Friday, December 31, 2010

Shrinecastle 2010 Year in Review

Click here for interactive chart!

Somehow it became December 31, 2010, which means it’s the time to reflect on what happened this busy and productive year before looking forward to what 2011 will bring. When I think of 2010, I think about all of the great events I attended, the new friends I made, and the worthwhile connections I created within the Japanese community here in New York. All of these things helped contribute to my writing and helped me shape this blog.

The above chart shows some of the most popular stories that you’ve read on Shrinecastle this year. Highlights include my year-long education in anime, manga, and the otaku subculture in NYC. Meeting singers who dress as maids, witnessing film screenings at which directors wore sumo garb, and attending the New York Anime Festival are among my most memorable experiences. These events translated into the stories you read the most.

By far the story from this blog that caused the biggest buzz was about Bobby Valentine and his talk at the Japan Society. I inadvertently started a rumor that Bobby V. would be willing to manage the Mets again when I included this quote: "It's not as though you don't go back to the girl that dumped you, but it takes a little while, it takes a little convincing . . ." A couple of Mets blogs linked to Shrinecastle, and the message boards lit up! (All attempts to reach Bobby V. for comment were unsuccessful.)

Looking at the stats, I average around 25 unique visitors each day. I’m not setting the world on fire, but I am reaching a few people with this labor of love. The chart below shows that readership increased toward the end of the year, even without Bobby V.'s help!

This year provided me with the opportunity to focus on Shrinecastle and create content that interests readers. I expect bigger and better things for 2011, and I am excited about the new opportunities that are before me.

Happy New Year! Or, as they say in Japan, 明けましておめでとうございます。

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Birthday Gift for Me; Christmas Cupcake for Ol' Roy

On the last day of my three-day birthday extravaganza, my husband took me to see my Tar Heels beat the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers at the "World's Most Famous Arena." We had great seats and put the HD video of my Christmas camera to the test.

Obviously, a lot more happened between the opening series and the final score, but we were busy eating popcorn and enjoying beverages. I especially appreciate that the Tar Heels fought the Thundersnowpocalypse of 2010 to help me celebrate my birthday and rout Rutgers.

Go, Tar Heels, Go!

My friend "D.F." was watching from his home in Wilmington, North Carolina, and texted me this picture when he saw us on ESPN2.

Thanks to camera guy Soft Al, technical director Bob Yodice, and producer Steve Fenig for making that happen.

Monday, December 27, 2010

j-pop Blizzard at Webster Hall

The Blizzard of 2010 couldn't keep us from walking a mile and a half to Webster Hall for the j-Summit New York X'mas party. I wrote a review about the concert on, and you can check it out here.

The Asterplace performs at The Studio at Webster Hall (on my birthday)

I also shot this video with my new Christmas camera! Still learning to use it, but it shoots 1080 HD – whatever that means – so I'll bring you more video in 2011.

Korean Fried Chicken Provides a Traditional Japanese Christmas Dinner in America

I've mentioned several times in my blog that the Japanese have a tradition of eating fried chicken on Christmas Day. I first became aware of this during a 2001 trip to Okinawa to visit my mom's family. Through astute observation and some excellent marketing by Kentucky Fried Chicken, Japanese people think Westerners eat at KFC during the holidays.

Since I grew up with an Okinawan mother and a father from North Carolina, you'd think my sister and I would've been up to our ear lobes with fried chicken on Christmas day. No. My mother prepared and served the usual turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce a la American tradition.

After reading that KFC was finally starting to push the traditional Japanese "Christmas set" here in the States, my husband and I decided to give fried chicken a try for Christmas dinner. But not at KFC. We wanted our Christmas dinner to be Japanese, or at least Asian. I considered Tebaya, a Japanese wings place in Chelsea, but we craved drumsticks. A few minutes of searching on Google and Yelp turned up KyoChon, a Korean fried chicken place in the shadow of the Empire State Building in Koreatown. Sold!

Empire State Building

It's a fast-food chain with a hostess stand at the entrance, a wall with lights that change colors, and K-pop music that give the place a clubby feel. We ordered our food to go, but I'm sure dining in is a nice experience.

KyoChon in Koreatown

KyoChon's interior

Our Christmas spread from KyoChon

We ordered a six-piece box of Signature Drumsticks with soy and garlic sauce, their Sal Sal Chicken Rice Bowl, and a side order of potato wedges. The texture of the fried drumsticks is not what we expected. We're used the KFC, Southern way of slathering the chicken in a floury paste before frying. KyoChon fries their chicken twice so that the skin, while crispy, isn't big and fluffy. The meat was slightly dry, but it wasn't a deal-breaker. 

