Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nightmare on 22nd Street

Jack o' Lanterns

Just as we love walking around our neighborhood looking at Christmas decorations, my husband and I enjoyed seeing this year's Halloween displays. We have some creative neighbors.

What a tangled web we weave

For a day the normally stately historic buildings took on the look of haunted houses. Local residents carved pumpkins and lined the sidewalks with spider webs.


Bats and rats and creepy hands and eyeballs surrounded the houses. Witches and skeletons frightened young and old alike.

Treasure chest

Some neighbors went all-out to create the ultimate Halloween setting.

More artistic carvings

These suspicious pumpkins were found near a crime scene. It's a rough neighborhood.

CSI New York

Props were key. Bats are cute when they're tiny and sleeping upside down in a cave far, far away, but there's something unnerving about a giant bat hovering above the sidewalk.

Abracadabra, I'm a vampire!

One neighbor took his decorations to the next level. Bats and rats weren't good enough; this prop was human.

The dry ice is a nice touch

Must be hard to nap with a bunch of trick or treaters constantly begging for candy

Even pets were intrigued by the Halloween decorations. This dog wanted to get closer to the green guy in the yard.

The cool thing about walking around New York City on Halloween is that you can play the "Costume? Not a Costume?" game. Look at a random pedestrian and try to determine if his get-up is for a Halloween party, or if he's just a weirdo who dresses like that all the time. Chances are, it's not a costume.

Costume or Not a Costume?
Happy Halloween!

The Universal Language of Dance

Okinawan dancer Junko Fisher appeared at the Fall Open House Performance at Lotus Music and Dance on Saturday. It was an opportunity for the Queens resident to showcase traditional Okinawan dance as well has her singing voice. After performing two dances, "Kajiyadefu" and "Nuchibana," Fisher sang two songs while playing the sanshin, a traditional three-stringed instrument of Okinawa.

Junko Fisher performs "Kajiyadefu"

She was one of three acts performing in a unique presentation of dance. The first to perform was a group of advanced students of Kamala Cesar, Artistic Director of Lotus Music and Dance. As Cesar described the traditional Indian dances, she emphasized the importance of the girls' hand gestures and footwork. The movements of their hands conveyed the story of the dance – in this case, the dancers are working the fields and annoyed by the birds who are eating their freshly planted seeds. Their bell-covered feet acted as musical instruments, making it especially important for their timing to be right.

Kamala Cesar of Lotus Music and Dance

Kamala Cesar's students perform Bharata Natyam

As I listened to Cesar's description, I was struck how similar it sounded to Okinawan and Japanese dance. Each dance is a story, be it of the court (as in "Kajiyadefu") or the common folk (as in "Nuchibana"), and hand movements suggested actions such as viewing the moon or pouring sake. In Japanese and Okinawan dance, the dancer can also be a musician; in "Nuchibana" Fisher played yotsudake, which means "four pieces of bamboo." Although Okinawan dancers don't wear jewelry or other accessories, Fisher's brightly colored kimono were on par with the beautiful silk garments worn by the Bharata Natyam dancers.

Stunning garments

Bingata, a type of traditional Okinawan cloth

This universality shouldn't surprise me, as every culture has traditions deeply rooted in dance. The last performance of the day was a collaboration Kathak dance and Flamenco. It sounded like an odd combination to me, even after dancer and choreographer Romanee Kalicharran explained that Flamenco has roots in Kathak, a classical Indian dance. But when I saw Kalicharran and Flamenco dancer Yloy Ybarra combine Indian and Spanish movement, it made sense to me.

Romanee Kalicharran (left) and Yloy Ybarra

Kathak and Flamenco collaboration

When I went to Lotus Music and Dance to see my friend Junko Fisher perform familiar dances and sing two songs I love, I didn't expect to receive an education on the world of dance.

