Leading contenders for the Emperors Cup are ozekis Tochiazuma and Hakuho at seven wins and one loss apiece.
At this stage with Asashoryu back in the pack the tournament remains interestingly wide open and a number of wrestlers vying for the Spring Sumo Tournament title.

Haagen Dazs Ice Cream..New Flavours

A couple of new Haagen Dazs ice cream flavours I spied in a local supermarket last week.The Chardonnay and Raspberry contains chunks of raspberry while the Mango is quite sweet and also contains little pieces of mango.Im not sure if they are seasonal or will remain on sale year round.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Flash..Cherry Blossoms on the Way

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has announced that this year will see one of the earliest cherry blossoms seasons on record.Incidentally nation-wide records were first begun in 1953.
The Agency calculates blooming times based on temperatures and other factors.This year,the unseasonably warm winter has caused cherry blossoms to flower earlier than usual.
The most common cherry blossom tree "someiyoshino" is expected to bloom in Tokyo round March 18 about ten days earlier than normal.Initially an even earlier date was forecast but the recent colder weather caused a revision and todays light snow in Tokyo must also slow down the blossoming buds.
Meanwhile in Nagoya the blossoms are predicted sometime around March 20th.Forecast dates for the Tohoku and Hokkaido regions are to announced later this month.
The artifical blossoms in the accompanying photo above come from a local Osu shop.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Nagoya City Science Museum

The Nagoya City Science Museum is located in Shirakawa Park,Fushimi.It occupies three large buildings,the Life Science Building,the Science and Technology Building and the Astronomy Building which contains a Planetarium.
Museum entry is 300 yen while a pass to the planetarium and museum is 600 yen for adults.
I spent about an hour and a half in the Life Science and Science and Technology Buildings but didnt visit the Astronomy building.
Lots of hands on exhibits and videos.Unfortunately there were no English captions or labels so half the fun was working out which lever to pull or button to push.That said, you are given an English language floor guide when you buy your ticket.
Two exhibits which caught my eye were a mock up of the drivers cabin in an early model bullet train and a huge model railway layout on display on the Transportation floor.

The Museum has regular special exhibits running throughout the year.The next one due to start later this month features dinosaurs.Check out the website,click on the English option on the right of the website's front page.
The website is

White Day...March 14th

March 14 marks the day when gifts are given to those women who gave them to their bosses,boyfriends,colleagues and husbands one month ago on St Valentines Day February 14th.
The last fortnight or so supermarket and convenience store shelves have been weighed down with White Day presents.
The most common gifts are white marshmellows,chocolates and box sets of biscuits from such places as Austria and Beligum.
All lavishly wrapped and decorated.

Book Review..The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of The ThunderBolt Kid...Bill Bryson.Broadway Books.268pages.

This book not only focuses on Bryson's early days in Des Moines,Iowa but also looks at 1950s America as it steers its way through the 50s,the Cold War and the early 60s.
Various chapters about his family life are interspersed with chapters dealing with such things as the advent of television,automobiles,nuclear bombs,Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Typical Bryson descriptions of people bring the usual smiles and there are many quotable e.g "She was stooped,very small,forgetful,glacially slow,interestingly maladorous,practically deaf"(pg 178).

He also dispenses lots of facts and figures to show how dominant and prosperous the United States was in the 50s."Americans owned 80% of the world's electrical goods,controlled two-thirds of the world's productive capacity,produced more than 40% of its electricity,60% of its oil and 66% of its steel"(pg 5).
And "In 1951,the average American ate 50% more than the average European"(pg 6)

He fondly recalls what made Des Moines unique, the shops and theatres which today exist only in memory or as carpark lots.
Replaced by chains of supermarkets and malls one can see world-wide.
In summary an entertaining book about a period that seems to me as foreign and distant as Victorian England.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Flash...Plastic Fish Sauce Bottles

These fish shaped plastic containers hold soya sauce.They seem to be put in almost every lunchbox and bento Ive ever bought.

Monday, March 05, 2007

McEnglish Schools

The March 12th issue of Weekly Playboy contains an article on the English language industry in Japan.The Weekly Playboy is a prime example of a Japanese weekly newsmagazine or shukanshi.An eclectic collection of news stories,sports articles and manga literally cheek and jowl beside some local scantily clad model.
Nova features prominently and is described as "operator of the McDonalds of English language conversation schools".While the daily broadsheet newspapers described Nova as being inspected by government authorities the Weekly Playboy article terms it as " a government raid on its Osaka office".

The article outlines the current problems that have occurred when students try to pull out of their contract before it finishes.It also concedes that "Nova isnt the only allegedly dodgy player in the conversation school caper" but doesnt directly name or target any other schools.
Some of the quotes in the article from students are entertaining for example"Our teacher couldnt give a damn and yawned all the way through class...and he absolutely reeked of booze".
(Reference..MSN-Manichi Daily News).
The article doesnt really shed any new light on the English language industry or Nova.More to the point it shows just how common place the issues have become that they are now fodder for even weekly newsmagazines to include between their pages.

Chart Throb

Chart Throb by Ben Elton.Bantam Press.427pages.

Once again Ben Elton takes a swipe at a feature of modern society.This time its a soft target.Reality Television.
The book is based on the making of a programme similiar to American Idol or Big Brother and its new season of shows.

None of the characters evoked much sympathy from me, be they the judges or the competitors they prey on and manipulate.
I think this is because the whole premise of the book is based on such a flimsy lightweight subject.The satire is heavy and plodding.
The characters are so preposterous as to be totally ridiculous.But they have to be given that they exist in a world of Ann Nicole Smith and the antics of Michael Jackson.Its difficult to parody and belittle something that does not have much substance in the beginning.
There are a couple of twists through the course of the story.Not all of them ring true.The ending was a little abrupt as though the author had run out of steam.

Not one of Eltons better efforts.

As forgettable as the television shows it attempts to take the mickey out of.I think he's on more secure ground tilting at more serious issues such as those in Past Mortem or Stark.

Hina Matsuri Crab Meat Bento

Another colorful Hina Matsuri lunchbox from my local bento shop.The orange fish eggs nicely complement the pink and white crab meat in the middle of the bento.On the right are a variety of vegetables and the odd mushroom.Its all sitting on a bed of rice so the bento is quite filling as well as being eye-catching.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday Flash...Hina Matsuri Bento

I bought this colourful offering from my local bento shop.Its a special Hina Matsuri or Hina Doll festival bento.
Green,pink and white feature prominently.From the broccoli to the shrimps and white bed of rice on which the ingredients lie.
The yellow circle in the middle which features the figures of a boy and girl is made of egg.Like the rest of the dish its really edible.
Finally in passing if you want to check other bentos enter the word "bento" and hopefully eight or so Ive put up should appear.
Alternatively Ive got some bentos on my flickr page..just click on the Flickr badge on my front page.