KyoChon's Signature Drumsticks

The Sal Sal Chicken Rice Bowl is a mixture of KyoChon's Sal Sal Chicken Strips - which are covered with breadcrumbs and puffed rice - and a green salad served over rice. The Sweet Soy Dressing added the perfect zing to this light and flavorful dish.

KyoChon's Sal Sal Chicken Rice Bowl

This Korean fast-food chain serves up savory meals, and they want their customers to be neat and tidy during the dining process. Each order comes with a "KyoChon's clean!" packet. It contains the obligatory moist towelette, napkins, and chopsticks, but it also comes with a plastic glove so that you can eat your drumsticks without soiling your hands.

A gloved hand makes no mess . . .
. . . especially when chicken is involved

It may not become our Christmas tradition, but we were pleased with our dinner choice. KyoChon's motto is "Chicken like you've never had before." The tastiness of the chicken and the variety of the menu will make you have it again and again.

Our KyoChon Christmas

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The LOL Cat and the Ribbon

My cat, Berkley, loves to play with ribbon. At this time of year, there's plenty of it adorning our Christmas presents, so she's pretty busy during our unwrapping sessions. Last year we posted this picture to the LOL Cats website I Can Has Cheezburger:

Berkley with Christmas ribbon - 2009

PhantomCat created this gem: 

Ever on the lookout for an opportunity to show off our speckled calico, we thought we'd entice her with ribbon again this Christmas:

Her response was less than enthusiastic. Okay, so she's another year older and a little more tired. She did enjoy a couple of bites of fried chicken for Christmas dinner, though. 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas wrapped in beautiful ribbon!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

KFC Brings Japanese Christmas Tradition to the States

Ever since the fall of 2001, when my husband and I took my mom to Okinawa to visit her family after a 30-year absence, I've known that the Japanese eat chicken at Christmas. Fried chicken. From KFC. It's ingenious, and you can read about the American fast-food chain's marketing ploy here.  

Word is spreading about the Christmas chicken phenomenon in Japan. Check out this ABCNews report:

I love this story. It reminds me of the first time I saw Colonel Sanders dressed up as Santa outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Naha, Okinawa. 

The ABCNews feature is actually the first account I've read that explains how it all began. Foreigners couldn't find turkey in Japan, so around forty years ago they started frequenting Japan's Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants during the holidays. A KFC employee realized a potential cash cow, and the "Christmas Set" was born. 

Because of high demand, KFC in Japan advises customers to order their Christmas Sets early. The Christmas menu on KFC's Japanese website is amazing. A chocolate Christmas cake comes with the "Party Barrel," and they even offer roasted chicken. And KFC isn't the only chain with these deals. Last month I wrote that McDonald's has finally jumped on the Christmas Set bandwagon; read all about that here.

Now it seems as if KFC is bringing its Japanese tradition stateside. Here is this year's commercial, which urges us to "start a new holiday tradition."

This spot is the first thing you see when you go to KFC's website. This isn't KFC's first Christmas commercial, however. When I searched for the 2010 commercial on YouTube, I found this one from 1997. It's a special promotion for the Giga Pet, which was all the rage back then. 

I also found this commercial – from 1980! – on YouTube:

The difference between the older two commercials and the one from 2010 is that this year KFC is emphasizing having their chicken as your Christmas meal. I suppose they figure that since Japanese already think we eat fried chicken for Christmas, we might as well eat fried chicken for Christmas. 

I think it's telling that JapanSoc, a social bookmarking site that posts links to English-language blogs about Japan on Facebook, has this as today's status: 

"Christmas Eve! What will you be doing? Eating chicken? Going on a date? Last minute shopping?"

Eating chicken? All of this marketing is making me think I should have chicken for dinner this Christmas . . .

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Oddly Japanese-Themed Holiday Bash

Although the Japanese don't observe Christmas in the religious sense, they certainly appreciate it. The lights are a big part of the attraction, as homes and businesses display many an LED. Just look at these photos from "We don't celebrate Christmas, but we enjoy it. With chicken," says my Japanese teacher. In that spirit, my husband and I threw an Oddly Japanese-Themed Holiday Bash this week. 

Preparing the table
Before guests arrived we set the table with dorayaki, Pocky, and a cheeseball. (Something had to be American, right?)

Pocky: Stick to fun!
Pocky is a wonderful biscuit-stick thing covered with strawberry and chocolate. It certainly is "Stick to fun!" It's such a popular snack in Japan that Strapya World, a Japanese cell phone strap, charm, and accessory store, sells chopsticks in its likeness. Check out the Pocky Super Kawaii Chopsticks from the site. 