Junko Fisher performs on sanshin

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation in New York's Japanese Cultural World

New York is a city with about 8.4 million people, and according to the 2000 Census, more than 22,000 of them are Japanese. Given those numbers, it's interesting how I keep running into the same people at seemingly unrelated Japanese cultural events, either as guests or as speakers. (I suppose the events are related in the sense that they involve Japanese culture, but read on for the sake of argument.)

One example is Monday's lecture at the Japan Society, Field to Table: The Role of Vegetables in Japanese Diet.

  • Elizabeth Andoh, Japanese food expert, cookbook author, and culinary educator, was presenting the history and traditions of Japanese vegan and vegetarian cuisine. It may come as a surprise that vegetables play an important role in Japanese meals, despite the country's connection to fish (sushi), beef (Kobe and shabu shabu), pork (tonkatsu and everything cooked in Okinawa), and chicken (yakitori). Read about my experience with the lecture here.
Elizabeth Andoh's latest book explores Japan's vegetarian cuisine

  • Andoh shared the stage with Chef Masato Nishihara, who is the executive chef at Kajitsu, New York's only restaurant serving shojin ryori, or "temple vegetarian cuisine." I had the pleasure of watching Chef Nishihara in action at a vegetarian workshop last year.
Kajitsu's logo (Shiro Tsujimura)

  • My friend Stacy Smith was also at that workshop, serving as Chef Nishihara's interpreter. She happened to attend Monday's lecture and wrote a blog entry of her own.
Stacy with her shodo creations (from her website)

  • Harris Salat, who ran last year's workshop at Saveur, is a food writer who puts together these kinds of educational seminars around town. I went to one about Japanese tea just a couple of weeks ago.
Harris introduces Chef Nishihara at his workshop last year

So, it may not be like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but this illustrates that the Japanese community is pretty active. Tonight I'm going to the AREA Japan party, "Japan Commons." I doubt Chef Nishihara will be there, but I'm sure I'll find plenty of people who have a connection to Japan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Does Fantastic Hair Interfere with the Paths of Young Japanese Men?

A recent Washington Post article declares that "something is happening to Japan's young men." The article goes on to say that Japanese males between the ages of 20 and 34 are not as driven or motivated to succeed in work and get married as the generation before them. These young men are described as "herbivores," the kinder, gentler era of Japanese men.

Pop culture writer Maki Fukasawa first used the term herbivores a few years ago because she says that this crop of males aren't driven by sex, which is "of the flesh." Carnivores like flesh, herbivores don't, you get it.

So what has led to the general malaise of young Japanese men? I think it's hairstyles. Look how long it takes this guy to fix his spikes just so:

Thanks to JAPAN Style for introducing this video to me!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Defense of Ichiro

In 2001 a baseball player from Japan started his major league career with the Seattle Mariners. He was an instant hit. He's still so recognizable, he need go only by his first name. Ichiro.

When Ichiro Suzuki was named Rookie of the Year at the end of his first season with the Mariners, some MLB fans grumbled that he didn't deserve it because he had already spent ten seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. Oh, he was named American League MVP in 2001, too.

Now he has spent ten MLB seasons dazzling baseball fans here and there with his amazing ability. As one of the most consistent players in the league, he continues to rack up hits and compile records; most recently he set the MLB record for most consecutive seasons (ten, every season he's been in MLB) with 200 or more hits. Yet, there are detractors. Jack Gallagher, a writer for The Japan Times, is one. On October 2, The Japan Times published a piece by Gallagher where he claims that Ichiro is over-hyped and that there is no comparison between him and Pete Rose, who also has ten career 200+ hit seasons (although not consecutively).

Marty Kuehnert, Senior Advisor to the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the NPB and long-time Japanese and U.S. baseball executive, was frustrated not only by Gallagher's negative opinions about Ichiro, but by the lack of a forum with which to publish a response. So, Marty turned to JapanBall. He and Bob Bavasi, the force behind JapanBall, have been friends for years, so of course, Bob was more than happy to offer the JapanBall newsletter as a platform. Still, it was important to take it further. As the administrator of the JapanBall Facebook page, I posted the full text of Marty's defense of Ichiro there. Brandon Siefken also posted it on his website, Jon Gat, an alumnus of the JapanBall tours, discussed it on his personal blog. I've decided to do the same here on shrinecastle.

