Saturday, March 27, 2010

Weekly Roundup of Cool Japanese

Yay! I've started a new segment here at shrinecastle: The Weekly Roundup of Cool Japanese Stories! It's going to be, well, a weekly roundup of cool Japanese stories.

Sunday, March 21
Two people, my husband and my friend Dan, sent in different links to stories celebrating the return of Colonel Sanders to the Kentucky Fried Chicken near Koshien Stadium outside of Osaka, Japan. Kentucky Fried Chicken holds a special place in the hearts of the Japanese during the Christmas season. This particular statue, however, was thrown into the Dotonbori River by an excited group of Hanshin Tigers fans celebrating their team's Japan Series championship in 1985. (It is widely assumed that this act cursed the Tigers because they haven't won a Japan Series since.) Somehow the Colonel resurfaced twenty-five years later, mud-stained and missing his hands and lower extremities. Both yakubaka and Japan Probe reported the Colonel was back on display, this time behind protective glass.

Here is a Japanese news report on last year's recovery of the beloved Colonel.

Monday, March 22
The picture of the day from Japan Today was of a giant strawberry shortcake.

REUTERS/Toru Hanai
The cake was placed there to celebrate the third anniversary of Tokyo Midtown, a city-within-a-city complex with a hotel, high-rise residences, a museum, park, shops, and restaurants in Roppongi. I have a feeling that girl is wondering what in world that thing is doing there.

Tuesday, March 23
The quirky website Tofugu declared this week to be Kanji Week. Tuesday's installment is a humorous look at the history of the Chinese characters. As someone who is studying kanji, I'll have to agree with Tofugu that it is indeed a torture method. 

Wednesday, March 24
Japan Probe does it again, this time posting a story about Pan-kun, the star chimpanzee of the Shimura Zoo. Pan-kun is usually seen running errands and doing interesting Japanese things with his friend James, a bulldog. 

In this video, Pan-kun and James want to ride a train, so Pan-kun must figure out how to buy and use a train ticket.

Here's another great video of Pan-kun and James. The title of the video suggests that they are making ramen, but they are actually making sanuki udon. Udon is a thicker noodle than ramen.

But I digress . . .
The point of Wednesday's Japan Probe is that Pan-kun is reaching maturity, so the zoo staff is setting him up with Poko-chan, another zoo resident who will – if all goes well – eventually become Pan-kun's wife. The video on the entry is about twelve minutes, but well worth the time. I'm only slightly creeped-out by the zoo trainer's propensity to dress like Pan-kun.

Thursday, March 25
Daigo Fujiwara's Twitter page linked to a story about Hideki Matsui's first home run as an Angel. The ball hit a car and broke the windshield. The car belongs to Angels owner Arte Moreno.

from - photo by 吉澤良太

Does Moreno deduct the cost for repairs from Matsui's paycheck? How does that work in MLB?

Friday, March 26
Here's Japan Today's creepy Picture of the Day:


This (creepy) female humanoid robot is being used by a dentist to demonstrate to students at Tokyo's Showa University. Ninety-nine percent of Japan's robots are cute. Not this one.

 Here's Asimo. Now that's a cute robot!

Saturday, March 27
The Tokyo International Anime Fair is going on right now, and this photo is a composite of what 130,000 visitors are seeing at Tokyo Big Sight.

Photo by TARA KIM

I'm sure a few guys will attend, too.

Okay, technically I received this link last week, but it's crazy enough to be included in my first Weekly Roundup of Cool Japanese Stuff. My friend Tammy found this on, and it's hilarious. And weird.

Umm, what? So, the little boy is brokenhearted, and the dog, who's name is Panchi, tells him to listen? Does the sign the dog is holding read "It's getting bigger"? I really just don't know. I'll have to appeal to my Japanese teacher to help us on this one. Kikuchi Sensei, if you're reading this, what does this commercial mean? たすけてください。It's a funny commercial, even if I don't understand what's happening.