Christmas bento from Fuji Catering
The hit of the party was the special Christmas bento prepared by Toru-san from FUJI Catering. He packed a lot of food into those bento boxes. In addition to the obligatory rice (with furikake!),  he prepared broiled yellowtail teriyaki, chicken yakitori, tempura, hijiki (calcium-rich black seaweed), and gobo (burdock root). Toru-san also added the American (or Italian) touches of spaghetti with Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese with tomato slices. Fruit on the side made a nice dessert. That's quite a meal! 

Asian Pop Culture writer May Young tearing into her Christmas bento
I've written about FUJI Catering in Chopsticks NY and on, helping Toru-san spread the message about the wonders and convenience of his bento delivery service. My friend May (above) seemed rather impressed.

Using tenugui to wrap bottles
Ruri Kippenbrock, owner of online tenugui store wuhao newyork, brought a bottle of Trader Joe's Vintage Ale wrapped in Japan's most versatile cloth. Isn't she clever?!

Junko Fisher playing my Okinawan sanshin
Our Oddly Japanese-Themed Holiday Bash featured an impromptu concert. I've had a sanshin (Okinawan three-stringed banjo-esque instrument; it's called shamisen in mainland Japan) for years, but my mother deemed it broken. After Junko Fisher, an Okinawan dancer and singer, took a look at it, she deemed it in need of adjustments. But she played and sang several songs to the delight of our friends. 

Our generous friends brought tons of bottles, so we're set for the winter. Merry Christmas! Or as they say in Japan, メリークリスマス!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Best Episode of "Shimura Zoo" I've Ever Seen!

Thanks to Japan Probe, I was able to watch a snippet from Shimura Zoo, and this is by far my favorite. Pan-kun, everyone's favorite overall-wearing chimpanzee, visits a petting zoo with James, his bulldog sidekick.

Several things make this episode especially enjoyable for me:

  • Flashbacks to an earlier show where Pan-kun visits the same petting zoo, and is scared of the large animals (He was so young then!)
  • Pan-kun's posture when he encounters strange animals
  • Pan-kun's use of a digital camera (He somehow manages to take a few good shots with it.)
  • The scene with James and the bull
  • My introduction to the Binturong, or bearcat (I know it's the mascot of the University of Cincinnati, but I've actually never seen one. For years, I thought it was a fictional character.)
  • The sound effects and graphics (They made laugh AND appreciate that I don't edit this show.)
Enjoy the clip!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How My iPad and iPhone Will Help Me Pass the JLPT

Sunday is the day of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), a measure of the skill level of non-native Japanese speakers. Administered by the Japan Foundation, the test is used to evaluate students of the language as well as people employed by Japanese companies.

I'm not sure why I'm taking the JLPT because I don't exactly like the challenge. It's stressful, and studying for it sometimes makes me feel dumb. Despite that, for some reason I'm curious to see how I measure up to the test organizers' expectations. But I've found two apps that are going to help me pass Level N4: JLPT Study ($3.99 on iTunes) for the iPhone and KanjiBox ($4.99 on iTunes) for the iPad. (There is an iPhone version of KanjiBox that sells for a dollar less.)

JLPT Study
You can choose to practice either vocabulary or kanji.

Then select the level of the test you are taking.

You'll see a word written in kanji with its hiragana equivalent.
Or, you'll see a word in English. You have four choices.

If you're right, you get a lovely green light.

If you're wrong, you'll see a harsh red light. You'll get the correct answer, too.

Once you choose your level in the Settings tab, you can choose to study kanji, vocabulary, or reading.

There are four ways to study kanji in this app.

You're given a word in hiragana, katakana, and/or English, then you chose the correct kanji.

Here you choose the missing kanji from the compound.

The quiz is basically the same as the drills, except it is timed.
Feel the pressure!

I haven't played with the Flashcards too much, but they look great on the iPad.

The vocabulary portion is much like the kanji, but with more phrases.

You have to read quickly during the Vocab Quiz.

With any luck, I won't see this in the spring after my test is graded.

Of course, nothing beats actually studying for the test, and I'm listening to CDs and taking sample tests from workbooks as well. I must thank my sensei for being tremendously patient with me throughout this process. I'm down to my final days of preparing for the JLPT, and Sunday I'll take the D train to the Bronx and Lehman College, where the test will be this year. Wish me luck!

Are you taking the JLPT? How are you studying for it?