Below is the full text of Marty Kuehnert's opinions regarding Ichiro Suzuki and his unprecedented skills as a baseball player at any level of the game. Before I get to that, however, I wanted to mention one more thing about Ichiro's ten consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits. Whose record did he break? His own.

By Marty Kuehnert, current Japanese pro baseball executive, former U.S. pro baseball executive, professor of Sports Management at Tohoku University and Sendai University, and former Japan Times sportswriter

Ichiro Suzuki's first year in Major League Baseball in 2001 was the most spectacular debut in the history of the game. He led the American League in hitting (.350) and in stolen bases (56), the first time a player had done this since the legendary Jackie Robinson in 1949 (.342, 37). He was a veritable magician with a bat and wound up leading the league with an all-time rookie record of 242 hits, the most hits by any Major Leaguer since 1930. 

It wasn't just his bat and legs that thrilled fans, however, but his glove work as well, reminiscent of Shoeless Joe Jackson, and his arm, likened to Roberto Clemente's cannon. The No. 51 "Ichiro" Mariners jersey became one of the biggest sellers across North America.  He became the first rookie to lead all players in voting for the All-Star Game, and when he was named A.L. MVP and Rookie of the Year (only the second player to be so honored after Boston's Fred Lynn in 1975), Asia could claim its first superstar on the world's sport stage. 

Everyone in North America knew Ichiro, and most true baseball fans loved him. But sadly, there were a few vocal detractors who said the speedster had too many infield hits, and hit too few homers. The waif from Japan was not a "real man" like the bash brothers Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds who were sending monstrous home run shots out of every stadium.  Ironically, however, Ichiro has turned out to be tougher than the multitude of MLB steroid juicers, as in the last 10 years he has played in more games than any other Major Leaguer --1,588. In his first eight seasons he missed only 16 games, the same number he missed in 2009 with his first trip to the Disabled List. This year, however, the Little Iron Man was back and was the only player in the A.L. to play in all 162 games, and one of only two Big Leaguers to play every day (the other, the Dodgers Matt Kemp).  Year after year Ichiro's legend has grown in North America, and other parts of the world, and fewer and fewer detractors find much negative to say about the number one export from Japan.  In 2008 I was in New York and had the opportunity to watch Ichiro play in Shea Stadium.  Mets GM Omar Minaya pointed out to me two things that totally set Ichiro apart from all other Major Leaguers.  "Marty," said Minaya, "When Ichiro comes to bat, all talking in both dugouts stops, and every player glues his eyes on Ichiro. They know he is special and every at bat can be a 'Could you believe it' experience. He is so talented with the bat and so quick. He has the respect of all his peers, like no other player I have ever seen."  And Minaya went on to share another tidbit. When Ichiro hit a double, and there was a pitching change, Minaya said, "Watch our second baseman and shortstop. They are going to go over and start talking to Ichi. They want to be his friend, and it happens to him in every ball park, with every team. They all want to get close to Ichiro. And most of them wish they could play the game half as well as he does."  This past week I saw a number of news stories which said that with his 10th season of 200 hits Ichiro had tied Pete Rose for the all-time lead in that category, which is such a misleading statement. Yes, both men lead the Major Leagues with 10, but Ichiro did it in 10 consecutive seasons from the start of his career, while Rose did it stretched out over 24 seasons. The consecutive streak was formerly held at eight years by Willie Keeler (1884-1901), which the incredible Ichiro passed last year with nine, 108 years after Wee Willie worked his magic.  How hard is it to get 200 hits in a year? The record for starting a career with consecutive 200 hit seasons was stuck at three with Lloyd Waner (1927-1929) and Johnny Pesky (1942-1944), until Ichiro streaked by all the way to 10. And who doubts whether the record will go to 11, 12 or even further? Will anyone ever break Ichiro's record? It is impossible to imagine.  Some unenlightened writers belittled Ichiro's MLB heroics, saying he already had 10 years of experience in Japan before he came to the Bigs. That spurious argument was answered very well by the Seattle Times writer Larry Stone in a recent article. "Who knows what the number (of hits) would be if Ichiro had joined the major leagues at the beginning of his natural prime?," wrote Stone. "For seven magnificent seasons, from the age of 20 to 26, he torched Japanese pitchers for averages of .385, .342, .356, .345, .358, .343, and .387."  Ichiro Suzuki has been in the Major Leagues for 10 glorious years. He has marked an unprecedented 200 hits in all of his first 10 seasons. He has been an unprecedented All-Star in his first 10 seasons, and surely be awarded an unprecedented 10th consecutive Golden Glove for fielding excellence. 