That does it for the first ever Weekly Roundup of Cool Japanese Stuff. Tomorrow, I'll begin the search for next week's crop. With the way Japan is, I'm sure I'll have plenty of ideas. If you find something, e-mail me at

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Celebrating Girls' Day with a Hina Matsuri

Today is Hina Matsuri, a day that Japanese people celebrate and pray for the health and happiness of girls. Dolls are displayed in homes with daughters, girls dress up in kimono and sing, and the dolls are put away that night to ensure the girls will become happily married one day.

Even though I'm an old married lady, I was happy to dress up in a kimono today and go to Ippodo Gallery in New York City to celebrate Girls' Day. The Chelsea gallery displays the talents of Japanese artists, giving them a platform and exposure in New York City. Ippodo's current exhibit, A Celebration of Spring - HANA, centers on the theme of flowers ("hana" in Japanese) in an attempt to pull us out of the winter doldrums. In honor of Hina Matsuri, Ippodo offered everyone who wore a kimono to the exhibit today a bowl of matcha, the thick, powdery tea that is served during traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.

So I donned my flower-patterned kimono went to Ippodo with my Japanese teacher, Emi Kikuchi. Kikuchi Sensei is an expert on kimono, and without her, I never would've been able to put on the contraption. It had been a few years since the last time I wore a kimono, and I'd forgotten everything about it. Thanks to Kikuchi Sensei, however, I felt like a princess.

Here I am with my spring kimono, thanks to the expertise of Kikuchi Sensei.

The only bow a like is the one tied behind a kimono.

Kikuchi Sensei and I spent a couple of hours at the gallery, receiving a special tour from Ippodo's Yoko Takahashi. Takahashi-san was enthusiastic in describing each artist and work involved in her current exhibit. It was a pleasure being there with her. Read my review of the exhibit itself here.

My absolute favorite part of the exhibit was Mikiko Hayashi's paintings of scenes from The Tale of Genji, a book by Japan's Lady Murasaki Shikibu and widely thought of as the first novel ever written. These paintings aren't simply paintings. Hayashi recreated the book's court life on the inside surface of polished clam shells. Hayashi painted identical pictures on each side of one shell in the style of a shell-matching game (known as kai-awase) that was popular in the Edo Era (from roughly 1603-1868). 

Kai-awase shells ©Mikiko Hayashi, ©Ippodo Gallery

I may have forgotten how to put on a kimono properly, but being in that costume, drinking ceremonial green tea, and hearing Japanese spoken between Takahashi-san and Kikuchi Sensei transported me to another time in Japan. I felt surprisingly at home.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Turning Japanese" - Kirsten Dunst in Akihabara

Back in August of last year, Japan Probe, my favorite site for Japanese cultural gems, posted a short entry about a mysterious Kirsten Dunst sighting in Tokyo's Akihabara district. The American actress was dressed in an electric blue wig and a cosplay-esque outfit. Mystery solved: Dunst was part of a project for Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

The short film is called "Akihabara Majokko Princess," and it was part of Pop Life: Art in a Material World, an exhibit at Tate Modern. The exhibit, which closed on January 17, featured artists – including Murakami, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons – who made commercialism work for them to create their own "brands." Murakami, who is sometimes criticized for selling out, collaborated with Kanye West and Louis Vuitton and built a name for himself through his brand, Kaikai Kiki.

For the Pop Life exhibit, Murakami enlisted the services of Dunst and McG, the American filmmaker who directed the Charlie's Angels movies, to create a music video. Dunst, in her cosplay get-up, frolics through Akihabara, the famed electronics neighborhood in Tokyo that in recent years has become a haven for otaku culture, to the tune of "Turning Japanese," the 1980 hit by British pop band The Vapors.

from YouTube user jd1378

I think Kirsten Dunst is a strange choice, but I actually like the video. A article suggests that perhaps Dunst was cast in the video as a way of acknowledging Western interest in cosplay and otaku culture. Either that or Murakami was making fun of her. Whatever Murakami's motive, I think the video is fun, even though I despise the tune. Plus, I'm a huge fan of Murakami's, and I love his Kaikai Kiki characters.

While you don't always see girls dressed like Dunst in Akihabara, Murakami's project does show the character of the neighborhood, with its maids and geeks and row upon row of electronic doo-dads.