There have been more than 17,300 players play major league baseball. Not a single one of them has come close to Ichiro's incredible statistics and impact from their first year. He is in a class by himself -- a first ballot shoo-in Hall-of-Famer in BOTH the U.S. and Japan. He is not just a national baseball treasure, but an international treasure. Baseball fans, try to watch every remaining game that Ichiro plays. You will be watching history that will NEVER be duplicated. 


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Regi Counter Cat = Immoveable Object

One of my favorite Japanese TV shows is Nani Kore Chin Hyakkei. Nani Kore means "What's that?" The hosts show a panel of celebrities videos about strange happenings and unusual places all over the world. After seeing the clips, the celebrities judge whether or not they think the purported phenomena were interesting. The best episodes involve animals. These animals have interesting facial features, such as eyebrows, or they have special powers, such as smiling.

Because we can't watch the show in the States, we're lucky Japan Probe often posts hilarious animal clips from Nani Kore. Here's a recent one that caught my attention:

really lazy cat
Uploaded by ropejapan2. - Explore international webcam videos.

I love Regi Counter Neko! He (well, it's probably a "she" since its name is Princess and the name was typed in a pink font) gets annoyed – no, offended – when he was moved around to accommodate customers. I love it!

That kind of behavior is typical of cats and reminds me of my own ugokanai neko (cat who won't move).

Here's Berkley reviewing a few documents.

Berkley occasionally has issues with the mouse moving into her personal space.

"So, How Was Your Con?" - Impressions of NYAF/NYCC

When I ran into my young friend Daven Peng and his fantastic hair on the final day of the New York Anime Festival/New York Comic Con on Sunday, he asked, "So, how was your con?" Knowing this was my first time at a convention of this nature – spending two hours on the last day of NYAF last year doesn't count – he wanted to know what I thought of it all. I actually liked it.

To read about what I saw and did, check out my NYAF/NYCC Day 1 Recap, Cosplaying, Fan Girls, and an Atypical Collaboration at NYAF/NYCC, and Wrapping up the NY Anime Festival and NY Comic Con on

NYAF's little corner of the Javits Center.

When nerds have children.

Guy dressed (or undressed) as the Old Spice Guy. Does that count as cosplay?

Even among tens of thousands of people, volunteers can get lonely.

I know a few kimono stylists who can help.

I eat that stuff. Does that make me an otaku?

There were a few girls in sleek costumes.

I wonder if he reads Japanese.

Otaku love.

Welcome to Japan!

Crash Bandicoot and that other one.

Rough day at school.

I was told by Eric from Long Island that, even though he's not into anime like this one, this is actually a good anime.

Cute toys.

Safety in numbers.

Cool Gundam section.

Gundam robot. Or mecha.


I know my focus was on Japanese things, but I couldn't help but notice that Superman has let himself go a little.

Engulfed by Chewbacca

Monday, October 11, 2010

Posts and Retweets about NYAF and NYCC

Thanks to my friend May S. Young, a graphic designer and the Asian Pop Culture Examiner for, Jake Adelstein tweeted a link to my examiner story about Day 2 of the New York Anime Festival and New York Comic Con. Adelstein, who was a crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, is the author of Tokyo Vice and the Editor-in-chief of the Japan Subculture Research Center. Thanks, May!

Jake Adelstein
 and X-Japan! Stan Lee to make "motion comic" with Yoshiki aka Yoskashi! via @
The music blog BrooklynVegan included a quote from my blog entry about the Far East to East Showcase panel discussion. Check out the link and Chris La Putt's fantastic photos here. Thanks, BrooklynVegan!
Here are a few blog posts about NYAF and NYCC that I found interesting:
  • On the site Japinator is a review of a panel that was my personal favorite: Death in Japanese culture and how it is represented in anime and manga.
  • New York-based Harajuku-style clothing store Tokyo Rebel's entry: I liked their practical reasoning for not having a booth this year and that they were there checking out the scene.
  • Although I'm not a "Visual Kei Freakazoid" like Denni MaBelle is, I can relate to the way in which she prepared for NYAF. I wonder if she made it to all of the booths and events she wanted to see.
Here's a video from Cosplay In America, who was at the convention to sell his book of the same name.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 2 at NYAF/NYCC: The Geeks Have Multiplied

First of all, the Internet signal strength at the Javits Center has been sketchy and unreliable, which has made it difficult for me to blog, tweet, and update Facebook as often as I'd like. I'll stop whining now.

Day 2 of the New York Anime Festival/New York Comic Con has been just as eye-opening as the first day. Today being Saturday, the crowd is much, much larger, and the lines for everything - to enter the Javits Center, to use the restroom, to buy food, to play video games - are subsequently longer. The geeks are out in full force.

This is one line, folks.

People have been nice here, offering me insight into how anime and Japanese culture fit into their worlds. There are different factions of people who like anime, manga, comic books, etc. I'm learning that you can't lump all geeks into one geeky category. Each has its own level of extremism.

She seems harmless, although mildly obsessed with Hello Kitty.

She's into the whole Victorian Lolita thing and probably wouldn't hang out with the Hello Kitty above.

And this guy is, well, I really just don't know what to say about him.

Personally, this event has been much more than checking out people who are into dressing up. I've sat in on panel discussions that have been intelligent and thought-provoking. Today, I attended the panel for Far East to East Showcase (FETES), a concert taking place Sunday night at Irving Plaza. Performing at the show are Zazen Boys (not in attendance at the panel), Echostream, Boom Boom Satellites, and Puffy AmiYumi. The panel was moderated by a representative of Superglorious (actually, he introduced himself as Superglorious), the producer of the event.

FETES panel (from left): Superglorious, Echostream, Puffy AmiYumi, and Boom Boom Satellites.

All of the band members were shy at first, but they warmed up as Superglorious asked them questions. They talked about writing music, touring, American audiences (described as being "more direct than Japanese fans" by Puffy). Then the floor was opened to mostly dumb questions from the crowd. I doubt these musicians flew all the way from Japan to guess what character a guy was cosplaying. I shouldn't be rude; as my friend Kim Kindya, a 20-year veteran of these kinds of conventions, put it, this is the only chance these fans have to see their heroes. I should be more forgiving. But I did think it was stupid when one guy asked if Puffy were single. I suppose that was the directness Puffy mentioned.

Another informative panel was a joint venture between Purple Sky Magazine and Samurai Beat Radio called "Pitching Japanese Music to American Media." As a writer, I was interested in how freelance writers should pitch media outlets to write stories about practically unknown Japanese bands.

Purple Sky and SBR both discussed the difficulties they face when dealing with Japanese band managers. Sometimes their journalistic senses are compromised when they're forced to ask pre-determined questions rather than their own questions. Overall, it's a challenge worth facing so they can continue to expose listeners in America to Japanese music.

Time to go to the next panel, an announcement between comic book king Stan Lee and X Japan front man Yoshiki. Not that I'm geeked out about it.